Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mon petit chèvre

 In my last post, I wrote about my little goat santon, but I didn't include him in the photo.  He sits on my mantle year round.  He doesn't have to spend the non-Christmas months put away in a box with all the other holiday decorations.  I like to admire him.  He reminds me of the Provence festival in Arles where I bought him. 


In July 2007, Chef Érick and I were invited to be part of Collectif Prouvènço, a celebration of Provençal culture held every other year in the Jardins d'Été in Arles.  We put on a cooking demonstration featuring Fricot des barques, a dish that was popular with sailors on the Rhône many years ago.  It was served in the local inns.  We "aproned" up and while Chef Érick demonstrated how to make the dish and talked into the microphone, I fetched and just generally assisted.  We had made the dish in advance and put together another just to show everyone how to do it.  I passed out samples to the crowd and Chef Érick answered questions.  The only question I remember was the one that brought about the lengthy discussion of which wine one should serve with the dish.  I do not remember the consensus of the crowd or Chef Érick's recommendation, but I would go with a nice Côtes du Rhône red, bien sûr.
At this festival, there was music and dance perfomances and vendors selling books about the history and language of Provence and crafts, most notably the traditional santons.  It was a typically beautiful summer day in Provence, with Roman soldiers and gladiators roaming around town... nothing out of the ordinary.


Chef Érick's friend Mireille Chérubini who owns Taberna Romana, a restaurant in St. Rémy de Provence overlooking the site of Glanum, a Roman city that is under excavation, had set up a café there also.  We would take clients there sometimes for lunch if we were out and about near St. Rémy.  Mireille serves only traditional Roman dishes, using ingredients found locally, just as the Romans did. 

This is her website:

Chef Érick Vedel's Fricot des barques - Fricot di barco
(Mixture of the barges)

For 4:

1 kg / 2.2 lbs. beef rear shank cut (you can also use beef ribs, if you wish)
6 salted anchovy fillets, be careful that bones are removed
3 garlic cloves
3 onions
3 Tbsp capers
6 bay leaves crumbled
1 bunch of parsley
3 Tbsp olive oil
Pepper from a mill

Slice the beef in thin slices.  Chop all the rest of the ingredients finely and mix them together. 
In a heavy bottomed casserole dish, pour in olive oil to cover the bottom.  Lay one layer of the meat slices on the bottom, cover with the chopped mixture, follow with another layer of meat and another layer of the chopped mixture, and so on until all is used up, ending with the chopped layer.  Cover and cook for 3 hours over a low flame or in a medium hot over.  If steam escapes, then add a bit of water from time to time.
This is very good served with fresh pasta or with rice.

Bon appétit, la Provence!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Almost December...


As hard as it is to believe, November is fading fast and December is right around the corner.  Now that Thanksgiving has passed, I am willing to concede that Christmas is less than a month away.  Okay, friends and neighbors, go ahead and put up your trees and lights now.  I just do not like to mix my holidays.  Let me fully enjoy one at a time.  Then I am ready to move on.
I was reminded how Thanksgiving 2008 was spent by an email from Betty of the Arles 6.  She and her handsome men came to visit me in Arles.  We shopped at the open air market in Arles for our meal,
 tasted wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape,

 ate pieds et paquets (well, David ate that- "les chaussures n'ont pas le choix..." David tried to say something about the heat in the café but instead he told us that shoes have no choice...) and made wonderful meals together.


We drove around the countryside, spotting a field of lambs running around playing,

we saw olives being pressed in Les Baux, went to see Van Gogh paintings projected onto stone walls while listening to stirring classical music at La Cathédrale d'Images.  We visited Claudine and tasted her chèvre.  We went to the Carpentras truffle market where we had scrambled eggs with truffles and red Côtes du Ventoux wine.

We brought home our own truffes and made fresh pasta with a walnut sauce to have with them.  We opened a bottle of Châteauneuf red to accompany this delicacy.
Betty and I also went to Provence Prestige, a huge Christmas market held in the Palais des Congrès in Arles.  I had read all about it in La Provence, the local newspaper, and couldn't wait to see it for myself.  We walked from the B&B, passing through town and across the bridge to the other side of Arles, near the Musée Départemental de l'Arles Antique.  We roamed around tasting olive oil, chocolates, nougat (one of the 13 traditional Provence Christmas desserts) and fougasse, a Provence pastry that can be sweet or savory.  We even sat down at one point for a cup of tea and a lovely slice of tarte.  We looked at hundreds of santons, the manger or crêche figurines made in Provence.  Silly me, I only came home with a little goat figure.  Oh well.  I bought a book with recipes for the thirteen desserts, a lovely tin of herbes de Provence, a keeper for my sel de Camargue or Camargue salt and a beautiful scarf from a vendor who sells traditional clothing for the lovely Arlésiennes, the legendary beautiful ladies of Arles and the gardiens, the cowboys of the Camargue.  We also tasted (and bought!) an orange colored candy.  My best guess is that it was orange white chocolate with almonds in it.  Oh my, I would love to have some of it right now...  Hmmm, wonder if one of my Provence friends would send me some for Noël?  Or maybe Santa could pick some up on his way over Provence and put it under the tree for moi?
Provence Prestige is November 26-30, 2009, with 150 vendors.  There are so many beautiful things for sale that I cannot even begin to list them. 
Check it out at  The website is a feast for a Provence-lover's eyes.

These cookie bars have nothing to do with Christmas or December even, but they are popular around my house.  The recipe came to me from the mom of one of my advisees from last school year.  She said she found it in the 2001 Carolina Thyme cookbook published by the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties.  I made some for my boys and the BFF's boys for Thanksgiving.


Makes 2 dozen small bars

1 14oz. bag caramels, unwrapped
5 Tbsp half and half
1 c. flour
1 c. oatmeal
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) melted butter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Heat the caramels and the half and half in a saucepan over medium heat until the caramels are melted, stirring frequently; set aside.  Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, baking soda and salt in a bowl.  Press half the crumb mixture into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes.  Spread the caramel mixture over the hot crust.  Try not to spread it to the edges of the crust- it will be really hard to remove from the pan if it touches the edges and cools.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the caramel layer and then top with the remaining crumb mixture.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.  Refrigerate for one hour before cutting into bars.
Note:  These bars freeze well.  Also note that you can use more than 1/2 of the crumb mixture for the bottom and not as much on the top.  I also use less chocolate chips than the recipe calls for so that we can have more of the caramel flavor.

Bon appétit, Décembre!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Day 2009

Can you see the Eiffel Tower peaking out from under the sliced turkey?

Another Thanksgiving, my 51st one, has come and gone.  The relatives have departed, leftovers are stacked in the refrigerator, most of my college-age son's clothes are washed, and we even braved the Black Friday shopping at the mall for an hour or so this afternoon.  Birthday boy asked for a new pair of jeans from American Eagle and we actually found a parking place without circling the mall a dozen times and getting aggravated.  The Christmas decorations are up and Santa was in place, waiting for the little ones (and not so little ones) to come sit on his lap and have their photos taken.  I must admit that we never took the boys to the mall for a photo with Santa.  They admired him from afar but wanted nothing to do with him up close.  Okay with me.
I am quite proud to say that my first turkey was a success.  I was a bit nervous about whether or not it would thaw in time and if I could manage to get it done enough but not too done.  We've all had dry turkey and while it will not make you ill the way undercooked turkey will, you do feel as if you will choke on it trying to get it down, n'est-ce pas?  I kept my eye on the "doo-dad" (a technical term, you know) and used my brand new kitchen thermometer.

We started our repast (from the French word for meal- repas) with shrimp sauteed in butter with garlic, crudités or and dip, chèvre from Elodie Farms (the Durham Farmers' Market was open Tuesday afternoon), and onion tart.  We toasted with a lovely bottle of champagne my sister-in-law gave us a few months ago.  My father-in-law fell in love with Dave's fig and honey goat cheese spread.  I even made the ultimate sacrifice and sent him home with the little bit left over...  Every time I said I'd love to have a little farm and a goat, he and his bride of 53 years laughed.  They have been there and done that way up in the northwest corner of Nebraska and know that it is not quite the romantic idea that I think it is.  That's okay, though, and when I have my little farm in the south of France they can still come visit and milk my goat if they become nostalgic for the old days.  Our nephew only had one carrot-- he insisted that he was saving himself for the big meal.  I did admire his will power in the face of the garlic shrimp that smelled divine.

My sister-in-law brought a sweet potato apple dish, cranberry-orange relish and rolls.  Our nephew added cupcakes he had made himself.  My mother-in-law brought pumpkin pies, homemade fudge, cherry cheesecake and the fixings for stuffing (she also brought homemade cinnamon buns that we consumed for breakfast with coffee from the new Mr. Coffee coffee maker).

I made a cranberry apple dish (recipe handed down by the BFF's mom), mashed potatoes and green beans (the weakest part of the meal- just not green bean season).  My mother-in-law makes awesome gravy so I left her to that after the turkey came out of the oven.  My sister-in-law and I had vowed that we were going to pay careful attention and learn how to make it ourselves, but we failed miserably.  I know it involved corn starch and pan drippings and that's it.  Oh well.  I chose the bottle of Le Garrigon, a red Côtes du Rhône the BFF had given me (from The Wine Authorities), to accompany the onion tart, but it turned out that only my brother-in-law and I were drinking red so it also accompanied my turkey.  My mother-in-law is a white wine drinker so I opened a bottle of Paul D. 2008 Grüner Veltliner, also from WA, for her. 
I was disappointed that neither of my sons would even try the onion tart.  I thought that the just-turned 22 year old would at least take one bite.  But he just couldn't seem to grasp the concept of a savory tart.  Pie, in his mind, should be sweet, involving cherries or pumpkin.  I tried, really I did.  I promised myself that I would not give up on him-- yet. 
After dinner, I talked several of them into playing Bananagram with me.  I discovered this game last week and love it.  It involves words and I am a self-proclaimed word-nerd.  I love crossword puzzles, spelling bees and Wheel of Fortune.  It is a really cool game, kind of like Scrabble. Stocking-stuffer idea if you have any word-nerds on your list...
We entertained our out-of-town guests with a visit to downtown Durham and a stroll around the American Tobacco Campus.  We are very proud of our city and love showing it off.  The day had started off very foggy, but by the time we drove downtown, the fog had burned off and the skies were blue.  The day after Thanksgiving, we went to the Nasher Museum at Duke to see two exhibits, Picasso and the Allure of Language (my third visit, but by far the most thorough) and Andy Warhol's Polaroids.  Our post-Thanksgiving lunch involved calling Brian and locating the OnlyBurger truck.  My nephew, who is in grad school at Carolina, had read my latest article in the Herald-Sun about OB and wanted to try it out.  Fortunately, we found them on our side of town and brought home bags of burgers and fries. No one was disappointed, I am thrilled to report.  Everything, down to the last fry, was consumed.  Thank you, Brian and OnlyBurger, for a little break from leftovers.
It was another beautiful, sunny day.  I have so much to be thankful for. It is now quiet, there are no dirty dishes waiting to be washed, Duke is beating UConn in basketball, Nebraska is beating Colorado in football, my boys are upstairs, and my un-ex and I are downstairs content in the satisfaction of a couple of days spent laughing with family members and our first Thanksgiving together in five years.  Oui, la vie est tellement bonne...  Life is indeed good.

My Caramelized Onion-Chèvre Tart

One pastry shell (I buy the refrigerated store brand that rolls out), see recipe for blueberry tart if you wish to make your own
3 onions, sliced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
Soft, fresh goat cheese, 3-4 ounces
Honey-Fig goat cheese spread, if desired

Spread the pastry shell into a 9 or 10 inch pan.
Caramelize the onions by melting the butter, adding the olive oil and then adding the onions.  Lower the flame to med-low, add the thyme, to taste,  and be patient, stirring the onions occasionally.  This will take 30 minutes or so.  When they are golden brown, remove them from the heat.
Crumble the goat cheese into the bottom of the pastry.  Spread the onions on top of the cheese.  Sprinkle the honey-fig goat cheese spread  on top, if you wish.
Bake for about 20 minutes at 425F or until the crust is browned.

Helen's Cranberry Apple Dish

3 c. tart apples (I use Granny Smith), peeled and diced
2 c. whole cranberries
1 c. granulated sugar
Mix together and put in a 10 x 13 pan.

1 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. melted butter
Mix together.  Put on top of cranberry-apple mixture.

Bake at 325F for one hour.

Serve hot or cold.

Bon appétit, Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Coffee, please

Yesterday morning my coffee maker just up and died.  On a Friday morning at 6:00 am without a warning.  I get up, put the coffee on, take my shower, come back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee to drink while I dry my hair.  That's my getting-ready-for-school routine.  Only yesterday, I got out of the shower and came back to the kitchen only to find no coffee.  Not a drop.  Grrrr  But, being ever resourceful, I found my little Italian pot that I bought at the Arles market and set about making coffee the way I did each morning at the B&B.  It is a very small pot, so I made a couple of pots, poured them in a thermos to stay warm and tackled the hair drying.
Saturday mornings are a bit more relaxed, so I tried again to figure out what is wrong with this less than one year old coffee maker.  No success, just a lot of water all over the counter and floor.  So, out came the Italian pot again, along with the small French press that I bought several years ago but never use.  So, I do have coffee, in my little Le Cailar cup that I bought from Véronique just before leaving last winter.  It made the journey home, in my purse, without getting broken.  It just feels right to drink coffee made in the pot I bought in France in my little French cup.  Now, if only there is that one piece of French blueberry tart still in the refrigerator where I hid it a couple of days ago...

This recipe is from Joanne Harris (the author of Chocolat, Holy Fools and Blackberry Wine, just to name a few of her books) and Fran Warde.  I made it for our recent middle school faculty meeting.  If you use a store bought crust, it is done in no time flat.  Do not buy puff pastry, though, but pie crust that is rolled up.  We always used pre-made crusts in Arles, so I do the same here, finding them in the refrigerated section at Harris Teeter or Target, near the cookie dough and refrigerated biscuits.  I have a bottle of crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) tucked away in my refrigerator for when I fancy a kir before dinner.  The Wine Authorities sells the real deal from Bourgogne, the home of M. Kir, mayor of Dijon.  You can also find it at the liquor store.

Blueberry Tart 
Serves 6
For the pâte brisée
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for the tart pan
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 large egg
1/2 Tbsp. cold water

For the filling
1 lb. blueberries or other berries (black currants, raspberries, blackberries all work well) stems removed
3/4 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. crème de cassis

Make the crust.  Rub the flour and butter together with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.  Mix in the sugar, then add the egg and water, using a round-ended knife in a cutting motion to combine the ingredients until they form a dough ball.  Put the ball on a cool, floured work surface and briefly knead with the palm of your hand to ensure an evenly blended dough.  Wrap and refrigerate to chill and rest for 40 minutes.
Lightly butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Lightly flour a cool surface and roll out the chilled dough slightly wider than the pan (because you do not want to stretch it).  As this is a high-butter content pastry, take care not to let the pastry stick to the surface-- keep dusting lightly with flour.  Line the pan with the dough, letting the excess dough hang over the edges.  To trim, simply roll the pin over the tart pan.  Refrigerate the lined tart pan for 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400F.
Place the berries in the lined pan.  In a medium bowl, mix the cream, sugar, eggs, flour and liqueur until smooth and pour over the fruit.  Lightly sprinkle with a little extra sugar and bake for 35 minutes.  Serve cooled, if you can wait.

Bon appétit, le café du weekend!

PS-  Using Joanne Harris' book makes me think of the movie version of her novel, Chocolat, and that naturally makes me think of Johnny Depp.  A logical progression, non?  He was voted Sexiest Man Alive again this year (and they didn't even ask me to vote).  The un-ex and I discussed this last night.  Can you believe that he compared Johnny Depp to Kid Rock?  I just had to end that conversation right there.  I have seen Kid Rock up close while shopping at the same store as him once in Raleigh.  I have not had the same opportunity with Johnny Depp.  Until I do, I will not even let that comparison into my head.  Johnny, if you read this and you need to do a little shopping next March while I am in Paris or Arles, just let me know.  I will come check you out.  Or Raleigh, if you need cowboy boots like Kid.  Now my coffee is cold... French presses and Italian market coffee makers do not keep it warm.  That's what microwaves are for, I guess.

PPS- For the record-- I just bought the new People with Johnny on the cover.  Mon dieu bon dieu  pretty much covers it all.  And he absolutely DOES NOT resemble Kid What's His Name.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New York in French et La Tour Eiffel

 La Tour Eiffel November 2008

A few months back I joined a social networking site called New York in French.  I love it!  There are now over 3,000 members.  I belong to two groups, one for Provence lovers and another for French teachers.
The French Embassy in New York sponsored an Eiffel Tower Birthday Contest to celebrate her 120th anniversaire.  And it is my opinion that one can never get enough of the Eiffel Tower.   I certainly take more photos of it than of anything else every time I am in Paris.  The Grand Prize Winner of the contest was announced last night and an elementary school student, Jackson Gillies Cocciolone, won.  Here is a link to the video.  Check it out!  It is so cute.  He won two round-trip tickets to Paris on Air France.

Bon anniversaire, La Tour Eiffel!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 11, 2009

The American Cemetery in Normandy
March 2009
Thank you to all who have bravely served our country
and protected our freedom.

Fresh pasta and 10 year olds

On Saturday afternoon, Daniela, my friend, colleague and cuisinière extraordinaire, and I helped out another colleague who just had a baby.  As a mom-to-be she offered an evening of pasta-making for kids as part of our school auction.  Well, when the parent who bought her offering called, she couldn't make it since she was about to go into labor at any minute.  And it is common knowledge that you cannot say no to a 9-month pregnant lady... at least I have trouble doing it.
So, we loaded up the car (ok, Dani loaded up hers) and off we went.  Dani is Italian.  She has her mom's pasta maker.  I have made fresh pasta before although I do not own this wonderful truc.  I am a great assistante, so apron on, I was ready to help.  We had five 10 year old girls for 2 hours.  We made fettucine and spaghetti and two sauces.  One of grape tomatoes, garlic and olive oil (pictured above) and one with meat.  The girls enjoyed the fruits of their labor tremendously.  We even had to cook up more (store bought) pasta so they would have enough for their sauces.  One of the girls stated, as she sat down to the beautifully set table, that she had never been to a birthday party that didn't have pizza and that she preferred the pasta!

If you've never made pasta, get out your food processor and get to business.  You don't have to have the machine that cuts it.  You can cut it with a knife, if you wish.  This summer, at Fearrington with Chef Colin, we made tortellini, stuffing it with a yummy crab/shrimp/cheese mixture.  Ah, memories of dishes past.

Fresh Pasta
Serves about 4 (less if you are really hungry!)

Made in the food processor...

2 cups flour
3 eggs
1 tsp. oil
Pinch of salt

Process until the dough rides up in the center and comes together into a ball.
Flatten a fourth of the dough and crank through the widest setting of the pasta machine.  (If you do not own a pasta machine, roll out with a well-floured rolling pin.)  Have plenty of flour on hand to flour the strips of pasta before you roll them through the machine.
Continue this process at each setting until the dough is paper thin.  Let it dry for 10 minutes before cranking it through the spaghetti or fetuccine slot.
Place the cut pasta on waxed paper sprinkled with flour to dry.  Let it stand for at least 10 minutes before boiling.
Bring salted water to boil and put in the pasta.  It will be done in much less time than store-bought, about 4-5 minutes.

Simple Tomato, Garlic and Basil Sauce

2 Tbsp of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 pint of grape tomatoes, cut in half
4 or more basil leaves

Sauté the garlic in olive oil for 2-3 minutes.  Make sure it does not burn.  Add the tomatoes and cook on medium-high for a minute or two.  Lower to simmer and cook until done, about 10-15 minutes.  Add salt, pepper and the basil.  Turn off the heat and wait 2 minutes so the flavors blend.
Pour on top of cooked pasta and add Parmesan cheese.

Italian Tomato Sauce

1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp of olive oil
A bunch of parsley (1/4 c), finely chopped
A sprig of rosemary, finely chopped (1 Tbsp dry)
1/2 c. red wine (can be omitted, but why??)
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano (more if fresh)
1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
1 large can of tomatoes  (pureed or crushed)
1 small can tomato paste
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp each salt and pepper
1 Tbsp sugar

Sauté the onions and garlic; add ground turkey.  Brown well, as you add the chopped rosemary.  You can add wine now if you want.  Cook for 5 minutes.  When it is nicely browned, add the tomatoes, the sauce and the paste, fill the paste can with water and add it to the sauce.  Stir well, add teh parsely, oregano and basil, salt, pepper and sugar.  Let it come to a boil and then lower the heat.  Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes.  Enjoy over pasta with Parmesan cheese.

Bon appétit, les spaghetti!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The adventure of a lifetime

Champagne grapes near Reims, France, November 2008

This is my article which appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on December 3, 2008.

On November 2, I headed north on the TGV, France's train à grande vitesse.  My friend Ghislaine invited me to her home in Montépilloy and to visit her classes at the middle school in Senlis where she teaches English.  I have traveled to Senlis many times.  Ghislaine and I have an exchange program for our eighth graders.  Her students have not been to Durham Academy since the events of 9/11 changed our world.  However, we are now in the process of planning for 2010 when we will resume our exchange and she will return to North Carolina.
Merci mille fois to Delta Airlines.  I have just learned that they will begin non-stop service from RDU to Charles de Gaulle in June 2009.  (note- this is not happening... the economy is to blame, of course)
We spent two days tasting champagne in the only region in France that has the right to call the sparkling wine by that name.  Neither of us have much of a sense of direction so we got lost the first afternoon.  We were out of the city of Reims and into the countryside before we knew it.  We came over a hill and, low and behold, the vineyards appeared, shining golden in the afternoon sun.
We toured Canard-Duchêne, Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot.  Underneath Reims and the vineyards, there are miles and miles of tunnels and caves, storing millions of bottles of champagne awaiting the right celebration.  After hearing about the process at three different cellars and tasting three very different wines, I can tell you all about the process.  Don't ask unless you really want to know!

Ghislaine calls herself a very simple cook.  She is very concerned about the use of pesticides and uses as many organic products as possible.  Her recipes may indeed be simple, but they are truly delicious.  She makes soups from fresh vegetables, often steaming them, then pureeing them and adding just the right herbs and spices.  The French use the expression se marier bien (to marry well) to express flavors that go well together.  I like that!
On my first Sunday afternoon here, Ghislaine made reservations at Auberge des 3 Canards (3 Ducks Inn) in nearby Ognon, a very small village five kilometers from Senlis.  This is the best meal I have eaten since not only my arrival in June, but perhaps in my life.  The restaurant can seat about 50 people is simply but elegantly furnished, the staff very professional.
We started off with an apératif of kir royale, crème de cassis liqueur in champagne, served with two very small appetizers called amuse-bouches, bite-sized treats to amuse your mouth. 


I chose an entrée or appetizer of baby shrimp served on thin strips of steamed zucchini with grapefruit and beets surrounding it.  (Yes, I do indeed have pictures!)  note:  the photos did not appear in the newspaper.

My main course was souris d'agneau, lamb so tender that it melted in my mouth.  It was served with stuffed vegetables.


We couldn't decide whether to have a white (Ghislaine's preference) or a red (mine) wine, so we settled on a half bottle of Sancerre rosé.  A wonderful choice, crisp and dry.

When the cheese cart came our direction, I chose three- cow, sheep and goat.  The choices on the cart were overwhelming.

I very discreetly took a video with my camera of a man across the room later eyeing the cart and making his decision.  He looked like a little boy staring at a mound of gifts under the Christmas tree.

We asked the sommelier or wine steward to choose a glass of red wine to go with our cheeses.  He chose very well.  For dessert, I had a tower of white chocolate mousse surrounded by a dark chocolate curl under a scoop of caramel ice cream on top of a crunchy, nutty cookie.  Pure heaven.

We both ordered coffee, served in a small cup, with two very small sweets, a meringue and a tart.

Our meal lasted three hours.  We took our time, talked about all the happenings in our lives since the last time we'd seen each other nearly two years ago, watched our fellow diners, including a woman seated next to us having lunch with her parents accompanied by her very well-behaved pug-nosed dog.  I did not even realize he was there until the end of the meal.

Dogs are allowed most everywhere in France.  They do not eat scraps from the table, nor do they even ask for them.
Our meal was the main focus of our day, as it was for everyone else in the restaurant that day.  For us, it was a celebration of our friendship and my incredible luck.  My six-month stay in France has been the adventure of a lifetime.  I am deeply grateful to Durham Academy for giving me this opportunity and to my family and friends for understanding why I am here.  I now look forward to my return to Durham in mid-December and the chance to show off my new cooking (and eating!) skills.
I will leave you with Ghislaine's recipe for tomato soup.  I hope I've successfully recreated it.

(Update:   As of this writing, I am planning to return to France with 14 students in March.  Unfortunately, it will not be for a homestay and exchange with Ghislaine's school.  The French government continues to be concerned about the spread of the H1N1 virus and we do not know if we will be allowed to even visit the school for the day.  Ghislaine is meeting with the head of her school next week to ask permission to come visit us.  On verra...  We'll see.)

Ghislaine's Tomato Soup
Serves 2

3 tomatoes, seeded and cut into slices
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into slices
2 small shallots
2 cloves of garlic, diced
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, Italian spices, basil, curcuma, to taste
Water, 1-2 cups, as needed
1 boiled potato, diced

Cook the tomato, pepper, and shallots in olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and spices, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Watch the water level and add more if needed.
Remove from heat.  Add the potato.  Puree.  (an immersion blender is perfect) Serve hot.
You can add grated cheese, if you wish, at the table.

Bon appétit, Ghislaine!

To our friendship...

Friday, November 6, 2009

My B&B is for sale

the view outside the upstairs window at night...
those are honeysuckle vines

Ok, so it is not my bed and breakfast in Arles that's for sale, but I feel as if it belongs to me in some significant way.  I went for  my first cooking stage in 2005, took my friends, the Arles 6, there in 2006, went back there to work for Chef Érick Vedel in the summer of  2007 and then spent six month there on sabbatical in 2008.  Érick and Madeleine Vedel have now divorced and the chambres d'hôte, the B&B side of the house, is up for sale.  The price has been decided upon-- 296,000 euros or, at the current exchange rate, $444,000.  Well, I am a French teacher and have no family money, so I am not running to the bank to transfer funds.  Once in a while, I do buy a lottery ticket (in North Carolina it is, after all, the Education Lottery, with all proceeds going to our public school children and the future of America, right?) and am honest with all concerned that, should I be the big winner, I am buying my home in the south of France.   Visitors welcome.
In the B&B, there are five beautiful rooms with private baths, a long, narrow dining room, a cellar, a separate bath and linen closet that could easily be turned into a small kitchen to service the breakfast part.  Breakfasts in France are very low maintenance-- pastries, bread, jam, coffee or tea.  It is located within the old walls of Arles, just minutes from the Roman arena, the Rhône river, and the train station.  Vincent Van Gogh's little yellow house, if it were still standing, would be a stone's throw away.  The exact spot where he painted Starry Night over the Rhône is just a few minutes' walk from the front door.  Arles is amazing- a town of 50,000 full of Roman ruins and more still being found.  It hosts a world class photography conference every summer.  The Saturday market is worth a whole morning's visit.  It is within close driving distance of Marseille, the coast, the Camargue, Mont St. Victoire where Cézanne painted, Aix-en-Provence, St. Rémy de Provence, olive oil presses, vineyards producing incredible wines, les Baux de Provence... I could go on and on.
In March, I will be in France with fourteen of my 8th graders.  We will spend five days in Paris and then take the TGV down to Avignon and then head straight to Arles for five glorious days.  I have sent emails warning my buddies in Arles that I will make my grand retour in March so they'd better be ready!  We will cook with Chef Érick, visit the ruins and museums, stay at the Hôtel du Musée, eat wonderful Provençal food, visit the market and I can turn them lose a bit there, whereas I can't do that in Paris.  We can visit all the Van Gogh sites, picnic in the park, visit Avignon, if we wish, by just hopping on the train.  The 2,000 year old bust of Julius Caesar that was recently pulled out of the Rhône in Arles will be on exhibit in the Musée Départemental Arles Antique while we are there.  So, even Caesar himself will be around for my return.
And by the way, I can clean toilets en français, should anyone out there have the resources to indeed go to the bank and transfer those funds to buy the B&B on rue Pierre Euzeby.  Rick Steves and Lonely Planet love the rooms and have written about them.  See for yourself.  Just google it (for those of you who love google as much as I do) or buy a guidebook.  I'll run it for you.  Érick's photos of the rooms are found on Madeleine's website (scroll all the way to the bottom) at

Bon appétit, Arles! Tu me manques terriblement...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Paris Blogs & Onion Soup

Moi  in Paris November 2008
at the top of L'Arc de Triomphe

As cliché as it may be and as unexplainable as it is to my family (the one I was born into), I am just totally crazy, complétement folle, about Paris.  My 7th graders will begin researching their Paris monument or museum tomorrow and later make a presentation to their classmates.  I am spending way too much time daydreaming about the trip I will take in March with my fourteen 8th graders to Paris and Arles.  And then, today, Carol of Paris Breakfasts devoted her entire blog to La Tour Eiffel!  The real one, one done in macarons, another in chocolate, multicolored ones... it is all too much for me as I sit behind my desk, in front of my computer.  Through her post today, I now have another one to follow, Peter's Paris-- she put a link to his post about La Tour Eiffel and how La Grande Dame is celebrating her 120th birthday.  (I sense a party coming on...  one must celebrate such a thing, n'est-ce pas?)  Olivier, one of my French friends, just returned to Provence from a trip to Paris with his wife and two young sons.  He did report that the Iron Lady hasn't moved.  They took the elevator to the 2nd floor (the 3rd was closed) and then walked down the stairs.  I made my oldest son walk down with me when he was 10 years old.  Scared him pretty good-- me, too, to tell the truth.  It is just so open...

 She was blue last November (yes, really, Yolanda) to celebrate Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency of the European Union...

I just can't help but go back to last November, just about this time of year.  The now un-ex made his first visit to Paris.  Brand new passport in hand (it is NEVER to late to get this very important document, mes amis), he walked through the doors at Charles de Gaulle airport with a dazed look on his face.  We spent a grand week in Paris, strolling the streets (I did not have to count the heads of 8th graders... what a treat for me!), sipping red wine at cafés, spending all the time we wanted in various museums (I visited the Marmottan for the first time), eating as many bowls of soupe à l'oignon as I could, gazing in wonder at the windows of Galeries Lafayette all done up for Christmas (decorated with pink flamingoes-- animated, at that).  And he finally understood, in some small measure, my obsession with La Ville Lumière.  And he re-proposed at the top of Eiffel Tower.  And I had promised myself that I would marry the first man who did that.  Or remarry, in this case.  We will celebrate that anniversary soon with a nice bottle of champagne and dinner at Rue Cler, a little French restaurant here in Durham, named for one of my favorite streets in Paris.

oops... no before photo, just an after...  It was obviously very good soup!

Anyway, what's not to love about a city that has withstood the test of time?  From the Parisii tribe who settled it, to the Romans, to the German occupation during WWII... 

I found the following recipe on-line from Cooks Illustrated.  I love caramelizing onions because it makes my house smell so good.

The Best French Onion Soup  (check this out-- there are lots of good tips from people who have made this recipe...)

Serves 6

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 large yellow onions (about 4 lbs), halved and cut into slices
2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
1/2 c. dry sherry
4 c. chicken broth
2 c. beef broth
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small baguette, cut into 1/2 in. slices
8 oz. shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)

For the soup:

1.  Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat to 400F.

2.  Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed large (at least 7 quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 tsp. salt.  Place in oven and cook, covered, for 1 hour (the onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume).  Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot.  Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown (1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hours longer), stirring the onions and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot after an hour.  (Note:  I did this on the stove top,  instead of in the oven.   I think it works just as well.  Just stir the onions from time to time.)

3.  Carefully remove the pot from the oven and place over medium high heat.  Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, 15-20 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pot bottom is coated with a dark crust, roughly 6-8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.  Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.

4.  Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping the pot bottom to loosen crust and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6-8 minutes.  Repeat process of deglazing 2-3 more times, until onions are very dark brown.  Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.

5.  Stir in the broths, 2 cups of water, thyme, bay leaf and 1/2 tsp. salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.

6. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the croutons:
While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 400 F oven until the bread is dry, crisp and golden at the edges, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.

To serve:
Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler.  Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each one with about 1 3/4 cups soup.  Top each bowl with 1-2 baguette slices (do not overlap) and sprinkle evenly with cheese.  Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, 3-5 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.  (Note:  if you do not have oven safe crocks, you can place the bread on a baking sheet, top with cheese and place under broiler until cheese melts.  Then, after placing the soup in a bowl, top with the bread and cheese.)

Bon appétit, Paris, la Tour Eiffel and November!