Friday, April 18, 2014

Noël in April?

It feels like Christmas in April.  Or maybe the Easter Bunny (or Easter Bells, if you are French Catholic) has already been to visit me.  How lucky am I that my French girls made room in their suitcases for treats that they know I would love?  They pulled out the goodies yesterday after school while we were having tea.  Oh!  I was drinking my tea in this new cup--

Lavender fields.  Ahhhhhh

These girlies know me well, n'est-ce pas?

Cocktail napkins, Nestle chocolate to make my mousse au chocolat (with La Brune's recipe, of course) and le fondant au chocolat or moelleux au chocolat (Mlle de Tavel says she has found the perfect recipe and we plan to make it this week), a magazine from the airport about the redone Paris zoo in Vincennes (on next time's to-do list), little molds and dishes for small desserts for a café gourmand, as well as little glasses for the espresso (no, they are not shot glasses!), a bottle of red (I will share that with the Ex-Ex), a novel by Bernard Degioanni

with a note to me--

crème from Carrefour supermarket (to make the fettuccine and mushroom dish form the last blog), a bottle of my favorite Tavel rosé in a bag to keep it cool (from the Princess of Tavel aka Mlle de Tavel whose grandfather actually started the AOC for Tavel rosé, the best rosé in the world- I will save that story for later), an illustrated book about France that is adorable

and a magazine for kids, Mon Quotidien, that is full of wonderful pictures and is all about the most beautiful sites in France, les plus beaux sites de France.

Just how lucky am I?  Très.

Bon appétit and here's to Christmas in Avril!!  Merci beaucoup, mes amies!  Vous me gâtez!  What a spoiled girl I am!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What to feed a Frenchie

The younger generation making muffins for our tea time in March chez La Brune

My Frenchies are in the plane this very minute.  They left for the airport at 7:00 am France time (1:00 am EST) and are now headed across the Atlantic Ocean.  They will spend two nights in Washington, DC before boarding the bus that will bring them to my doorstep.  Well, actually, the doorstep of our school.  Are they having some of the same thoughts I have when I board the plan for France?  What will the weather be like?  Did I remember to put everything I should have in my suitcase?  And most importantly, what will I eat this time?  Will I go back to tried and true favorites or will I try something totally new?  

So... update two days later (got distracted and didn't finish the blog).
My Frenchies are now in a bus heading to Durham!  I still haven't solved the complete dilemma of what to feed them while they are here.  I asked my students for advice.  In French 7, we are studying food vocabulary.  In French 8, we've covered that a couple of times, but hey, it's French class.  It always comes back to food, just as almost every conversation in France does.  (Point that out to a real Frenchie and, once they think about it for a few minutes, it's like the cartoon where the light bulb goes off over the head...)

Mon dieu bon dieu, c'est vrai.

(Image courtesy of my amazing Skitch-ing ability and

Here's the list the kiddies came up with--  (We do this en français, of course!)

Hot dogs
Chicken parmesan

See where this is headed?  What's American cuisine?  I asked that question and that's what I got for American specialities.  Let's try again.

El Rodeo

(Big sigh)

Next try.  Okay, let's say I am making lunch on Easter Sunday for my house guests.  What should I serve?  (Brilliant, n'est-ce pas?)  Finally...

le jambon - ham
les pommes de terre en purée - mashed potatoes
les haricots verts - green beans
le maïs - corn
Cornbread  - no French equivalent here...  but great idea!
la tarte aux pommes - apple pie

So, the long and short of it at this point in time is that tonight we are ordering Chinese take-out, in little white cartons just like in Friends episodes, from the restaurant near my house, served with chilled Tavel rosé that Mlle de Tavel sent back with me in March.  With IronWoman's killer cookies for dessert. Tomorrow night, baseball park food at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (could we get more American?), a cook-out chez IronWoman on Saturday night, the above-mentioned feast on Sunday in honor of Easter, and that's as far as I've gotten.  I have to ask my guests of honor what they would like to try that they haven't already tasted and we will plan from there.  La Brune makes a fabulous pasta dish with fettuccine, mushrooms, cream, onions, and bacon.  I've tried to replicate it, but mine just is not as good as hers.  I will try to pay more attention this time and be the world's best assistante.
Oui, chef!

La Blonde et la Brune will soon be reunited.  In less than two hours.

Here we are in March with Jean-Marc Roubaud, M. le Maire of Villeneuve-lez-Avignon.  We had an official welcoming ceremony.  Trop cool, hein?  And François Hollande, M. le Président de la République française, is looking over us from the wall.

Bon appétit and happy eatin' to my Frenchies!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Eaters in training

Mlle de Tavel is a superb English teacher.  She is also very silly.  She almost always makes a face when she knows she is being photographed.  It is a face to love, though.  Her students are crazy about her.  I love visiting her classes when I am in France.
In January, I was invited to visit with her 6th graders.  They had prepared a couple of activities for me. We warmed up by practicing commands.

Stick out your tongue.

Touch your nose.

And so on.
Then they entertained me with a song they had learned about what they like (yum, yum, yum) and don't like (yuck, yuck, yuck).

Adorable, n'est-ce pas?

They also had a game ready to play with me.  (My reputation for cooking and eating is legendary in that part of France, I suppose.)

The kids had asked their parents and grandparents for recipes.  Saying that a recipe is une recette grand-mère is a high compliment-- grandma's recipe.  I scored two points if I could identify the recipe with only the ingredients given.  One point if I could name the dish after they read the directions. No points if I couldn't get it at all.  They had translated the recipes into English and had to practice numbers, food vocabulary and giving directions.  What a wonderful idea!  And I came away with several recipes.  I did score a few points, but even better, I scored new recipes!  Here's one of them. And I might as well confess... At this very minute, it is the only one I can find.  I've sent an SOS email to Mlle de Tavel asking for the others if she has them handy.  Mon dieu bon dieu.  Let me check to make sure my head is where it is supposed to be.  I will find the recipes eventually...  maybe.  Let's hope Mlle de Tavel checks her email before heading across the ocean to chez moi.

** Yippee!  Mlle de Tavel just came through and sent me all the recipes!  I am so happy!

Can you guess?

1.  For my first recipe, you need the following ingredients:

100 g of sugar
100 g of flour
100 g of butter
3 eggs

Mix well all the ingredients with a spatula.
Put in the oven for 25 minutes at 180˚C (double for F oven).

This is a Quatre-quarts.  Four-fourths literally.  Pound cake-type cake.  I didn't get it.  They didn't give me any points for gâteau.  C'est comme ça.  Haven't ever heard the cake called this.

2.  For my second recipe, you need the following ingredients:

250 g of sugar
250 g of milk or dark chocolate
3 tablespoons of water
250 g of butter
3 eggs
3 tablespoons of flour

Melt the chocolate and the butter.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and the sugar, then add the flour.
Pour the melted chocolate into the egg mixture.
Tip the batter into an oven dish.
Chill for 20 minutes.
Heat oven to 200˚C and cook for 20 minutes.

I got this one.  Fondant au chocolat.  The recipe I keep trying to perfect.  Not sure what happened to the water?  Must ask.

3.  For my third recipe, you need the following ingredients:

4 eggs
A pinch of salt and pepper
200 g of bacon (lardon in French-- thick cut bacon chopped)
20 cl of cream
10 cl of milk
Short crust pastry

Preheat the oven to 190˚C.
Roll out the pastry and place on a baking tray and bake blind for 20 minutes.
Reduce the temperature of the oven to 180˚C.
Fry the bacon until crisp and sprinkle on the pastry.
Combine the eggs with the milk and cream in a bowl and season well.
Pour over the bacon.
Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Got this one, too.  Quiche lorraine.  Good grief.  I am hungry.  What's for dinner??

4.  For my fourth recipe, you need the following ingredients:

1 kg of potatoes
250 g of bacon (lardons)
1 onion
1 reblochon (a smelly type of cheese- if you can't find this, some websites I looked at suggested brie or camembert- something creamy, or a mixture of one of those and gruyère-- I'd probably try the camembert or brie)
A bit of oil
4 garlic cloves

Preheat oven to 200˚C. 
Peel and part-boil the potatoes, then cut them into thin slices.
Chop the onion and garlic.
Fry the bacon, onion and garlic for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown.
In an oven dish, layer the potatoes and the bacon, onion and garlic.
Season with salt and black peper.
Layer the Reblochon slices on top.
Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes.

I guessed gratin de pommes de terre.  I was sure.  Guess again.  Non!  Tartiflette.

5.  For my fifth recipe, you need the following ingredients:

1 litre of milk
100 g of rice
100 g of sugar
A vanilla pod

Put all the ingredients in a pan and cook for 45 minutes.

Got this one--  riz au lait!  One of my favorites since Chef Érick made it for me the first time in Arles.  Kind of a rice pudding but not baked.  Mama Mildred used to make this for us for breakfast (without a vanilla pod, just vanilla extract) when I was growing up.  And I didn't even know it had a French name!

6.  For my sixth recipe, you need the following ingredients:

80 g of butter
75 g of sugar
1 sachet of vanilla sugar (I can actually find this at Harris Teeter)
3 eggs
200 g of flour
5.5 g of baking powder
1/4 litre of milk

Melt the butter and mix with the sugars.
With a fork, whisk 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk and add to the rest.
Whip the egg white until stiff.
Sift the flour and baking powder.
Slowly add the milk and then delicately mix in the egg white.
Grease your "gaufrier" and cook for 2-3 minutes.

After the ingredients were read to me, I guessed crêpes.  Non!  Gaufres vanillées maison.  Homemade vanilla waffles.  A gaufrier is a waffle iron.

Finally for my seventh and last recipe, you need the following ingredients:

1.5 kg of various saltwater fish
500 g of tomatoes
1 big onion
1 leek, (white bit only)
1 small green pepper
4 garlic cloves
1 sprig of dried fennel
1 sprig of dried thyme
2 bay leaves
3 stems of parsley
4 pinches of saffron
4 Tbsp. of olive oil

Scale, empty and clean the fish and wash all the vegetables.  (I would buy my fish ready to go!)
Cut the tomatoes into quarters.
Cut the green pepper into thin slices.
Thinly slice the onion and the leek and peel and chop the garlic.
Heat the oil in a big pan and gently fry the onion, garlic, leek and green pepper.
Add the tomatoes, fennel, thyme, bay leaves, parsley, saffron and fish.
Add salt and pepper.
Mix for 2 minutes, then put a lid on and cook on a very gentle heat for 10 minutes.
Pour 2 litres of boiling water over this and cook for 20 minutes over low heat.

In the meantime, prepare the "rouille" - to do this, you need:

3 garlic cloves
2 fresh chili peppers
10 g bread crumbs
20 cl olive oil
4 pinches of saffron
1/2 tsp. of coarse salt

Peel and chop the garlic.
Cut the chili peppers into halves, scrape out stems and seeds and chop.
Put in a mixer with garlic, saffron and salt.  Mix well.
Add the bread crumbs and mix again.  Finally, slowly pour the oil while mixing until you have a lovely thick sauce of a rusty colour.  

When the soup is ready, put it through a sieve.
Rinse your pan and put the soup back in and heat it up gently.

Serve the soup with toasted bread.  Spread the "rouille" on the toasts and float them on your soup.

Got this one.  Oui, la soupe de poissson.  Fish soup.

All yum, yum, yum.  No yuck, yuck, yuck.

Bon appétit to all eaters, young and old!  See you in one week, Mlle de Tavel!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Following Vincent

Let's go to Arles today.  My favorite French town.  Where I feel at home, even if I don't run into anyone I know or anyone who remembers me from 2007-2008.  Let's go with Vincent Van Gogh.  The city of Arles has put these plaques in the sidewalks to point you to the spots that Vincent made famous in his paintings done around town.

I visit this spot every time I visit Arles.  I pay homage, so to speak.  It is only about a 3 minute walk from where I lived in Arles during my sabbatical.  It overlooks the Rhône with a magnificent view of the center of town.

I wish that I had left this flower for Vincent.  But I am thankful to the anonymous person who did. Starry Night Over the Rhône is my favorite painting.  Not just my favorite Van Gogh, but my favorite painting period.  Unfortunately, it was not on display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris last month.  It was on loan to another museum.  The Orsay was getting ready for a special Van Gogh exhibit.  I just missed the opening.

While in Arles, I also took my students to see the Hôtel-Dieu, the site of the hospital where Vincent was taken after cutting off his ear.  The flowers have been replanted there and it was his painting that gave the landscapers an idea of what it looked like while he was a patient there.

We also visiting his bridge.  It is a bit outside of the main part of town.

The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh reopened today in Arles.  I so wish I could be there.  The Fondation has been closed for the past three years in order to do renovations and prepare the new space. There will be several of his paintings on display during this exposition.  Before, there were none. According to the Fondation's website (this is my translation)--

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853- 29 July 1890) lived in Arles between February 20, 1888 and May 8, 1889.  That was nearly 15 months or 63 weeks or precisely 444 days.  During his stay, he produced nearly 200 paintings, 100 drawings and watercolors and he wrote more than 200 letters.  Most of these have been preserved.
... The Arles period is often called the zenith, the highest point, the greatest blossoming of Van Gogh's ten-year artistic career.
                                       --Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles

Vincent wanted to start an artists' colony in Arles.  Gauguin joined him there and lived with him in the yellow house.  His dream never materialized, though.  He packed up and left to head back north in 1889, spending the last part of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise.
I fell in love with Vincent when I read Lust for Life written by Irving Stone.  I've also read The Yellow House by Martin Gayford, about the nine weeks Van Gogh and Gauguin spent together in Arles.  I have Van Gogh's Women by Derek Fell in my bookcase but haven't read it yet.  Arles Lucy, who shares my love of Vincent, gave me Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith for Christmas.  I saw them on 60 Minutes one Sunday night talking about their book.  Their theory is that Vincent did not shoot himself, that he did not commit suicide.  Lust for Life is also a movie, starring Kirk Douglas.  I also watched Van Gogh, a French film starring singer Jacques Dutronc.  I've read about one by Paul Cox called Vincent but I haven't seen it.  I have only scratched the surface of the books written about Vincent.  I have the song Vincent by Don McLean in my iTunes library, of course. One of the reasons I decided to travel to Arles in 2005 was because of Vincent, so yes, I suppose you could say I am a bit obsessed.  I prefer to call it fascination with such a talented man whose life ended before he could even sell one of his paintings.  I have been to his grave, where he is buried beside his brother Theo.  It is due to Vincent's prolific letter-writing, particularly to Theo, that we know so much about him, his work, and his thoughts.

Time to leave Arles for the time being.

So, what would I cook for Vincent if he stopped by to see me?  I have found the perfect recipe.  I think it would have warmed him up on a chilly Arles night.

Beef Daube Provençal
adapted from Cooking Light All-Time Top-Rated Recipes, June 2014 edition

1 Tbsp olive oil
12 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 (2 pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into bite-sized cubes (should fit in a spoon)
1 1/4 tsp sea salt, divided
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 c.  red wine  (I used a Pic St. Loup)
2 c. chopped carrots
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 c. beef broth
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. Herbes de Provence or 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary and 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Dash of ground cloves
1 (14.5 oz) can petit diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
3 c. cooked medium egg noodles (about 4 c. uncooked noodles)

Preheat oven to 300˚F.
Heat a small Dutch oven over low heat.  Add oil to pan.  Add garlic and cook for about 5 minutes or until garlic is fragrant, stirring while it heats.  Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside. Increase heat to medium-high.  Add beef to pan and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Cook about 5-7 minutes, browning on all sides.  Remove beef from pan.  Add wine to pan and bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.  Add garlic, beef, remaining 3/4 tsp. salt, remaining 1/4 tsp. pepper, carrots and next 8 ingredients, ending with bay leaf.  Bring to a boil.
Cover and bake at 300˚F for 2 1/2 hours.  Discard bay leaf.  Serve over noodles.

Serve with the rest of the wine.  I found this one in Montpellier during the March trip.  I discovered Pic Saint Loup one fine fall day in 2008 with Chef Érick.  It's his favorite red.

Bon appétit, Vincent and to all who also love him and his work!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Eating à la française March 2014

This year's student trip took us -IronWoman, our 19 eighth grade charges, my French 2 students, and me to Paris, Rouen, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon and Arles.  We spent four days in Paris, one day in Normandy visiting the D-Day sites, two nights in Rouen, one day exploring the city, then down south via the TGV to visit our pen pals.  The kids were with families in VLA, Pujaut, Les Angles, Rochefort du Gard, Roquemaure, and Sauveterre.  We spent a day in Arles, visiting the town and the market, and one day exploring Villeneuve-lez-Avignon.  It was an amazing trip.  We had the best weather possible, not a cloud in the sky and temperatures between 45-60 F every single day.  M. Le Mistral put in an appearance the last day of our trip.  I think he missed me and wanted to make sure I hadn't forgotten him.
I thought that I would take you on our trip through the food we ate.  At least through the food I ate.  We ate all of our breakfasts and dinners together but, while in Paris and Rouen, the kids were given a bit of freedom some days to choose where they wanted to have lunch.  And they ate with their French families, of course, and I wasn't there to take photos.  (Hopefully, they did though.)  I was busy doing my own eating and picture-taking!

Let's start with breakfast.
The spice/gingerbread in Rouen was really a treat.

Pain aux raisins.  My absolute favorite.  First morning in Paris.

And last morning Chez La Brune (formerly known on this blog as Mme P).  We went to three or four different bakeries before we found them!  Persistence does pay off.  Doesn't this look amazing?  Trust me, it was.

Lunch time.
I am crazy about mussels, les moules.  With frites, of course.  First in Normandy at a restaurant at Omaha Beach.  We discovered it a couple of years ago and I love this place.  The wife drags the husband out of bed to come take orders.  He takes his time getting those orders and we take our time eating.  No big rush.  With a view of the English Channel and Omaha Beach right across the street.

For our first lunch in Paris, we ate a crêperie near Le Panthéon in the Latin quarter.  One of the kids didn't want the dessert chocolate crêpe so one of the boys asked me if he could find a homeless person to give it to.  He found this lady on the steps of a church.  They are sweet little critters, my students.

An appetizer salad with goat cheese for lunch in Paris.

Our amuse-bouche in Rouen.

The main course.  I shared this with My Favorite Parisien.

Up close and personal.

I love sandwiches, too.  Baguette, butter, fromage, jambon.  What's not to love?

Street eats.  Fouace.  New to me.  Brioche-type bread, lightly sweetened with orange flavor.  Found at the Thursday market in VLA.  

La Brune loves it and she shared with me.  A true friend.

Cheesecake from Sacha Finkelsztajn in the Marais.  Yes, it was as good as it looks.

Tea time Chez La Brune.  Meringues dipped in chocolate.  Fouace.  Nougat.  Lavender, almond and honey tartelette from a bakery in Arles.  Ahhhhh.

Dinner is served.
Ravioli in cream sauce as appetizers at Le Bistrot d'en Face in Paris.  This was hands down the kids' favorite.

Another amazing appetizer- leek tart.  Presentation is quite important, wouldn't you say?

Apéritif time Chez la Brune.  Olives from the Villeneuve market.  Saucisson from the Ardèche.  Chèvre from La Cabriole, La Brune's brother and sister-in-law's fromagerie.  I got to visit with the new baby goats.

Brandade à la Brune.
I learned to make this during my sabbatical.  It is a Provençal speciality made with salt cod.  Delicious served with boiled potatoes, salad and lots of bread.

We also made coucous at La Brune's house.  Vegetables, meat, spices.  Served over the grain.  A north African dish that is very popular in France.

Mediterranean moules frites.  These were better than the ones I had in Normandy.  Saltier.

And the pot au feu La Brune and I made for our farewell dinner party the night before I left.  She knows how much I love this dish.  (Note the home made mayonnaise on the side.)  Mustard is also good with this.  I am talking the Dijon-style spicy mustard.  IronWoman now knows to eat it sparingly!

In a category all of their own, of course.
La Brune and I made a tarte aux pommes my first night there.  She made the crust, I was in charge of brushing the crust with apricot preserves, cutting and arranging the apples.  Generously sprinkled with cinnamon because we love it.

Tarte au chocolat in Paris.

More tarts.

Fondant au caramel from Le Bistrot d'en Face.  I love caramel.  Served with vanilla ice cream.  (I am still working on this recipe.  I tend to bake it too long and the warm caramel doesn't gush out when broken open.)

And last but not least, baba au rhum.  My first.  I've heard about this dessert, but I had never tried it until Mlle de Tavel brought it to the dinner party.  She loves to bake and this is her dad's favorite dessert.  She has been perfecting her recipe for years.  She finally hit on the right recipe to please her "Papounet" as she calls him.  This is a light, sponge-type cake.

She shared the recipe.  And gave me permission to share it here.  She's a princess.  

Papounet's Baba au Rhum

(If you do not have a scale to measure in grams, you can convert the measurements on the internet.  I used this website traditional oven.  I have a small scale and use it quite a bit, though, since I have a lot of French cookbooks and recipes.)

100 g flour (about 4/5 c)
100 g caster sugar (abut 1/2 c) This is basically white granulated sugar that is ground to a more fine consistency in a food processor- super fine, but not powdery.
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 pack of baking powder (2 teaspoons)

Butter a baking dish.  (You can see that Mlle de Tavel uses a ring-shaped pan.)  I would probably lightly flour the pan, too, just to make sure it doesn't stick.
Preheat oven to 375˚F.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together.
Beat the egg whites until stiff.  Gently add to the yolk-sugar mixture.
With a spoon, gently stir in flour mixed with baking powder.
Spoon the cake batter into the prepared baking dish.
Bake for about 30 minutes at 375˚F.  Test with a toothpick or knife for doneness.  
Allow cake to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan and then remove from pan.

While the cake is baking, make the rum syrup.

Rum Syrup

2 cups water
125 g brown sugar (about 5/8 c)
3 dl rum (about 1 1/4 cups)-  Papounet loves his baba very rummy so this is a strong measure- feel free to add less

Heat everything in a small pot.  Remove from heat as soon as it starts to boil.  As soon as the cake is baked and out of the pan, pour the syrup all over the baba.  Use it all.  The cake soaks it up!  Mlle de Tavel then refrigerates her cake for at least 4 hours.  
Serve with whipped cream or custard, if you wish.

I've also seen recipes (there are a lot of them out there!) that use orange flavoring in the batter.  

Bon appétit et bon voyage, La Brune and Mlle de Tavel.  See you very soon!  À très bientôt!