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Friday, October 10, 2014

Pruneaux, Figuer, and Potiron

The rain falls steadily, softly; marking tiny circles in the millpond of La Belle Gasconne.

An escargot marks a Chemin - a path - across the picture window of La Belle Gasconne. 

It's our little band's last full day of this trip and we have a bit more tumbling and rolling and stirring to do for a Fete Midi.

But in the meantime here are a few photos from our adventures in this beautiful and tranquile embrace of, and with, Gascony. 

                Madame Fromagier


            Michel and the Marmite

       Potage Potiron with Haricot Rouge,              Recipe of Marie-Claude Gracia.

Cocottes waiting for Flan aux Verveine, Marie-Claude Gracia's Recette. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Day Three with David Downie and Onward to Poudenas

   
Hello from Poudenas!

I am writing on my I-phone outside of Cafe Galerie on the main street of the village of 300 inhabitants, which includes
Marie-Claude Gracia Rey with her husband, Christian, and her sons, Jean-Claude and Jean-Antoine, and her daughter Marie-Christine. 

We are blessed to be in the company of one, Michel Lebecq, who is a renaissance man and a wood turner, a farmer and leader of our little band through many culinary experiences....



In Mezin ...


On the train from Paris with Judy..



Cori and Brenda piquenique-ing


Cooking in a Paris apartment off Rue Daguerre

With Isabelle Bachelard at Rungis Market


In the Marais with David and Alison...

We spent a lovely morning with author and punster, David Downie and his wife, Alison Harris - photographer of all beauty, touring the Marais delighting in the history of the Templars, where Presisent Clinton ate, the seductive aromas of Marche l'Enfant Rouge and the sights of bejeweled chocolates. Lunch apres at one of their favorite restaurants.




David Downie and Alison Harris

Monday, September 29, 2014

Day Two, Three, and Four Went By In a Blink!


Paris mezmerizes. 
Tantalizes. 
Romanticizes. 

In Montparnasse Cemetary you can walk among the gingko trees and commune with the likes of Sontag, Sarte, and Zadkine. Man Ray gives a friendly nod. And Baudilare, is bawdy.  

I said to my friend Cori today that everyone is better looking in Paris. They smell so good. And I guess I meant everyone we see. She thought I meant everyone takes better care of themselves. And maybe that's true. It is true for me. I don't feel so schlumpy bumpy. But I am not sure why. Maybe its osmosis, being surrpunded by such beauty. 

We have been readying for the Twelve Day Tour and so that means walking. 

Tracing our steps along Rue des Bucherie and stopping in to Shakespeare and Company. We were just in time to hear Will Self Shark...which was winderful and strange. 

We went to Bon Marche on Rue de Sevre, and to Poilane on Rue de Cherche Midi.

But not Everything is art. 

We shopped at le Marche on Edgar Quinet and watched people descend as the vendors were closing up and discarding boxes of cucumbers, soft pears, peppers with spots, crushed containers of mache and bags of spinach 
and other varieties of laitue. 

Tall plastic bags of produce with ripe red tomatoes got dragged against their will by the men in the green suits.

But today we were busy in the kitchen; making Curried Tuna Salad with Potatoes and Peppers and then a Snow Pea Salad with Cucumbers and Green Zebra Tomatoes, a Flan of Oyster Mushrooms and Leeks and Julia Child's Cocolate Mousse for tomorrow when the Twelve Days officially begins.

We've got to catch a taxi as there is already too much to carry to move over to Rue Daguerre.

But the alarm is going to sound early to go out to Charles de Galle and fetch Brenda and Judy and welcome them and tantalize them with the best of Paris. 

What else are we to do? 





Thursday, September 25, 2014

Twelve Days (oops 16 Days) in Paris and Gascony

        Practicing a Little Bonjour

Beginning a journey to France, and while waiting for the plane, wanted to get started, or restarted, as its been ahwile since I posted.  

These "Twelve Days" Posts will embrace visiting markets and food destinations in Paris and in Gascony and what its like to cook with friends, new and old. These will be some deeply seasonal and regional foods, people, and experiences. It might be a little crazy. Can we pull it off? 

Shopping the Paris markets and cooking in an apartment is first. Well, finding the apartment is first. But Cori, my dear friend and the Lucy to my Ethel routine, is already there.

In the next few days, Cori and I will be scouting out Montparnasse one of my favorite arrondissements, and doung a little MEP! Making sure everything is in place, Mise En Place! 

I hope to share a funny story or two, the behind the scenes look at two quirky and hungry gals - who will become 4 Q and F gals - next week, in Paris. 

I encourage you that all the goodness of your kitchen is right there, waiting for you to step in and turn it on! 


        A Paris Book for the Plane

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Cooking Life: St. Jean's Feast Day, June 24th and Green Walnuts!

La Belle Gasconne


Hello and bonjour! 

It’s still early in the (day..) summer, June 23, but tomorrow is June 24 and St Jean’s Feast Day; and the day for bonfires, collecting green walnuts, and crushing them to make a sweet wine that is a tradition in Gascony. 

We have a grand old tree near us in Carrboro, that we've been watching grow and picking from since 1997. Listen while collecting the nuts, and you may feel a slight shift, as days are getting shorter, but not as short and cool as they will be come September! And there's a few spaces left for C'est si Bon!'s Trip to Gascony, we'd love to have you join us! 


Happy Anniversary! June 24th also just happens to be my 36th anniversary with Rich, my dear husband. 

I will try to photograph the process of making the green walnut wine, on instagram. Please feel free to follow me at MadameLevain. 

In the meantime, here is a true favorite ~ Salt and Honey Walnuts with Floc’d Figs

I have not seen any figs in the market yet. I know our trees will be lucky to bear any this year, because there was a cold snap right at the critical moment. This recipe works really well with dried figs. Serve as a sweet and savory appetizer for a special dinner. And in November, serve with your Vin de Noix. 


The Esplette pepper, is from the Basque region of France and has been used since introduced with corn there around 1523. adjust to suit your taste, then uummm!

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon esplette pepper

1 cup sliced dried figs
1 cup floc de Gascogne, available at Southern Season 

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons honey

mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper. set aside in a small bowl.

soak the figs in Floc for a couple of hours. when ready to cook, drain the Floc (should any remain, its yours, drink up)

heat a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat till hot.  add the oil, give it a swirl, then add the nuts. 

stir well, but gently till the nuts are warmed, but not burned.

add in the figs. sprinkle on the salt, sugar and pepper combination. stir well. 

add the honey and continue stirring till it’s melted and glazes the nuts. remove to a buttered baking sheet and allow to cool and harden.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Carpe Diem. Fulton Fish Market, Where it Began.

This excerpt from Mother's Five. A Season of Sauces. During this period, I was the food editor of the Chapel Hill News, and joined a conference in NYC of the AFJ, Association of Food Journalists. 

SEPTEMBER1995 AT FULTON FISH MARKET with the Association of Food Journalists.

Teddy's at Fulton Fish Market in 1944. A Tisket and a Basket of  Carp. 
             

“It is 2:30 isn’t it ?” came the questions, from uncoffee’d souls, not sure why now they had signed on for this early morning, Fulton Fish Market, tour.  Though the light inside the Westbury Hotel was the same as ever it appeared to be less bright than at 9am, coffee again, notwithstanding. 

            “Where is the goddamm coffee?” someone asked. Oh, that was me.  Walking amounted to mere attempts at shuffling. Blood circulated sleepily through veins, which only hours before, had rollicked alongside Rioja wines and tapas at the Metropolitan in a toast to the new Goya exhibit.

            We begin in a double decker bus, cruising the back streets of New York under the guidance of an almost full moon.

            At market we saw a doctorfish, mentioned by Shirley King in her book, Fish Basics. Cries of “watch out for trucks and men with hooks.”  Good advice no matter what the hour.

            “Nothing comes here by boat anymore.” Open 5 days from 3AM to 9AM.  Greatest variety of seafood on the Atlantic Seaboard.  Southern fish comes in Sunday and Wednesday.  Two buildings run from Fulton Street to Pecks Slip South.  Most fish sold whole.  Outa town people come on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Oh, zee little crabs, king mackerel, Venezuela parrot fish, croakers, squid, spanish mackeral, weakfish, John Dory, and spots.  All fish in New York comes through here at some point.  Sea robin, carp, tuna, shark, sword, fluke, flounder, bluefish, red snapper, amberjack, porgies, marlin, yellowfish and the movement to not buy billfish.  Who needs a fish with a bill? Yikes!  Tilefish, deepwater local fish not floor specialist. Monkfish, shark of unknown origin, arctic char, skate wings, triggerfish, red mullet (rouge).


“Everything that moves in the water, we sell.” Fish from Portugal, just for the halibut. Atlantic Wolf Fish, charmer with teeth. We wave goodbye to fresh smelt, and pass Sloppy Lowie’s, established in 1930 on our way to Amy’s Breads.  

Little did I know the luminaries I was walking with. 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Merging the Life of Cooking and Writing. Happy Mother's Day, Nana.

An excerpt from the Chapter on Ducks and Veloute in Mother's Five, A Season of Sauces.  


My brother, Jeremy, and I were handed over to Nana to raise like she raised her zinnias, begonnias, and tomatoes, right beside her deep bowls full of old fashioned yeasty potato dough she used for big round potato cakes and fastnacht doughnuts. We were about three years old and never gave a second thought to the arrangement, then. Nana also ran a Beauty Shop in her house on Fourth Street, which was right around the corner from my adopted mother's, Dr. Aileen's, medical practice on Douglas Street. I think because both these businesses were in our home, that may explain why I chose to build C’est si Bon! Cooking School beside our house, instead of renting a retail space.



Nana, (Dorothy) and her husband, Leroy's wedding portrait. 

Beauty Shop seems like an old-fashioned term. I mean how  many variations on a theme have we seen in that regard? But shop of beauty still perfectly describes Nana. Her linen tablecloths would also now be seen as vintage ~ but unlike her beauty Shop they are still here, and still in use at C'est si Bon! I used them in a Team Building just last week for a company that well, sees things a little differently. I talk back with Nana's simple and beautiful linens and as they lift her tablecloth off their "gourmet basket" my Team and I make sure they know the ingredients are organic. And so Nana's tablecloths are still full of her kind of beauty and her voice. The one she liked best was the one with bright red strawberries and a white background. That was for the days in May when the three of us, Nana, Jeremy, and me would have strawberry shortcake for dinner.




Nana, Jeremy and Me, early on. 

Nana didn't make cake in the traditional sense for our strawberry short cakes. She made a biscuit dough, patted it in and baked it in a glass pie plate. Her biscuit dough was a little on the sweet side. And the strawberries –  they were always bought the day we were going to eat them. Nana tucked quarters in our hands from the tin cans full of loose change that she kept in the glass-doored cupboard. We rushed out the front door and down the steps to the huckster lady who drove her truck slowly down Fourth Street every Wednesday morning. She drove slowly, so we would be sure to catch her. Nana shouted behind us - “taste them first and the best, only the best strawberries, you hear?” The huckster lady smiled as Nana watched from the front porch. 


About an hour before supper we mashed the sweet berries in a red pyrex bowl and mixed in lots of sugar. Nana pulled the hot shortcakes out of the oven, split them open while steaming, and spread them knee deep with butter, then piled on the strawberries and more strawberries. The crimson juice spilled all over the white plate. I'm sure Jeremy and I dribbled our fair share of red juice on Nana's tablecloth too. Well, I am sure I did. 

But besides buying strawberries from the huckster, Nana was devoted to going to the farmer's markets. And she was a natural teacher. I don't think she thought of it that way. But she was always dropped little hints as I tried to keep up with her in aisles of the 9th Street Market in Reading. But I was always dropping the paper bags instead, filled with white celery, mushrooms, parsley, and scallions that she piled in my arms. As the youngster, this was my job. I suppose I was in training then, but of course I had no idea about that either. This was "chust" the way it was done. I caught little wisps of her conversations with the vendors. She asked the poultry farmers about the muscovy ducks, the bakers about the bear claws and the rye bread. The farmers who heaped the straw over the celery to keep it white, always greeted her with a smile and a "Hello, Dot!" The man who ground horseradish knew she loved good food, and she was fussy about it. She knew exactly how she wanted her horseradish. I don't know how you learned all of what you knew. Nana, but you passed along everything. She adored cup cheese with molasses, sat down anytime for baby cakes dunked in coffee, and saw eye to eye with raisin sticky buns teeming with walnuts. 


Nana in Florida, with a friend. Maybe in her Forties?

Later my shopping privileges grew, and I advanced to being the main shopper. "Pick up some chicken corn soup  too, from Ciotti's freezer," she said. Was this a test to see if I had been paying attention during all our trips together? I am not sure how I got the big metal shopping cart out the door that first week. I'm sure she laughed a little as I tried to make it work. I like to think she had faith in me, I must have been about eleven, and I didn't know that being given the grocery shopping was such a big responsibility. I loved having the shopping to do, and I loved helping Nana. Going shopping to Ciotti's, the big Italian grocery store was the next step in the test, but again, I didn't see it that way. I only saw the glint in her eyes as her hands pinned the money in my pocket, as if now I had passed over the border into her land, and our bond grew. 


Nana at Fifty

One of the most special times with Nana was when I was newly married, and actually had nothing to do with food. Rich and I drove her away from Dr. Aileen's place where they both had moved; Mesa, Arizona. We drove west to California for a few days at Disney Land. This might have been for her 70th birthday. We drove with the windows open because the Cutlass Supreme had no air conditioning. Even though we kept checking in with her, Nana always shouted from the back seat that she was “chust fine.” We checked into a hotel just over the border in California and when we stepped into our room, there was a long mirror. Nana's hair was still perfectly coiffed, her permanent didn't let things get too far out of hand before they sprung back. But when I saw my hair – wild and windblown. She finally laughed out loud too, as if maybe we had recaptured a time where we had once been. A time we hadn't seen since Jeremy drowned. It was a sweet time, where the day was defined by simple tasks; like going to the market, digging weeds out of the garden, or collecting the heads of the zinnias in paper bags for their seeds. Before the time that Jeremy and I grew up and all innocence had passed. The time when she raised me and Jeremy on strawberry shortcake.  

She asked me to sit down on the bed. She slid my blue plastic comb out of my purse, and sat on the edge of the bed, too. We watched The Galloping Gourmet on TV and Nana patiently worked through the tangles to the ends.

As I say she was a Beautician. She always took matters into her own hands to fix them. When Jeremy and I first came to live with her she gave permanents and "sets" where she divided the neighbor ladies hair into plots and then into pin curls in the cellar shop. There beside the old wringer washer was one of those old-school bonnet hair dryers. Jeremy and I pretended to do each other's hair while she was washing clothes. My hair must have presented some sort of special project merit for Nana. Just like picking out the right Muscovy duck or getting the right grind on the horseradish, Nana was determined to fix the color of my hair and keep it curly. My hair was never allowed to get long, which of course I longed for, to be like the others girls. She always got out the hairdresser's scissors just when I thought maybe she would relent. Nana bleached my hair with baby shampoo mixed with 20 percent peroxide. She asked a hairdresser friend, Mr. Lloyd, for the correct timing. I remember my hair being very soft and yellow. And always curly. Later on, much later, when I was in charge of my own hair, I ferociously blew my hair dry and straight and in the dry heat of Arizona and California it was very easy.

            But on that day on in Hotel California Nana’s hands that had taught me all about the beauty of how to make biscuits, buy strawberries and search out chicken corn soup, held my long straight yellow hair as she softly stroked through. She didn't say a word. Neither did I. 


  

Later on, Nana and me.

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