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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

French Travel Adventures: Marie-Claude Gracia Rey's Leek Tart, Part Deux

As you may remember from last time (read part one here) we were just about to go into her kitchen at La Belle Gasconne to make Marie-Claude's amazing Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux. 

Join us this summer in 2015, for another Gascony Luxury Tour

Marie-Claude's tart uses a brisée dough for the crust. You may also see this called pate sale brisée. It is a French classic. Are you familiar with it? Marie-Claude says makes this statement in her book, La Cuisine de Passion, to convey the meaning of brisée


 poireaux, leeks from Michel's Farm. 


La Belle Gasconne Kitchen, calm, and ready for action!

"Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises." 

What could this mean, I ask my friend Aileen Randall, a Carrboro and Chapel Hill French teacher who has been co-leader of numerous Teen-Chefs in Provence, Paris and Tuscany trips with me. Aileen advised this can mean, “I don’t want to poach on your preserves. Or, it could possibly mean "I will not walk in your breezes."

Of course misunderstandings in French, in France, in the French kitchen and in life, are always possible. I accepted the approximation as I accept and admire Marie-Claude. In fact, I didn't need to hear a word for word explanation. I imagined it had to do with the respect of the countryside and so of course it meant that no one should go poach (hunt) on your hunting preserves. It didn't mean I couldn't poach a lovely shad from the Gelise River there or a even a chicken, in a rich pot full of carrottes and oignon and laurier you just harvested, if need be, just so long as the hunter was invited. 

Marie-Claude in this case..was the grand chausser of the leek tart! the keeper of the tradition! And as a guest "Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises." 

I didn't allow that I could be wrong. Horribly wrong. I might simply mean it was unacceptable to poach (steal) your apricot preserves. Or fig preserves. Cherry was another matter and they were up for poaching, grabs as we say here ~ which isn't that equally strange?  

And so I will always remember the day when Marie-Claude came into the kitchen to see how we were coming along with the tart. I had invited her and her husband, Christian, to lunch -- which of course I was nervous about! On one hand it seemed rather brazen to invite Marie-Claude to lunch on one of her prized recettes - but then it also could have seemed brazen not to invite her when we were working in her kitchen trying to replicate her dish. Who better to tell us how it came out? GULP.

In Cuisine de Passion she says, "Me, I always prepare little tartlettes for my clients, but certainly in the family its better to prepare one big pretty tart. If you have company you can prepare many bite size tarts. As a “cocktail-snack” or an appetizer with an aperitif."

We were going with the big pretty tart. We even found one of her tart pans to use. 

The dough must be soft. I smooth it out with the boxwood rolling pin of my great grandmother Aurelie which I take with me everywhere I travel, as my good luck charm. 



 pate sale brisée


Ok, here we need to go back. On our first shopping trip to the Mezin Sunday Marche, we had a marvelous time. We dillied. We dallied. We met Michel, he being our guide, and the farmer of leeks, potatoes, potiron (pumpkin) and wood-turning. Come back for another post about our further adventures with Michel. He took our little group around the market. We took photos. 



Mezin Marche with Brenda, Michel, Moi, and Cori

It was already going on 11 am. Alors! We ran around like poulet sans tetes and were lucky to get a piece of any pork at the charcuterie shop for our sausage and lentil lunch dish the next day. Yes, did you notice that sausage was mentioned? The pork we got was not, and would never be, the sausage that we needed, but since the shop was closing and would be closed till Tuesday morning, it would have to do. But for heavens sake, we forgot the beurre! So we had to reschedule making the Leek Tart for Tuesday.  

When the dough is smooth and as thin as possible, using the rolling pin I pass my hands under it and then I lightly lift till I can see my hands through it. I stretch it so thin so that I can see my hands through it. And  then I put it in the bottom of the tart pan. And then I prick it with my fork. When the garniture (the filling) is in place I cover it with a dough that I try to stretch even more finely than the one underneath. The secret of my tourte is that as for the garnish, (the filling) it changes often, depending on the evening and the inspiration. 

Oh boy. I already knew that we had not rolled the crust thin enough. And with that, were we in big trouble or what?! Marie-Claude took one look at our bowl of leeks, sitting in a bowl of water, and gently asked if we knew not to do that? Cooking the leeks - she took down the heaviest pan on the shelf with one arm and plopped it in place on the burner. She whooshed on the fire, and nestled the leeks in a towel and patted them dry. With nary a concern for her hands she moved the damp leeks to the hot pan where they sizzled, but no, actually they didn't - you just think they will. The leeks sat there and were quite patient to have a little time with the heat. As much time as Marie-Claude determined was necessary. She watched the poireaux with a fierce kind of love, fluffed them with her fingers. They began to steam..they turned a bright green, and then she removed them from the pan. Quickly and spread them out to cool. Then, she left us to finish the dish. "Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises." 

So, did Marie-Claude ever taste our Leek Tart? Tune in next time. And join us in Gascony!  to make another ...


Marie-Claude Gracia Rey on the back cover of La Cuisine de Passion 

Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux
prep time, 1 hour. baking time 40 minutes.

for the pâte brisée salée – standard french short pastry dough

short pastry dough or pate brisee is unleavened and great for savory or sweet tarts, quiches or any other pie sort of knosh. the standard accepted ratio is ½ the amount of fat to flour.

300 grams of butter (1 cup 5 tablespoons)
10 grams of salt (1 teaspoon)
500 grams of all purpose flour (4 cups 2 tablespoons)
1 egg, beaten
125 grams of water (1/2 cup)

for the garniture - the filling
500 gms very white leeks
250 gms little pink mushrooms from the meadow or de champignons de paris
20 cl crème fraiche thick
1 egg
Salt and white pepper

for the pastry.
on a hard work surface  - marble, granite or formica - place your flour and salt. mix with your fingers. cut the butter into tablespoon size pieces, and put with the dry ingredients. gently, use both hands and rub without squeezing the butter into the dry ingredients. you are aiming for a sandy texture with all the butter mixed into the dry ingredients, gently and surely. when the butter is well mixed in, with one hand, gently mix the butter/flour with the egg. with the other hand, pour some of the water over the mix and continue bringing the ingredients together. once all the ingredients are mixed together (you may or may not have used all the water), stop mixing and put aside the dough in the refrigerator to rest for about 30 minutes or longer if necessary and more convenient.

first prepare the dough.
when it has rested sufficiently divide it into 2 unequal parts; 2/3 and 1/3 smooth out the biggest to the diameter of the tourtier, butter and flour the mold, the moule. garnish the bottom of the moule with the very thin dough.

prepare the garnish.
peel the leeks only keep a drop of the green and then cut in fine julienne. If possible get yourself poireaux de vigne which adds to the impertinence, or possible the strength of the flavor. put them in a heavy pan skillet over average heat, with no water or anything in a way that will be at least 2 cm of poireaux.  turn it with a wooden spoon or your fingers so that the humidity of the leeks on the bottom impregnante well those that are on the top. stop at about 6 minutes approximately, when they are still “craquants” and emerald green.

besides, choose the little pink mushrooms of the meadow, the smallest ones, and the most “croquant” crunchy..the most closed..or by default those old mushrooms of paris. remove the peel and the stems. keep the mushroom caps that you minced them finely. especially don’t wash them. put a layer of the leeks and half a layer of the mushrooms on top of the raw dough. add crème fraiche very evenly over the leeks and the mushrooms, then salt and pepper. the filling must be light soft and delicate and rise to ¾ of the tarte pan. stretching the rest of the dough to cover the tart. now, with a whole egg, brush over the tart, turn it golden with a whole egg.

we’re going to put it in the oven, if your oven is not very aggressive let it cook for 35 minutes and if not then at 40 minutes. serve as is. Either as an entrée or after the foie gras with a dry white wine, a vin de Poudenas. (Colombard ou Ugni Blanc) or a light red wine, (from Duras or un Buzet.)

and don’t tell the men that there are leeks inside because the majority of them detest them. and if they don’t know there are poireaux in there they will feast in all innocence. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

French Travel Adventures: Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

all species on earth, 

dwellers in the sea and flocks, 

all dash madly into the flame.

(The Complete Essays By Michel de Montaigne - where M. addresses "some lines of virgil")

As the saying goes, in the dictionary under the word tranquility there is a photo of La Belle Gasconne, the 14th century mill-house in the tiny village of Poudenas, France. 

La Belle Gasconne was, and is, famous. First as an Auberge Restaurant that was run by Chef Marie-Claude Gracia Rey, who lives her passion, and her mesmerizing culinary legacy. And now as a stunning retreat to rent for your very own, for a week or longer.

Water is a primary soothing element here as the millhouse is on an island and to sleep, and dream of the past, by the Gelise River is always soft and magical.
Marie-Claude’s story itself is one that inspires more than a bit of magic.



One of many articles about Maria-Claude Gracia Rey

I have been going to Poudenas for 20 years and feel very fortunate to have been there and seen Marie-Claude at the helm of the kitchen running the well known Auberge. That was then, in 1996. I was as nervous as one of her wobbly Flan a la Verveine de la Mer. (Her mother’s exquisite flan made with lemon verbena)

But this is now. 

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to bring other groups and one time we took a master cooking class with her. She prepared with us, and then for us, all the while entertaining us with her supreme espirit of amusement, as most of watched her in stunned admiration! This was not easy ~ it's one thing to prepare when it is your kitchen, and you are the chef running the restaurant, but I am sure we drove her crazy. This was not a simple meal by any stretch of any imagination – but a traditional Gasconne menu which came directly from her heart, and also her beautiful and famous cookbook, La Cuisine de Passion.

What a privilege to continue to spend time in the kitchen with Marie-Claude Gracia Rey.

She is so humble and modest and never speaks about herself, or her accomplishments. We have enjoyed so many at the table experiences with her and Christian, her husband. Along with the generosity of her sons, who we've gotten to know, and are well-known in their own right, as painters and artists and chefs and sommeliers. I hope to get to know her daughter in the coming time. 

Layers of life in Poudenas have been peeled back or laid down, maybe both. I am humbled to share, to learn, and for a small time to give you a small glimpse into the kitchen of Marie-Claude.

During our tour this year, one rainy morning we were ensconced in the kitchen with our little group making her Leek Tart.

Now before I get too far, and dance right into her recette, let me back up a bit to say there is no way that you can enter, walk, be, or cook in the millhouse kitchen without knowing and feeling that this is still her kitchen. This is not because of anything Marie-Claude says or does, non, non. She will go out of her way to declare this is your home, make you feel at home. She will give out kisses if something breaks, which my friend Cori, can tell you, does happen. But in short, because of her incredible presence, her ambiance, you could never forget that this is her domain. And La Belle Gasconne was, and always will be, nothing short of encroyable. 

Marie-Claude embraces the quiet life now. But at one time this was very far from the norm. Just how far from the norm, I learned this past October. 

To be standing in her kitchen is one thing but cooking there is quite something else. I say this because as much as I thought I knew, I really knew only the tip of her story. She shared her large book of newspaper and magazine profiles and interviews with me and though I had to leave it behind, I say with the utmost respect, admiration and honor that if she is willing, I would love to tell you about her; friend, woman, mother, daughter, and chef, Marie-Claude Gracia Rey and her incredible story.   

To be continued.....Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux!



Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Writing Life: Pero Tafur and a quite possibly damn good sea-travel-worthy-focaccia.

Bonjour Mes Amis of the Kitchen and the Pen ~~~

Of course there will be a fire involved. Just in case you were worried that this will be a flat story about a, flat bread, a focaccia.

Now that the holidays have passed..I have set my sights on pulling together various threads of the Psomi manuscript.

This morning as I was reading about carrier pigeons, who should stumble in but Pero Tafur, who claims to be a Spanish traveler born in 1410, about then, and in Cordoba, or about there, somewhere. His stories exbound on sea-going adventures in the Mediterranean, taken vessels, miserable conditions, and the occassional French squire falling off a mountain.

At the time he wrote his travelogue narratives there was no such thing as printing. If you want to go along for the rather extraordinary ride, put on your rain slicker and read the digitized version here but only if carrier pigeons also are your sort of thing. You can also download the pdf version from Colombia University here.

If you'd rather hold the book in your meaty little hands, then cough up the hundred or so dollars of change and order away from Amazon, (which seems like a crime) or directly from Gorgias Press.

Back to the fire. All this talk with Pero made me, of course, hungry. From what I can piece together he had something similar to this Focaccia on board a ship off the coast of Sardinia.

The Best Focaccia...

Chestnut focaccia with poire, lavender and thyme

You may be surprised at how well the pear blends with thyme and lavender atop this chewy earthy bread.

The starter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 package or 2 t. Dry yeast
2 ½ cups lukewarm water

Start the starter:
One full day, that is 24 hours before you’d like to eat/serve your focaccia make the starter.
Put the flour in a large glass or crockery bowl. And make a well in the center. Add the yeast and water to the well ad gradually stir them to mix them. Gradually incorporate the flour until well combined. Beat until smooth, using a fork is fine. Cover with a towel in a warm draft free place for 24 hours. In order to get a starter going you must feed it. Every 7 days discard 1 cup or 8 ounces of your starter, and replace it with this. 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mixed flour and 1/2 cup water. If a clear liquid forms on top, just stir it in, but if it turns pink, the starter has spoiled. Throw it away.

Once your starter is established, plan to use it once a week or discard 1 cup and feed it 2 cups of flour and 1 cup water to keep it fresh and active.

For the final focaccia:
1 cup of starter
2 1/4 cups more water
2-4 cups chestnut flour
2-4 cups regular flour

For topping:
Olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, combined with 1/8 tsp lavender
3 chopped pears, skin on

Begin by adding 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to the starter in the bowl and stir until well-combined. Add the salt and enough flour and water (1 cup at a time) to make a thick mass of dough which is difficult to stir. Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead in the remaining flour if needed, until the dough is firm and smooth. Let this dough rise for about an hour, 
The Wood Oven in a Quiet Moment

taking 2 if you can. Shape the dough into a ball, lightly oil a large bowl and set the dough to rest in the bowl. The dough will not act like a normal yeast bread, it will not rise to a really puffy state.


Prepare the pan for baking: use a large baking sheet with sides, pour on olive oil and using a paper towel or your clean hands spread the oil around so the pan is adequately covered. Punch down the dough and transfer it to the oiled pan. Spread the dough, using your hands, stretching it out into the rectangle of the baking sheet. Let rise another 30 minutes if possible. While waiting preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Top with olive oil, lavender and thyme. Spread the pears you’re your hands over the focaccia and distribute evenly. Sprinkle the coarse sea salt over the top – you may need more than you think, as the pears are sweet. Fun! Bake until firm and a rich caramel color. 20-25 minutes. Cool completely on a wired rack. Cut in squares. 

Cori, mon assistant! Another Foccacia..Another Thyme. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Cooking Life: Why I Must (Never) Leave Chinese Food. And Old Shanghai.

New Years Day 2015, and lo and behold.... I've got food on my mind. Before the holidays ~ and their soft silky glow ~ leave us, may I ask you a personal question: have you fallen head over heels for a food? Group of foods? Is it "your heritage" food? What calls you? Do you celebrate with different foods than your birth family? 


Wait though, group of foods, that’s so not the phrase I’m looking for. Nope, that's not the ambiance at all. But don't let the lack of that detail prevent you from heading in to this exploration, we'll figure it out together, I promise.

Whenever I was missing my two sons, who had grown up and were happily going about doing their thing, I would go out for Chinese food. You guessed it. I admit it. And it got bad.

After umpteen fat and crispy eggrolls dipped in duck sauce and hot mustard, platters of Vietnamese cha gio cushioned by green leaf lettuce and bean sprouts, slippery bowls of hot and sour soup that sting your winter weary throat, egg  foo young – sitting quiet and simple on the plate waiting for your chopsticks, spicy peanut noodles, and deep cavernous bowls of pho topped with a sea of cilantro and basil and mint life-rafts, I came to the screaming decision that whatever it was about this plethora of plumpness (not mine...hey!) I had to control my addiction by doing the only sane thing. Abandon ship and go cold turkey (not with szechuan spices..or sticky rice, please, oh god, can't we have just a little!) without Chinese food. I beg your temporal and temporary collusion on calling all of this Chinese food..it’s not, I know. I was literally beside myself with conviction. I would be steadfast. Wasn't it ok to want to recreate the tables of the past? That sounded suspiciously like backsliding and rationalizing, and so I did what any other person would do. I sternly took myself by the hand.  

I held fast. I broke a few dozen chopsticks over my knee. I threw away the "to go" packets of chinese mustard. I stomped and sobbed and lobbed bamboo steamer baskets into the woods. I would not succumb. I emptied jars of plum sauce into the compost pile, annointing them with salty tears. Rice noodles got sent up, and down the creek without a rice paddle. I burned all my fortunes. Well, now.. no. I couldn't bring myself to that, I am reasonable after all.

After I calmed down, I took a cold hard look at the enemy, Eggrolls Past, and how this came to me. To be me.

I rolled the camera back. Chinese food was as foreign a food as a food could be when I was growing up in Reading, Pa. There I was surrounded by Liver Pudding, Schnitz and Ep, Bot Boi, AP Cakes, and ...lots of Germanish dishes. Was Chinese around when you were growing up? It was a lot like A Christmas  Story - (click the link and travel to the Christmas Story Museum in Cleveland, Ohio -- who knew?) where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB Gun, and on Christmas Day they are forced to go out for Chinese as the hounds next door ran-sacked the turkey. We never had to do that with Nana standing duty by our turkey on Christmas.

But my adopted mom, Aileen, married a Jewish man the second time around, and while I am not sure of the exact pathway, it seems we developed a love for Chinese food after that. Chop Suey and Chicken Chow Mein. I can still see the neon sign for the restaurant in Mohnton, Pa. The Far East Peking House or something like that? I can't decipher the name but I can taste the crunchy noodles, and that's more important... wahhhhhh!  

Inevitably, then, the movie advances. Let me take you to a scene where my husband, Rich, is walking ahead of me, carrying our first born son, Erick, in a backpack. We are fighting the blustery wind, well, he is breaking the wind for me, (no, not like that) as we walk down a street in Chinatown, NYC. It was right before Christmas in 1987. We had flown across the country from Colorado, and a little snow was not about to stop us. Among all the splendors of NYC at Christmas, such as splendid horse and carriage rides around Central Park and the equally splendiferous shooting off of Nerf guns in FAO Schwarcz, at the tippy top of the list we wanted Erick (and later Jaryd) to taste the real authentic deal. We opened the door, and the lacquered ducks in the window swung in unison to the tune of ...




Erick was seated in a high chair, though at five months he was not ready for that. So my husband held him in his lap. Our dinner arrived, and the steam swirled around and under and gently embraced us with a perfume of exotic oneness. Erick’s face brightened as he tasted a small spoonful. His mouth fell open. "Wow this is wild. This is delicious. What is this?" 

It was the ever devilish, fried rice.  



Another scene crystallized through the mists of ...egg drop soup.

Back in the day in Colorado Springs we often visited Mekong restaurant on the south side of town, owned by Dang Truong and his family. They made us feel like we were home. They made us feel like family as Dang always welcomed us and during the Dinner of Seven Beef Dishes carried Erick around the restaurant and into the kitchen, his first restaurant kitchen calling him Super Boy. We were lucky enough to visit some old time friends in Colorado Springs and see Dang again in his new place Lemongrass Bistro. 




Owner, Dang Truong, with us at his new place, Lemongrass Bistro

Both my sons grew up amidst a backdrop of Chinese and myriad of Asian food ~ along with French and Italian and Mexican and Southern with a little Shoofly Pie and Sticky Buns thrown in for good measure. But am I sorry to say that Pennsylvania Dutch food didn't maintain it's place in my heart as it did when I was little? Sure. I wanted to have what I thought others always had, a family food. So why was I so fast to discard what was given so freely to me? Did it feel like it didn't really belong to me? I hope I was grateful. I felt grateful, especially to Nana. But maybe I never said a word. Maybe she understood as we sat at the table joined by eating our bowls of chicken corn soup? And what would she say about all this Chinese food?

If I had been enamored of say, always making pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day as Pa Dutch tradition demands, wouldn't I be denying the food and the people where I was living? I had changed.

After I left Pa. I celebrated and searched and shared a multitude of yummy ways of looking at the world. I didn't worry about what I had left. I quite possibly was consumed with I for I was young.

For me and for us, Chinese food came to mean family, and celebrations, and spending time together with our sons. We had moved away, and embraced a new life. The nights we got take out Chinese were a delicious "wok" of WE. And by we I mean all of us, everywhere. I believe eggrolls and dumplings helped us celebrate being as different and perhaps pilgramatic, as say Chinese food on Christmas. 

My sons grew up to celebrate, gulp, the same things -- the reasons they flew the coop were not the same as when we had, right? To test out their wings and find new...family! In fact they return to the coop. And we to theirs. Gosh, were they living what we had, in fact, done? And taught them? How did this happen?

Colorado is where my oldest son, Erick, returned, and is the executive sushi chef at Sato in Edwards. Kayla, his girlfriend works there too, and has the most amazing and descriptive palate and aspires to new adventures of her own. Their world is chock a block and blazes full of snow storms, fish and rice  (not usually fried) and kombu.

My youngest son, Jaryd, is entrenched in the LA world at Dreamworks where he works on dragons and cavemen during the day. Ana, his girlfriend is studying urban planning and public health at UCLA and together they love sharing Nicaraguan, Brazilian, Ethiopian, and Houses where Dumplings number in the hundreds for choosing at will.

As I may have said, have I OVEREMPHASIZED THIS POINT? both of my sons are grown up now and off in the world doing their delightful thing, as I did. They may be gone, but I realized they are not far away. How I wish I could thank Nana, talk to her. Let her know that even as I moved away, I held her close and cherished all the times in her kitchen, what she showed me. What she told me about life through the stove, and the stirring.

And what would I be showing my sons if I stopped eating Chinese food? The very epitome of what we shared and cherished. What made me lift the ban on Bahn Mie or Pork Steamed Buns, was the same thing that led me to abolish it, celebration. Suddenly bowls of Pho that once seemed so full, and yet so empty, swirled and were swilled. This holiday season we had a wonderful wonderful time with both Jaryd and his girlfriend Ana and with Erick and his girlfriend Kayla as we made cha gio (and other things too) in the kitchen. Was it sharing this ritual with their special someone's that made things OK? Perhaps it was. It definitely was! Is there change afoot? In buckets!! Am I a Drama Mama? I am perhaps, but count me ready.

So, full circle back to the beginning. What makes you fall so foolishly for a group of foods?

Aha, Group, is definitely not the right word; but maybe, just maybe, Family, is.

Erick, Jaryd, and Kayla at La Belle Gasconne


Erick manning Sato's Sushi Bar, circa 2009. 


Fish As Far as the Eye Can Sea...


Shrimp Tales



Ana and Jaryd crafting summer rolls on Christmas Eve



Jaryd extolling the virtues of ...cha gio.


Christmas Eve with Ana and Jaryd


                                                      Christmas Eve with Ana and Jaryd


cha gio, vietnamese spring rolls

our family loves these spring rolls so much that when we moved from colorado springs, where we became addicted to them, we began to prepare them for our christmas eve repasts.

the fish sauce:
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1 small fresh red chili pepper, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons honey or gosh and gasp, raw sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice (lime preferred)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup nuoc mam (vietnamese fish sauce)

the accompaniments:
1 shredded cucumber and 1 shredded carrot
1-2 cups bean sprouts
fresh mint, basil, and cilantro

the filling:
2 trimmed scallions
2 carrots, peeled and trimmed
4 garlic cloves
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon nuoc mam (fish sauce)
1 egg

assembling and frying:
1/2 cup sugar
30 rounds of rice paper, 6 1/2 inches in diameter

prepare the filling:
using the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel knife, process the lemon grass, carrots, garlic, and scallions until finely chopped.  add the raw shrimp, ground pork, black pepper, fish sauce, and the egg and process until well blended.

assemble the rolls:
fill a mixing bowl with warm water in which you’ve dissolved the 1/2 cup sugar. handle the rice paper with care as they can be brittle. sweetening the water helps the rolls turn a golden brown when fried.
one at a time immerse the sheet in the warm water and remove it to a clean countertop. continue in this fashion, dipping and laying out the moistened rice paper till you have about a dozen. place about a tablespoon of filling in the bottom third of the rice paper. fold up from the bottom, the rice paper can be quite sticky and stretchy, resilient even. fold over and cover up the filling, and shape into a log. then fold in the two sides and roll up burrito fashion being sure to completely enclose the filling. it is very important to roll them tight so they won’t break open during the frying. if one should tear, double roll it, by moistening another rice paper and enclosing the torn eggroll in that. continue until all the filling is used.

for the fish sauce:
in a medium bowl, combine the chile, sugar, vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice and garlic. stir to blend. set the sauce aside.

for the accompaniments:
wash the lettuce and leave the herbs whole, placing on the same platter as the lettuces. refrigerate till ready to eat.

fry the rolls
if possible fry in 2 woks or deep pots. pour 3 to 4 inches of oil into each skillet and heat to 400 degrees. working in batches, add some of the rolls to each skillet, but do not crowd or let them touch, or they will stick together. fry for 5-6 minutes, turning often, until golden and crisp. remove the rolls with a bamboo skimmer and drain on paper towels. keep warm in a low oven while frying the remaining rolls.

serve with the fish sauce and suggested accompaniments.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Guest Author Post: Allison Snyder. Ah, the Writer’s Craft. It’s Like a Good Zabaglione. Part Deux.


I’ve recently completed a manuscript and proposal for a middle-grade fiction cat memoir. The working title is Laddie: A Story about Landing on Your Feet. Dorette graciously asked if I’d like to pass along some thoughts and experience about the writer’s craft. I am honored that she asked and surprised I accepted, since I have an aversion to getting up in front of people. Here are some upshots I’ve learned along the way so far. Happy reading and writing!

Hi! Welcome back to the writer’s craft. And you didn’t even need your code word!
So prior to completing the kids’ novel, I had done some writing for my church, had a couple of recipes and essays published in the local papers. I wrote for a dog magazine. None of it’s been paid writing, but good experience and exposure. I hope some money comes at some point. It may not. I’ll know when to keep plugging or let go. Regardless, I am not going to quit my day job.

Boy, the Cat. Boy, The Muse, Showing a Little Leg


Upshot #4 - Don’t quit your day job.

There’s a pretty wacky reason why I now have a complete manuscript and proposal: My best friend was crazy about my cat. He was a big, gorgeous male tabby that my husband and I had adopted as an adult cat from one of his clients. My friend spent a lot of time around the cat, me, and my daughter. Little by little, this cat started to take on a persona and history all his own – completely fabricated, of course, by me and my friend. But that’s one of the fun things about fiction-writing. You get to make things up! And no one’s going to judge you.

Our kitty became a lazy, handsome, inquisitive British viscount (Hugh Grant meets Curious George) who had been abandoned by his opera singing mother, Catarina Caterwaul. (I never could warm up to opera.) Hard to blame her since he was an adult cat who was still hanging around the estate. Here’s my elevator pitch: uppity British noble cat gets adopted by ordinary middle-class American family and discovers those things money and a title can never buy: love, family, and hope.

I then started to think more about the hope thing, about the language of pet adoption and how similar it is to the language of the gospel. Words and phrases like adopt, rescue, save, forever home, new name, new life began to pop into my brain. Wow, I thought, this is like our relationship with God. What if I could write something that would point kids to a healthy relationship with God, not based on fear or performance, but unconditional love? What if I could try to make it funny, make the cat sort of rude, entitled, good-looking, self-obsessed but rescued and loved, anyway. What if I could make him human, give him human abilities (like memoir-writing) and traits? That’s what we do with our pets anyway, so why not use that proclivity we all have to point kids to loving truth about how God feels about them? “He has drawn us with loving-kindness…He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness.”


Upshot #5 – Write about what you know.

We entertained ourselves so royally (pun, pun) at my cat’s expense, we decided to meet weekly at Starbucks to pen his memoir. Then my friend, having better things to do, like work a paid job as a banking executive and take care of her elderly mom, sort of bowed out. But I kept writing with her encouragement.

 In fact, had she not kept on expecting me – with a straight face – to continue with the project that had started as our little lark, I would not have finished the manuscript and proposal. I laughed at her when she said the book was a viable, good story. People like us don’t publish books, Lu Ann, I declared. She did not laugh back. So I quit laughing and put my head down and butt up. (I was raised on a farm, so that’s agri-speak for manual labor like weeding a garden.) Before she bailed on me though, we found a great professional editor who told us everything that was wrong about the book and a few key things that were right.

Upshot #6 – Cultivate friends who believe in you, even if they have to bail on you. And don’t be ashamed to buy good advice. That’s an editor.

Finally, writing is manual labor plus learned skill. Yes, you use your brain and your heart, but it’s just work. Trust me. Once you have your idea and notes, you’ve got to start. Don’t turn it into this grand, I-know-I- can-be-the-next-Faulkner thing. Stop that.

And if you wait for the muse to strike (whoever, whatever he or she is), you will find that, at best, he is a fickle friend. Think of the one who habitually cancels at the last minute. He will no longer be your friend after a while, will he? At worst, he will try to talk you into thinking your value is tied up with how much and how well he inspires you. So shut him up. The best way to do that is to write. Write well some days. Write nothing some days. Write lousy on others. Just write. And take notes on what pops into your head at odd moments, like when you’re swiffering the floor or taking a walk or when, say, a disagreement with a loved one becomes fodder for good dialogue.

Upshot #7 - Remind yourself often that writing is, like bowling, a learned skill. It’s something you do and maybe even get better at, the more you do it. You may never be a professional bowler or a best-selling author. Writing is not something that defines who you are. It is one component of the marvelous whole. And while you will inevitably do so more on some days than on others, enjoy it!

Zabaglione, Ready For It's Close-Up

PS: Zabaglione is a simple Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. It is usually served warm, though it can be served cold, or as a sauce, or even frozen.



Allison Snyder was raised on a dairy farm in western New York where her fascination with reading, writing, and cats began in earnest and never left. She loves to write about pies and cakes, too. Her food and pet essays have appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer, The Triangle Dog, and The News of Orange County. She is also an assistant chef and team-building coach at C’est Si Bon Cooking School in Chapel Hill, NC. A French major at North Carolina State University, Allison studied fiction writing there under the late Tim McLaurin. She makes her home in Orange County, North Carolina, with her husband and daughter. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guest Author Post: Allison Snyder. Ah, the Writer’s Craft. It’s Like a Good Zabaglione.



Bonjour! I am so excited to introduce you to Allison Snyder -- Author, and one of our extraordinary Kitchen Team members at C'est si Bon! In this Guest Post she warms you with her tale of how she became a writer, tickles your funny bone and shares the recipe for a delightful sweet - something for which Allison is well known. 




Allison Snyder, Team Building Coach, C’est Si Bon Cooking School


I’ve recently completed a manuscript and proposal for a middle-grade fiction cat memoir. The working title is Laddie: A Story about Landing on Your Feet. Dorette graciously asked if I’d like to pass along some thoughts and experience about the writer’s craft. I am honored that she asked and surprised I accepted, since I have an aversion to getting up in front of people. Here are seven things I’ve learned along the way so far. Happy reading and writing!

Ah, the writer’s craft. It’s like a good zabaglione.

Both sound wildly creative and mysterious, with overtones suggestive of real consumption.

I’ll be honest. That is what all writers hope for – consumption, readership - because all of us, writers or not, are relational beings. We are hard-wired to share ourselves with others. And sharing always involves risk, putting yourself out there, whether navigating the waters of friendship, marriage, dating, parenting, writing, publishing, cooking or baking a new recipe. Living is risky business. As my dad used to say, the alternative is so much worse. I think I’ll take the risk. How about you?




Mom & Dad outside the Officer’s Club; Waco, Texas



Me? I have always been a late bloomer. I had my daughter a few days shy of my 38th birthday. Depending on whether you believe Time (ca. 2002) or The Atlantic (ca. 2013), she was something of a miracle baby. Not that every day at home with her was a 100% barrel of laughs. Any human being out there – never mind mothers – knows that life never works that way. As writers, we are taught to avoid the never statement. This is one case where we should embrace it.

Like all first-time parents – especially those nearing geezer age for first-time parenthood like my husband and I were - we had to get over the shock-and-awe hurdle. Yes, no going back. Fortunately, we all get nine months to get used to that fact, right? In most ways it is like waiting for Christmas to come, a beautiful gift to look forward to. In other ways it is like getting a diagnosis of a chronic condition - I’m sorry, ma’am, you’ve got parenthood.

 But I really did like being a mom and being in the home. Part of that had to do with loving being at home with my mom when I was small. Maybe it was also because I’d been a corporate type and came to realize that while money is a lot of things, it really is not everything. But you have to unload half your income to really test that theory.

So I gave up clothes that had to be dry-cleaned in favor of poop-stain-resistant wash ‘n’ wear from the Target sale rack and Goodwill. I gave up expense account lunches in favor of spoon feeding strained peas to a little human who was a great eater. A different form of client services to be sure.

I came to appreciate – even adore - the heretofore-despised, climate-controlled predictability of walking in the mall. Hip, sketchy neighborhoods with bumpy, historic sidewalks are less than ideal for strollers, not to mention Mama’s peace of mind.

And speaking of predictability, I enjoyed the nap times. I enjoyed the ritual of every day after lunch, taking off the chunk-laden bib (speaking of which, when we relocated to Hillsborough when my daughter had just turned 10, a petrified, dirty bib revealed itself upon moving the washer. Aww…memories), chasing my chubby-legged little one around for a while to tire her out while enjoying her squeals. This along with the full tummy would cause her to nap for a good two to three hours.

It was during this time that I began to write.

Upshot #1 -Take for your writing time whatever predictable opening that presents itself.

Let’s face it. As far as books go, one person’s life-changer is another person’s appliance manual. That’s the nature of reading. In fact, many of you may have stopped reading this blog post, and that’s OK. And I will keep on telling myself that as I face the mounds of rejection that will surely come as I enter this new phase of finding an agent or publisher.

 Yet selling a book is surely a little bit like selling a house in a challenging market. For those of us who have ever undertaken this project, we know that we only need one realtor (literary agent) and one buyer (publisher) to close the deal.


Upshot #2 - Get over thinking every agent or publisher will love your writing. Do you love everything you read? No. The good news is you’re not looking for every agent or publisher, just one of each. So take heart.

You already know this, but it bears repeating: writing comes from reading. I come from a long line of compulsive readers on a vast array of subjects. From my dad, I get my love of Civil War generals and uppity news magazines. From my mom, my proclivity to be guiltily (not my mom – me) but inexorably drawn to The National Enquirer while standing in the checkout line at Walmart. Oh, I should be reading about Mother Theresa or at least William Tecumseh Sherman. Too bad they’re not in the Enquirer. I am a terrible person. At least I never buy it. Oh great, that means I steal it.

Upshot #3 – Keep reading for the joy of it and let it shape what you write.

And stay tuned to this blog. Check in soon for more upshots. Code word: zabaglione.

Read Part Deux of Ah, The Writer's Craft is Like a Good Zabaglione.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Twelve Days in Paris and Gascony: What was the best thing you ate in France?

I recently returned from C'est si Bon!'s Twelve Days in Paris and Gascony and I am anxious to tell you everything, but slowly, as if in the best French repast. I will be hosting another week and invite you to join me, and the staff of C'est si Bon! at the stunning La Belle Gasconne this coming summer and fall 2015. Please read more about this exquisite opportunity here.

Now back to the question; what was the best thing you ate in France?

I hear that pretty often, and yet, my response is often -- well, you can't really say. I apologize if my answer sounds like an oxymoron or a platitude. Or that I am avoiding the question.

But let me ask, how do you define your best meal? Let's talk.

Is it about stars, or the chef? The anticipation?

Or about the most local or the most veggie or the most of anything, really? 

And here's a hot question, what is the root of the deal? Is it always to rave about ....the food?


Celery Root from Bon Marche that traveled by TGV to Gascony

Bio (organic) Pomme at Marche in the Marais


Is the aroma at the table or wafting (is permeating better? wafting.. lord..I hate that word...) from the kitchen spurring your conversation? Or is there an intriguing taste that leaves you speechless?


Oyster Mushrooms at Bon Marche in Paris

In Paris... I felt the enormity of sitting, and yes, eating at the restaurant tables we snuggled up to!

Around 9:30 am on the 3rd Day in the Twelve Day Tour I felt the pleasure of drinking in the deep and reflective experience of being with Cori and Brenda and Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light author and travel, food, wine and pilgrim extraordinaire, David Downie who Michael Ondatjie says is "The master of educated curiosity." He and his amazing photographer wife, Allison Harris, showed us the secrets of the Marais. We walked into (yes, not just by...) the small and chi-chi Chez L'Ami Louis, frequented by Bill Clinton and other celebs, then through Marche des Enfants Rouge, were led to the gorgeous boutique of astonishing chocolate, Jacques Genin and ate an authentic bistro lunch at Cafe des Musees. Allison and David were generous, gentle and energetic historians of the many layers of the Marais; which must be made of stone, chocolate and Moroccan delicacies. It was at the Cafe des Musees where we also returned to the Veau Debacle.

See any Presidents? 


Marche les Enfants Rouge


Merci beaucoup! to David Downie and Allison Harris 

And on the 2nd Day of Paris with Cori, Brenda, and Judy we found and arrived, as planned, to La Procope, a restaurant that had been in my mind for a long time. I swear almost since the day it was founded in 1686! Now La Procope still sports Napoleon's bicorn hat. Wow. Napoleon had not one, but two corns. That hat might have been the best "meal" there. But this was also the beginning of the Veau Debacle.


Judy and the Crepes 



Cori and the Glace 



Brenda and the Parfait 



 The balcony of La Procope

More, La Procope (is that Napoleon off to the left?) 


And going back in the tour (not in actual time..) even further, on the very first day I was in Paris with Cori, my assistant, we were planning and frankly, we got so incredibly hungry! For dinner we visited Parnassus 138 in -- I know you'll be surprised -- Montparnasse.  It was fun to show Cori, and fun to waych their crack-up-laugh-out-loud video. The little place has retained and remained a small neighborhood jewel. 

Well, now I really don't know -- what was the best meal? What do you think!?

Come along with C'est si Bon! to La Belle Gasconne - and see for yourself.

Cori with her Plat du Jour at Parnassus 138 in Paris


My Salad of Duck Gizzards at Parnassus 138
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