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Monday, December 24, 2012

Write With Me: Life of Pi and a Samosa Recipe for Trevor Dolan

Well, well. It's Christmas (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and ...) all over the land and celebration is at hand, though this has been a challenging year for hope, to say the least. And yet we must. 
Yes, we must. 

Can stories help us here? How about a crackling fire, gathered loved ones, and a Potato Samosa?

While you enjoy and warm, let me share a book that was very influential in my love of writing stories. The Big Treasure Book of Christmas. One of my favorite stories in the book is "The Animal's Christmas." No this is not exactly the Animal's Christmas Eve, a Golden Book that retells the Manger Story from the animal's perspective, though of course, there is nothing wrong with that book. No, this "The Animals Christmas" is about the animal's life in the woods and their perspective.

Connected to this memory is another story, a newer one, but the threads of allegory join it all together, as well as a beautiful Cauliflower and Potato Samosa! A few day's ago we went to see Life of Pi. Now this was a powerful film and the Animal allegory at the heart of it, speaks loudly to how we listen and learn and need to tell stories to translate and understand and perhaps own the stories of our lives. Near the end of the film, Pi asks the writer and the audience, which story do you prefer?

Here then is The Animal's Christmas - from the 1953 "The Big Treasure Book of Christmas," art by Dellwyn Cunningham, arranged by Dorothy B. Collins.

"Do you know that the animal's in the woods celebrate Christmas too? They do not have their Christmas tree in a house. But Mother Nature decorates a little fir tree that stands in a clearing in the forest. She dusts the tree with shiny snow and sprinkles bright icicles on the tips of the branches. Like magic, the plain little fir tree is changed into a Christmas tree that glistens and sparkles in the moonlight."

Now I can't say for sure that these animals are going to retreat back to their dens to eat Samosa, but I think it's a nice connection to offer an Indian dish open to interpretation, for remembering, and celebrating the Life of Pi and the Life of Trevor Dolan. 

Samosas with Cauliflower and Potato for Trevor Dolan

Trevor Dolan was full of love for telling stories and creating in the kitchen. This Indian dish was often made during an Asian week of kid-chefs cooking and was often revised, as he was known to do so gleefully and successfully. And so his story goes and goes on. And on. 

makes 28 small ones or three large open face ones

1 head cauliflower, cut into fleurettes
6 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1” fresh ginger root, minced
½ tsp. each cardamom, whole cumin and mustard seed, ground
½ tsp. chili powder

2 tablespoons each fresh arugula and cilantro, chopped (from Seeing Stars Farm)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
½ tsp. salt
8 t. softened unsalted butter
12-14 t. ice water

for the filling:
make first as it needs time to let the flavors develop
blanch the cauliflower first and then boil the potatoes. fry the onion in a small amount of oil with the mustard, cumin seed, ginger, and chili powder. add to the cooked potato and cauliflower. mix well. set aside.

for the dough:
in a medium bowl mix the 2 flours and the salt. cut in the butter until mixture resembles small peas or coarse meal. using a fork stir in the water until a dough forms.

on a floured surface, roll out the dough and begin cutting rounds, using a round biscuit cutter, until you have 28.

Option 1: if the filling is still hot – bake or fry the dough separately and then plop the potato and cauliflower filling directly on top for an open-face samosa.

Option 2: Roll to ¼’ thickness and cut the dough into large squares, place on parchment lined sheet pans and spread with the cooled filling, bake at 375 for 30 minutes. When cooled top with the chopped cilantro and arugula.

Option 3: fill each round with 2 teaspoons of the filling, brush the edges with water, fold and seal the samosas. Arrange on parchment lined sheet pans. Get ready to fry the filled samosa’s. using the very large cast iron frying pan, heat an inch of oil in the pan and when hot, fry the dough by slipping 5-6 samosas into the oil at a time and frying 3-4 minutes on a side. drain on a paper towel lined tray and continue until all are fried.

serve hot or room temp with garnish. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Write With Me: Fry An Omelette and Pour a Glass of Wine

Don't you just love learning about  

once-upon-a-time-dishes of "old world" cuisine? 

From Elizabeth David's classic book " An Omelette and a Glass of Wine" she mentions a 
wealth of lesser known but interesting books and people; some very spicy and piquant "dishes"with a decidedly old world vein running through them. 

Please consider these for the hard to please Culinarian on your list this holiday season. And 
perhaps for your own library as well. 

A Little Tour of France by Henry James

Written in 1884 about a six week long trip when Mr. James traveled through Tours, Bourges, 
Nantes, Toulouse, and Arles the book paints a delightful picture of the Old Provinces of France.Henry sums it up nicely when he says that "France is not Paris, and Paris is Not France."

So very true, even today!

Elizabeth David's other book "French Provincial Cooking" , check that link for an original and 
signed copy of FPC for anywhere between 1 and 3 thousand dollars. 

French Provincial Cooking includes a story about the first female chef to earn three Michelin stars, Eugenie Brazier or as she is known, La Mere Brazier. In Lyon, there was a grand tradition of women in the professional kitchen  ~ the "Meres" of Lyon were respected and renowned. 

Gault-Millau guidebook co-founder Christian Millau said at the time of her death in 1977. 

"She was an anti-big restaurant, anti-big cuisine person, and their spirit is the same."

Elizabeth David also mentions another work, "Black Mischief", in which a famous Azanian banquet menu is noted. Famous, not for its culinary and goodly extravagance, but for it's dereliction. As you may have guessed "Black Mischief" is not for the squeamish, mind you.

And one more Author to round out our menu. 

Turns out Elizabeth was great friends with Norman Douglas (a rather interesting, if not 
downright scandalous character) whose travel books were written during the Golden Age of 
Travel, which is to say while travel was a welcome adventure. Of course it may be true as well, 
that some of Mr. Douglas's travel was escapism as he seemed to have perfected leaving just 
when he was wanted by the authorities. 

Douglas was well-known for a novel, South Wind, where his character, Count Caloveglia, goes on about the qualities necessary to a good cook.

In "Siren Land- A Celebration of Life in Southern Italy" Douglas makes an explosive 
denunciation of Neapolitan Fish soup.

In "Alone" - another travel book on Italy, there is a passage where he describes pre-1914 
macaroni. And in another section ---

"We found a "restaurant" where we lunched off a tin of antediluvian
Spanish sardines, some mouldy sweet biscuits, and black wine. (Adistinction is made in these parts between black and red wine; theformer is the Apulian variety, the other from Sulmona.) During thisrepast, we were treated to several bear-stories."

Mr. Douglas preferred the study of authenticity, seen also in his work, "Old Calabria" and 
"Late Harvest."

Also published posthumously, was his "Venus in the Kitchen," - a cookery book concerning 
aphrodisiacs written under the pen-name of Pilaff Bey. 

If you've got similar finds from this era, please share your recommendations!

And since a foray into Cookery Books (and especially Venus in the Kitchen) would never be 
complete without cooking, I give you a most appropriate recipe that I learned in Tuscany; 
Naked Ravioli. What a great dish for this time of year. Decadent and Simple. 

You will not soon forget .....

gnudi ravioli with béchamel and bittersweet chocolate

gnudi refers to the fact that theses ravioli are sans pasta, in other words, naked! believe me; you won’t miss the pasta at all - not with the unctuous béchamel sauce and the grated bittersweet chocolate. make this dish today! 

1 pound spinach or Swiss Chard, I like Fickle Creek Farms
12 ounces ricotta
3 eggs
1-1/4 cup flour
few gratings of nutmeg
3 tablespoons parmesan

basil béchamel sauce

béchamel (french) or besciamelli (italian) is one of two creamy mother sauces. the b sauce, as i call it, uses an onion pique, an onion that has a bay leaf nailed into it with a few whole cloves. the other creamy sauce, the v sauce, or veloute, uses stock instead of milk, but both are thickened with a roux.

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups half and half
1 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered
bay leaves and whole cloves (2 each is plenty)
1 sprig fresh thyme
4-5 fresh basil leaves
salt and white pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

gnudi sauce  
2 cups béchamel sauce
4t parmesan
2/3 cup grated pecorino
2 bay leaves
4 ounces half and half
white pepper

garnish: grated bittersweet chocolate

for gnudi ravioli
cook spinach in very little water. drain and squeeze out all excess water. chop finely. place in a large mixing bowl and add ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and flour. blend well. mix and ½ hour in the refrigerator.
bring to boil large pot of salted water. lower to simmer. season spinach mixture with salt and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. form ravioli by using a spoon or using floured hands. drop a few at a time into water. they will drop the bottom and then float to the top when done. let simmer 20-30 seconds. remove with slotted spoon or ladle and place in an oven-proof dish until ready to serve. pour gnudi sauce over and toss gently, and serve with extra parmesan cheese.

for sauce:
make the roux by melting the butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. stir in the flour well till there are no lumps.  cook over low heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently. then bring the half and half to a boil with the onion and the herbs. cover and let this infuse for about 10 minutes.  strain the half and half into the roux, in its original pan, and mix. bring to a boil, and then simmer gently, for 15-20 minutes. adjust thickness with half and half or by cooking a little longer.

then, for the gnudi sauce add the pecorino, parmesan, bay leaves, milk, and white pepper to the béchamel sauce. heat till well combined, simmer for five to ten minutes. serve over ravioli. dust with grated bittersweet chocolate at 
table, passing the block among the diners. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cook With Me: On This Day, Potatoes

It sounds simple and it is, really. Thanksgiving is the beginning of being thankful every day for so very much.




And for potatoes. 

Yes, those rich little eggs unburied from theearth.

For potatoes can be so many things.

fried crispy little cakes with onions.

sweet raised potato dough with fat streusel crumbs.

firm and golden chunks in a salad crunchy with celery and sweet with lumps of crab.

sitting beneath a fried egg and chorizo after a long walk in Galicia.

and simply boiled - their red skins split. the insides fluffed with steam, salt and butter and parsley. 


Nana’s Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Filling
truth be told Nana usedto use dried parsley

5 pounds Idaho russet potatoes
1 cup diced celery
1-1/2 cup diced onion
3/4 cup freshparsley 
4 eggs
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
3 cups cubed bread
1-2 cups milk, or enoughto moisten bread cubes
salt, pepper and celerysalt

butter an 11 by 14buttered baking dish and set aside

cook potatoes in saltedwater til tender. heat a large skillet andadd 2 tablespoons butter, when sizzling sauté celery, onions, andparsley with a sprinkling of salt and pepper til tender and slightly browned.

remove from pan and addmelt 1/2 stick of butter. when hot add the bread cubes and browntill nice and crispy. reduce heat to medium low if necessary to keep fromburning!

drain potatoes; returnto cooking pot and add in the remaining 6
tablespoons butter. mixwith wooden spoon vigorously. add eggs and milk
and mix thoroughly. addcelery and onion mixture. add butter fried bread
cubes. more milk ifnecessary. celery salt, salt and pepper to taste. 
scoop into preparedbaking dish and bake at 400° for 1 hour until golden

Erick Snover’s Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes 
Erick would never use dried parsley

makes enough for one to six folk
8 to 10 cloves garlic

2 pounds russet or yukon gold potatoes, cut up
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary, thyme, or oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
wrap unpeeled garlic cloves in foil. bake in a 400 degree f. ovenfor 25 to 35 minutes or until cloves feel soft when pressed. when cool enoughto handle, squeeze garlic paste from peels.

meanwhile, heat the cream but do not let boil, with the rosemary,thyme, and oregano.
in a covered kettle cook potatoes in a small amount of boilingwater for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. drain; return to kettle. mashpotatoes and garlic paste with a potato masher or an electric mixer on lowspeed.
add herbed cream; salt; and pepper. beat until light and fluffy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Write With Me: Entering The Way

Only 8 weeks, but a lifetime ago, on September 10, I went so far as to boldly suppose the ordinary and known world of my life extended to here as well. Here being the Admiral’s Club in London Heathrow airport.

We entered the sliding doors, showed our cards to the guardians, and were accepted. They looked a little suspiciously at my backpack, few others here carried them, but we quickly added (had they ask with words or their eyes?) that we were walking the Camino de Santiago, The Way, the pilgrimage.

Oh, of course.

The Admiral’s Club was a secluded holding place, a complex maze of ports. Of Entry and Exit. Ports of working. Of sleeping. Ports of lounging and watching screens.

Ports of eating and of course, of drinking.  To enter the eating and drinking realm you simply circled behind the marble counter, passed the beautiful deep sinks and stood in front of the glass doored refrigerator. Inside were mesmerizing palm size ice blue, green, and citrine metal holding a single gulp of tonic water, bitter lemon, or soda water. You simply took one of these jewel encased liquids, closed the door, and then stepped back for the suave and tony Italian man who smelled like Adonis to select. I thought; one? Why not two. These are small. So you opened it again, and took another. Then one more; they were so pretty! Why? You could. You had arrived. You were privy to do this, in fact, upon further inspection, you owned this place. (Isn’t this a silly conclusion? But it truly felt that by helping yourself, that you had established ownership. But really, over what, a silly refrigerator?)

A nice little Indian lady wheeled her cart by and picked up one of my cans of Brit Vic soda water. How could I tell her I had lined three up beside my glass because I loved the colors together? She didn’t say a word, but the question was in her eyes – the same way the Entry Desk had looked around their computers. Okay, maybe I had taken three because I was thirsty, too. But not, certainly not because I was greedy. This pilgrimage was about needing less. Doing with less. 

I was sitting at a marble-like table in the main circle of the lounge area, enjoying the view of this little world of excess, how everyone was silent and either helping themselves and or being in the service of helping others. How did it all work exactly? This balance of excess and humanity? In this close proximity I could watch. Carefully. This is what writers do.   

Further along from the refrigerator, the spacious counter offered a tower of French, Italian, and Australian whites, the wine bottles plunged in giant clam shell as if for Poseidon and Bacchus and Dionysus, a giant glass clamshell so large you could hear the uncertainty of ice and glass and water as they adjusted to a bottle’s removal and then the tightening crush of relief when the bottle was plunged back in the slurry of ice, spilled wine and water.

Space was everything here. Well, no not space – distance. That's it exactly. Through silence there was a distance. Distance between the staff and the passengers. Between bottles and glasses. Between entry doors and ports of working. Ports of entry.

Freedom to choose was part of the contract, too. People were free to monitor themselves. Because after here, you boarded a plane, scrunched together, took a deep breath. And went on.

And that’s how we entered The Way.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Spanish Travel Tales: Lograno's Feast

Hola! We are (achingly) knee deep into our Day 5 on this pilgrimage to Santiago. They say that if you make it to that day in one piece, that it gets easier.

As we walked into Lograno, we noticed
three men picking the low hanging deep purple tempernillo grapes in the roadside vineyards.

It's begun! The Feast of San Marco.

All over town, fires flame under huge mushrooms, great slabs of ribs, as large as the world paella pans, and urge copper pots of beans and peppers to work towards the most incredible aromas of Rioja!

It seems paella pans are getting larger the further west we walk.

How many servings does this much paella make?

Bueno San Marco Festa!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Spanish Travel Tales: Giving Thanks

El Camino is coming up over the horizon. And what is it all for? Why would you want to walk all that way?

Way back in 1995 along the Canal Lateral in Gascony is when I first heard about the Camino de Santiago. I was entranced to hear the footsteps of so many souls through small hilltop and along the water ways, French villages, heading to Santiago de Compostelle on the Galician coast of Spain.

I am walking to give thanks! Rolling up my sleeves, here goes.

First, to the Ladies.

All, who strap packs on for journeys, laugh, those who wear colors and fibers, and who have suffered losses of profound depths. Women who teach and and retire and teach again. Women whose pens scroll; images and words. Who document the world. Women who massage and lift and anoint beauty, everyday. Who believe. And examine. And love!

And now the Gents.

Who I adore more than life itself, for their bravery to talk, bringing sumptuous delicacy to table. Who sailed on ships in oceans, weathered many storms, standing and walking. Crazy handsome fools who test and thwart and aren't afraid to follow. Or lead. Or love!

And for the old flour door on our Hoosier Cabinet in the dining room. When it springs open ~  and I say oh, hey. You are still here. Always.

Oh, there it goes. Miles ~ Mr. Miles Wipper, thank you, Miles.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spanish Travel Tales: Packing Day

How long can it take to pack 10 pounds into a backpack?

Not long. Its the unpacking, evaluating and repacking that is lengthy!

So it goes when you travel. What to leave? What to take?

Passport and Spanish menu translations?

Its time for a long walk, on the wild and Spanish side! Join me here for the next month as my husband and tall tale teller, Rich, and I walk, dine, and maybe forage at some of Spain's most interesting tables along the Camino Frances!

To prepare our plates properly. A little bit of Hong Kong in Durham.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

French Travel Tales: Two Hotels in Agen + Steak Tartare, Part Two


The surge of the TGV, being drawn by the place you are going, leaving out of the station energy is fantastic and electric, so full of anticipation and the unknown. I don't think we were yet going as fast as we would be. I wanted to know which parts of Paris we are traveling under and through. But I would have to look at a map for that and all I want to do is look out the window so I don't miss a thing.

As I recall we met Ben as we left the café and got on the escalator down to our Voie 2. He was only able to get a coach ticket. Once we were engaged in the trip he joined us in first class and never went back. Except to get his bags on the way to the coffee car. Could this be a ritual? Talk and Coffee at breakfast, late morning and late afternoon? This was something I was going to miss on my alone time in France.

But not to worry, life has it's ways and something ~ something would replace it.

After Luli and Nick and Ben and I finished our barge trip in Bezier, I will talk more about those days on the Canal but before I do here's this next part. 

Teen-Chef 2006 on Our Way Back to Provence

The part where I came back to Agen in Gascony. An at first delicious and then encroyable horrible haunting beginning on Halloween Night 1999 at the second of the two hotels I was staying at in Agen. Two hotels on Halloween. Yes, I know. But necessary. 

The first one, Hotel des Ambans, was reasonable and hence my reason for staying there. I tell you there was nothing like lying in your bed and watching the neon sign outside flashing. All night. But it was some very weird situation where it was locked during the day - and when I returned from traveling around to and from Nerac and Poudenas I was unable to get my key to work. It was getting dark, and on this night the time changed too. I think. I panicked as the streets filled with wild shouting revelers from what must certainly have been a world trouncing soccer tournament. Who knows? But these French were out to party. I didn’t want any part of it.

All my bags were just up in my hotel room, there, right there! My window looked out on the flashing Des Ambans sign, but I couldn’t get in. The owners must be out with the crowd, I thought. So I walked quickly among the shadows up the street to Logis Le Perigord. It was expensive and quiet. The door closed on the street noise. Yes, there was a room. They didn’t even ask why I had no bags. I am not sure what they thought. I closed the second door on the world and settled in for a good cry, as I was shaken to the core. When I recovered a bit I went downstairs.

The restaurant was quite lovely. Old wood, brass gueridons, old world. I sat down and knew immediately after the kind of day I had had exactly what I needed. The garcon wheeled the cart over, and proceeded to ask me how much of this, and that. Beautiful lean chopped beef, anchovies, capers, Dijon moutarde, shallots, and Worcestershire sauce. I had had an extreme hunger for raw beef when pregnant with my first son, Erick, and for some reason it made me feel full and close to the memory of being pregnant and a happy time in my life, full of purpose.

During dinner I spoke with a couple from London, while spreading copious amounts of Steak Tartare on slices of crusty baguette.

But in the end that delicious Steak Tatare made the return trip through Toulouse then on to London, then finally back to RDU, on November 1st in 1999, one of the most excruciating journeys of my life.

At least that's what I think it was.

Here is Nigel Slater's recipe for Steak Tartare.

Finely chop 200g of steak – it should be as fine as you can chop it without actually mincing it – then add in 40g of finely chopped shallot, 40g of finely chopped cornichon, 2 tsp capers, 3 tsp of Worcestershire sauce, 6 drops of Tabasco, a little salt, black pepper and then stir carefully. Place the tartare on a plate, neatly in a mound. Make a slight hollow in the centre, break an egg yolk into the hollow and serve.

Don't even think of using anything but the freshest, best-quality meat. Chop the meat very finely or, if you must, mince it coarsely. Season generously, checking the salt and pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce levels as you go.

Try adding finely chopped anchovies or parsley to the mix. A little grated fresh horseradish will be a twist too far for some, but it is extraordinarily good.

Friday, August 31, 2012

French Travel Tales: Croissants and Jasmine Perfume, Part One.

Part One.

It was mid-October in 1999. My friends Luli and Nick and I were headed for a barge trip along the Canal Midi from Castelnaudery to Beziers. Would we be able to understand enough French, to drive, tie the barge, and maneuver through the various locks? We had a start - and I hoped it was a good one.  

On the way to Paris’s Gare Montparnasse from our hotel on Rue Raspail we passed little green men, who were not aliens, except to me. They were sanitation workers, ever so well-dressed in uniforms, methodical and as friendly as you please. In proud and complete control of the trash, they might even join us for a cup of coffee, I thought as we walked by. Why was life so different in Paris? Unlike the street scene during the Association of Food Journalists conference in NYC in 1995 during a garbage workers strike, here in Paris there couldn't possibly be a street left with piles of trash reaching to the second floor of anyone's hotel. Quel horror! 

 Men in Blue, Close Enough to Green, Right?

Further along, a few café's were opening or closing from the night before. I don't know which. There was a feeling of warmth, of people, and their French lives. Everything we walked past seemed well taken care of. I felt well taken care of. 

Morning in Paris

I turned around. Luli's and my suitcases and Nick's metal cases, which reminded me of the movie Airport where a bomb was hidden inside the gun-metal silvery-reflecting-everything-around-us-case, were loaded in what seemed to be reverse order from yesterday. A little wobbly, perhaps, but we had a train to catch. We walked in a reversed fashion as well, instead of Nick's surefootedness, Luli led the foray while singing, with me in the middle, and behind me Nick was pulling and alternately pushing an almost as tall as he was, tower of our bags. So much so was this fury of pushing and pulling that he seemed to be dancing in circles with the bags as we hurried. Hurried along. Everyone was going to the station, Gare Montparnasse. 

            Once inside the station we searched out which track or as I learned a new word, voie, we would need to find and be on in an hour. Luli’s nephew, Ben, had not shown up yet. A bit breathless we plunked down at the little café, which at home certainly would not have looked very promising. It would have offered watered down coffee, stale muffins, tough bagels, and canned fruit cup. Well? Am I lying? Just take a look at the train station next time you go. What? You mean there is no FOOD? What did I tell you. Disappointment. Okay take the airport. Anything worthwhile to eat there? No? Okay, it must be because there is different soil in France. Different air + Different water + Different culture = Different food.

We ordered. Most of what I wanted was the coffee. Thick and rich and warm milk to boot. AMAZING. Something so simple. But I surmise that even the Sienna Hotel in Chapel Hill doesn't serve coffee this way, whether it’s called Cappuccino or Café au Lait. But I might just have to ask for it. Next time I go and visit the just imported, and oh so self-important, Italian chef there.

What fun to have coffee talk with coffee in Gare Montparnasse. Luli was here. Nick was too. We were all still here. Each of us proclaimed a night of well-sleeping.  And then our breakfast arrived. Three large trays, one for each of us. Well-sleeping followed by well-eating? Maybe I could do this. Again and again. With practice. 

Choices, oh the Choices. 

Le Garcon never even made a motion to move our pile of luggage blocking the aisle on the side of our table. He was so nice. And so professional. He didn't look like he had just scraped through the night and now as here back at work because he had to be here. The tray had a ficelle, a crispy small baguette. Narrower, thinner than a full size baguette.  A croissant. Lots of butter. And Jam. And a full pot each, though small ones, of coffee and warm milk.  The ficelle was a miracle of crispness. Perfect with the butter which I can still feel cold and hard against the tender inside of the bread. Butter could be the main event. Umm. butter was the main event. Umm, and now I was butter. Every pore of mine was butter. It really was hard to eat all of it. I barely resisted the urge to take it with me. Fighting down the last bite of croissant as if there would be no more where I was going. But, standing up the last bits of flakes fell away from my lap and I was comforted with the reality close at hand. There were other people with luggage, and they were, yes, they too were still here, and speaking French. Women looked well-heeled with scarves floating out fragrant notes of yellow May roses, July lavender fields, wedding day gardenia and Arizona star jasmine that wafted out as a dimly discernible spirit. Oh, that’s right. Perfume. Yes, this was France. It was true. I was in France where crisp bread and cold clean sweet butter are possible. With a jolt of jasmine I was reminded of my mother, Aileen, who wasn't French, but who had named me, Dorette. She had passed away in a different land entirely in February of 1998. I didn't want to think about her. She had gone to Paris, too, and only now I wonder if she didn't walk down the same street. 

Fallen Rose Blooms

Perfume also made me remember a croissant I will never forget. A  powdered sugar dusted almond one from the bakery along the Canal Lateral in Serignac or Brax. I was sure until a moment ago that it was Serignac but it could have been Brax. I hadn't gone out for it. It was Kate Hill's then husband, Patrick, who went. But I remember the cool summer morning on the Canal Lateral, the coffee I had made, and the welcome feeling of being in her stone house with my sons Erick and Jaryd, and my husband, Rich.

Come back for Part Two!

Pure Butter Croissants

It is a sure luxury to make these yourself. But what sheer luxury. Ok, stop reading this and begin.  

croissant dough: 
1 kg flour (about 2.2 pounds)  
25 g salt 
100g sugar 
30g fresh compressed yeast 
600 ml milk and or water

for the turns: 600g dry butter

egg wash for the finish bake at 170c (not farenheit)

mix the yeast and sugar. put flour in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and yeast mixture. add water and mix with spatula. don't overmix! add the salt. mix again.

set dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for 6 hours. take dough out and put on floured counter (granite or marble preferably) make three simple turns refrigerating in between the second and third turn for 20 minutes.

after 3rd simple turn, place in the fridge again for 20 min. take dough out of fridge and roll out into a long rectangle about the width of parchment paper sheets.

cut dough into triangles and weigh each one to make sure they're around 70-80g (you can add on scraps to the short side of the triangle is you need to )

brush egg wash over croissants (2 eggs, and 1 egg yolk mixed)

roll from big edge to tip of triangle and pinch the edges. 

for butter croissants the ends should not be folded in but left straight. 

this, by the way, is how to tell the difference between pure butter and half butter half margarine croissants.
put immediately in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours.

heat oven to 375 lightly egg wash again after croissants have doubled in size. 

bake until golden brown.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

C'est si Bon! Travel Tales: The Jolly Roger Fishing Pier + Three Fish

            As summer draws to a close I have a fish story to tell, from a good long while ago. Though it's not a tall tail, it’s a potentially “scaly” one.
            During an extended family excursion to Topsail Beach, we tried our hand at landing the "big one."
            All day long while we strolled, lolled, built sand castles, caught minnows, and chased the kids along a stretch of bars and shallow waters, the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier loomed out in the ocean. It was the epitomy of a focal point of SOMETHING. Was it an unquenched desire for a life unlived? A life close to the tides, the rhythms of the sea? It looked close and approachable but in fact it was miles away. Far enough so you couldn’t really see. You could imagine (and I did) that so much was happening there. That fish of all natures and deliciousness were being reeled in constantly. That whatever banter was playfully being bandied about was delightfully rogueish and risque and the tales of seafaring adventures were spilling out and over buckets of bait much as they had always done and composed the legends of Moby Dick and Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
            At this point in time the films of Pirates of the Carribbean or even Little Mermaid hadn’t yet been born. But the ingredients were there. All there. On the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier.
Apparently I was not the only one with this pier fantasy. My sons and my friend’s daughters exclaimed, over and over again, just how much. How very much, in fact, they wanted to go fishing. It might be the only thing they wanted that year. And they had wanted to go fishing all their lives. And quite possibly well before, even before, that.
After dinner of macaroni and cheese we walked towards the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. I always wonder in these situations if it is really wise or even satisfying to confront the reality that your fantasy is based on. I leave it to you to decide.
We walked up and into the shop of ice cream, pool tables, kid coin operated whale rides, giant fishing poles, photos of all the world’s fisherman and their BIG fish. After much consideration we acquired our bait shrimp and squid, and a few snacks. We walked out on the seagull splatted wooden boards. The ocean rushed below us and the moon climbed in the sky to get a better view of the evening.
            I tell you now, even from the distance of many years,  the adrenaline still rushes forth in me to remember the characters in attendance that night on the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. They were everthing that central casting had promised. Gnarly old men. Women in false eyelashes and supenders. Rusty old knives, scales and fish bones. Buckets of mystical writhing sea creatures, an occasional claw that slipped over the edge and then fell back. Fish, caught and some with hooks in their mouths, were proudly shown to us swimming in leaky old Styrofoam coolers. Would they become bait for their friends? Out on the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier it was a promised land of debauchery.
            The kids decided on a point system for what they considered really memorable characters. Smokers. Two points. Drinkers. Three. A shark pulled in (that we all witnessed) would be awarded a generous six. And if you spotted a pirate ship out in the deep. Ten out of a possible ten points.
Ah, we had young imaginations and minds to nourish and we were here To Fish.
Boy legs and girl legs kicked anxiously back and forth on our weather beaten perch, our wooden bench at the Jolly Roger Pier. Launching our lines from this perch we began enthusiastically To Fish at 8:30 P.M
Pier-Pressure mounted. Before 15 minutes had passed we sat smugly among the others having snagged a skate and a crab. 
            By the light of the moon they looked downright sensational.
            But, once reeled in and landed smack on the woody pier surface, we were unfamiliar with the next step in this fish procurring process.
            "Grab a ma-an,” My friend said in her exaggerated Southern drawl, "to help us get out this hook."
            All I saw were creatures of the deep. "We can take care of this," I assured her. And after a few more minutes of joint floundering we managed to maneuver him over the edge, hookless to boot.
             A thankful creature splashed homeward bound.  Farewell, seafaring wonder.
            Our crab, as we fondly remember him, had clawed his way to the top of the line.  Perhaps possessed by a fear of boiling, he clung fast for dear life. Until, the inevitable kerplunk.
We saw others pull in sharks (10 points!) and heard the call down the boards of a sea-turtle cut loose. We hadn’t even considerd that possibilty. We remained hourly steadfast and subsisted on our bait of Sun Chips, Cheetos, and Diet Pepsi's.
But as the kids tiredly asked if that was the sun coming up, we knew that our free-reeling adventure was over. And so on that sea-swept note, and at 12:30 in the A.M, we were weary and dog-fish tired.
Mr. Limpet, we love you!
The following day at the over-the-bridge fish market we had no trouble netting fresh wahoo, flounder, and claw crab meat.
            "Eat as much fresh seafood at the beach as possible."  My friend’s words were music to my sun-burned ears.
            So if your fishing experience at the local seafood market isn’t as fishy as you’d like get thee hence to the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. You may not catch fish, but you’ll swagger amongst a crew that’s got a tale or two to tell.
And you just might see that Pirate Ship.
            The similarities of the crab, corn, and onion flavors make a sweet diversion from spicy seafood. I no longer use bread of any kind in crab cakes. When these were first made we fried them in a heavily buttered skillet over the burner of an outdoor grill because the power had just gone off on our half of the island. This kept the heat to a minimum in the kitchen. But, they can be cooked in that more traditional indoor method if you prefer. There's more than one way to hook and cook a crab!

makes 6, 3 inch cakes

2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon butter 
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 ears of silver queen corn, dekerneled
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound lump crab meat
panko bread crumbs 
1/2 cup butter for frying

In a 10 inch skillet over medium heat, melt the 1 Tablespoon butter and fry the scallions till soft but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the scallions, egg, corn, parsley, and crab.  Mix gently and well. Divide mixture and form into 6 cakes. Pour the panko crumbs on a large paper plate. Press the panko into the cakes. Refrigerate them for about an hour, if possible, to firm the breading.. When ready to commence cooking, heat a 12 inch heavy bottomed skillet on the side burner of the grill if cooking these outside or on the stove top if cooking inside. Meanwhile, have a coastal compadre make the tartar sauce.  Fry the crab cakes over medium heat till golden, about 3 minutes per side. Place on serving platter and pass the tartar sauce.  Sit outside, watch the sun go down, and savor the moment and the crab.

1-1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 teaspoon or so of Lan Chi garlic chili paste, adjust taste
1 teaspoon or so of chopped hot and sweet peppers, adjust taste
Mix above ingredients in small serving bowl.

If you have a large grill, you can prepare both of these fish recipes at the same time. Plan to grill the flounder over a lower heat so a few minutes after the wahoo steaks, so both will be finished at about the same time.The crust gives way to tender flounder inside. 

makes 4 servings
1 large flounder, filleted
1/2 cup mushroom soy sauce
1 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice powder

Place the fish and soy sauce in a shallow glass casserole. Marinate about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Slide the sesame seeds and spice seasoning onto another plate. Have the older kids press the fillets in the seed/spice mixture and then turn to the other side to coat. Wash hands afterwards. Refrigerate to firm the seed coating for an hour,  if possible. Heat the grill to medium high and if grilling the wahoo steaks too, grill the sesame fish afterwards on a lower heat, giving each side 3-5 minutes.  Place on serving platter and pass the peanut pineapple ginger sauce.

1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 cup pineapple, crushed or tidbits
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons chopped pickled ginger
1 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix all the ingredients in small pot and heat on medium, stirring until all is combined.

These are best when they have a good 2 hours to marinate, which is more than standard for fish, but beneficial for this meaty selection. Though usually thought to be highly detectable, the anchovies in this marinade combine with the other ingredients to provide a depth and richness in flavor.  The persillade is a classic flavoring mixture with the added "zest" of citrus peel.  These flavors add up to a definite the dinner table. If wahoo is not to your liking or is simply unavailable look for tuna, bonito, yellowtail, mahi-mahi, marlin, or bluefish as appropriate substitutes.

makes 4 servings

For Marinade:
1/2 cup fruity olive oil
juice of 2 limes
2 anchovies, pressed with a fork
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
4 wahoo steaks

For Citrus Persillade:
1/2 teaspoon each chopped lime, orange, and lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 large garlic cloves

Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a shallow glass casserole with the aid of an innocent by-stander.
Place your fish steaks in and let the by-stander turn and coat well. Set in the refrigerater just before applying your sunscreen. Hats on and head to the beach! 
A couple of hours later return to make dinner and. fire up the grill. Fish needs a hot hot surface to sear in the juices. Direct sand shovels outside while retrieving fish from fridge. 
Prepare the persillade. Zest the lemon, orange and lime. Pound the garlic cloves to a paste, add chopped parsley and zest, pound some more. Set aside to "breathe."  place these fish steaks on the grill, and grill for 3 minutes per side.
Serve at once on a platter with the persillade on the side.
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