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Friday, February 26, 2016

Travel with Me: I was Really Very Nervous to Meet the Apricot Tree



I thought I'd talk a little bit about the different trees in the my upcoming novel, The Way of Psomi, and today let me trace the journey in 2006 to the apricot tree in Provence during one of C'est si Bon!'s Teen Culinary Tours with my assistant Aileen Randall, to Madeline and Erick Vedel's Ecole de la Cuisine Provence in Arles. 

The apricot tree belonged - or more correctly - lived on Sophie's land.

Sophie was Madeleine's, and many others as well, beekeeper, and mistress of honey. She sold the honey from her bees in the Arles market. Sophie was vivacious with dark hair, smooth skin, wiry, and strong. A bit wild like you would expect of someone who lives in a house in the middle of the bees and apricots and dogs and cats.

Sophie's house was set in the woods, far away from everything. We bounced down a long unpaved road. This was magic. This was typical. This was Provence.

Lunch with the Teens included Sophie's Green Beans with Mint and Honey Garlic Vinaigrette  and discussions over "what was happening to the bees."

Madeleine and Aileen had discussed the details in French with Sophie, details of heading out to see the tree. They figured it all out. But while they talked I had to figure out a way not to see the tree, not to go through with it, because this was going to be very weird. This apricot tree could never be all that I had imagined. I felt really crazy, to even think about not seeing the tree that I had wanted to see. Turned out it was so close. It wasn't something that would happen years from now. Has something you wanted been presented to you and then you back away from it?

This just wasn't the right time to visit the apricot tree. Summer. Right after lunch. Anyone could see that. But when, my little voice nagged, just when would the right time be?

Sophie, Madeleine and I left the honey house and walked. I scanned the field. Or was it a grove? What do you call the place where apricot trees live? Whatever logic and reason that had been present, left me. I expected the tree to leap out, or glow from a distance. Wasn't that reasonable?

There it is.

Where?

Right there.

Couldn't be. It was such a well, very, petite tree. Unassuming, and innocent. Quiet. Oh.

I had so many emotions. At this point in my work, 2006, the apricot tee was a mother figure in the story. I was nervous. I was scared. I wasn't prepared. But I had wanted this. I had hoped for it, but when faced with the actuality of it, I wanted to push it off. What was that about? I had so long imagined it. Written about it. It was very different in reality. 

So. Much. Better. 

Why, bonjour, Abricot. Ca va? I sighed and walked over to touch her branches.




Olives growing near Sophie's. 


Sweet little apricot tree near Sophie's


Approaching Sophie's Bee House



Plating the salad. 



Becca, Sarah, Claire, Peter, Cary, and Stephanie. 
Maybe anchovies aren't for everyone. 



Penelope heading for the piquenique table.




Gilbert, Erick, Sophie, Penelope, Sam, Moi, Claudine


Discussing the plight of bees in Provence. 




Apres dejeuner, Siesta pour le chien,




Sophie, Peter, Becca, and Cary



Bees and their Flowers



A little history nearby


Honey Glazed Goat's Cheese with Spiced Apricot Compote
1 goat's cheese camembert, cut into quarters
4 slices of brioche
4 tablespoons local honey

600 g ready-to-eat dried apricots
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons muscadet
zest of 1 orange
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks

Wash the apricots in warm water and place in a heavy pan with the remaining compote ingredients. cook over a low heat until the apricots have plumped up and the liquid has reduced to a syrup.

Toast the brioche and keep warm.

Place the quarters of goat cheese on a ceramic baking platter and spoon over the honey and grill until the cheese bubbles. to serve, place the goat's cheese on top of the brioche, spoon over the compote and drizzle the plate with the apricot syrup.

Sophies Green Beans with Mint and Honey Garlic Vinaigrette 
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) green beans, ends trimmed, and halved on the bias
1 bunch of fresh mint
honey garlic vinaigrette
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey vinegar
(or cider vinegar with a teaspoon of mild honey)
2 minced garlic cloves

salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes
½ cup fried prosciutto, onions, or anchovies, chopped

Ready a large bowl with ice water, and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Mince garlic and then whisk remaining vinaigrette ingredients together in the bottom of a deep platter or decorative salad bowl you will use for serving. taste and adjust.

Decide about the garnishes, and take the necessary steps.

When hot, add your beans to the boiling water with some of the mint leaves. after a minute or two, remove beans with a bamboo skimmer and plunge into the ice water to shock and stop cooking.

When cooled, drain beans well and toss in the bowl with your vinaigrette.

Snip more fresh mint leaves onto the beans. and add your garnishes, toss and serve.

May be warm or cold.

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