Monday, December 31, 2007

Gifts to Feed a Craving Soul

It was an innocent-enough proposition, written while in full-craving mode, that set the stage for something altogether unexpected. (Always the most fun, isn’t it?!)

This craving had a name: Corn Tortillas.

Not the cardboard-tasting, over-4-euro-costing, limp-disc-looking things sold here under the same name, but the California kind. The ones with just the right texture and a bit of chew...packed with the flavor of lime and salt, the sweetness of corn singing through. The kind of craving that cannot be touched here in my little French world.

Falling under the category of “be careful what you ask for” my wishes were soon to be fulfilled.

The first to arrive were from my sister’s BFF. Although a bit jet-lagged and showing the kind of rugged edges that I show after a transatlantic flight and dragging around a foreign country for a few days (that would be the tortillas, not my sister’s BFF), they had not lost that sweet corny California essence.

I consumed the first of two bags almost in secret! Wrapped around spicy beans that had been cooked for several hours...or embracing salty roasted chicken and a tangy coleslaw - a dollop of crème fraiche to cool and top it off...or softening themselves with the steam from creamy scrambled eggs that filled their bellies...or, as the chips of them collected at the end of the bag, in the bottom of a bowl with the last of those beans as a modified tostada topped with lettuce and tomatoes and crème fraiche.

I'm telling you my friends, I was in tortilla heaven! Not wanting to go through my precious stash all at once, I put the other bag carefully in the freezer, already enjoying the idea of another set of meals at some later date. (I warned you early on that I was one of those souls who thinks about dinner while eating lunch!)

A few weeks later, I received an email from a friend in San Francisco saying someone was coming to town with something for me. My portable telephone rang a week or so later and a stranger said she had a package for me. We made plans to meet one evening on Cours Mirabeau and it was as much of a pleasure to meet these two travelers as it was to receive their parcel...yes, you guessed it: two big packages of fresh corn tortillas! A double whammy, this one, as the woman and her friend were unique and interesting and adventurous...who else would carry corn tortillas to someone she didn’t know from someone she didn’t know?! (This was the friend of a hairdresser in San Francisco...who does the hair of a friend who lived here when I first arrived...are you following this?! A story in itself, but we’ll stick to the tortillas.) I felt as though the Mexican tortilla gods were smiling down on me! Those immediately went into the freezer for the future as I considered how to share this unexpected bounty.

Some weeks later, a friend from San Diego arrived. With coordinates clarified, he found his way to my door...with a big bag of corn tortillas!

Is this not truly remarkable!? Not only that people are showing up in Aix with corn tortillas but that they are reading La Fourchette...and apparently taking notes! Thank you!

With such a stash, I decided to try my hand at enchiladas. I’m a taco-maker, bean-burrito-wrapper and guacamole-whipper-upper but enchiladas...errr...not so much. I never had the need to make them when I could go to any number of great Mexican restaurants in my other life for some of the best. In fact, in my younger days I was greeted by the cooks in the back of the Mexican restaurant that I lived over with a melodic, “La Muchachaaaaa!”(I always took that to be an affectionate moniker, by the way...I was young.) because I ate there several times a week. My favorites: the enchiladas.

Christmas in Provence may have its foie gras with champagne all the way to the 13 desserts with vin cuit, but with friends around the corner, I enjoyed a menu that went from guacamole and chips... enchiladas and refried beans (with a cooling slaw-type salad)...

topped off with a soft and soothing winter squash custard and a slice from a lovely marmalade cake sent from London by mutual friends.

While the others had a local vin, I kept it real with...

(A gift, sort of, from a local merchant who recently saw his aptly named California Market go out of business... so it was me or the poubelle*...and I took them. *trash)

So to D.T. and Z. (and messengers!) and M.L. - all of you who made those lovely corn tortillas appear: Thank you from a craving Californian in Provence! You were a part of Christmas dinner here as the story was shared...and savored!

As for the dreams that followed...we're not talkin' sugar plum fairies!

May your 2008 be filled with light and good things to well as strength and grace for the challenges.

Bon appétit!

p.s. A big thank you to one of my "peeps" for clarifying the information offered about the Four Mendicants in the 13 Desserts: “...the name of the order in English is NOT the Augustines, but the Augustinians.” This from an Augustinian, himself. In addition, “...the Carmelite Order is for men as well as women, so it would be correct to say, the Carmelites, just as the Augustinians, Dominicans or Franciscans.”

See what happens when you miss catechism...or practice Buddhism...or simply fail to run spell check?! Thanks again for the correction!

There are plenty more tortillas to share, so I’ll keep tweaking my enchilada recipe until it is ready for La Fourchette. (The necessary tweaks are about sauce to enchilada proportions.) In the meantime, here is the delicious custard recipe that was made by the intrepid cook who presented meals to Richard Olney! (It was delicious!)

Winter Squash Custard
(From Jane Brody’s Good Food Gourmet)

Preparation tip: any kind of winter squash – acorn, butternut, Hubbard, or pumpkin – can be used.

3/4-cup puréed winter squash
1/2-teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-teaspoon ground ginger
1/8-teaspoon nutmeg
Generous pinch ground cloves
1 1/4 cups skim or low-fat milk
1/3-cup mild-flavored honey
2 egg whites and 1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the squash, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
3. Gradually whisk in the milk, honey, and beaten egg whites and whole egg, blending the ingredients well. Pour the mixture into a 1- or 1 1/2- quart ovenproof baking dish or soufflé dish. Place the dish in a roasting pan, and pour boiling water into the pan so that the water reaches halfway up the sides of the dish.
4. Place the custard in the hot oven, and bake the custard for 1 to 1 1/4 hours of until the custard has set and a knife inserted halfway between its center and side comes out clean. Serve the custard warm or chilled.

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