Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wednesday Window on Provence

We bid adieu to 2008 today. I love the end of a year.

It offers a rich opportunity for reflection.*

It offers another chance to link potential and possibility...

with experience and wisdom.*

In France, it is bad luck to wish someone a "happy new year" before the year has actually arrived. Once the horns have blasted and the firecrackers have been spent and champagne kisses have been shared to welcome in the new, you can wish friends and loved ones Happy New Year for the entire month of January and still be cool!

In keeping with that spirit, I'll wish you all a "bonne fin d'année" (Happy End of The Year). May you reflect gently upon the year that has passed and look to the mystery that is the year ahead with a sense of hope.


*These two photos are not from Provence but from my life at the edge of the Pacific. Part of my reflection on this New Year's Eve is around the changes that have taken place as my life in Provence took on form and substance. That life in California holds a special place in my heart and the people - no matter the distance, no matter the location on the planet as their own lives have taken on new form and substance - yup...still precious.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Queen of Tarts Tuesday

A savory tart for you today, dear readers.

Something to sidle up alongside a roasted pork loin on a new year's brunch table lit with tea candles...or pulled out of a wicker picnic basket and served on a favorite old quilt along with a roasted chicken and a thermos of squash soup in the middle of a vineyard on a sun drenched winter day.

That kind of savory tart!

Dress it up or down or serve it with a green salad and just call it lunch, I think this will please you on whatever stage you ask it to appear.

It doesn't mind not being the star of the meal. Not at all. I sense that this lovely bundle of warm apples and savory/sweet shallots snuggled into a cider cream knows it will receive attention...even as a side dish.

As for after dinner, if you're like me and you enjoy having your palate tickled with chocolate chip cookies and potato chips for that salty/sweet combo or you are simply more adventurous and like to push the envelope, then you won't mind seeing a few golden slices of shallot poking up from a bed of soft apples on a dessert plate. Hit it with a dollop of that crème fraîche that you slid into it while it was still in the pan and you've got apple pie's patient understudy making a debut on the scene! (Hold your least until after you've tasted this!)


1 pâte à tart feuilletée (tart pastry)
3 red apples (Fuji or Pink Lady)
2 golden or green apples (Granny Smith or Pippin)
2 shallots (They're a bit larger here - double this if you find the smaller sized shallots in your markets...or increase to taste.)
1 cup cider
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425º

2. Peel and cut shallots into rounds. In a pan with hot olive oil, gently cook the shallots until soft and transluscent over a low heat - about 10 minutes.

3. Peel and dice the apples. Add to the pan with the shallots then add the cider. Let it all cook together until the liquids have been completely absorbed then add the crème fraiche. Let it cook about 2 minutes more.

4. Roll out the tart pastry and place it in a tart pan. Put the cooked apples and shallot mixture into the tart pan and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Soup's On!

I hope you enjoyed a lovely holiday. This post is a day late. I was kind of...errr...busy.

Busy, that is, enjoying a velvety pumpkin soup, fois gras on toasted sweet brioche and a roasted canette (female duck) with orange and port sauce accompanied by roasted potatoes and carrots. Friends are here from London and as if it is not special enough that they are here, they invited me in to share Christmas lunch. What a lucky girl!

If duck wasn't on your menu and you happen to have a meaty ham bone on this day-after, toss it in a pot with an onion studded with cloves and a couple of handfuls of these beauties...

...the French green du Puy lentils.

In French cooking, the lentilles du Puy are smaller and offer a beautiful palette of colors ranging from light green to slate. They turn a rich mahogany-brown, however, when they are cooked.

The result of your effort (although I use the word effort quite loosely here) will be this delicious potage* to satisfy, especially if you've spent the previous day navigating a rich and varied holiday menu.

If you are tucking in and cutting corners to prepare for a new year that seems to promise a bit more financial instability before things begin to even out, then a pot of lentils would be a good way to stretch your dollar/euro/peso or whatever currency you are counting and stretching. What's more, according to Mediterranean tradition, cooking the green du Puy lentil on the first day of the year, brings wealth all year long. If we all start 2009 with a pot of lentils, just think of the possibilities!

A sweet whole wheat (organic, of course!) chunk of bread to dig into this stewy bowlful with a salad of mâche and a bit of sliced endive tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and you'll be putting your feet up and grabbing that new book that was in your stocking with a full belly to face the night (and temperature) as it falls.

Bon appétit,

LENTILLES AU PETIT SALÉ (Lentils with Salt Pork)
(Adapted from French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David)

Put 1 cup of French green du Puy lentils, rinsed and picked through for anything that isn't a lentil, one onion halved lengthwise, peeled and studded with whole cloves (2-5 in each half, to taste), one bouquet garni, one clove of garlic crushed and a ham hock in a soup pot to which you then add 2 pints of water. Simmer for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours covered. Uncover and take the meat off the bone and take out the onions, bouquet garni and garlic clove (unless it has cooked down...all the better!). By this time the liquid should be starting to be absorbed into a thick consistency and the lentils quite tender. Simmer another hour or more (I had this on a low simmer for the better part of the afternoon). When the meat is shredable-tender and the water has all been absorbed, shred the meat in or out of the pot (if out, return it to the pot). Taste the lentils for seasoning and add a touch of sea salt if needed. Serve in soup bowls with a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like. Garnish with a bit of parsley...and let everybody know that "Soup's on!"

*The French have three separate words for soup. Consommé is a clear, thin broth. Soupe refers to a thick, hearty mélange with chunks of food. Potage falls somewhere between the first two in texture and thickness. A potage is usually puréed and is often thickened slightly with cream or egg yolks. Today, the words soupe and potage are often used interchangeably.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday Window on Provence

Did I mention that my bicycle had been stolen? No? Happened right under my nose. There it was, locked up to my beautiful hand-made iron staircase on a Saturday night when I took out the poubelle (trash - sounds so much nicer in French, doesn't it?) and on Sunday morning when I descended the very same stairs - poof! It was nowhere in sight! Not a trace of the bicycle nor the lock and chain that had kept it in place.

The good news is that now I know how to file a police report. I guess that's good's all part of the learning curve, non? Next is the insurance but that will have to wait.

In other good news, it seems only fair to update you on the case of the missing spectacles. The fellow that sent them from California to France with no insurance is going to replace them for me. New cool frames and all. It pays to have worked with someone for close to 30 years...and I suppose his response to this is a part of why I've stayed with him for so long. Now that, my friends, is customer service!

Enjoy your Christmas Eve - in whatever manner you celebrate.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Queen of Tarts Tuesday

That soup really hit a spot with many of my readers! Thanks for your email messages. How was your soup?!

I promised dessert and I've saved it for today. It deserves a place all its own.

A unique spin on the apple tart, we'll call it Apple Pizza. It would be another delicious option to slide out of the oven and into your holiday tradition.

A veritable mandala of apples, this. A kaleidoscope of the world's most famous fruit for seduction, I suspect this simple little tart has its roots in Italy as it was the previously mentioned displaced Italian soul who brought this to the table...after that soup.

The bulk of the work is in the apple prep. It would certainly be made easier with the apple corer/peeler/slicer that I have - err...stored in my boxes of stuff at my sister's house. (Note to self: next trip out, bring back apple corer/peeler/slicer.)

I tried to save a bit of time using my French food processor. I'm thinking that the French know food, this is true, but they don't know food processor efficacy if my little machine is any example. It cut thin slices but I couldn't manage the position of the apples well so their shape left a lot to be desired. It may be just as easy to slice by hand if you're quick and nimble. Next time, I'll pull out my industrial mandolin. (The French seem to still have a corner on the market of manually run slicers and dicers...I'll give them that!)

Once the work is done, you have only to enjoy the apple slices baking to a golden brown; soft in the body of the slice and a touch of extra sweetness in the caramelized edges. As the pâte brisée is baked in a pizza pan, it crisps up more like a cracker...or thin crust pizza, for that matter!

Serve this warm so you can enjoy the full effect of the perfume of warm apples and honey. I used demi-sel butter with fleur de sel (little sea salt crystals). It worked for me as I like that sweet/salty combo. But if you want to toss the salt, use sweet butter and enjoy the bass note that it adds to the mélange of scents. Though this is not swimming in butter, the flavor really comes through. Your taste buds will be saying, "Oh yeah, baby, butter with a capital 'B'!" And with a crust covered edge to edge with fruit, I'm guessing that there will be no dry edges left on the plates of crust-haters.

I can't really decide if this is a bit more refined than the jumble of apples that fill a good old American apple pie or more simple an expression. Whatever it is, the apple-ness comes singing through without having to push through a blast of cinnamon. What a way to get your apple-a-day in!

Start with the basics and dress it up or down with anything that speaks to you in your apple fantasies. While it was still warm, I gave this a drizzle of French honey then hit it with a flurry of powdered sugar before serving just to make it seem like a party. Get it to the table while it's still warm and dig in - fork and knife in choreographed moves from plate to mouth or treat it like the pizza that it is and just pick it up aiming the longest corner toward your mouth for the first bite. Yeah...that's it. See?!

Where will yours make its appearance? (Keep this recipe handy. After it introduces itself on your holiday table, it will be just as fitting - and impressive - on your summer table to end a dinner al fresco some summer day in your 2009!)

Bon appétit!


One pâte brisée (recipe below)
4-6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced very thin - 1/4 inch
3-4 tablespoons butter, melted
powdered sugar

Roll out pâte brisée to 9 inches and place on a flat pizza pan. Brush with butter and begin along the outer edge laying the apple slices perpendicular to the edge of the pan and overlapping, one on the other. Work to the center with a pretty windmill design completing your tart.

Brush lightly with butter and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until apples and crust are golden brown.

Remove from oven and while it is still warm, drizzle with honey.

Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar on the plate.

Serves 6-8

(adapted from French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David)

4 oz. plain flour
2 oz. butter
1 fresh egg
cold water

Make a well in the sieved flour, put the butter cut in small pieces, the egg and a good pinch of salt in the middle. Blend quickly and lightly but thoroughly, with the fingertips. Add a very little water, just enough to make the dough moist, but it should come cleanly away from the bowl or board. Place the ball of dough on a floured board and with the heel of your palm gradually stretch the pate out, bit by bit, until it is a flat but rather ragged-looking sheet. Gather it up again, and repeat the process. It should all be done lightly and expeditiously, and is extremely simple although it sounds complicated written down. Roll it into a ball, wrap it in greaseproof paper and leave it to rest in a cold larder or refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours, so that it loses all elasticity and will not shrink or lose its shape during the baking.

This is one version of the pâte brisée or pâte à foncer used for most open tarts in French cookery. Without being as rich or as complicated as puff pastry, it is light and crisp.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Soup's On!

Thursdays are in still in the “design stages” here at La Fourchette but I thought I'd stick with the intended schedule just the same.

We've entered the season for soup. One of my dear readers made a soup request…errr…last year...and although I had every intention of posting some soups to fill her bowl, I...uhhh.... got distracted with this whole "change-your-country/make-a-life" thing going on.

So...ahem, "Soup, you say?" Try this:

From the kitchen of a displaced Mediterranean soul (Italian, to be exact), this is a belly-warming bowlful for some rainy/snowy/sleety evening in the weeks ahead...or if you just need something quick to whip up for drop-in guests who want to hang out like family during the holiday season. That's how it was when I first tasted it.

I was the guest of a friend who is a regular at the aforementioned Mediterranean soul's kitchen. We had been invited in for a mid-week dinner during my recent visit to Vermont.

It was simple. And simply lovely.

We "ooohed" and "aaaahed" over this soup as if we were tasting this surprising delicacy called "soup" for the very first time. We filled our bowls with seconds and thirds. We took the warmth of the soup and the evening out into the frosty night air and never felt the chill.

So here it is for you, dear readers. A crusty baguette and a tossed green salad will round it out nicely.

And for dessert? You'll have to come back for dessert - it's worth a post all to itself!

As for this soup: Oh! You are going to like this one!

Bon appétit!

(This recipe makes enough for 2 for dinner along with salad and a baguette. Only make as much as you and your group will eat as it is not something I'd save for the next day.)

1 cup cooked chick peas, drained
olive oil
garlic, finely chopped (to taste - I used a lot!)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Fresh rosemary, minced (Lots! Lots and lots! I used good handful fresh from the terrace garden.)
2 cups water
1/2 cup (or a bit more - to your taste) cooked pasta, drained

In a soup pot, heat olive oil and saute chopped onion until soft and barely golden. Add the garlic and saute until soft and fragrant. Add chopped rosemary, the chick peas and the water. Heat through to blend flavors, cooking until the beans begin to break down. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking. (Meanwhile, put the water on for the pasta.)

Take the soup off of the heat and take out half of the chick peas and set aside. Puree what's left in the pot in a food processor (or using a stick blender. What are those called anyway?! I love mine...but I never have to call it by name.)

Return the pureed soup to the soup pot and return the chick peas that you set aside. Add the pasta. (Add the pasta a bit at a time to determine how much you want in your soup.)

Simmer to heat through. Serve in heated bowls, drizzling a good olive oil over the top and hitting it with some freshly cracked pepper before digging in.

Wednesday Window on Provence

It is to a French morning as a shot of milky pastis is to a French afternoon. (For some hearty French livers that is...a remarkably potent potion that pastis!)

My French days begin with a "bon café". I like the way a strong French roast makes my little kitchen smell. I like that first warm sip...I even like the last gritty drop after it's cooled as I've read the morning's news.

But with a squeaky clean system thanks to modern medicine, I've decided to take this opportunity to go off the stuff...again. I do this every once in a while. At some point, there is a good chance that I'll be seduced by the irresistible aroma of some sneaky bean in the future - but for now, I'm taking a break.

Usually the Wednesday post is a photo-only type of deal but a friend of mine was kind enough to share his chai tea recipe with me in the Lovely Comments of a previous post. I just thought I'd put it out there for all to have.

You don't even have to turn your back on coffee to enjoy it!

Bon appetit!

p.s. Many thanks to Bubba's Person for sharing his secrets!

YOGI TEA (which can be altered to your preferences):
2 quarts water
15 whole cloves
20 black peppercorns
3 sticks of cinnamon
20 whole cardamom pods (split the pods first)
8 fresh ginger slices (1/4" thick, no need to peel)
After all the above is cooked, add 1/2 teaspoon regular or decaf black tea leaves (approximately 1 tea bag)
Dairy or soy milk and honey or maple syrup or succanat to taste
Bring two quarts of water to a boil. Add cloves and boil one minute. Add cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and ginger. Cover and boil for 30 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for two to three hours. Remove from heat, add black tea, and let cool. Strain and store in the refrigerator. Reheat when you want a cup and add milk and honey or succanat to taste. (Bubba’s Person’s note: Personally, I like a lot more ginger.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Queen of Tarts Tuesday

I’ve been a fan of tarts for, well, ever. If you’ve been a guest chez La Fourchette, you’ve had a tartor twoor more. One set of visiting friends even suggested that I consider offering tart classes. Perhaps a polite hint during what was probably at least a two-tart visit.

This love affair stretches back into another lifetime, also known as the 80’s. I collected quiche recipes. (Was it that Real Men did or did not eat quiche?! Hmmm…the fact that I have to ask explains a lot about my dating experiences back in the day!)

In those days, I worked from the bottom up with a standard pâte brisée, switching from a shortening to a butter crust when Martha Stewart hit the scene.

These days, I must admit, I cheat a bit.

Available to me here are rolls of biologique, (organic) pâte feuilletée. (A basic flaky pastry.) It's pretty much my staple these days for tart crusts. In the US, you’ll find something similar in taste and texture - well…you know what I mean - but rectangular in shape: the frozen puff pastry. (Perhaps the selection has improved since I left. If so, do share!)

With the crust being a no-brainer, I can get pretty creative with the fillings. And believe me, I do!

In fact, how about an entire day each week devoted to the tart/quiche/pie?

I’m thinking that on Tuesdays around here we'll break it out with a new tart recipe weekly – I’ll share the results of goofing around with what's at hand or some recipe ripped from the inside of those packages of the prepared pâte or whatever caught my fancy as I walked through the morning market.

Pull out your tart dish - or grab a pie pan - slap a pastry in it and fill 'er up! Let's get started. It's Queen of Tarts Tuesday!

We're going to start with the mother of all tarts...okay, quiches: Quiche Lorraine.

While you’re unwrapping gifts next week, you might want to consider whipping up a Quiche Lorraine to wrap your tastebuds around on Christmas morning! As the fragrance of warm Gruyère cheese wafts past your nose, your tongue wraps around the soft soufflé-custard then hits a chunk of salty, smoky bacon. I'm telling you, people! Close your eyes for a minute. Where are you? Perhaps a ski lodge in some little village in the French Alps. In front of the ancient stone fireplace, each warm bite prepares you for the first run of the day. The fire that warms your toes through your woolen socks (the ones with reindeer, of course. How stylish of you!) crackles and pops and you open your eyes…oh my! See?! This is great stuff!

No cinnamon buns for me as the tinsel shimmers on the tree. This is like sticking my fork into bacon and eggs wrapped in a croissant! Give me Quiche Lorraine! And then pour me a strong cup of coffee and, uh...could you put a few slices of fresh orange on my plate because This.Is.Rich.

Rich as in: make-it-a-celebration-and-serve-it-in-small-slices rich. It’s not the least bit shy about calling for a supporting cast to soften its unctuous wallop!

How about a coupe de champagne? Now we’re talking Bonnes Fêtes, people!

I’m not kidding about this being experiential eating! Tell us where it takes you on the first bite.

Bon appétit!

My favorite Quiche Lorraine - and as simple as can be - is the recipe from Joy of Cooking. (Irma still rocks.)

6 servings

Preheat oven to 375º

Prepare a 9-inch pie shell of:
Pâte Brisée or any rich pie dough (see what I mean?!)
Brush it with:
The white of an egg
and prick it well. Chop into 1-inch lengths:
1/4 lb. sliced bacon
Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet, stirring constantly, until the fat is almost rendered out, but the bacon is not yet crisp. Drain on paper toweling. (Watch this! The liquid and fat that will be released into your quiche during baking will depend to a great degree on the quality of bacon/lardons used. Go to a good butcher for this one and get a meaty cut - with NO added water shot into it! I tend to render it on the crisper side. I think that's a matter of taste - play with that one.)
Scald to hasten the cooking time: (I don’t scald this…I just whip it gently together with the eggs and seasonings)
2 cups milk or cream (Oh puhleeze. Go ahead and make it with cream! You’ve got a whole week ahead to plan any dietary resolutions for 2009.))
Cool slightly, then beat together with:
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
A fresh grind of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh chives
Sprinkle in the bottom of the pie shell the bacon and:
1/2 cup diced Swiss cheese. (Gruyere...I prefer the sharper nutty taste of Gruyère…and I prefer it grated to diced.)
Pour the custard mixture over it. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is a golden brown. For doneness, you may test as for custard. (In other words, “Stick a knife in it!”)

You’ll see in the photo that the top of mine is a bit, ahem, browned this time. Sometimes that happens in the EZ Bake oven that is the workhorse of my little cuisine…I really have to watch it in those final few minutes. This time it just added a lovely dimension of deeper nutty flavor. Still simply delish.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The 12 Days of Christmas

The foreshadowing of the last post says it all: "Comforted by the fountain down the street."

I wasn't even consciously aware that I was in need of comfort at that point. In hindsight, the barely perceptible chill on the first day that had my sweet little nose running like that comforting fountain on the second, and had put a drag in my step by the third, had me down for the count for 12 days of Christmas.

I've been sick. Sick enough to have been wearing my flannel baggy pajama pants when I shot that last shot posted on 3 December.

Not even sunset yet. Flannel.Pajama.Pants.

Sick, I'm telling you.

But now, after a full (and disciplined, thank you very much) regimen of kick-ass antibiotics, an expectorant (Too much information? Sorry.), cough syrup and a short run of cortisone to assist with that thing most of us know as "breathing", I must say, I’m feeling much better. Thank you.

And here’s the thing: As I began to stir from what felt like a Rip Van Winkle-type of sleeping pattern during those twelve days, I was a little clearer - on many levels.

I've been hinting at a transition for this blog for weeks now but have been feeling quite caught. A change was called for but nothing was making itself known to me. I'm not easy to discourage but this catch had me paralyzed.

Actually La Fourchette was started as a draft of sorts. A receptacle for the stories in my little French life that had been accumulating. One day the posts would stack up and look like a book in the spirit of Susan Hermann Loomis' On Rue Tatin or Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. Recipes incorporated into my story just as they are into my life. But really, as I looked around, it's been done.

And done.

And done.

It's still being done. At this point, the genre is so done it’s looking kind of crispy around the edges. So there was that.

Then there’s this public aspect of a blog. I mean really?! Who puts their draft out for the world to see while it's in process?!

I was going to have to rethink this whole thing.

As I made the freefall into the state of transition, I entertained the idea of a more political bent à la Slow Food. Perhaps a comparison of sorts between what's going on in the US and France, with regard to good, clean, fair food. (God knows, we've really got to start paying attention to this one, people.) But did I want to step into that?

No. Too much flannel. (I don’t know what it is with me and flannel.)

During some fevered bout of discouragement, I even considered hanging up a "Gone Fishin' " sign over the oven.

And then, I tell you, there was this clearing as I was returning to a healthy state that just happened. The "up-at-4-in-the-morning-to-draft-a-post" kind of "happened".

I'll roll the plan out a bit at a time and by January a schedule should begin to emerge. I hope to be able to stick to it. We shall see. No promises. There's plenty of other stuff that got clear that needs my attention, too. I'll do my best.

So, welcome to The Transition. (Seems to be the season for such things. I’m in good company, doncha think?!)

For the faithful peeps who have been showing up - n'importe quoi (no matter what) - week after week: Wow! Thank you. I could get all Sally Fields about it but I'll leave it there: Thank you. Not to worry with these changes. You'll still get your recipes, photos, reports from the 'hood. I'm cracking it all open and seeing what's been forming in spite of my intentions.

Join the tribe and, if you feel so inclined, make yourself known with a "Lovely Comment".

I want to know who you are.

I want to know what you eat.

I want to know why you read this blog.

If your interest is piqued, subscribe and follow along. I'm thinking it's going to be kind of fun. I sense there's something cookin' here! We'll figure it out together.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wednesday Window on Provence

A scene from an old Hitchcock film? No, just a December day in Provence.

Rain today. I'm comforted by the music of the fountain down the block from me.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

There is much for which to be thankful since the election in the US. The French seem to be very pleased with the results. Hours after the winner had been announced, a French friend of mine showed up at my door with a red rose and a bit of a giggle. I was perplexed by the conspiritorial air with which she was handing me the long-stemmed gift. The irony of the symbol of the Socialist party in France had initially been lost on me, but she got quite a kick out of it given the final days of the campaign and the candidates (and their plumbers) playing fast and loose with the notion of "socialism".

As you tuck into your favorite dishes around the holiday table with family and friends, I thought you might be interested in the following little-known fact: America's first pilgrims were French!

November 26, 2008
New York Times Op-Ed Contributor
A French Connection

To commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America’s shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux. After all, the first European arrivals seeking religious freedom in the “New World” were French. And they beat their English counterparts by 50 years. That French settlers bested the Mayflower Pilgrims may surprise Americans raised on our foundational myth, but the record is clear.

Long before the Pilgrims sailed in 1620, another group of dissident Christians sought a haven in which to worship freely. These French Calvinists, or Huguenots, hoped to escape the sectarian fighting between Catholics and Protestants that had bloodied France since 1560.

Landing in balmy Florida in June of 1564, at what a French explorer had earlier named the River of May (now the St. Johns River near Jacksonville), the French émigrés promptly held a service of “thanksgiving.” Carrying the seeds of a new colony, they also brought cannons to fortify the small, wooden enclosure they named Fort Caroline, in honor of their king, Charles IX.

In short order, these French pilgrims built houses, a mill and bakery, and apparently even managed to press some grapes into a few casks of wine. At first, relationships with the local Timucuans were friendly, and some of the French settlers took native wives and soon acquired the habit of smoking a certain local “herb.” Food, wine, women — and tobacco by the sea, no less. A veritable Gallic paradise.

Except, that is, to the Spanish, who had other visions for the New World. In 1565, King Philip II of Spain issued orders to “hang and burn the Lutherans” (then a Spanish catchall term for Protestants) and dispatched Adm. Pedro Menéndez to wipe out these French heretics who had taken up residence on land claimed by the Spanish — and who also had an annoying habit of attacking Spanish treasure ships as they sailed by.

Leading this holy war with a crusader’s fervor, Menéndez established St. Augustine and ordered what local boosters claim is the first parish Mass celebrated in the future United States. Then he engineered a murderous assault on Fort Caroline, in which most of the French settlers were massacred. Menéndez had many of the survivors strung up under a sign that read, “I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to heretics.” A few weeks later, he ordered the execution of more than 300 French shipwreck survivors at a site just south of St. Augustine, now marked by an inconspicuous national monument called Fort Matanzas, from the Spanish word for “slaughters.”

With this, America’s first pilgrims disappeared from the pages of history. Casualties of Europe’s murderous religious wars, they fell victim to Anglophile historians who erased their existence as readily as they demoted the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine to second-class status behind the later English colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth.

But the truth cannot be so easily buried. Although overlooked, a brutal first chapter had been written in the most untidy history of a “Christian nation.” And the sectarian violence and hatred that ended with the deaths of a few hundred Huguenots in 1565 would be replayed often in early America, the supposed haven for religious dissent, which in fact tolerated next to none.

Starting with those massacred French pilgrims, the saga of the nation’s birth and growth is often a bloodstained one, filled with religious animosities. In Boston, for instance, the Puritan fathers banned Catholic priests and executed several Quakers between 1659 and 1661. Cotton Mather, the famed Puritan cleric, led the war cries against New England’s Abenaki “savages” who had learned their prayers from the French Jesuits. The colony of Georgia was established in 1732 as a buffer between the Protestant English colonies and the Spanish missions of Florida; its original charter banned Catholics. The bitter rivalry between Catholic France and Protestant England carried on for most of a century, giving rise to anti-Catholic laws, while a mistrust of Canada’s French Catholics helped fire many patriots’ passion for independence. As late as 1844, Philadelphia’s anti-Catholic “Bible Riots” took the lives of more than a dozen people.

The list goes on. Our history is littered with bleak tableaus that show what happens when righteous certitude is mixed with fearful ignorance. Which is why this Thanksgiving, as we express gratitude for America’s bounty and promise, we would do well to reflect on all our histories, including a forgotten French one that began on Florida’s shores so many years ago.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of “America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation.”

As Bill Maher noted shortly after the election, it's cool to be American again. As I pulled out a few euros to pay for the parcels I had just handed over to a smiling French postal worker at La Poste the other day, she took me by surprise with a cheery greeting of, " 'Appy Zanksgeeving!"

I share this greeting with all of my readers in the US: " 'Appy zanksgeeving to all!"

Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008

Get out there and vote!

I'm undecided on whether it will be squash soup or roasted chicken chez La Fourchette (No pun intended...really! It's all about the weather. Cold and rainy here.) as I watch from across the Atlantic.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Vermont Reflections for Your Monday

Home again in Provence and back in the saddle (if a bit wobbly at first.)

A few reflections going on here and I wanted to share them with you. We'll start with these:

That last one is a bit of a tease. Recognize it?

Yup! You. In the back...I heard that! It's the inside of a tank at the Lincoln Peak Vineyard and Winery in Vermont. Lovely people there. The wine's not bad either! If you're in the neighborhood, stop in to have a taste and say hello.

There are some other reflections going on and La Fourchette is at (ahem) a "fork in the road". I've got a few things cooking in this world of food and may be tweaking your weekly dose of Provence. There is a bit of a revision in the works so while you are out voting (my absentee vote has already been cast!), I'll be here stirring the to speak.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday Window on Provence

Okay...not exactly a window on Provence...but a petit bonjour from another colorful corner of the world: Vermont.

I was lucky to have arrived into a few mild autumn days to explore one of the most beautiful shows of color I've seen!

As the weather turned cold, this tree would lose all of its leaves within the span of a few days!

But even as these leaves began to drop, being drenched in such lovely colors on a drive down country roads is something I wanted to share with you.

Rain yesterday...snow today. It all brings about inevitable change in this lovely landscape. Whew! What a lucky girl to have dropped into the best of the season!

Back next week!


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wednesday Window on Provence

To everything,
turn, turn, turn
There is a season
turn, turn, turn...

The Byrds

It would seem that the time has arrived when we bring our summer ware in from the garden...or terrace...and put them up on a shelf....

...and put away our summer duds...

...packed with a stash of lavender, of course, for the long haul...

...and find a hook to hang our straw hats on a wall inside.

And on days like today, we put these away in a dry, warm place and trade them in...

...for one of these!

We've had rain all day in our fair Aix en Provence. It gave a generous soaking to all of the thirsty plants that live on the terrace. Good news for me (and them) as I am going to be away for a couple of weeks. I'll try to keep the Wednesday gig going while I'm gone...but the recipes...errr...I can only promise you that they are backing up and in line to be shared!


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wednesday Window on Provence

Bonjour à tous!

A picture being worth what it is, I'll keep the words to a minimum here. Enjoy.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Full of Beans

Is it Thursday already!?! Actually, I was busy preparing this and this and hoped that you would not mind too much that this post slipped into Friday. Merci beaucoup.

My original idea was to share about my new (used) market basket on wheels that rolls with me to the far-off ED market.

I'm saving euros with that basket! (Not to mention my sometimes aching back.) The post was to be about how I would fill this market basket with haricots verts if I could as I put a fair dent in the bounty during the summer months.

But to accompany my "full of beans" post, I've decided to let you in on a slice of my little French life. Yes, I found that someone else turned out to be "full of beans". And it has been a bit expensive for me so far.

You may have heard about the dollar/euro exchange in the past months. The dollar has the toilet to be quite frank. Since I am still exchanging dollars to euros monthly, it chokes me as I watch the euros with which I live costing more and more. Given that, you can imagine that my choke-o-meter went off the scale when I received the quote for the new lenses for my glasses: a whoppin' over-six-hundred-euros for the lenses only!! I had put off changing to my new prescription to avoid the expense but when I could no longer delay, I took in an old pair of frames (several years old) and ordered lenses only. Being "of a certain age" as they say here in the hexagon, I have graduated to progressive lenses that keep me from falling down stairs and getting dizzy if I move my head too fast but this quote was shocking to me! They were lovely at this optical place, offering me the opportunity to pay in multiple payments - which I accepted. But unfortunately, as the dollar dropped, each equal payment was cost more than the last...and so it went.

In need of sunglasses as well, I called my old place in southern California where I had had my glasses made for decades before I moved to France...and went into progressives. As I had hoped, my loyalty with this place paid off and he offered to do my progressive sunglasses for around 300...dollars. Veritable music to my ears. What's more, he told me that he had done the same thing for clients in Europe before and was familiar with getting them to the other continent. And the people here who had so kindly offered to me a payment schedule also agreed to make that little measured dot on the lenses to send off so that the SoCal place would have the proper measure for the progressives. (They were very sensitive to my dollar situation here...nice, huh?!) Formidable!

I sent off my very cool and very funky frames, picked up on some special a couple of years ago, that I had been holding for sunglasses. Sent insured from here, I called the SoCal store to give them a heads up and make the connection to stay in close touch as we moved through the process. They arrived quickly and he was great in getting right on the task as soon as they arrived.

Now to get them back to me...and here is where it breaks down terribly. I felt confident that he knew what he was doing because he had "sent to clients in Europe before"...errr....that turned out to be not so true. Once at the US Post Office, he told me he handed them over to a guy at the Post who said he knew "exactly how to do this" and took my box of new sunglasses, stuck them in a bag, put a tag around it and voilà! At that point, they seemed to have been lost forever! They were sent to me on 9 July 2008...and have not yet arrived. The worst part: I've already paid that $300 for the lenses. There was no insurance, no tracking... Nada. Zip. Rien. Zilch.

I'm screwing up my courage now to call this "full of beans" character in SoCal to do a bit of problem solving as to how to "make this situation right"...for me! Fingers crossed. Keep the good thought for me as I go forward to get this settled. Or send all good thoughts that my very cool and very funky sunglasses show up...tomorrow! (We are headed into the season of annual strikes here in France and the post is often the first to drop out of service.)

In the meantime, back to the business of the real beans. Here are a couple of recipes with which to enjoy the last of summer's bounty of green beans.

They have gotten a bit of a bad rap in centuries past. Sarah Josepha Hale suggested the following preparation in The Good Housekeeper in 1839:

“Green Beans, or string beans as they are usually called, must be done [boiled] till very tender -- it takes nearly an hour and a half.”

And then there was the incarnation dropped out of a tin can where the first hour and 20 minutes had been taken care of for the modern housewife of the 50’s era.

So tender they are, straight from the marché, that they are topped at stem and tail with a quick twist of the wrist and dropped into a hot bath briefly before being tossed into a pan of melted butter for a bit of a shake around then served instantly alongside a grilled steak (as was the case when I was invited by Richard Olney’s brothers for lunch one day while there were on their annual visit Chez Richard...another lovely story to share in the future), or with Tomatoes Provençal (as was the case while I was staying with a friend in Corsica). I tend to add a clove or three of finely minced garlic to that butter, cooked gently until it is soft and sweet then toss in the beans for a shake and a shimmy before serving the fragrant side dish with a piece of grilled lamb.

And then there are days when it is simply too hot to crank up a grill and cranking up the water to a quick boil is the limit. On those days, these lovely green beans make their way into one of a couple of salads that have become summertime regulars around the table at La Fourchette’s.

They are both delicious and great on a picnic!

Bon appétit!


Serves 4 to 6

1 3/4 pounds fresh green beans
1 t. sea salt
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 – 2/3 cup of black oil cured olives, pitted
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 T. pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet

2 T. olive oil
1T. red wine vinegar
1T. Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Trim the stem ends from the beans and cut then into 2 inch pieces. In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add the salt and drop in the beans. Cook over high heat for about 2 minutes, or until the beans are tender but crisp; do not overcook.

Place in a colander under cold running water to stop the cooking. Shake the colander to drain. Put the green beans in a large bowl along with the red onions, olives, feta and pine nuts. Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over the salad ingredients. Toss gently and serve.


Serves 4 to 6

1 3/4 pounds fresh green beans
1 t. sea salt
3 ounces dry sausage or salami, cut into thick slices and then into strips (about 1/2 cup)
4 bacon slices, cooked crisp, drained and crumbled
3 T. pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet

2 T. olive oil
1T. red wine vinegar
1T. Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Trim the stem ends from the beans and cut then into 2 inch pieces. In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add the salt and drop in the beans. Cook over high heat for about 4 minutes, or until the beans are tender but crisp; do not overcook.

Place in a colander under cold running water to stop the cooking. Shake the colander to drain. Put the green beans in a large bowl along with the sausage, bacon, and pine nuts. Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over the salad ingredients. Toss gently and serve.

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