Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wednesday Window On Provence

oooops! Is it already Thursday? Where does the time go?!

Golden sunshine is streaming through the windows on the terrace this morning warming my toes that got quite chilled (and damp) in yesterday's winter rain. And to think, just a short ten days ago we were wrapped up in layers and navigating frozen fountains like this. Crazy, huh? Winter in Provence.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Your Continued Good Health

I hope there's still a bit of time left here for a New Years toast.

No, not that kind of toast, dear readers. We've had quite enough of that stuff!

I'm talking about toast as in toasted almonds and the toasty, crunchy goodness of quinoa and brown rice and apples. Good heavens. To tell you the truth, I never really expected to use the words "crunchy goodness" unless I was being paid big commercial bucks, but it is exactly crunchy goodness I am offering you this week.

My favorite days at the marché are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays - who am I kidding? I love each day of the week at the marché. But on those alternate days, the big market is set up and the section that begins at the left end of my little rue is where you can find most of the bio (organic) growers. Actually my go-to growers are a couple that set up camp in another section of the big market with a crumpled handmade cardboard sign that has BIO written in green wide felt tip pen. The sign has certainly seen better days but I can always count on these two for the freshest organic veggies - and almonds - as well as organic coconut cookies when I'm jonesing for such treats. And that little habit started when she dropped a couple of those gems in my basket as a little offrir (gift). I'm confident she knew exactly what she was doing.

I load up on everything from beets to zucchini but for my apples, I am a loyal customer of a fellow who sells six different types along with a few types of pears. Steps away from my front door, I was first struck by the numbers of people crowded around his set up while other vendors stood alone with their crates of pommes. There is always something to a crowd of French speakers swarming around some food item or other so I stepped into the swirl and bagged myself a few pink ladies...apples, of course. Crisp and juicy, each bite offered the perfect balance of sweet and tart. I was hooked.

I took my basket and little paper bag from the previous purchase of these little wonders (and he was quite impressed, may I add, at my recycling commitment! "Vive la planete!" or something like that he said as he stuck a we're-number-one-type finger gesture in the air.) As I stood over that day's crate of fragrant variegated pink ladies, he stopped me as I reached in for the first one to plop into my open and waiting sack. With a click of his tongue, "Tsk, tsk," he corrected as he wagged the same long finger that had previously been overhead in victory mode. "Take these," and he directed my attention to another crate set back from within reach of the rest.

"These were picked just 20 minutes ago," he said in a conspiratorial whisper. He had me at "20 minutes", which is not something I can say about most men I meet...but I digress. I reached in and plucked the dewy orbs one by one, some with the leaves still attached to their stems, and filled my little sack to the top.

As I headed back from the market, I risked showing the world my silly grin, but I kept my thoughts to myself: "I love this place!"

Those crisp apples were part of this crunchy goodness, along with celery, toasted almonds and quinoa. Mixed with chewy brown rice and a few raisins tossed in for an added kick of sweetness, it's balanced nicely by the creamy yogurt dressing. I love it when I make it warm, mixing the warm rice and quinoa mixture straight out of the pot just as much as I love the leftovers cold the next day. That's when there are any leftovers left over!

I know you're going to like this...even if your apples weren't picked just 20 minutes ago!

Bon appétit!

Curried Rice and Quinoa Salad
adapted from a recipe in the New York Times by Martha Rose Shulman

I used a mixed-grains combo along with brown basmati rice.

3/4 cup basmati brown rice, cooked

1/2 cup quinoa, preferably red quinoa, cooked (this is where I used the mixed grains - that included red quinoa - combo)

1/4 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

1 large stalk celery, diced

1 apple, cored, cut in small dice and tossed with 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

handful of golden raisins tossed in, if you wish

For the dressing:

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons Hellmann’s or Best Foods Mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon curry powder

Pinch of cayenne

Salt to taste

For garnish: 1/2 pound broccoli florets, steamed for four or five minutes

1. Combine all of the salad ingredients.

2. Whisk together the yogurt or buttermilk, mayonnaise, lime juice, Dijon mustard, curry powder, cayenne and salt to taste. Toss with the salad. Garnish with the broccoli florets (or toss them right into the mix as I did), and serve.

Yield: Serves six.

Advance preparation: You can make this several hours before serving, and keep in the refrigerator. Leftovers keep well for a few days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wednesday Window On Provence

A few stubborn flakes are hanging on for dear life - or else they're thinking a few extra days in the south of France and its soleil will have them looking as though they'd been hanging with the rich and famous on the beaches of St. Tropez. What-evah.

They may bask by day, but they freeze their little tushes in the sub zero temps at night. This makes for a rather treacherous and slippery trek across the top terrace before bedtime for Bodhi. That's where his toilette box is, you see.

What's that you ask?

Oh. Why yes, in fact, he does pee in a box.

Like a cat.

Like a girl, for that matter.

Shut up.

Back to the demise of our white stuff. Have you ever seen snow melt away in such a lovely manner?

Have you ever seen such a cute dog? What?! No really...Shut up. I'm sure he can hear you and he's...well...sensitive about being teased.

Pffft! No he's not! Just kidding. Does he look sensitive?!

Plan to make a return visit in a couple of days. I've a lovely and healthful winter salad with just the right crunch. (And sweetness if you're feeling deprived!)


Thursday, January 07, 2010

New Year's Resolutions...err...I Mean Soups

If you feel a need for recalibrating to more normal intake levels after celebrating with sugar, spirits and, here in France, foie gras, raise your hand.

Resolutions aside (I don't tend to make them...they don't stick when I do), I could use a bit of head and body clearing to step into this brand new year. I’m more interested in keeping the old machine running in good form, but French women are reputed for being concerned with la ligne (the figure).

The myth is that cigarettes and eating like a bird are the keys. But I'll tell you, I've watched them. They enjoy a glass of wine along with a full meal just as much as anyone else who lives in the land of food nirvana. (Not to mention, 450 different kinds of cheese!) Mind you, we are not talking Outback Steakhouse-sized portions here and I’ve yet to see an all-you-can-eat place in these parts. Portions tend to be the size recommended on nutrition pamphlets where pictures compare the size of a standard 4 ounce serving of meat to the palm of a hand. And there are plenty of vegetables in the mix. Cooking is done with fresh ingredients that are shopped for daily - or nearly so.

After a “No restrictions” holiday season, filled with champagne and all sorts of delicacies, it's time to recalibrate. The system needs a chance to cleanse and regroup. Otherwise one is subject to a crise de foie (liver crisis - or stomach disturbance). The key to avoiding such discomfort seems to be in minding the moderation levels of what’s fueling the body. An occasional clearing regimen can help put things back on track.

Years ago, when I was doing hours and hours of yoga each week, an occasional two-day fast was a natural way to cleanse the body of toxins and such. Of course, I must admit: the first time I did a fast I did not have spiritual dreams, filled with symbols of wisdom and enlightenment, as I had hoped. No. My dreams were filled with visions of potato chips. Seriously. I wasn't that much of a chip hound but during and after that fast, all I could think about was the fascinating combination of grease and salt in a form that crunched. Go figure. It was early in my journey of enlightenment.

If you're feeling the need for a bit of cleansing and recalibrating - for the sake of health or your ligne - here are a couple of soups to nourish you along.

The first, a Magic Leek Soup eaten over two days from the book French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano. She is the president and CEO of Clicquot, Inc., so you can safely guess that her lifestyle is by no means austere. She may know a thing or two about needing to recalibrate. This may be an acquired taste for some. I happen to love leeks so this soup works for me.

The second soup here for your sipping pleasure is La Soupe "Brûle Graisse". The recipe was given to me as I left the Christmas holiday at the farmhouse in Grignan. (This was not a hint - I asked for a copy of it.) This soup was developed by the Department of Cardiology at L'Hôpital du Mémorial du Sacre Coeur. The regime that accompanies the recipe has been used for cardiac patients to burn calories and "purify the organism." Simply delicious. I make the blended version (and note, I also give the onions and peppers a bit of a roast - with some added garlic - for a richer taste). Everything melts down to a thick and creamy bowlful of tangy-sweet fresh veggie goodness. A great way to start the new year.

If you raised your hand in the first part of this post, give one of these soups a try. (Needless to say, avoiding the "hair of the dog" and all of that helps.)

I'll be giving it a go right along with you.

And here's hoping I'm past the "Potato Chip Dreams" stage of my journey.

Bon appétit,

Magic Leek Soup
(adapted from French Women Don't Get Fat)

2 pounds leeks, trimmed of root and the dark green part
water (or chicken stock - at least that's what I use)

Trim the leeks of their root end and the dark green tops, leaving only a portion of light green. Clean well to rinse out the sand. Chop into 1-inch pieces and toss in a soup pot. Add water (or chicken stock) to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables are soft.

Eat as a soup or strain the leek pieces from their water and reserve. Drink the reserved juice throughout over two days and eat the cooked leeks whenever you feel hungry. (And drink plenty of water throughout the two days.)

La Soupe "Brûle Graisse"

6 large oignons
2 red or green peppers
1 branch of celery
5 peeled tomatoes (or one large can of whole tomatoes)
1 head of cabbage
1 chicken bouillon cube
sea salt and pepper to taste, if you wish

Cut the vegetables in small pieces and put them in a large soup pot. (Hint: if you want to enhance the naturally sweet characteristics of this soup, try gently oven-roasting the onions, peppers and a few cloves garlic before you add the rest of the vegetables when it's back on the stovetop.) Bring to a boil and let them cook in a lively manner for 10 or so minutes, then lower the heat and let the vegetables continue to cook gently until soft.

You can eat the soup in its chunky state, or run a hand blender stick in the pot (or run it through the food processor) for a smoother consistency.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wednesday Window On Provence

Rain on and off this week. We're a little cold and damp around the edges. Winter in Provence.

We do know le soleil will be of these days.

In the meantime, hot chocolate serves a multitude of purposes as we wait to open the shutters for the sun's return.


Friday, January 01, 2010

Soup's On!

Now official here in the 'hood: Bonne Année à tous!

And just a little note about this "jour de l'an" (first day of the year):

On this day, it was the tradition to visit relatives. If, back in the day, the children waited patiently until their parents had finished their greetings of "Bonne année et prospérité," a coin (if the family was well-off) was given to the child. More often, an orange was received in place of a shiny sou (coin). Up until World War I, this fruit was rare and expensive.

(Okay. Class dismissed.)

I promised you soup last week, and soup we shall have!

This year's holiday brought with it much reflection. For instance, as I sat at the table of my friends in Grignan preparing to share in the Christmas Eve meal, I was remembering the second Christmas in my new home in the Old World. The gathering that evening, around the same table in the centuries-old mas (farmhouse), rocked the house. The wild affair involved lots of family characters, laughter and non-stop, rapid-fire French. No surprise there really, but my flabby French was in no shape for keeping up with these fast-talkers. I don't think my head was spinning around like a dreidel balanced precariously at the top of my spine, but it may as well have been.

Out of the blur and wonder of that initiation, I remember three things very clearly: lots of champagne (note to self: manage consumption when in danger of head-spinning...or when you have to string words together in another language!), what seemed like it should be illegal amounts of foie gras and my first truffles. It couldn't have been more French. And really, it couldn't have been more lovely.

A traditional holiday soup opened this year's celebration...after the champagne, that is! A skillful combination of two of those memories above: foie gras and truffles, but keeping them well within legal limits.

We were quieter this year as other family members had obligations elsewhere. (And that's really a shame because I'm ready for the brother-in-law's playful French teasing this time. I've had a couple of years to prepare my comebacks.) In fact, our Christmas Eve gathering 2009 was a bit like this soup - more subdued, but very special all the same.

Give the golden puff pastry crust a wallop with the back of your spoon to get your first steamy sniff or delicately saw through it with your Laguiole knife and allow the steam to follow the blade's path around the edge of your bowl. The crust becomes a cracker-like accompaniment as you dig in...demurely, of course...this is an elegant soup. Let's not hear any slurping.

Delicate spoonfuls of vegetables, chicken, (yes, that's a bit of veal you see in the image below...but I have this philosophical thing about veal and mindful eating and all of I left it out of the're quite welcome to add it to yours), a bit of foie gras (my internal jury is still out on the foie gras controversy...unlike the longstanding verdict against veal...all things in their own time...) and lovely chunks of black truffle blend beautifully in a clear broth. A rich mélange with a light touch.

I'm quite confident that if you close your eyes and savor, you'll be transported to a country Christmas in Provence. Make it part of your tradition.

Bonne année et prospérité,

p.s. Like the old joke: "Orange you glad...this wasn't another calendar announcement?!" But in case you missed it, you can see the new calendars available here and here.

Soupe aux truffes (adapted from Paul Bocuse)


2 1/2 oz. of fresh truffles
2 cubes chicken bouillon (or better yet, fresh chicken stock)
Sea Salt
5 oz. chicken breast
1 celery branch
1 carrot
8 caps of Paris mushrooms 3 cm in diameter
4T. of dry French vermouth
2 oz. foie gras
1 sheet of prepared puff pastry
1 egg yolk

Season: Fall / Winter
Preparation time: 30 min
20 min Cooking time: 20 min
Serves: 4 people

1. Preheat oven to 400 ° F. Bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil. Add the bouillon cubes to the boiling water (or use fresh chicken stock in its place). Mix. Lightly salt chicken. Put it in the broth. Cook 6 minutes in "petits tremors" (poaching). Drain the chicken.

2.Peel the celery and carrot. Cut celery and carrot in a fine dice. Cut the mushroom caps into a fine dice.

3. Mix with celery and carrot. (This is referred to as "matignon".) Cut the truffles into thin slices. Pour 1 tbsp of dry French vermouth into each of 4 porcelain soup bowls. Add a generous spoonful of the matignon (veggies) into each bowl.

4. Dice the foie gras. Divide it evenly into the soup bowls. Cut the poached chicken into a fine dice. Divide it evenly into the soup bowls. Add the sliced truffles. Pour in the stock to fill each bowl to within an inch or just less from the top.

5. Roll out the pastry on the work surface. Using an identical empty bowl (otherwise, this is a good idea to do before you begin to fill the bowls), cut 4 x 13-14 cm in diameter...or whatever size will cover and seal over your bowls. Place a disc on the top of each filled bowl. Seal the pastry around the edge of the bowl, pressing lightly. Mix egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water and a pinch of sea salt. Brush the egg mixture over the dough. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.

6. Puff pastry should, well...errr..."puff up" and be a lovely golden brown. Serve immediately.

Serve with champagne or reisling.

Bon appétit!

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