24 November 2011

Thanksgiving and Fennel Parmesan Salad

Thanksgiving, like many holidays, is a mixed bag of emotions. Every year my huge extended family gets together in New York to celebrate and marvel at how much the little ones have grown and how many new little ones are under foot and who the heck do they all belong to anyway?? As children, this was one of the best moments of the year. Ok, we were dressed to the nines, but when the parents were busy talking, my sisters and cousins and I slipped off those two-tight new dress shoes and ran up the back stairs in stocking feet to play. Or else, we snuck into the coat room, with all its long black coats and fancy fur coats, and slipped pieces of paper, candy or other found treasures into the pockets.

In France, there's no such holiday, no time off, and so I miss all the hullabaloo of a the big family get-together. Of course, there are upsides: I don't have to worry about what to wear, or be polite to people who's faces are vaguely familiar (they look like me?) but whose names I can't for the life of me remember, and no one asks me who my grandfather is and spends twenty minutes trying to figure out how we're related.

But I also really miss my family. Now that we've grown up and are all in different places, it's hard to get to see everyone and Thanksgiving is usually when everyone manages to come together. I miss hearing the latest cousin gossip, the smell of New York at this time of year, the Broadway shows, the lights as the holiday season starts, the shop windows, and the upper class Jewish ladies in pearls.

However, even with that nostalgia, I have to admit I'm pretty lucky because here in Paris I get to have Thanksgiving with the extremely talented Camille. The food is much better than it ever was in my childhood, and I get to cook some of it! There's definitely something very Thanksgiving-y about spending the day cooking up yummy things to eat in the evening in very good company!

Of course, the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pecan pie and all that will be on the table. But it's nice to have some vegetables and I'd been meaning to test this Fennel Parmesan Salad for quite some time. I never know what to do with fennel from my CSA, but after a taste-run of this recipe, I won't hesitate to make this absolutely delicious salad again. A perfect flavor combination! It comes from the wonderful blog 30 Minute Dinner Party, which you should definitely check out if you don't already read it!

2 bulbs fennel
100g (about 3/4 cup) fresh Parmesan, shaved into thin slices
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
juice of 1 lime
sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Cut the leaves off the fennel and wash well. Peel off the leaves and slice thinly. (When you get down to the core, the leaves won't peel well but just slice the core into thin slices as well.) Put in a salad bowl with the Parmesan. In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, vinegar, lime, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the salad and serve!

15 November 2011

Fall in Paris: a Study in Yellow and Brown (with Roast Chicken and Squash)

At a party a couple weeks ago, our hosts, who had invited a group of people who didn't all know each other, made us play a getting-to-know-you game, which involved writing answers to questions like "If you were a planet (adjective, famous person, book, etc), which one would you be?" A person's answers were read out anonymously and everyone had to guess who it was. To the question "If you were a season, which one would you be?" I was the only person who answered "autumn". When the host read it out, he said "oooh, this person is depressed!" Wide of the mark. I'm not depressed. Where I come from, autumn is a season of abundance, of bright colors, of beautiful light and crisp air.

But having lived in Paris for five years now, I can see why the French find fall depressing. The days get short so quickly, and gray and rainy. Even on the few sunny days, the fall colors are somewhat limited: yellow and brown pretty much cover it. For the past couple of years, I've tried to take myself out of my apartment to enjoy what fall has to offer here.

Montmartre with its colorful climbing vines is actually one of the prettiest places around. Last year at the jardins de Luxembourg, my sister and I appreciated the yellow and brown there, followed by warming homemade Chai. This year, I headed down the the Canal St. Martin to see the yellows reflected in the water.

As the weather gets colder and the leaves (whatever their colors) fall off the trees for the winter, it's important to have warming food to come home to. This roast chicken with squash is simple to make and perfect for the season. You can make it with chicken breasts or thighs or a whole chicken. Whatever fits your tastes and budget. And to top it all off, it matches the colors of fall in Paris - which are not depressing at all if you only you look at them the right way.

(serves 4)
1 whole chicken (or 4 chicken breasts, or 4 chicken thighs)
1 squash (i used a potimarron, but butternut squash or pumpkin would work well too)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp dried sage (or 2 Tbsps fresh)
large pinch of sea salt
punch of black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC.

Mix together the olive oil with the sage, salt, pepper and cayenne. Rub this mixture into the chicken on all sides and place chicken in the center of a baking pan. Add the brown sugar to the remaining oil mixture.

Peel and cut the squash into cubes. (Ok, this is the evil part of the recipe. Squash is hard to cut and peel. I suggest cutting it in half, scooping out the seeds - you can save them and roast them - putting the squash half cut side down so it is stable and using a sharp knife to peel it, cutting down towards the cutting board so as not to slice your fingers. Then cut it into cubes.) Place the squash around the chicken in the baking pan and drizzle the rest of the olive oil mixture evenly on top of it.

Bake for about 1 hour (or until the chicken is cooked), mixing the squash once or twice to keep it coated with the juices. Serve hot and enjoy!

30 October 2011

Berber Tea in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Former palace and current Museum of Marrakesh

When Hurricane Irene hit the east coast of the US in August, the winds and rain kept my dad from being able to meet us at the family summer house and, as a result, I didn't get to see him at all during the (amazing summer road) trip. He stayed at work and we had to take our hurricane walks and drink our hurricane cocktails without him. A sad state of affairs. Still, it meant that he had unused vacation days and a daughter to visit and that translated into a very happy state of affairs: a trip to Morocco last week with him, my mom and D!

Shop in the souk in Marrakesh

We spent two overwhelming days in Marrakesh taking in the new and different cultural codes, marveling at the stunning traditional architecture, getting lost in the souk, and learning to bargain for our purchases. Then, we left the city and spent three peaceful days in the Atlas Mountains doing a lot of nothing to the sound of braying donkeys and the calls to prayer from a mosque in one of the nearby Berber villages. I won't go into all my impressions of Morocco, which are varied and complex (coming from a Western culture, I found it difficult to reconcile with the visible inequality of men and women, and the vestiges of colonialism), but there were also some absolutely wonderful moments. The mountains are stunning, the highest peaks already covered with snow, and the Moroccan people we met were very welcoming.

Early morning in the Atlas Mountains

Our favorite part was a hike we took with a Berber guide, Mohamed, who took us to the local saffron fields, herb gardens and then, kindly, invited us over to his house. What was supposed to be a simple three-hour tour, turned into a five-hour plunge into the village culture and a lesson on how to make Berber tea!

Mohamed explained that in the Berber culture they do not name their animals. These ones are called "Mohamed's cow" and "Mohamed's chickens" because they belong to him.

Unlike the traditional mint tea drunk all over Morocco, the Berber tea is filled with all kinds of fresh herbs, both a sign of hospitality and a medicinal drink, good for pretty much whatever ails you. I can't really give you the recipe (I don't think there's a fixed one, it seems to depend on what's on hand and personal taste), but here's what the tea ceremony was like:

Ingredients for Berber tea

Mohamed started by boiling the water on a small gas flame that he brought right into the room where we were sitting, and rinsing the teapot to heat it up. Then he added the tea (Mohamed called it "green tea", but the small dark beads didn't look like the Asian green tea we get here).

Mohamed rinsing the tea

He poured about a cup of water over the tea leaves, swished it around and poured the very light-colored liquid out into a glass. He repeated this process and the second time the liquid was dark and cloudy. He kept the first glass to pour back into the tea later and threw out the contents of the second glass.

The tea back on the flame to boil

Then he added seven different kinds of herbs to the teapot - wild mint, thyme, lemongrass, geranium, sage, verbena (which he added especially for my dad who said he loved it), and a hint of absinthe wormwood - and three or four huge clumps of sugar. He filled the teapot with boiling water and then put the teapot directly on the flame to bring it back to a boil.

Once it boiled, he served the tea, pouring the first three glasses back into the pot to make sure it was well-mixed, and then serving around in a circle starting to the right. He served the tea with Berber bread and homemade olive oil to dip it in, a wonderful taste of Berber hospitality!

A door in Mohamed's village - known for its blacksmiths

11 October 2011

Birthday Bouchées

Life is totally crazy right now, up early, to bed late and not a minute's rest in between most days. Even the weekend means running around. I long for a Sunday in pajamas with a good book in my hands or in front of some mind-numbing, silly television show.

This weekend was my birthday and a friend and I had a joint birthday party. One of the best things about it was that we both love to cook and got to make only food we really love to eat. We stuck to finger food that people would be able to eat easily standing up and chatting, like these fancy cheese balls, savory cakes like this cake au thon, made in little individual portions, sushi rolls, mini-sandwiches and lots of veggies and dip like my hummus and Camille's Bacon and Onion Dip. People brought drinks but we also tried out this recipe for White Tea Sangria from that amazing Elle's New England Kitchen.

All and all a good time was had by all, except possibly the cats who hid under the bed the whole time. But they made up for it by being extra cute and affectionate for the rest of the weekend.

02 October 2011

Jamie Oliver and some Seriously Good Grilled Zucchini Salad

I'm going to be honest and I say I was against Jamie Oliver at the start. It's like when the new girl shows up in school and she's popular and pretty and gets good grades AND plays sports, and on top of that she's nice and has an adorable British accent and everyone loves her. You just have to dislike her on principle. Until she wins you over with her perfect niceness too. Okay, this is not exactly like that. Jamie Oliver is not a girl. He's not new on the scene. And he didn't win me over with his niceness. But you get the idea.

For our wedding, one of the families I babysit for, gave us this book full of tantalizing recipes. Everything looked so good that at first it just served to aggravate my jealous dislike, so what changed my mind? Zucchini. Zucchini did it. Every fall, I scramble to find ways to use up zucchini, and while I've certainly found some good ones, like this Zucchini-Feta Tart or this Garam-Masala Salmon with Zucchini, anyone who can get me to actually ENJOY zucchini after the insane amounts of it my CSA foists on me in the fall, is definitely worth a second chance. Besides, I read my classics and I know that it's not good to hold on to prejudice forever. If Lizzy did, where would she and Mr. Darcy be? Not nearly as happy or as well-loved by generations of readers that's where. Not that I'm comparing Jamie Oliver to Mr. Darcy or anything. Oh dear, this is getting out of hand.

I guess what I'm saying is, this salad is delicious. Absolutely delicious. Worth it if you like zucchini. Worth it if you're totally sick of zucchini. Worth it if you want to be in vogue and also if you'd do anything to avoid such a fate. You can make this a bunch of different ways with different accompaniments. This is one version I made and loved.

3-4 zucchinis (depending on the size)
1/4-1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small garlic clove
1 bunch mint
1 cup creamy goat cheese (I used Petit Billy)
sea salt, pepper

Slice the zucchini as thin as possible. Cook the slices on a hot grill or barbecue. (I don't have one so I do this in my oven on the boiler setting, but as a result they come out softer and less crunchy I think than Jamie intended. Still good though.) In the meantime, roughly chop the mint and set aside. Make up a sauce by squeezing the lemon to taste into the olive oil. Press the clove of garlic in a garlic press and add to sauce. When the zucchini starts to brown, serve onto plates. Put a dollop of goat cheese in the middle of each serving. Liberally, sprinkle with mint, and spoon the sauce over. Salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

25 September 2011

Blackcurrant Yogurt Dessert for La Rentrée

I can't believe I've been this lax in my status as American blogging in Paris, but apparently, in my 4 years of blogging, I have not yet once posted about the cultural phenomenon that is la rentrée. For those of you who have never lived in France, the most similar thing we have in the US, is back-to-school time. However, that excitement is usual reserved for people who are still pursuing their studies, or have children who are. In France, pretty much the whole country goes on vacation in August and comes back again at the beginning of September. Even the people who stay, are resigned to the fact, that all usual activities (meetings, workshops, the theater season, even some church services, etc.) are suspended in the last month of summer. Some local businesses close (our boulangerie for example) until the new school year starts again in the fall.

This rentrée has been particularly busy, coming with new contacts, new projects, new responsibilities, new work opportunities and also quite a deal of uncertainty as to how this is all going to pan out and/or fit into one schedule. And I find that when life seems to be rushing by in a whirlwind of activity, it's important to enjoy all the small things along the way. This month, for example, I very much enjoyed the gorgeous moonrises outside my window in evening, especially at the full moon. And the way the cats get all curled up and settled in for Sunday afternoons, showing brotherly love much better than most of our priests and pastors.

Luckily in food, something doesn't have to be complicated, or take a long time to prepare to be good. When we had friends over for dinner last night, D. whipped up this delicious dessert from one of Jamie Olivier's amazing cookbooks. For those still-warm or just-cool evenings, something light and delicious that remembers summer.

For 4 people

4 individual portions of yogurt (a nice thick plain yogurt, like Greek yogurt is best)
4 Tbsp blackcurrant jam
8 Tbsp blackcurrant liqueur (crème de cassis)
4 sprigs of mint

Put one yogurt in each serving cup or bowl (or if you buy it bulk, mostly fill each serving cup/bowl with yogurt). Spread one Tbsp of jam and pour 2 Tbsp of liqueur over each serving. Garnish with springs of mint and serve (or refrigerate to serve later).

10 September 2011

Back in the City and Wild Mushroom Soup

After the exciting travels of summer vacation, coming back to the city feels a little small (and very smelly). Still, there's another kind of excitement I've always felt when starting over again in the fall. It's the excitement of new notebooks, back-to-school clothes, rows of sharpened pencils and crisp new textbooks that haven't yet driven me crazy. And even though I'm not in school anymore, I always feel a sense of newness in the fall. The theater season starts again, bringing with it new projects, new plays to see, new workshops. People come back from summer vacation. The markets are filling up with fall foods.

Not mention fall brings both D's birthday and mine. Today is D's and since we'll be with friends tonight, I made a special birthday dinner last night to celebrate together. One drawback of being in a couple is that there are certain foods you almost never get to eat because your partner doesn't like them. For me, those foods include spinach, fresh ginger, and anything with wasabi; for D. it's mushrooms. I don't like mushrooms. I appreciate the flavor, but I can't stand the texture and don't have much experience cooking with them. But of course, for D's birthday, I knew mushrooms would be involved.

I looked at a couple different wild mushroom soup recipes to come up with this one. Most helpful was Jaime Oliver's The Real Mushroom Soup, and I give full credit to him for the lemon zest garnish that really makes this dish special.

(for 4 people)

2 Tbsp olive oil
about 600g (21oz) of mixed wild mushrooms (I put in girolles, oyster mushrooms, trompettes de la mort and then some regular cultivated mushrooms because buying wild mushrooms is expensive! You can mix whatever you like best.)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage (if you have fresh herbs, even better!)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

heavy cream
1 lemon
sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, pour in the mushrooms and stir for 1 or 2 minutes. Add garlic, shallots, thyme and sage. The mushrooms will start to give off liquid. Simmer, stirring until the liquid is mostly evaporated. At this point, you might want to reserve a couple tablespoons of the mushroom mix for garnish.

Add stock and season to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Blend the soup in batches, or directly in the pot with a stick blender.

For the garnish: Mix together the zest of 1 lemon with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, a pinch of sea salt and a couple grinds of pepper. When you serve the soup, spoon a little bit of this mixture in the middle of each bowl, place some of the reserved wild mushrooms prettily on top (I'm still working on the "prettily" part, but I'm sure you'll do better) and pour on a tablespoon or so of heavy cream to taste. Enjoy!

07 September 2011

America the Beautiful

Now that I'm back in Paris, I'm trying to fully appreciate the scope of all the amazing things we saw on this trip and still overwhelmed! I never really related to patriotic songs before, but I have to say, despite its failings, I come from a very beautiful country. Our National Parks Pass was entitled America the Beautiful after the poem/song by Katherine Lee Bates. I really never thought I'd be quoting it, but turns out to be a not inaccurate resume of our trip (it's just missing a bit about geothermic areas - or perhaps a whole separate song about Yellowstone - so here's a pic of that to start us off).

Oh beautiful for spacious skies

For amber waves of grain

For purple mountains majesties

Above the fruited plains (what fruited plains? She either made this up, or I just spent too much time in Death Valley. Have you all seen fruited plains?)



God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea (here the Pacific)

To shining sea (and here the Atlantic)

Hope you enjoyed following the trip! Back to our regularly scheduled program as soon as the jetlag wears off and I start actually cooking again!

29 August 2011

Rockport, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

Back "home" with the family. The hurricane has done its worst in these parts (some flooding and impressive ocean fireworks mostly) but with the stay-at-home advisory and 50 mile an hour winds, nothing to do here but toast our safety with vodka cocktails (vodka, pomegranate or peach juice, and a squeeze of lemon) and watch old movies.

A nouveau dans la maison familiale. Pour nous, le plus gros de l'ouragan est passé (des inondations et des vagues sacrément impressionnantes), mais vu que le gouvernement veut qu'on reste chez nous et que le vent souffle encore très fort, il n'y a rien à faire à part trinquer à notre santé avec des cocktails et regarder des vieux films.

28 August 2011

My Sister's House, Burlington, VT

I have been posting only one picture per stop, but I did promise one of my niece, and my sister made such a delicious breakfast for us that can't help but share. Everything on this plate is grown or made in VT and some of it (the herbs, fresh cayenne in the potatoes) was grown by my sister.

Jusqu'ici je n'ai posté qu'une photo par endroit, mais je vous ai promis un portrait de ma nièce, et ma soeur nous a fait un petit-déjeuner tellement délicieux que cela méritait une photo aussi. Tous les ingrédients de ce repas viennent du Vermont et certains (les herbes et le piment dans les patates) viennent du jardin de ma soeur.

27 August 2011

Downtown, Burlington, VT

We're here visiting my sister and her family (pictures of my adorable niece if I can ever get her to stop running around long enough to take one), but that doesn't mean we can't act like tourists, eat Ben & Jerry's at dinner time and walk down to Lake Champlain to watch the sun come down.

Nous sommes ici surtout pour rendre visite à ma soeur et sa famille (je posterai une photo de mon adorable nièce si elle veut bien rester en place assez longtemps pour que j'en prenne une). Nous profitons quand même de notre statut de touristes en allant à Ben & Jerry's (qui a été créé ici) et en amenant nos glaces près du lac Champlain pour regarder le coucher de soleil.