Friday, August 31, 2012

CARAMELIZED ONION AND TOMATO TART

KITCHEN ANTICS


My friends continue to ask me what the first thing will be that I will make or bake in my brand spanking new kitchen. I shrug. I cannot for the life of me think that far ahead in time. We are still at the interminable stage of scraping old carpet glue and cement off of ancient, faded and stained tiles and wood parquet and arguing over the individual elements of the design to be able to project ourselves barely two months into the future and think of food. Input from all sides, new ideas, changing opinions, and more trouble with that damn floor than we could ever have imagined, and exhaustion! block out any thought of sliding cake pans into some non-existent oven or homey smells emanating from a Dutch oven on a stovetop. Covered with dust and bruises, we drag our sagging bodies home at mealtime; picking up sandwiches at the boulangerie at noon and flopping onto the sofa late afternoon to “Are you hungry?” and “Who’ll fix dinner tonight?” singing through the house. How can I even begin to think of christening (or is it baptizing?) our new kitchen when I even have trouble considering throwing together a meal for my family now?

Monday, August 27, 2012

PEACH PUFF PASTRY TART (Tarte Fine aux Pêches)

SIMPLICITY

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 
– Leonardo da Vinci 


There are few meals that are so spectacular that the memory, the impression left stays with us forever. Meals unique in their originality, quality, flavor; care and attention, a warm, welcoming ambiance add to the meal itself, framing the memory in elegance or glamour, creating something dreamlike, but it is the food that is center stage, the primary element, the leading lady, the meat and potatoes of the narrative. If the food isn’t perfect, nothing will hold the experience in our imagination.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

VISUAL FEAST II

I SPY


Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. 
Pablo Picasso 


We hang suspended somewhere between the grand exodus of July, when the city folk flood out towards their own private Promised Land, be it seaside or mountaintop, and the end of August, heralding the grand return, the sudden rush of population that arrives en masse for the opening of school doors. The streets are left deserted, sidewalks empty of crowds. The drowsy days of summer, and the city is ours to discover. Walking through the market, my camera poised, aimed at what I have long considered simply ordinary ingredients with which to feed my family, framing each image, fruit, vegetable, pastries, meats have become objects of art and desire. Leaving the market and strolling through the streets on these hot, lazy days of the end of the season, I peer through my iphone, my eyes scanning up and down buildings, around and across squares, contemplating individuals as they cross my path, and I discover a visual playground, a play, curtain lifted on Act I, filled with matter and substance for excitement and admiration. I see beauty, humor and magic where I once only saw blank walls, a blur of bodies, dirty sidewalks.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A VISUAL FEAST

DOUBLE VISION

Seek the wisdom of the ages, 
but look at the world through the eyes of a child
- Ron Wild


I spy the world through a camera lens. I wander the city peering through my iphone. Since discovering instagram, I have an entirely new outlook on my own city as if I am now standing on a mountaintop with the world spread out at my feet. I stroll through the streets at a snail’s pace instead of my usual dash, stopping here and there, maybe much too often, to snap photos, capture images, capture the details of this city that I had long been seeing as a whole.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia and Thank You for the Gift

MUSE

Muse:
a) any of a number of sister goddesses;
b) any goddess presiding over a particular art;
c) the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker or the like;
d) the genius or powers characteristic of a poet.
- Random House Dictionary

I was given a set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1986 just after I had moved to France, which was, when I come to think of it, a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle or, as I did, bringing a pasta machine to Italy. Although I have always loved my copies of Mastering, it wasn’t Julia Child who taught me to make Blanquette and Daube, ratatouille and mayonnaise. No, I learned how to make the French classics from my French husband, a man who had never even heard of Julia Child, The French Chef, until well into our marriage when I explained who she was. His response? There was no revelation, no epiphany, no beginning of a love affair with her recipes. No, he shrugged his shoulders and promptly forgot about her. I mean, he is French, grew up learning to cook from his own Maman so what would he need with Julia Child, une américaine?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

GOAT CHEESE TOMATO QUICHE

 GOING INTO LABOR

“The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.”
 - Ralph Waldo Emerson


Dust swirls around our heads, the noise is deafening as walls fall. Bits of plaster and brick drop to our feet. The satisfying curls of glue twirl up against the blade of the scraper, back bent, fingers curled in an uncomfortable claw gripping the tool as sweat trickles down my back. Our days are now filled with the lingo of construction workers: drywall, particleboard, and who knows what else I don’t often listen. Mornings and afternoons filled with hard labor standing on ladders or crouched on the floor, work defined by the clock, silence compulsory during lunch and dinner hours and Sunday, of course. So we slide home, grabbing sandwiches and fruit on the way. Once lunch is swallowed we collapse on the sofa to recuperate. Day after day, the work is pushed forward, harder and harder we go to the tinny music of a tiny transistor radio. We continue our discussions at home in the evenings, weighing out choices, analyzing the pros and cons of appliances, compromising this oven for that stovetop or this color cabinet for that color wall.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

THE ULTIMATE CARAMELIZED PEACH UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

STARTING OVER: Step 5 (Common Cause)

The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season… There was now employment for the whole party; for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table. 
- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice 


His fingers find hers and entwine gently and they lie there, still and silent, for just a second or two. She sighs heavily and rolls towards him, kicking off the twisted sheet. He groans and murmurs something too low for her to hear. “What time is it?” she whispers. With his free hand he fumbles for the alarm and she perceives the tiny light of the clock flick on and then off. “Two,” he moans, releasing her hand and flipping over onto his back. “Go back to sleep. It’s too early for coffee.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CHERRY CHOCOLATE CHIP MAPLE CHALLAH

TWELVE LOAVES: BAKING FROM SCRATCH


Baking bread is a lot like raising children. It starts from nothing, a blend of a few high-quality, simple, basic ingredients and love. One stirs it all up and prays for the best. It is a gentle balance of coddling and kneading, tender pressure mixed with a little force and elbow grease. Press and fold, push and pull as we whisper encouragement, brush the sweat from our brow and try and get the perfect texture, faultless, beyond compare. We do our best to mold it into the desired shape and yet accept its imperfections, patching up its bumps and imperceptibly, gingerly pushing it back as best we can. Then we cover it loosely, just enough to protect it but not so much as to smother it, step back, breathe and wait. Wait. Impatiently even as we are oh-so tempted to help it along, knowing that our help just won’t make it go any faster or change the outcome. We watch. Anxiously. Praying that it goes as planned though knowing now that we have done our job, all that we can do, and now can only watch and wait.

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