Italian Plum Cake

This is quite a lovely recipe a version, of which was originally printed in The NY Times with the title “Plum Torte” and is deserving of all its devoted followers. It’s very like a cake my Sicilian grandmother used to make with apples. I made it last week and again this week. I’m obsessed! Fortunately, the season for Stanley plums, commonly known as Italian prune plums is coming to an end.

The NY Times recipe has a few versions, published at varying times. Depending on the publication, the cinnamon varies between 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon. The sugar varies between 1cup and 3/4 cup. I think 3/4 cup of sugar is plenty sweet and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon is likewise enough. The recipe doesn’t call for any flavoring in the cake, just cinnamon sugar on top. I love a combination of cinnamon, star anise and vanilla for plums and often make plum preserves with these flavors. So I added a bit of vanilla to the batter and added some star anise to the cinnamon and sugar that’s sprinkled on top. I also changed the granulated sugar to sanding sugar for the top as I like a bigger crunch.

The original recipe also gives you a choice of baking in an 8″, 9″ or 9″ springform pan. I think 10″ would be too big because the resulting cake would be very flat and 8″ too small because there wouldn’t be enough of the crusty top or enough plums. 9″ is just right. The original recipe calls for unbleached AP flour but I prefer bleached for cakes. It gives a more tender crumb. Finally, the NYT recipe doesn’t call for any salt. I salt everything so I added a pinch.

Ingredients:

  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine granulated white sugar
  • 114 grams, 4 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 grams (1 cup)bleached AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 italian plums (Stanley), halved and pitted (24 halves)
  • Pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  •  teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 3 tablespoons of sanding sugar or granulated for sprinkling on top.
  • 1/2 a small lemon (this yields roughly 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Wisk together the 3 tablespoons of sugar and the spices
  3. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment. If it’s nonstick, you needn’t grease the sides otherwise grease and flour the sides of an9″ springform pan.
  4. Cream the sugar and butter until light and silky
  5. Add in eggs, one at a time, reading until light and fluffy
  6. Wisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Sift over top of batter and beat gently to combine.
  7. Spoon batter into your greased springform pan, leveling the top with an off set spatula.
  8. Place plum halves on top of the batter with the skin-side up.
  9. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top
  10. Sprinkle with the spiced sugar.Bake for about an hour, until the top is brown and a toothpick come out clean.  I have some more ideas for this cake and for me this is the most interesting part of cooking and baking: using a tried and true recipe as a jumping off point for more exploration. Let me know if you try them:
  • Put the spices and vanilla in the cake and sprinkle the top with lemon sugar ( rub grated lemon rind in the sugar) It will be prettier than using cinnamon in the sugar you sprinkle.
  • Use some almond extract in the batter instead of vanilla. Substitute almond flour for some of the AP flour. This would be good with plums, peaches and apricots. You’d have to play with this. Almond flour will give the cake less structure and is less absorbent than AP flour. It might result in a denser, more buttery cake.
  • Walnuts are also great with plums. Use some ground walnuts in the batter and substitute some walnut oil for the butter. It won’t be a 1-1 ratio. Butter has some water and oil does not. I would suggest using about 2 tablespoons of oil and cutting back the butter to 5 tablespoons. Same caveats as above with substituting almond flour.
  • This cake might work well with apricots as well although apricots are dryer than plums. I’d try poaching them in a soaking syrup with lemon rind and juice just until they soften a bit, then drain them and use the partially cooked apricots. I’d put ginger or almond oil or both in the batter.
  • Sour cherries might be good but you would probably need a bit more sugar on top. Also, cherries are very juicy and for opposite reasons than the apricot, one might need to roast them in the oven for about five minutes and drain them so as to eliminate some of the juice.

Happy exploring!

Julie

Artichoke a La Barigoule

The first time I ate Artichoke a La Barigoule I was in Chartres visiting a friend and it was she who made it for me.

Sandra was a wonderful cook but definitely ” a pinch of this” and “a handful of that” kind of femme. I have acquired many recipes from her, for example, courgettes stuffed with cheese and Neapolitan style tomato sauce but it always entails watching her cook and rapidly writing everything down because Sandra has everything in her head and she moves fast.

Sadly, I didn’t watch Sandra prepare this dish. How was I to know that I should have been taking notes instead of chatting over a glass of wine? So, after my usual perusal of recipes on the internet and my memories of Sandra’s dish, I came up with a recipe I can share with you. It’s equally good the next day at room temperature. Please picture yourself in a house built of round stones, mortared into a two story cottage. You are seated at a rustic oak table, with your feet on a cool flagstone floor and an oak fire throwing heat into the room. It is September and the fields outside the window are golden. A subtle perfume enters the dining area from bouquets of lavender and thyme that Sandra has bundled and hung from the ceiling. Your plate of Artichoke Barigoule sits in a shallow bowl in front of you with some crusty bread and a glass of the wine you used to poach the artichokes.

Bon Appetit!

Julie

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz small boiling potatoes, mixed color, (little red, Peruvian blues and fingerlings)
  • Two handfuls of short cut carrots or two large carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced small
  • 3/4 lb cooked, uncured, unsmoked ham, (Fra Mani plain or rosemary, Virginia ham or country ham), cut about two inches thick.
  • 8 medium globe artichokes
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and a few peppercorns
  • 2 large shallots, minced
  • 3T olive oil
  • 2T freshly minced parsley
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • about two cups of water

Instructions:

  1. Peel potatoes and put in water so they don’t turn brown
  2. Cut ham into bite size chunks and set aside.
  3. Trim artichokes down to the hearts, cut in half and place in acidulated water (lemon) as soon as they are cut. I like to use a serrated knife to cut off the tips of the artichoke and a paring knife to cut out the choke and trim the outside of the heart. You can see in the photo below, starting from the top down, the progression of the prepared hearts, the finished one at the bottom. In this instance, larger artichokes are better because you end up with bigger hearts. These were on the small size.
  4. Sauté shallots and celery in olive oil until translucent but not brown.
  5. Deglaze pan with wine and let it reduce to half.
  6. Cut carrots, artichokes and potatoes so they are about the same thickness, so they all cook for the same amount of time. Add Carrots, thyme, bay leaves, artichoke hearts, potatoes, peppercorns and enough water to come about half way up to the veggies.   Season lightly with salt and bring to a simmer. Cover pan and simmer for about 30 minutes until vegetables are tender.
  7. Place ham in vegetables and heat until warmed through.

Marie-Paule’s Simple Poached Zucchini

Marie-Paule is a minimalist. She uses high quality ingredients and just a few at a time. This recipe is a classic example. It is comprised of zucchini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I threw in the tomatoes for color and a bit of parsley for something fresh but neither are necessary. You could use mint as well. I love mint and zucchini.

The quality of the zucchini you use is important. It should be as fresh as possible and firm. I prefer smaller ones as they cook more evenly. The salt and pepper is also important. I like Tellicherry pepper from India. I find it extremely aromatic and a bit spiced. You can play with the sea salt. I like sea salt from the Camargue but you could use another sea salt or perhaps a volcanic salt from Hawaii. You can play with the kind of olive oil but I would recommend extra virgin.

Julie

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I like Badia a Coltibuono)
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes

Instructions:

  1. Bring to a boil about two quarts of water. Do not trim the the ends of the zucchini as it absorbs water.
  2. Put about 2 teaspoons of sea salt in the water. It will help to keep them green. Place the whole zucchinis into the water and reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until the zucchini is tender, about 7 minutes. You are not looking for al dente.

3. While the zucchini is simmering place the oil, salt, pepper and parsley in the bowl.

4. When the zucchini are done, drain them and cut them in pieces. Place them immediately in the oil. Toss to coat. They will absorb the oil and seasonings better while they are warm and their pores are open. Squeeze the lemon over the zucchini and toss again. Add the tomatoes when the zucchini are room temperature.

Paris to Saint-Malo

My husband, my 14 year old son, my 21 one year old son and I just returned from France where we had rejoined my eldest son, who just finished a semester abroad in Barcelona. I kept a daily diary during the trip which I share with you.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to travel and to eat. It expands your palate and your knowledge of what is possible, which are essential qualities in a good baker/cook/chef.

DAY ONE:

Long, relentless plane ride to Paris. Michael doesn’t sleep on the plane. Michael uses those additional hours to torment those around him. There was a man sitting one row ahead of us and to the right of our aisle, who kept turning his head to scowl at us. Yah man, you think you can do better? I dare you to come and sit next to the Beast. I’ll happily take your place.

DAY TWO:

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I bought some beautiful Mara des Bois strawberries  from the farmers market.  They are a cross between a wild strawberry and a cultivated one. The flavor is like the Frais des Bois but the size is like a cultivated berry, less seedy and much more flesh. They are quite delicate in texture, yielding under gentle pressure from your teeth. They are red from the tip of the berry to the shoulder reflecting perfect ripeness.

Lost Michael at the Farmers Market. Ran around calling his name while onlookers glowered at us for wrecking the Sunday morning peace. Has no one ever lost a child in this country? Found Michael relatively quickly, looking at a stand of toys. Got him home and a few hours later we’re all wondering why we looked so hard to find him. Teenagers, grrrrrrr!

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Day Three:

There is a new show on TV to replace ” River Monsters” with Jeremy Wade. I don’t know the name but it’s a French fisherman who travels the world to fish for massive beasts. In one of the shows he searches for a Wade catfish in Paris. He fishes on the banks of the Seine and the Saint Martin canals. This upped the ante for all things possible for Michael in Paris and we came equipped with a fishing rod this time.

This morning, after a relatively sleepless night for all (Michael up at 1:20 in the morning in an irascible stupor insisting that we fish now and sleep later) we are taking our Ronco Pocket Fisherman to the banks of the Seine to try and catch a Wade catfish. We are baiting the hook with Genoa salami and Mozarella because while I’m am indulgent enough mother to schlepp a fishing rod to Paris I am not running around looking for Night Crawlers.

We had a family discussion about what happens if Michael falls in and all bets are on as to whether any of us will jump in after him. Through my sleepy fog I’m thinking perhaps not.

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We did not catch any fish in the Seine. So surprising!

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After fishing we took a commuter boat to St. Germaine for our pilgrimage to Les Deux Magots where we ate the usual Jambon Pain Poulane and Pierre Hermes 2 Mille Feuille. We worship at the altar of Pierre Hermes, still one of the best pastry chef’s in Paris. The 2 Mille Feuille pastry is composed of delicate layers of caramelized puff pastry that shatter under your bite, layered with silky hazelnut cream and one layer at the bottom of hazelnut cream mixed with crepe dentelle and a bit of chocolate. It is the crunchy, creamy confection that I’m always on the hunt for and all incredibly light. We had a charming waiter, which was lucky because Les Deux Magots is old school and has many grumpy waiters. We spilled a glass of water and a cup of coffee in the process of containing Michael and the waiter appeared immediately with good humor and aplomb to wisk away the evidence. We suggested that Michael stay and wash dishes for the rest of the day but our offer was hastily declined.

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On to the Luxembourg gardens to sail boats in the Grande Basin. Pierre Hermes was on the way, literally unavoidable, so of course we stopped for more pastry and ate them in the shade of the garden. I took a rhubarb tart: crisp and delicate pate sucre with a layer of rhubarb compote, a little scoop of passion fruit mousse and a layer of fresh strawberries nestled around the mousse. Daniel had a little cake comprised of genoise moistened with a lime soaking syrup, passion fruit mousse and bits of rhubarb, a crunchy disc of pate sucre on the bottom and the whole cake enrobed in a white chocolate mirror glaze. Very pretty!  I must apologize for the lack of photos.  I have no excuse other than in our excitement we inhaled them and then looked at the table and thought to ourselves, what a pity we didn’t take pictures.  I have only two and Daniel’s cake is a little worse for wear because it pitched sideways in the bag.

~~~

Daniel and I split from the group and went on to the Grand Epicerie in search of Tonga beans and Michael and Francois went back to the apartment.  A word about Tonga Beans. They have a seductive flavor with anise, vanilla and cinnamon notes, and I can’t wait to try them in a creme brûlée or Semifreddo. However, they are prohibited in the US. Why, you ask?  Well, if you eat thirty of them they are fatal.  We are are going to buy less than thirty so I hope they will allow us to bring them in.

Since my favorite chocolatier is Patrick Roger, and his shop was on the way to the Metro, we stopped for a few chocolates. Everything in the shop is wonderful from his succulent citrus peels enrobed in dark chocolate to his caramelized praline chocolates. However, my absolute favorites are his caramel bonbons. I don’t know of anyone else who does them. They are composed of a thin chocolate shell, marbled with beautiful colors with a liquid caramel center intensely flavored with lime or peach or honey or Yuzu. Amazing how one always has room for chocolate!

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Later, we met up at my belle mere’s apartment to see Francois’ two brothers and Cousin Adam, the worlds greatest baby sitter, aside from Daniel.

Michael was lovely. He’s magnificent when we’re doing what interests him. Aren’t we all? Kids with ADHD have no tolerance for engaging in activities that don’t hold their interest. That’s the deal. Being a teenager now is just icing on the cake 😞

Day 4:

Spent the day in Versailles. Michael and Francois were like two peas in a pod, fascinated by every painting, every piece of sculpture and every piece of ormolu. Daniel and I were done after the first room and longing to walk in the gardens. We had great weather, cool and overcast. It’s perfect weather for Michael, who has Epilepsy and can’t tolerate the heat, and the gardens had a soft fog weaving in and out of the topiaries. The highlight was taking a row boat on the Grande Canal and thanks to Francois who came prepared, we had Michael’s Ronco Pocket Fisherman in his backpack. So, we fished in the Grand Canal, far enough away so that no one could stop us. I’d love to tell you we caught a fish but sadly, we did not.  We also had lunch at an Alain Ducasse cafe which was quite lovely.  I only took pictures of the pasty  we were too hungry to take pictures of the lunch.

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We had Tonton (uncle) Laurent with us and he and Michael did some energetic sword fighting in the gardens with the tiny musketeers we bought in the gift shop.

Day 5:

Woke up at the crack of dawn with Michael. Daniel volunteered to Michael sit and I went to the market. Didn’t get lost going there or coming back, a miracle. Scored some Mara des Bois from the only stand that had them in a market which covers about 4 city blocks.

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The day went according to plan with the exception of the walk home from the metro station. Daniel pretended to slam his head into a light post , actually placing his arm between the pole and his head. Michael didn’t see that small detail and likewise followed his brother, slamming his head into a lamp post. We ended up walking the two blocks home with Michael spectacularly dripping blood from his nose. Of course, I had no Kleenex because, I have a teen age boy and an adult boy now, so I thought I was done with the necessity of carrying trucks and Kleenex in my handbags. We tried to staunch the flow of blood with a piece of the newspaper we were carrying but Michael kept taking the paper on and off so he could look at the blood. He ended up with blood all over his face and neck. Two hikers took pity on us and offered toilet paper they were carrying. I was able to pack Michael’s nose but not get the blood off his face.

We did go fishing on the Seine in the Isle de la Cite and to L’Eclair De Genie before the light pole incident

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L’Eclair De Genie
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L’Eclair De Genie

3AB3EC74-9D4B-4FD0-B1E7-ED86FA7A6DD7Day 6:

Went to the Rodin Museum in the morning. The roses were in bloom and walking through the garden is such a lovely way to experience the sculpture. The little fountain that Michael jumped in two years ago was removed. Coincidence? I think not.

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Off to Napoleons Tomb which Michael adored. He loves all things Napoleon! We were greeted with some sort of military exercise with dignitaries unknown to us. They played the Marseillaise and marched around. It was fun. We had to go through security and Daniel, Adam and I were all searched but they let Michael walk on through. Thought about telling them Michael was the one they had to worry about but Daniel gave me the Bianco raised eyebrow so I bit my tongue.

~~~

On to the Montparnasse Tower to look at the view. It’s quite lovely up there and you can get a glass of champagne while you look at the 360 degree view of Paris.

Next, we stopped at Des Gateau Et Du Pain, a pastry shop Daniel had on his list where we bought pastry for tonight. Around the corner we spotted another one on the way to the Metro and we bought pastry from them as well. The pastry at Cyril Lignac was the better of the two. The grey ” Equinox” cakes were an exquisite combination of Vanilla cream, liquid caramel and a crunchy pastry bottom. The raspberry tarts were equally lovely, each raspberry filled with a raspberry reduction. Daniel is my pastry buddy and it’s so much fun to share this passion we have. While we were planning our trip to France we formulated a plan wherein we could exercise some restraint. We decided that we’d do our pastry crawl only eating 1/2 of every pastry we bought. However, I think we may have doubled the amount of pastry we’re buying. This is the advantage of being terrible at math. Oops!

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Des Gateau Et Du Pain: grapefruit and rose cake
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Des Gateau Et Du Pain: rhubarb pate a choux,
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Cyril Lignac: lemon tarts
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Cyril Lignac: “Equinox” and raspberry tarts

Day 7:

The plan was to go to L’Orangerie to see the two oval rooms with enormous Monet water lillies, to Le Marais, L’As du Falafel for lunch, Berthillon for ice cream and fishing somewhere.

All went according to plan until we were walking through Rue de Rivoli to get the Metro. We noticed people lining up in front of a pastry shop. We immediately snagged a place in line and then googled the chef: Cedric Grolet the only chef in Paris to gain a Michelin star for pastry. We waited 30 minutes for the shop to open and for the bouncer to open the door. Seriously. He was dressed in Le Maurice employee work clothes and he was charming, but he was a bouncer nonetheless. While we waited, I typed on my iPhone that I was a pastry chef from Chicago, beckoned the bouncer and pressed my phone against the glass. The bouncer came out and gave me a run down on every detail of every pastry. We discussed what we would order. The doors opened and all the chefs came out, shaking hands and saying ” welcome” to all the waiting clients. Finally they opened the door and the first four people gained entrance. After more interminable minutes the door opened again and we were admitted. As I passed by the bouncer he whispered to me, ” Vous prenez la Tarte aux Poires”. I heard someone say ” We’ll take one of everything!” My son looked shocked but pleased and I realized that voice had been mine. We snagged one of the pear tarts, still warm from the oven.

We went to the Tuileries and ate the pastry in the shade. It was very good but in the end, we declared Pierre Herme still King of Pastry.

Pistachio Saint Honore
Grapefruit pastry: white chocolate shell, vanilla cream, grapefruit segments and coulis

Passion fruit pastry: painted white chocolate shell, vanilla cream, passion fruit coulis

Frais des Bois tart: pate sucre base, pistachio and basil cream
William Poire tarte: pate sucre, almond cream, toasted almonds, pears
Hazelnut pastry: pate sucre, hazelnut mousse, crushed hazelnut praline

No lunch today but we’ll look for a fishing spot for Michael.

Day 8:

Drive to Saint-Malo. A little history: Saint-Malo was pirate central in the 16th century. It still has some tall ships docked in the harbor. We didn’t know this when we picked it but what a bonus for Michael. I’m feeling just a little guilty that I wouldn’t pack his rapier along with his pocket fisherman.

Packed up. Cleaned the apartment. Waited for Francois to pick us up with the rental.

First stop is Pappi Jean-Pierre to say ” abientot” and pick up Tonton Laurent. Next, a five hour drive. Not looking forward to that, but the destination is worth the drive. Daniel has scouted a restaurant in Chartes for lunch. Chartres is only 1 hour away. That’s apparently as long as we can go without food.

Much to Daniel’s chagrin we drove past Chartres and decided to stop briefly at a highway oasis. Michael was delighted to find a McDonald’s there. In addition to the usual stuff, they had croissant, pane au chocolate, macarons and canelle. They were gross but hey, an “A” for effort.

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Arrived at 5:30 in Coulomb, and located a very good butcher, fabulous artisanal jam and a decent baguette. Then off to the rental house we’re we were greeted by the owners and some homemade rhubarb preserves. The beach is a five minute ramble away. While it was too cold to swim, there were many tide pools filled with sea life.

Day 9:

Luckily we bought some basics ( yogurt, coffee, milk, eggs, fruit) from a Casino last night because today the roads to literally everywhere are blocked for an Iron Man. Wondering if I can hitch a ride to the grocery store with a passing cyclist. Probably not so Daniel and I will walk to the store, which is about a 4 mile jaunt round trip.

No Internet!!!!

How did we miss this, and I mean the completely fluent French speaker in the family? Also no dryer, which in a cold and humid climate means things mold before they dry. Zoot! I’ll have to go shopping for some clothes. With no internet, we, and I mean the fluent French speaker who failed to properly read the listing for the rental, will have to entertain a very bored Michael so Michael doesn’t dismantle the house.

Day 11:

We walked around Saint-Malo and then picked up Mai at the train station. Mai is ma belle mere (Mother in law) Marie-Paule. She became “Mai”because Daniel couldn’t pronounce her name when he was a toddler and “Marie-Paule” came out as Mai. With her usual grace and aplomb, she embraced the name and “Mai” is what we all call her now. Like the month, she is mostly sunny, with the occasional chilly wind.

Mai is in her eighties and an excellent traveler, so even after rising early, a taxi and then a three hour train ride she was game for exploration. We did another tour of Saint-Malo and walking around the entire town up on the ramparts. The difference in the tides between last night and this morning was remarkable. The water had retreated to reveal huge rocks that previously had been submerged. A road between Saint-Malo and a little island with a fortress on top was now visible and a sea water swimming pool, who’s only clue to its existence last night had been a tall diving board, which appeared to float in the water, far from shore. Today one could see the edges of the pool and the diving board at its edge. Daniel wondered what sea creatures could be lurking in the pool. My phobia about being attacked by a shark in a fresh water swimming pool emerged momentarily and sent a chill up to my scalp and down my spine. Yep, not going in that pool.

The walls of this fortified city hide many narrow streets with stone walls, a few churches, restaurants, and tourist shops selling Breton striped sweaters, snow globes and pottery. However, there are also some shops carrying designer Pret a Porter from Max Mara, Devernois, Gerard Darel and Prada. I try to pass by with a blind eye.

The buckwheat crepe originated in Brittany and Saint-Malo is littered with Creperie, some good and some bad. With the help of an AP on Daniel’s IPhone we located a good one in a quiet street. I ordered a crepe with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and chives, Michael ordered ham, cheese and sunny side up egg, Francois had a crepe with chèvre, walnuts and a little salad in the center. I don’t remember what Mai and Laurent had. Then their were the dessert crepes: Nutella, apples flambeed with Calvados, lemon and honey and sugar and honey. I love the lemon and sugar. It’s bright and fresh and you can taste, the dough of the crepe.

More walking around, Ma Belle Mere bought me a blue and white striped Breton hoodie and we bought Michael a pirate flag which Tonton Laurent broke within minutes. Tonton Laurent and Michael are what the French affectionately call “ brisefer” or “ break everything”. Their curiosity about how things are put together and their love of a good joust at anytime and with anything often result in injury to inanimate objects.

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We needed more food so we went to Carrefours which is similar to a Walmart. They carry some produce grown in France as well as adjoining countries like Spain and Italy. Mai chose French melons rather than Spanish and French Zucchini rather than Italian. It’s true, local produce is always almost always better if it’s in season.

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We are renting a house which has a horrible kitchen, and DID I MENTION NO WIFI??? The oven temp is off and the burners are fueled by a propane tank which simply doesn’t get hot enough. It makes cooking frustrating. We went to a local butcher who offered to roast us a chicken for tonight and Mai, who is an excellent cook, prepared the zucchini, simmered whole until al dente and dressed with olive oil, fresh cilantro, salt, pepper and lemon. We bought lentils from the butcher, and here’s a word of warning, when we opened the lentils, Daniel took a whiff and said they smelled terrible. We passed the mason jar around and all agreed they smelled bad. I don’t know how the butcher sealed the jars. It appeared to be a good seal, I could barely pry them open but, unlike preserves which have so much sugar and acid it’s hard to poison anyone, anything with a low PH like most vegetables, and meats, botulism and spoiling is a real concern. We returned the lentils and the butcher gave us fresh ones and some more carrot rappe to compensate. For Thursday we have ordered a leg of the local lamb which is salty from the salty herbs that the lambs eat. The butcher will roast the lamb for us since no one wants to baby sit the roast for a few hours.

Day 12:

Le-Mon-Saint-Michel:

My memory of this little fortified city proved better than the reality. You can’t go home again. If somehow, you can go one evening off season, close to the Equinox where the tides are at their strongest and most dramatic, it would be worth it. It is a beautiful natural site, a little town built on a tiny island island that is surrounded by water at high tide and wet sand at low tide. I long to watch the tide come in “ like a galloping horse” as is the legend. The church on top of the island is lovely and we were lucky to reach it just as it choir began singing. It was a magical moment and made one forget the oppressive crowds and tchotchke shops that lined the streets below.

We returned to La Mere Poulard for their famous dessert omelet. We hadn’t been there for many years and had fond memories of the famous omelette. Unbeknownst to us it had been bought out and they changed the recipe. Blech, and I’m being kind. Yes, it was still a fluffy souffléd omelet but now they are sprinkling a combination of salt and sugar on the top before they caramelize it. I love salt, even in sweets, but this was disgusting.

Day 13, I think:

We are on our way back to Le-Mont-Saint-Michel. Daniel wants to do a three hour walkabout on the sands around the island. I am torn between going with him and marching around wet sand in bare feet without my Berkies or acces to a bathroom (these are the things you must think about at almost 60) or spending another day trying not to lose Michael and going to Alligator Bay with the rest of the family, or poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick.

Can someone please just teleport me to Avenue Montaigne in Paris?

Day 14:

Waiting for Francois to get up as he’s the only one who can drive a stick shift. 10:15 and no one else is ready except for me and the kids. Sheesh, no time to lallygag. We’re on vacation and have much to do on our last day! In the meantime, I took a way Michael’s iPad last night and we are all suffering. Sucks!!!! We had finally figured out a way to use Daniel’s service because he was still with the carrier he had in Spain. Only two people could be on it at a time, one of them Daniel, and had to be within 10 feet of him.

Finally, everyone got ready and we jumped in the van to go to Cancal. It’s a little fishing village that is known for farming oysters. Not as charming as Saint-Tropez or Honfleur but still nice enough. It’s a steep descent from the town square to the harbor but lots of stuff to look at on the way down including stairs built into the rock face. The harbor is fairly typical, seafood restaurants and souvenir shops elbowing each other for precious space. Mai treated us to a lovely lunch with friendly waiters who were eager to share their opinions on the best fish and the best way to prepare it. No iPhone AP for Mai. She found the restaurant by asking one of the oyster sellers at the docks. It was wonderful! To me, this sharing of recipes and a passion for food is invaluable. So,or waiters recipe is for Daurade which is a Mediterranean fish with white firm flesh and a delicate aroma. Allors, take an oven proof dish and make a bed of onions. Put a finger of water, so the onion doesn’t burn and the fish stays moist. Place it in a medium oven and bake until done. You can use fillets but a whole fish is always better.

Chez Victor

Chez Victor
Chez Victor

Oyster beds

On the way home we stopped at an observation point which shows well the savage beauty of the Brittany coast.

Today was our last day at the beach so we took our kites and sand toys and our Tonton and walked, waded, dug and day dreamed.

Day 15:

Today we return to Paris. We stripped the beds, tidied up, packed our bags and loaded everything and everyone into the car. Why does it always seem like we have more stuff than we started with? It’s like our luggage reproduced while they were in storage. The landlady didn’t see Michael running around and was worried we’d leave without him. He had quietly gotten in the car and was safely stashed away with his iPad. Yea, he wasn’t taking any chances and neither was she.

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We had such good intentions when we arrived in Coulomb. It was going to be a week of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and absolutely no sweets or bread. But then, I discovered some local preserves made in the village and carried all over Provence. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we had stuck to stirring them into unsweetened yogurt but the next day we found a bakery with an excellent baguette. So, every morning we would make toast with the baguette and smear it with soft, sweet and salty butter and apricot or strawberry or poire/groseille preserves while the Greek yogurt lingered in the fridge

Pears are difficult to preserve without commercial pectin because they have very little natural pectin. Currants are high in pectin and give the preserves a lovely pink color. I will definitely be trying this. I’ve paired pears with quince in the past but I prefer the currants.

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On our way out of town we noticed that the second bakery, previously shuttered for vacation, was open. I got out of the van with Tonton Laurent, my partner in crime, in hot pursuit of bread and sweets. There was a line of old ladies out the door, usually a good sign. We returned to the car loaded with vienoisserie and pastry: croissant, pane au chocolate, apple tart, Paris Brest and a large Kougniman. Oops, forgot the bread so we sent Tonton to buy some. I never forget the cannoli but sometimes I do forget the bread. Mai looked at us with a combination of concern and disdain and announced that sugar is an addiction. Preaching to the choir Mai. We are a car full of addicts and I suspect that in these last days in France we are going to indulge in our drug of choice often and in great variety. I plan on going cold turkey when we’re back in the states with a low carb pescatarian diet.

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We stopped for lunch by the side of the road and had an assortment of saucisson, cheese, fresh baguette from the bakery in Coulomb, tomato, Mara des Bois strawberries and finally the Kougniman. Kougniman is the regional speciality and this was a really good one: crunchy, soft, chewy and caramelized with sugar, moist with butter and a tiny bit salty, from the demi sel butter that’s used. It is rich, the Carmel 1/2″ thick in places. We cut tiny slivers with Mai’s minuscule but sharp blade on her Swiss Army knife but in the end we devoured it one tiny slice at a time.

Day16:

We decided today would be a pastry free day. Daniel went for a run. Michael and I went downstairs for a healthy breakfast of bacon and eggs for him and coffee and plain yogurt with a bit of fruit for me.

We walked briskly from the Hotel Mercure to the bus stop at Champ de Mars and ran to the bus which looked as if it was just leaving. In fact, we found the bus driver taking a 10 minute break. We sat and waited. As we waited or resolve dissipated. We are going to be in Le Marais, it would be a pity to miss Berthillon. We ruminated.

Anyway, our first stop was a clothing store that I had seen on my first day and I decided to take a friend’s advice and seize the day, not wait until more time had passed and I was too old to enjoy the beautiful Fortuny velvet kimono I bought. Daniel says Marnie’s son Max owes him a drink because it was Daniel’s job to occupy Michael while I was shopping and then again during a second visit because I had forgotten my passport the first time and they needed it for the tax discount.

After Venezia Studium it was lunchtime and we walked to a tapas place that had been on Daniel’s ” to do” list. It was fabulous! Tapas with a French and Asian twist. I had cod served with a bowl of perfectly cooked vegetables and a light vegetable, butter, vinegar broth. Michael had grilled octopus served with squid ink risotto and also squid with chorizo. He liked both. Daniel had two eggs where the yolks had been scooped out and mixed with mayonnaise and sprinkled with black and white toasted sesame seeds. The whites had been filled with seasoned crab meat and the yolks piped over them in a beautiful swirl. I think we’re going back tomorrow and I’ll try and take a picture. The best thing we had was a lobster ravioli served in a court bouillon. The dough was a wonton so it was thin and translucent and encased a nice solid chunk of lobster. The broth had ginger, scallions and other flavorings.

Crab salad in a slice of black radish
Soft shell crab with Yuzu aioli
Outstanding Pain Complet made fresh everyday and demi sel butter
Oysters and sausage

Menu cards in the ceiling. Adorable but man did I get a crick in my neck!
Deep fried shrimp wrapped in potato
lobster ravioli with beans and pine nuts

After lunch we met Francois and fished with Michael near the Pont des Arts and then walked to the pyramids at the louvre. Michael was tired and delighted to go home in a taxi with Francois. Daniel and I went back to Patrick Roger to get chocolate and specifically to search for the elusive peach/pepper caramel bonbon. We found it but it was only sold in a large assorted box. We asked if we could add it to another box. Mai Non! We asked if we could by them separately. Mai non! We wheedled. We dallied. We told him that we knew the chocolates were kept downstairs in a freezer in separate boxes and that he could sell us the peach caramels if he wanted to. The line behind us began to build. I think the salesperson realized that we were deaf to the word ” no” and was also a bit freaked by our intel about where and how the chocolates were kept. Who are these chocolate sleuths with their crazy broken French? He relented and sold us four of the peach. They were lovely, but the lime are still the best! One day I hope he makes the Yuzu again. I’ve never tried them but I love the citrus with caramel.

We went back to the hotel with our treasures and rested before dinner. For dinner Mai took us to a very good Thai restaurant. The last time we were there Tonton Laurent had ordered a cod cooked in a banana leaf with coconut milk, lemongrass and a bit of red curry. I had been dreaming about it for 3 years and so I ordered that. It was worth the wait.

In the end, it was a pastry free day. Chocolate is not pastry, unless it is chocolate pastry but were careful not to cross that line and only consumed chocolates today. We are very proud of ourselves.

Day 17:

Today is our last full day in Paris. We are flying home tomorrow.

Our plan is to actually go to Berthillon today. We’ve tried several times but keep going astray. Berthillon has wonderful ice cream with unusual flavors like Earl Grey and Marron Glacé ice cream and Fraise des Bois and pear sorbet among others. I’ve had the Marron Glace with a pear compote and it’s a lovely pairing. I confess I usually get the Fraise des Bois sorbet and pistachio ice cream.

It’s Fathers day so we let Francois sleep in and pick what we were going to do. This was a difficult concept for Michael who kept insisting that Francois wanted to go back to the Luxembourg gardens and sail the boats. I actually wish we could have done that for him. He got kinda gipped the day we went because it was hot and we’re worried he’d get sick.

I made a last run to the farmers market to say farewell to the apricots from Provence and the Mara des Bois strawberries.

We ended up going to Le Sacre Cour.

I wouldn’t recommend going on a Sunday. It was really crowded. Still, even with the crowds it’s beautiful. The walk down becomes quite nice after you get past the main square and the tourist shops and before you get to the metro station at the bottom.

After Sacre Cour we met darling Adam for Tapas. When we went yesterday we only tried the seafood bar l’Avant Comptoir de la Mer. Today we started in the meat side, L’Avant Comptoir de la Terre and switched to seafood. There is a third restaurant after the first two called Le Comptoir. The concept is that you eat a few tapas first (avant) and then go to the bistro.

It was all delicious and fun. There are no bar stools on the meat side. You just stand and eat. There are some bar stools on the seafood side but it’s not really comfortable.

After lunch we went on a bit of a wild goose chase to find zlabia for Francois. This involved chasing down the little streets in the Latin Quarter hunting for the one oriental pasty shop he remembered from his childhood. We actually found one after talking to an absolutely charming man who was standing outside his couscous restaurant. Now, I love fat and sugar but Zlabia exceeds my limits by a long shot. Let me see if I can describe it. It’s like the greasiest funnel cake you can find at a county fair and then it is soaked in honey. Daniel agrees with me that it it is beyond disgusting. Michael of course loved it. Such a papa’s boy!

After we located the Zlabia we finally went to Berthillon. The line was out the door and down the block. Francois masterfully strode into the restaurant a la francaise and found an empty table. Of course, when you get table service it’s more expensive but we were we’re happy to sit and avoid the line. Plus, if you have the ice cream at a table it comes with delicious buttery, crispy tuile as big as your head. Berthillon still makes some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted and the sorbets I think are the best. Daniel and I got frais des bois sorbet and pistachio ice cream as usual but we agreed to split a scoop of honey nougat which was also wonderful. The pistachio is dense and unctuous, studded with bits of pistachio. The frais des bois is not as silky as the pear but the flavor is amazing and not too sweet. It’s a fair trade. Francois got a scoop of pear sorbet and giandujia/orange. The pear is always amazing: silky smooth and tasting like perfectly ripe pears. The giandujia was more choclate than hazelnut with pieces of tender orange peel. Michael doesn’t like cold things so he had a very good chocolate macaroon.

We flagged a cab and drove off to the family gouter which includes sweet and salty things: little sandwiches with smoke salmon and herbed chèvre, olives, chips and crudités and pastry. Adam’s sister Marcelline had just flown in from Africa yesterday and we were so happy to see her. She played a lovely game of Uno with Michael with rules that only they understood. Michael is so lucky to have these two older cousins who lavish him with attention and good humor. I adore my niece and nephew and wish they were closer.

DAY EIGHTEEN:

Beaucoup des bisous a tout le monde, on to the plane and back home.

Daniel got home and went all paleo in me, thus donating to me the remainder of his Patrick Roger chocolates. Even with the consumption of those chocolates and mine, within two weeks of returning home I am back to my pre-France weight. I am pleased, but on the other hand, I feel like I could have squeezed in a few more pastries when we were in France!

Ruth’s Mushroom Barley Soup

Ruth is a longtime family friend and contemporary of my mother.  Ruth contends that she can’t cook.  In fact, the things I’ve eaten at her house have always been wonderful.  Her mushroom/barley soup is rich and hearty, almost like a stew.  Ruth will tell you it’s Minna’s recipe (her ancient housekeeper) and perhaps it was at some point but I had Minnas soup and she never used wild mushrooms, which I think are key to the recipe.  Ruth uses dried mushrooms but I like to use fresh ones. I make vats of the soup around Thanksgiving when the grocery stores bring in loads of fresh Chanterelle, Royal Trumpet, Enoki and other mushrooms that are hard to find during the year.  Once cooked I package it up and put it in my freezer to nourish us during the desolate winter months.

Julie

Ingredients:

  • 3 lb piece of chuck roast, trimmed
  • 1 pound short cut carrot or carrots peeled and trimmed to 2″pieces
  • 2 pints of white mushrooms and two pints of exotics: Chanterelle, Royal Trumpet, Baby Bella, Crimini, enoki etc
  • 2 cups sliced yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons of beef base ( I like Better than Bouillon) diluted in 4 cups of water or two beef bouillon cubes or 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley

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Instructions:

  1. Wipe chuck roast dry with paper towels and cut into 2” pieces. Season meat with salt and pepper and toss with some flour until all the sides are lightly dusted.
  2. Heat oil in sauté pan or cast iron skillet. When oil is smoking put in as many pieces of meat as you can without crowding the pan. Sautée until meat is brown on all sides. (The meat should not be touching each other in the pan  I generally have to do this in two pans to sautée the meat and I do it at the same time.  If you only have one pan and need to sautée the meat I. Two batches I advise doing a patch, removing the meat from the pan, deglazing the pan with some water or stock, cleaning the pan and doing the whole routine a second time with the rest if the meat.  The reason I’m suggesting this is so that you don’t burn the fond.
  3. Place the meat and deglazed juices in a stock pot and clean the pan.
  4. Sauté the sliced onions and garlic in about a tablespoon of oil until the onions are nice and brown. Throw them in the stock pot as well along with the tomato paste, thyme and bay leaf.
  5. Add about 4 cups of homemade beef broth or more to cover the meat. If you dont have homemade, I like Better Than Boillion but, I dilute it. They call for 1tsp bouillon paste to 1cup of water. I only use 1/2 tsp of paste.
  6. Cover stock pot and simmer for about 2 hours.
  7. Check the meat and if it is tender, add the carrots and the barley and simmer until the carrots are al dente.
  8. Add the mushrooms and cook until the barley and mushrooms are cooked.

Grandma Natalie’s Cranberry Relish


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My Sicilian grandmother didn’t know from Thanksgiving, but she was a great cook and her cranberry relish is the best I’ve ever tasted.  It is sweet, sour, crunchy and fresh.  It’s a welcome counterpoint to all the heavy Thanksgiving foods: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes etc.

There were no food processors back in the day so she used her cast iron, hand cranked meat grinder and sausage maker to grind the cranberries.  Now that my grandmother has passed away, I am asked to bring the relish to every   Thanksgiving dinner and it is my pleasure and my honor.

Julie

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  • 12oz pkg fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup diced apple
  • 1 juicy navel orange
  • 1/4 cup diced celery heart
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (toasted or raw)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • A few grindings of black pepper

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  1. Wash and dry cranberries.  Place in the work bowl of a food processor with the blade attachement and chop course.  My grandmother had a hand cranked meat grinder which she used on a medium grind for this purpose. You can also use a stand mixer if you have a grinder attachment or simply chop by hand.
  2. Place cranberries in a bowl and add the sugar, walnuts, apple, celery, salt and pepper.
  3. Zest the orange with a micro plane and add half or all to the cranberries.  How much you use is a matter of preference. I use half the rind
  4. Supreme the orange (my grandmother never did this) over the bowl of cranberries to catch the juice.  Cut the orange slices in half and to the cranberries.  In the picture, I have the oranges in the work bowl but don’t process them in there or you’ll get orange mush.

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5.  Let macerate for a few hours.  The sugar will break down the cranberries and make them juicy and a bit softer.  I recommend using the full amount of sugar.  If you find it too sweet you can add some lemon juice but it needs the sugar to break down the cranberries.

Carpaccio of Beef from Lucca

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My husband and I love to travel and one of our favorite places is Italy.  One year we had the good fortune to stay with a friend of my mother in law in Volterra, famous for its alabaster.  Ido graciously lent us his home and moved in with his daughter for the week.

Ido’s home was set in the Tuscan hill side amid peach and olive trees, grape vines and an assortment of vegetables.  The house was rustic with terra-cotta colored plaster walls and tile floors.  I distinctly remember chasing spiders out of the shower. All the beds in the house were cast iron with metal springs.  The dining room table was composed of several planks of wood pegged and doweled together and it was surrounded by tippy little chairs with rush seats. However, we rarely ate in the dining room.  There was a little patio on the East side of the house where we took our breakfast and in the evening we went to the patio on the West side of the house and had dinner, watching the sun set and eating Edo’s fresh peaches, soaked in his home made Chianti with a little sugar and lemon juice.

Every day Ido would drop buy bearing a small gift: some potatoes he’d just dug up, those amazing peaches with skin so thin and crisp and flesh so sweet and juicy that it was like biting into a Creme Brûlée with the crack of the sugar and then the unctuous silky cream.  Ido made his own wine, olive oil and peach preserves.  The peach preserves were lovely and had a distinctive flavor I had not tasted before. I sat him down one day and asked him to reveal the secret of the preserves.   “Well”,  he said.  “I macerate the peaches in sugar and lemon juice overnight.  Then I put everything in a big pot and boil it until it thickens.  Unfortunately, I’m usually doing several things at the same time and it usually burns.  But, I just scrape it up and put it in jars”. So, what was the secret of Ido’s peach preserves?  He burnt it and what I was tasting was caramelized sugar.

Ido spoke a bit of French but often mixed it with Italian, creating new words and phrases.  For example, he would often say” Va bien” in response to our query, “ How are you”.  In Italian one would respond “ Va bene ” and in French one would respond “ Ca va bien”, thus Ido created the new phrase “ Va bien” which we still use with great affection when we speak of him and the enchanted week we spent in his home.

The recipe I’m going to give you is not from Ido, but it is from Lucca, not to far from Volterra and certainly in the style of Ido: excellent ingredients prepared simply. Dinner was served in the garden of a farmhouse which was up a winding rode in the hills of Tuscany.  I remember two items from the meal.  One was an appetizer of thinly sliced pieces of Lardo.  The other a lovely carpaccio of beef.  I had never seen carpaccio of beef done with anything other than raw meat so I was happy to see that this was cooked, rare but not mooing.

Julie

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  • 1 lb Eye of round roasted rare and sliced paper thin
  • One 5 oz bag arugula
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • Hunk of Parmesan Reggiano
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

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  1. I buy my eye of round at Whole Foods in the deli department. They usually have a nice rare piece and are very happy to slice it. Ask them to slice overlapping pieces onto wax paper and when they have filled up one sheet, put another piece on top and repeat, filling that sheet with overlapping slices. This way, the slices of meat don’t all stick together.
  2. Dress the arugula with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the vinegar and a pinch of sea salt.
  3. Arrange 1/4 of the slices around the edge of the plate, leaving the inside empty.  Place a handful of arugula in the center of the plate.  With a vegetable  peeler, peel large pieces of cheese over the arugula.  Sprinkle the meat with some grindings of pepper and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil.

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