Cranberry Pomegranate Tart

I love curds: lemon, lime, grapefruit and passion fruit all make great curds because they are sour. I recently came across cranberry curd tart recipes in The New York Times and the magazine ” Bake”. There are some differences in both those recipes and I also made some changes. the biggest difference is that I add the butter last, not first. This improves the texture of the cream.

This is a nice curd to do around the holidays. Both pomegranates and cranberries are in the stores fresh, from November-December which makes it a nice seasonal dessert.

CRANBERRY AND POMEGRANATE TARTS

  • 8 fully baked Pate Sucree 4″ tart shells or one 9″ tart shell ( see recipe on another page of my blog
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of one large naval orange
  • Juice of one large naval orange and enough lemon juice to make up a volume of 1/2 cup of liquid.
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4oz unsalted butter cut in to 16 pieces
  • Salt

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  1. Rub the sugar and orange zest between your fingers to release the orange oil.
  2. Combine sugar, zest, orange juice, and cranberries in a 1 quart sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
  3. Simmer cranberries for between 5 and 8 minutes u til most of the cranberries have popped and released their liquid. Be careful not to overcook.
  4. Run cranberries through a food mill with the finest disc. Discard the skins that won’t push through.
  5. Crack eggs and combine the whole eggs and yolks, wisking until homogenous.
  6. Temper eggs with some of the hot cranberry mixture and combine the rest of the cranberries and eggs.
  7. Place cranberry/egg mixture in a clean 1 quart sauce pan and cook over low to medium heat depending on your comfort level, wisking constantly. I like to use medium heat because I’m impatient but I always have a an immersion blender and a cold, wet towel folded on the counter near the stove. If it looks like it’s going to curdle I remove the pan from the heat and place it on the cold towel and whisk like crazy or use the immersion blender to smooth out the mixture.
  8. Wisk until thickened. The mixture should reach about 170 degrees and your wisk should leave tracks in the curd.
  9. Run curd through a fine meshed sieve and let cool to about 140 F.
  10. Using an immersion blender, blend butter in to curd, 4 pieces at a time. Once butter is incorporated blend another 3 minutes. This aerates the cream and makes it light and smooth. It also lightens the color so if you want a deeper color, just wisk the butter in gently.
  11. Pour curd into pre baked tart shell and smooth it with an offset spatula.
  12. Now, you have the option of popping the filled tart into a 350 F degree oven for about 8 minutes to set the curd and make it easier to slice. I wouldn’t bother doing this with the small tarts but for a large tart that you have to cut into individual pieces, there’s an argument for baking. It does change the texture of the curd a bit, losing some of that unctuous creaminess. This curd is fairly stiff so you will be able to slice it without baking it, but if you need super clean edges, setting the curd in the oven is the way to go. If you bake it, let it cool before you put the pomegranate seeds on it.
  13. Decoratively place some pomegranate seeds around the perimeter of the tart and chill until service.
  14. To plate this, you could serve it with a dollop of whipped cream on the side, or you could buy extra cranberries, make a coulis and use the coulis do some decorative smears on the plate. For the coulis, I would buy extra cranberries and repeat the first three steps of this recipe, however, instead of running the mixture through a food mill and pushing it through a sieve, I would place the mixture in a medium sieve and let the juices drip through, pushing gently on the cranberries. The goal is to get s pretty clear sauce, not a purée.

Italian Spiced 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

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.

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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.

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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

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L’Eclair De Genie

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.

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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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Des Gateau Et Du Pain

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Des Gateau Et Du Pain

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Cyril Lignac: lemon tarts

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Cyril Lignac

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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.

~~~

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!

Boltwood

Throughout the second semester, I’ve had the pleasure of cooking alongside Brian Huston the head chef/owner of Boltwood restaurant in Evanston, as well as his team of highly talented chefs. Boltwood is one of the newer and more high end restaurants in the Evanston culinary scene. One way to describe their food is New American, but when you ask the people who work there what they cook they reply “whatever is in season and Brian feels like eating.” Boltwood’s menu changes weekly and the kitchen is open which provides an enhanced dining experience. I also think that working in an open kitchen with a rotating menu is a lot more fun for the chefs. I never made the same thing twice in the 3 months I worked at Boltwood, which allowed me to learn something new everyday.

My goal for working at Boltwood was to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Each person in the IMG_0346kitchen had a different role in my Boltwood education. Kayla is the pastry chef at Boltwood and due to my love of pastry I clicked with her immediately. She trusted me right away to make full desserts. Her style of teaching me was to just give me a recipe then jump in to help whenever she saw fit. I liked this because it allowed me to show off what I already knew. Mack is a sous chef at Boltwood who is very fun and talkative. Whenever we’re cooking side by side we always start up a conversation. Mack has really taught me how to be a restaurant cook. Each day there is always a new lesson on how to be more like a cook. On the first day of work, he told me how to properly get my uniform on, where to put my towels and knives etc. He’s been in the business relatively long so he knows his stuff despite still being under 30. He always says that it’s not just about cooking well, but looking like a cook too especially since Boltwood has an open kitchen. Alex is another sous chef who is always giving me little helpful tips. He teaches me small scale things. My favorite tip he has given me is IMG_0536 (1)you can peel garlic cloves by sticking a bunch of them in between to inverted metal bowls and shaking them around. Alex also always gives me little tastes of what he is making. This has greatly improved my palate because I learn about balancing flavors and new flavor combinations. Whereas Alex teaches me small scale things, Brian is a big picture teacher. He likes to hand me huge recipes and send me on my way. All the chefs and servers at Boltwood are so fun and friendly and over the course of the semester I really feel like part of the family.

At first I was given easy tasks such as chopping vegetables and herbs. While a little bland, these tasks sharpened my knife skills. I can correctly chop root vegetables, onions, scallions, herbs, supreme citrus and much more. My first major task came at the dessert station. I was given a recipe for a lemon chiffon cake and left to make it. I’ve now made this cake at least 6 times and IMG_0538 (1)have the recipe memorized. I also learned how to make a caramel sauce, ice cream base, and apple tart from the sweet station. As I demonstrated culinary proficiency to Brian, I was given bigger tasks at the savory stations. I made a few marinades, sauces, and butchered octopus. The biggest task I had was preparing a chickpea tomato stew with honeyed sweet potatoes. At first I didn’t even know where to begin, this was a lot of responsibility. I got myself together and went to go grab and organize all my ingredients. The next thing I did was prep everything, such as peeling sweet potatoes, filling pots with water, chopping onions. As I got my ingredients ready the picture of the dish came more and more into view. Once I had everything prepped out I just jumped in. The sweet potatoes were boiled with a ton of honey and water. While the sweet potatoes were boiling I started on the stew. I toasted spices and sweated onions then I added in a tub of canned tomato and let the IMG_0386canned tomato flavor cook out. Then I married the sauce with some kale and the chickpeas. I tasted it and it was unbelievable. When the potatoes were done I took them out and drained them. I kept the cooking stock intact and tasted it. it was sweet and buttery. I had the bright idea of adding some of the starchy sweet stock to the chickpea stew and Brian thought that was a great idea. As the stew was cooking I whipped together the yogurt sauce which had lemon juice olive oil and mint in it. What I prepared was paired with a grilled lamb shoulder.

Beyond what I learned from Boltwood, it was an amazing environment to be a part of. I’ve had a hard time finding other people to connect with over food for most of my life. Everyone at Boltwood is like me where their life revolves around food. They are always reading cookbooks, always snacking on things and talking about their next meal while eating their current one. Everyone at Boltwood was very fun too. We were always joking around. Just this week, Mack brought in some dry ice and put it in the dish sink and called Brian over saying there was a problem with the soap they were using. The other chefs also always were interested in my life, whether it was Mack asking about my prom date or Brian talking to me about the lacrosse team. I plan to keep popping into Boltwood to spend time and cook with my new family throughout the summer.

List of tips/tricks from Boltwood:

  • To peel cloves of garlic, put them in between two metal bowls and shake them for a minute, when you uncover the garlic it will be out of the shell.
  • To dress a salad, dress the bowl then gently mix the salad in the bowl allowing for more even coating than the traditional method of salad tossing.
  • The best cuts of meat are the most obscure such as lamb neck bones and pork shank knuckles
  • Restaurants make their money off the the “throwaway cuts of meat” and organs which can be used to add flavor to stocks or fried
  • Potatoes are done when you insert a knife into them without resistance
  • Optimal frying temperature is usually 350

IMG_7796

Ingredients

  • For Chickpea Stew
  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • 1 box San Marzano crushed tomatoes (about 28 oz)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seed
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seed
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh mint chiffonaded (for garnish)
  • For Sweet Potatoes
  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes peeled and cut into even chunks
  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ cup honey
  • About 6 cups water (just enough to cover the potatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Sachet of a few sprigs of fresh thyme, 3 tablespoons whole peppercorn, 1 tablespoon coriander seed
  • For Kale
  • ½ pound kale stem removed
  • ¼ onion diced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • A few splashes of tabasco
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup water

Instructions

1. Boil sweet potatoes with honey butter and sachet. ProTip: They’re done when you stick a knife in them and it goes through without effort and the sweet potato doesn’t stick onto the knife. Remove sweet potatoes when done and reserve liquid for later.

2. Cook onions in olive oil, stirring frequently, over medium heat until they just start to caramelize then add garlic and stir for a minute.

3. Add kale and water and cover for 5 minutes. Then add the rest of the ingredients cover and cook on low until kale is tender.

4. Cook onions, cumin seed, and coriander seed in olive oil, stirring frequently, until onions just start to brown then add garlic and stir for a minute.

5. Add the tomato paste and stir for another minute.

6. Add in tomato, ground cumin, paprika, add sugar and cook for 5 minutes.

7. Add in braised kale, ¼ cup of the sweet potato liquid, and chickpeas and stir. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste

8. Serve chickpea-tomato stew with sweet potatoes on top and the chiffonaded mint.

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IMG_1400 IMG_1399

Picture Food Key in Order:

  • Fried potatoes with garlic schmaltz
  • Gnudi with lamb ragu
  • Lemon chiffon cake with buttermilk poppyseed ice cream
  • Grilled lamb shoulder with chickpea stew sweet potatoes and yogurt sauce
  • Chickpea stew
  • Chickpea stew with honeyed sweet potatoes
  • Duck with brussel sprouts and pea shoots
  • Snapper with cucumber buttermilk sauce and pickled cucumbers

Chronicles of a Dinner Party

IMG_7750After helping my mom host dozens of dinner parties over the past 10, I decided that since I am a man now (just turned 18) it was time I hosted my own. The plan came together about 11:30 the day of the event. I sent a group text to a couple friends telling them dinner was at 9pm and to dress classy. As I sat through my last class of the day hundreds of ideas for the menu ran through my mind. I wanted to do bread, a salad, an entree, a side and a dessert and I wanted it to be a cohesive meal. When I got home, I quickly shuffled through a few of my favorite cookbooks and finally put together a cohesive menu. The theme I settled on was Mediterranean IMG_7785and I would be making rosemary foccacia bread, fennel salad, roasted chicken with orange, North African chickpeas with sweet potatoes, and red velvet cake (not Mediterranean, but my favorite and possibly best desert).

Armed with a grocery list and a wad of cash I set out to the grocery store at about 1:00, T-8 hours until dinner. I got home at about 3:00 and quickly started on the foccacia. Focaccia is is wonderful light spongy Italian bread that traditionally has olive oil, salt, and rosemary drizzled over the top of it. While the foccacia was resting, I quickly whipped up my red IMG_7740velvet cake. If there is one thing that working at Boltwood has taught me, it is how to multitask. When having a dinner party, multitasking is key. What I find helpful to do is write down what needs to be accomplished and how long everything takes. Then you can block your cooking.

By 5:00 pm, I had my cake done, my focaccia rising for the second time, and my sweet potatoes boiling in a pot with some honey and butter. I was on schedule, but a wall of exhaustion just hit me. Who knew a dinner party would be this much work? Thankfully, a few of the girls offered to come by around 7 pm and help me out with the final push. Having your guests come early to a dinner party and cooking a little IMG_7744is a great way to have fun and get them involved.

As 7:00 rolled around I had just finished prepping a few things for the chickpea side dish, put my chickens in the oven and sat down for the first time all day. Of course, just as I sat down the girls rang the doorbell. We had 3 things left to do, the side dish, the salad, and the frosting. Taking a cue from head chef of Boltwood Brian Huston, I delegated some tasks and then moved around overseeing and jumping in to do a few things. The girls especially liked piping the frosting on the cake, and basting the chicken. It was really fun cooking with my friends, and relieving to have a little help with the final push.

My house was filled with exotic scent of a North African spice market by 9:00 pm when the timer for the chicken went off, perfectly on time. As I pulled out my chickens and plated everything relief and pride washed over me. I had successfully, planned, and hosted my first dinner party. When the entire spread was out on the table it looked like a Mediterranean Thanksgiving and I was overjoyed to see all my friend’s eyes widen at the sight of the food I had prepared.

The chicken was wonderfully moist and IMG_7786dripping with tangy juice. The bread was pillowy and herbal. The chickpeas and potatoes were my favorite part of the meal. Cooked in a spiced tomato sauce, they were bursting with flavor ranging from sweet, to warm and spicy. The salad had that refreshing aspect that tied together the rest of the plate. As for the cake, it was sinfully delicious beyond words.

Like it has always done for me in the past, food brought me together with the people I care about. That is the true beauty of food. Over dinner we talked, we laughed, and IMG_7800we enjoyed the food together. At the end of the night when everyone had left, I stood alone at the center of my kitchen. It looked like a hurricane had been through and I was not looking forward to cleaning up, but there was something surreal about standing there; I can’t really describe how I felt, but it was warm and it was a happy feeling. My first dinner party set a high standard for the hundreds more I plan to host throughout my life, and will be a day I remember forever.

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