Friday, March 26, 2010

The Best Part of Easter

Some may argue that the best part of Easter is perhaps getting a new Spring outfit. Kids will say it is the Easter Bunny. Others who are more pious will let everyone know very silently that it is their worship. For is the window displays! More specifically? Candy store window displays.

When I was growing up my father would take us to San Fransisco, CA for Spring shopping. We would stay on Union Square, the hub of shopping in the 1980's. More than shopping I would gander, drool, and dream over the window displays. One such gourmet store at the time was a new little store on Nob Hill called....Williams-Sonoma. Ever heard of it?

Last year I was able to go to Paris just before Easter. As I suspected, the candy store windows were decked out in chocolate bunnies, eggs, and baskets. One little window that caught my eye was a store near my hotel. What really made me laugh was this little egg cup that included a little "chapeau".

I even walked into the "confiserie" with my sister and niece wanting to buy something of Easter. But, while waiting I talked myself out of it. Why?!

Look at this little guy on a bike? He is just too cute to eat. I should have bought it for my boys! Should-a, would-a, could-a....didn't. Sigh.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Orange Lavander Chicken

One of my favorite herbs is lavender. With it's pillow like soft flowers and the lace-like silver leaves it gives a sense of calm to my soul. I mean, what other herb has it's own color named after it? LAVENDER. It is even more than the way it looks though. The smell lends thoughts of a relaxing bath. It smells fresh right after the rain, and I love the earthy sweet taste when it is in Provencal dishes.
A yummy recipe that I make often uses chicken, orange juice and lavender. Herbs de Provence is the star of the show in this tasty meal. The french herb blend has sweet fennel, thyme and the purple french lavender flower buds. It is one of my favorites, and I hope you enjoy it too.
Orange Lavender Chicken
6-8 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 onion, sliced
1/2 can frozen orange juice
1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp herbs de Provence
Salt and pepper the chicken thighs. Place in a shallow buttered casserole dish. Place the onion over the top of the thighs. Mix the orange juice and the wine together. Pour over the chicken and onion. Sprinkle the herbs de Provence over the chicken, squeezing the herbs to release their natural oils. Cover with foil, and Bake in a 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook for another 15 or 20 minutes. Serve with rice.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Just The French Way

One of the most alluring things about Paris, and I can imagine that most would agree, is the magnificent cuisine. It is not fair to merely call it food. There, it seems to be the eb and flow of life. The daily ritual of waiting in line to get a fresh baguette in the morning or the leisurely lunch at a side street cafe speaks to the Parisian way of life. Whether it be a tiny crock of yogurt or a splendid plat du jour, it is always cuisine. This is just the French way.

I grew up in a home where there was "just the French way." Food was not just food. And that especially applied to cheese. You see, my father's mother was French. Her parents had met on a dairy farm just outside of Paris. I am inclined to say that there just may be something in the genetic structure for the love of cheese, for my father was simply a cheese snob. Rightfully so, I guess, for the grandson of a French dairy farmer.

There was a ritual that took place when it came to cheese. My father would carefully buy his cheese at the local gourmet market; sniffing, touching and tasting before the grand selection. It was always imported, thus making it a small piece of stinky treasure. Nobody, but NOBODY was allowed to touch his cheese. And even more sacred than the cheese was his cheese slicer which had a sleek olive wood handle. Slicing always took place sitting down at the kitchen table, each slice carefully shaved off from the top if it were a hard cheese and down the sides if were a soft cheese. Father always would know if someone had snuck into the cheese because he wrapped it so carefully, and he sliced it with precision. And, if ever for some reason his cheese slicer went missing, or even worse ended up in the dish might as well be to the guillotine with you!

As I got older I grew to appreciate my father's love for good cheese. Some of my favorite memories as an adult were spent sharing slices of brie and talking about life. Now that I have my own family, I have a little boy who loves cheese; imported cheese. Every time I make my little guy a sandwich with munster or boursin I wonder what grand-pere Jean Pierre would think about his great great grandson learning to love cheese in "just the French way."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Paris Flower Market

It has been exactly a year since I had great fun going to Paris with my sister and niece. I feel a little nostalgic because this year my mother, sister and nephew are about to fly off to Paris for their own adventure. As it is my tenth anniversary this year, I am stealing away somewhere special with my sweetheart alone. With that being said, I thought it would be fitting to write about some of my favorite experiences from the "City of Lights" One special time was going to the flower market on the Ile de Cite just behind Notre Dame. The market is opened 6 days a week, and then on Sunday it turns into a bird market. How fun is that? The flower market is very easy to get to. The island has one metro station, "Cite", that comes up right in the midst of the flowers.
There are many different kinds of items to buy at the market. Whether it be fresh cut flowers, potted plants, lovely herbs, or a variety of garden objects, your heart will skip a beat just walking up and down the rows of vendors.
Although I could not buy a potted plant, I was able to get some beautiful fresh flowers and a vase to make my cute hotel from the 1400's look cozy and elegant. There were larger items that I would have loved to bring back, but alas they would not have fit in my luggage.
Just look at these precious busts and angels. There were mirrors, bells, marionettes and birdhouses. Seeds and bulbs, pots, clocks, and weather devices. Every inch was a treat indeed. I miss the Spring, and I miss my Paris.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Mother's Tarts

When I was a little girl my mother took her first trip to Paris. What she brought back was something that she, as well as I, would long treasure. In fact, what she stowed in her bags did indeed look like treasure. At least it did to me as a young child. The precious cargo was two small metal boxes of tiny tart tins. It may not sound that precious in this day and age of Williams- Sonoma and Sur la Table, but when I was growing up gourmet stores were few and far between. The box was lavishly decorated with pictures of miniature tarts filled with custard and fruits. Just looking at the box made you eager to open the lid and begin to cook. Shaking it was fun too, hearing all the tins clank like a tambourine. For years the box was kept on the first shelf above the kitchen counter where little fingers could not grab it. As the years passed the box was moved to the middle shelf and eventually to the top shelf; always out of reach no matter how old I was.
The tins appeared only a couple times during the year. They were always part of the Holiday cooking in the Winter, and sometimes they were used in the Spring if my mother made them for a baby shower or a wedding. The box from France did not come with instructions or recipes for making your very own tiny tarts. It was my genius mother who came up with the recipe....which till today remains a SECRET. Shhhhh... Many have tried to pull the recipe out from my sweet mother's lips. She is so nice that she could not say, "NO!" Instead she would smile and then conveniently forget about the request. There was, however, a very persistent woman in our church who asked for this recipe it seemed for 20 years! Smiling only works for so long, and smiling at this particular woman was very hard indeed. My mother finally gave her a recipe. Yes, she gave her a recipe....the wrong recipe. I am not sure what the silly lady thought she was going to do with this recipe absent of fancy tart tins. I always fantasized that she would sell our secret to someone and make a profit. Not with the wrong recipe though! Boy was she ever mad!

I can tell you that the shell was something much like a short bread. My mother's fillings included pecan caramel, lemon curd, and hazelnut cream. The pecan caramel was my favorite, and my mother made them for my wedding. Now,whenever I go home to visit I open the cabinet to look up at the treasure. There is only one box now. My mother presented me with the other box several years ago, and I placed them on a shelf far from the little fingers in my house.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Seed Factor

I have to admit that I am a seed freak. I am not talking about eating sesame or sunflower seeds. For me it is all about those little things you plant in the ground. I am not discriminating to what seed it is. It could be herb, vegetable, fruit or flower. It never ceases to amaze me how there can be life inside a tiny shell; just plant,water & give light.....and love. Yesterday I got my catalog from The Cooks Garden. It is one of my favorite seed catalogs. Not only are there beautiful vegetable seeds, but they have great gardening tools, books and recipes too. The variety of seeds is unique, and they give a little origin of those that are heirloom. For instance, did you know that purple carrots were the first carrot ever known to man, and it originates in Afghanistan? How about some of our tomatoes? They have come from Russia and Germany. Some lettuces have come from Hungry. It is just amazing! Below is a tiny heirloom strawberry about to shed it's bloom.

A seed website that is a favorite is Renee's Garden Seeds out of Carmel, California. You can often find the beautiful seed packets that have water colors on them at specialty garden centers or sometimes Whole Foods. Ordering off the Internet is a snap though. The variety of alyssum is breath taking, and when you plant them the smell takes you to another place. "Gulf Winds" is my favorite.
One of my favorite books is about seeds. Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris features a character who saves rare seeds, and passes on his love for gardening to a young boy. When he dies the young man inherits his collection, moves to Provence and starts a magical farm filled with long forgotten vegetables. That is my kind of dream!
In 2008 I read a riveting article in the Washington Post about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is an ice cave in Norway where precious seeds from all over the world are being saved in case of a "doomsday" event. There will be wheat, barley, and other essential food seeds to help feed our planet after a global crisis. Sounds like something right out of a Ray Bradbury book. Nevertheless, a very viable argument can be made for saving the world's recourses.
Whatever the case may be, saving the world can be left to the pros. I, on the other hand, still love to collect seeds. Seeds of wonder. Varieties that long to burst from their shells. Seeds that aim to please with taste, smell, or sight. I love them all, and secretly stow a pack or two in my cart as I pass by a stand in the store. Maybe I will use them, or maybe I will just look and wonder, "what would happen if I planted this?"