29 April, 2009
28 April, 2009
She asked me what kind of bee that was, with his fuzzy golden jacket, working among the rosemary blossoms. I didn't know; do you? I get the last shot, though: this is what my eight-year-old photographer gathered from the field. Purple and white clover, Queen Anne's lace, and sage. And other blossoms I can't identify. The flowers are sitting on the kitchen table now, while I rifle through my cookbooks for a spring dessert that measures up to her bouquet. It's too early for strawberries (from my garden anyway--the supermarket's been full of the Spanish ones for some time now). How about a delicate, rosemary-infused crème brûlée? Something to lure both bees and people into the kitchen...Thank you, Clotilde Dusoulier! You can also find the recipe online, in her website's recipe archives. Just click on her name...
20 April, 2009
On the tollway, Montpellier--the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region--is rather quickly followed by Narbonne, a sleepy spread of a city. The magnificent (unfinished) thirteenth century cathedral rises out of the small city like a surfacing dream. You could stop for a stretch and wander, but I'd save myself for a real break just down the highway in Perpignan. Dining choices abound in Perpignan, but look for someplace charming in the old center, such as cosy, old-school Les Antiquaires on Place Desprès. The food and the quartier, or neighborhood, won't disappoint.At Perpignan, you forsake the highway and its views of the mighty Pyrenées mountains for the little D914, still winding southward. Take a deep breath (because now the holiday really begins). You are entering true Catalan territory, French-speaking still, but with a distinctly Spanish-inflected style. Along this bit of road, you are taken to the vertiginous edge of the Vermilion Coast, but then here even the vineyards are tucked into the very sea-edge (as in the photo below), and if you're anything like me, you come for the open spaces, dramatic views--and wine. Apparently others come for the nude beaches.
15 April, 2009
This will be on Versailles-based, French-born and bred Phoenix's fifth album.
I'm afraid there isn't an actual video yet, but perhaps they'll have something after the album is released in May. In the meantime, you can download this song for free at their site, and check out another fun song here. This time, there is a video, and it features some cool shots of French places--recognize any? Oh, please don't forget to click on the little HQ for the sharpest image.
One last question: what drink do you pour when this sound's coming out of the speakers? An anisette or a Kir Royale?
14 April, 2009
Detail from the massive gothic fortress, Palais des Papes.
Clotheswise, if you aren't yet among the converted, try Du Pareil au Meme (DPAM) for kid's clothes only; they have a small shop, very centrally located on Avenue de la Republique in Avignon--think fun, clever and above all inexpensive. Also consider Petit Bateau--soft, soft cotton clothes (for kids and their harried mothers).
Now think of the following as a rough, visual poem to this charming old city. Try deep breathing if you find yourself thinking about the taggers who gleefully deface both newer and older buildings.
Oh, and one last tip: as with so many places in the south of France, you'll love it most in the shoulder season--spring and autumn (avoid the mistral).
The popes spent nearly a century in Avignon; I guess they liked it too.
11 April, 2009
Where I live now there are no streetlights and I'm a good distance from any suggestion of light pollution caused by hamlet, village or city. Nights remain shockingly bright here, however. Everything casts its own clear, bright shadow. This is, of course, most pronounced when there is a full moon, as now. By the light of the full moon I can sit in my windowsill and read a book (please don't tell my eye doctor).
I leave my shutters open at night, so the moon casts its blue light onto the tiles of my bedroom floor. Six glowing parallelograms, one for each windowpane. This is another giveaway that I am not French: every single French person I know, city dweller or not, religiously closes their shutters at night; it is as much a night-time ritual as brushing one's teeth. They then find themselves in a darkness not far removed from my childhood Kinshasa nights. The French do have science on their side: people are said to have a better quality of sleep the less light there is, as light is a powerful stimulant (whether we consciously realize it or not).
But I can't bring myself to close the shutters. I like the impression of heightened awareness brought on by the blue-hued moonlight. You only have to take a walk once in such a light to understand. Preferably after a generous snowfall, and on a full stomach.
Perhaps it helps to be a confirmed "night-owl", but I don't think so.
Update: Would you like the recipe of above-mentioned rich dessert? This recipe was given to me by a friend; let me know how it turns out for you.
The recipe is awfully wordy, but I'm describing everything so that this could even be your "oh my god first time ever from scratch" tart. And yes, making the crust is worth the palaver, because it comes out nicely shortbread-ish. The filling takes all of a minute to put together. The only truly hard bit is remembering to get enough lemons and eggs...
Lemon Tart/Tarte au Citron
Make the pastry first, as it needs to rest in the refrigerator for an hour before being placed in the pan, which should be 23-26 cm wide.
125 g butter, softened and chopped roughly (about 1 stick)
125 g superfine sugar
250 g fine/cake flour
pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon (no white pith)
2 eggs and 1 yolk
Toss chopped up butter and sugar into a bowl. Use a wooden spoon to mix the two together, smashing up the larger bits of butter. Once the sugar is fairly well incorporated into the butter, add all the remaining ingredients, except for the eggs. Combine using your hands, rubbing your fingers together and trying for a somewhat homogenous mixture. Now add the eggs, one at a time, and again with your hands, gently work the mixture until it becomes dough-like. Don't give up, just a few minutes more! If you need to, add a bit of flour if it seems too wet, or a few drops of cold water if it seems too crumbly. Flatten the dough into a disk (the flatter and rounder the easier it is later), wrap in plastic and allow to rest.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Once it has had its nap, roll the dough out on a floured surface, pinching together the bits that start cracking. The dough'll need to be a good 5-6 cm larger than the tart pan you want to use. Gently loosen the dough from the rolling surface, sliding a very thin spatula or knife between the dough and the counter. You can partly roll it onto the rolling pin to make lifting it into the pan easier. Fit it evenly into the pan, pressing out any air bubbles. The tart needs to be half-baked, blind, which means filling the crust-filled pan with waxed paper or foil, then filling the paper/foil to the brim with dry beans, rice or other pie weights, which will keep the dough from rising. Slide this filled pan into the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges brown a bit. Take it out, remove the foil and beans, and put the crust back in the oven for just long enough to allow the crust to dry out without excessively browning or rising. Remove from the oven once again.
180 g superfine sugar
juice of 3 organic lemons
finely grated zest of 2 organic lemons (no white pith)
300 ml cream
4 eggs and 2/3 yolks (depending on how lavish you feel like being)
Whisk the sugar, lemon juice, zest and cream together in a bowl, dissolving the sugar. Add the eggs, whisking after each addition. Position the half-baked crust safely near the oven, and pour the very liquid filling into it. Open the oven door and very, very gently slide the wobbly tart in. Bake for about 25 to 35 minutes (depends on your oven). Mine was a bit browner than I would have liked, but I was distracted by the kids, who were decorating their Easter eggs. Once it seems lightly set (i.e. no longer so liquid) when you gently move the pan, take it out of the oven.
I served it at room temperature (but it can also be chilled), with a glass of Banyuls Ravaner, a fairly dry dessert wine from the coast, near the Spanish border.
03 April, 2009
Kierkegaard's voice kept running through my head (craggy and precise and somehow northern-inflected, according to my brain which apparently could suddenly understand Danish): life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Unquote. It is not always the easiest equilibrium to maintain, both forward- and backward-looking. And then you have to remember to exhale.
Sometimes it is easier to have an animated conversation with my erudite, fourth--and last--generation butcher (the Friday one, because I split my carnivorous loyalties). We talked about the contemporary art scene today, which is what one can do when the butcher's son owns one of the most prestigious contemporary art galleries in Paris (check out Pierre Alain Challier's eponymous space the next time you find yourself in the ville de lumière). I managed to be aware, throughout our chat, of the delicate tones of classical music coming out of the little stereo tucked next to the refrigerated cabinet.
When that was over, I distracted myself from my Kierkegaard distraction by scrutinizing the trout, who must be at least dimly aware of the sorry state of their affairs as they swim the length of the truck/aquarium. The concave man who brings them to market then kills them has a bowl hair-cut straight from the Middle Ages.
All this happened while getting provisions for the weekend. Maybe I shouldn't have begun with that noisette at the corner cafe.
02 April, 2009
While I was gone, nothing stopped (oddly enough): Spring is bursting out all over in an excess of passion. I'm celebrating being back home by having a cup of tea, made with a sprig of fresh lemon verbena from the garden and a smidge of dark, thick pine honey from my beekeeper neighbor. Lemon verbena, or aloysia triphylla, is a native of Chile and Peru, but can grow happily in lots of conditions. It is such a great plant to have, whether in a pot or in the ground, where it can reach rather massive proportions. It has loads of culinary uses beyond tea (the dried leaves retain their scent a very long time), but just infusing it--dried or fresh--comes pretty high on my list. With its strong lemony scent, it manages to be both relaxing and uplifting. It's a good anti-coffee, for when you feel like a break from the caffeine. Wander into your local nursery, and leave with one of these spiky-leaved, pale green plants. They're generous.
*The seminar was given by Judith, whose Living with Yoga makes for a great read. Seeing her in person is even better (she teaches internationally). At the seminar: "The ability to be ambivalent is a sign of health." Hmm. If so, I'm rolling in the good stuff. City energy or country space? Coffee or lemon verbena? The fortunate manage to get a taste of both.