Is there anything that smells more like summertime than fresh basil?
Except maybe tomato vines, or cilantro? Or fresh cut grass…
But basil is right up there at the top of my favorites, so I picked up a big bunch of it at the farmers’ market the other day. It doesn’t last long, once picked, so you’d better figure out something to do with it, and quick. You can only do so much with it fresh before it’s no good anymore. And so, as I usually do in the summer, I made pesto.
I love to make pesto. I understand perfectly well that pesto can be made from anything. That it’s not limited to basil or a certain kind of nuts, or really anything. But I like for it to taste a certain way that is familiar to me and sort of comforting. One of my familiar tastes of summer.
Here’s what I do: I pick the leaves from a bunch of basil and rinse them, then I bring a pot of water to boiling. When it’s boiling, I add the leaves and wait for the water to return to boiling, then let them boil for about a minute. I quickly remove them from the heat, turn them into a colander, and run cold water on them to stop the cooking. This keeps them nice and green in your sauce. Drain the water well (and by this, I mean get your hands in there and squish it out). In your food processor, add several cloves of garlic (this is an art, not a science, people. You have to make it taste like you like. But I do about 3), some good quality parmesan (though I usually go for domestic because it’s much less expensive per pound. Save the good imported Italian stuff for when you are eating it straight with a nice red wine and can savor those little crunchy crystals…). Chop those up nicely in your food processor, then add some pecans and do the same. Next, add the basil, then a little sea salt. Now, the fun part: while your food processor is running, pour in olive oil until this chunky mixture turns into a lovely paste. One you can envision smearing onto a baguette and then toasting. Or onto chicken thighs as they are roasting. Or, my favorite: mixing into a batch of roasted zucchini, summer squash, and maybe peppers… heaven. Take that pesto/vegetable mixture and heap it onto a pile of cool, crunchy Romaine for an amazing summer salad.
To recap the ingredients:
Yes, that’s it.
Add a chilled Rose wine, and as far as I’m concerned, you have summertime, in its essence, on your table.
La vie est bonne.
* You’re going to have a lot of pesto, but that’s okay. Buy those little tiny mason jars that are so cute, and that you’ve seen and yet wondered what on earth you could possibly do with them. The pesto that you do not eat immediately will freeze beautifully in these tiny jars, topped with a thin layer of olive oil. This will keep a long time in your freezer, and will allow you to remember what summertime tasted like, even in January when you think that it will never be summer again.
Translation: Summer has arrived. And for me that means fresh vegetables, in abundance. I think that this is my favorite time of year to cook! Until autumn arrives and I get to pull out my Le Creuset and make a beef bourguignon again… But for now, this is my favorite time of year to cook! Last night’s dinner consisted of sauteed zucchini and squash, with a little onion and garlic and bell pepper, finished off with with fresh thyme and basil from the garden. Served over quinoa with a generous amount of parmesan, with a salad of cucumbers still warm from my mom’s garden, tomato, and goat cheese with olive oil. I really don’t need anything else (though I’m certain that my Texas family were wondering where the meat was). Heaven.
We followed all that with a fresh blackberry cobbler; I was actually going for a clafoutis-type dessert, but I don’t think I quite achieved it in this gluten free version. I will have to try again- less flour, more egg. But it was delicious nonetheless. I should have taken a picture, but I didn’t have time. It didn’t last that long.
Fresh zucchini and blackberry cobbler? Yes, summer has indeed arrived. I’m ready for my travels to be over for a while so I can get to our local farmers’ market and get into my kitchen! My vagabond soul is actually ready to settle in for a few weeks!
And now, for a complete change of pace: The west coast! Because Europe can grow so tiresome (just kidding). And because Atlanta this time of year is so bloody hot and humid (not kidding about that).
Either that, or the Pilot had a trip out there and the kids were at camp or at grandmother’s all week, and I got to tag along.
I adore my kids, but even the most dedicated mom among us must get a break every once in a while. And that is what I got last week: The chance to relax, or at least relax as much as I can when flying across the country to a vibrant and fascinating city like Seattle. Truthfully, it wasn’t so relaxing at all, tagging along and flying on every trip that my husband flew. As it turns out, aircrew work really hard; who knew it was’t all just glamorous? But it was a lot of fun! I can’t just hang around in a hotel room sleeping when I’m in a place like Seattle!!
You see, Seattle has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Years ago, my husband and I honeymooned out there, not in Seattle, but on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. A few times, we came into the city by ferry to have dinner or to shop for food at Pike’s Place market. Also, later in our marriage, he was stationed at Whidbey Island for 6 months and the kids and I came out and visited for weeks at a time. While he hurried up and waited through Navy training, we ate raspberries and Rainier cherries and played at the playground in the 70 degree sunshine, and spent hours searching for treasures on the beaches… there are so many treasures on beaches when you are 5 and 7…
This time, however, we were right in downtown Seattle, and I got to experience this city the way that it is best seen: on foot.
I do love a walking city, and in my opinion, Seattle is one of the best you can find in the US. Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to New York or Boston, and I remember that they are both indeed wonderful places, but there is something almost magical, at least to me, about this city by the water. It’s almost always cool and misty, which is fine by me since I am a boots/tights/sweaters kind of girl, and you get not only the beauty of the ocean* but the beauty of the mountains as well. Or, at least, sometimes you get the beauty of the mountains. One mountain in particular, anyway: Mt. Rainier. I got the pleasure of seeing that rather astonishing volcanic mountain in all its glory on the crystal clear day of our arrival in Seattle. How could you miss it? It looms over the city, all 14,410 feet of it.
Ah, but you can miss it. In fact, I’d even say that most of the time, you will miss it. Crystal clear days in Seattle, as everyone knows, are few and far between. So when the ranges of the Cascades are in view, along with the spectacular Rainier, take a good look, and take photographs. I made the mistake of not doing so, of taking for granted that I would be able to take pictures the next day, and I was wrong: the day of our arrival was the only sunny day we had the entire week that we were in and out of Seattle! Lucky for me, I got some gorgeous shots from the plane window as we were descending into the city. And even luckier for me, I was also able to see Mt. Lassen, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and of course Rainier- all the way down into California. Unbelievable.
But back to the wonders of Seattle. We made a point of walking as much of it as we could, and though our mileage was not on par with my recent trip to London and Paris, we did cover some distance. We visited Pike Place Market, which is de rigeur for a trip to Seattle. I took pictures of food. How could I help it, when Rainier cherries are in season? And while I was taunted by delicious smelling bakeries that are now off-limits for me, some brilliant person had the idea of opening a stand that sells a variety of flavors of full-fat, delicious Greek yogurt. I had lemon curd (could someone please open such a stand in Atlanta?) And of course we saw the guys who throw fish around; I almost got sprayed by a shower of ice from a flying salmon. But they do in fact sell it as well as throw it, which I must confess gave me a moment of longing for a kitchen.
Of course, there’s some pretty spectacular people watching here as well. I know that grunge is technically over, but people still aren’t afraid to express, well, something. I’m not sure what, exactly, but it is interesting and I like seeing it. And then, inviting little boutiques are on every corner in the Belltown area, along with all the handmade offerings at the nearby Pike Place Market. I came across a hand-sewn hat that I just might have to have one day- darling but also waterproof. I wish I’d had that while I was in England! Look good AND keep dry- what a great idea! And oh, the handpainted silk scarves and hand-crocheted sweaters and artist-made clocks, purses, you name it- this is the kind of shopping I like. Plus, it’s good to support local artists, right?
And of course, we ate well here. It’s a common theme with me, you may notice. I don’t eat much seafood while home in Atlanta, Georgia coast shrimp being an occasional exception, but when I’m in the Pacific Northwest, I make a point of eating as much of it as possible. There’s just nothing like fresh salmon, salmon that’s never been frozen or taken a ride on an airplane.
But I only thought the fish was the most fresh and amazing of any place in the country here in Seattle. I thought that before I went to Juneau, Alaska, which is the entire reason that we were here in Seattle in the first place: it’s a great place to start when you’re flying to Alaska.
* Yes, I realize that the water near Seattle is technically a sound, the Puget, to be exact. But to this landlocked Atlanta resident/Texas native, it feels an awful lot like the ocean.
Usually, travel to France for me revolves to some extent around mealtime: the planning of the meal, the anticipation of the meal, purchasing food for the meal or choosing the restaurant, and of course, enjoying the meal. A little obsessed, perhaps. I’ll admit it. But, traveling with a packed schedule and staying in hotels, as well as traveling with a group that consisted largely of teenagers whose gourmet tastes ran towards the latest iced beverage offering by Starbucks, meant that for the most part we really did not eat well. Oh, how I hope that the adults in our group who have never been to France before do not judge French food by the odd assortment of brasseries that we dined in! (Dear friends, please go back and try Cafe Constant, please?) And to make matters even worse, my recent very necessary tightening of the gluten restrictions meant that patisseries and boulangeries were out of the question as well!
What??? France without a single good restaurant and no pain au chocolat? France without a kitchen? Quelle horreur.
But there was still wine and cheese. Thank God for wine and cheese. And olives, and red currants, and all of the other beautifully fresh offerings on hand at that most divine destination of food lovers in France: the open air market.
Now, it’s not quite the same, going to a market when you’re staying in a hotel, not a house, meaning that you have no kitchen to bring things back to, and no refrigerator to store the ridiculous amount of cheese that you’ve just purchased. But, looking is free, and (almost) as enjoyable. And I did get that darling sun hat and hot pink blouse, which by fabulous luck was a perfect fit even without trying it on…
The market at St. Honoré is hands-down my favorite market around. And I’ve tried lots of them, so I should know.
Today was market day in our town, Moulins-Engilbert. Our town is the center for Charolais cows and all that concerns them, and the market here is very interesting and quite nice as well. But really, I prefer for my markets to be all about food. All the clothing and stuff just get in the way of what I’m really there for.
And that is cheese.
And other foods too, yes. But cheese… I’m starting to dream of all things fromage these days, and beginning to worry as well, as our return to the US becomes imminent. What will I do with no access to époisses affiné? Or mont d’or? I’m not really sure.
So today, I took a few pictures of my favorite cheese stand as well as a few other vendors, in order to help with withdrawals or when I start missing cheese too much. At least I can revisit these photographs and smile fondly…
But there are other things to remember about this market as well. After all, it was here that I picked up my turkey extraordinaire for this year’s Thanksgiving feast. And there’s also the cheerful lady who sells wonderful fresh vegetables. Oh, and the lady who brings her truck in with a few selected fresh chickens or guinea fowl, and fresh eggs. I got a chicken from her one week, and it was pretty fantastic. No, the market at St. Honoré doesn’t have any of the extras like wool socks or tablecloths, but I think that it’s the simplicity of it that makes me like it so much. I can walk right up to my favorite stands without having to wade through loads of traffic or being pestered to buy cough drops to help vaccinate circus animals (and how can you say no to that?) Nope. Just food, and the best of it, at that. Of course, I still haven’t managed to take any photos- it’s just too intense for me when I’m here and I am on a MISSION, which is probably the reason my children no longer want to come with me to this one. Lucky for me, though, some of my favorite vendors were at our town’s market today, and I was able to get a few good shots in spite of the near freezing weather and nasty mix of rain and snow. Mostly of cheese…
Then once we get this stuff from this lovely market home? Well, my 9 year old has decided he really likes to cook. He has proclaimed himself in charge of chopping ALL vegetables, which slows things down a bit but is so worth it! He’s become quite good at caramelizing onions, and loves to deglaze a pan for a sauce. Eggs are truly his forte as well as his favorite thing both to make and to eat, but he excels at spaghetti carbonara as well. It’s such fun to see him applying his typical intensity to getting the mushroom sauce just right.
And thus my homegrown French immersion course has expanded to include cooking classes as well! This is working out quite well for me, I’d say.
To further your cheese education (and I’m all about a good education!): http://www.lafromagerie.co.uk/epoisses-affine/
And this one: http://www.pongcheese.co.uk/shop/vacherin-mont-dor.html If you are a cheese lover, then you truly haven’t lived till you’ve put a Mont d’or, in its little wooden box, into the oven for 15 minutes and then dipped some nice crusty baguette into it.
Yes, I know that the French don’t celebrate this completely American holiday. Well, mostly American- the Canadians, I recall from living there, have their own version that comes in October, but in any case the French do not. But, we had to have our Thanksgiving celebration, and I have to say that we had a lot of fun putting this together over here. We had a somewhat full house- unfortunately, part of the guests that we had for the week had to return to Paris so that they could get to the airport in time, but one of our guests was able to stay. For me, the more the merrier as far as cooking a meal goes!
I arranged ahead of time with a butcher that I’ve come to trust in order to acquire a turkey- you can get turkey meat here easily, but I’ve never seen an entire turkey at the local butcher shop. So, early Thursday morning, after saying goodbye to one shift of our guests, I headed to St Honore-les-Bains, a tiny little town that doesn’t seem to have much going on except for this fantastic market each week. And I do mean fantastic. So much so that it deserves its own post, which hopefully will come later this week (I keep forgetting to take pictures because I’m so enamored with the food!!!) But last week, just as promised, was the butcher waiting for me with the most perfect turkey I’ve ever had. This turkey had barely even been refrigerated, much less frozen. In other words, I’m fairly certain the unfortunate creature had been ambling about, doing turkey things, only the day before. God bless him for his sacrifice…
After retrieving my turkey, I headed to the vegetable stand for some fresh potatoes, a lovely head of lettuce, some leeks, a handful of brussels sprouts, and some apples for this Alsatian tart recipe that I’ve fallen in love with (it involves creme fraiche, which I’ve concluded that you can add to just about anything to make it amazing). I also picked up some chestnuts for roasting on the fireplace, and of course, more cheese. I’m perfectly well aware that cheese is not part of the typical American Thanksgiving dinner, but after all, I am in France… And oh, the cheeses that this man at the Thursday market has to sell… I actually count him as part of our education here, because each week, he likes to give my children and I samples and teach us a little something about each one! Such fun!
I have to say that this was one of the easier Thanksgiving meals I’ve ever prepared, mostly because I didn’t make any dressing. This was not an oversight or laziness on my part: I am a Texan, and do not consider anything but the cornbread variety of dressing to be an acceptable accompaniment to turkey. I’d rather have nothing than eat or make the bread stuffing, and thus nothing is what we had since I couldn’t get cornmeal. Now, if you’ve made cornbread dressing, you know that it is an involved process that must be begun days in advance, and then takes a considerable amount of time the day of. Not making it made the meal shockingly easy to prepare! I simply roasted the turkey, which by the way did not have his head still on, basting it with a homemade stock every 45 minutes, made a salad, roasted the brussels sprouts with a little olive oil and sea salt, and caramelized the leeks and added a little of that wonder ingredient, creme fraiche. Our guest contributed mashed sweet potatoes, and that was that.
May I say that we achieved turkey perfection? That this was hands down the most deliciously tender and moist turkey I’ve ever tasted? Even without cornbread dressing? I’d like to credit this to my mad cooking skills, but I think, really, that the French are onto something here.
Our search for language-learning opportunities, good food, and educational experiences continues! This week, it took us to Saulieu. This little town was suggested to me by our rather sour part-time neighbor, who only visits from Paris every so often. He’s critical of nearly everything (“At the market in town, you can get food as bad as in the United States!”), but gave rave reviews of the food in Saulieu, in particular a fromagerie and a relais. He was right about the fromagerie, or cheese shop- it was wonderful. The relais, which means “roadside cafe,” was anything but a roadside cafe. It is in fact a very, very expensive, very fancy restaurant, probably with Michelin stars though I didn’t check. He was probably right about this too, but with the least expensive menu beginning at 89 euros per person, it didn’t seem like the place for the kids and I to dine.
Did I mention that this neighbor drives his Porsche in from Paris, where he is in banking? I suspect that we do not have the same budget.
However, his recommendations did get us to Saulieu, which was definitely worth the trip. Burgundy is known for its food, and apparently Saulieu is known for some of the best Burgundy has to offer. The cheese shop was definitely one of those places that is filled with the best of Burgundy. A tiny little space in the center of town, it’s possible that you could follow your nose to find it. My kids, especially my daughter, were not impressed with the smell inside the shop. And I must admit, it was not good. But oh, the cheeses that were inside this tiny place! A variety of different types of chevre, varying from the fresh and white to the ancient and gray-looking (those kind of scare me), filled one side of the shop. In the middle, on a sturdy table, were several large wheels of cheese: an Italian Parmesan, an Emmental, a Comte, a Cantal- it reads like a list of some of my favorites! We sampled a few different cheeses, and ended up buying a small crottin (this translates either as “dung” or “a small round goat cheese”), a slice of Emmental, and a small piece of Cantal. And, I couldn’t resist some fresh farmer-made butter to take home as well…
We also came across a little “epicerie” selling fresh vegetables. I picked up a couple of sweet potatoes and a handful of the best brussel sprouts I’ve ever eaten- I roasted them for nearly an hour with olive oil and sea salt- delicious. Like sweet little brussel sprout french fries… And we found (but did not enter) an amazing looking patisserie. And a toy store. And a sign saying something to the effect of “Napoleon Stayed Here When He Left Elbes.” I think.
And then, we found a beautiful old church surrounded by a cemetery, including a cemetery for soldiers from World War II. I’m always so intrigued and touched by anything concerning World War II here. It happened here, after all, and history where it actually happened fascinates me.
I figured we earned a good lunch after all that walking and history learning. So, though we did not eat at the “Relais”, we ate next door, and had a fabulous meal for the much more reasonable price of around 15 euros. I had a terrine followed by coq au vin, and finished my meal with a cheese plate in keeping with my cheese theme for the day. I was presented with about 7 different choices, and I picked a rather dry chevre with some pretty funky mold growing on the outside, a tomme, and an epoisse affine http://www.cheese-france.com/cheese/epoisses.htm. I probably wouldn’t have chosen this one, but the proprietor suggested it as a specialty of Burgundy and so, well, what could I do? But, it was delicious. Kind of salty, with a melting sort of texture- I can’t believe that I loved it, but I did. Now, it didn’t smell as horrid as the Muenster I had in the Alsace, which I would compare to the odor of rotting flesh, but it did smell rather awful. But oh, so delicious it was!
And between this cheese and the Muenster, I’ve come up with a new rule for living well in France: Don’t smell your cheese before you eat it. You’ll miss out on a lot of good stuff if you do.
What, you might ask, did the kids learn from this crazy day of exploring? Besides a little history where it happened and how to choose a good cheese plate? My daughter received her first compliment on her French. And I am absolutely beside myself with glee.