27 March 2007

A Salmon Supper on a Spring Night

It’s a cool and somewhat damp spring night here in northern Wisconsin. The birds are loud, continuing to jockey for position in the neighborhood. The daylilies are coming up and the snow is completely gone.

Inland, that is. Along the shore, it’s not. The “ice shoves” — those big piles of ice that move slowly towards the shore in March and April — are advancing. They look like fat, lumpy armies of white, coming to get us.

The Great Lakes shipping season is beginning. According to Boatnerd, the site for all things relating to Great Lakes shipping, the Soo Locks were set to open last weekend.

When my father worked on the Peter Reiss, this was a sad time of year for me. He would leave us to join the freighter, flying off to Detroit’s Willow Run Airport. It was tough for a few days, until my mother, my little brother and I fell back into our warmer season routine.

I was restless those first few days. I am restless now, counting down the days until my husband and I can begin our renewed explorations of Paris. Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying posts from Terri from Island Writer, Chris from The French Journal — who were in Paris recently — and Carol from Paris Breakfasts, who is there now.

The pace at work these days is fast and furious, and I am happy to come home and make an easy supper. Two nights ago, I made a simple salmon wrapped in foil, another recipe from the “Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook” from Creative Characters Publishing Group, which was supplied to several bloggers for review.

Just a filet of salmon, some lemon slices, freshly ground pepper and sel de fleur from the Ile of Ré. I added a dash of paprika, too. Bake it in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, even less.

Anything that takes under 40 minutes to prepare on a weeknight is welcome at our house. Sometimes I think simple recipes are the most ingenious.

Update! Tanna from My Kitchen In Half Cups has posted a dessert recipe from "Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook." She's got a photo of the book, which I do not have, mostly because I've enjoyed the book so much it's gotten a bit dog-eared. There's also a tasty treat from Sara at I Like to Cook.

25 March 2007

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Chicken

When my father graduated from high school in 1941, he found work with the Reiss Steamship Co., as a deckhand on the A.M. Byers, a self-unloading freighter on the Great Lakes.

The Japanese had not yet bombed Pearl Harbor, but most people knew it was only a matter of time until the United States went to war.

So it was a time between for my father, who dreamed of other things, possibly a career in history or journalism.

The war intervened, of course, and he joined the Army and went off with the 4th Infantry’s combat engineers unit to land at Utah Beach and forge his way into France and Germany.

He got into the restaurant business after the war ended, but years later, as a young father, went off to “work on the lakes” again, this time as second cook on the Peter Reiss, another self-unloading coal freighter. That must have been a lonely time for my father. I missed him terribly, and recall the day I played my 45 of "The Poor People of Paris" over and over again because it had been a gift from him.

Working on the lakes meant being away from your family from late March until December. But the pay and the benefits were excellent. Winter homecomings were something we began looking forward to in fall, when the first of the boxes from fancy Detroit department stores began to arrive.

So when Mary aka Breadchick from The Sour Dough contacted me about reviewing “Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook” for a Cookbook Spotlight Event, I agreed, seeing an easy fit with this blog.

The book’s publisher, Creative Characters Publishing Group, supplied the cookbook. I will be featuring several recipes from the book over the next few weeks as the 2007 shipping season gets underway.

Since my husband is a boat designer by profession, I saw a fit there, too.

The book is full of good food but many of the recipes are designed to feed a crowd; I generally cook for no more than four people at a time. This would be a good cookbook for anyone who cooks down-home food for large church or school groups or special events. It's perfect for a restaurant chef, too,someone looking to create unpretentious, but still stylish menus.

Today was the first Sunday of spring and we invited my mother for dinner. I prepared a Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Chicken that was tasty and melted in our mouths. I have never tasted such tender chicken. I served it with roast pepper-and-zucchini medley.

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Chicken
  • 1 5-6 pound roasting chicken
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 8 medium red onions, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 2 whole garlic heads
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450. Remove and discard giblets and chicken neck. Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry. Loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers and gently pushing between the skin and the meat. Place chopped rosemary and crushed garlic under skin. Lift the wing tips up and over the back, tucking under the chicken.

Place chicken breast side up in broiler pan. Trim ends of onions and remove papery skins from garlic. Do not peel or separate cloves. Brush onions and garlic with oil and arrange around chicken. I tucked in some rosemary, too.

Bake at 450 for 30 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 degrees and bake for another hour and 15 minutes or until chicken reaches 180 degrees.

We loved it and will do it again soon. This particular recipe is from the M.V. Paul R. Tregurtha, a coal boat. John R. Duning is head cook.

But first, a few more recipes from the Great Lakes. What next? There's everything from Lobster Bisque to Rotini with Fresh Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan.

21 March 2007

A Mystery, a Memento and a Spring Salad

Among my father’s mementoes of World War II is a yellowed and tattered calling card.

My mother always believed it held the names of the people with whom my father might have stayed while in Paris in August 1944; it certainly must have been a couple he befriended, as he was friendly and charming as a young man.

The last time my husband and I went to Paris, my mother could not put her hands on the card and did not recall the address. But my niece has a WWII project and together they were rifling through the family archives.

The card reads “Mme. and Mr. Pierre Harel.” It gives their address as 23, Avenue Foch in Vincennes-Seine.

Thanks to Google maps, I found such an address near (but not in) Vincennes, one in Paris and about five other Avenue Fochs in Ile de France.

I will never know, unless I chance upon a 1944 phone book, which one it was.

I do know that American writer Henry Adams stayed at 23 Avenue Foch in Paris. (Thanks to Google, I know that.)

But I don’t know who the Harels were or what the card means. (The card is pictured above set against one of my father’s toques, in a box for a quarter century now, still neatly starched but growing fragile.)

I was pondering this mystery as I prepared a simple salad today. It was cool and damp outside and I could hear the lilting songs of finches and other birds as I worked. Spring!

It’s mid-week and I’m trying not to overspend on groceries. So tossing something together from odds and ends was my intention. I made a Caesar Salad from leftover red leaf Romaine and butter lettuce and then topped it with roasted asparagus.

Very simple, very springy. I ate it with a hunk of jack cheese rolled in chives and dill.

My father once told me you could make a meal of anything if you were inventive. He could do that, and his hands were deft as he invented something for us.

"You will never be hungry if you learn this," he told me.

Once when his combat engineer unit was hungry, they scrounged for dried vegetables in a barn, somewhere in France perhaps or in Germany. My father liked to retell those stories and relished the challenge of making a meal from very little.

19 March 2007

Chicken Salad with Oranges and Olives

From 2007: When I was a kid, Sunday afternoons in winter were dedicated to plopping myself down on the couch in the den (the room in which the television and bookcases were located) with several oranges and a good book.

I read voraciously and ate just as heartily. Especially oranges in winter. I could not get enough of them.

I crave oranges. So when I found this little salad with oranges and olives, it sounded perfect. The original recipe, from the collection at Epicurious calls for canned tuna. But I roasted a whole chicken on Sunday and I thought I'd prefer it my way.

Chicken Salad With Oranges, Olives and Red Peppers

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 seedless oranges, peel and white pith removed
  • 1 small red onion, halved, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 8 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • Parsley (optional)

Blend oil, vinegar and garlic in large bowl. Peel and slice oranges, removing membranes. Toss into bowl, adding other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with almonds.

I've learned to love the contrast and balance of olives with citrus. I added a dash of red pepper to give this salad a bit more bite.

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18 March 2007

Suppertime at Grandma Annie's: A Light Approach and Plenty of Raw Vegetables

March is a funny month in Wisconsin. You never know about the weather. Will it be winter or spring?

But there comes a time, about mid-month, when the weather turns toward warm and the birds of spring are back to battle for position with the birds of winter. The juncos stick around a while longer, and the cardinals become aggressive as they guard their turf. The finches trill merrily at all hours of the day, and the red wing blackbirds cling to reeds and tall grass and join the song with a raspier trill.

Jerry, my neighbor, continues to burn wood, filling the air with that pungent aroma I remember from childhood. Dusk and the gathering night draw us inside to putter about in the warm kitchen.

My kitchen is small, not an eat-in kitchen at all, not like Grandma Annie's. Hers was truly the heart of the home, the comfort zone, the place we all felt secure and loved.

She was not an exotic cook at all. It is Grandma Annie from whom I derive my notion that it is not what you make but how you make it, and her meals were always made with love for the process, for the food and for the people who would eat it.

Annie and Mémere subscribed to the theory that large meals should be eaten early in the day, and light meals at night. So evening meals, which we called supper, were usually soup, salad and cold meat sandwiches.

Annie would set out plates of chicken or ham or turkey and various cheeses along with spreads and pickle or tomato slices. She adopted the "build your own sandwich" approach long ago.

Always on her table was a plate of raw carrots, celery and radishes. As a result, I prefer sandwiches eaten with these crudités.

I bought the radishes above because they still held dirt from the ground in which they were planted. That allowed me to cling to the idea that they were very fresh.

The radishes are very lovely and piquant, and they reminded me of a shiva with their root stems pointing this way and that.

11 March 2007

Every Photo Tells a Story, But Some Photos Make Me Cry

Paging through a magazine about life in France, I was again struck by the way some photographs resonate with me.

They trigger something in my brain, some reflex that picks up the feel of the air and the quality of light and transports me somehow, if only for a quick second.

It must be some atavistic pull, because it only happens with photos taken in France. And it began happening long before I traveled there.

A somnolent village in the noonday sun, an early-morning street in Paris, twisted lanes in ancient cities, apple orchards in Normandy and the skyline of Old Menton: Each of these scenes and others pull me in and infuse with with something — what? — some sort of genetic memory, perhaps?

These short flashes of something are both welcome and bittersweet. Circumstances often force us to live our lives not quite as we would prefer to live them. We do our best, we try to make the right decisions. But often, we spend much of our time yearning for what might have been, had circumstances been different, had our wisdom not been such a hard-won victory.

The photo that touches me the most deeply has nothing whatsoever to do with sun-warmed red tiles or stormy skies over wheat fields painted by Monet.

It is this photo, the famous one of a man weeping as the Nazis marched into Paris in 1940. It is one that is used always when this heinous event is shown in documentaries.

This photo of this well-dressed man, perhaps a banker or civil servant, is the face of recognition, the realization of what the fall of France meant. There is more than grief on his face.

I struggle with photos of someone's agony. But this one tells a story, and one that people who are quick to criticise the France of 1940 ought to grasp. Too often they don't.

This gentleman knew what it meant and what it would mean to France and her dignity. He weeps for more than the thought of occupation, I suspect. He weeps, perhaps, for the world.

I tried to find out about him online, but was unsuccessful. Who was he? Did he survive the Occupation? Did he go on to live a peaceful life when the war ended?

I wonder. I hope for the best.

I know one thing, if I want to make myself cry I look at the photo. Perversely, sometimes I do just that: I never want to forget.

Two favorite fellow bloggers are heading to France this week, and I want to wish them bon voyage et bon chance.

07 March 2007

Mushroom Soup with Thyme

French novelist Janine Boissard helped me through college.

Not that she is aware of this act of kindness. But her books — none of them long but all of them lovely — created a pleasant diversion for me on weekends.

She wrote a series of books about the daughters in a family with ties to Normandy; I felt an affinity for them because I had relatives with the same surname. She also wrote other novels, too, and many times they were gentle feminist stories about women achieving some sort of independence or reaching some sort of decision.

I recall one book in which a woman’s husband leaves her for another woman, a younger one, of course. She drives through the rain into Normandy to spend time with her father, and they feast on a rustic meal that included mushrooms. It may have been soup or it may have been a mushroom omelet. No matter; it was comforting. I liked that scene.

I had that comfort in mind tonight when I made such a soup, using that leftover rind of Parmesan and some thyme to give it body and depth. Creaminess and warmth were what I craved.

Rustic Mushroom Soup with Thyme

  • 10 ounces mushrooms
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cups chicken or turkey broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine or sherry
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • dash pepper
  • dash sel de fleur

Brush mushrooms clean with damp towel; quarter and set aside.

Melt half of butter in heavy stockpot. Add onions and heat until onions become transparent. Add mushrooms and the rest of the butter and stir until mushrooms begin to darken and cook. Add stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for an hour.

After an hour of simmering, allow the soup to cool. Working in batches, transfer mushrooms and most of the onions to a blender and purée, holding the blender top down. Return the purée to the stockpot, add wine and allow to simmer for another hour. At this point, I added my rind of Parmesan cheese and the thyme and left it in long enough for some flavor and texture to be released. I removed it after about 20 minutes.

Just before serving, I also added ¼ cup of half and half, to give my soup some creaminess.

Note: Tasty and layered, if less full-bodied than I would have liked. It was inspired by an Anthony Bourdain recipe. He says it's better the next day. Let's hear it for leftovers!

05 March 2007

France: On a Train Going South

I knew I was French before I knew what it meant to be American, thanks to my grandmothers who spoke French at home. But my love affair with France began in the pages of books.

It was a gift from my father, Kay Thompson’s “Elouise in Paris,” that ignited my early passion for Paris.

(In fact, I rather patterned my behavior after Elouise’s own mischievous antics, something my father encouraged, even rigging a toy telephone hookup between my tiny bedroom and the kitchen so I could call “room service.”)

My attraction for points south of Paris began long before Peter Mayle even considered moving to Provence.

It started with a box of used paperback books. I was 14.

“Here, you’ll like this one,” my father said, as he handed me a copy of Dorothy McArdle’s suspense-cum-romance novel, “The Dark Enchantment,” set in a perched village in the Alpes-Maritimes.

He was right. I was hooked.

Words like “Languedoc,” “Provence,” and “the Midi” soon began to conjure up images of sun-warmed aubergines and deep rich wine and mysterious olive groves.

So as the train inched out of Gare d’Austerlitz for the southwest of France, there arose inside of me a sort of breathless anticipation.

Paris is lovely and layered and enchanting. But it is the south that resonates with me in a deeper, more atavistic way.

As the train made its way through banlieu and brickyard, my excitement grew. Somewhere south of Chateauroux, I sense a subtle change, a shifting of the light to be sure, but an insouciance, a spirit I could not define.

But I knew we were heading south on a train that cut a swath through the green heart of France. I could feel the south, sense its allure, smell its perfume.

At Limoges, I noticed the passengers who boarded looked like they could be my relatives, not surprising since the branch of family I most resemble originates in not-so-distant Poitiers.

Somewhere — perhaps Limoges — we saw old cars from the legendary Le Mistral rusting away on a sidetrack.

At Brive-la-Gaillarde (Brive, the strapping woman), the south was palpable. Red tiled roofs on sunny yellow and tan buildings. Place names ending in “ac.”

The Lonely Planet called Cahors “a sunny southern backwater.” It was sunny and southern, certainly, but no backwater in my book.

It could have been Aix. Plane trees and bougainvilla. There was a festive holiday feeling, one that continued as Gérard drove us up into the hills. Vineyard after vineyard. Pink and tan houses with dogs in the yard. Lilacs and juniper and a hint of sea breeze in the air, in this place midway between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

At the house, we unpacked and settled in chaises at the pool, surrounded by olive trees in deep pots. We drank the sunshine and the rich dark wine of Cahors.

Vacation? Home.

01 March 2007

Garlicky Artichoke Dip

Garlic and Artichoke Dip

It was on one of my parents’ Italian nights that I was first introduced to garlic. I was thoroughly turned off. Of course, I was only 5 or 6 years old at the time.

My mother recalls she wasn’t too fond of it, either. It was something she and her contemporaries associated with ethnic neighborhoods in large cities. I am sure its pungent odor offended their small-town sensibilities.

In fact, my parents were born into a world where garlic was looked upon as inferior (sound familiar?). But as the world grew smaller, garlic’s benefits were discovered and extolled.

The older I get, the more I like garlic. And the more garlic I eat. I find there is very little that I do not add garlic to these days. I do not believe it has aphrodisiacal qualities. Well, maybe I do, but that’s another story.

What I do know is that when consumed in any form it is delicious. And it is a mainstay of my favorite type of food, which is Mediterranean.

A nice garlicky artichoke dip was in order, I thought, on a recent stormy night.

And so I made one. A very healthy one, too. As is my habit, I made it from items already on hand. It's too nasty out there to run to the grocery store.

Warm Artichoke Dip with Garlic and Red Peppers
  • 1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts
  • 2 small cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, chopped (can be from a jar)
Drain the artichokes and pulverize them in a blender. Set aside. Place the minced garlic in a small sauce pan and sauté until golden brown. Add artichokes, cheeses and dressing. Add the red peppers last. Transfer dip to small baking dish and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Don't bake too long, or the cheese will separate.

Garlic at the farm market