20 September 2008

Paris: In September

Bonjour from Paris!

Our plane from Detroit landed earlier than usual and no luggage was misplaced or sent to Cairo, so we were tucked into our shuttle bus and whisked away at noon. Thankfully, the desk clerk at our hotel found us a room and were were able to nap, shower, and be on our way by 3:30 p.m., just in time to enjoy a balmy and golden September afternoon.

I have always wanted to come here in September.

We are near Gare de Lyon and the Bastille, and so far have meandered through our favorite St. Paul Village and the Place de Vosges. We've explored a few new areas, and found places I want to revisit.

We contemplated a dozen different eating places before choosing a small cafe in the shadow of the Gare de Lyon clock. We ordered salads, a bottle of deep rosé from the Midi. The waiter was engaging enough to allow us to share a piece of apple tarte for dessert without telling us this was not done in Paris (I am certain it is not. Perhaps I read that somewhere.)

We are here. We are happy. We are off on the train today. Our journey will cut pleasant swath through the Loire, the Berry and skirt the Massif Centrale. On to Cahors!

Oh, Paris. Je t'aime.

16 September 2008

The Well-Stocked French Kitchen

The first thing we will do at Chez Bateau is check the larder, and then drive down the south side of the causse to the nearest supermarche for provisions.

Chez Bateau's sunny little kitchen is well-stocked and we will likely find staples like pasta, rice, coffee, tomato sauce and olive oil. We will also find a cupboard that is completely stocked with essential kitchen tools and utensils. We will take our time cooking, and if the weather is fine, dine out by the pool overlooking the vineyards.

In Paris last year, we made do with a few cutting boards, a bread knife, a steak knife, a colander, skillet and sauce pan. Not so at Chez Bateau!

"How would you stock a French kitchen?" a reader asked me last winter. I thought about that for a while, then came up with my list of French kitchen essentials. These few items would do, I think, and keep my kitchen from becoming too cluttered

Pots and pans: A skillet, a sauté pan, sauce pan, roasting pan and stock pot.

Utensils: A good set of knives, a large whip, a small whip, a strainer.

Tools: Corkscrew, herb scissors, mortar and pestle, pastry bag, pie weights.

Miscellaneous containers: Large bread bowl, two smaller bowls, colander, souffle dish, tarte pan or pie plate.

Nice to have: A banneton, a French bread pan, an egg basket, a copper bowl for egg whites.

There are many, many other "essential tools," but these are the ones I have found to be the most useful and have collected over the past several years. Each time I go to Paris, I vow to find a mortar and pestle, which is the only item missing from my list.

With these tools, I can prepare the soups, salads, soufflés and stews that remain my favorite French dishes. And I can make baguettes and boules when the baking urge strikes. Did I mention tarte tatin?

What's missing from the list? I want to hear from you!

13 September 2008

Manuka Honey-Drenched Whole Grain French Toast with Walnuts

It is gray and damp in Wisconsin today, but we were outdoors early to clean out the nest boxes, fill the bird feeders, take down the wind chimes and move the copper birdbath inside. We stashed garden tools and pots in the horse barn.

I attended to the compost pile, adding vegetable scraps from the crisper, and plucked the remainder of the cherry tomatoes from the potted plant on the deck. Walking down into the garden, I noticed a small toad making its hip-hoppity way to a hiding place under the spreading yew. We take delight in these small creatures and happily share a yard with them.

Working outdoors on a cool morning helped us work up a hunger. It was obvious we needed a hearty breakfast.

Still bent on cleaning out the larder before we take off, I came up with this healthy concoction:

Whole Grain French Toast with Walnuts and Manuka Honey


  • 4 slices dense whole grain bread
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • dash cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons Manuka honey
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • your favorite maple syrup, optional


Coat walnuts in 1 teaspoon butter, dash sea salt and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Roast at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, tossing frequently. While nuts are roasting, beat eggs, soy milk, sea salt, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, cinnamon in broad flat bowl. Immerse bread in egg mixture and soak for 3-4 minutes to ensure bread is thoroughly coated. Melt remainder of butter in skillet. Add soaked bread and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes until browned on both sides. Midway through cooking, add Manuka honey, which is reputed to have beneficial qualities. Remove French toast from skillet and place on plates, topping with walnuts and syrup.

Thanks to Fiona in New Zealand for the honey!

08 September 2008

Caramel Apples: The Sweet Rituals of Fall

I heard gunshots this morning, an early sign of the approaching season.

Every September they begin (It's always hunting season in Wisconsin, it seems), just about the time I am tumbling out of bed and shuffling downstairs for the strong and hot cup of coffee that will nudge me into the shower and eventually propel me out the door. I am no fan of guns, but these shots remind me of the welcome rhythms of the season (and in any case, they are coming from the other side of the river or perhaps the wetland a quarter mile away, known in the old days as Hunter's Slough).

There are other seasonal markers to appreciate: The smell of woodsmoke at night, the pumpkin stands along the highway, the skeins of geese that fly overhead at dusk, our sudden preference for red wine and hearty stews and soups. And caramel apples in the grocery store. We have made our own a time or two, but it has become tradition for me buy the first one of the season as an offering to my husband.

I bring it home and present it to him with a small bit of ceremony, a smile, a slight bow, a kiss. It might be silly of me, it might not be, but it is a ritual I enjoy and I think he does, too. We are adults with all too many responsibilities, but our relationship is based on a million silly little gestures, too. I like them, all of them. They, too, are part of life's rhythms.

Caramel apples, succotash, pumpkin pie, apple cider: The first taste of each in the fall is a marker of sorts, an essential rituals that provides us with a measure of security and sweetness.

It is early in the season yet, and there is much ahead to savor and appreciate.

What is your first culinary ritual of the fall?