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?

28 August 2008

Mediterranean Vegetable Soup with Lentils

Puttering around in the kitchen listening to crickets and cicadas while I cut, chop, baste and stir is heavenly for me. This time of year brings me a deep satisfaction somehow, as the pace of life begins to quicken again. I have this sense of something about to happen.

It also saddens me, because another summer (so precious to us northerners!) is on the wane.

When I was a teenager, my mother and I often took walks together after dark this time of year. It was a chance for me to share my hopes for the school year ahead and my dreams for a time beyond school. We'd often choose a neighborhood to the northeast of Frenchtown, where the houses, built after 1915, were mostly shingled bungalows or 1920's-style cottages. Catching a glimpse of someone else's evening through an unshuttered window captured my imagination, and it is an image that has stayed with me for many years.

These days I sit on my side porch, or my newly-built (but yet unpainted) front porch and watch the street lights create pools of light in the evening. Occasionally, I will see a dog walker or jogger. My house is more than 110 years old now, and I often wonder about others who have sat on that porch watching night fall in years past. Did they feel the mix of contentment and sadness I feel this time of year?

Sunday was a day for sunshine and crickets, nightfall and porch sitting.

Our dinner of chicken, tomatoes and peppers was simple but comforting. The best part was the juice from the bottom of the roasting pan. I knew when I caught its aroma (and sneaked a spoonful) that I would be making soup Sunday night.

Easy Mediterranean Vegetable Soup with Lentils

  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, Italian style
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • dash freshly-ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel


Place olive oil, butter and onion in skillet; brown slightly. Add chicken stock, water and lentils. Bring to a boil and lower heat, simmering for about 30 minutes. Add tomatoes and carrots. Cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, adding zucchini as carrots begin to soften. Simmer at least 20 minutes longer, adding salt and pepper.

I expect to get at least four meals out of this. My husband is not a vegetable soup fan, but even he admitted this smelled heavenly while simmering.

I used Lentils de Puy, purchased last year in Paris. Wonderful! I'll have to pick up another bag next month at Carrefour or Leclerc.

The soup lasted all week. I paired it with goat cheese and roasted pepper on crusty rolls.

07 August 2008

My Personal Wine History and a Visit to Sonoma County

About nine years ago, my husband suggested we create a wine tasting data base to record our adventures and our preferences. It seemed like a good idea, as many of my favorite magazines were starting to publish wine columns and our "want to try" list was getting longer and longer.

We never had the time - or never took the time - and we never purchased a wine program or did anything formal about it. But it was the start of something. An awareness perhaps. And we've had fun ever since.

My own adventures with wine started as a toddler. Yes. That's what I said. While the grownups enjoyed wine with their meals, I was given a wine glass filled with water and enough wine to add flavor - and pique my interest. I don't think it did any harm; in fact, it was probably useful. Early on, I saw wine as a meal accompaniment and not something to be consumed in large quantities in order to achieve an altered state.

But I've been here, too.

These days, my husband and I often drink a glass or two before and during dinner. We enjoy the complexity of wine, and we like to experiment with pairings and we talk about building a wine cave like the one my brother built. We've got the perfect place for it, but we've got a lot of other priorities, too.

We're not especially educated and we've not snobbish. In the last month or two, we've tasted Two Buck Chuck (now three bucks) as well as some pricier wines. As for bubbly, we like everything from the occasional supermarket offering to the bottle of Dom Perignon that is awaiting just the right celebratory event.

Recently at dinner we ordered a meritage blend from California's Central Coast that was layered and rich, with a plummy introduction and a cherry-vanilla finish. Next month, we'll enjoy the black wine of Cahors as we look out over our own (for two weeks, anyway) private vineyard.

I recently spend several days in Sonoma County, tasting, learning and observing. The variety before me was awesome, as they say, but in the true sense of the word. Thanks to A for her wine tour and to E, F and M for their companionship.

I'll be back, Sonoma...

What's your wine story?

20 May 2008

Patricia and Walter Wells: They've Always had Paris...and a Good Deal More


It might have been Bill Ragsdale who told me about Patricia Wells all those years ago.

Wilmot Ragsdale - Rags, as he was affectionately known - was a rather legendary journalism professor at UW-Madison. I never took one of his classes, but I had a drink with him once at a friend's celebration. S., my friend, had finished defending her master's thesis and a rather large group of us celebrated over wine and spaghetti at an Italian restaurant near the sprawling campus.

In the early 80s, Jane Brody, a prominent journalism-school alumna, was all the buzz, but someone - was it Rags or his friend and colleague Hartley E. Howe, who was one of my professors? - said there was another J-school grad who had just begin to write about food in Paris.

I was envious. I was studying French in those days, after a long hiatus, and I was struggling. I was also struggling financially, trying to hold body and soul together by writing news releases, crunching numbers for one historian and running errands for another.

Learning and writing about food in Paris sounded like a dream to me, but it was reality for Patricia Wells, a fellow Wisconsinite, and her handsome husband Walter, also a journalist.

Imagine how delighted I was to learn a few weeks back, that the couple had written a book together, "We've Always Have Paris...and Provence."

Patricia begins her acknowledgments quoting Bill Ragsdale. "Be bold," he used to say, and he said it to Patricia, too. I, too, have kept those words in mind and they've propelled me forward often.

Walter and Patricia alternate writing passages, and so their story is told in two voices, with two perspectives.

I like these people - and not just because they are or have been fellow journalists. They have high standards and they've worked hard. Their life has not always run smoothly, but it has been good - very good. I've learned a lot about Paris and Provence from them over this chilly Wisconsin weekend, and a good deal about myself and where I want to go in the future. As role models, Patricia and Walter Wells are good ones to have.

Read this book. Try the recipes. (Of course, there are recipes!) If you like food and you like France, it is necessary.


Note: The photo above was taken outside a Paris restaurant on Rue de Monttessuy a year ago. It bears no relationship to Patricia or Walter Wells, except that it was taken near a restaurant recommended by Patricia. The restaurant is Au Bon Accueil. On our first night in the quartier a year ago, a small jazz band seranaded someone at the restaurant. We were charmed.