20 December 2009

Enter the Season

I liked this photo so much, I wanted to include a version of it in my holiday greeting.

The run up to Christmas is here. This holiday means different things to different people. To me it is a season of introspection, followed by an opportunity for renewal. There is a spiritual element for me, but it may not align with the traditional notions. I believe the meaning behind the symbols of this season are what should resonate in hearts.

Generosity, humility, innocence, kindness are what we should carry with us as we move into the future, or the next phase.

May you enjoy good food, good people and good thoughts as you enter this season.

14 November 2009

The Best of FKIA: Warm Brussels Sprout Salad for Thanksgiving Dinner

I've never been a fan of green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, although for some reason unfathomable to me, it has become a seasonal classic. I'll pass on it this year and make the following dish, which I discovered two years ago.

I buy Brussels sprouts each week; along with broccoli and red pepper they are staples in my crisper. Shallots are also something I almost always keep on hand.

Warm Brussels Sprout and Shallot Salad with Pecans
  • 16-20 large Brussels sprouts
  • 3-4 large shallots
  • tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • tablespoon unsalted butter
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel
Wash and trim Brussels sprouts, removing outer leaves and base. Cut into thin slices. Drizzle with olive oil, toss, and place in a skillet or sauté pan. Brown slightly over medium heat until sprouts are just a bit limp. Remove from pan and set aside, covering to keep warm. Peel and slice shallots; using the same pan, brown shallots slightly in butter. Add pecans. Toss shallots and pecans with Brussels sprouts, adding a dash of fleur de sel and pepper.

I served this with a warm bacon dressing. A cranberry vinaigrette would be nice, too, or a mustard-y oil and vinegar blend.


30 September 2009

Chicago: Paris on Lake Michigan

I had forgotten how much I love downtown Chicago.

After all, it had been years. I've driven though and changed planes there, but it had been years since I'd truly been there. Once upon a time, it was a city I played in, tooling around town with S., my Winnetka friend, and spending afternoons at the Art Institute or in the park. He was a student at Northwestern then, and in those days I learned the drive between suburb and city by heart.

My husband has roots in Chicago as well, in the same North Shore suburbs. Chicago was the city he learned to love as a kid. After 20 years of marriage, this was our first stay together in Chicago.

Oh, sweet. it was sweet. Nothing can come between me and my Paris, but I found traces of Paris in Chicago. The cafés, mostly lined with broad planters, giving diners a bit of privacy. The tall, fashionably dressed women. The water taxis and excursion boats on the river. And finally, the parks and gardens.

This garden to the west of the old Water Tower reminded me of Paris, perhaps because it is across from a French restaurant I will certainly try on our next trip.

Our hotel was surrounded by steak houses, of course, and the aroma from 5 to 10 p.m. each night was tantalizing.

Having Chicago a half-day's drive away just might tide me over until Paris.

06 September 2009

Papaya and Shrimp



There were more than 200 photos on my camera today and it took about 40 minutes to download them all.

The photo above is the papaya I bought during a heat spell. Now that is food porn! The photo below is how I served it: With cucumbers, cooked shrimp, green onions and a ready-made fig-curry dressing.

I grow herbs in pots on our deck, which faces the west and gets plenty of sun. It's easy to step outside and snip fresh herbs for whatever salad I am preparing. Potato salad is like chicken, a blank canvas that gets its personality from whatever you make it with, as long as you include potatoes. I have made potato salad with capers, bacon, ham, shrimp, radishes and - always - cucumbers.

Last night we ate out, celebrating the difficult installation of a new window in our laundry room/potting shed area. We both had tenderloin. It was heavenly. What a way to end summer!

25 August 2009

One-Dish Dinners as Nights Grow Colder

Part of me longs to be a sophisticated woman of the world, but another part of me is rather proud of my humble roots in a community that is largely blue collar and prides itself on being down-to-earth. Dollar stores thrive here and so do restaurants that offer down-home cooking. Most people here would rather drink beer than wine. If you grew up here, chances are you grew up eating casseroles.

As the daughter of a chef, I grew up in both worlds. Some nights I'd come home to lobster and other nights, we'd scarf down casseroles. Some meals were elaborate affairs: Italian night, French night, Chinese night, even Titanic night. Picnics in winter, on the floor of the living room. Made-from-scratch pizza on Saturday nights, with leftover sloppy-joe meat on top.

My husband grew up eating casseroles and meat-and-potato meals. His mother worked as a bookkeeper, and the way he tells it, meals were easy to prepare and vegetable were from cans.

There's nothing we enjoy more than a meal in a really good restaurant, whether it's a fancy French place or a steakhouse. We like meals at home just as well, and more often than not in fall and winter, that means a one-dish meal. Our favorite is browned Italian sausage, often cut with ground chuck, stewed tomatoes, onions and roasted red peppers with some sort of pasta. There's usually a dash of thyme and a dash of herbes de Provence. The meal is often accompanied by an easy salad of mixed greens and a humble merlot.

When I was a kid, my mother made a ground-beef-and-potato casserole with cream of chicken soup and onions. I can't think of a better comfort food! I love this stuff.

We often need comfort as the summer makes its slow slide into fall. While I am usually content to be home at nights during the winter months, this time of year I don't look forward to the long dark time ahead. It's dark enough at 8 p.m. now. We turn the lights on early these days, and we are sleeping under comforters and quilts. I feel out of place wearing whites and linens.

I feel a craving for hearty dishes already. Think I'll make that casserole tomorrow.

What about you?

07 August 2009

Night Noise

At night our neighborhood takes on a completely different persona.

It is no longer the leafy, hilly grid of late-19th century streets where people walk their dogs and their children, using the street, not the sidewalk as a walking path because not all the blocks have sidewalks. The mix of professors, teachers, bankers, laborers and health care workers who live in the houses here are sleeping (or like me, they are trying to).

But someone walks the streets dragging things around. And someone else yells things into a bullhorn.

The dragger first: For nearly a decade, on odd nights all year round, I hear the rattle of something that might be a wagon or cart being dragged or pulled down the street. It starts to the south and moves north toward the river. It is loud enough to wake me, and sometimes it takes a while for me to realize it is what I've come to think of as The Night Noise that has interrupted my precious sleep.

Someone is moving things at a time when they are likely to be unnoticed. Or, as I once suspected, perhaps someone is scavenging for things.

I cannot jump out of bed and rush to the window. Well, I could - were I lucid enough - but the cedar trees block my view. By the time I am awake enough to comprehend that The Night Noise is back, whatever is making the noise has traveled farther north and is out of view.

The Bullhorn is something else entirely. We have heard it all year round and at all times of evening or early morning. There was a time when I thought it was coming from a large mill located up the river, but the words projected by the bullhorn are not words that would be said over a public address system, if you get my drift.

I've asked neighbors about it. Apparently, my husband and I are the only ones who have heard it and it was only last year, or perhaps the summer before, when my husband finally heard The Bullhorn for himself.

Living as I once did in a series of urban apartments, I have heard many odd and alarming sounds at night. But these noises baffle me, and I won't be happy until I discover their source.

Tired as I am after a night of sleeplessness last night, I did see "Julie and Julia" tonight. It's been a long time since a movie has engaged me that much, even though I knew the outcome. See it, if you have not.

The photo is from May 2007: Rue de Monttessuy, 7th arr., Paris.

05 July 2009

The Twists and Turns of Side Streets and Dark Alleys

I have never stayed on the main road for too long. The little side streets, the tangents of life are too intriguing.

In my career I sidetracked for a long time, which ultimately helped put me on the main road again with more horsepower and sharper vision.

But sometimes there are places I'd rather not explore. Some of those places are dark lanes in old Cahors, just feet from the lively and friendly market place, which teems with life and flavor and the more guttural accent of the Midi Pyrenees. (Some friends had a close call near here a few years back. We are vigilant.)

So I took photographs instead, and found this one intriguing with its rosy hues.

Not much time to cook just now.