07 November 2010

Comfort Food, Comforting Places

Along with concerns over the health of family members during the past 12 months, came some disturbing personal challenges.

No, I did not overcome an addiction (Do they even have 12-step program for Internet surfers?). Nor did I get myself arrested, lose something of value (a job or a friend or a loved one). No, nothing like that. Let's just say I ran across more than my share of people with issues who challenged me and created obstacles and unpleasant situations.

In other words, life was normal.

I found myself craving the little things that comfort me: Scented candles, naps on our cloud-soft sofa, mashed potatoes, rice, walks, books set in quiet villages and soft music. I've been spending a good deal of time on islands, at resorts, and at health-food stores.

Late Friday morning, I drove to Door County, Wisconsin's answer to Cape Cod and the coast of Maine. This time of year, the leaves are mostly on the ground - save for some stubborn oaks - and the lovely bones of this island-cum-peninsula are obvious. On a sunny way, this glorious spit of land jutting into Lake Michigan and Green Bay, these orchards, farms, fields, beaches and villages are awash with an amber glow. On such days, the sky is azure and the berry-yielding trees and bushes are crimson. Driving up hills and down lanes, one sees charms not evident in high summer or peak color season.

I spent no time in the kitchen this weekend, but instead took a few photos of the land and water I wanted to share with you.

23 October 2010

The Scene from the Kitchen Window

After a spate of golden days with that lightness in the air that only comes in fall, our weekend has begun, cold and dreary. No matter: For the past three weeks, we have awakened to the sound of gunshots from the marshland to the west and fallen asleep to the honking of geese along the river to the north.

It is time to turn away from the glories of Indian Summer to the gray and gold days that make up November.

Since Labor Day, we have eaten our share of caramel apples, sharing them after the hearty dishes we prefer in the fall. There are pumpkins on the red bench near the side door, and a display of fall flowers and gourds in the garden. I look out at the horse barn and see a riot of color.

Every season brings its small moments of delight: Mine came on a quick trip to a resort, when the managers treated me to a sunset pontoon boat ride up and down a meandering river. The islands were reflected in clear water, looking as though they were suspended in liquid and air.

Then there were the simple, seasonal delights that have sustained me for more autumns than I care to reveal  online.

I have driven down country roads on sunny days, past fields of haystacks and farmyard pumpkin stands. I have left work to the chatter of starlings in the ancient oak and maple trees in the park behind my office. I have returned home at dusk, walking up my little hill and breathing in the aroma of woodsmoke from my neighbor's fire.

My home has been a silent witness to 115 autumns now, and if I close my eyes and I can imagine the sounds and aromas of all the years that have passed: The clip clop of horses' hooves, the tinny horns of Model Ts, the rattle of souped up jalopies. The wine-rich smell of dying leaves, the crisp nose-tickling feeling on fall mornings as the season wanes - all these are a satisfying part and parcel of this lavish season.

The sun is angled now, and it washes the old buildings in our town with a coppery light. I love this time of year and hope that my work load lightens up so I can spend some time in the kitchen.

21 October 2010

Bacon-Wrapped Baked Pears with Chevre and Walnuts for Two

When my husband and I moved back to our home town 17 years ago, we found it difficult to dine out in the manner to which we had become accustomed living in larger cities.

Everything was fried! There were two restaurants in the traditional supper club style, both along the shore, and these we patronized. We'd sit at the bar sipping cocktails before dinner, and generally order steak or seafood. At one point, the restaurants switched owners, which turned out to be rather fun. The smaller of the two was purchased several times over, and finally closed about eight years ago.

In the interim, a casual French restaurant opened in an old mansion, followed by a French bistro, and a cafe near the harbor that served healthy fare. A supper club in a neighboring town modified its menu, and another shoreside family place became a bit more inventive with its fare. In the boom of the late 90s, several Chinese restaurants opened. More recently, we gained a genuine Mexican restaurant.

Today our community now has two "taste of" events, one in winter and one in spring. The choices are so broad that someone with a mild wheat allergy like me can eat quite well at these fundraisers.

The most recent entree to our eclectic assortment of restaurants is an Italian place downtown. We made reservations for my husband's birthday recently and ordered as an appetizer bacon wrapped pears stuffed with goat cheese. Wow!

Here is my version:
  • 1 Asian pear
  • Dash lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons chevre
  • 1 Tablespoon cream cheese
  • 1 slices bacon, cooked
  • 1/8 cup chopped walnuts, roasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel

Slice the pear down the middle to create two halves. Scoop out the inside to create a place for the cheese mixture. Drizzle with melted butter and lemon juice and stuff with cheese. Bake for about 20-30 minutes in 325 oven (check frequently; pear must be soft, not mushy).

Prepare the bacon as you usually do. I bake mine in the oven, but you could certainly prepare it in a frying pan. You may want to drain it on a paper towel.

Wrap the pear in bacon and sprinkle with roasted walnuts. Add a quick dash of fleur de sel and a larger dash of brown sugar.

It's great to have choices again. I still miss the days when it was possible to stumble upon a small eatery in an out-of-the way place. Quirky places are really my favorites.

29 May 2010

Red Snapper with Citrus Sauce

Spring in Wisconsin began in March this year, and the lilacs and flowering crab have already come and gone. The bridal wreath, which usually graces our lawn and the park across the street on the anniversary of D-Day, is falling petal by petal like so many white crosses on the green meadows of Normandy.

We bravely and confidently put our flowers and herbs out in early May and fired up the Weber grill weeks ago.

It took years, but I have come to understand the mystique of the grill (how do men figure this out first?). It's fire, primordial and even magical, a whiff of pungent aroma from applewood chips tossed on the coals.

It took three trips to the fish market this morning to buy red snapper. My husband tried on his 7 a.m. bagel run and I tried again at 8:45 a.m. on my way to the first outdoor farm market of the season.

"The truck isn't here yet," said the bespectacled woman behind the counter (who really knows her customer service). "But I'm getting red snapper."

Finally at 10:30 I nabbed a pound of it, just enough for two.

Late in the afternoon, with a crispy and mineral-y bottle of Alsatian Riesling well underway, I washed and dried the fish and rubbed it with Cyprus salt flakes and pepper. While my husband prepped the grill, I baked potatoes, roasted red peppers, and prepared the sauce: One tablespoon honey mustard, three tablespoons of honey, three tablespoons lemon juice, one tablespoon lime juice and two chopped-up slices each of lime and tangerine. I tasted the sauce adding a bit more of this and a bit more of that.

I carmelised a small, sweet onion in a dash of olive oil and tossed in the sauce, reducing it and then glazing the grilled fish before serving. The recipe was inspired by this one.

Tender. Sweet. Even a little nutty. And tangy from the sauce. We'll do it again, unless red snapper becomes a casualty of this heinous tragedy in the gulf.

Because of our warm spring, my CSA box was full today, with lettuce, kale, radishes, rhubarb and all manner of herbs. I bought organic eggs, too, but passed on the whitefish. Maybe next time.

05 April 2010

Kitchen Tools: Rapé Tout

I am a pushover for freshly snipped herbs and freshly grated cheese or onion or nutmeg on whatever I am preparing.

There is a luxury to such things. And they are simple indulgences.

I was shopping in Cahors at a wonderful domicile shop called Choses et Autres, located at 77 Boulevard Leon Gambetta where I found this darling little dish-cum-grater called a rapé tout.

It does indeed grate just about everything, from onion to cheese to carrots.

When I use it, my kitchen is transported to the sunny southwest of France.

And that's a real luxury.

03 April 2010

Chicken-and-Apricot Tagine

Chicken-Apricot Tagine

I sometimes wish my life were a bit less pedestrian. What if I lived in Morocco? Wintered in Antibes? Summered in the Hebrides? What if the food I prepared in my little kitchen were inspired by something other than the thought "I think it might be fun to make a tagine today."

Two weeks ago, I had that thought. You can prepare a tagine in many vessels. But I wanted a real one. I imagined my kitchen redolent with the spices of Northern Africa while meat and vegetables or dried fruit simmered in a clay pot with a tee-pee-like cover.

And so today that was how it was. 

Usually around Easter my appetite demands spicier foods. This tagine recipe (from Epicurious) calls for turmeric and cinnamon and paprika, with saffron for a shot of brilliant color.

Saffron was not something I grew up with: Instead, I discovered it in a rice mix from a short-lived gourmet store in my hometown when I was in college (the first time, before my "gap" years). Only when I brought the mix home did my father tell me he always kept saffron on hand, but used it sparingly. 

Saffron, derived from the crocus, seems like the perfect spice for spring. It supposedly has great medicinal properties, is thought to be cancer suppressing, and - they say - can be an antidepressant.

It is grown in the Mediterranean, including in parts of the Quercy, in the southwest of France, and I have seen it for sale there, and in the markets. 

My tagine, which I slow cooked in my clay vessel, was passable for a first attempt. The chicken was tender, but not as moist as I expected, while the apricots melted in my mouth. I agree with some of the reviewers that the spices and garlic should be stepped up. I did not use cilantro this round, but I will try it again. 


02 April 2010

Spring Night in Paris

Renting an apartment at the foot of the Eiffel Tower - or just about anywhere near a famous attraction in Paris - puts a carnival outside your window.

You can join in the revelry or simply watch the passing parade from your balcony.

On this particular spring night, we were jet lagged and chose the latter approach to savoring Paris at night.

We nibbled on crudités and sipped wine from Provence keeping the windows open to allow the street sound to waft up to our postage-stamp-sized living room.

For me - and I am glad my husband agrees - part of travel is not always being on the go but actually slowing down a bit.

Slow travel? Very slow travel.

I love the color contrasts and the angle of this photo.

Paris, May 2007

31 January 2010

Random Black and White Photos of Paris



The top photo is a garden behind Musee Carnavalet. The middle photo is (I think) somewhere in the Latin Quarter while the bottom photo is my husband shooting the Opera Garnier. Can you tell what I am thinking of today?

10 January 2010

Homesick for a Foreign Country

Saturday was a magical day here, cold but full of small gifts. Sunshine and blue sky, the purchase of herbs at a winter farm market, a downy woodpecker in my cedar tree, a trio of pottery pieces at bargain prices at the antique shop, and a surprise gift in the mail.

Sunday was a day of dull gray sky and dissatisfaction. I found myself turning to photos of sunshine and southern France in my iPhoto files. I felt almost a physical craving to be there. Can you become homesick for a foreign country?

The photo above was taken on a sunny day in Caillac, on the north bank of the meandering Lot River. Isn't that a tidy looking building? Apparently is is a clinic for people with drinking problems.

I have long loved the sight of sun warming old red bricks. So of course I loved the sight of sun on terra cotta tiles along the road to Caillac. I would like to be those tiles, caressed by sun of the Midi-Pyrenees. It's not only cold here, but it just started to snow.


I recall being content making salad dressing for our Sunday dinner. We spent the entire day lolling around the pool and patio, knowing we had two full weeks to explore the Lot Valley. Our dinner was chicken cooked with vegetables and wine wine of some sort. It was such a warm and pleasant day, much like the days of our first visit a few springs ago.

In winter I open the blinds early, light candles against the darkness and count the days until spring. The wait is a long one in Northern Wisconsin, and journeys through sunny photographs ease my mind and also fill me with discontent.