November 28, 2007

Birthday 11/29/07- My Year of the Pig... still!

My dear friend Julie Benbow sent me this birthday greeting; it was for the love of the words, the blessing of our own beauty and a wonderful reminder that we share poetry and pigs with each other. And so I pass the gift to you... my b-day gift to all my word loving friends.


By Galway Kinnell *

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of the earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

*for an interview:

and more:

November 26, 2007

Apple & Saints Part 2- Pomologie

A Recipe for growing an Orchard in Gascony

  • 12 trees
  • 12 holes to dig
  • 1 sunny afternoon rimmed with rain clouds
I have learned to dig holes for trees here in France; large wide holes and deep enough for roots to reach for good soil. The Garonne Valley soil is strong with clay and likes the compost I have been ignoring for a year behind the garden shed. When I found Camont in 1989 the large parc was an apple orchard overgrown with brambles 20-feet high into the trees, ankle-attacking nettles and razor wire blackberry. The long-neglected apples were removed leaving a park of oaks, walnuts and fragrant acacias. Little by little I started giving back the trees I took away in a pretty game of enclos and joalle to keep a picnic place under a shady oak within smell of the spring blossoms. There is lots of wild mint and an a nicely unruly hazelnut hedgerow. I have a dream of a gypsy caravan parked in that wild mint.

2007- Twelve more trees make over 3-dozen fruit trees all bought from the Conservatoire des fruits d'antan; twelve more arm-waving sentinels to preserving the older tastes of Southwest France.

Oh, and those twelve holes... It took all afternoon to dig, plant, water and stake the 8 bigger trees- with a little help from Bacon. It isn't just that the birthday week makes me feel older, the digging confirmed it! Tomorrow I'll decide where to plant the pomegranates. Now what to do with all those sweet apples? And then a recipe...

November 23, 2007

Apples & Saints- November 25

A la Sainte Catherine... ...tous bois prend racine.

‘Le Petit Bleu’, the local paper in my corner of Southwest France- has a dicton or proverb on the corner of the weather page for everyday of the year—so many saints, so many sayings.

Si Saint-Lambert est pluvieux, suivent neuf jours dangereux”- if it rains on April 14- St.Lambert’s day, nine ‘dangerous’ days days follow.

Or this one for the 5th of August— À Saint-Abel, Faites vos confitures de mirabelles- On Saint Abel’s make your plum jam! Like gentle reminders that there is a time and rhythm in country life, they count off the year and seasons as I live in Gascony.

When I asked when to plant my hazelnut and wild plum hedgerow, my friendly Gascon neighbors all responded the same… “A la Sainte Catherine, tous bois prend racine”- On Saint Catherine’s day, all wood takes root.” Little did I know that this simple country proverb I mentioned to Sarah at would become a major force on my Gascon calender... with a little help from a Long Village* neighbor just 5 miles down the canal. Not only am I a 'Catherine', but my birthday falls 4 days later, so what better way to spoil myself doubly than to choose a green present and add to my own orchard here at the Relais de Camont.

So what do a third-century virgin martyr and 2,000 heritage fruit trees have in common? The answer is a 25-acre site nestled in the rich alluvial valley of the Garonne River at Montesquieu in the Lot-et-Garonne department of Southwest France. Here, I was lucky enough to meet and talk to the passionate power behind this far reaching program to “research, protect and honor” the fruitful heritage of native species of Southwest France. And we are invited for a sneak preview by Evelyne Leterme, director and passionate founder of the CVRA- Conservatoire Vegetal Regional d’Aquitaine .

So take a mini-French vacation this weekend with me in Gascony and discover the French passion for a bite of old fashioned fruit. This year, on Ste. Catherine’s feast day weekend, November 24 & 25, the Regional Plant Conservatory of Aquitaine, locally called Le Verger-Museé , is hosting their annual Fete des Arbres.

Not long ago Mme. Leterme walked me around her fruit fief on an oriental carpet of leaf and fruit. Apples weighed heavily on sculptured boughs; semi-dwarf trees looked like some mad bonsai artist had been let loose in the orchard. There was a lone late peach variety that yield an neon peach globe, a Pêche Dur, that had great texture, like a mango and tasted of fall rather than summer- rounder, less acidic, honey juiced and …ultra-peachy. Several dozen fig varieties invited plucking; the most humble deep purple pouch, a Ronde de Bordeaux- not even as big as an egg, popped into my mouth and exploded with sweet nectar and crackling seeds. At Evelyne’s invitation, I filled my pockets with white-dotted Court Pendu Rouge de Lot-et-Garonne, a true native variety and one of the first trees I planted in my own orchard for the French Kitchen.

In the blossom spring and fruitful summer months the Orchard Museum is a delight to visit to discover the old and more aesthetic methods of planting trees and vines together. Alternating rows of trees with crops like wheat or corn are called joalle; hedgerows of hazelnuts, plums, and figs create an enclos, or enclosure, around a small pasture; strips of land are planted with riotous pink cosmos and orange zinnias to let the soil rest and feed the hardworking bee and butterfly population.

Mme. Leterme tells me how she came here from the Ecomusée de la Lande having collected samplings of fruit trees as she bicycled through the Basque country protecting both genetic history and the stories of those who labored the earth. In 1996, when she arrived in the Lot-et-Garonne, it was to establish what would become the most important collection of apple trees in France. She would begin to catalogue, protect and develop more than 800 ! varieties of apples and over 1000 other varieties of sixteen other species here in quiet Montesquieu.

Mme. Leterme’s quiet passion is catching. I found myself getting excited about the 22 different hazelnut varieties, a singular collection that she saved from destruction in Bordeaux. My own 24 tree orchard started to grow like a benevolent monster in my head as I imagined the tartes au pommes fines that I would make with a Pomme d’Anis Rosalie, an anise-scented apple or the striped Rose de Virginia or summer apple. What had once been an overgrown commercial apple orchard at Camont could live again in a tribute to the tastes and flavors from another time, when an apple or a peach, burst with its own identity of place and name.

Overwhelmed with choice, what would I chose for my birthday present? Symbolic and delicious, yet beautiful and productive? Et voila! As we reached the back of the 25 acre site, I spotted the perfect gift tree, bearing leathery orbs to sport like Christmas ornaments in the orchard.

And hidden within? Enough jewels to tempt a pirate queen. Arrrr mateys, there’s treasure within!

Apples and Saints are in the air in New York too; just ask Harold McGee at the NYTimes. Stay tuned to see what happens to this tranquil setting with 5000 hungry Frenchmen arrive. Oh, there'll be a recipe or two of course!

*"the Long Village"...what I call the 500 miles of canals and river that thread across France!

November 22, 2007

Thanks & Giving

Thanksgiving and family go together like...turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes and bourbon, pumpkins and pies. Every year I try to arrange my states' side visit to hit this holiday above all others. No such luck this year; new dog, works in progress and a fall visit from family who came here.

Instead I'll gather with a group of expats and locals at someone's house tonight and we'll bemoan the lack of a whole turkey, and all the trimmings. There'll be no 'game' on the TV and no common traditions to share. But there will be Thanks and there will be Friendship and there will be my family held close in my thoughts as I wonder how large a turkey my brother managed to buy this year.

Oh,... and thanks to all you Turkey-eating blog readers for wondering enough about what living in France for 20 years does to you and reading my French Kitchen Adventures. Families are measured in many different ways.

November 19, 2007

Me, me, me, me, too.

The Julia Hoyt lit like a Chinese lantern.

Four by Four- a magic set of numbers. When Rosa tagged me this week in such good company, I mused over what would be my own questions.

  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • What am I doing here in southwest France?

Boring and predictable. Then I had yet another opportunity, more common than not these days, to make e-small talk this time via the famous I’m looking for a stagiare or two, to help me carry my French Kitchen Adventures into the future. Where better than to check out the local talent than nearby Toulouse? I realized as I wrote my listing there were many questions to ask…

What four things do you love most about living at the Relais de Camont?

  • The absolute stillness and quiet of this little world.
  • My gregarious French Kitchen that can hold a squished crowd of 15 people if needed but just as easily seems built for two.
  • The always running springs feeding the frog pond and lavoir hidden in the secret garden wood behind the ruin.
  • Hammocks, lots of hammocks for nap attacks.

Relais de Camont's room with a view.

What four most memorable jobs you have had?

  • Carhop in the rainy cold Seattle winter. (1 cold and wet month in 1969)
  • Puppeteer and roadie for a children’s theatre (1970-76)
  • Yacht cook and first mate (1980-82)
  • Barge captain (1987-present)

What’s the 4 best things about living on a boat?

  • Paradoxically, the stillness. This 65 ton steel hulled tank of a barge barely moves when we are moored on the quiet canal at the bottom of the garden gate.
  • The sounds: of rain on the metal deck, splashes of water against the hull in a storm, the drum vibration of the pumps, whirs and toilets flushing…
  • The light: of water reflected on the wooden ceiling, moonbeams through the portholes, the sunny wheelhouse like a greenhouse…on a chilly winter morning.
  • The wonderful sense of playing hooky all the time. It’s hard to take one self seriously when you see a flotilla of poplar leaves gliding by. I love the pick up and move along sense that you can leave at any time…

my floating office... unusually tidy!

The worst?

  • The aforementioned pumps, which you rely on them for everything- showers, drinking water, toilets…oh, the toilets! (see my blog breaking Toilet Meltdown).
  • Little spots of rust appearing under your nice new paint job. Back to the sandpaper.
  • Finding a good mechanic that won’t mess up the sweet old 120 HP DAF diesel engine.
  • The wonderful sense of playing hooky all the time. It’s hard to take one self seriously when you see a flotilla of poplar leaves gliding by….

And of course, the food questions….

What are your four favorite foods?

  • Calamari
  • Fava beans
  • Soft silky tofu
  • Ricotta cheese

Four recipes you cook all the time?

  • Soup…all kinds, mostly vegetable based.
  • Magret de Canard with a sauce aux vins
  • Clafoutis aux Pruneaux
  • Tartes- savory, sweet, fruit, etc… I love making pie crusts.

Et voila! that wasn’t so hard. So I pass this tag on to a few more e-neighbors and friends: Sweet Lucy of Lyon, Jen de Chez Loulou, Wine making Amy de la Gard in and Betty in the Aveyron.

winter knots... so easily cast off.

P.S. If anyone wants to come and work as an off-season stagiare at Camont for a few weeks over the winter: outside work, inside work, cleaning, cooking, gardening, thinking… just drop me a note with the four things that you want to learn having a French Kitchen Adventure with me in Gascony. Room and board…and a memorable job for your future list.

November 16, 2007

Swiss Chard Fritters from Laguiole

When last we met, I was telling you a little story about the road trip to Michel and Sebastian Bras joint. I got waylaid at the minuscule Saturday Morning market at Laguiole. I promised a little recipe for these savory Aveyronnais 'swiss chard' fritters called farcoux or farçous. After referencing a few old books, the fab internet and my own ideas, I plotted out a simple rule of thumb by asking a simple question:
  • How many people eating? how many things?
Since I'm on my own this week and know my own capacity for hot fried savory things is quite expansive, I opted for the 'one person/one egg 'rule of thumb. It's the same one I use for making pasta, crepes, clafoutis, creme Catalan and other egg based recipes.

Next I realized there was no milk in the house or boat. So I substituted fromage blanc. This is what happened:

one egg-
1/2 cup greens from Swiss chard- finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley- finely chopped
1 slice onion- finely chopped
one tablespoon fromage blanc
one tablespoon flour
lots of pepper

Mix all of the above in a little bowl with a fork.
Heat some oil in a pan until very hot.
Drop the farcoux in the pan by tablespoon.
Cook until golden then turn.
When cooked remove to paper to drain; dust liberally with salt and pepper.
Eat while hot. Take the dog for a walk.
See, French food is easy!

Sometimes it just as simple to make something for one as it is for a group.
With one egg and a tablespoon of milk, flour, sugar, you can spoil yourself silly.
Et voila!

November 13, 2007

what's going around... fried food.



Wonderfully Old

'The new moon cradled in the arms of the old'. That's what I say when that very New contemporary France nestles in the very old ways of la France Profonde.

"Great minds think alike... "
- that's what I say when someone scoops me on a good recipe or a new "in" place to visit.

"If you can't beat 'em...join 'em"
- if everyone else is talking about socca (not soccer!), or caramels and you have something new to add, then why not?

"What goes around...comes around"-
usually said in a disparaging tone of voice when someone has made a false move and will regret the ensuing repercussions.

Not this time! I am jumping on the bandwagon, getting on board and hoping that I can add fuel to the fire of a New old trend. Two words my friends. Fried. Food.

Maybe it started with that Dim Sum Sunday. I must confess, the steamed buns, and dumplings a la vapeur were still around for leftovers yesterday; the fried nems, beignets de choufleur and crispy samosas disappeared too fast! So when friend food writer Ed Schneider sent me a link to an article by Mark Bittman about Fried Pizza, the fried food juices started flowing. And I thought of you.

At the end of October I made a road trip up a little river (Lot) and into the Aveyron for a 3-star pilgrimage to meet and eat the Michel Bras legacy. Staying the extra day to interview the Messieurs Bras (clearly, son Sebastian is the Dauphin here-- hurray for the French sense of continuity!) was a bonus and as luck would have it was Saturday- Laguiole's market day. I love markets.
Everyone that we asked in town had told us the market was at the le parking next to the big Aubrac bull sculpture, an homage to the local breed of all things tasty- cheese, aligot, beurre. "Just look for the bull." And each person added, "mais ce n'est pas comme avant..." meaning that nothing is as it used to be.

I guess they were right. With just 4 simple stalls, this tiny off-season market pales to the number of knife shops in town (at least 2 dozen!) with one very important exception. Here, at this tiny market in the middle of nowhere was someone... cooking. Here, someone was selling something hot and... fried! Here, Mme. Sylvie was offering to cook something just for me (if the market was miniscule, so were the clients!)-- the traditional farcoux- swiss chard and parsley fritters.

For those of you whining about the dwindling dollar power...there are plenty of good things in France for just ONE EURO including these delicious homemade farcoux. Crispy on the outside, soft in the inside, hot, green and oniony, these fat beignets du blettes were just the thing needed to stave off hunger pangs before meeting the ever-so-charming and generous Michel and Sebastian Bras. (more on that... later.)

I found a recipe en francais on the very complete site; and tomorrow I'll pop into my own local market and get some chard and parsley to translate the recipe... anon. Now, if I could just duplicate the taste of the hot green fritter in my galley. Anyone else for fried food? 'I'd do offer' a better way to eat your vegetables!

View of Laguiole, the old moon, framed for you by
the very new moon M.Bras.

November 11, 2007

Eating to my Heart's Content- Gascon style

As I mentioned in an earlier post , my good friend Elaine Tin Nyo is holding down the Gascon/Burmese connection in NYC today, with a little help from her friends at AiG. So to keep them company on this side of the pond, I did a little dim sum research myself... in Agen in southwest France.

On a Sunday morning in France not much is open except for food resources, of course, and the maison de presse. So I got off the ranch early and took a little drive into downtown Agen (a mere 15 minutes away) to buy a few magazines and scout for any suitable 'dim some' sort of thing. Quelle surprise!

The 'restauration rapide' (fast food to you!) place under the medieval arches was closed although I notice they have folded Indian food under the all inclusive "Vietnamese" banner. but I was in luck as three Vietnamese/Chinese joints were not only up and running but good! I will never make fun of the too close to the train station one-restaurant Chinatown again.

I started at the meager stall in the Agen covered marche' (where poulet roti and charcuterie were running out the door); I scored the best accras de morue- not greasy and slightly piquante, the one last remaining steam bun, and a few vegetarian samosas.

Then on to park by the Cathedral St. Caprais, where I noticed that the once Breton Creperie was now La Chinoiserie. So I stopped in and order a few things to go (10% off to go!)- a steamed dumpling assortment, another steamed bun (yummy favorite of mine) and some hot Pho for a cool Gascon day. But my real destination was China Town.

Yup, just up from the Eiffel-designed train station (Paris-Agen 4- 1/4 hours by TGV), this corner shop with the only Neon in town except for the green cross pharmacy signs is our china town. It has never beckoned me in with its buffet volonte sign but now I am hooked. Although I ordered to go (after all that was Elaine's eat-in idea!) it was clearly the better deal in the French menu way for just 10 euros and 50 centimes; all you wanted from the piping hot buffet of the delicate eggplant and cauliflower beignets, crispy samosas, crab rolls, duck served many ways (it is after all still Gascony.) and tempting sweets' bar with some coconut dumpling things that I love! Not the wonderful selection of exotica found in on ealine's blog, but a welcome change for a Cassoulet overdose.

(Full disclosure- I don't know any of the real names and I just pointed to the French names and guessed and got lucky!)

And then the best for last... a beautiful plate of French dim sum desserts from the Blvd. Carnot Patisserie next door.

A truly French way to wrap up a Sunday Dim Sum on the Julia Hoyt.

Thanks Elaine! One of the few times when I can say... wish I was there.

November 10, 2007

camp cassoulet wannabees...

photo by David Lebovitz

Interested in attending you own Camp Cassoulet?
I have posted all the details and info on my French Kitchen Adventures site-

How about a Christmas Cassoulet?