December 27, 2007

Is Cassoulet Time's 'Man' of the year?

With Russia's Vladimir Putin on the cover and the year's roundup of top news photographs inside, I had to smile when I picked up the current issue of TIME magazine and found our own star French dish reaching out from The Global Advisor section. Cassoulet is indeed still in the global consciousness as a journalist from Departures magazine also called this month to ask my opinions about THE best cassoles in the world. Of course, this prompted a last minute drive down the windy road to Cassoulet country as the bidding for the Menu for Hope raffle was drawing to a close and my lovely 20-year old cassole up on the blocks.

So for those keeping track of these things, food trends and such, let it be noted that Camp Cassoulet continues in 2008 and hits the road in early spring toward the West Coast of America and then makes a special all-star French connection in New Orleans before the IACP international conference in Mid April. As IACP's country coordinator for France, I look forward to meeting other international members and sharing one of France's iconic culinary treasures in an informal and fun day at Camp Cassoulet-NOLA. More to come...

And for those wondering just what 2008 offers from my French Kitchen Adventures... stay tuned for a new look, classic recipes and way to own your own authentic cassole from French Kitchen Pantry.

December 23, 2007

French Full Moon


This darkest night,
too bright with hope,
leads lightly toward
New Year
of good Food, Friends
& Family.

For 2008,
a Pantry full of New Ideas,
a Book of French Fairy Tales,
and a Welcoming French Kitchen
at the Relais de Camont.

December 22, 2007

Menu for Hope- winter solstice celebrations!

Winter Solstice Still Life with Clay- 21/12/07

Yesterday I drove to the Lauragais, that wide open valley famous for le bleu de Pastel, Minervois wines, and ...cassoulet, of course. For those not lucky enough to have traveled in this part of Southwest France, let me just warn you of one alarming thing- the wind! And it's not from the beans. Bacon and I could hardly walk the towpath along the Canal du Midi; there was enough choppy wave action on the narrow canal that would have made me seasick. But once inside the kiln warmed atelier I relaxed and remembered why I came.

As a barge captain I would say it was blowing stink. As a driver of a very small and lightweight French car, it was rockin'! But as the courier to fetch a trunk full of heavy hand-thrown cassoles... it was just right! And that is exactly what I did- loaded the 2CV with a couple dozen cassoles of all sizes and headed back to the Agenais with a belly full of beans and warm heart.

Thank you all who bought tickets for this 4th Annual Menu For Hope with the hope to win one of my prized Not Poterie cassoles from the French Kitchen Cooking school. At last glance we were at $82K and counting. there are still a few hours left to buy raffle tickets and Pim's last post offers a few hot tips! Since I decided to buy a few extras cassoles to keep the deux-chevaux on the road, I can now offer the lucky winner a well-used and loved cassole or a brand spanking new one. When the winner is selected, I'll send you a photo and let you choose!

Just to tide you over here, here is a still life of the poterie on a windy but sunny winter solstice day in Southwest France. And the man who made your pot for you...
Jean-Pierre NOT


December 21, 2007

LAST DAY World Wide Menu for Hope Bargains!

Got Ten Bucks burning a hole in your pocket?Then get thee to That Pim! for a list of fab prizes that are going begging.

Pim gives the goods away as to which prizes are the best bets and I'm going back for a few more tickets. Oh, and if you still want that hand thrown Cassoulet Cassole from the Not Poterie near Castelnaudary, a kilo of Haricots Tarbais , some pruneaux d'Agen and my original African Market drawing, there is still a lucky chance.

Aime Not

Waiting Pots

I've got my fingers crossed for you...

December 19, 2007

Tuscany Cooking Classes for $10...

With just a few days left to make this 4th Annual Menu for Hope match last year's goal, I am only going to say a few more words...

Tuscan Market Colors

Cooking with Fire

Meet the Meat Maestro- Dario

Vino by the glass

Butcher Friends

Chianti Beef

Italian Dreams rent by the day...

Laundry Day Flag

Madonna and Child making pizza

Your friendly Hostesses welcome you to buy a raffle ticket for Menu for Hope.
JUST $10 dollars for a week of Tuscan Wood Cooking Adventures!
Click on Judy's blog for more details.

December 17, 2007

Learning to Cook in Africa... Menu 4 Hope

My own love affair with Africa began on a 10-month adventure as I crawled across the country with one of those 1980's overland adventure companies. London to Jo'burg in 6 months. How about Sicily to Lamu in 10 months? It was slow going and yet it was too fast; too fast to imprint the images, the faces, the sights and scents of a whole continent. I wrote and I photographed and I drew. It was never enough. I wanted back. as soon as I could. I wanted to recapture the whole year again. I decided to buy a barge in Europe so I would be closer... 25 years later I am still here. Yes, My French Kitchen Adventures began in Africa.

This is a drawing I made on a market day in Niger. 1982. I remember what I bought- a big pumpkin/squash, some peanut spice balls, onions. I made a spicy pumpkin soup to serve my fellow travelers. There were 25 of us crammed into the back of an old Bedford Army truck. The big blue Wolley Trolley. The sub-Saharan markets were magical for me. Colors and scents of spices; bright fabrics and clanking jewelry. I was dazzled by the exotic, humbled by the meagerness. I soaked up the noise and bartering like a drunk.

I followed women home, I asked how they cooked. They made small fires and cooked in one pot whatever was at hand. Sometimes it was a silvery fish from the coast of Togo, another time a pot of manioc greens in the Central African Republic; plantains and coconuts, pounded millet for porridge and beer. After nearly a year I landed off the coast of Kenya and learned about coconut milk and rice, limes and mangoes. I sat in the kitchens while women cooked and talked, I sat on the woven mats with the men and listened. I was a woman but I wore pants. A pair of khaki cargo pants from the Banana Republic when it was one little shop in San Francisco. They had given me a gift certificate to the shop if I wrote something for their catalogue. I guess 25 years is not too late to say 'Thank you". I wore those pants 10 months in a row.

When I left Nairobi, crying, I also vowed to say thank you to all those warm and welcoming people who opened doors to their Africa. How would I ever pay them back for the sort of hospitality that you can only imagine- a bar of soap after not having a bath for weeks, a shared meal next to a fire in the jungle, a stowaway berth on a Congo River ferry, a glass of beer in a campground, a lift on an old Peugeot truck across the Sahara, a bed that their children shared. Payment was never demanded, kindness was offered freely. Most times my hosts had less than me but gave willingly and generously.

I see the faces of Lesotho at Pim's Place, the school children and farmers, the mothers and teachers and I want to say thank you sharing. Thank you for helping me share my plenty with them now. Thank you for helping make Menu for Hope the important grassroots success story it is. Thank you for sharing our food blogging words in the spirit of giving and generosity that came from Africa. If you are one of my friends, you've heard me talk about how important that African trip was to me. If you need an extra incentive to buy more raffle tickets, I'll add my original oil crayon drawing of "Market Day- Niger" to prize code EU25- one of my favorite Cassoulet pots.

Go to FirstGiving to buy your 10$ (or more!) chance for a souvenir of African love and the sharing pot.

One of the Not Potter's Cassoulet bowls.

The World Food Program has more information on their site about the specific program that Menu for Hope is benefiting. Read on!

December 12, 2007

Red Hot Cassoulet Bowl for $10- Menu 4 Hope


A few years ago while traveling down the Canal du Midi, The Julia Hoyt and all her crew aboard were moored at a small port near Villefranche de Lauragais. This was July- Tour de France season; we popped some champagne and had foie gras baquette sandwiches as Lance Armstrong and his band of merry men whizzed by in such a fast blur they were gone before we could even register their presence. That evening we meandered over to the Hostelllerie de Etienne for the house specialty- Cassoulet Imperial and who did we see eating vast quantities of beans duck confit and sausage? Well, not Lance, but all the rest of the support members of all the racing teams stoking up on good hearty Chaurien fuel. We wandered back to the boat sated and happy to have shared in yet another victory for 'our' team- Team Cassoulet in the yellow aprons!

I share this anecdote with you, in case you haven't noticed that this is the MENU FOR HOPE week. For just one $10 (US) donation you can buy a raffle ticket to win your own hand thrown by the real deal NOT Poterie brothers Cassole. This is one of my well loved French Kitchen stables that have held dozens of cassoulets over dozens of years. I can't guarantee that you will make a better cassoulet in it, after all as Lance wrote "It's not about the Bike". However, wouldn't you ride a little harder, a little prouder if you won Lance Armstrong's winning bike for a $10 raffle ticket? Maybe your next cassoulet will look like this!

For all the information and other great prizes available worldwide, check out Pim's list at Chez then follow these simple guidelines to win your heart's delight.

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle

Here's what you need to do:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope above

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code. The code for my Cassoulet bowl is EU25. the Tuscan wood oven adventure is EU30.

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 - 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Any questions, just ask! and get those beans soaking! The prices will be announced on Pim's site on January 9 and the Cassoulet bowl will packed and ready to fly on Jan 10th.

Kate and her one cassoulet bowl magic oven at The French Kitchen.
See More Photos of Camp Cassoulet by Greg Orr.

For another fab prize that you can win (and Cooking with Fire photo) check out what Judy Witt and I are offering over at JUDY WITTS' Tuscan Blog.

December 10, 2007

Menu for Hope- Cassoulet Dreams

Behind the scenes of Camp Cassoulet
with Lucy Vanel, Kate Hill & David Lebovitz

When Food Bloggers get together what do they do besides the oh-so-obvious 'eat, cook & be merry' ? Let me take you behind the scenes and share this dirty little secret...

If you imagine all the hundreds & thousands of words spewing off of every food bloggers key board everyday then you can easily guess the answer.

What do Food bloggers do when they get together?
Overlapping, excitable, TALKING...with your mouth full!

Back in February when Pim and Lucy came for a long weekend of Pig Celebrations, we talked and talked and talked. Pim shared her hopes for the 2007 Menu for Hope with us. We talked over chinese dumplings; we talked over wine, we talked over truffles. Pim speaks quietly but one listens. She told me about her meetings with the World Food Program; of her desire to make the Menu for Hope donations substantial enough and focused enough. She spoke of the School Lunch programs in Africa. And as she spoke, of power coming from many, I became hopefully addicted to the idea that our food blogging words could make a difference within this virtual community.
Pim talking truffles & hope

So when I thought about what I could give to Menu for Hope to inspire YOU to give, I immediately thought of Camp Cassoulet and the great fun and good R&D (Research & Devour as fellow camper Tricia Robinson says) that we had and what makes food bloggers tick. The most photographed subject of the wonderful bean cooking weekend were the cassoles themselves. Not only did they become the star of the show, they inspired spin off posts on and Then Departures magazine interviewed me about a story on Cassoles. Then I decided to start exporting the heavy authentic soulful terracotta cassoulet pots to fill the demand that was writing me. Eh voila!

My Menu for Hope Raffle prize: one real authentic, well-loved cassoulet bowl from my French Kitchen and created by the Not Freres of Poterie Not.

photo of this beautiful cassole by David Lebovitz

This cassole symbolizes the power of our food blogging community coming together. This well-loved and experienced 'cacola' will be your French guardian angel perched on a kitchen shelf; a link to the French Kitchens of the past; a cradle for your culinary hopes of the future.
And just to make sure you have the spirit of Camp Cassoulet (see multiple posts in the archive here and at David L' site and Lucy Vanel's), I will include a copy of the new Camp Cassoulet Authentic Workbook & Recipe Primer.

I'll even throw in the beans! A kilo of Haricots Tarbais and the shipping by international post chez vous!

How much does this authenticity cost? This hand-thrown traditional clay cassoulet pot with which to make your Cassoulet Dreams come true? The same as it costs to help out Menu for Hope.

Just 10 bucks
6.81 euros
4.90 pounds

Not much for a chance to win this Cassoulet pot that had made hundreds of delicious cassoulets as well as help feed the dreams of dozens of school kids in Lesotho. How much does it cost to help feed some school kids? Keep them in school? Help support the local food producers that supply the school lunch food? Just a 10 dollar raffle ticket. Really want to win this bébé? Buy lots of tickets! I'll even hold your hand making your first cassoulet; you can call me on Skype and I'll walk you through the crusty bits.

So go to and buy your tickets now for Code EU25.

And while you're at it, check in to see what other Euro-bloggers are offering at Fanny's site- or Chez Pim of course. And look at these great pix on pim's site-

Look at these kids... Hey, I wore a school uniform just like that when I was their age! Imagine, if hundreds of food bloggers could raise $100,000 ten dollars at a time perhaps someone out there would match these donations with a nice big fat check... it's up to YOU. I know you are reading.

December 09, 2007

Green Purple glowing Orange- The Captain is Happy!

Success.... and if this isn't a sight to warm your heart. Darth doesn't have cooking capability due to her highly Deco design- (btw, this Darth is a she!); However she more than makes up for it by her willing adaptablity to use those darling little wood pellets. Wow! So easy and way cleaner than dragging bark and sawdust into the salon. Now, to put all the pieces back together: couch, desk, baskets and baskets of magazines and art projects.

Oh, and I did I tell you that the cost of the pellets are just 1/8th the price of the heating fuel? Add to the mix that I recycled something I already had (minus carbon impact I think) and I learned that bedspread trick and I feel pretty damn smug just now as I sit in a blustery Atlantic squall storm banging the barge into the banks with the irregular thump of 8 inch waves on the canal. First storm of the season- this calls for popcorn and a movie.

December 06, 2007

When purple is green... wood stove love

Sometimes, a woman just comes undone. And when that happens, it's not a pretty sight.

This isn't about food, this isn't about France. This is about being as smart and stubborn as one Barge Captain can be because life on a 65-ton inanimate object can sometimes be a bit... crazy making. But when pushed to the wall, I come out fighting and no amount of cooking therapy can tame me. There are a thousand stories in my Long Village; this is just one of them.

When the Englishman and I bought the Julia Hoyt, a lifetime ago, in the Freeze-land of northeast Holland, the first thing we did was find a sweet little woodstove that fit the look of the turn of the century barge. In a second hand shop in Enkhuizen, I found this highly polished, faceted aubergine-colored bijou of a Deville stove. And although the name of the stove says "Osaka" (remember- it was the time of Japanaiserie deco) we called her Darth Vader- the dark glowing helmet-like cast iron stove masking the sizzling heat within. She has an elegant fan that rattles the damper between "lent, moyen, vie" and the enameled surface is a gleaming deep purple. Folkloric and functional, she stood in the place of honor for many winters.

Later when the Julia Hoyt had nested in the Southwestern South of France and the super efficient fuel-oil furnace found a thermostat and delivery service, Darth was retired (at the instance of an ex) to decorative status in the sitting room of the Relais de Camont.

However, nothing will make a girl go green faster than watching her hard earned euros/dollars/pounds pour into the fuel tank. Think of what I could do in Paris over Christmas with that loot? I began looking at solutions as the green wave hits France but it took a garlic breath of fresh air called Riana writing a post about her Hobo cooking challenge on her wood stove to kick me into action.
a favorite color

Transporting Darth from the house to the boat was relatively easy thanks to my new all rubber two-wheeled wheelbarrow. I can't even imagine how much the cast iron babe weighs... at least or as much as my 100-pound Bacon. Conjuring up an Egyptian engineer spirit, I tipped the wheelbarrow over the stove and the righted it with stove intact... and inside. Next hurdle, the gangplank.

At just over 18 inches wide, it is often the best test of sobriety in Gascony; only tee-totalers and experienced captains can maneuver the plank after a serious evening fête. But a dirty bath mat and a large paper bag served as the lubrication needed to drag the stove across the aluminum rails and tip'er into the wheelhouse and up the steps. 'Pink' thinking.

Hmmm. Now how to get Darth back into her place of honor, the salon, where the old cast iron pipe that passes through the steel deck still stands waiting for the new stove piping. I tried hefting her. Besides getting my hands tattooed with soot, I couldn't really get a purchase and descend 4 steep steps. I couldn't lift it- period. Ok, I really didn't want to lift it either. Seemed like the smartest thing I decided in ages. So I did what I always do, walk away and let it think itself into a solution. and then I called a friend.

As Shauna discovered recently Sweet Judy in Tuscany is more than a gracious hostess when visiting her Florence stomping grounds. She's a dynamic problem solver and a great cheerleader. And when she said, "Andrea uses an old bedspread to drag stuff around", long life lightbulbs lit up all over my brain. First I tried rigging a cardboard ramp- NOT. Next I took the bedspread throw from the couch and padded all the steps down to the salon floor. I tipped the stove on it's back and just like "Winnie the Poo", she went thump, thump, thump and rested gently on the bottom step. After that it was an easy slide across the varnished floors to her resting space.

And there she sits...5 days and 7 hardware store trips later. I have the pipes, I have some of the connections; the trouble is nothing fits exactly from one system to the other. My favorite hardware boys said wait until Thursday (that would be today) and they would have the rest of the pieces. This impatient DIYer has finally given in...

As soon as she is hooked up and with her mica windows glowing, I know I'll forget the frustration and trauma and sink into the couch covered with the bedspread and read about those floating 'gyptians in Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass- a great winter read when playing hooky from the real world.

Mon amour- Osaka
waiting to go green.

December 02, 2007

2CV Dreams...

This morning two pompiers (firemen) knocked on the door selling the annual Fireman's Calender asking money for ...widows and children? a new firetruck?
I didn't ask. I like that they call on me on the barge and know just where they would have to drive to in case of an emergency. I never use the calenders, but I buy one for the Relais.

If I'm lucky the village school will have their calender ready when I go to the Marie to ask about the status of my neighbor's environmental disaster of a gravel pit. I'll contribute to the school fund and have a second calender to add to the collection.

Next le facture or postman will pull up in the little yellow La Poste van with his calenders and today's mail. A postcard from a friend, a couple birthday cards, an internet wireless bill to keep me plugged in and in tune with the outside world. I am grateful for all the comings and goings of my 'Village People'.

Sometimes here, in the too quiet countryside around the hamlet of Camont in the Goulard village of our commune of Ste.Colombe-en-Bruilhois in the Canton of Laplume in the Agenais of the Lot-et-Garonne department of the Aquitaine region that I call Northern Gascony it feels a little like living in a postage stamp of small country scenes from 50 years ago.