When it rains

There’s more than one way to spend a cold and rainy night. You could start a diet with a can of zero and an old bag of baked chips, put your feet up and try not to think about it. Or you could light a fire til it,s cracking, and round up 11 cheeses so good you start speaking French.
Last night the salon at Champfreau was lit to the gills with a roaring fire and forests of candles. We tasted the best cheese I have ever met. We had a rich, creamy potato leek soup with a tiny dice of smoked ham and potato, bitter greens with a fresh tarragon vinaigrette, pickled beets so beautiful they could have hung from a Christmas tree, but were way too delicious, and for dessert, a tiny boulle of vanilla ice cream drowned in a cassis and berry reduction.
We ate and laughed til our sides cried uncle.
France is really good.

the market on a Tuesday

Market in Bourgueil this morning. got a crush as big as a tuna on the fruit and veg man.
bought skinny h. Vert and purple lettuce. couldn,t think of anything else.
absolutely pouring down rain when I was trying to buy a 10 pound bag of grey sea salt tied with a blue ribbon. Nobody there. she was having a coffee at the Pause bar, but I waited for her. and thank goodness, because right next to me was a man offering slivers of goat salami to taste which just about knocked my boots off. I have no idea what he said to me in French, and he had no idea what I was saying back in English, but you can tell someone is happy in any language. bought four of those, two whole sea bass, pile of leeks, that celery that makes me cry because of how delicious it is, rice, butter, the last tomatoes of the season (for cancasse), lemons, bread pointed like a turret and wine.
Back at Champfreu in Varenness and ready to cook.

Nuit in the am

All men on business with carry on’s at tres bientot across the street from the TGV station in Montpenasse. It,s already 8 in the morning and the sun only showed it,s French self five minutes ago. I ate a croissant in two bites and I,m considering getting 4 more.

On the job last night–cocktail party. What I made: Miniature polenta squares stuffed with sautéed shitake, seared filet bites w/drizzle of olive oil, roasted red and yellow pepper confit on crostini, marinated shrimp (Dijon, olive oil, lemon zest, whole cloves of garlic, thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs,) spinach sformata, vegetable platter of braised potatoes, cherry tomatoes, sliced fennel, braised string beans, carrots, roasted shallot, nicoise and orange zest, and cheese from Italy, France and America.

Gnocchi anew

At 5am I considered beef stew. At five fifteen thought about little lamb chops dipped in lardo, seared in the pan, salted up, squeeze of lemon and eaten like potato chips. At five eighteen spaghetti and meatballs showed up. I was Dorothy when all the people she loved floated to her windowsill.
I saw a heap of sauteed shitake on toasted bruschetta with a sliver of proscuitto in a wave across the top, a full turkey dinner, and gnuddi. And then croque monsieur. Hello France, but then what, cornichon? Salad and some kind of pumpkin stuffed or sliced and roasted or pureed. And mustard. Or just mustard and a big old baked ham with biscuits. A pot of greens stirred around with slow cooked onions and a smoked turkey wing, chow chow to start and an apple pie to finish. Who needs France? Well I do actually. I love France. Runaway delicious French Fall basics that steal the show, Loire valley celery and fresh walnuts. As available in Long Island City as Elvis. I gave up on horizontal inspiration and got up from the bed. I let the cold go through my bones and watched the leaves fall. Soup. Hold on to that. Maybe soup-ish.
Creamy roasted butternut squash soup with a little leek and bouquet garni and a sliver of foie gras can send people over the edge in either direction. But now I had that taste of roasted sweet squash on my tongue. I had waited til the last minute to shop for my little dinner party–to buy meat and the only fresh meat I can get by me is feedlot. Gave it up with circus bears.
I can get good bacon though.
So roasted butternut squash with bits of good bacon, fried sage and handmade gnocchi. Because I know I’m not supposed to make things up when people are coming over but I’m tired of the same old gnocchi. And it’s my kitchen. I’m cooking. I can make what I want!&%%$ Nobody else was awake. I stopped arguing with myself. I put the potatoes on to boil. Beautiful beets in the bottom drawer and squash and beets love each other. I grated the beets raw and tossed them with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette. Set them up next to a bowl of tiny arugula leaves, my true creamy love–mascarpone–and soft and luscious dates. All for a salad. Back to soup, but not soup. Lentils..tiny little lentils simmered to tender with a spill of beautiful olive oil, a cherry tomato, half a little onion, a clove of garlic and plenty of water. In the pan next to it: tiniest dice of carrot, celery, onion and garlic with sprigs of thyme and parsley, (soffritto) and two more cherry tomatoes sauteed until they were a deep caramel color and not one bit of resistance to the bite. Lifted the lentils out of their liquid and into the soffritto. Added just enough liquid to be soupish. Gave it a spill of my piece-de-la-resistance olive oil. Forgot to buy the bread. Forgot to think about appetizers. Classic (French) apple tart for dessert. Didn’t make enough (plain) gnocchi for the kids.
But everybody ate.
And it was good.

The PTA

What I had for dinner at the PTA event: one cupcake, half a bag of cheddar sun chips, a banana, the three chocolate coated oreos/pretzels that I wouldn’t let Ferdinand eat before he ate a sandwich, and a when I got home, a bowl of mini wheats.
I swore I wasn’t going to sign up for anything.
I am now a class parent, editor of the newsletter and somehow involved with parent/teacher conference day.

A quickie vs not so quickie

There is something that gets your breathing going in a good way when you’re about to be cooking beouf for the next four hours. The knife gets sharpened, vegetables sweat with herb bouquets until they all collapse, stock is skimmed on the back of the stove, wine is poured and the whole house waits.
But there’s not always time for that.
On Saturday, as soon as Ferdinand woke up we were going to go upstate to look at the stars and sleep in a barn. There was a load of laundry still in the basement, a pot of yesterday’s coffee on the stove and a call in for pancakes. All other brain activity was warping its way into a focus on sweaters, pajamas and car snacks. Not much left for beouf. Isn’t it nice though when you come home from being tired and happy and cold and overfed on roadfound food to a stew that’s already done? It is.
And so between it all I browned off beef, threw a chopped up onion in the same pan with a bay leaf, a sprig of parsley and a sprig of thyme with an extra tab of butter and a squall of salt and pepper, waited for them as long as I could, threw in a few chopped carrots, the inside stalks of a head of celery and a good pour of an ale I couldn’t finish the night before. I brought it all to a boil and shoved it in the fridge.
When we came home I put it back on the fire and let it simmer and simmer and simmer. When the beef is tender to calm the ale, all you need is a nugget of soft butter in your palm with as much flour. Smush them together and whisk into the pot. Let it go for another five minutes, and you’re done. Serve with rice and a spicy beet salad on the side and the beet tops sauteed with slivers of garlic and a pour of your best and most beautiful olive oil. If you have it in you, boil eggs that you can chop to garnish the greens with and use for tomorrow’s lunch.

A bunch of beets

What two people from the same house are going to bring back from the grocery store: not the same
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying Jonathan went to the grocery store yesterday.
What we got:
a bunch of beets, a head of organic fennel, a head of broccoli and a one pound bag of carrots.
a bunch of bananas
two packs of chicken
1 pack of beef (for beouf b.)
1 pack of ground beef
a whole lot of chips
beer
milk
chunk of parm
boxes of pasta
orange and grapefruit juice and 3 mega packs of juice boxes
chocolate covered marshmallow cookies with a graham cracker crust
vanilla ice cream
bag of sugar
good butter
good bread

you have got ask yourself what you can do with what you have. ie I have an insatiable love for purple suede boots. No sense planning your day around practical black pumps when they are not in the house.

For dinner: pan roasted beet pasta with crushed fennel
You can make this in the time it makes for the pasta to be the kind of tender that comes right after crunchy.
Bring the water to a boil and add a good few pinches of salt. (Throw your table salt to the curb and get yourself some kosher or sea salt.) Add a short high quality pasta.
Give the saute pan a fire underneath it and a good pour of your best olive oil. Add a chopped shallot, a few slivered cloves of fresh garlic and a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir around til just about to go golden and relaxed. Crush about a half teaspoon of fennel seed and add to the pan with a few grated beets, and continue to move (the beets) around.
Drain the pasta, reserving a half cup of cooking water. Combine the pasta with the beets; feel free to shout from the surprise of the pink. Add a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter and enough of the pasta’s cooking water to make the whole thing creamy. Stir in grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.

Halloween

My mother used to start making slow cooked ribs at about 6pm every Halloween. Other kids were dancing down the street at the crack of dusk and we were sitting at the table sweating under lion and hobo suits, waiting for the ribs to be done.
“Don’t worry Mom, we don’t need to eat.”
“Yes you do.”
“We don’t care if they’re cooked. We’ll just chew them really well. Please, Mom. We love chewy meat.”
The bell at this point was ringing like crazy with all kinds of goblins and grinning ghosts holding out their bags for candy, and us on the totally wrong side of the door dropping in baggies of homemade popcorn.
Eventually about an hour in my mother would throw up her hands and say “Go.”
And out we would run out into the wilds of Halloween night with nothing but a cracker and a heavy coat over our costume to ward off the danger of starving and freezing.
You would think I would have learned something about timing, but I haven’t. I could just as easily start dinner at noon as I could at 6, but I don’t. The fact that everybody is hungry and has suffered enough stress in the world of Ferdinand over homework and never getting enough computer time or money to buy a hard hat that can hold two cans of soda so you can drink them at the same time, bears no weight. Last night I started pasta fagioli at about quarter to seven. Ferd asked if he could just have plain pasta and a hotdog. I pushed on. The soffritto of garlic, onion, celery and carrots with a few fresh sage leaves and a parsley sprig takes at least a half hour, and after the small can of (hand) crushed plum tomatoes are added with the tiniest bit of balsamic if you are out of red wine, you need at least fifteen minutes to let it simmer. Then stock had to be added and brought to the boil before you can throw the (hand) broken pasta in. He ate it though, with a drizzle of olive oil, forgoing the shavings of Parmigaino, commenting that he preferred a sauce without tomato all together.
After dinner was done and I was lying down next to him waiting for sleep, he said, “Mom, have you ever felt misunderstood?

It’s costing me in more ways than one

The mother in me says, “don’t do it.” I can’t stop eating Ferdinand’s school snacks.
My own mother used to have the same issue at Easter, jellybean by jellybean. Sometimes she would have to go back to the drugstore to start from scratch, and there were four of us. I’m blaming it on genetics, and thankful that it’s sour cream onion chips and peanut butter corn puffs and not hard drugs. There’s always a bright side.
I could blame it on Ferdinand and tell myself that if he didn’t like the stuff I wouldn’t have to have it in the house.
I could cut him off all together. When I was a kid I brought rice cakes with sprouts and cheddar to school.
And with my own money I bought a chunk of chocolate cake with white icing and loved every bite.
Salt and heavy on the mouth appeal isn’t all Ferdinand gets in his lunch box, but it’s what he looks forward to. It’s what he’s proud of.
Carrot sticks, apple wedges, organic peanut butter on 8 seed crackers, free range chicken bacon on French sourdough, peanuts, raisins and 100% juice boxes, get eaten, but it’s the (all natural) chips, corn twists, corn puffs, and cookies that get him through.
And I know that as a cook I shouldn’t be addicted, shouldn’t be indulging myself or my kin, but the truth is, that’s my truth.

I can’t stop listening to pop either. Time’s gettin’ a little crazy. Sweet Escape, Lady Gaga, Kate Perry…You ever feel like a plastic bag? I’m just hoping I don’t start wearing the clothes. Low riding skinny jeans don’t work on a 48 year old who hasn’t done a sit up since before Madonna had surgery.