Posts from the “Food” Category

Schooled

Posted on October 6, 2015

freefrance

 

The past month has been busy, between the work I’ve been doing on my book and the class I’ve been teaching for LSU Continuing Education. I’ve spent the past four weeks talking about the French Resistance with a truly lovely and engaged group of folks. Judging from some of their questions, comments and the like, I suspect there may be a massive run on resistance histories and memoirs over the course of the next week or so. So I am tickled as can be about their interest in the subject and, most importantly, their continued support of my classes. If any of them are reading this now, a big, big thank you for trusting me with your mornings. Until we meet again…

fightersintheshadows Now, part of one’s ability to become a figure worthy of a group’s trust is a willingness to not only admit that one has goofed up, but actually go about the business of fixing one’s blunder. And class, I misspoke yesterday when I said Robert Gildea’s Fighters in the Shadows was coming out today. I could say that in my zeal to read this tome, my error was aspirational, i.e. “Dear Lord me, I really hope that Dr. Gildea’s book comes out today because I have been reading so many fantastic reviews about it all over the place, that I just can’t take waiting any longer.” But sadly, the truth is quite simple. This was a case of my very own and very human error. When I went to Amazon to order it this morning, I found that Gildea’s book is not, in fact, out in the United States until November 30. Surely there will be oodles and oodles of more fantastic reviews that will make this wait even more torturous for me and for the others who may have gone online today in search of this bloody thing that their well-meaning instructor told them about in class. Know that you are not suffering in solitude, my friends. May this tome be the gift we give each other this coming holiday season. Vive la Resistance!

In the meantime, I will be reading Patti Smith’s latest memoir M Train because I loved Just Kids oh so very much. Unlike Fighters In The Shadows, M Train actually did come out today.

What are you reading right now? Anything that has captured your imagination? Please let me know what it is and why I can’t live without it in comments.

***

nasaspecialedition

One of the more recent freelance assignments I’ve taken on was for USA Today, which does an annual NASA Special Edition. This is the second consecutive piece I’ve done for them on the agency’s exoplanet research initiatives, which never cease to capture my imagination, especially considering recent reports about the discovery of water on Mars. Is there life out there beyond our planet? The people I’ve talked to for this story are devoting themselves to this question, and it seems we’re getting closer and closer to an answer which very well could be “Yes.”

***

IMG_0903

 See these little nuggets of amazing? They are cocoa sables and I brought a few dozen of them to my class yesterday morning. I live in a household of chocoholics, so when I found the recipe for these cookies in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Tablethey became a pretty beloved sweet (but not too sweet). They’re crumbly and buttery and rich with dark chocolate flavor. They’re just as good served with a cold glass of milk as they are with a nice Malbec.

Here’s the recipe:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

2/3 cup of sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 lb. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (the recipe says this is optional, but I believe it’s a must)

 

1. Whisk the flour, cocoa and salt together.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and smooth. Gradually add the sugar and keep beating, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is creamy, but not airy. Mix in the vanilla.

3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, little by little, making sure the ingredients are well-incorporated. Then, stir in the chopped chocolate.

4. Scrape the dough onto a cutting board and divide in half. Roll each piece into a log, then wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill for at least three hours.

5. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

6. Slice the logs into 1/2-inch thick cookies. Arrange them on the baking sheets, leaving a good amount of space between the rounds.

7. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to racks to cool to room temperature.

Enjoy!

Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar

Posted on June 24, 2015

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

I grow a lot of eggplant this time of year.

It’s overwhelming really.

Because eggplant isn’t for everyone.

Or at least it isn’t for everyone in my household. [Ed. note: Unless I trick them into eating it.]

I happen to love it.

But I’ve been looking for new things to do with it. One reason: I have a lot. The other: Our household has had to eliminate dairy and eggs from our diet at least for the near term. So one of my many summer projects involves figuring out how to do this. It’s a little more complicated than I had imagined, but we’re muddling through it.

For now, that means no cheese with my evening glass of wine. [Ed note: I also happen to love cheese.]

Some might feel defeatist about this, but I am not one of those folks. And fortunately, eggplant has stepped in to fill this so-called cocktail hour snack void. One of my favorite French food writers, Clotilde Dusoulier, has a wonderful recipe for Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar in her The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from my Parisian KitchenIt’s a great, savory spread for crackers or flatbread, and Dusoulier says you can even use it in sandwiches or scooped over a bowl of rice.

I am thinking about cheese a little bit less these days, thanks in part to this tangy treat.

Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar

from Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from my Parisian Kitchen

Ingredients:

2 lbs small eggplants

2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers (I used a couple more than this)

12 brine-cured black olives, pitted

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

fine sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

hot sauce

Method:

1. Roast the eggplants a few hours in advance or the day before. Use a knife to pierce three or four slits in each eggplant and slip the garlic slivers into the slits. I had trouble doing this, so I roasted the eggplant without the garlic slivers and it still turned out fine.

2. Place the whole eggplants on a lightly oiled baking sheet and insert in a cold oven. Turn oven to 400 degrees and roast the eggplants, flipping them halfway through, until completely soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool completely. If roasting the day before, put the eggplants in an airtight container and refrigerate.

3. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and scoop out the flesh and garlic cloves with a spoon to get as much flesh as possible. It’s okay if a little of the skin comes with it. Put the eggplant and garlic in a food processor or blender.

4. Add the olives, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, a pinch of salt, a good grind of black pepper and a dash (or two) of hot sauce. Process until very smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Your end result should look something like this (crackers and rose not included):

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

 

Click here for other eggplant recipes from NYT Cooking.

Gnocchis a la Parisienne

Posted on January 27, 2015

One of my favorite scenes from the 2007 animated film “Ratatouille” is when snooty food critic Anton Ego experiences the above Proustian moment. He’s in a Parisian restaurant that has become a huge deal again, thanks in no small part to a street rat with a flair for flavor. Ego doesn’t know the business about the rat yet, which is one of the many reasons why this particular scene is so great.

But that’s not really why I’m writing this post.

I’m writing this post because of a David Lebovitz recipe that inspires the same sort of nostalgic overwhelm that Ego experienced. Lebovitz adapted a friend’s signature “Gnocchis a la Parisienne” dish, which is rich with cheese, Mornay sauce and these little dumplings made from pate a choux.

This is for my mother, who fell in love with the meal when I first made it and has been wanting the recipe ever since.

It is also for my dear friend Michelle, who recently purchased the perfect Le Creuset baking dish in which to make it.

But it’s also for anyone in search of a great go-to dinner full of basic ingredients you probably already have in your pantry or refrigerator.

Are you ready?

Here we go.

Gnocchis a la Parisienne
from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories
Serves 6

Ingredients

For the pate a choux
1 1/4 cups of water
7 tablespoons of unsalted butter; room temperature, cubed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons dry mustard or mustard powder

For the Mornay sauce
5 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole or low-fat milk, warmed
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
1 3/4 cups Gruyere (or you can substitute Emmenthal or Comte)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

1. To make the pate a choux, heat the water, butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Dump in all the flour at once and stir the mixture briskly for about 2 minutes, until the dough forms a smooth ball. Remove from the heat and scrape the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Lebovitz says if you don’t have a stand mixer, you can leave the dough in the saucepan.) Let the dough sit for 3 minutes, stirring it every so often to release some of the heat. Here’s what it should look like:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

2. With the mixer on medium-high speed, or by hand, add the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the dry mustard and beat until the dough is completely smooth. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside. Prior to covering the dough, you should have something looking like this:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

3. To make the Mornay sauce, melt the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, letting the mixture bubble. Stir constantly for 2 minutes, until the paste is thickened. Do not let it brown. Gradually whisk in the milk, beginning slowly and stirring constantly to avoid lumps.

4. Decrease the heat to low and cook the Mornay for 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the sauce is about as thick as a milkshake. Remove from heat and add the salt, cayenne, and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere or whatever other Swiss-style cheese you decide to use. Stir until the cheese is melted.

5. Butter a shallow 2 1/2-to 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle half of the Parmesan over the bottom and sides. Spread 1 cup of Mornay sauce over the bottom of the baking dish like this:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

6. Line a large dinner plate with a few layers of paper towels. Bring a pot of salted water to a low boil. Either using two soup spoons — one to scoop up some of the dough and the other to scrape it into the boiling water — or a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, scoop up about 1 generous tablespoon of dough and drop it into the water. Working in batches, poach 8 to 10 gnocchi at a time. Let them poach for 2 minutes, then retrieve them from the water and drain them on paper towels. They will not be fully cooked inside. Repeat until all the gnocchi dough is poached.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 F with the oven rack in the top third of the oven.

8. Once the gnocchi are parcooked, place them in a single layer on top of the Mornay in the baking dish, like this:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

9. Then spoon the remaining Mornay over the gnocchi in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining cheese (both Parmesan and Swiss-style) on top of that.

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

10. Put the dish on a foil-covered baking sheet and then bake for 15 minutes. Then increase the oven temperature to 400 F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the top is well browned. This could probably be browner, but you get the spirit of the thing (and the spirit is pretty delicious):

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

Let cool a few minutes and then serve with a green salad. This is good comfort food, good dinner party food and good family fare that kids will enjoy. It’s become the sort of meal my husband and child ask about if I haven’t made it in a few weeks and I hope you come to enjoy it as much as we do!

No-Bake Granola Bars

Posted on November 28, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

Confession: I have been buying oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit to excess this past year. Of all the fatal flaws a person could have, this is probably not the worst. And yet, my husband has been dropping gentle hints about how maybe I can find something to make with all this stuff…so it will, you know, disappear from the pantry, and (in my mind) make room for more of it, or (in his mind) make room for the homemade beer he is forced to ferment in his office closet.

Domestic bliss, right?

But yes, I have a seeds/nuts/oats/dried fruit problem. It began earlier this year when I had romantic notions about making healthier snacks for the household. It ended (sort of) when I blew up my food processor trying to make some sort of raw candy bar out of cashews, chocolate chips, coconut and I-forget-what-else.

“Is that smoke coming out of the food processor?” my nine year old asked.

“No,” I told her, before sniffing the air and realizing that yes, it was indeed smoke…and…oops…my food processor was no longer working.

So much for those candy bars.

dates

Photo: Paige Bowers

The dream died there, if only for an instant. Ever since that ill-fated evening, I’ve been eating oatmeal and dried fruit and/or nuts and honey for breakfast, which means the unrelenting need to have these products on hand has not ceased (in my mind alone). But today, I decided to go back to this healthy snack idea. I decided to make chewy granola bars. I found a great David Lebovitz recipe on his website and adapted it a little bit to reflect the ridiculous amount of seeds and almonds (slivered and otherwise) that I have in the pantry. After toasting the oats and such and leaving them out to cool, I added dark chocolate chips and chopped dates to the mixture just to keep the flavor simple.

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

Then, I combined almond butter with raw honey and a pinch of salt to create the oozy, chewy sauce that binds it all together.

mixture

Photo: Paige Bowers

I added the sauce to the contents of the picture above, mixing it in with my hands to get it fully incorporated. After that, I smoothed the mixture into a parchment-lined baking pan. This is what it looked like:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

I froze this for thirty minutes, then took it out and sliced it into bars. Mine didn’t look pastry chef perfect, but they tasted fantastic.

Here they are:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

 

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Posted on July 17, 2014

monticello

 

About a month ago, I visited my mother in Virginia for her birthday. Mom is a big Thomas Jefferson buff, and has probably read every single solitary thing ever written about him. So my sister, brother-in-law and I took her down to Charlottesville to visit his home Monticello. As you can see from his tombstone, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for these three accomplishments:

jeffersontombstone

 

I would like to point out that his tombstone says nothing about his gardening prowess, about how he was someone who brought back all manner of interesting vegetables from his travels and exchanged seeds with his neighbors and really lit it up with his green thumbery (a word I just invented to get the snark out of my system).  Although Jefferson was innovative in his garden designs and techniques, he actually messed up a lot of things (just like I do) and, in fact, died in debt because of his storied plots (which I hope not to do).  These facts are deceiving when you look around the grounds of Monticello and see things like this:

monticellogardenvines

 

Or even this:

spanishonion

 

And then you think “Well, why can’t I grow White Spanish onions that get that big and full? Come to think of it, why can’t I grow onions, period?” Hearing the tour guides tell stories about his gardening struggles, you realize Jefferson might have asked himself the same question at some point. And then you kind of like how that little fact brings a certain someone’s favorite founding father down to Earth a wee bit.

Ending thought: I wonder if he struggled with pesky red ants too.

****

My little backyard plot has been producing Ichiban eggplant. I am the only person in my household who will eat eggplant voluntarily, so I’ve been looking for ways to trick the other two folks in this household into eating it too. Otherwise, I will be drawing a lot of uneaten eggplant for the rest of the summer.

Like this:

ichibaneggplantsketch

I found the solution to my eggplant problem Saturday night: Fried eggplant crisps, a small plate on Beausoleil’s dinner menu.

Here’s what you do: You skin the eggplant, then slice it into thin rounds. Then, you prepare three separate bowls, one with flour, the second with an egg white wash, the third with Italian-seasoned Panko bread crumbs. Put the rounds into the egg wash first, then into the flour, then back into the egg wash and then into the Panko crumbs. Fry the rounds in a cast-iron skillet full of hot vegetable oil until they are golden brown. Drain the rounds on paper towels and then season lightly with sea salt. Serve with a tangy marinara.

friedeggplant

****

And finally, web addresses of a few things I liked from this Virginia trip that I think you might like too:

* Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The founding father’s home, gardens and family cemetery are open for tours every day (except Christmas). Visit the web site for more details.

*L’Etoile Restaurant. About 10 minutes from Monticello, the restaurant offers French-Virginian style dining Tuesday-Saturday. The menu showcases fresh and seasonal ingredients, so it is subject to change from time to time. When I visited, they had an excellent hanger steak with roasted potatoes and asparagus, a delicious Korean braised pork belly, and a tender seared duck breast with caramelized local peaches. Definitely worth a visit!

* Riverby Books. My mother is also a big fan of Fredericksburg, Va, so we spent the day there the day after her birthday. She and I both like independently owned bookstores and this one is a new addition to my favorites list. There’s great overstuffed vintage chairs, and an interesting mix of used books, old maps, antiques and other little what-nots.

Monday Reader: Bastille Day Edition

Posted on July 14, 2014

bastilleday

 

Today is Bastille Day, the French equivalent of our July 4. Here are a few interesting reads and things about it from around the web:

From Deceptive Cadence, NPR Classical’s blog, here’s a quiz about the French national anthem, known as ‘La Marseillaise.’ I scored six out of six on it. But then again, I am just the type of person whose ears perk up and eyes get misty every time this tune is played.  For a wonderful old recording of the song, visit Gallica.fr, the web site of the Bibliotheque Nationale, for this treat from 1908.

From USA Today, an explainer about why Americans should care about France’s fete nationale.

From France24.com, an interview with Christophe Bertonneau, the mastermind of this year’s breathtaking fireworks display, which was fired straight from the Eiffel Tower. If you can get your hands on YouTube video of this spectacle, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War I, you won’t regret it.

From The New Yorker’s News Desk, an item about this annual military display and the struggle to acknowledge contributions from colonial troops from countries like AlgeriaThe Christian Science Monitor reports that for the first time ever, three Algerian vets were invited to take part in the parade. But it also gives a good primer on the complicated relationship between the two countries, which has existed since the early nineteenth century.

From cbsnews.com, a slideshow about the celebration.

From The New York Times’ T Magazine Blog, a timely ode to le grand aioli complete with a recipe.

Did you read anything about Bastille Day that you found interesting? If so, what was it? And if you have any questions about Paris, Bastille Day, or France in general, please don’t hesitate to ask me in comments.

 

 

The Constant Gardener

Posted on May 21, 2014

tomatoesinthewindow

 

Garden update: I don’t want to jinx anything, but my tomato plants were getting pretty heavy with fruit. So, as much as I love vine ripe tomatoes, I harvested some and have them ripening in the kitchen window.  Pictured above: Half my haul. And also? A cayenne pepper. There’s plenty more where this came from.

Again…not to jinx anything.

squashblossom

 

Another dispatch from the “not to jinx anything” department: The season’s first squash blossom. In my previous house, I tried to grow summer  squash, but never made it very far because of this strange wilt disease that hollows out the stems of the plant and leaves a fungus on the leaves. Once that happens, you can kiss the whole plant goodbye. I saw the first signs of this menace yesterday and treated it with Neem Oil. So I’m hoping that does the trick. Knock wood. If you have any tips on how to foolproof ways to keep wilt disease at bay, please let me know in comments.

cantaloupeThere’s a similar wilt disease that attacks cantaloupes. But I’ve been working hard to prevent it, too. I have three cantaloupe plants growing along the garden fence and two more that I’ve tried to start from seed. I’m hoping that I’ll have nice, honey-sweet melons within the next couple of months.

cucumbers

 

Although that same stinking wilt disease attacks cucumbers, I’ve had far more success growing these in the past. As much as I love fresh tomatoes, I have to say that nothing beats a freshly picked cucumber in the summer months. I’ve got three varieties growing in my garden now: a seedless, snack-sized variety; a larger variety known as a Marketmore; and a long green improved cucumber from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants. In the background, you can see organic pellets for fighting off red ants. This is the second time I’ve been under siege in the past month. Those little you-know-whats need to find another vegetable garden to invade.

eggplant

 

And finally: eggplant. I am the only one in the house who will eat these willingly. That’s fine with me.

 

Monday Reader: 5/5/2014

Posted on May 5, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

My husband sent me to Paris for my 40th birthday. When I tell people about it, they say “Oh that must have been so romantic for you two.” They look either disappointed or surprised when I say “Oh, I went alone. And it was really beyond perfect.” And that’s nothing against him, because my husband is beyond perfect. But because of his perfection, he understands that I really like going to Paris by myself. There’s nothing better than setting your own schedule, following your own interests, getting lost — and then found — in that beautiful city.

I posted the above picture because it reminded me of the last full day of this particular trip. I had spent the day walking through the rain, stopping here and there to pick up a few things I could bring back home with me to the States. I ducked into this cafe at the end of my walk to dry off and have a drink. But as I sat there and really settled in, I lost myself in watching all the people walk through or past this front door. It was pretty fun, holding court at that spot and (I’ll admit) eavesdropping on the people around me and watching them come and go. When I asked for the bill, the waiter brought me newspapers and another drink. I told him he misunderstood me. He said that no, he really didn’t. “You look like you’re enjoying yourself. Stay longer,” he told me.

He was right. So I did.

And that afternoon was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, right up there with my daughter, this wonderful birthday jaunt and so much more.

That’s why I enjoyed Stephanie Rosenbloom’s “Solo in Paris” article in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Travel section. My husband likes to joke about the way I take a lot of pictures of the green park chairs in the Jardin du Luxembourg (“You really like those chairs, don’t you?” he smirks), so it was nice to see that Rosenbloom’s story featured them too. And there were great touches throughout the piece about lingering over cold, briny oysters and white wine, and spending a luxe evening at the Palais Garnier. More than anything, she captured the feeling you get after staying in Paris for an extended period of time:

Could I bring back with me the feeling that I had cultivated here?

At my feet, two men with a wheelbarrow were tending to the tulips. I saw a shadow of myself on the dirt path, and of the buds on delicate branches above me, on the verge of opening. I looked down at my oxfords, covered in a fine layer of dust.

Whether it’s dust on your shoes or (for me) yellowed chestnut tree leaves tucked into the pages of a journal, it’s the little things that make a solo trip to the City of Light a must and why I’ll book another one the first chance I get.

I’ll end on this note, another one of those special Paris moments I’ve had while wandering around last year:

The Secret Garden

Posted on May 4, 2014

IMG_20140501_192213

 

Murray the Office Dog is a joy, but he also likes to eat things like bricks (pictured above) and rocks and, well, plants. This is why we had to build a fence around our backyard vegetable garden. Our dear Murray just has his own horticultural ideas, and they usually involve pulling plants up by the roots and shaking them for all they’re worth. As you can imagine, this sort of behavior is not conducive to a productive growing season.

Thus the fence…which our clever pup has also figured out how to open…which is why it is now fastened shut with a vise.

Our dear Murray, and all that.

The luxury of this fence (if you can call it that), is that it has given me a way to claim more turf for planting whatever I want. So my daughter and I have been working really hard on filling in the space, when we haven’t been telling Murray to kindly remove his meaty boy paws from the top of the bloody fence. We’ve nicknamed it the Secret Garden, because we have romantic notions of being able to hide in there once we’re done turning it into the lush and productive plot of our dreams.

Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to…

IMG_20140504_113453

This morning’s radish haul.

IMG_20140504_113827

 Someday when this little bud grows up, it will be a red bell pepper.

IMG_20140504_114003

A pea pod. These normally don’t stick around for long, as my girl eats them straight from the vine.

IMG_20140504_114057

I’m pretty excited about these. These little spikes will grow up to be haricots verts someday.

IMG_20140504_114136

Blueberries!

IMG_20140504_114204

Looking forward to the day when this vine sprouts its first cucumbers.

IMG_20140504_114355

Kale. Of course.

IMG_20140504_114438

Tomatoes. I would love it if they would hurry up and ripen.

Not pictured: wild garlic, carrots, strawberries, potatoes (for obvious reasons), vidalia onions, leeks, lavender, okra, canteloupe, watermelon, black-eyed peas, butternut squash and various herbs.

I’m really excited that I’ve been able to get my garden back up and running and will be updating here and there with the garden’s progress and how and what I’m cooking with what it yields.  I’ll also be sharing the ups and downs of what it takes to keep this going, through heat and through fierce red ant invasions (we had a massive one two weeks ago) and changing seasons. I hope you enjoy those stories!

In the meantime, if you are looking to start or maintain a vegetable garden of your own, here are two books that should have at the ready:

* Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

and

* Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte

Do you have any other book recommendations, or gardening resources, etc that you like? Please let me know in comments.

Not-So-Deep, Dark Secrets

Posted on April 23, 2014

I had a long-overdue lunch with my former academic advisor last week. Our conversations tend to be pretty free-flowing, covering everything from Jimmy Buffet lyrics to cheetahs and my maybe not-so-deep, dark secret. My maybe not-so-deep, dark secret is that I want to have my own restaurant someday. My neighbors in Decatur, Ga. knew it. My journalism colleagues have known it at various points in time. One of my graduate school classmates knows it all too well (and we’ve even discussed a Donald Trump-esque plan to develop an entire city block in New Orleans around business ideas like this that we’ve cooked up). My husband also suffers through my occasional fits of resto-reverie. He instantly (I imagine) regretted sending me to Paris for my 40th birthday after I returned to the States, told him I met a restaurant investor during a Paris By Mouth walking tour and felt that it was a sign that I needed to open a restaurant — the one I’ve wanted for as long I’ve been carrying on about it — in the City of Light.

His reply: “Why can’t you just have a food truck…here.”

My reply: “Because I want people to sit. At tables. In Paris, France.”

He sighed.

So, as I was saying, I was talking about this not-so-deep, dark secret with my former academic advisor, who has a long history of suffering through my weird ideas as well. He said I would be good at it, this running-a-restaurant thing.  But being the doom-and-gloom type, he also told me all the challenges I’d face and things that could or would go wrong. All of what he said was legit and came from a place of…let’s just call it…informed hyper-concern. That is precisely why I told him my next plan: The concept, as I envisioned it, would be best tested out in the privacy of my own home. He tried to hide his horror and said “What about health inspectors?” I told him I ran a clean kitchen and that “these things totally work, especially in Havana. There’s a huge underground restaurant scene in Havana.”

He, too, sighed, which must mean I’m on to something.

***

Photo: amazon.com

Photo: amazon.com

When I think about my restaurant, I envision something similar in feel (though not identical, of course) to Jody Williams’ renowned gastrotheque Buvette, which is located in New York and now (ahem) Paris. Williams authored a cookbook of Buvette recipes that came out yesterday and I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out which simple-but-sophisticated dish to try first. I chose Lentils with Kale and Shallots, mainly because I had lentils on hand (and love them) and plenty of fresh kale growing in my backyard. I substituted onions for shallots though, and it still turned out fine.

To make this, you’ll need:

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 diced shallots

5 garlic cloves

1 tsp. red chili flakes (more, if you’re from South Louisiana)

1 bunch of kale, finely chopped

1 cup of lentils (be sure they’re the green French lentils called Lentils du Puy because they are yummy)

coarse salt

4 cups of water

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Here’s what you do:

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, shallots (or onions, if you’re me), chili flakes and kale and cook until tender, stirring constantly for about five minutes.

2. Add the lentils, salt and water to the pot, bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for an hour or two, splashing with water if the liquid dries up too quickly. You want the final product to be soft, but not too brothy. Season with nutmeg and more salt just before serving. It should look something like this:

lentilsandkale