Showing posts with label cookbooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cookbooks. Show all posts

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A trip to Provence, accompanied by Julia Child


What is the greatest expat book of all time? So far, for me, it has to be "My Life in France" by Julia Child. These days it is easy for expats to get a book in an instant on Kindle. I still love the experience of paper copies though. I bought Julia Child's memoir of a life in France in Little Rock, Arkansas, hand carried it to Istanbul, and then to Provence, to read while when I went to visit my college girlfriend Robin and her family in July.

Last year, I delighted in documenting the pleasures of the Provence in ten different posts about my visit to Robin's house. This year was as wonderful and we did much the same things. First, there were the market pleasures in Loumartin to experience:
Perfect cherry tomatoes
Beautiful berries
more exquisite
by the small size of their boxes
French rabbits who gave their lives
in service to their country's cuisine
There were also the pleasures of food and conversation at the table. My friend Robin is a wonderful cook who knows how to make her family and guests feel loved by the smell, taste, and look of her exquisite home-cooked food.

Knowing I was coming from Istanbul, where access to pork in daily cuisine is practically non-existent, she indulged my cravings for all things pig while I was there. I think we had eight pork meals in a row!
My first breakfast in Provence.
Scrambled eggs and bacon!
Like manna from heaven.
A leek and bacon tart
Steak, mashed potatos and gravy,
grilled mushrooms and roasted fennel
Roast chicken, potatoes, and carrots.
Notice the French market preference
for keeping almost the entirety
of the chicken's feet on the chicken.
Warm leek and bacon soup
Fresh melon and prosciutto
Fresh berry tart
An English summer pudding
Oh, so delicious!
Serena, Robin and Jim's daughter, was visiting from Australia where she is working on her Masters degree in philosophy. It was so wonderful for me to see and listen to her. I had last seen Serena when she was in eighth grade. I enjoyed hearing her discuss her intellectual interests. Experiencing the children of our friends can be so delightful, don't you agree? It's a chance to appreciate our friend's life work in parenting.
Serena has grown up
to be as fine a cook
as both of her parents
Serena's apricot upside-down cake
inspired by famous food blogger
 David Lebovitz
Last year, I had told Robin and Jim about my favorite soup, Russian Cabbage Borscht, out of Mollie Katzen's "Moosewood Cookbook." Neither of them had tried borscht, so I promised to make it this year. I must need new glasses though, because in buying the tomato puree for the soup, I failed to notice two bright red chilies on the French-language label.

My soup may look like it is supposed to look, but borscht is not supposed to burn your tongue with chili heat! Oh well...our memories are always enhanced by the things that go wrong in a humorous way. I hope Robin, Jim, and Serena will give borscht a second chance after my Russian cabbage soup got a cross-cultural Latin American dose of extra heat! It's not supposed to taste like that.
Beet, cabbage, carrot, and potato goodness
Russian Cabbage Borscht
topped with yogurt and dill -
normally, healthy and satisfying comfort food.
I relished reading Julia Child's memoir of cooking and cookbook creation at the exact same time I was experiencing such interesting French food markets and food. Julia's joy in discovering the best in a culture new to her, and personalizing that knowledge with the creation of a cookbook celebrating France's cuisine was such rich reading. Provencal surroundings of French landscape and cuisine and dear friends who celebrated both enhanced my reading pleasure.

It was fascinating to me that Julia Child saw America in the polarized way of red and blue that we know today, even if she didn't use those familiar descriptive terms that were invented long after her book was published. She expressed such wonder in cross-cultural discovery and couldn't understand why her own family did not want to experience that same wonder.

Julia Child hit the sweet spot of publishing with her book when American women were cooking for themselves and wanted to make their meals as gracious and as beautiful as possible. I personally have tried cooking out of her cookbook and always find it too laborious and complicated. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate her achievement though.

I could not help but weep at the end of the memoir, such was Julia Child's fervor for the act of living and discovery and creation. What an incredibly well-lived life. Were she still alive, she would have turned 100 years old this week.

Robin and I traded books, and I started the book she was reading: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Author Gretchen Rubin fretted that time was short and she asked herself, "am I focusing on the things that really made me happy?"
The book was an account of one woman's drive to do all the things that could contribute to a net increase in her happiness over the course of the year.

How fun it was to read two books in one week and discuss the ideas in each title with my friend. I haven't read two books in one week in years! In the afternoon, Robin and I would have a late afternoon swim and discuss what we had read. The week was a retreat in every sense of the word.

I love this woman!

Thank you Robin,
for a wonderful week with you and your family.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hearing "Tales from a Female Nomad" in Person: Rita Golden Gelman

Rita Golden Gelman
Author, "Tales of a Female Nomad"
and over seventy children's books
It struck me today as I was sitting having lunch with author Rita Golden Gelman how ironic that was. If there is anything Rita Golden Gelman is not - it is a 'lady who lunches.' Pinch me! I was meeting one of the exciting role models of my last four years as an 'Empty Nest Expat'."

I got to meet Rita, and by arriving early, have lunch with her at the Professional American Women of Istanbul (PAWI) meeting in Istanbul which I attended for the first time. Rita was the guest speaker! The women in attendance were also captivating, happening ladies making their dreams happen here in Istanbul.
Rita Golden Gelman is the author of the acclaimed book "Tales of a Female Nomad." I read her book as part of my vagabonding journey these last four years and was absolutely riveted. The blogging universe exposes us to all kinds of people living lives different than our own these days, but Rita Golden Gelman was a true pioneer in choosing a different path than the American dream of a house with the picket fence.

Rita lived the American dream, actually. She was married - a dutiful wife of an interesting man and mother to accomplished children. She lived with them in Manhattan and Greenwich Village, New York as her children grew up. Eventually, her husband's work took the family out to the film industry in Los Angeles in California. Rita didn't identify with any of it. Her marriage eventually fell apart and she decided to put the anthropology she had been studying in a PhD program at UCLA into practice by seeing the world. By then her children were grown. She sold everything, stuck the house money into savings without spending a dime of it, and has spent the last 27 years living without a permanent home and traveling the world.
She told such incredibly inspiring stories from her book which I won't share here because they are hers to tell. "Tales of a Female Nomad" inspired a whole community of readers to email her with their travel adventures (including the sublime recipes they collected along the way). Rita organized some of their tales into an anthology called "Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World."

Random House paid her and her 41 contributors an initial payment of $55,000 for the book. All of the money goes to support children of the lowest castes in India with vocational training. Guess what's on your Christmas list, family! What a legacy. And what a gift to give to her community of readers - the chance to be part of that legacy.

Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises.
~ Rita Golden Gelman's quote on Starbuck's tall cup #31
There are cultures where overseas travel is really celebrated. The Netherlands and Isreal come to mind, for me, as two countries where citizens have enough time off, a lack of fear, and the willingness to hit the open road. America is not one of those cultures. Rita is interested in changing that and has a plan to do so.

At age 75, Rita is starting to feel her age for the first time. She wants to go home to spend the next two years in America working on her legacy. She is frequently invited to speak at universities about her global travels. She always asks the university to set up a talk at the local high school as well. Gentle readers, do you know of students that would benefit from hearing Rita's inspiring tales? Why not suggest her as a speaker to your favorite lecture series committee?

Rita believes Americans would approach the world with more understanding if each high school senior took a gap year between high school and college to see the world. She said high school students have three choices: university, work, or military after high school. They are not ready to experience any of these yet with full maturity. She urges grandparents to begin a $500 a year gap year fund for their grandchildren so that kids have a year to mature before starting the bigger commitments of study, work, or job while using that time to understand the greater wider world better.

She has started an organization called Let's Get Global. Her plan is to partner with a young man who is creating an American Gap Year Association and beginning an accreditation process for American gap year programs. Rita would like two people in every high school to be able to win a "Gap Year Scholarship" just to demonstrate the power of the idea to young people everywhere. Two young people from each high school nationwide setting off for parts unknown could begin to change American culture of fear about the outside world.

Rita says that fear drives one of the most common questions she gets about her lifestyle. "How can someone overcome the fear of setting out on an adventure?" She is currently working on a book of 64 tips for developing a successful mindset for global discovery.

What an exciting moment to
meet one of my vagabonding
role models!

So Westerner, ask yourself, could you give up the control Rita has over her life? It seems like control is the #1 Western addiction, but Rita just strugged her shoulders and says "I see what opportunities come to me." She rarely knows where she'll be six months from now. She has four steadfast rules 1) smile at everyone, 2) talk to strangers, 3) accept all invitations and 4) eat everything that is offered. The ability to be adaptable to multiple peoples, cultures, situations and opportunities has resulted in an incredibly inspiring life well-lived.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Provence Inspires Me to Make My First Tart

 Creating a Leek and Dried Morel Tart
 My college friend Robin said, "People ask, what do you do in Provence? I always answer not much: go to the Provencal markets, bring home food, cook, do it again the next day." 

There is something about Provence, because it is a poly-culture agricultural environment, that brings out the cooking creativity, passion, and endless enthusiasm for cooking in everyone who lives there, regardless of nationality.

What is a poly-culture agriculture environment? The example I know best and have lived personally is Madison, Wisconsin. It has endless small family boutique food producers making small volumes of amazing specialty items.  These local farmers are rock stars in the community and the farmer's market is equivalent to a concert where everyone comes and applauds.

On the other hand, a mono-culture farm environment is like my home state of Iowa with lots of corporate farms producing one crop.  It doesn't create the same enthusiasm to take everything home and cook it up. You can't anyway, because they're raising grain for livestock.

To aid her in her cooking quests, my college friend Robin has collected cookbooks from all over the world in multiple languages while she was working all over the world.  I could pour over cookbooks for hours, couldn't you? So many of her books were new to me. One that she particularly used a lot was by Stephanie Alexander named "A Cook's Companion: The Complete Book of Ingredients and Recipes for the Australian Kitchen."  Robin specifically enjoyed that all the recipes were organized around their main ingredient.

I found myself responding to the daydream-inspiring cookbook "The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence" by Georgeann Brennan.  What a gorgeous, easy-to-use book!
 The smells! Oh, the smells!
 Leek and Dried Morel Tart
Right out of the Oven
On one of my first nights there, Robin and Jim invited over lovely friends for a dinner party al fresco.  While Robin prepared a magnificent veal roast, with beautiful potatoes and roasted fennel, I had picked out a recipe based on a single ingredient Jim and Robin had in abundance.  They had a friend in Malaysia who happened to be the world's largest exporter of morel mushrooms.  He had given them 4.5 kilos of dried morels for their own cooking.  As you can imagine, a dried morel mushroom does not weigh very much so the supply of this tasty mushroom was unusually large and just waiting for me to cook with it!

I've had veal, but can't say I've had a veal roast before this. It had been prepared with care by her local Cadenet butcher. Have you tried roasted fennel? This was something new to me too. It was delicious, so easy (she just sliced it in half, spiced it, and stuck it in the oven).  Plus, it's so healthy and pretty on the plate!
 The veal roast ready for carving
Robin's husband Jim
carves the roast
while Mark, a local winemaker, looks on

Leek and Morel Mushroom Tart
Although puff pastry, leeks, and dried morel mushrooms are the components of the tart, this is a versatile dish in which many substitutes are possible.  In France, supermarkets, even the small ones in the rural areas, have fesh or frozen puff pastry, which is also available in the United States, but not as readily.  Pizza dough is an alternative to the puff pastry.  Unlike puff pastry, it is easily made even by the most unskilled hands.

  
The delectable topping, with its undertone of sweetness from the leeks' natural sugar, is made of thin slices of leeks that have been simmered in a little butter, then combined with fresh goat cheese and rehydrated morels and seasoned with thyme.  one can substitute onions, which also have natural sugar, for the leeks, and dried cepes or shiitakes might be used in place of the morels, as might fresh mushrooms.


Although the tart makes a fine first course, I find that accompanied with a green salad and red wine it makes an excellent meal in itself.
25 dried morels, about 1/2 ounce
3 cups warm water
6 large leeks, carefully rinsed
2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 fresh bay leaves, or 1 dried
1/4 sour cream
1/4 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoon white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 sheet prepared puff pastry, 10 x 12 inches and 1/4 inch thick, thawed if frozen
1) Put the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of the warm water to rehydrate them.  This will take about 15 minutes.  Finely slice the white parts of the leeks plus 1 inch of the pale green.
2) Meanwhile, melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter in a skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  When it is foamy, add the leeks and saute until translucent, about five minutes.  Add the thyme, bay leaves, and the remaining 1 cup warm water.  Cover and simmer until the leeks are nearly tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove the cover and continue to cook until virtually all of the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes longer.  Remove and discard the bay leaves.  Stir in  the sour cream and goat cheese, and add the salt and pepper.  the sauce should be creamy and thick.  Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F.
3) Drain the morels and cut them in half lengthwise.  melt the remaining teaspoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  When it is foamy, add the morels and saute for 5 or 6 minutes.  Add the white wine and chicken broth and continue to cook until all but approximately 1 Tablespoon of the juices has evaporated.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
4) On a lightly foured work surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick and approximately 12 by 18 inches.  Place it on a floured baking surface to within 1 inch of the edges.  The paste will be almost 1/2 inch thick.  fold the edges over the leek mixutre, crimping them to make a free-form tart.  Place in the oven and bake until the crust has puffed and the leeks are golden, 12 to 15 minutes.  Add the morels and bake another 5 minutes.  Serve hot, cut into rectangles or wedges.
It tasted so creamy and good
from the warm sour cream
and goat cheese underneath!

Afterwards, I wrote in Robin's cookbook on the leek tart recipe page, the date and whom we had served.  Over a lifetime, I find these little notes create such an evocative list of memories of good times and good companionship.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

How do expats cook their favorites from home?

I have a lot of cookbooks. I still have my Betty Crocker's Boy's and Girls Cookbook that my mother gave me in 1969 when I was ten years old. It is falling apart but there are so many memories in that book:

- my first recipe that I became a known for within my family as a young cook, Apple Crisp (my sister and I used to make the topping and skip the crisp sometimes to just park ourselves with a bowl and a spoon of butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon in front of 'Gilligan's Island' TV show when we were kids - true heaven when you're ten),



- the Enchanted Castle Cake that I made daughter #2 for her eighth birthday party complete with frosted ice cream cones for the turrets and Hershey's chocolate squares for the drawbridge and moat,

-the incredibly silly Raggedy Ann salad I made out of peach halves, raisins for eyes and celery stick legs for daughter #1 when she came home from college for the first time to remind her she may be an adult now but can still come home and be a kid occasionally.

What I served to whom, at what dinner party or special occasion, in what community are noted in the pages of my cookbooks. I love paging through them and remembering special times. All of my notes about how I would customize the recipe to fit my family's feedback are on those pages. What do expats do when they go abroad? Do they haul all of their cookbooks with them?

Daughter #1 solves this problem by not buying cookbooks. She like to read EVERY cook's feedback on a given recipe so she uses www.allrecipes.com. She even takes pictures of her cooking for the site! Her cooking memories will build up over time on her profile. That's a new generation's solution though. I adore my cookbooks. Do I have to type up or scan my favorite recipes and have digital versions of all my favorites? Do tell.
 
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