Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Tango Demo to tempt the masses

I can be both a dancer and a spectator. T'is a pleasure both ways.

Left-overs, presto, changeo = veggie burgers....

Okay, more getting nourishing things into un-suspecting children. I really did a doozy on them last night. My first veggie burgers. Oh, I've made Erick's cereal gallettes many times (5 flakes, grated cheese, chopped onion, herbes de Provence, eggs, salt, fried in olive oil and served with soy sauce). But this time I worked with what was in the house:

Camargue red wild rice (about 2 cups cooked went in)
my last evening's lentils (lentils, onion, garlic, carrots, a touch of cloves and curry) - about one cup
my other last evening's walnut sauce (walnuts, almonds, garlic, olive oil, water, salt) - 1/4 cup, that's all that was left.
grated gruyère cheese, - a good handful with a bit more by special request from Leo
eggs (three)
more minced garlic (onions would be picked out by Jonas)

I tried frying it in oil and it all fell apart, so, I added some whole wheat flour as a binder and tried again.

Perfect! They even looked like burgers. And yes, in this at least half-way American household (living in Avignon, mostly French, but...) ketchup was on the table. What can I say? I've raised ketchup (organic when possible) eaters, not mustard folk. I know, I'm abérrante. I've already shocked the new beau with such glaring lack of class (hey, I do well on other fronts, but well, isn't ketchup a vegetable? Lysine any one?).

Result -- they loved them! Even Jonas! I kept the recipe a secret though. No allowing for potential dissention in the ranks.

The Lubéron in the Rain

Even on a rainy day there are things to see, places to explore in the Luberon, particularly if you are well-shod. And so we were as we descended the tiny cobbled streets of Gordes to the ancient washing areas below. A dramatic water fall greeted us, as well as saturated textures and mostly empty vistas.

In Roussillon the sun came out to greet us as we shared a coffee and pastry on a tiny terrace (few spots are open on Mondays, but there's always at least one!)

New possibilities

Do I dare write about it? Do I go there? Yes, I'm in a new relationship. One that seems quite different from what I lived for 2 1/2 years. It is calmer. He has children, two boys like myself. And thus from the get-go the kids are part of the equation. Mine are excited. Leo tells me (no doubt from this past year's experience with me thrice in the doldrums) that we are not to break up! It should be the right one. He is so sure of things at 13! Jonas follows suit. And, I must say that his kids have taken to me quickly. Now it's up to the adults to find their bearings, to see if we've projects in common, to contemplate what the future might bring. How gun-shy are we, how ready to believe, to trust, to go forth? I know that for myself the weekend thing will not be enough. I truly want to live as a family again, and why not with two more children? I do well with plenty of small/medium-size ones around and enjoy the nurturing, the observing, the educating. But he? We'll see.

And yet, I hold dearly to the independence I've regained, the joys of being more with my girl-friends, with myself, the projects I would like to develop here in Avignon, close to my home. I have my center, my integrity, myself and my personal dreams -- my vocational passion as Barbara Marx Hubbard states -- to nourish and bear.

There are books and articles aplenty these days on reformed families, familles recomposées. I browse through them, though I've definitely already contemplated the many variations and trials that such a choice clearly thrusts upon one. I'm up for it. I think.

And so, I observe how he raises his kids, I see his value system, I test his house rhythms and I check into mine. Will they dove-tail?

Slowly, slowly into the fray. Dancing gently and surely, allowing for space, contemplating, learning, communicating, testing. It's just not the same as when you're young and naive, ready to start a family, nor perhaps when you're older and established, the kids long gone from the nest.

Day by day.

Fall comes fiercely knocking

The wind is swirling as only the Mistral winds can do. My stone house clings to the ground, but dreams of sailing off to OZ fill my nights. I can sing this sound of the wind, as it buffets my windows and shakes and rattles the doors. It invigorates and sends me to bed at night feeling I've done a major day's work. But have I?

Now that the tourism season has come to a close (but for possible chocolate/truffle requests in the next few months) I have time on my hands. I return to my role as mother, home-maker, gardener and contemplate what next. There's a good translation on the horizon -- Joel Durand, the chocolatier, has his book to be put into English, and so I'll likely have that shortly in my hands; and there are house projects -- re-do the walls of Leo's room, build the chicken coop, and hopefully get a proper heavy wooden shutter between the north-side terrace and my single-paned glass/iron door onto the kitchen.

There is also my project for the school: to design a welcome/cultural adaptation program for visiting (and perhaps settling) Anglo-saxons. I await only the green light. I am also the new designated liason between Leo's teacher and the other parents. A meeting or two to be as yet scheduled.

I've been to the local farm to pick up extra cases of tomatoes for sauce -- and chopped, sweated, simmered and prepared jars for the season. I'm tempted to see if there are any more. Home-made sauce from truly ripe tomatoes is simply a thousand times better than using even quality/organic canned crushed tomatoes. Just no comparison. Hmmm

And of course bread was baked (as per my recipe in the post from February 2009. I've new takers now for my multi-grain, slow-rising loaves. They please at a certain home in Nîmes, and they serve as a thank you to my good friend who helps me every Monday to cope on Leo's tennis lesson, receiving both Jonas and our newest boarder for afternoon snacks till I come and pick them up.

Some chocolate muffins - as per my classic recipe with turned raw milk, baking soda and some mashed squash (from the garden) to moisten them. I also added 1/4 cup dark cocoa and switched from normal sugar to a rapadura brown sugar. Theme and variations is the name of the game.

Time for more syrup as well. The mint and elderflower from the spring are long gone. My year's yield of Lemon Verbena needs to be harvested. It won't last the winter (though the plant will, brown and sad-looking in the corner of my garden till green leaves emerge next spring). Blended with some garden mint and lemon slices it will be that little extra to get us through the next couple of months. Here again, I follow a standard recipe of 1:1 (1 kilo to 1 litre) sugar to water, bring it to a boil, turn it off and add my leaves and lemon slices. Leave to infuse overnight and then bring back to a boil and pour through a sieve into my bottles. When you banish sodas and juices from concentrate from your house, it is nice to offer a delicious alternative.

What leaves do not go into the syrup I will dry and use for winter herbal teas.

It's just that time of year. I feel the passage of seasons shifting all my rhythms, driving me to re-organize, plan, adjust, fix. I feel like a bear in need of collecting his winter stores and so live till another spring arrives. I've lit fires in my cast iron stove all day yesterday and today. I'll need to go and collect a few more cords of wood. My tomato plants still laden with fruit quite green are struggling in this wind. I've righted them twice now. Hoping?

Jonas and I are reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy now. The chapters on harvesting and preparing for their long Northern New York winter resonate in me. However, I've not 5 hogs and a steer to butcher, no need to make my own candles from suet, nor shall I be filling the root cellar with potatoes, apples, carrots and such. I can rely on the neighborhood farm to have these for me till at least late January. But I'm hunkering down all the same.

Yesterday saw me preparing my missive to the world from Provence, and updating my web site. Time to re-arrange, adjust, improve, tweak. And time to say thank you to the many who came and toured with me in Provence this year.

As I worked on that HTML code, re-wrote sections, etc., my friend who's helping me build a chicken coop as a trade for being my dance partner for a tango workshop came by and together we devoted the rest of the afternoon to digging, afixing, preparing, and finally to pouring some cement along the trenches (to keep out the foxes). Little by little it is taking form. Though I'll likely wait till spring for my chickens -- caring for them through a cold winter can wait till I'm more experienced.

And yourselves? Where does this change of seasons find you? What rhythms shift and adjust, or are you in lives more adapted to the 21st century, un-ceasing rhythms that ignore these outside changes and simply keep you moving forward? It's been years now that I've lived the tourism and seasonal calendar. Myself who had no idea what was in season when during my childhood in suburban New York am now deeply attached to these cycles. I suppose I am odd now. Perhaps one of the reasons I so love the Little House books. Reconnecting with a time when the seasons dominated lives, when man was wise and skilled and worked with what was before him, even to collecting all the wild berries in the forest, all the beechnuts fallen from the trees.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A young man is coming into his own

Hard to believe how tall he has grown. Hard to believe he is already 13. And, at least sporadically if not 24/7 he is proving to be growing inside as well. I wonder how much I can attribute to the arrival and now departure of Gaetan? Living with our teenage boarder for two years seemed to have both a dampening effect but also a stimulating effect on Leo. On the one hand with Gaetan being the elder, helpful, male presence in the house, Leo didn't need to be. On the other hand, Gaetan was there to observe and to learn from.

Hence Leo felt quite at ease digging through my tool box and dismantling the bicycle wheel the other day to replace a punctured inner tube. I watched him as the parts strew upon the floor, the chain hanging, and simply encouraged and/or got out of the way. Twenty four hours later, all is put back as it should and the wheel works. Wow, he actually knew what he was up to.

Another moment of pleasure for this mom came in the shape of a homework assignment for a boy who'd been talking in class. His (brilliant!) teacher asked him to write a poem. And what a poem! I had no idea my son had such a way with words, rhythm and wit. Am I over-doing it a bit much? Hey, I'm proud and pleased.

Un bon élève

Un bon élève en se balançant
rêve en pensant à trouver ce qu'il sait
chez lui avec son repas toujours cuit
ses devoirs non-faits il va se coucher
le matin il pense à rien
à son école couché sur ses épaules
il est sensé travailler, bah non; il reste couché
le prof n'est pas content
il se dit, eh bin, cet enfant
il se croit chez lui
il est cuit

Do I do a mini-translation? so much would be lost. It is in the rhythm as well as the sense that it has strength. Basically it's the story of a lazy/spacy child who forgets his homework, sleeps on his desk and gets caught by the teacher. Self-referential humor. Not bad, eh?

Now, if only I can convince him that it would be far better to work towards purchasing a new computer than to take the advice of one of his friends and return to the public schools for 3 months in order to benefit from a local program offering computers to their grade. He is baffled that I don't see the sense in scamming the State. Why should he go through all his old toys and books and sell them at the flea market to make money, and/or save all he receives and/or find some small jobs to do when in his mind it would be simpler to go to a different school (paper work much?) and thus take advantage of a special offer...

I'm working on my skills at convincing him. But that inner need to earn what you receive... apparently it isn't there yet. We'll see what other opportunities present themselves to expand on these lessons.

Visiting Farmers

A convergence of my worlds and values. It is the rare visitor who truly connects with my artisans on the level of equal. But I had a couple the other day who were in this rank. They've an organic farm on the border of New York and Vermont. They raise pigs and chickens for meat, vegetables, fruit and bees. They are creative and concerned, devoted to their space and to working organically. They are hard-working and focused, curious and open. They came to learn and to share. They came bearing gifts -- home-made maple syrup.

And so we did a leisurely and extremely informative tour together. Sunday morning through lunch saw us with my friends at Long Mai, an organic farming cooperative and home to anywhere from 25 to 50 people from numerous European countries. Hannes, one of the founders in 1990 of this farm and deeply concerned and active in environmental politics since the 1970s, welcomed us warmly and patiently.

Over a very powerful cup of coffee and blown about by the even more powerful Mistral winds we took the time to share history, tales, ideas, and truly get a sense of each other. Passion was shared and conveyed. Respect was offered and received.

We toured the property, inspected the fields, met the animals, observed the projects coming up, passed by the chickens and the geese, strolled through the vegetable patches, admired the handmade bread oven, and were duly impressed by the conservatory of rare seeds.

Longo Mai is a place where any might go and see if it works for him/her. It is a way of life, and a life-choice. It is a community brought together to care for each other, work alongside each other, with the common goal of not polluting the world, and of maybe finding a better way to be. You come with what you have, and contribute what you are able. There are many jobs to be shared around and for each who is committed, a place can be found. All ages are welcome. The community feeds itself and strives to create a source of income from their activities to go further, build, create and plan for the future. The wool from their sheep, spun and knitted into finished sweaters is one such source, but also many delicious recipes for sauces and dips prepared and canned on-site. And, they orchestrate the preparing and delivering of farm crates with a rich array of products from neighboring organic farms.

In keeping with his never-ending projects Hannes just sent me a short translation concerning uranium mines in Mali. You never know what will come back after a visit!

From Longo Mai I took my visiting farmers to see Aurelie at the goat farm, then Sophie in her beehives.

It's very special for me to meet the people who are transforming the world back in the US along these lines. People who understand my own intensity and desire to nourish my children as well as possible. People who are committed to organic, who are going back to the earth, who are choosing to produce a maximum of their own food, and to collaborate with neighbors. Apparently the movement is as much a mother's/women's movement as a family affair. I suppose we are all readers of Michael Pollan, concerned and curious, over-educated, making choices about quality of life that jeopardize finances, but enrich differently.

And just the other day I had another client who's spent a life as a photographer, and is now training to be a veterinary technician at the age of 50! He too had a very personal and powerful moment at the goat cheese farm. This world is the one he is aiming towards.

Come my friends. I and my artisans will share with you what we may.

Life, the Universe and Car Maintenance

What is it? I truly think I'm under the dark cloud of car troubles these days. Over and beyond my difficulties -- and I'll list the most recent of these:

- a short-circuiting starter which provoked numerous frustrations and moments of glum, not to mention a tidy sum at the garage.
- an old clutch in need of replacement (done)
- a gas gauge that no longer works (I found out the hard and rather expensive way after konking out on the highway by the Rhône on the way back from school during rush hour today....)
- a scratched rental car (the branches over my beekeeper's road hadn't been pruned this summer...)

Simply my presence in a car is getting worrisome - my friend's clutch cable snapped yesterday when we were out picking up supplies for my chicken coop to be.

It's enough to make me want to return to my (very happy) bicycling days of yore. But, I'm no longer solo. Kids, stuff, clients, shopping for a household... hard to imagine my life without a vehicle of sorts. However I am beginning to wonder if I might be able to trade in my large 9-seater for at least a more reasonable 5 seater. And yet, I've just begun dating a man with two kids of his own... It's pretty cool to be able to transport us all with ease, plus bikes and dog.

What's it going to be? Time for a change, it's certain, but???

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

And a pink flamingo takes flight

When in the Camargue, spend a moment with the local wild life, and be transported to another world.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Simply one of my favorite places to be

I love the Callanques, those incredible limestone cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. I love hiking there with Filou, family and friends. I love bathing in the cool and clear waters. I love eating the fresh fish and fried calamari and sipping a dry Cassis wine (white made with Marsanne). Oh heaven! From the first time I was brought here at the age of 16 by friends in Marseille I've adored this world.

I've a favorite spot. But forgive me. I'm keeping it secret. I'll take you there if you visit, but otherwise nada. I don't want it going into any guide books. It's hard to get to, out of the way, and magical. I fear for my car and myself at times -- one extra reason to be sure the brakes and gear shift are in perfect order! There are other villages, inlets, coves and more along the coast. Just go over to Cassis and beyond. You'll find some neat places. Perhaps you might take a kayak trip? or a boat trip from Marseille? Explore and discover.

A pastry class anyone?

Oh yum. There's definitely something to being the resident food translator/orchestrator of cooking classes with my local artisans. Good meals, new techniques and yes delectable pastries.

Last week my week-long class included hikes, feasts, visits and a pastry class with my maître-pâtissier Guy LeBlanc. We kept the class to a reasonable two hours rather than the marathon four hours we might have done (hey, we'd hiked that morning). However, it was duly noted that we could program a week's intensive of afternoon pastry classes in the future during the months of May or October. Ahhhh future projects. But I get ahead of myself.

Thus we arrived, well-nourished, laundry dropped off at the local laundromat, a shoe repaired next door, ready to master a few tricks of the trade. With one client with a cast on her wrist, her husband took over at the helm.

We had two desserts before us: a relatively simple chocolate ganâche tart and a multi-step chocolate mousse cake filled with hazelnut caramel. Neither was truly difficult, both divine to eat, but the latter took more preparation by far.

Guy is one of those superbly prepared individuals. He'd done ahead of time what needed to rest overnight, measured out all the ingredients, etc., so we were able to clean our heads and get right to melting the sugar and making the caramel.

the ingredients for the caramel (to be prepared the night before):

- 205 grams sugar
- 68 grams glucose (optional, for the pros)
- 1.5 grams salt
- 360 grams whipped cream
- 200 grams hazelnut paste
- 32 grams gelatin powder diluted in 180 grams cold water.

He melted the sugar in the sauce pan, little by little to avoid lumps, added the glucose and salt, and stirred till it colored nicely, and got to that "petit fumé" state of just smoking. Then he took it off the burner and slowly added the whipped cream, the gelatin and the hazelnut paste. Let cool overnight before using.

This was to go into a gorgeous and rich chocolate mousse:

the ingredients for the mousse:

- 300 grams heavy cream
- 40 grams glucose (optional for the pros)
- 250 grams dark chocolate (60%)
- 40 grams milk chocolate
- 375 whipped cream, not too stiff

Very simply, the heavy cream was brought to a boil with the glucose, this was poured over the softened chopped chocolate and blended till smooth. This was allowed to cool to 35/40Celsius (95F) (Guy tabled it) before the whipped cream was added. This mixture is very smooth when first made and must set overnight before serving. We then dolloped a bit of this mixture into the silicon molds, smoothing it against the sides with the ladle. Into this a spoonful of the caramel was put, then covered with the mousse, then covered with a simple chocolate biscuit. They are then frozen, popped out and topped off with a chocolate glaze.

ingredients for the chocolate biscuit sacher (to be prepared ahead):

150 grams warmed almond paste (50%)
55 grams icing sugar
95 grams egg yolks
50 grams whole eggs
50 grams flour
50 grams cocoa powder
50 grams butter melted
140 grams egg whites whipped stiff
55 grams sugar (blended with the egg whites)

Mix the almond paste and the icing sugar together, slowly add the yolks and eggs. Mix together and add the sifted flour and cocoa, then the melted butter. Fold in the egg whites and sugar. Spread on a baking sheet (ideally on a silpat or baking paper) to 1 centimeter thickness. Bake at 180C (365F) in a convection oven for 12 minutes till just firm, but still very flexible.

We popped out the frozen mousses and put them upon a cake rack and poured our lovely chocolate glaze atop them. Oh how beautiful! Unfortunately, the glaze is the one recipe I wasn't able to obtain. Something about it being quite complicated, or simply his own? However, you might be able to come up with something a bit similar, or just melted dark chocolate, which would give you a crunchy exterior rather than this glimmering soft one. But hey, it would still taste heavenly! You might also sprinkle it with dark cocoa powder... the possibilities are many.