Thursday, June 27, 2013

Roses, boutique and a picnic

Hello summer...well mostly. It's not exactly sweltering over here but the roses are definitely in bloom both on the terrace and in the garden. This year the trellis is effulgent with three rose varieties all in their glory at this moment.

Last year we discovered these lovely little purple geraniums for our terrace pot.The great thing about them is that besides blooming all season long, they come back. We were quite surprised to see them emerge again out of the frozen earth early in the spring. Once the sun came out, they grew like gang busters.

I finally felt sure enough of the weather this week to set up the boutique for the season. This part of our garage/press room gets moist in the rain, so for me to put out my prints, I have to have some assurance that the sky is going to be mostly clear and the air mostly warm before I can open the shop. To dress the place up a bit I painted some wallpaper for the blank walls. I like the whimsy.

When Emily and family came for a brief visit recently, we took a day trip to our old stomping ground in Les Alpes Mancelles to see our neighbors the Tireaus, who remain our good friends.

When we first moved to France we lived in a little mill on a small river in the middle of a forest. It is an utterly charming location and in the summer Emily produced a theater festival in our local town. We have so many warm memories from this period of our lives.

We sold the moulin in 2007 in order to purchase the Maison Conti but we go back from time to time. Currently, the moulin is changing hands again but at the moment is empty, so we were given permission to have our picnic there and do a little walking down memory lane. In truth an actual walk was a little difficult. One thing which has been neglected is the pruning. The place is like the jungle anyway, and if you don't keep up with cutting down the undergrowth, you are soon overwhelmed. This was once a trail.

The Tireaus who live on the hill above the property brought a big table and we spread out our potluck luncheon, cooked hotdogs on the grill and picnicked on the terrace that were both fashioned by Rick eight years ago for Emily and Jos' wedding, which was held here.

After lunch we took a walk around, bushwhacking all the way.

The kids enjoyed the great outdoors including the river and forest.

What was once a relatively manicured vegetable garden and orchard has become a wild place.

Rick brought along our game of Mölkky, made for us by our friend Arnault. It is like bowling but involves some tricky rules when it comes to scoring points. It's a bit of a math puzzle meets hand/eye coordination skill. I am particularly bad at it on both counts but in three games played, men against women, the women won two. We were proud.

Before heading back home we stopped by the Tireau's house to see the animals. Quinn visited the hen house and collected eggs and met Zouk the donkey

Emily and Anita collected some rhubarb and lettuce.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy Solstice and Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Terrine

Lots of drama in the sky these warm, cloudy, bright, electric, but never cold anymore. And in these northern climes, the sun is up more than it's down. The sky begins to blush pink about 5AM and it's not fully dark until well after 11PM. The birds will wake you up nice and early if you don't bury your head in your pillow.

After the safflowers are spent, on come the poppies.

An eye-popping contrast to the greengreengreen of the hills.

The white iris have bloomed out and the lupines and Canterbury bells have come on in the garden. We've cleared our weedy field and begun to plot out the deck and playhouse. We may get underway before the end of the month.

Meanwhile we enjoyed a short visit from the family. We had a picnic on the terrace, lowering our food supplies by basket from the third floor kitchen.

Quinn took delivery. Zinnie just looked cute.

Here's a recipe I've used a couple of times lately for a very nice starter, not too complicated but requiring a little thinking ahead.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Basil and Goat Cheese Terrine

10 beefsteak or other plump tomatoes
Olive oil
4 large bunches of basil (to make 3 cups of basil leaves)
8 oz soft fresh goat cheese (I buy it in a tub)

Preheat your oven to low (300ºF, or 150 Celsius) Get a large pot of water boiling on the stove and a large bowl of ice water ready on the counter. Core 10 large fresh tomatoes and with a paring knife make an 'X' at the cut end of each tomato. Plunge them into the boiling water for 20 seconds and then into the ice water for a further 20. Peel and discard skins. Arrange the tomatoes on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Season liberally with coarse salt and pepper and cover with olive oil. Place in oven for 2-3 hours, until they are withered but not too brown.

Meanwhile make the basil spread. Take 3 cups of loosely packed basil leaves and plunge them into boiling water and then ice water as with the tomatoes to blanch for just 20 seconds. Squeeze out the excess water with your hands and then roll the basil in a dish towel to remove excess moisture. Put the basil pulp into a small blender with 3 T olive oil and whir to combine. Pose a piece of cheese cloth over a glass or cup and place the basil bulb inside for at least 20 minutes to drain. Reserve the liquid for garnishing the terrine later.

Before you put the terrine together, soften 8 oz of fresh goat cheese in a very low oven. It should be easily spreadable.

Now you are set to layer your terrine. Get yourself a very small loaf pan or other tub and generously line it with plastic wrap so that the plastic hangs well over the edges. If the tub is too large your terrine will not be very tall. Start by placing a layer of tomatoes in the bottom of the pan, cut side up. Spread the goat cheese to generously cover and then add some basil on top of the cheese (I find there is never enough basil to be more than rather skimpy at each layer.) Continue until you use up all your ingredients, ending with the tomato slices on top, cut side down. Fold your plastic wrap over and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before attempting to cut.

Cutting the terrine is best accomplished with either an electric knife or a super sharp kitchen knife. If you have neither, I suggest using either dental floss or thin wire.

If you like, you can make a dressing which adds to the flavor of this dish.

Niçoise Vinaigrette

2 T black olive purée
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1 T chopped capers
1/2 t minced garlic
1/2 t chopped shallots
3 T sherry vinegar
6 T olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil.

I use one of my favorite kitchen tools to mince my ingredients. This great old wooden bowl and chopping knife belonged to my mother.

Voila, a beautiful and delicious starter.

And for your dessert today, a sweet video of one of Quinn's inventions:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Paris relaxes & poached pears

While the sun was shinning, we had a free day and Quinn was on holiday, so we took the opportunity to make a quick trip to Paris. We spent a glorious afternoon at the Bois de Vincennes, one of the large parks near Emily's place. We visited once before in winter, and enjoyed ourselves, even in the cold, but this time the glorious weather seemed to bring all of Paris out and we shared the park with hundreds of sun-hungry Parisians craving a relaxing afternoon.

At the entrance to the park there are huge cement letters spelling out: Parc Floral de Paris. Kids rested in each nook and cranny. Quinn takes his turn in an 'L'.

A photo of a pond near the entry, with small fish just under the surface and the sun and sky reflected in the water looked to me like an abstract painting.

Everything was lush and all the azaleas were in bloom.

Butterflies enjoyed the weather as well.

There are miles of pathways and inviting lawn, garden corners of every persuasion, cafes and restaurants, music venues and activities for children of all ages. Quinn took full advantage of the giant slide and the zip line.

Zinnie is growing fast, beginning to chatter and understand.


Before we left for home, we helped Emily prepare her garden for the summer by planting her pots and a few new flowers in the ground. Lovely!


At home we're in gardening mode as well. I'm very pleased with my new window box herb garden. We are currently making quite a few client meals, and I use our upstairs kitchen to get everything going, so fresh herbs on hand are essential.


In the atelier I have been keeping up with my daily drawing and at the same time doing a few more crafty projects. I have so much nifty antique French ephemera, as well as buttons, ribbon and the like. I've tried to put together some collages to add to my boutique this year. We were also given a huge set of sterling silver flatware that I have no use for at the table, so I have been wracking my brains about how to honor it in some other way. This wonderful flat serving spoon took only a bend in order to transform into a rather nice "shelf" for a candle.


Poached pears are one of our favorite desserts at the Maison Conti. Easy to make:

Create a white wine poaching sauce:

To 1 bottle of white wine add a cup of sugar and bring to a boil. When the sugar is entirely dissolved, add the juice of a lemon, grated lemon peel, a whole vanilla bean (scrape out the pulp and add that to the pot first) and a cinnamon stick broken into pieces. Peel bosc pears and boil in the white wine sauce until tender (about a half hour).

Serve at room temperature with raspberry coulis (boil raspberries and sugar together and then strain out seeds), candied walnuts (walnut halves coated in caramelized sugar) and a slice of blue cheese. It makes a fantastic melange of flavors, colors and textures,


I leave you with a photo of our friendly goldfinch. He has spent much time sitting on the corner of our roof. I've dropped back the opacity of the buildings in the rest of the photo so that you can see him more clearly. Isn't he a beauty!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Good Times & Vanilla Ice Cream

The weather here has turned sweet and we feel as if we can finally welcome spring definitively in all its glory. The flowers, which have been patiently waiting for the right signals, are confident enough to begin their blooming.

It is a tremendous pleasure to be out on the terrace in the sun. Rick was thrilled and surprised to hear me say one day that I intended to spend the entire day doing nothing much but sunbathing, sketching and whiling away my hours on the terrace. This is entirely out of character. But who could resist?

What else to sketch, but the colorful mutabilis roses? They are such show-offs!

I have been engaged in a certain amount of spring cleaning which, for me, always involves some furniture rearrangement. Doors and windows are left open, which makes the household tasks seem all the more pleasant.

I have enjoyed greeting our clients, brewing tea, serving breakfasts and making dinners. When the markets are so full of fresh fruits and vegetables, making meals is a real pleasure.

I often serve Marie-Claire's tarte for dessert - simple, but beautiful and tasty.

Often I also make homemade ice cream. There is no comparison between what you can make at home and what you buy at a supermarket. If you have an ice cream maker, there is hardly anything easier or more delicious than a simple vanilla ice cream.

Put 375 ml of milk and 375 ml of heavy cream in a pan and bring to a boil. You can add a vanilla bean or coffee beans to flavor the mixture. Once boiled, leave to cool (remove beans once the mixture is cooled). Beat 7 egg yolks with 170 g of caster (very fine) sugar until fluffy and very pale yellow. When milk and cream mixture are sufficiently cooled, but not cold, add to egg mixture and combine. Leave this in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours then put into an ice cream maker. An electric machine takes about 20 minutes to turn your creamy mixture into delicious ice cream.

I have a Krups ice cream maker and I'm very happy with it.