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I spent a long long time trying to decide where we should eat on our last night in Nice. At first, I wanted Italian, then I wanted traditional French, then I wanted Indian, then I wanted Italian again. There was a brief moment of looking at Japanese restaurants, then back to Italian. Everyone else was of no help. No one wanted to make a decision.

Originally, I had planned for an Italian place that the husband had told me he had liked when he lived in Nice. Except that was 10 years ago and the current reviews – the most current being in 2011 – were very, very mixed. I got nervous and started looking for other places to eat.

At first, I was going to ask them to choose between Italian and whatever else I could find but in the end I just decided for them. Everyone met in the lobby at 7:30 and I asked my mom and sister “Have you ever eaten Lebanese?”

“Not really,” they said.

“Well, that’s what we’re having.”

And off we went to Ya Habibi.

Though the restaurant was only 500 meters from our hotel, I forgot to bring the address and consequently it took us more than 500 meters to find. No matter, we got there. Dinner was decided in moments – a Grand Mezze for four. The perfect treat for two who don’t know Lebanese and for the other two who just love a good mezze.

5 cold entrées and 6 warm entrées with fresh pita bread. It’s as simple as that.

Mezze is pretty standard. Hummus is par for the course along with taboule, babaganoush and grilled caviar d’aubergine. But our favorite of the night was the mehamara – a roasted red pepper spread with garlic, onion and grenadine. Sweet and spicy perfectly blended. We could have eaten that all night.

The six warm entrées were also pretty standard. Samboussi, falafel, roukak, moussaka, arayess lahme, and kebbé with grilled mushrooms.

The samboussi and roukak are fried dumplings the first of meat, the second of cheese. Crunchy and soft, no need for any dipping sauce – they were well seasoned.

 

I really loved the arayess lahme. A pita stuffed with meat and spices. It must have had some mild cream or cheese in it, because it had a creamy texture and was so delightful.

 

The moussaka was missing the meat. This was stated in the menu. But it was not missing flavor. We sat around the table trying to figure out how they cooked the eggplant. The flavor was perfect with soft flesh and a crunchy skin. I thought they steamed it. The husband is convinced roasting went on. Who knows?

 

We drank a wonderful Lebanese red wine, that was mostly syrah and cabernet grapes. It had a fruity aroma but a bitter, acidic taste and the two combined to create a complex enjoyable flavor that made me want to buy a bottle to take home.

 

Though dinner was simple, it was perfect. Good portion sizes, we were not left wanting. Every dish with a wonderful blend of spices. I have nothing but good things to say about my choice of Ya Hababi for our last dinner in Nice. A lovely treat for the pallet when you’re craving something a little different.

By now, my mom and sister have returned to Boston. We’re all going on a diet, but with happy memories full of good food and time spent together. It’s never enough but it will have to do until the husband and I can get ourselves to the States.

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I make the same stupid joke every time I visit this city. Nice is nice. I can’t help it.

More than being nice, Nice is a wonderful city. All white and bright colors, bustling people, twisty streets and deadly drivers. Everything you might think of when you think of continental western Europe in general. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Carnival is in full swing here. The husband and I had no idea when we made plans to visit with my family. If we had, we probably would have planned for that – but as it is, we got a glimpse of the end of the nightly parade.

In Nice, like much of costal Provence, the local flavor is all about the seafood. However, I’m terrified of ordering seafood at restaurants because of my allergy and my sister wasn’t in the mood for it. Nonetheless, we found ourselves at Restaurant les Pecheurs to at least SEE the seafood if not eat it.

 

The inside of the restaurant is set up to lightly remind you of the sea and the fishing boats that sail it. But it’s understated. There is a small fish tank in one wall, two portholes, slatted wood ceilings, blue walls. There’s no tacky netting hanging from anywhere nor any ugly mounted fish – fake or otherwise – you’re just reminded this is a fish restaurant.

I ordered a creameaux de courge, or winter squash cream cooked with girolles mushrooms and set with one croquant de foie gras and volaille. This was a subtle dish. Very soft in texture and flavor and consequently, very comforting.

The husband was the only one of our party to have a fish based meal. His entrée was scallops on a bed of lentils with a spicy carrot ice cream on the side. I have a husband who loves to help me with my restaurant reviews and he described these scallops as very tender and soft but full of flavor being cooking in port as they were. The lentils were well spiced and the dish was complimented perfectly by the carrot ice cream.

For my main course, I ordered a duo de volaille – which is just two cuts of poultry – cooked with seasonal vegetables tandoori style. Served with coconut rice and a little cappucino de courgette (zucchini).

This again was a subtle and soft dish. For me, it lacked a bit of flavor. I enjoyed it – the vegetables were well cooked being both crunchy and soft, the poultry tender, but the tandoori lacked spice. Not that I wanted something to burn my face off like I would at an Indian restaurant, but the dish lacked oomf and instead was a bit too creamy and soft for me. The rice on the other hand was incredibly flavorful, the coconut very present and really an excellent side to dip into the tandoori sauce.

The husband had prawns served with the same coconut rice as well as the courgette cappucino and a crumble of sweet potato. His assessment of the two sides were that they were a bit strange for the main part of the plat, but for all that, pretty tasty. I agree about the cappucino.

His prawns were light and well seasoned but after the first course, which had been a wow moment for him, that it too was lacking in just a touch of flavor. Satisfying, but missing an extra zest.

The sister made up for our lack of restraint by ordering only a main course (and dessert) and had risotto cooked in a creamy chorizo sauce served with wild mushrooms and margret de canard. She felt that she couldn’t taste the chorizo, she could smell it, which added a mouthwatering pre-taste element. The duck was well-cooked, tender and tasty and the risotto with a perfect creaminess.

A moment to appreciate the plating. Everything was wonderfully presented, a bit on the modern side but again, like the decor, not overblown. The service was much the same, with a friendly, welcoming staff and a waitress trained to explain every aspect of the dish.

We also saw –courtesy of the other patrons in the restaurant – that if you order a fancy fish – such as sole – for two, they bring the raw, pre-cooked, whole fish to your table to present it to you, in order that you can approve of it’s freshness and quality.

For dessert, I chose a French classic : an apple tart, cooked upside down and flipped over when plated served with vanilla ice cream and a dab of caramel sauce. This was wonderful, again warm and soft, but what I loved was that it wasn’t too sweet. The plate let the sweet and tartness of the apples do most of the work and the pastry crust underneath was almost savory, it was such a nice buttery contrast to the fruit.

The husband and sister, who both have a thing for litchi, chose the same dessert. Charlotte de litchi served with a verine of litchi and red fruit. As I couldn’t resist tasting a bit of the litchi cream, I can safely say that this was a well done dessert. The lady fingers that make up the bones of the charlotte were very sweet, the cream light and full of the fruit. You knew you were eating litchi. The verine was served in a fruit vinegar sauce, which was acidic but contrasted well with the sweetness of the fresh fruit and the sweetness of the cake.

At times, we did find les Pecheurs lacking in a bit of flavor, but this is a gem of a restaurant in a city that boasts about it’s cuisine while at the same time catering to tourists. Let’s face it, in a tourist town, you’re never quite sure of what you’re going to get. Here we found ourselves satisfied. The prices are correct and the portions are good, even for the seafood which can often be quite expensive,  we had nothing to complain about. My menu – for instance – was 29 Euros.

All in all, though it’s slightly out of the way- about a 30 minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais and Vieux Nice, it was worth it. And there’s something for everyone – even for those people who like to go to seafood restaurants to order everything but fish.

Toulon is not an international city. It’s French. Very French. And in poor condition. About fifteen years ago the mayor was ineffective, the police corrupt, the red light district booming and you did NOT walk around the city at night. Period. Unless you wanted drugs. Which you might. That’s alright.

Today, Toulon is under the leadership of Falco, a man born and raised in Toulon, a man who is admittedly running the city like a minor king, but also doing a good job of it. So who am I to complain?

I’m not.

Toulon is an up and coming city, but it’s still highly traditional. The shops and cafés close at 7pm, the restaurants don’t open until 8pm, and in between you have a small collection of strange bars and the American influence – you know what I mean – fast food joints, which I avoid at all costs. The food is French and sometimes Italian. There are a few Indian places, only two of them good. One Thai place WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY up in le Farons and some random sushi joints. However, I cannot eat sushi, being allergic (or at least believing I’m allergic) to shellfish and in the mean time strange bars are not my thing.

So what do I do on a Wednesday night, when the new movies come out and the husband and I plan a little date?

First there are drinks at Gaetano Café. When I first came to Toulon 7 years ago, the Gaetano was simply a family run pizza joint that sold relatively good pizza and had a huge open area seating near Galarie Lafayette and Place d’Arms. Since then the family has expanded a bit, buying the small place next to them and opening up not so much a café but a nice bar with a fresh, youthful look and the best of all COCKTAILS.

Cosmopolitans and margaritas! The French outside of the big cities are new to cocktails, so finding a place in Toulon that make a proper margarita or cosmo is huge. It’s not in the right glass, but the taste was there. We were pleased. The music is good, the bartender is friendly and the price is pretty correct – 7Euro50. They also serve little appetizers, which is unusual for a bar in France. Nothing great, but if you’re looking for some baked Camembert with fresh bread, nice sliced ham, an olive plate, small pizza, you can find it here and it makes a nice snack or shared starter before dinner.

We headed to Teppanyaki Roll just a few blocks away from Place Liberté and cinema for dinner. If you want Japanese in American-sized portions this place is for you. It’s a small place with black and red decor, a slightly more relaxed décor than Sushi Roll, it’s sister restaurant located right next door.

Inside there’s a lot of red light. It was a very nice for ambiance, but made for bad photography. The restaurant is tiny and it’s possible to see everything from where I was sitting.  There was an electric fire appliance to keep us warm. The husband tried to get out of the way of my shot, but he didn’t try too hard.

I was a little worried about sitting in that type of indoor/outdoor greenhouse style seating during the night. While the days have been warm here in Toulon, the nights are very cold and I didn’t want to be freezing. But it was well heated and very comfortable, no drafts at all. Maybe it was the wine and saki we order.

Remember when I said I don’t eat sushi? That’s not entirely true. If the restaurant chef is willing to prepare me a vegetarian option, I’ll go for it. Remember when I said Toulon is a traditional city? That means anything vegetarian is viewed with suspicion. But not here. They were happy to make me nori, rice rolls with only avocado. It was even on their menu.

The husband and I split them. I wouldn’t have been able to eat all eight and then my main dish. They were very simple, very tasty. What more can be said?

While we munched we watched our chef prepare our meals. This is what teppanyaki is all about, of course. Or at least that’s how they interpret it in Toulon.

In a small restaurant such as this one, it was impossible to put the chef anywhere other than where he was. But he is visible no matter where you are in the restaurant and entertaining to watch. I had been here before Wednesday, and he was more playful the first time, but we all have our days.

I ordered chicken with mushrooms and leeks in a sweet sauce.

Along with a side of sautéed vegetables

It was a MASSIVE plate. I’m not sure how I finished it all, but the bathroom scale is confirming that I did. The chicken, mushroom, and leeks were very tasty and though the sauce was sweet it had a savory flavor behind it. The vegetables were well prepared, not too oily and still had a bit of crunch to them – the way I like to eat my cooked veggies. I did however, find the dish too salty. I grew up in a household that abhorred salt and consequently I don’t like foods that have a lot of salt in them – pretzels, fries, chips, popcorn – if there’s a little salt that’s one thing, if they are covered in it, it’s inedible for me. There was enough flavor here to make the dish enjoyable – otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it – but I do think the chef could have cut back on the salt a bit and created something just as flavorful.

The husband had beef teriyaki and egg fried rice.

He claims to have never had teriyaki before. I’m not sure if that’s true, I must have taken him somewhere in the States where we had a teriyaki dish, but whatever. He really wanted to try this sweet dish and enjoyed it, saying that the beef was perfectly cooked, very tender and moist. For the record, he did not find the food too salty at all.

Even though I was stuffed we had to order something for dessert. Mostly because we had plenty of time to kill before our movie at ten. And there’s one thing that Teppanyaki Roll serves that I’d been talking about since the first time I went there. Maybe it’s not authentic Japanese, but if you’re looking for the most wonderful, most unhealthful dessert, most amazing creation in the world and can’t find it in France- you’ve found it now.

Do you know what it is? Ten points if you guess correctly!

Fried Ice Cream. Oh baby.

It’s not something for everyday – it can’t be. But on those rare occasions when I’m feeling naughty, I can’t resist it. Deep frying combined with ice cream. Amazing. Served with just a touch of caramel and I was in heaven. Despite being totally bad for you, there is something so pleasing about the contrast of warm, fried dough and the cool, soft texture of the ice cream. I love it.

There are much better cities in France to visit. There are more authentic Japanese restaurants out there. But I’m in Toulon and I like to eat out. When I don’t want classic French cuisine, Teppanyaki Roll is a fine option. A friendly ambiance, good food, huge portions and plenty of variety on the menu from sushi to tempura to stir-fry to kobe beef, all for a fair price. I’d like them to go easier on the salt, but otherwise Teppanyaki Roll is a fine choice for a Wednesday out on a dinner and movie date.

In the northeast corner of the Var there’s a tiny little town hidden in the mountains called Trigance. At the top of a hill is a 12th century château with ten large bedrooms, a very big terrace that looks over the valley and village, and ends with a wonderful restaurant inside a 13th century armory.

The husband and I went to Château de Trigance last year and enjoyed the peace the quiet and the food so much we wanted to go back this year for our anniversary. Though, our anniversary was one month ago – I just happened to be in the United States at the time.

Pistou says that I always have an excuse…

 

We arrived Saturday at noon. But where in the world can you check into a hotel, even one in a château before 2pm? So we had to enter the village.

Take in the sights.

Then find a quiet place for lunch.

Prosecco in a field.

Prosecco and ravioli dauphinois (three cheese) with zucchini, chicken, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and parmesaen cheese. Yum.

It’s a rough life.

We went for a walk in the mountains and found wild raspberries.

And sheep.

 

Before you go to dinner you have to try the hypocras. It’s a sweet white wine, thick and spiced with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and other such happy things that pique the taste buds into mouthwatering happiness. But drink it slow because it’s about 15% proof and is easy to drink.

We had our drinks in the salon. They brought us olives and little toasts of salmon, anchovies, and chorizo.

Chateau de Trigance has a lovely wine list. We chose our favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, a 2007, which was a pretty good year and has a nice fruity taste but in order to get the full flavor, it definitely needs to be decanted for a good 30 minutes before drinking.

 

My entrée was a wild mushroom soup served with dried magret de canard, which was a little like duck ham. It was delightful. The duck very tasty and the soup thick and hearty.

 

For the main plate I had pigeon. No seriously. It’s not the bird you see walking the city sidewalks, flying kamikaze like into your face when they’re startled. But it’s a cousin. It’s a difficult taste to describe and one that is acquired. I like to say that it has a dirty, wild taste but that again seems to bring to mind the disease ridden feathered-rat outside my window. But nonetheless it’s a deeper, darker taste than chicken and similar to duck. Anyway it was served with a scallion tart and soaked in a caramelized red-wine sauce.

 

Greg had deer, which I tried a piece of. An interesting meat, people once told me deer tasted sweet, but this wasn’t sweet. It had a very wild taste, but not my thing.

 

Ok, so last year the whole reason for us going to Château de Trigance was because it’s one of the few restaurants we’ve found that still serves a cheese cart.

 

It’s quite a cheese cart. Serving classics like Camembert, brie de meaux, époisse, tomme de montagne but also has local cheese made from goat and sheep. Pick any thing you like. They cut you off a nice slice and let you enjoy with the last of your red. I tactfully avoided the waitress in my photo.

 

Cheese should finish a meal. It can finish a meal. But it didn’t finish this meal.

 Dessert was chestnut cream blended with Bailey’s and vanilla ice cream with chantilly on top. Simple and very tasty.

 

And then we needed tea, because we couldn’t get up yet to waddle back to our room.

 

Breakfast in bed, the next day:

 

A lovely view as we took our last look on the castle.

 

But don’t stop there! On your windy way back down the mountain, stop off here and buy some fresh cheese and then say hi to the goats, sheep and cows that gave the milk to make it.

After a weekend full of food, there’s only one thing, Holly-cum-food-critic can do: go home and go to sleep.

I have too many projects. I do that to myself. Besides the everyday work, the everyday study of the French language, there is life, there is food, there is writing, there is cooking. Sometimes all of the writing projects I have on my table in front of me get a little out of control. When things get stressful and I can’t stare at my kitchen or my desk anymore, it’s time for a road trip and ice cream.

The tourists are mostly gone. The roads are now calm and almost quiet and the towns are easy to maneuver through on foot. In celebration the husband and I went to Castellet, one of my favorite places in the Var. It’s set between Bandol and Cassis, high up on a hill that offers an amazing view going all the way out to the sea.

Besides cute shops and two very good restaurants there is L’Art Gourmand which makes amazing ice cream. The husband got cactus-lime and peach and I had strawberry and gingerbread. They also do rose, violet and lavender ice cream that are out of this world.

Inside the shop, you can also buy chocolates and dainty candies and cookies that are native to Provence. Like every space in Castellet, the building is renovated, Medieval stone. It’s luminous, the walls are pale, but there’s something about the shape – slightly uneven – that tells you it’s been there for hundreds of years.

And after you leave the shop, walk up a little hill, through little streets and eat your ice cream while looking out onto this view. Quiet and mountainous and full of vineyards.

 

It’s almost fall. While I’m holding onto the last remnants of summer fruits and vegetables with both hands, I couldn’t help but buy a slice of pumpkin at the market. But I had no idea what I’m going to do with it. So I tried Lasagna.

Pumpkin Vegetable Lasagna

  • pumpkin
  • eggplant
  • pesto (preferably homemade)
  • lasagna sheets
  • ricotta
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste or fresh tomatos
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • salt and pepper

Begin by roasting the pumpkin in the oven at 175°C for about 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender and soft. In the last 15 minutes of roasting, add eggplant, sliced to about 1/8 inch thickness.

When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, cut away the skin and in a bowl mash the pumpkin up like you would potatoes.

In a baking tin of your choice (I used my bread tin since it was a good size for two people), put a thin layer of tomato sauce mixed with olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Place your lasagna sheets on top and then add a thin layer of mashed pumpkin, eggplant, ricotta, and on top spread half a teaspoon of pesto.

Add another layer of lasagna sheets and this time add tomato sauce and either your paste or fresh tomatos before continuing on with the rest of your layers. I have three layers of each ingredient, but I was over zealous and wanted to use all of the pumpkin.

When you’re done add the final layer of lasagna sheets, drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and tomato sauce. Top with shredded cheese of choice: comté, gruyère, parmesan, mozzarella etc.

Cover with tinfoil. Bake at 180°C for 30-40 minutes.

The beauty of vegetable lasagna is that you can prepare it before hand and stick it in the fridge for cooking later in the day. I would have taken a photograph of the finished product, but the husband and I were too hungry.

It’s an odd combination, I know. But the sweetness of the pumpkin offsets the tang of the ricotta and tomato and mixes nicely with the nut of the eggplant. Everything comes together with an easy, soft texture and flavors that are each subtle, but noticeable  that blend and don’t overpower.

Now this project is over for today and I have to move on to others. One story revision and guacamole await.

The women of my family have this disease. Actually I’m not sure if it’s a disease. Experts say addiction is a disease, but is it really? Who knows. Anyway, I’m talking about ice cream. We are all addicted to ice cream. This dates back at least to my grandmother who, I’m told, can polish off a half gallon of ice cream in under an hour.

I, personally am addicted to the sundae. Whipped cream, toppings, peanut butter mixed with something minty and a cherry. Heaven.

So there was one place I had to go when I was in Plymouth and if you go to the south shore of Massachusetts you have to go there too.

Peaceful Meadows.

They make homemade ice cream. If you go to their location in Whitman you can meet the cows that give the cream while enjoying a cone of your favorite flavor. No joke. This place has been around for years and I have fond memories of poking cows with one hand and holding an ice cream cone with another.

My favorite flavor, and indeed the only one I ever get there now is peppermint patty. Isn’t it beautiful?

That was the mom’s cup of ice cream. I got mine covered in peanut butter sauce.

Don’t laugh or make a face. It’s the most amazing thing ever. Peppermint and peanut butter. Yum.

That was the evening.

In the morning we had breakfast at a place with a giant metal chicken out front.

 

Percy’s Place is another small chain on the south shore that boasts the biggest breakfast menu in New England. Maybe the world. It’s pretty much all they serve. I think they even have grits if you want grits.

True to quaint New England restaurants it’s filled with kitsch paraphernalia and Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses-esque paintings on the walls.

The breakfasts are gigantic, you won’t need to eat lunch or even dinner, and are fantastic.

I had the farmers breakfast. Two scrambled eggs with chives on a bed of cottage cheese. Corn bread, Boston baked beans, and a turkey sausage. Served with coffee in a Percy’s coffee mug. I brought home a mug for the husband who also has happy, big bellied memories of eating at Percy’s. He was pleased and has been drinking his coffee out of it every morning so far.

Everything is slightly greasy at Percy’s. Not in a bad way. In a home cooked, fill you up and ship you out so you can spend the rest of your morning and most of your afternoon running around on the farm. Corn bread is sweet, moist, crumbly. The baked beans are savory and hearty, the eggs are never runny. The coffee is a little weak, but refills are free. And they serve it in the glass pots with orange and green lids that you see at diners and truck stops all over the country.

If you like eggs benedict, by the way, they do that and about 9 variations of it. All fabulous.

Obviously my vacation centered around more than just food. I went shopping. I saw my friends. I didn’t answer any frantic emails from work. I met a psychic who told my future. And of course I spent time with my wonderful sister and mother.

And ice cream. I ate a lot of ice cream.

One of the wonderful things about the United States is that all restaurants will do take out. This may not seem that great to you if you live in the US, but TRUST ME, you miss it when it’s gone. I’m not a huge take out fan but some nights I don’t want to have a waiter breathing down my neck, nor do I want to cook and neither pizza nor kebabs are going to cut it.

So on the night the sister and I couldn’t decide where or what to eat, we decided to order take out. She went to her favorite Thai place and I ordered from Acitron, a Mexican Bistro. It was more authentic than your typical tacos and enchiladas but it also had some fun, more creative items on the menu. One of which was this:

Fried Avocados.

All I have to say about these is WOW. They are battered in a floury-tempura mixed with jalapeño pepper and served with a creamy, spicy sauce. It was amazing. The avocados were soft and flavorful, mixed with the crispness of the batter and the spicy peppers were just enough to add tang to the nuttyness of the avocado. They were so awesome I’m going to attempt them on my own.

I also ordered chicken cooked in bitter chocolate sauce. This was something I’ve always wanted to try and jumped at the chance of tasting when I saw it on Acitron’s menu even though I wasn’t really in the mood for chicken.

Very interesting. It’s a thick sauce with a taste that I can only describe as dark but not bitter. It was almost like a rich, savory red Bordeaux that has aged about 10 years. Heavy and full, but you don’t notice all the flavors until the after taste. It was mixed with three different types of chili pepper which brought out the coco flavor, and the coco obviously killed some of the spice creating a nice contrast. Definitely something I would try again.

Friday the mom arrived and I cooked dinner.

The sister has a very nice apartment, but we need to talk to her about her kitchen space.

Some how despite having only a tiny table to cook on I managed to make kebabs – which were broiled in the oven – covered in provençal mustard and olive oil and risotto primavera.

Risotto is quite easy to make, like most things it just takes a bit of time. Cream isn’t even required if you do it right:

  • Broccoli
  • zucchini
  • onion
  • fresh spinach
  • garlic
  • yellow pepper
  • peas (I used snap peas because they looked yummy)
  • asparagus (I used white)
  • risotto rice
  • white wine
  • chicken broth
  • Parmesan cheese

Warm some olive oil in a large skillet. Cook the onion for 30-60 seconds over medium heat then add the rice and garlic. Stir often and cook until the rice begins to separate and crackle. Add about 1 cup of dry white wine. When the wine is mostly gone add the broth just until it covers the top of the rice. Cover and cook, adding more broth as needed. About 10 minutes before the rice is done add the other vegetables. You can add them before hand if you like softer, more cooked through veggies but I like a little snap in mine. When everything is done turn heat to low or off but don’t remove from heat just yet. First add shaved Parmesan cheese and stir in to let it melt throughout.

Both were a success and because I always cook too much, there were plenty of leftovers.

Saturday I had a cosmopolitan.

I started drinking them before I ever saw or even heard of Sex and the City, so it’s ok. Like I said, martinis and cosmos are impossible to find in France and when the mom and I went out to dinner, my one requirement that the restaurant had a good bar.

Today, it’s hot in France. I’m dreaming of another cool cosmo and trying not to fall asleep. My resolution when I returned to France was to listen to French talk radio for at least 20 minutes everyday. But for some reason RFI Monde isn’t connecting and so I’m listening to Spanish flamenco guitar. I figured it was almost fitting given the Mexican food.

Don’t miss part 3: Peaceful Meadows and Percy’s Place.

What can I tell you about Boston?

I grew up outside the city. I went to graduate school there. I’ve spent countless hours wandering the known streets like Newbury, Mass Ave, Boyleston, Huntington. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit at New England Conservatory, despite never having been an official student. North End, Southie, Back Bay, Chinatown, Cambridge. You name it, I’ve been there.

And STILL I got lost. Blame the buses as I’d always taken the subway.


But at least I got to sit in TeaLuxe in Harvard Square on a rainy Wednesday and enjoy some organic tea while musing over my recent spree at Origins.

Thursday, I left the city with the sister and headed to Salem. We went to the Witch museum.

We saw a statue dedicated to Samantha from Bewitched.

We took advantage of the Psychic Fair and had psychic readings. The psychic told me I needed to write. In fact she said “Go home right now and start writing.” Talk about pressure.

We had sandwiches at Coven.

While there are many great things about French food, there are many things I missed about American cuisine and the artisanal sandwich was high on the list. You just can’t find creative sandwiches in France and as soon as I saw Coven listed as one of the best places in Salem, MA, we had to go.

Though the name “Coven” might make you think about witches and cauldrons and pentacles or pentagrams, the restaurant/café is more of a kitsch-niche than anything else. It was filled with old games – such as battleship –

This was an epic battle to the death. I won, but only by the skin of my teeth.

And showed movies like Labrynth on flat screen TVs. David Bowie in tights is always a fascinating watch when you’re eating a sandwich called “Fraggle Rock.”

All the sandwiches had names that took me back.

But they were fabulous. The sister and I shared as sisters do.

The sandwiches were excellent. Incredibly filling, on crunchy, chewie baguettes. The fraggle rock – the chicken salad one was a bit on the mayonaise-y side, but not enough to make me complain. The valley girl sandwich (with the sweet potato) was a wonderful change. The cheddar a surprising compliment to the cumin dressing. With high tables, low couches the casual atmosphere of Coven suits any mood.

We also split a cookie dough brownie, but I was less impressed, though their pastries are supposed to be famous. I found it rather tasteless and too rich at the same time. As if it was composed of a lot of unflavored sugar. Their sandwiches are definitely a better find. And the coffee was good too.

Salem, despite being marketed to the witch-obsessed is also a quaint town. Pretty and quiet and fun to poke in all the shops and with fairly friendly people. It’s also home to the Peabody-Essex museum where the sister’s friend works but we did not go.

You can also attend the local school of witchcraft and wizardry. If I didn’t already have three degrees and three wonderful student loans to pay, I’d be there.

Strangely, today as I was typing this entry, I received some possible good news about a short story submitted months ago and I completely forgot about. That psychic might have been onto something.

Coming soon: Mexican, family dinners, ice cream joints and more.

Andernos to Toulon is a seven hour drive. As I can’t drive a standard transmission to save my life, the husband did, not most, but all of the driving. I slept in the passenger seat. We stopped off at Nîmes for a break. Why someone thought putting the front piece of an ancient Roman theater at a rest stop is and will always be beyond me. But there it was.

The last leg of the trip took me to Aix-en-Provence for dinner Monday evening. Aix is one of my favorite cities in France, because it’s a university town and I will always be a university student at heart. It’s not by the sea, but on the edge of the Luberon mountains with lovely streets, good shopping and most of all a wide variety of restaurants.

After finding that the restaurant we originally wanted to go to was closed, we settled for L’Antioche, a Lebanese restaurant that we had been to last year and enjoyed.

Dinner was simple. Any Lebanese restaurant should do a good mezze and this one is no exception. Hummus, smoked caviar d’aubergine with sesame, crème fraiche with scallions, fried cheese things with spices, pita bread, taboulé, hand rolled grape leaves with meat and rice, a pita sliced open and baked with lamb and spices, rolled beef “samosas” and falafel. I love Lebanese food because there’s not a crustacean to be found.

I wanted to take a close up photo of the man rolling the grape leaves but I was too embarrassed to ask.

It’s simple, it’s delicious and even though it’s kind of meant as an appetizer, as we learned the first time around – a mezze for two is definitely not an appetizer. Antioche, though not a fancy establishment, nor a big one. Most of the restaurant spills out onto the street.

It is excellent food for a good price. The waitstaff is very friendly and tried not to look when they saw me taking photos of everything, including the low-lit dining room and each plate individually.

That is until I got annoyed with having to stand up and just made a sample plate to photograph.

My favorite was the taboulé, which is fresh and light and full of yummy green things and onion and tomato that my body craved after my spitted pork. The second favorite is the caviar d’aubergine which is, as I said smoked so that it has a wonderful wooded flavor that is captured and absorbed into the taste of the eggplant adding deeper flavor to the complex vegetable.

For dessert? Well, if you’ve never had Arabian pastries you really should. But I couldn’t resist the husband’s offer of more ice cream and so we set off to find a place.

On Cours Mirabeau, the main street of Aix, we found heaven. Organic, homemade ice cream. What could be better? (Salted caramel on top.)

I had coconut and pana cotta-caramel. The husband had banana and speculoos.

The night and my vacation was over by 9pm when we got into the car and drove the 45 minutes back to our apartment. There we were greeted by a very angry and distressed cat. It’s fresh vegetable soups for the rest of the week for me while I digest all the food from this past weekend.

I had a long week. It commenced with teaching 4 teenagers to speak English. It was tiring and they were completely fish-eyed. I don’t remember being fish-eyed as a teen. But I do want to apologize to all the adults in my life then and now for once having been a teenager.

I’m so sorry. Really.

I’m sorry.

I made you cookies.

But we’ll get to that.

Friday night ended with me coming home at 8pm to a very exciting treat. Earlier in the day I had seen fleurs de courgette being sold in the market place and I immediately texted the husband with an excited note that if they weren’t too expensive, would he pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease buy some. He did.

These are zucchini flowers. They aren’t rare, they aren’t too expensive, but they are a bit hard to find. I love them. I had them first at La Colombe in Hyères (coincidentally, I’m going to that restaurant tonight), and thought they were so spectacular that I’d waited impatiently all year for summer and zucchini to come again.

These flowers are often stuffed. Usually with cheese or the zucchini itself and then fried or baked.

We stuffed ours with very fresh goat cheese mixed with garlic, onion and yellow pepper. Then drizzled them in olive oil and baked them in the oven for 15 minutes.

Fleurs de courgette are tangy, almost citrus-like with such a wonderful and satisfying crunch at the end. You know you’re eating a flower, it feels like eating a flower should. Like sunshine.

 

And now, your cookies.

The Dame Blanche is most often known as a sundae. Vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries or strawberry coulis and whipped cream. However, there is something much more exciting that can be found in almost every bakery in France: the Dame Blanche Cookie.

Dame Blanche or white lady is my favorite cookie. I’d never made them before, so bear with me:

  • 1 ¼ cup flour
  • 115g of butter, softened
  • ¾ of powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of vanilla extract
  • jam or confiture of your choice – I used strawberry, which is the most common.

Mix your softened butter, sugar and egg until every thing is smooth and homogenous. Add your flour, vanilla and salt and mix until everything comes together. Then mix a bit more to firm up your dough – not too firm – stop when you start to feel a bit of resistance – about 3 or 4 minutes on a low setting.

Set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C.

When the 30 minutes are up, flour your work surface and your rolling pin and your hands. Really coat it in the flour. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Take your dough out of the bowl and set it on your work surface. Flour it too.

Carefully roll the dough out to about 1/8 of an inch thick. This dough is incredibly sticky – something I unhappily discovered, which is why I recommend LOTS of flour everywhere to keep it from sticking.

Using a cookie cutter, cut yourself as many cookies as the dough allows but make sure you have an even number of cookies. I cut one cookie at a time, put it on the cookie pan and then cut the next. It was just easier given how delicate the dough was.

For every other cookie you will cut a small hole in the center. I recommend doing this while the cutter is still supporting the shape of the cookie. My holes didn’t come out so great, but maybe next time.

Bake your cookies for 10 minutes or until they are fully cooked through. You want them to be firm and crispy and browned.

Take them out and let them cool fully. Try to clean up in the mean time before your significant other sees the mess you’ve made with the kitchen.

When the cookies are cool, take your jam and spread a nice amount all over the cookie bottoms – the ones without the hole. Put the cookie tops on – the ones with the hole in the center. Et voila!

Normally, the Dame Blanche has white powdered sugar on top of it. I couldn’t find any in the store today and ran out of sugar when I was making the recipe. But no matter – they still taste great. They’re just not as white as they should be. Keep them in the fridge for about 3 days.

So please forgive me, for every having been a teenager. And have a cookie. It makes everyone feel better.