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Today was the first day of the year that it was warm enough to eat on the balcony. I didn’t make anything special for it as it was “leftover day,” trying to get rid of all the random stuff in our fridge to make way for more leftovers. I wish that I could portion things properly – like pasta. I know that I can make food and freeze it, but I have this thing about microwaves…

But I digress.

I had my lunch, which was roasted vegetables, tomato, homemade hummus, a slice of Itchebai cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread. Tomato soup. Crystal Light, courtesy of la famille who toted 6 packs of the stuff across the Atlantic at my request. Definitely a leftover day.

What is Itchebai cheese you ask? Well, it is French. Think cheddar with a Swiss twist.

This Christmas someone gave us a box set of small cookbooks on classic French cuisine by Larousse. What is Larousse? Obviously you’ve never had to buy a French dictionary. I was interested in making some sort of fruity pastry for dessert today and turned to the dessert volume for inspiration.

I’ve seen clafoutis in boulangeries here, in the pastry section, looking rather cake-like and fruity. Normally they are done with prunes or cherries. I had neither in the house, but I do have a package of frozen berries and pineapple. The husband is not a fan of fruits rouges.

While, the ones I saw in the shops looked like cake – clafoutis is rather like a flan that has been thickened with flour. Deceptively cake looking, but not cake like. Though I had seen it, I had never tasted, nor baked it, but there’s a first time for everything and if I’m going to live in France and study French cuisine, I better start cooking.

Clafoutis aux (Fruits Rouges ou Ananas)

Adapted from A l’heure du dessert, Larousse:

  • 150 grams berries*
  • 150 grams pineapple chunks*
  • 3 eggs
  • 70 grams powdered sugar
  • 200 ml milk
  • 30 grams flour

*as I mentioned above, cherries or prunes are the most common fruits added to clafoutis, but use any fruit you like. It’s all good.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. If you want to serve this in individual portions break out the ramkins, otherwise find a small size cake tin for four.

If you’re using frozen fruit; which is what I did, you might want to defrost them now. In the meantime, whisk your eggs together in a good size mixing bowl. Add the flour and sugar and whisk again until incorporated. Add the milk and mix until you have a nice, smooth, and fluid batter.

Put your fruit in the bottom of your cake tin or ramkin. There’s no need to grease them.

Pour the batter on top of the fruit.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool and serve.

The original recipe supposedly serves 4. I halved it, but used three eggs instead of two, and it still served four. I guess I like smaller desserts than the editors of Larousse.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, when the egg batter pushed its way down to the bottom of the pot and forced the fruit to the surface, which created a layered effect I wasn’t expecting.

While I don’t love flan, and clafoutis is not your typical rich, buttery, creamy, French pastry, this was something I could eat again. Not too sweet, comforting, mixed with the tart berry.

Next time I see one in the local bakery I’ll buy it to see how I compare to the professionals, but for now this French classic has won me over with it’s ease and adaptability if nothing else. I sound like an advertisement. Dinner’s just about ready so it must be the hunger talking…

My fruit bowl is over flowing.

I love fruit, but I don’t eat enough of it. Don’t we all have this problem? We buy fruit that looks so luscious with the best of intentions but it ends up sitting in the fruit bowl until it’s soggy and sad.

Pears, lemons, oranges, apples, bananas, half a mango in the fridge. There’s only one thing to do with all of this stuff.

Smoothies.

They have lots of fruit, flavor, sweetness and for someone like me who is ALWAYS hungry, they fill you up.

One excellent thing about smoothies is the endless variety. Throw in a few spices, change your regular milk for rice or almond milk, use orange juice, and you have a whole new drink.

This one is orange, banana, and mango. It was dessert after lunch.

Lunch was garlic, buckwheat and multi-grain flat bread.

Fresh flat bread is fabulous.

Top it with goat cheese, butternut squash, roasted potato (or tomato) and peas.

Throw on some sage. Warm, healthy, filling, so sweet and savory – squash is so wonderful – and goes well with so many things. With the potato and creamy, mild goat cheese is was hearty and savory. With the tomato and sharp goat cheese it’s fresh and sweet. Delightful

Though this is a food blog – I’d like to change the topic a moment – to discuss the title of this lovely entry.

Say hello to Dumpling. She’s kind of a fan of fruit too, and she’s being fostered by the husband and me until she gains 5lbs and feels more secure about herself. If all goes well, and she’s not sick (and sadly there’s the possibility that something is very wrong) we might adopt her.

The husband and I went to the Refuge aux Chats et Chiens in Toulon yesterday to inquire – just inquire about fostering a cat in the hopes of adopting some day. The next thing we knew, they were paying us to take her home, because she was so depressed and stressed that she wasn’t eating – and as you can see – she needs food.

I’m not going to lie. It’s a little alarming to have a cat, so painfully thin, and now we’re starting to realize – probably sick – shoved on you like this – even if it is temporary, but we’re hoping her problems are not serious and that we can help her to feel better soon.

She’s already taken over the husband’s underwear drawer.

Here was Pistou’s shocked expression when he realized what we’d brought home:

As of now, about 30 hours after Dumpling’s arrival, we’ve had no fights. A little minor hissing, a mixing of the food bowls, some tail and nose sniffing, and a whole lot of staring competitions. So everyone welcome and hope for the best for little Dumpling – who was named after the Chinese delicacy, courtesy of the husband.

Before you read the first part of this, you’re going to need a drink. I recommend a vodka tonic with a twist of lemon – or lime if you have it.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s August. To many people August means high heat and vacation. To me, no month is more dreaded. Not because of the heat, I love the heat. Not because I have to work while everyone goes on vacation – I get to take my vacation in September when everyone else is left with memories and mountains of work. I dread August because no other month in the year reminds me more that I am a foreigner in a hostile and confusing land. Or is it confused? I can never tell.

This comes two fold:

First, August is the month when I must begin the long and paperwork filled process of renewing my titre de séjour. No matter that my titre doesn’t expire until November. I have to begin making my appointments with the marie (town hall), getting my list of requirements – which changes every year, getting new official photographs taken, finding every piece of official looking paper with my name on it and then photocopy all of it – in triplicate.

Second, August is the month when everyone in Europe comes to Provence. And I do mean EVERYONE in Europe. La Seyne and Toulon, which are quiet, desolate towns 11 months out of the year suddenly explode in population. The boat I take to work is suddenly completely packed and I’m lucky to find a seat. Shopping at the market becomes a wrestling match where I have to push and shove in order to get to the table, then push and shove again in order to pick out the best vegetables.

But there’s another drawback to these out-of-towners. Obviously, many of them aren’t French. Obviously, I couldn’t care less, except that every time I go out of my house and open my mouth my accent immediately gets me treated like a tourist.

This was no where more apparent than in two examples from this week.

On my way to work yesterday morning, I walked through the market and decided to stop off at a fruit vendor and buy a peach for breakfast. I can buy a peach in French. It’s not hard. I can tell you what kind of peach I want. I can tell you if I want one that’s bien mûr (nice and ripe) or if I want one un peu dur (a bit hard) for later in the week. But as soon as I said “Je voudrais un pêche jaune” the man started answering me in English. Never mind that I was answering him in French. Never mind that his English was so terrible he had to repeat himself 3 times before I understood what he was asking. Never mind that I asked him to please speak French because I couldn’t understand him. I’m not a French citizen. Therefore he was required to speak to me in very bad English.

Today, was slightly different. I was in Toulon teaching. Went to the park after to have lunch. Then decided to stop and have a glass of wine at a café before heading home. I sat down at a café in the center of the city, near a lovely fountain, where I can watch the world walk by. The waiter came up to me. “Madame?

Un verre de rosé.

He didn’t even ask me to repeat it. He called over his colleague who “speaks English.”

“Tell me,” she said.

Un verre de rosé.

So now I had two blank faces staring at me.

Un verre de rosé,” I said again a little louder and getting lightly annoyed.

“Glass wine?” she asked.

C’est quoi j’ai dit.

“Red?”

J’ai dit rosé. Trois fois.

“Red?”

ROSE!” I half shouted and then turned my back on both of them.

They brought my glass. It was rosé.

The fact is, I’ve been to this café before. The fact is, I order a glass of wine all the time. The fact is that this ONLY happens to me in August where, whenever I open my mouth and my accent marks me as a foreigner, I’m immediately treated like an ignorant tourist who can’t speak any French.

And worst of all – I’m marked as an ENGLISH tourist.

Vous venez d’où en Angleterre?” They ask me.

Nul part. Je suis americane.

Quoi?” My god, she answered me in French – cannot compute.

After a very large inward sigh on my part: “London. I’m from London.”

C’est bien, Londres.

“Yeah, it’s great.” Too bad I’ve only been once when I was 14.

 Ironically, going to the marie where I can present proof that I have an address, a job and a life here in France, despite the paperwork, appointments and photographs, is much more pleasant. As they expect me to speak French, when I speak it, they don’t call over their colleague immediately upon me presenting my passport.

Also, to be clear, I have nothing against the British. But as it’s  British tourists that come to Provence and not American, apparently the locals can’t comprehend that there might be an American in their midst.

25 days of August to go. I’m counting them down.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the summer with salad. Strawberry Spinach Salad.

I begged the husband to buy strawberries when he went shopping yesterday. It’s the last of the season, and they’re a bit pricier than in June, but I will miss them when they’re gone. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that they are still around, albiet in smaller quantities.

Perhaps you’ve seen this salad at restaurants. But it’s easy and tasty to make at home.

  • Strawberries
  • Fresh spinach
  • Chopped pecans
  • Sliced chicken
  • Gorgonzola
  • Onion – red works best.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • Honey

(not pictured: salt and pepper)

For this salad, I used already prepared chicken slices, but if you’re cooking your own chicken, you probably want to do that first.

Wash your fruits and veggies. If you don’t have chopped pecans, crumble, crush or chop them yourself. There’s no real reason for this other than that they’re easier to get on the fork and eat.

Slice your strawberries. Mince your onion. As it says above, red onion works best as the flavor gives the best contrast to the strawberry, but I forgot to specify what kind of onions I wanted when I gave my shopping list to the husband, so I had to use yellow.

Crumble or thinly cut your gorgonzola into chunks. I had a very soft, creamy cheese this time, so it was easier to cut it.

For the dressing:

Put some balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, honey, and dijon mustard into a salad bowl and whisk together. Only use a tiny bit of mustard and less than half a teaspoon of honey. These are really for an extra zing to your vinaigrette and you don’t want them to overwhelm your salad. You can use balsamic vinegar alone if something more simple is desired.

Add your chicken, strawberries, pecans, and onion. Coat them in the dressing.

 

 

Add spinach and gorgonzola. Toss and serve.

The combination of sweet strawberries, the crunch of pecans, bite of the onion, and the gorgonzola give this salad a wonderful and fresh flavor. It’s fun to eat and extremely satisfying. Especially when you’ve had a hard day of trying to prove yourself in a country that – at least for a month – can’t figure out that you speak their language.

This entry is mostly about the fear of making scones with limited resources. But first:

Thursday was July 14th the national holiday of France, otherwise known as Bastille Day. This is celebrated with the most uninspiring military parade in Paris and fireworks in every village and city throughout the country.

 

The husband decided to do an American style meal which featured pork chops and homemade barbecue sauce. As soon as the pork chops were unwrapped, the cat came running. He even had the gall to try and pull one off of the plate.

 With fries and frita peppers.

 

And beer. Don’t forget the beer.

 Today, it was my turn to make something. But I didn’t want to go to the store. I debated making strawberry mousse. But I didn’t have eggs or strawberries. So that was out. I thought about making a cake of speculoos. But I didn’t have eggs or milk or half of the spices needed for speculoos. So I sat on the couch watching Rome and wondering what to do.

 When speaking to my mom on the phone, she told me about the strawberry and cream scones she’s been buying from Panera Bread. Hence, the strawberry mousse. Then I thought about scones. What’s in a scone? Would I need eggs? Would I need to leave the house? I asked the husband if he liked scones. He said, “are they like British muffins?” I said, “What the hell are British muffins?”

 Apparently, he was talking about English muffins. But after we got past that confusion he said he was willing to try a scone.

 I looked up a recipe on the internet. Buttermilk.

 Buttermilk? It doesn’t exist in France. Unless you live in Normandy. So not only would I have to leave the house, I’d have to take a train to the opposite end of the country.

 Then I found a buttermilk substitution. Milk and lemon juice. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

 Oh wait. No milk.

 But I did have crème legère or light cream. I decided to take a chance.

 

I mixed my dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg with butter. I had crumbs.

 

I tasted my “buttermilk.” It was sour enough, the way buttermilk should be. I started to pour it into my crumbs all the while thinking that this was probably NOT the way to make scones.

 Mixing gave me a sticky paste. I rolled it out and got something like dough.

 

Then, because I cannot make cinnamon scones alone, I decided to add peaches to half of the batter. Once again thinking to myself that adding something watery to this dough was probably NOT the way to make scones. Especially when the dough absorbed the water and started to stick to everything in sight.

 

In the oven they went. They smelled tasty enough.

 

20 minutes later, they came out. Lo! Soft, sweet, even yes, fruity scones. The faux-buttermilk worked like a charm and they are moist, tangy scones that aren’t too dry and don’t have an odd taste. Husband approved and I can’t stop munching on them. So they aren’t strawberries and cream, but they are scones and they are mom inspired.

 

Thanks mom!

I am waiting at the train station. It’s a cloudy day, almost cold if it wasn’t for the humidity. I sit on the odd, concrete stairs that separate the queue from the station building, and take out of my purse a small slice of something wonderful.

 It is my personal belief that all train stations should have a boulangerie somewhere within sight and walking distance. But in my limited knowledge of les gares de Provence I only know of even a smaller number that fill this requirement.

 So I planned ahead. This half-eaten fruit-crumble pastry is from the bakery across the street from my apartment.

I probably shouldn’t be eating it. It’s loaded with calories, but as there’s fruit – blueberries most likely – inside, I try to pretend it’s a healthy breakfast.

 I’ve arrived an hour early for my train. So by the time I’m done waiting in line to buy my ticket, listening to the life stories of two obstinate women trying to get to god-only-knows-where in two months, I have 40 minutes to spend savoring my pastry. (One of them was still arguing at her teller window after I was done paying for my passage)

 First I break my pastry in half, telling myself that I’ll only eat one part now and save the rest for later, or maybe give it to some hungry person. Yeah, right.

 I like to pick off the “crumble parts” first. Those round things that are about the width of my thumb. They are buttery, soft and have the texture of crumbs someone smashed together into a ball, and if that doesn’t sound good to you, you don’t know the guilty pleasure of scraping together the last of a birthday cake or the bottom of a brownie pan – and I pity you.

 After, I eat the butter, browned crust, which leaves me with a soft, fruity cake to munch on, piece by piece. I don’t miss a crumb. I cup one hand under my chin to catch any breakage. I lick my fingers clean. It’s not a sweet cake – only mildly sweet with butter and tart fruit. The crust is all butter and flower and just a little bit flaky. The inside is not cake. On top are the baked berries whose juices have infused the dough. It’s almost paste-like and it would be a pleasure to chew even if I had the worst toothache in the world – it’s that soft.

 I’m in heaven.

 The station is not too crowded this morning. A little strange, given that the day before – a Thursday – it was packed. Do people take trains on Thursdays but not on Fridays here? There’s one guy sitting on the concrete steps a little ways down from me. Another on the chairs across from me. I keep my legs tightly pressed together, to catch crumbs, but also because I’m wearing a very short skirt.

 I begin to eat the next portion of my pastry. And then remember – I should take a photo. The other waiting passengers watch as I pull out my camera and take a photograph of the half-eaten cake that I’ve been savoring for the past 15 minutes.

 It’s hard not to scarf this thing down. Which is why I was scribbling these notes in my journal while I was eating. When it’s over, I press the unforgotten crumbs into my thumb and lick them off. I gather up my box and paper and throw it away.

 I spot a small, golden crumb on my exposed toes and for a moment I consider giving myself one last little taste. But thankfully, my love of food stops at my feet and I’m able to restrain myself.

Did you expect me to cook again today? I didn’t. But here I am.

There was a bike race going on underneath my balcony today. It started around one and went until five.

Kind of odd, considering I live on a quiet street in a very quiet urban town. It’s just not the type of thing you’d expect to see after lunch.

Last month the first strawberries appeared and I celebrated. This month the first cherries appeared, and as soon as I saw them at the market, my mouth started to water.

My first thought was: I really need to buy some.

My second thought was: Chocolate Covered Cherries

I finally bought a handful today. Most were eaten as dessert, but then I remembered I had chocolate in the house. And I also had rum.

Ok, so a cherry liquor would have worked better, but I worked with what I had.

Honestly, I didn’t know if this would take. I mean, how exactly does one make chocolate-covered liquored fruit?

First wash your cherries. (Did you hear about the contaminated Spanish cucumber scare? Wash your cucumbers!) Put them in a small bowl and cover them with liquor. Let sit.

Bowl water in a large saucepan, with a bain-marie on top. Once the water is boiling add chocolate and a little bit of milk.

This is the most delicate part, I think. I’ve worked with chocolate a lot and it’s a finicky sweet thing when melted. I found that adding milk to the melted chocolate keeps the chocolate or the sugar in the chocolate from cooking and caramelizing – if that’s true or not I don’t know, but it seems to work for me.

It also seems to require patience. I wait until the chocolate looks completely melted before I mix the milk in to form a paste and then I usually add more milk – just to make sure. I mix lightly, slowly. The spoon doesn’t whip around the bain-marie, but mostly spreads the chocolate around and I let the milk do its thing on its own.

Then take the cherries that have been soaking in the liquor and dip them into the bain-marie, coating them with the chocolate.

Make sure you steer clear of the steam from the water! I burned my wrists a few times.

Put the cherries on a baking sheet and let cool.

I wasn’t sure if the rum would actually stick to the cherries. Honestly, they’d only been soaking for maybe 15 minutes, but the end result was a very light rum taste that off-set the sweetness of the chocolate and acid-berry of the cherry.

Ideally, if I’d had any forethought I would have let the cherries sit in the rum for an hour or two. But I’ll try that next time – maybe after I return from the market tomorrow.

I get paid. And the first thing that comes to mind – besides a shopping spree at L’Occitane – is a shopping spree at the local market. Toulon’s market meets everyday except Monday and today, with the month’s pay check freshly deposited in my account, I managed to brave the heat and the crowds in order to find lunch.

The husband and I invested in a food processor that does everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Yesterday, he made cold cucumber and apple soup, a tomato tart, a fruit smoothie, and milkshakes- everything was sliced, mashed and mixed by le robot. In honor of the food processor’s inauguration, I decided to give it a day of rest by making a “risotto primavera.”

  • Risotto rice
  • Spinach
  • Green peas
  • asparagus
  • red, yellow, green peppers
  • red onion
  • basil
  • garlic
  • parmesan or romano cheese
  • white wine – I used pinot gris because it was already open. A good bottle, I felt kind of bad about using it for cooking.
  • vegetable stock
  • olive oil

(If you don’t know how to cook the ingredients, feel free to ask.)

So it’s not quite the traditional primavera. The husband doesn’t like broccoli and I had frozen asparagus. In fact all the vegetables I used besides the onion were frozen. Fresh would have been better – but I like to use what I have in order to make room for new and exciting foods. Parmesan cheese is, of course, the traditional primavera and risotto cheese, but I was shocked to find the market completely void of it so I picked a salty and aged Romano instead. It did the trick nicely.

But of course, we couldn’t allow the food processor to really have a day of rest. I chopped the Romano inside it.

The first course was a 5 vegetable tapenade (eggplant, zucchini, pepper, tomato, onion, olives) and a traditional green olive tapenade fresh from the market and spread on light and toasty crackers.

For dessert we had Baba Rhum – once again the food processor was put through its paces as the dough and whipped cream were both assembled inside. It was my husband’s first time making the Baba Rhum dough and when he was beating it with his hands we both thought it looked to gooey so we added flour. And then more flour. The end result was a rather thick brioche. Tasty, but a tad too filling. Since fruit is a must with baba rhum, we topped ours with fresh cherries soaked in – what else?- rhum.

To drink I had a rosé by Domain l’Oppidum des Cauvins.

The risotto was a success. I love when my recipes work out well and they are filled with veggies. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos because I was starving by the time it was finished and to be perfectly honest, I’m terrible when it comes to plating food in a decorative way. It was a heavy meal – a bit hot for this heat – but in the end it sits in the tummy and on the palette in a most satisfying way.

Within two blocks from my apartment are 3 different bakeries. Even in the 21st century it is still very common in France for people to buy their daily bread from the local bakery. Baguettes are always popular, always fresh. French nutritionists, contrary to American diet fads, recommend the equivalent of 1 baguette per day for women and 1 1/2 baguette (or it’s equivalent) for men. That’s 2 feet of white, crusty, thick bread everyday and everyday, I see men and women leaving the bakeries with 2, 3 or even an arm load of baguettes for a day’s portion. Baguettes usually last no more than two days before they become so rock hard they could be used as a weapon.

The husband and I don’t go much for baguettes, we often get our carbs through pasta, rice, potatoes, pate feuilletée. Instead of baguettes we go for the pain cereal, a wheat bread with oats and grains baked in. It comes in a smaller portions and lasts a tad longer. Anyway, the hygienically wrapped, bleached-white, preservative filled bread is a rarity in France.

But what to eat when it’s in the morning, when you’re on the run, when you want something to fill you up and don’t want to have to carry two feet of bread around with you all day?

My personal favorite is the pain raisin. Traditionally this is like the American cinnamon roll without the frosting. Crusty like a croissant on the outside, in the center of the swirl is a rich, fresh cream, with raisins dotting the bread throughout. The cream isn’t too sweet, it’s not sour, and it has a yellow-off-whitish look to it that is simply inviting.

Nowadays, many bakeries have begun to skip the thick layer of cream and instead have a softer sweet bread dotted with raisins, a strange almost bread-like crust along with the trademark swirl. “Blech!” I say to them. If I wanted a brioche, I’d order a brioche.

However, there is a tiny little bakery right off the northwest corner Place Liberté in Toulon. Across from L’Etoile de l’Inde, this little bakery was once owned by an elderly man and his wife, and they’ve recently re-done the place and now (I believe) it’s being run by their children. (I’ll put up a better photo when there aren’t patrons eating right out front.)

They don’t bake much, but what they do bake is top notch. Their pain raisin are always creamy, crunchy on the outside, soft and light in the middle, with just enough raisins so that you can pretend you’re eating healthy while getting your sugar ration for the morning.

I stopped in there today on the way to work, not usually hungry in the mornings, I couldn’t resist when I saw the two lonesome pastries sitting in their window cases, waiting to be picked up by a girl who can’t help herself when it comes to the smell of baking sweet breads. It was delightful, it was filling and it was gone within the 10 minute walk to work.

I almost debated another indulgence from the bakery next to my office – for comparison purposes of course – but then reminded myself that their pain raisin – while soft and light – just doesn’t have that creaminess that is traditional to the pastry and such a rare find.