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Do you know what this is?

Up until a few weeks ago, I had no idea. At the market I saw them, looking all white and flowery (because to me they look a little like a flower) with the rest of the squash whispering “don’t you want to open me up and look inside?”

Ok, I know that sounds sort of dirty, but when ever I see a new vegetable and fruit that’s how I feel. France is excellent on bringing out the old-timey vegetables in winter and this winter I’m determined to expand my horizons and cook with some of them. My first year in France I discovered leeks. Don’t laugh.

So I bought this squash and contemplated it for a while. I wasn’t even sure how to open it. I did what anyone who has no idea what their doing would do.

Cut it in half.

It’s white inside. Kind of like chou ravé (whatever that is in English), or yellow squash. Scooped it out and stared at it some more. The only thing I could think of to do was stuff it. Into the oven it went, out the door I went to consult my butcher on what to put inside.

If you’ve ever read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, where he encounters the butcher in a town near Avignon who tells him how to cook his stew – there are still butchers like this in France. Mine happens to be one of them. When I cooked my turkey for thanksgiving fifteen minutes were spent discussing basting, stuffing, baking techniques to the end of him giving me a needle, thread and the intestine of a lamb to put over the turkey in order to keep the stuffing inside. He was horrified when I said I was going to use aluminum foil.

Anyway, my butcher is proud of his sausage. I know – a little dirty. And he recommended his homemade spicy pork sausage with a mixture of spices and seasoning for stuffing with garlic onion and celery.

I walked home, hoping my squash wasn’t done yet. It wasn’t.

Everything was chopped and cooked in a pan. I added a bit of shredded Emmental just to hold it all together.

I stuffed it all into the small space inside my squash and baked it for a final 10 minutes in the oven at about 200°C.

When reading about patty pan squash online, I read that the skin of the squash was rather thin and you had to be careful the thing didn’t fall apart when you served it. My squash wasn’t like this at all, and in fact the next time I make this particular squash I’m going to scoop out the meat and use the shell as a bowl for serving. It was more than hard enough.

But how did it taste? Well, it’s not a sweet squash like butternut or pumpkin. It has much more of a crisp, vegetable bite to it, cross between zucchini or celery. Combined with the garlic, sausage and cheese it worked quite well. The sausage was savory and in some ways the cooked squash was fresh and even a bit summery. Can’t beat that.

It’s a little tough to eat squash sideways. Or to stuff squash sideways. Or serve and cook sideways. And it looks a little like menacing mouth smiling at you with huge white teeth and a long meaty tongue. Hopefully patty pan squash won’t be in your nightmares tonight.

FYI: My last post got eaten by WordPress in some glitch and I had to delete it. Hopefully it will be back up tomorrow or Monday!

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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.

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.

Today was a a cat-day. If you own a cat, you know what I mean. A day when you sit around feeling pleased with yourself sitting around accomplishing nothing in particular. I ran, I shopped at the market, I watched this documentary on Mesopotamia  (warning, not worth it if you don’t speak French!)

Started a new book. Painted my nails. Had a glass of wine. Worked on a new story. I need to get the novel out of my head for a moment and come back to it fresh when I feel better about my writing skills. I listened to some of Chopin’s Nocturnes.

Pistou, our cat, spent his day on the balcony and in our jardiniere, where he shouldn’t be, but he too looked so content sitting there amongst the flowers that I let him be.

 

Yesterday a friend from work asked me, “Are you cooking anything good this weekend?” He likes to hear about my obsession. I said “No. I made so much bread yesterday and Sunday the husband and I are going to a really nice restaurant.” (Review to follow)

But I really shouldn’t lie. OF COURSE I cooked. Because I can’t help myself.

I made quiche.

Not just one quiche but three. Which worked out to six individual quiche in the end.

How does one make a quiche? It’s easy. Crust, eggs, cream, and whatever you feel like putting inside. Bake at 180°C until cooked through. And don’t really worry about timing it right. Quiche really can’t burn. It’ll brown, but if it does, then you know it’s done and you have a browned crispy top.

But if you REALLY need a cooking time, the husband recommends 10-15 minutes.

So my quiche(s?) were:

Roasted potato with herbs

Zucchini and leek

Roasted red pepper, garlic and tomato

 

So Z- even though I said I wouldn’t cook anything, because I was tired – these quiche are for you.

 Though not literally because the husband ate them all. 😉

Today consisted of lots of boring activities. But it also included a trip to Botanic, our local organic food market, where I buy my weekly soup ration. As it’s spring heading into what looks like a very hot summer I decided to take a look at the fresh vegetables for dinner inspiration. Every time I go to the market – any market – I start drooling over all the veggies. I love vegetables. I really do. They are may favorite thing to cook with, to eat, to look at, to smell. I just love vegetables… and garlic.

 I bought tomatoes, I bought potatoes, an eggplant, and then I bought fresh fava beans.

 I’ve only had fava beans once. In a dip Greg made, and they were good, but I didn’t really know what they tasted like or how they were even supposed to be cooked when they are fresh. So back to the apartment we went and I looked up how to cook them on the internet.

First, I had to shell the beans out of their pods.

Then, they needed to be blanched by boiling them in water, draining them and dumping the beans into icy cold water. This causes the outer skin to come off easier and causes the bean to be that pretty green color we all know and love.

Yay.

 

There was a brief pause to feed Pistou. He has a rough life.

So then I sliced the eggplant and salted it. Leaving it fresh, sliced and salted for about 20 minutes brings out the flavor of the eggplant by draining out the water. Obviously you wash off the eggplant before you cook it – otherwise you’ll taste nothing but salt.

I minced some onion. I minced some garlic. I rinsed a tomato.

And then:

Usually I work from recipes. This time, instead of looking for a recipe, I simply looked how to cook the beans and then decided what I wanted to use. I didn’t know what to do. I went out on the balcony and stared at the olive tree for inspiration. I opened the refrigerator and stared at the food inside. Really, I didn’t have any idea what to do with my pretty vegetables.


 I seeded and chopped the tomato. I found some frozen basil (almost as good as fresh). Oil, salt and pepper went into a pan. High heat.

 Everything was sautéed. Eggplant, beans, tomato, and I threw in some pepper. Then I added this:

 

Spicy chili pepper because I like destroying my taste buds.

But then what? I guess rice might have been a good choice. Or quinoa. Couscous maybe?

I decided to hollow out part of a baguette, put a few slices of mimolette on top and then my vegetable – thing – on top of that.

So… how did it taste?

 

Pretty good actually. The beans are have an almost sweet, pea-style flavor that mixed well with the onion and garlic. They worked even well with the chili pepper purée. And the mimolette, which has the look and flavor of a sharp cheddar offset the spice real well. In contrast, slicing the eggplant as thick as I did, and pressing out all the water, made it almost crisp. Nothing can replace the taste of eggplant for me, and I’ll eat it with anything. The tomatoes were probably unnecessary, but I can’t resist a tomato and it made the plate pretty.

Considering this is the first time I’ve made fava beans and the first recipe I’ve totally made up on my own, it was pretty good. I think next time I’ll either leave out the eggplant or the tomato to make a more simpler meal. In any case, I’ll be buying more fava beans the next time I go to the market.

In case you’re wondering, the husband had pizza for dinner.

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.

Ice Cream is Amazing

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