TARBAIS BEANS AND CASSOULET LANGUEDOC

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There is food I dream about.  And the classic French cassoulet is the top of my list.  This dense, rich, earthy casserole of beans, sausages and meats gently simmering – filling my kitchen with its mouth-watering aroma is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of.

Since we now raise our own pork I was even more determined this dish should be perfection itself.  I now have lean fresh pork fat,  fresh pork rinds and spare ribs.  All organic, all from milk fed pork.  What I did not have was Tarbais beans.   It is the these fat, white, meltingly smooth French beans that are the essential ingredients for authentic cassoulet.    The skin of the Tarbais beans is unusually thin and delicate.  The bean is low in starch and of remarkable tenderness.

I poured over my seed catalog and found the Heirloom Tarbais seeds.  We were a little late planting our garden this year but seven days ago we lovingly and tenderly patted the soil over the beans.  Almost like Jack’s magic beans they popped out of the ground four days later.  This summer promises to be incredibly hot.  Perfect weather for beans.   They will grow through the summer climbing up to six feet on supports and finally in the  fall we will pick, shell and store away our Tarbais beans.

Come the rainy, gray winter months Tarbais beans will find their way into a slow cooked cassoulet of incredible richness and flavour.  Over two days the ingredients will be off the stove and in and out of the oven several times.  Then when the breadcrumbs on the top of the cassoulet become a mahogany brown I will give it a  quick stir and return it to the oven one last time.   It will be the perfect dish to serve for Friday night supper with friends and family.  There will be lots of crusty home-made bread to sop up the juices.  I’ll provide extra large napkins to tuck under chins and we’ll  sit around the kitchen table and nibble and talk into the night.

(recipe to follow sometime in the winter months to come)

 

THE WONDER OF RHUBARB

 

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This unprepossessing plant.  So humble in origin.  A grow anywhere especially in back lanes plant.  This long awaited harbinger of spring type of plant.  This new darling of avant-garde young chefs.  This wonderful rhubarb is the upside-down topping on the most delicious of brown sugar cakes.

I discovered this scrumptious recipe in a new cook-book by one of my favorite cook-book authors – Dorie Greenspan – “Baking Chez Moi”.    It is perfection on its own as a snacking cake or one could lavish it with whipped cream or crème fraíche.   Add a few very ripe strawberries and it would be a spectacular finish to a meal.

This is an easy recipe to put together.  You don’t use a stand mixer – just your favorite balloon whisk.    The cake stays moist and delectable for up to three days.  Simply keep it covered at room temperature.

The original recipe calls for fresh rhubarb but you can also use frozen rhubarb.  Just be sure to allow time for your frozen rhubarb to defrost and drain (gently pressing on the stalks to help remove the moisture.

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RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN BROWN SUGAR CAKE – bake it today.  Bon Appetit

 

FINES HERBS

 

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It is the liberal use of fresh herbs that makes a cook worth her fleur de sel!   The garden is lush and rich with mint and parsley, basil and dill, tarragon, rosemary and thyme.

I can’t resist plucking a few mint leaves and rubbing them between my fingers as I walk to the garden.  It’s early morning and the sun hasn’t vanquished the dew from the lawns.  It glitters on tiny exquisite spider webs in the grass and creates a fairy world.

The air is still and quiet.  No tractors working the fields.  The seeding is finished.  Beans and peas planted.  Corn already climbing to the sky.

I harvest a perfect head of butter lettuce for supper.  At the very last moment I’ll wash and tear the leaves.  Add  a tangle of tarragon.  A drift of thyme.  Lots of fresh chopped chives and fleur de sel and then quietly toss it with a few tablespoons of thick, rich cream.  That’s it.   Simple perfection.

I bring the perfume of the herb garden into my home.  Fill an old fashioned white cream jug with parsley and mint.  Simplicity!  I could have plundered the flower garden and create an enormous bouquet worthy of any hotel lobby.   But, it is this simple fragrant collection of leaves that brings such joy to my heart.

 

 

GRATITUDE

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I am grateful.

I am grateful for Mozart.  I am grateful for blueberry pie.  I am grateful for dawns early light.  I am grateful for Alfred Lord Tennyson.  I am grateful for beach picnics.  I am grateful for Lenard Cohen.  I am grateful for home made bread.  I am grateful for Casablanca.  I am grateful for vanilla beans.  I am grateful for Alice Munro.  I am grateful for David Austin roses.   I am grateful for Charles Dickens.  I am grateful for oatmeal cookies.  I am grateful for prairie sunsets.  I am grateful for blue hydrangeas.   I am grateful for K.D. Lang.  I am grateful for Paris.  I am grateful for Edith Piaf.  I am grateful for wicker baskets.  I am grateful for maple syrup.  I am grateful for Charlie Chaplin.  I am grateful for Cracker Jacks.  I am grateful for pick-up sticks.  I am grateful for skipping ropes.  I am grateful for the Dalia Lama.  I am grateful for honey crisp apples.   I am grateful for Louise Penny.  I am grateful for Buddha.  I am grateful for elephants.  I am grateful for sea shells.  I am grateful for the milky way.  I am grateful for copper cooking pots.  I am grateful for lily of the valley.  I am grateful for Thomas Edison.  I am grateful for Ian Rankin.  I am grateful for The Wizard of Oz.  I am grateful for rain in the night.  I am grateful for sunshine in the morning.  I am grateful for kittens.  I am grateful for country fairs.  I am grateful for Strauss waltzes.  I am grateful for encyclopedias.  I am grateful for apple pie.  I am grateful for Frank Lloyd Wright.   I am grateful for cotton candy.  I am grateful country fairs.  I am grateful for canoes.  I am grateful for buttered popcorn.  I am grateful for merry-go-rounds.  I am grateful for cherry custard ice cream cones.  I am grateful for calla lilies.  I am grateful for Faure’s Requiem.  I am grateful for Willie Nelson.    I am grateful for the Eiffel Tower.   I am grateful for ice skates.  I am grateful for wiener roasts.  I am grateful for Oswald Rabbit.  I am grateful for Mocha the Dog.   I am grateful for The Tin Man.  I am grateful for train whistles.  I am grateful for meadow larks.  I am grateful for fog horns in the night.  I am grateful for tap water.  I am grateful for pearl buttons.  I am grateful for patchwork quilts.  I am grateful for Tin Tin.    I am grateful for paint boxes.  I am grateful for thoughtful friends.  I am grateful for caring siblings.  I am grateful for my precious children.  I am grateful for my loving husband.  I am grateful for my life.

BURIED TREASURE

The late afternoon warmed the soil.   Overhead  skeins of geese flew in military formation heading for the sanctuary of the bog.

She gathered the digging tools – a hand rake and a well-used  trowel its broken metal handle replaced with one of wood.

A bag of bone meal.

An ancient wicker basket filled with tulip bulbs.

She dug in the glorious jewel colours – ruby reds, shimmery pearl whites, peridot greens. diamond yellows.

Then gently.  Lovingly.  Happily patted the earth safely over the buried treasure.

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To be discovered.

 

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with cries of joy.

 

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In anticipation of spring.

 

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MADEMOISELLE . . . COCO CHANEL AND THE PULSE OF HISTORY

 

 

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In 1955 I discovered Vogue Magazine.   An elegant, exotic, exciting and completely new world spilled from the pages.

The one shoe store in our small town sold shoes in two colours – black and brown.  White shoes for nurses.  Clothing came in three styles – practical, matronly and Eaton’s catalog. I was young.  I wanted more.    I devoured Vogue.  I discovered Coco Chanel.

 

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My clothing budget was meager.

I raided Woolworths Five and Dime  for strands of pearls.

I bought men’s tortoise shell frames for my eye glasses

 

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I sewed white collars and cuffs onto my dark suits and black dresses.

And insanely and extravagantly  I spent a weeks salary on a bottle of Chanel No 5 perfume.

All because of Coco Chanel!

 

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MADEMOISELLE    COCO CHANEL  and the pulse of history  by Rhonda K. Garelick is a riveting biography of one of the most fascinating woman of the 20th century.

If you admire Chanel.  Love fashion.  Adore Paris – then dive into this book for interesting new information about this woman who created a global icon – CHANEL NO 5.

 

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This book is an intriguing  glimpse into the life of Chanel – warts and all.  If you find the tales of  Chanel reinventing herself repetitious – ignore them!   If the amount of words overwhelm you – skip a few pages.  If you feel the photographs are too small – be clever and Goggle image of some of the men in her life.  You’ll be rewarded with dozens of photographs  of Boy Capel, Igo Stravinsky, Grand Duke Dmitri, Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster and poet Pierre Reverdy.

 

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Chanel transformed forever the way we dress.   The little black dresses, flat shoes, elaborate costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, jersey knits.    She took women out of strait jacket corsets and put them into everything from evening dresses and her classic boucle suits to “boyfriend’s” clothes, fisherman’s sweaters and sailor pants. Today you see these fashions on  women of every age and every background.

 

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I continue my ongoing and long love affair with all things Chanel.   Because of Chanel I fell in love with Paris and all things French.  In my garden  Camellias are blooming.   White Camellias  – Coco Chanel’s favorite flower.

 

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A VALENTINE FOR YOU

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Friendship is a flower that never dies.

Happy Valentine day dear friends.

 

SOUP GLORIOUS SOUP . . . ROASTED CAULIFLOWER LEEK SOUP

 

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER LEEK SOUP WITH CHEDDAR CROSTINI

I feel very strongly about soup.  Soup satisfies the body and the soul.   There is simply nothing more wonderful then enjoying a beautiful bowl of home-made soup.  For me the benchmark of good cooks and  good restaurants is the quality of their soup.  Soup should be treated with great respect.  It should be lovingly and carefully prepared.  The ingredients carefully chosen then prepared and cooked to absolute perfection.

The basis of most soups is the stock.  It should be home-made.  There are some exceptions. If you are able to buy house-made stock from a fresh food supplier this is  acceptable.   This soup recipe calls for chicken stock.  When you buy chicken stock in cans or vacuum packages you are buying flavoured water.  You should be able to reduce a good chicken stock down so that it becomes  thick and syrupy.  Try reducing the canned or packaged chicken down and you will be left with nothing but flavoured powder.

Roasting cauliflower changes this plain Jan white vegetable into something so deeply flavoured, so rich and wonderful you’ll find yourself stealing a few florets to nibble as you prepare the soup.

This soup takes just thirty minutes to prepare.  Add a tossed salad and your dinner is on the table before you can finish a glass of wine.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER LEEK SOUP WITH CHEDDAR CROSTINI

 

SWEET POTATO RED PEPPER AFRICAN PORK STEW

 

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There is nothing more wonderful than the heavenly aroma of a one-dish meal simmering away in the oven while you curl up in a chair with a good book.  This dish has a deliciously exotic flavour created by the dynamic and unusual combination of  sweet potatoes, spices and a little peanut butter.  What I especially love about this recipe –  it is extraordinarily pantry friendly.   There’s no rushing around looking for hard to find ethnic ingredients.

This West African pork stew is easy to put together yet it is so impressive it would be perfect for a marvelous Friday Night We’re Having Friends Over For Dinner.  Unless you are very confident of your butcher don’t buy ready-cut-up stewing pork.    The important thing to remember is not to cook your stewing pork on a high heat. It will toughen it.  Pork likes to simmer slowly and quietly and will reward you with succulent, fork tender meat.  Serve this dish with lots of warm, crusty bread.

Put on some African drum music and make

SWEET POTATO RED PEPPER PORK STEW

 

 

FALL IN LOVE WITH PARIS ALL OVER AGAIN

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Theadora braided her hair into pigtails and tied them with tricolour ribbon.  Coloured her lips with the boldest of red lipstick.  Scented herself with a drift of perfume fragrant with memories.   Then set down to fiercely write about and fall in love with Paris all over again.  Read her words.  Follow her Voyages Extraordinaires PEOPLE PLACES AND BLING and seize the day.

 

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Across time and space another read her words.

” It’s time to return.” she thought. “Time to return to the city of lights. Time to linger over café au lait and watch the world go by.  Time to wander familiar streets.  Visit ancient book stores.  Treasure hunt in the flea markets.   Time to simply glory in all that is Paris.”

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Theadora’s shopping list promised irresistible bargains for unnecessary but oh so exquisite objects of desire. The Galeries Lafayete, an Aladdin’s cave,  called her name floor after floor after glittering floor.  The perfect red soled shoe.  The silky softness of an elegant sweater. A clutch of rainbow coloured scarves.  For this is Paris and elegance on sale is hard to ignore.

 

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She reached deep into the immense armoire cupboard and began to pull our her Longchamp bags. Elegant brown leather trimmed cases. Each bag a little larger than the one before. Like babushka dolls they fitted one into the other. The smallest held the necessities – a silver compact, Chanel lipstick, eye make-up and Theadora’ shopping itinerary. The rest would travel to her destination empty.

 

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She was returning to Paris. To walk proudly, fearlessly the silver streets. Fill her eyes with the golden light of Paris. Fill her soul with the courage and strength that is Paris. And lastly she would fill her Longchamp bags with the plunders of Paris. Slipping into her ruby red travel slippers she tucked the key to her “little house in Paris” into her purse. CARPE DIEM – Et Bonne Annee! And she was gone.

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