Okay, so I didn't have a picture of the actual cake

Cheating here; not Amish Friendship Bread!

 

Every year, most of France has events for the “Telethon,” which is similar, I think to the Labor Day telethon in the States. I assume there are televised events, but mostly I’m familiar with the local events that villages like ours put on. One of the things we do here is a bake sale on the Saturday market and for the last couple of years I’ve contributed a little something.

So, this year I gave them an Amish friendship bread. I dropped it off at the town hall yesterday, but I didn’t get over there until close to noon. A couple of the ladies who run the charity table started chasing me in the street. They wanted to know if that cake was mine. Slightly worried about why they wanted to know I admitted my culpability in the matter. They all wanted the recipe. Apparently, because it was a big cake, they decided to cut it into pieces to sell individually, and they had to taste it first. I don’t think any of it made it to the sale table! They all bought slices for themselves and one lady bought half of the cake to take home for her family.

I explained the concept and promised I’d give them some starter and translate the recipe.

Anyway, I was seriously flattered. There were other cakes on the table that hadn’t sold even one piece and this is France, after all. Food IS important here, and an American cake impressed everyone.

Now I guess I have to make some more starter, because I actually got tired of keeping mine alive, and how much cake can two people eat?

 

Ciao for now,

Randy

Baking Memories

Mini Corn Rye Rolls

People often ask me if there isn’t anything that I miss about the U.S. In the main, my answer is no. However, the few things that sometimes I DO get a hankering for are all food related.

Now, most things one can find through the various import stores. You may have to pay for them, but you can get them. Still, there are fresh things that just can’t be found.

A doctor once told me that his theory was that the foods you ate as a child had a resonance for you that new, “learned” foods would never have. And I think that for me there are several of those mostly things that come from the East Coast, where I grew up.

For example, I sometimes can almost taste a Taylor’s Pork Roll sandwich in my mind. The smell and taste of that will always be linked with childhood visits to the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Just writing about it I can taste it, smell it’s  odor mixed with that of fresh roasting peanuts from the Planter’s peanut store and the salt of the ocean. I can see my parents, the push chairs, the crowds, and once again I’m just a child.

I DO have a recipe for knock-off Pork Roll that I  plan to try later in the year, just to see if I can do it. But I have the strong feeling that it will never be the same.

But there are things that I CAN re-create successfully, and one of them is Jewish Deli Corn Rye. I have tried the recipe from “Secrets of a Jewish Baker,” and while that is successful, it’s also time consuming and needs to be planned out, as just making the sour takes several days. So, I wanted to create a recipe that was easy and above all, quick. I think I have succeeded.

Waiting for some lox

I suppose it seems silly to crave these things when I live practically next door to a bakery. But a French bakery, no matter how wonderful, will never be a Jewish Deli, and when that craving comes over you, the heart wants what the heart wants. So, here is what I do:

JEWISH DELI MINI-CORN RYE ROLLS

1 C rye flour

2 C white flour (I’ve used bread flour, all-purpose, a special pizza flour I get from Italy and a mixture of bread flour and something called semi-whole wheat. All have given good results)

1 1/4 C warm water (clearly, you may have to adjust this depending on the flour you use and weather conditions)

2T Olive Oil

2 tsp Sea Salt

1T sugar

2T Caraway seeds (if you hate caraway, leave them out, but I do think they are what “make” rye bread!)

1T lemon juice (this helps the yeast to work, but also I think it adds a small hint of sour without any taste of lemon in the final product)

1 pkg yeast

1 C leftover dough from last batch (this is optional, but over time, it builds the flavor and texture and eventually you have what is basically a sourdough starter and can leave out the yeast).

Cornmeal for sprinkling baking pan and top of bread

I mix this in my stand mixer. Because I’m lazy, I don’t proof the yeast. I put the rye flour in first, then sprinkle on the yeast, then add the rest of the flour. This lets me use water that is a bit hotter (from the tap, not microwaved) without killing the yeast. But if you want to proof the yeast the traditional way, go for it!

I toss in the rest of the dry ingredients and the leftover bread dough, including the caraway seeds, then pour in the oil, lemon juice and the water and start the mixer on slow. Once the majority of the flour is incorporated, I turn the speed up for kneading. I do keep an eye on it because the flour/liquid balance really needs adjusting as you work. Its amazing how a humid day or the batch of flour you use can affect the way the dough comes together.

Now, because of the rye flour, this is a sticky dough. I let the machine knead it until it mostly pulls away from the sides of the bowl and there is very little flour residue left. However, it never completely forms a tight ball the way a white bread will do. I always finish the kneading off by hand, and even once it is a ball, it remains a bit tacky. That’s okay.

I oil a bowl or a plastic container with a lid and throw the dough in there. One of the things I like about this recipe is that it’s very versatile. If I want to make the rolls quickly, I put the bowl (as long as it’s not metal!) into the microwave, set it at 350 watts and microwave for a minute, let the dough rest for about 5 minutes, than microwave at the same power for another minute. I leave the bowl in the microwave with the door closed, and let it rest for 20 minutes, and it has by then doubled and is ready for shaping and baking.

If, on the other hand, I don’t have time to bake it right away, I put the covered bowl in the fridge and leave it for several hours. This slows down the rising, and I have plenty of time to do other things without worrying about it.

Once it has risen, I take a chunk of dough that is 1/2 cup to 1 cup in size and put that in a reusable container with a lid. I chuck that into the fridge, but you can freeze it if you aren’t going to use it within the next few days.

The rest of the dough I separate into 8 pieces and form into rolls. I put them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment that I’ve sprinkled with cornmeal. I like to roll the pieces in the cornmeal so that they have some on the top as well, because I think it gives them a nice, rustic appearance when they’ve baked.

I slice a cross into the tops then put them in 200 C (400 F) oven for 20 minutes.

You could also make this into a single, large loaf if you so desire; just adjust the baking time accordingly.

Ciao for now and Bon Appétit!

Randy

 

So Cool!

Did you mention food?

 

Not the weather, unfortunately, but a great new service available in the Possum Kingdom.

I have mentioned many times that there are days where I find the job of shopping for groceries outside of the village arduous, boring and time consuming. But, for the last few months, the SuperU in Mirepoix has  been advertising an online grocery service.

I’ve been tempted, but never got around to trying it. Now, they don’t deliver to us here in the Possum Kingdom, as we are too far away. But what they do offer is the equivalent of a personal shopper. You place your order with their website, pick a time when you want it to be ready and then go pick it up. The charge for this is 4 Euros, which is a bargain no matter how you look at it.

When  you get to the store, you go to the delivery bay and ring the bell. A very nice employee shows up, takes your name and brings all your groceries that have been nicely packed in boxes and then they even load them into your car! After that, it’s just a question of swiping your credit card and you’re done.

I never, ever shop on Saturdays. But I was out of almost everything, as it had been close to three weeks since I last went to do a big shopping trip. So I figured, what the heck, how awful could it be.

It wasn’t awful at all! It was brilliant! I even ordered a rosbif (that’s roast beef in French) and two kilos of figs, and they were all beautiful and perfect. The nice SuperU lady explained how she had looked for the farthest away “use by” dates on all the fresh things like milk and cheeses, and showed me that the one thing I had ordered that wasn’t in stock had been removed from the list and I wasn’t charged for it.

They threw in an insulated bag for the cold stuff and a second free, reusable shopping bag as a welcome gift, And, because it was my first order, I didn’t even get charged the 4 Euro fee. We had left the house at 2:30 and were back at the house with the groceries inside at 3:30! This has never happened before, since it takes 40 minutes just to get there and back.

Now, clearly, if there are special items that they have and which haven’t been added to the website,  you aren’t going to be aware of them. They don’t have EVERY item in the store online, although there is a place where you can ask for special things. So, I guess I will occasionally be going in to shop myself, but this has another huge benefit beyond the time saving: no impulse buying! If you don’t see it, you can’t buy it.

I have to admit that I am weak, and I am often tempted by things I see, even if I would never have considered buying them if I didn’t see them. So a system like this is ideal for me. It will undoubtedly save me money in the long run, because I will only purchase that which I know I need, not that which I merely want.

For you who live in big cities, this is nothing new, but for us out here in the Possum Kingdom, this is true progress and a service I plan to use in the future for sure.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Just a small reminder

Plum Blossums

The Rogets' plum tree in bloom

For those of you in places where winter still reigns, it is only a matter of time! Most of the fruit trees here are now in bloom, and we’re starting to see the signs of green all around us. Be patient; your turn will come!

This weekend has been amazing for the month of April. Our temperatures were in the mid-70s (mid 20s C) and you could easily have thought yourself in June! It seems that every dog in the village is out being walked, and the Lofficier family canines have had a blast playing with all their four-footed pals. Well, at least Peaches has; poor Shmoo Alexander is no longer allowed that freedom, since he abuses it and simply takes off into the fields to dig for voles.

We’ve been lucky, because our friend Diane is here for the weekend, so we’ve all enjoyed being out and about together in the sun.

Hope you all have a spectacular Sunday, wherever you are.

Ciao for now,

Randy

Chalabre Wall of Weird

This is May and we should really be thinking of all those flowers brought on by April showers. But we didn’t have showers in April, we had glorious sunshine and temperatures in the 80s F (upper 20s C). It was so wonderful that I didn’t listen to the counsel of various neighbors and I planted five tomato plants in Weasel’s Wort, a garden belonging to some friends who are kindly letting us use it while they are in Mordor.

Now, many of my neighbors warned me not to, but about half of those I polled were also planting early. Weren’t we silly? Last Tuesday (May 4th) we had a SNOWSTORM!!! Yes, in the month of May. And, it was so heavy and unexpected, accompanied by high winds, etc., that there were massive power blackouts all over the place. We wound up without power for eight hours, which is a bit of a bummer when your cooking and heating are all dependent on electricity.

An Unusual Sight for Spring

We had closed up our fireplace for the summer the week before and kept thinking, “Well, the power is bound to come back soon,” so we didn’t feel like opening it up again. (We close it off with a kind of door, otherwise wasps are attracted to the cool inside the chimney, then follow the light down into the house; not nice.)

So, there we sat, waiting. Luckily I DID buy a small, gas camping stove after hurricane Klaus in January of 2009, so I was able to make myself the all important instant coffee I needed to keep me alive until power was restored. I was going to try cooking eggs on it, but it’s so hard to do anything in the semi-dark that we decided to stick with eating cold stuff. Once again I wondered if it would be worth it for us to buy a generator, but for now I don’t think so.

The joke is that at around 3:30 the power flickered on, something that is often a sign that all power is about to come back. In this case, that was not true and the power remained off for a further four hours.

It was not only humans who were thrown out of kilter by this unexpected turn of events. The swallows were wheeling around in the sky and screeching. I’m sure they hadn’t the slightest idea of what to do, poor things. Then, when we walked the dogs, we ran across someone’s goose which had escaped into the gardens. Peaches and Shmoo were ready to bring home goose dinner, but we managed to hold them back.

To top things off, the rivers were going wild. I have seen them high before, but the Hers was about as high as it’s been since we moved here; at one point I would say it was about two feet from the top of the bank. Normally, it’s about 20 feet from the river to the bank, so you can see that was impressive.

But wait, there’s more!  On Sunday, before the snow, we came across another bit of weirdness to equal the strange hot air micro climate that we had just before Christmas. We saw our very own, mini CROP CIRCLE!!!

Our mini-crop circle

No real answer to this one as far as I can tell. I can’t see anyone having done it for any reason I can figure out. Was it another little micro-climage glitch? I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.

At any rate, the weather remained unpleasant for most of the week, although we did have a bit of sun and warmer temperatures for part of Friday and Saturday. Astonishingly, my tomatoes seem to have survived the trauma, and this week is Ascencion, which should mean that we finally get into the real weather of late spring and early summer. Of course, it also means it will be the weekend of the village fair, but that is another post for another day.
Ciao for now.
Randy

Sorry for the silence

But things have been awfully quiet around here for the last week or so. All of our friends who were in town for the holidays have gone and we’ve entered that sucky, January/February time of year where you have the feeling that you’re just kind of waiting.

You’re waiting for spring, or storms or anything really, just to have something going on. JM and I are always waiting for our favorite TV series to restart on British TV (Come on LOST and HOUSE!!!) and trying desperately to find something that doesn’t suck to watch at night.

In the past, I would spend a lot of this time baking, but we are both being very good about watching what we eat. Even with the holidays we’ve both lost weight over the last couple of months (I’ve lost 5 kg and JM has lost 8 or 9), so I’m not going to jeopardize that with making cake!

I am cooking more healthy things though; lots of soups with different combinations of vegetables, slow cooker meals, etc. I made a soup the other day with mixed vegetables, baked sweet potatoes and a touch of ras-el-hanout seasoning; it was terrific (can you say that about your own cooking?) and I was surprised to see that JM not only ate it, but asked to have the leftovers! He normally would never eat sweet potato, so that was a definite healthy hit.

The interesting thing about losing weight, is that it becomes self-rewarding. You would kind of like to have a pastry, then you look at your thinning waistline in the mirror and realize you’d rather have THAT than the pastry.

I have found that eliminating as much sugar as possible from my diet makes it much, much easier for me to watch the rest of what I eat. Somehow sugar itself causes me to crave more food. Once I cut out the extra sugar from coffee, tea, yogurt, etc., I no longer fee hungry for any snacking at all, and the weight just seems to come off without a struggle.

For us, this seems to be the only way to do it. I’m a life-long dieter, and although I’ve been at a mostly stable weight for 10 years now, I do occasionally go up a few pounds, especially in ice cream season. I am absolutely terrified by the idea of gaining more than those few pounds, so finding a strategy to control it before it gets out of hand has been vital.

JM, poor boy, never had to diet before around the age of 45. He could always eat everything he wanted and stay the same. That ended and he’s been struggling with it ever since. Not having that long time dieter’s mentality is probably a bonus for him, because he’s not tempted to try crazy things. And, there is the fact that he doesn’t really eat in between meals, which is a major help in weight control. So, for him, just cutting out sugar and desserts other than a bit of fruit compote, is really all he needs to do.

I guess dieting is better than waiting to gain more weight!

Ciao for now.

Randy

Apple Festival 2009

Yesterday turned out to be just as predicted: beautiful, chilly, windy and perfect for a visit to the Mirepoix Fête des Pommes 2009.

We were pretty early, just after 10:00, so there weren’t a lot of people yet, which does make it easier to look around calmly, especially when your arm is attached to a Shmoo. All of the displays were set up, however, and we had our pick of apples, etc.

We made one major mistake: not bringing our wheeled shopping cart. Once you load 3 kg of apples, a bottle or two of juice and several cans of patés and confit de canard, a canvas carry-all is VERY heavy. Poor JM was doing the carrying, since I had the aforementioned Shmoo and I think he was really suffering by the time we got back to the car.

There definitely seem to be fewer vendors this year. I don’t know if it’s because they feel they don’t sell enough or because some of them have gone out of business because of the economic crunch. We did our part to help though. And, from what we’ve tasted so far, it was worth the money. The Honey Crunch apples are really outstanding and JM thought the duck paté with green peppercorns was terrific. Maybe I’ll try the confit today.

Shmoo did get a bit excited at seeing other dogs, but he was better than he has sometimes been in the past, and by the time we were leaving, he was ignoring them all. I don’t know if that was tiredness or the realization that I wasn’t going to let him play with them, but it was a welcome result. I don’t think he’ll get to go to Espezel though. Nothing to do with him as much as I realized that it is hard to really shop and look around when you have to always be vigilant not to let 85-pounds of pure muscle take off in a crowd.

Here are the pictures that I managed to take despite my furry appendage; enjoy.

This year's theme was music

This year's theme was music

Here are the Bongos

Here are the Bongos

It was hard to get the whole guitar into the shot

It was hard to get the whole guitar into the shot

A Xylophone is always nice

A Xylophone is always nice

Some nice patés under "les couverts" (covered walkways)

Some nice patés under "les couverts" (covered walkways)

We came home and lit a fire. Then, last night, I finally got to try my fireplace grill with some English-stlye sausages made by someone in the area. I need to work out some of the bugs (not used to how long it takes to grill stuff), but the end result was worth the effort.

That’s what I call a perfect Fall day.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Grapes

I know, it seems like an odd thing to write about, but this year seems to really be a banner year for grapes.

Unlike most people in our area, I really think about grapes first as something to eat and only secondarily as something that becomes wine. That’s because although I do have the occasional glass of Blanquette Methode Ancestrale, I’m not really much of a drinker. I never have been, to be honest, not out of any moral or other conviction, but because I don’t really like the taste of alcohol. Methode Ancestrale has only about 6% alcohol, so it is light, sweet and not particularly alcoholic, really right down my street to be honest.

But grapes as an edible fruit are something else.

Like so many other things, I had started to lose the taste for grapes when I lived in L.A. We had beautiful looking grapes pretty much all year round, but most of the time they were… well, tasteless. Their main attribute was that most of them were seedless, which makes eating a grape a simpler thing.

When we moved here, the first thing I noticed about grapes was that we had a lot more varieties of them other than mostly Thompson Green Seedless and Red Flame, with the occasional Concord thrown in. Here, at grape season there are Italias, Chasselas, Danla, Muscat and more. The seedless variety is almost an afterthought and we don’t see that many of those in most places.

This year, my grape of choice is the Muscat. Muscats are dark purple, with small to medium fruits and mostly tiny seeds that you almost don’t notice when you eat them. But what really sets a Muscat grape above the pack is the taste. They’re always delicious, but this year they are truly divine. It’s hard to even express the full, sweet, heavenly flavor that the hot dry summer seems to have given them. Suffice it to say that if I have to choose between eating a dessert and eating a handful of Muscat grapes, this year the Muscats win over just about anything else I can name.

They are so good, that as soon as I run out of a batch, I immediately run out to the store to buy more. Indeed, I think I have developed a previously unknown condition called Grape Addiction, and it has nothing to do with alcohol. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when grape season is over, because there will be nothing that can replace the pure awesomeness of the Muscat.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Fresh produce and failure

When we were walking Shmoo yesterday, we stopped into the garden of one of our friends. All the gardens around hers have tons of red, ripe tomatoes, but hers are just not doing well at all. It was actually kind of sad to see her plants looking all kind of sick and miserable, while the garden next to hers had tomatoes bursting with ripeness.  Now, she happens to be an amazing, experienced gardener, but clearly this year, something went wrong.

On the other hand, she later stopped over and gave me a huge, bucket full of figs that were ripe and bursting with flavor. In fact, there were so many of them that I almost didn’t know what to do with them. However, I found a recipe for fresh fig bread that I doubled. I now have 4 loaves of fig bread sitting on the counter and they smell divine.

I am much better at cooking things than I am at growing things. It probably means that we made the right decision to not buy a garden. I have to remember that when we were back in L.A. we had a gardener who took care of it, and when I wanted something planted, HE planted it, not me. I didn’t have to do anything to get my clemantines and lemons except go out back and pick them off the trees.

I did have a year or two where I grew tomatoes. But in L.A. it’s not all that complicated. Once you put the plants in the ground, they get so much sun all summer that you have more of a problem with too many tomatoes than anything else. Although I did have to move them every year because of some kind of disgusting bug that would eat the plants if you left them in the same place two years in a row.

Still, I really can’t bear to plant things then have them die. It always makes me feel sad, like losing a pet. If friends who know what they’re doing have problems, what hope would I ever have?

Ciao for now.

Randy