Archive for June, 2012

From France, With Love

June 22, 2012

On Monday, June 11th, our little family woke up at the usual time. We ate breakfast and finished putting toothbrushes, stuffed animals, medications, snacks, and all manner of necessary things in our suitcases and backpacks. A lovely friend who is staying in our house while we are gone, came to get keys, information about garbage and mail, and where to get coffee and all manner of Tangletown things (that is the name of our neighborhood). And then, before we could really wrap our brains around it, we were off the airport for the long day and night of travel to France.

I realize that loving food and loving France is kind of cliche. There are a lot of Francophiles in the world. But France has been an important part of my life for much of my life, so I’d like to talk about France and what it has meant to me in my almost 42 years. I went for the first time when I was just under a year old. My parents tell the story of packing a full suitcase full of Pampers, because they were unavailable in Europe in 1971, and also of me making lots of noise in museums and eating tons of French fries. They went on to take me to numerous other countries over the course of a 3 week trip when you really could do Europe on $10/day, and I remember none of it.

The next time I went, I was 16 years old, on a bike with a group from my high school, three months riding along country roads, sleeping in tents, eating more bread and chocolate than I ever thought possible, and really truly, learning the language and also learning to love the French. We rode through the castles in the Loire Valley; the apple orchards of Normandy; startled goats off treacherous roads in Corsica (and had two solid weeks of sunshine); had snow-capped mountains as our constant companions through the Alps,; and tried to remember why it was that we chose the region of Auvergne, in the Massif Central mountains, until we came upon the Gorge du Tarn – a place so wild and beautiful that we frequently had to get off our bikes to just stare.

My next visit was when I was a junior in college and spent a semester in Paris. I decided that, in order to make the most of my 5 months and to learn the most Franch possible, I should live with a French person. My college teamed me up with a woman doctor who, for reasons unknown to me, was so depressed that she never left the apartment, had a dog named Ginger who would shit in the hallways, and who would give one sole dinner party the whole time I was there, telling me I had to stay in my room while the guests were there, and then would leave every single dish and platter in the kitchen for weeks so that, when I came in from class, I would have to cover my face with my shirt so the stench of rotting food wouldn’t make me sick. It is a true testament to the wonders of Paris, its beauty and the amazing food, that I left after that semester vowing to someday return.

Somehow, it took another 12 years for the next visit to France. Randy and I did a quick two nights in Paris on the tail end of our honeymoon in Spain. I was coming off some terrible bug that made me grateful that you can buy antibiotics over the counter in Europe. We made our way to a horrible hotel in the Latin quarter and ate the foil pouch of peanuts available in our room for dinner. That was about all my stomach could handle. But the next day, while Randy went to a business meeting, I walked the streets and eventually found myself in a brasserie, trying out my once quite-good but now-rusty French, and ordering a sandwich that had thin slices of hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, tomato, and lettuce, on the perfect half of a baguette. I could not believe how good it tasted.

Soon after we were married, Randy and I moved to London for a year, and I went to France no fewer than 4 times that year. The last time was as we were getting ready to move back to the States. We flew to Paris, rented a car, and took our time driving down to Provence, with stops in the Loire Valley, Lyon, and my beloved and still-as-magnificent-as-I-remembered Gorge du Tarn, before meeting up with friends at a villa on a hillside covered with lavender. I was 22 weeks pregnant with Graham. I had felt his first kick sitting and waiting for our luggage in the Charles de Gaul airport. I brought a maternity bathing suit which I used daily at the pool onsite, and one cookbook, Patricia Wells’ The Provence Cookbook, and from that lovely book, I made dinners for a group of 8 every night. We all took the train back to Paris after our magical week and the group watched Llance Armstrong win his 6th Tour de France at the Arc de Triomphe on, or maybe the day before, my birthday. Randy went with me to an art gallery on the Ile St. Louis where my mom and I had seen some amazing paintings on a trip to Paris earlier than spring and, without me  knowing about it, he bought me a painting and had it shipped home. It is my favorite painting in our house, to date.

The next time I went to France, I was the mother of two, and getting ready to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was a seven year dream to go to Paris and buy copper pots and while I did buy a most beautiful copper double boiler (which I have only used a handful of times because it is so beautiful), I also got to go to Cannes on the Cote d’Azur – a region, in all my time spent in France, that I had never visited.

(Our beautiful street for 3 weeks.)

And here I am again. 3 weeks in Cagnes-sur-Mer. A small town between Cannes and Nice. Small enough that it is easy to find our way around, large enough that almost everything we need is here in our town. Including a beach. We have been here a little over a week and have already done day trips to Nice and Antibes, the hill towns of Vence and Grasse, as well as a day at the water park known as Aqualand, in addition to plenty of time spent at our town’s somewhat rocky but still totally acceptable, beach. We visited the small chapel that Matisse was commissioned to create the murals and stained glass for – a chapel I remember studying for my term paper on Matisee in senior year art history, and when my little family and I walked inside, I immediately started to cry. Seeing such works of beauty in person, when you never thought you would actually see them, can be very overwhelming.

The Cote d’Azur is warm. Hot even. Our little place is sweet and, um, little. We are almost at the top of a hill of such epic proportions that we usually opt into taking the free shuttle (the Navette) to it each day. I have been cooking dinner almost every night. It’s not so much that I am inspired by the produce, which – truly – I am not, but that it is relaxing for us to be at home and not trying to figure out whether the boys should eat pizza or pasta for the umpteenth time. At home, we vegetarians can make sure we are getting nourished. It’s not that bad for me – I am happy with salads, but my kids, especially Spencer, are having a harder time. My little kitchen has two burners and I am putting them to work, mostly making simple, but delicious, things. Polenta with cream and Comte cheese stirred into it and topped with homemade ratatouille, omelettes with sautéed mushrooms and radicchio, lots of salad, curried couscous with Le Puy lentils and chickpeas, tagliatelle with goat cheese, oil cured olives, and basil. Nothing fancy but all delicious, made even more so by the fact that we are depleted by the sun and by all the beauty we are seeing each day.

We still hope to see St. Tropez and Monaco. We need to check out the chateau at the top of our extremely steep hill because the town’s Renoir exhibit is temporarily housed there. We might get on a train for a day trip. We might not. We might go to a relatively nearby town in Italy for the Saturday market. We might not. We are going to eat a lot more pizza and a LOT more bread. Spencer has decided that he likes goat cheese and pizza with olives on it and that is more than I could have hoped for him. Graham ate most of a cheese crepe without being too sure about it and I am proud of him for that. They have already been on a 100 year old carousel and, if you asked them, them are hoping for more beach time, more carousels, and more ice cream.

Randy and I have had time to process all that awaits us when we return home. I have already freaked out a couple of times. Being far from home can sometimes make me crave home – stability and things that are known instead of unknown. We will return to Seattle and a brief lull of calm before jumping into a full blown move and throwing our comfortable worlds into chaos. There has been some second guessing, some tears, and finally, the very real thought that this move is the best thing for us at this time. How do you reconcile feelings of caution? When do you say ok, I am just feeling anxious about this big change and when do you say, this is too much for me? That question is what kept me awake for the first 5 nights we were here. Ultimately, I am choosing to move beyond the doubt and celebrate the positive. A friend asked us, as we were trying to make the decision about whether or not to move to San Francisco, if we would regret it someday if we did NOT move. I have come back to that question time and time again. When we were trying to decide whether or not to move to London, I was having a hard time with that decision. Now, looking back 9 years later, there has never been a moment when I have thought, “Wow, we should never have moved to London.” I get it – this is different, kids and schools and jobs and buying and selling homes and 3+ years vs. 1 year makes it all different. But I can’t help but think that if we don’t go, we will both regret it.

We have another week and a half in Cagnes-sur-Mer and then we head to the Nice airport and fly to Paris. We will have six nights there. I hope to do another Cote d’Azur post before we leave. I am having a heck of a time uploading photos so I’m sorry there aren’t more in this post. If you are on Instagram, I am @danatreat and I post photos each day. A bientot!

Big News

June 9, 2012

Here was my plan for this post.  I was going to tease you with a photo of some delicious artichoke hearts braised in white wine.  I have made them several times in the past few weeks and people love them.  My dad, who loves food but doesn’t really, um, connect food with recipes, remarked to my mom, “You have to get this recipe!”  I planned to give it but I’m running out of time.

You see, my little family and I are in the midst of packing shorts and bathing suits and sunscreen and lots of snacks for a very long airplane ride to France.  We leave Monday.  We will spend three weeks in Cagnes-sur-Mer, a small town not far from Cannes.  It has a beach, a big hill, and from the photos, it looks just about perfect.  We will hit the beach, drive to other beaches, go to lots of markets, buy some table linens, eat a lot, drink a lot, and ponder our next step.

Because the next step is that we are moving to the Bay area.  Soon after Randy’s company started to spiral downward, he started interviewing.  He flew all over the country and met with many different companies.  We both wanted to try and stay in Seattle but we also knew that a move was a possibility.  Randy has lived all over the place and moving is not as scary to him as it is to me.  So it is really to his credit that he was committed to finding something in my hometown.  However, early on he interviewed with a terrific company in San Francisco and they wanted him.  They told him as much and within a week they offered him a job with a very compelling package.  We hemmed and hawed.  Great job, city we love, but not the city that is our home.  So we waited.  Randy explored all his options.  At one point, he had 27 different companies he was talking to and a spread sheet to keep them all straight.  The company in San Francisco was patient.  We went down to visit in order to try and answer the question – can we really live here?  And we came back saying yes.

But of course, the decision wasn’t as easy as that.  We give up a lot by leaving Seattle.  My family is here.  I have an incredible network of amazing friends – we both do.  We love our kids’ school.  I teach cooking classes out of my home and I work in an amazing bookstore where I get to cook out of people’s books and get paid for it – there is no re-creating that anywhere else.  I love my house, we are comfortable here.  But.  I don’t pray but sometimes I do feel the need to put things out there to the Universe and this was one of those times.  While I was away at my college reunion, I did a lot of thinking.  And a lot of talking.  Randy and I spoke on the phone several times a day and then went away to sit alone with our own thoughts.  I boarded a plane to come back to Seattle knowing that, while I was in the air, Randy was going to get an email with the company’s final package.  Maybe they would sweeten the deal a little bit, maybe they wouldn’t.  But it was time to make a decision.  My plane landed, I checked my email, and they had indeed continued the pattern of generosity.  So I called Randy and said, “Let’s do it.”  He asked if I was sure and I said yes in a very small voice.

That was last Monday.  I have felt, over the course of this week, an incredible sense of relief.  The strain of making the decision was over and I could focus on the next tasks at hand, and also start to get excited about the good things coming our way with a move.  A much better climate, an incredible food scene, new friends, new adventures to have and places to explore.  I was feeling pretty good.  And then yesterday was the last day of school for both boys and I had a bit of a breakdown.  I’m feeling better now, back to being excited.  BlogHer Food is happening this weekend and I have reconnected with friends who live in the Bay area, I feel sure I will have a network soon after moving in.  I am most nervous about the school situation, but the company has someone who can help us with all of that.

Our plan is to move to Oakland before school starts on August 22nd.  We return from France on July 9th so this will be no small task.  Our mid-late summer will be consumed by packing and saying many many goodbyes to people we love.  There will be a househunting trip in there as well when the boys will see San Francisco for the first time.  I am grateful that we have this incredible trip planned, where we can sit and reflect, plan and ruminate, all in the presence of terrific food and wine, and the beautiful French language.

It is my hope that I will be able to post while in France.  Our apartment in Cagnes-sur-Mer has wi-fi and I will be cooking, eating, and photographing the whole time.  If I am silent, you will know that I am just opting for another hour on the beach rather than in front of the computer.  Onward!


Pike Place Market Memories

June 6, 2012

Have you visited Seattle? Then you have probably visited the Pike Place Market. I know it is always first on my list as a stop for visitors. There is something very unique about that special place. It is a market filled with tourists, especially on a sunny August Saturday, but it is also a place that the locals flock to. Everyone has their favorite produce stand, favorite fish market, favorite place to buy flowers, favorite cup of coffee, favorite place to grab a quick bite.

My family moved to Seattle in the summer of 1975. I know this because I remember having my 5th birthday party on the back porch of our house with a bunch of kids from the neighborhood who I didn’t know. We had a tree growing in our backyard that the builders did not want to cut down, so there was a perfect hole cut in our deck for the tree to grow through. That oddity and a birthday cake was enough of a draw for the neighborhood kids to celebrate with someone they didn’t know.

My parents are both from New York and in some ways, Seattle was a tough move, especially in 1975. They fell deeply in love with the beauty, the access to nature, the (then) low housing prices, and the quality of the air. They missed the culture, food, and community that they left on the East coast. Seattle did not have the bakeries they were used to, decent Italian food, or any good bread; but it did have great coffee, seafood, Chinese food, and the Pike Place Market. I have so many memories of visiting the Market (as the locals call it) all the way from being a very young child to just last week.

The floor of the Market is lined with tiles, each bearing names of families. We have one of those somewhere in the maze of corridors. I remember trudging down to the original Starbucks to buy bags of coffee to bring back to the friends who stored my boxes of clothes and books in the college town 3,000 miles away from what was then, the only Starbucks in the country. I remember buying pounds and pounds of English peas and eating them, straight from the pod, as we jostled through the crowds. Every year through high school, I gave my mom the gift of flowers once a week for a month for Mother’s Day, and I delighted in the huge bouquets that my babysitting money could buy at the Market.

Now I love to take the boys with me on my Market forays. It is just busy enough there that they stay close to me, a tiny bit timid in the crowds. We have to stop for donuts at the little place where they can watch them come out of the fryer, and we have to avoid the fish-throwing guys because the boys are terrified that they might get hit with a fish. They stand (mostly) patiently waiting at my favorite produce stand, hoping they will get a taste of grapefruit or plum, or whatever is on offer that day. And they negotiate with me about how many honey sticks we can buy.

It is a special place to be sure. Recently, a new Pike Place Market cookbook came out, called Pike Place Market Recipes. My friend Jess Thomson wrote the book and she did a fantastic job of telling the Market’s story. She profiles purveyors, stands, and the building itself. It is the true kind of cookbook that you can take to bed with you and read as a novel. But the best part, truly, is the recipes. Jess is a terrific cook, a terrific recipe writer, and her food is amazingly delicious.  This book truly does her talents justice as it features sweet and savory, meat and vegetarian.  My experience with Jess’ recipes is that they are tested to perfection.  This is a cook you can trust.

One Year Ago:  Shaved Spring Vegetable Salad, Puff Pastry Squares with Pea and Tarragon Purée
Two Years Ago:  Rhubarb Bette, Asparagus with Grilled Shiitake and Soy Vinaigrette
Three Years Ago:  Oven-Fried Rice Balls with Gruyère, Mexican Pizza with Corn, Tomatillos, and Chipotle

Roasted Pickled Cauliflower Salad
Adapted from Pike Place Market Recipes
Serves 4

The only changes I made to this glorious recipe is reducing the amount of onion (raw onion is too abrasive for me – even it is a sweet one), and adding a bit of avocado.  I used a mandoline to slice the fennel and the onion – thin is key.  Roasting the cauliflower before pickling it is genius.  Softer texture, mellower flavor.  Finally, Jess suggests making the cauliflower a day ahead but I found it was perfect after just a few hours.

 For the roasted cauliflower:
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite size florets
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pickling brine:
1 cup warm water
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine vinegar
½ cup fennel fronds

For the dressing:
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
½ small sweet onion, very thinly sliced
½ ripe avocado, cut into bite size pieces
3 cups mixed salad greens
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat, and set aside.

Place the cauliflower in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir the cauliflower to each floret well, then transfer to the prepared sheet.  Roast the cauliflower until lightly browned, about 20 minutes.  Transfer cauliflower to a bowl and allow to cool completely.

While the cauliflower cools, make the pickling brine:  Stir the water, sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and garlic together in a large pickling jar (or a similar container that can hold all the florets) until the sugar and salt dissolve.  Add the white wine vinegar and the fennel fronds.

When the cauliflower has cooled to room temperature, add it to the pickling brine.  Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Make the dressing:  In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, orange juice, and vinegar.  While whisking, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream whisking until emulsified.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve the salad, mix together about a cup of the pickled cauliflower (drained) with the hazelnuts, fennel, onion, avocado, and salad greens.  Add dressing to taste and serve immediately, garnished with pepper.

A Slice of My Life – Week 23

June 5, 2012

My week started with a very important shoe purchase.  I bought these wedge sandals.  I was thinking they were cute and slightly comfortable.  As it turns out, they are very comfortable – score!

Wednesday was the opening day for our little neighborhood farmers’ market.  We can walk to it and the boys love getting a quesadilla and listening to the music of the day.  It is our Wednesday tradition all summer.

Spring onions + asparagus + morels + homemade pasta made a delicious dinner.

Randy took this picture of us.  It haunts me.  Who are those big kids?  And where did my babies go?

The big event of the week was a trip back East for my 20th college reunion.  Not hard to leave Seattle with weather like that.

I went to college in Connecticut but I got to spend two days in New York.  I met my friend Darcie for an incredible dinner at ABC Kitchen.  We shared a bunch of plates and everything was truly extraordinary.  The kind of meal where you wish you were a cow and had 4 stomachs.  The highlight was the beets with homemade yogurt.  I’m totally committed to making my own yogurt after that dish.

The next day I was lucky enough to have time with one of my favorite blogging friends, Stacey of Stacey Snacks.  We have met before on another trip to NY and the time just flies by with her.  She brought me to one of her favorite spots, Corsino Cantina, where we had some incredible food.  The highlight for me was the fried brussels sprouts with bread crumbs and chili flakes.  She said they were great and that lady doesn’t lie.

Stacey is a good customer and they brought us some extras, like burrata with grilled bread and this exquisite tiramisu.

My trip continued with a drive up north to Connecticut College which is in New London.  Darcie (on the left) was the fearless driver.  She and I were very close in college but living on different coasts has made the friendship not as present for either of us.  Having a lot of time with her over the course of the weekend was one of the best parts of my trip.  The lovely lady on the right is Victoria, who was my freshman year roommate and my very close friend.  That brave woman went through breast cancer and came out the other side an amazing survivor.

The one full day we were on campus, the weather was terrible.  It is unfortunate because Conn looks pretty glorious in the sunshine.

See what I mean?

Before getting back in the car to head back to the city, Darcie and I snuck into the theatre.  I spent countless hours in that building and the smell of it nearly brought tears to my eyes – so many memories.  This is the room where we had most of our classes and where we staged small plays.  It is also the room I was sitting in when I decided that Conn was the school for me, on a college visit in the spring of 1988.

My hotel view in Times Square.

One more exquisite dinner.  I’ve been wanting to try Locanda Verde for years and finally got my chance.  Again, we shared lots of dishes and everything was delicious.  I have to say, I liked both ABC Kitchen and Corsino Cantina better although the fresh ricotta appetizer and the lemon tart at Locanda Verde were life-changing.

I had just enough time to eat lunch the next day before heading to the airport.  Shake Shack was across the street from my hotel and I glanced at the menu in the pouring rain and did not notice that there is a mushroom burger that is actually a mushroom.  So I didn’t go.  Boo hoo.

Instead I found a sweet Provençal restaurant that had intoxicatingly smooth hummus (I’m a sucker for hummus and grilled pita) and a Moroccan omelet that was so good, I’m making it for dinner tonight.