Voiçi my very first starter I made in my mother’s house as a child. With a few changes here and there, it is better served now as a small amuse bouche before dinner. It is still very light and fresh and I’m still proud of my very first attempt! The little glasses it is served in (in the photos), are the original glasses from my mother that I used about 40 years ago for my starter of clementines and litchis. So, les verrines is not something new…it was already a successful concept 40 years ago!
- Marinate the fruit in the vinaigrette for about an hour, but not longer.
- Use mandarins or orange segments instead of clementines.
- Try serving it as a bigger salad by placing the fruit on a bed of salad greens and add some shredded smoked salmon.
- Can be used as a fruit salad…replace the vinaigrette with a sauce: clementine juice, sugar, a little water, few drops of lemon juice, zest of a clementine…simmer untul reduced to a syrup. Add a few drops of Clementine liqueur just before serving.
- Replace the raspberries with a small scoop of raspberry sorbet.
…and a sous-chef..
To me, December is a month of remembrance, memories, reflections. Many memories surface during this time…some of which are funny, some sad, some without any particular significance and because memories aren’t always honest, I remember them all as dear, solely because they have brought me to this point where I am today and who I am today.
Christmas was a time in our house where things happened according to my mother’s schedule. She was a formidable woman who had the ability to organize an army into baking cookies. So, under her hand, Decembers were very busy in our house and all the while she hoaxed me into thinking chores were fun! Baking cookies, cleaning the silver, polishing floors, washing curtains, ironing the Christmas tablecloth, decorating the living room, cooking jams, preparing for holidays…these were the things that filled up our month, with my mother holding the reigns firmly in her hands and me a close step beside her.
I was sous-chef from a very young age, whether it was washing the curtains or cooking a meal or baking the cookies. A very important position…the sous-chef! Without me, how could she have hung the wet heavy curtains on the line to catch the sun…without me, how could she have polished the silver in time for Christmas,…without me being in charge of the cookiemaker, we would have no coffee cookies for December? It would be disastrous…scandalous! How would the maizena cookies have jamfilled centres without me? Christmas would be sad and lonely, if I hadn’t had the responsibility of lavishing it in swirls of silver and gold streamers and glitter and shining stars!
It is of course one of the big secrets…the complete confidence of a chef in his/her sous-chef! My mom trusted me with many things, so much so that I was allowed the responsibility for the starter at a big dinner. This was my first ever solo contribution to a dinner. She also allowed me the key to her dinnerware cabinet where I could choose something for my starter. Such an important position…the sous-chef!
So here I am presenting my first starter, then as a sous-chef in my mother’s kitchen. The only difference is that now I’ve been promoted to chef. I have my own kitchen. And the starter is now served as an amuse bouche.
..May your December memories be as dear as mine!..
..à la prochaine..
Foie gras is a traditional favourite in our home for Christmas. Along with oysters and “vin chaud” (or gluhwein), it always appears on our menu. Some years will see our foie gras home made in a terrine, served cold and some years it will be fried, served with warm mango and toasted brioche.
- Cut raw foie gras into escalopes of about 1.5-2mm thick. Dust lightly with flour and leave in the fridge until needed.
- Peel and cut a mango in thin slices. Heat a pan with a knob of butter and add the mango slices. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and fry until caramelized.
- Keep warm.
- Cut some brioche in slices, toast and cut on the diagonal into two halves.
- Heat non stick pan to hot, add the escalopes of foie gras and fry on one side until caramelized. Turn over and tquickly touch the other side. Remove from the heat and serve immediatly.
- To serve: Place one half of the brioche on a plate. Place a slice of fried foie gras on top. Finish off with slices of mango and place the second half of the brioche askew. Serve immediately.
…My own space…
“Well, I’m fed here, all kinds of goodies and I like it, so why not? You enjoy it out here on the terrace with your cheesecake, why can’t I…. and don’t be so selfish with it by the way, share some! See the German tourists over there? No selfishness at that table!”
“No, you can’t have cheesecake. I’m a human, this is what we humans do. You’re an animal, a duck, you don’t eat cheesecake and you don’t belong on a terrace. And by the way, where are your ducklings?”
“Oh, smarten up! We’re not in the Middle Ages any more! And my ducklings are fine, they’re in good hands. They’re with the nanny. I need my own space too, you know!”
- Have your pan hot before putting in your escalopes of foie gras.
- Sear on one side and turn over for a quick touch on the other side and serve immediately.
- Other fruit like plums, peaches, apple, pear and figs can be done the same way and served warm with the foie gras.
…and December ambiance 2010
And here we are again in the special month of December, with its cold and dark days, bright lights, snow and frost, snuggling in front of fireplaces and cupping our hand around a cup of hot chocolate, indulging in our nostalgias and reflecting on christmas dinners.
Our christmas tree gets decorated on the 1st day of December and for the rest of December we light a candle ever night to rememeber those who we loved or still love. And decorating the christmas tree means more than Santa Claus and Noel and gifts and the three kings, or the crib and a baby…it is a witness to our memories and tender sentiments which come to us in this month, the end of a year, when reflection on the past and pondering on future dreams travel with us towards the new year.
…May your December be whatever you wish it to be and may happiness be your biggest wish…
..à la prochaine..
Ratatouille is such a versatile dish – there are more ways than can be counted to do it nowadays and everyone swears by his/her way. The traditional way takes takes far too long(for me in any case!) and the vegetables are too soft and juicy to my taste. So I do it the quicker and crunchier way and so far, nobody has complained…on the contrary…everybody finds it fresh and enjoys the crunchiness still present and the appearance pleasant. It is a perfect little vegetable starter for the festive meals that await us!
La ratatouille est un plat assez commun et pourtant, chacun fait sa ratatouille a sa façon. La façon traditionnelle veut que ce soit cuit longtemps, comme tout les ragout. Pour ma part, je trouve ça pénible! Et de toute façon, je préfère mes légumes toujours plus croquants avec ces couleurs encore vive! Donc, je fais ma ratatouille vite et croquante et personne ne s’en plaint. Au contraire! Tout le monde la trouve très bonne!Voilà une bonne petite entrée aux légumes pour les fêtes qui nous approchent.
- Ratatouille can be used as a startert or an amuse bouche or as a side accompanying chicken, fish or red meat. If it is to accompany a meat dish, cut the dice a little bigger…perhaps 6×6 mm.
- Don’t overcook, so the texture can still be crunchy, which makes it different from the traditional ratatouille which is simmered for a longer time to have the vegetables really tender with more sauce than I have here.
- Add some garlic and provencal herbs to the ratatouille like thyme, marjoram, oreganum.
- It can be served warm or at room temperature.
- Serve with freshly shredded basil over the top for a nice fresh appearance.
- Serve on a canape(small slice of bread) for an amuse bouche, or serve in a little bowl or glass and toast some brioches to serve with it.
- If you want more special flavour to your ratatouille, add some chilies and spices to give it a kick.
- Add some langoustine, cut in chunks or mussels, oysters or shrimp to your rataouille along with chervil or dill.
..and hand me the scissors!..
I don’t have any fond feelings aboutf scissors, in fact, I pretty much associate them with pain and blood, of which I have first hand experience.
But then again, if I think of life without them..?
I had a pretty little old one from my mother which I kept in my handbag and forgot to take out before we had to board at the airport. I still have another one left, a very ancient model, frequently used by her and even though it lacks performance, its beauty stays unsurpassed. No psychedelic colored plastic in sight and the handle shows signs of hard use and yes, the blade is full of rust spots, but the lines are sleek and graceful and the grip allows for good comfort. Just a simple but beautiful, old pair of scissors from my childhood, one that came from my mother’s sewing kit and is now not so much a utility as a connection to the past.
And let’s not forget the garden scissors…those very important pruning tools and the small scissors for bonsai that I use to cut string for tying and staking in the garden. Do you keep your garden scissors clean and oiled? Not? shame on you!! the same goes for cutting flowers for the house…clean them, oil them and they will serve you a lifetime.
It seems I can actually conjure up some images of pleasure and so maybe I do have fond memories of scissors after all….
…à la prochaine!..
Butternut soup is probably my most favorite soup. Keeping it simple brings out the natural sweetness of the butternut and warm comfort of its creaminess. Don’t hide its wonderful autumn flavors behind all sorts of funny additions…sometimes something has to be left alone to speak in its own voice. Like the velvety butternut.
- Any other pumpkin of about 1 kg can be used in the same way.
- Add a knob of butter when sauteing the shallot…it adds more flavor.
- Use home made vegetable stock if possible, or else an organic vegetable stock. Water can be used instead.
- See here for a bouquet garni.
- Add about 2 tsps orange zest for a more pronounced orange flavor.
- If the soup is too thick, add cream for a richer version and milk for a lighter version to your taste.
..and fragrance in the home..
Isn’t it nice to step into a home and smell the most subtlest of fragrances…not an overwhelming smell, but just enough to have you wonder what it is, where it comes from.
There are many ways to bring fragrance into your home. But always remember the first golden rule: always keep it soft, gentle and subtle. Nothing is as sickening as a sweet and overpowering smell. It is much like an old woman seeking youth in powder and perfume. Or like a guy who fell into a bottle of Old Spice. The second rule is to never have a perfumed candle at the dinner table or around food.
To prevent a room from being invaded with scent, a perfumed candle should burn only for a short while. The small tealight tops are a favorite of mine to burn on winter evenings when it gets dark in the afternoons. They are very gentle in flavor and I leave them to burn the whole evening…romance and ambiance for all, even on week nights…everybody loves it!
Winter chases us inside earlier and for longer…we cook inside more, we make fires in the fireplaces and receive more visitors inside than in any other season. It is important to have fresh fragrance in the house as well…flowers, diffusers, lamp bulbs with rings and dotted wih essential oils, some envelopes in drawers or in hidden corners, some light house sprays, pillow sprays, sachets hanging on door knobs, incense burning after an open fire in the fireplace. Again…keep it light and stay away from the sweet and strong flavors, like vanilla and fruits. I sometimes use cedar incense to get rid of the smoky smell of our open fireplace. I never use potpourii, because it only gathers dust.
When using a diffuser and a tealight, take care to drop only a little 0il and burn the candle only a short while. The fragrance quickly disperses throughout the room.
In the bedroom, room sprays and pillow sprays are gentle enough..spritz on the bed rather than the pillow and a light spritz in the air with a room spray leaves a gentle frangrance.
My favourite fragrances are rose, heliotrope, amber, citrus, all tea leaves and cotton flower. Some of these tiny bottle below go back many, many years and I can’t get rid of them. They still carry the smell of essential oils…and sweet memories.
A drop of essential oil on a bulb ring, made from terracotta or balsawood on a bulb and the heat of the bulb disperses the fragrance through the room. The balsa wood works great on the new economy bulbs which don’t get as hot.
Although the scented envelopes are meant for drawers, I place them in bowls in corners in the house. They aren’t strong and overpowering and only give off a flavor when you pass them. And of course, nothing is easier than making your own envelopes: Use white envelopes and paint them in your favourite olours, drip the paint, flow it on the envelope, write, scribble, hand paint…whichever you feel like doing. Fill your handpainted envelope with clean catsand or wooden shavings, add a drop of soft essentail oil, glue your envelope and place in a corner where it can be admired as well as give off its gentle fragrance in the room.
May your winter days…and for otheres, summer days…be filled with the softt fragrances of cotton flower, and your evenings be cozy around the flicker of a cedar scented candle.
…à la prochaine!..
Artichokes filled with red fig and topped with a goats cheese can be served whichever way you want to…on the side with a meat dish, or as a salad, or a starter, and even as an amuse bouche with a glass of cold white wine. It is truly delicious and even enjoyed by people who find artichokes without taste. If you want to be really gourmet, you will prepare the atichokes yourself, but you can choose the easier but still delicious way, by buying the frozen artichoke hearts, readily available everywhere.
- Use frozen artichoke hearts, which is as delicious and fresh and less work. BUT for a special occasion in season , DO put in some effort for some fresh, seasonal artichokes.
- Feta cheese with ricotta or sour cream can be used instead of goats cheese and crème fraîche.
- Yellow figs can be used instead of red figs.
- Substitue maple syrup or thym honey for the white balsamic syrup.
- Serve as a starter on a bed of greens, or as a side with duck, or as an amuse bouche, served on small plates.
- Bake at 200 degrees C for about 10 -15 minutes.
..and a little bit of Paris…
I was in Paris for a quick visit and when passing by Antoine, I couldn’t resist this parapluie for the coming winter and its rains. I never actually use one, because I knock everyone in the eye and over the head or umbrella them off the sidewalk. But I’ve decided everything can be worked at and I want to look chic this winter and for that I need this parapaluie. So I will work at my clumsiness with a parapluie and turn myself into a proper parisienne…just imagine…never again wet hair clinging to my forehead..
I’m almost tempted to say that the elagant Parisienne you see in the following images, is me, but unfortunately my concience won’t allow it! It is my beautiful friend who was willing to play model for me with my ombrelle! And she knows exactly how, since she had been une Parisienne a few years ago, before she became une Tourangelle.
And some scenes from my meanderings in Paris:
…statues always attract me with their wistfull quietness and their frozen stares…
…and architecture with roofs and chimneys, towers and balcomies, doors and windows…
..and of course, on my way to catch the TGV home, I have to wander through le jardin du Luxembourg where I always stop for a game of chess and delight in the creative chaos of the the Luxembourg chairs…
… in le bois de Vincenne, autumn is a flaming opera with the colours performing the libretto with extravagant flair…
..à la prochaine!..
I had left over rabbit. And small chili peppers. Some goats cheese. Herbs. And guests for dinner. As un apéro, these would do perfectly.
But BEWARE: They are very hot. While I was preparing them, I took a tiny bite from one and it was fairly piquant, but not as I expected and I continued happily. BUT THEN… later the afternoon, I propped a smallish whole one in my mouth….well, I flounced desperately around the kitchen table, like a horse being backed for the first time. I fled outside in the rain for oxygen and help. Not finding it there, I scrambled back to the fridge and gulped down 6 joghurts… I think next time I will use the mild spanish red pepper instead…but oh, these look SO pretty on a platter…!
- Use left over chicken or duck or turkey instead of rabbit.
- When using duck, leave out the cheese and replace with balsamic vinegar and grated apple, sprinkled with lemon juice.
- Ricotta cheese or créme fraîche can be used in place of the goats cheese.
- Serve as a sterter with a small green salad, or serve as an apéritif with a cold white wine.
- If the chili peppers are too hot to your liking, use the long Spanish red peppers instead and cut them shorter from the thin point upward.
Apart from smelling freshly brewed coffee when entering a home, few other things can give a home that feeling of lived in comfort, cosiness , than seeing books…stacks of books, or shelves overflowing with a chaos of books. It doesn’t matter if it is a formal library or the living room where books are strewn on the table and couches. I’m not talking about the pretentious shelves and more shelves of beautiful books, only admired for their leather covers…No, I love entering a home and seeing books everywhere, inviting me to take on from a shelf or pick it up from a table or chair or even the floor….open it up and page through… read the end…the sinopsis and discover a little bit about the owner’s taste and likes and discover new titles…
We don’t have a libraryat home, only “corners” of books which I try in vain to keep neat. Now I look past it and only try to balance out the stacking in order to prevent a shelf from breaking. And I LOVE it when people come here and pick up a book…!
I bought this beautiful and inspiring book on libraries a while ago: BIBLIOTHEQUES – l’art de vivre avec des livres by Roland Beaufre and Dominique Dupuich..
*All the following images are borrowed from the book:
These next two libraries, are my most favorites in this book…if you leave me in either of these two, I’ll just happily disappear and you’ll never see me again!
Another wonderful treasure of books!
This library below is beautiful…too beautiful actually. I feel like someone’s is whispering…:”Don’t touch”!
Don’t you just love a space like this, with so much to see and look at and loaded with personality…except for that spider on the lamp shade of course…
This inviting couch and the lamp won me over!
A bit less chaotic, but still inviting with its couch and music station, the warmth of family photos, botanical prints…and of course…MANY books!!
I hope this kicked you into a mood of reading, like it did me…and instead of watching a good DVD this weekend, let’s make it one of reading those oldies we haven’t touched in a while!
Spaghetti squash makes for an quite an interesting meal…served with a homemade tomato sauce, or with oven baked tomatoes. Especially great for those who want to cut down on carbohydrates…and calories..
- Don’t overcook the squash, or else it won’t shred off in strands, but be mushy.
- The squash can alos be cooked in the microwave oven – prick all over with a knife and microwave for about 15 minutes or more until the skin is tender but not soft. (whole squash of about 1 kg)
- The squash on its own is fairly tasteless and bland, so take care to make your tomatoes/sauce flavorful.
- Instead of oven baked tomatoes, a tomato sauce can be made by sauteing some onions, adding chooped tomatoes and reducing at low heat until thick anad flavorful. Season with salt and pepper, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and add shredded basil leaves.
- Chopped olives and parmesan cheese can be added when serving the dish.
- Marinate tomatoes are tomatoes that have been dried in the oven until semi dry and still holds juice. It must be refrigerated and doesn’t keep as long as dried tomatoes, but is much more flavorful.
- This spaghetti with sauce can be served as an accompaniment to any kind of fish.
I don’t do a lot of fall decoration, but I do like a little pumpkin and some fresh autumn fruit here and there. Some leaves… Nothing very whoo haa. Just a little something. A little autumn flavor brought inside.
Normalement je ne fais pas trop de décoration d’automne, à l’exception d’une courge çà et là. J’aime aussi les fruits saisonnales en abondances , comme des poires, de jolies pommes de saison et n’oublie pas de délicieux coings! Et bien sur, les belles feuilles mortes, que je ramasse quotidiennement partout sur mon passage, remplacent les bouquets de fleurs estivales. Je ne fais rien en grande pompe, mais tout ça donne juste un petit gout d’automne dans la maison et ses alentours.
Flowers get replaced by autmn leaves and greenery, picked up on walks by the Loire..in vases, in bowls.
White pumpkins make for attractive decor everywhere in the house. place some small ones on a stack of books, or on top of some dried moss, stack them in urns and pots…
Their shapes and smooth whiteness harmonize well with the rustic texture of outside walls and pots, urns and wooden surfaces.
Outside they can stand quietly beside a pot planted with white cyclamen. Or even inside keeping a vase of drying hydrangeas company. Alongside apples, they seduce us with color and form. A still life.., there.., to admire and enjoy the quietness of autumn.
Coasters. That tiny but important little thing, preventing me from going crazy. I hate any kind of “ring” on furniture…a water ring from a glass , a heat ring from a hot mug, a wine ring from a bottle…it drives me nuts. So I have coasters everywhere. Beside the beds, by the computer, on the office desks, in my atelier, in the kitchen , outside… since we have become a “lazy mug using” society, rings have become more visible on our furniture. A pity. I would easily vote for going back to a cup and saucer. But until then..coasters it is. Maybe this weekend could be useful in getting rid of all stain rings everywhere and go shop for a variety of affordable, fun coasters to enjoy a drink without stress!
Les dessous-de-verres. Une chose apparamment petite, mais très importante. Moi, je ne supporte oas du tout les taches sur une table; soit si c’est une tache d’un verre d’eau, soit la tache dun verre du vin, soit une tache d’un “mug” de café… Ça me rend folle! Donc, j’ai des dessous-de-verres partoutes dans la maison, même à l’extérieur. Malheureusement, comme on est devenu une société de consommateurs de “mugs” de cafés, de “mugs” de thé, et de “mugs” de cacao, les taches commencée a faire leurs apparitions plus visibles sur les meubles à la maison. Dommage! Peut-être ce weekend peut-on investir dans quelques dessous-de-verres abordables et “fun”, pour que on puisse s’amuser plus tranquillement autour d’un verre ou d’un “mug” de café.
…an assortment of coasters for peace of mind…
Do we have time for a movie this weekend? Always! One of my favorite actresses, is Juliette Binoche. A great, versatile actress. I once received an amazing compliment…someone told me I remind him of Juliette Binoche. But … it was late at night and it was during a good meal with plenty of good wine… What I would like to have…is a laugh like her. A wonderfully spontaneous, bold and spirited laugh!
Est ce qu’on peut regarder un film ce weekend? Bien entendu! Une de mes actrices préférées, est Juliette Binoche. Une fois, on m’a fait un joli compliment; quel qu’un m’a dit que je ressemblais àJuliette Binoche. Mais…c’etait au cours d’un dîner, il etait, tard, et on avait bien bu… et pourtant, j’aimerais tellement avoir son merveilleux rire, si charmant, si spontané, si vif et si audacieux!
Copie conforme plays off in Italy, spoken in English, French and Itaian…to me a great film by Abbas Kiarostami.
So we have arrived at October for 2010….and of course…weekend! I will continue working in my garden, preparing it for autumn, cleaning and changing, planting some bulbs… What ware your plans for this first weekend of the beautiful month of October?
Voila. On est arrivé en Octobre 2010. Et en plus…le weekend! Je continuerai à travailler dans mon jardin. L’automne demande la plantation des bulbes, le nettoyage, le bouturage et la préparation pour le printemps. Qu’est ce que vous prévoyez vous pour ce merveilleux weekend d’Octobre?
…cloches in an autumn garden…
And any suggestions for a good movie for the weekend? How about some suspense this time…Johnny Depp in Secret window..
Quelques propositions pour un bon film? Peut être un film suspense…Johnny Depp dans Fenêtre secrète…
Isn’t a Friday morning just the greates part of the week? That waking up, knowing that in a few hours it will be…weekend! I have my biggest spurt of energy on a Friday morning when I wake up and realize it is Friday morning. So, what shall we do this weekend?
Vous ne trouvez pas le Vendredi matin formidable? A peine réveillée, je pressenti déjà le bonheur de weekend et je saute de mon lit pleine d’énergie. Alors,qu’este ce q’on va faire ce merveilleux weekend d’Octobre?
…how about going shopping for some plaides for the coming winter(quelques plaids pour rechauffer l’hiver) …
A kneeblanket/car wrap/plaide is one of those weekend delights. Whatever the season, cuddling up under something thrown over the knees, makes life feel good….on the sofa in front of the fireplace with a book, outside sleeping under a tree, breezing in a hammock, chatting by a BBQ fire, on a bench by the sea…so what are we waiting for?
Un plaid est un des petits plaisirs d’un weekend. Peu importe la saison, c’est toujours agréable de s’installer au canapé avec un livre et un plaid doux. C’est parfait pour les soirées autour de la cheminée, a l’extérieur autour d’un barbecue, sur un banc a la mer… assez motivation de s’en va trouver plusieurs pour nous et nos invités. Allons y~!
I got some nice plaides in shades of greys and whites at Ikea for only 6 euros. Given, they aren’t 100 percent wool, but they are soft and cozy and wash quick and easy.
J’ai eu de la chance de trouver des plaids très mignons, dans les tons de gris et blancs, à bons prix à Ikea…6 euros, pas mal non? Même si ils sont pas faites de la laine pur, ils sont doux et faciles à laver.
…or some colorful plaides for the summer evenings on the patio?(les colorés pour les soirées estivales?)…
And of course, if you enjoy a good film like I do…the weekend is just made for a movie…like one of my favorite films. “Dialoque avec mon jardinier. I don’t know whether it is available in English translation, but it is a beautiful movie and just the scenery and ambiance and acting will be enough to enjoy.
Et encore, un film pour un weekend…si, comme moi, vous aimez un bon film ! Un de mes favoris est “Dialogue avec mon jardinier”.
…dialogue avec mon jardinier…
…passez un bon weekend!…
This post was meant for the weekend on last Friday, but unfortunately I couldn’t get around to posting. Now I’m putting it up for this week…
Wishing you a good, productive and satisfying week…
Ce billet était fait pour le weekend dernier, mais ce n’était pas possible, alors maintenant…je vous souhaite une bonne semaine productive et satisfaisante…
…with some flowers somewhere in the house(une fleur ou deux dans la maison)…
…and a good movie fitted in somewhere(un bon film)…
…and don’t forget dessert(et surtout, n’oubliez pas le dessert)!..
…à la prochaine..