Thursday, July 10, 2014



We will be taking a July vacation as Jamie heads to Florida and Ilva to Sweden. This will be the perfect time for you to catch up on old Plated Stories posts you might have missed. And don't forget to register for the October Plated Stories Workshop - honing you photo & writing skills, developing your voice and finding new inspiration. Small, intimate, intense and very hands on.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Roll




I'm on a roll.

 Jellyroll, Tootsie Roll, Rock n' Roll.

 Scoops of meat, seasoned, squished between fingers, pressed gently between the palms. Roll. Perfect rounds. Tossed lightly in seething oil, rolled around in the pan, nudged along until browned. Dunked in red sauce. Tucked inside a roll, lined up, tiny, fragrant orbs.

 Felafel, chocolate truffles, meatballs, chocolate chip cookie dough.

 Hand rolled. 


 Roll through childhood.

 Bicycle wheels, somersaults, cartwheels, sleeping bags (bedrolls), hot dog rolls. A little matchbox car pushed across the floor, watch it roll. Childhood pleasures.

 Tears that roll down cheeks at the loss of a game, or teasing, crossed eyes and a baiting remark meant to inflict pain, an arrow to the heart. Roll with the punches.

 Marbles, basketballs, softballs, a roll of the dice.

 Roll call. 


Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll; charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul. - Alexander Pope

 They roll their eyes quite a lot. At me. Because of me. For me. Sarcasm personalized, sarcasm quiet, understated but oh so loud and clear. Nothing charming about an eye roll.

 One woman, three men. Maybe it's a gender thing, a cultural thing. That eye roll. Have I said something ridiculous? Something to merit that eye roll, that smirk?


Roll up your sleeves.

 Sushi, cinnamon buns, pinwheel cookies, egg roll. The perfect jellyroll, ethereal, fragile sponge cake spread with whipped cream, pastry cream, chocolate ganache, a favorite jam, the edge lifted and tucked up into itself, press forward, softly, lightly, and roll. Sweet dough, buttered and dusted with brown sugar and ground cinnamon with a generous hand, dotted with chocolate chips, strewn with coarsely chopped pecans, the edge lifted and tucked up into itself, press forward, softly, lightly, and roll. Nori, black, sleek, shiny, sticky rice fragrant with sugar and rice wine vinegar, pressed, gooey, all the way to the edges of that sheet of seaweed, black as night. Strips of smoked salmon, strips of tender avocado, strips of crisp, cool cucumber, the edge lifted and tucked up into itself, press forward, softly, tightly, and roll. Black and white, or, more correctly, brown and beige, a large, flat square of chocolate cookie dough, a large, flat square of vanilla cookie dough. Align and press, one atop the other, the double edge then lifted and tucked up into itself, press forward, softly, tightly, and roll.

 The beautiful, intricate, swirl of a roll.

 Let the Good Times Roll


The Story of a Rolling Pin

 She had always been the taker, I the giver. As different as night and day, she had money and played poor, I was poor and played with a generous hand. I was bunking down in the Paris apartment she shared with a man, her future husband, her future ex, the first but not the last. And she decided that she wanted to be a cook, a caterer. Which required, of course, a battery of new kitchen utensils, equipment, appliances and gadgets, poor little rich girl. 

 Together we visited Dehillerin, that famed Parisian Mecca for all things kitchen. A wonderland of cooking and baking tools. "I need a rolling pin!" she exclaimed in delight as she lifted one of the long, thick professional rolling pins from a box, weighing the heft of the thing, gliding her hand up and down the smooth, silken wood the color of chocolate. "I don't have my wallet with me," she cried in mock surprise, as she rarely seemed to have money with her, I should have known better. "Will you buy it and I promise to pay you back?" I reached into my meager cache, my few francs in reserve, all I had left to my name, and pulled out the weathered, flimsy bills and handed them over, knowing that I would never see the color of thirty-three francs again.

 A year later, she and her man packed up, picked up and moved to the States. "Can you keep some of my stuff for me, just until we move back?" she asked. Cookbooks and baking pans, whisks, wooden spoons and yes that rolling pin, anything but generous as she counted absolutely on coming back and reclaiming it all. But she never did. And today, I still roll out dough in my own kitchen in France with that rolling pin, the very same that I paid for on my first trip to Paris. And I love it, my rolling pin.

 Roll out a nearly perfect round of dough, pie crust. Roll the dough up around the rolling pin, lift and carefully unroll across the pie plate. Lift and press into the dish.

 Roll me over in the clover, roll me over lay me down and do it again.


I began making chocolate truffles when I was in college, preparing them for Valentine's Day gifts for friends and as part of the candy and sweet platter I would make with my mother for her office Christmas party each year. Chocolate truffles were, and still are, considered the height of elegance, fancy, special confections, yet they are incredibly, deceptively simple to make, just a chocolate ganache with a bit of butter and flavorings. The only requirement is very high quality ingredients and very clean hands.

JAMIE'S DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
Makes about 30 truffles

8 oz (225 g) high quality bittersweet or half bittersweet/half semisweet chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
½ cup (125 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs (30 g) butter *
2 Tbs flavoring of your choice **
½ tsp vanilla extract

30 jarred cherries or so in syrup, drained and soaked or poached in cherry liqueur or rum, optional

Unsweetened cocoa powder, shredded coconut, lightly toasted or not, finely chopped nuts of your choice, sprinkles, chocolate or colored, crushed hard candies such as candy canes…. For coating the chocolate truffles. Your choice.

* Use unsalted butter when adding an alcohol flavoring, but try using salted butter with an extra tiny pinch of fleur de sel for a caramelly, slightly salty taste, if you so desire.

** Grand Marnier or Cointreau, Amaretto, dark rum, prepared coffee, bourbon, etc Finely chop the chocolate and place in a medium-sized heatproof bowl.

 In a small saucepan over a low flame, heat the heavy cream and butter just until boiling point (you will see tiny bubbles form around the edges and the cream will begin to steam); stir to blend. Pour the hot cream and butter over the chopped chocolate, let sit for a minute and then stir or whisk gently (so as not to splatter) until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the flavorings, the liqueur and the vanilla. Allow the ganache to cool and set, either on the counter or in the refrigerator. This could take several hours but if setting in the fridge, remove the bowl from the cold before it becomes to hard – if it does, simply let it come back to room temperature.

 Using a melon baller (I do not) or a teaspoon, scoop out a small round of ganache (the size of a large marble) and, working very quickly and lightly so as not to melt the chocolate, roll the chocolate between the palms of your hands until round and line them up on a parchment-lined baking tray.

 Quickly and lightly roll each chocolate truffle in the coating of your choice. Place each truffle in a tiny paper casing, if offering them as gifts.

 For an extra special treat and surprise, omit the liqueur from the ganache and instead soak or poach cherries (jarred cherries in syrup) in cherry liqueur or rum and roll one cherry inside each truffle.


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Monday, June 23, 2014

Cherry


With a Cherry on Top

 Bits and tangles of tin foil fluttering in the breeze, flicking rays of sun around the garden like daylight fireflies. Scintillating. Like tinsel on a Christmas tree.

 Or plastic bags and bits of cloth like those wish trees we saw on our honeymoon in Cyprus.

 Fat magpies and ravens, with just a touch of violence, and tiny little sparrows, graceful and light, swoop down irreverently ignoring the quivering, flapping, ruffling beat, the dance of the foil, the plastic, the bits of cloth tied to the branches of the cherry tree explicitly to chase them away.

 But who could blame them? Plump, shiny bright, deep red cherries dot the tree, swinging gently with the sway of the branches in the breeze. The promise of something sweet and juicy.

 Early morning and we wander barefoot through the dew-damp grass and peer excitedly upwards, the sun filters through the lush green and we search out the ripe fruit as we plan an afternoon picking, thinking of what we will bake with the harvest, all that won't be eaten straight from the tree. Yet the cherries are gone. What remains has been pecked, leaving gaping wounds bleeding cherry juice, now rotted and inedible. For all our effort, those birds refused to heed the warning and have eaten all of the cherries.


Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

 Cherry pies, apple and blueberry pies. And pumpkin at Thanksgiving. The freezer would be well stocked with ready-made pie shells, the cupboard flush with cans of filling in every fruit – and pumpkin – flavor. Open and bake, cut a thick wedge for each one of us, and top with a lavish dollop of Cool Whip. Every night was a fête.

 Cherry was always my favorite.

 I baked my first cherry pie in a house in the suburbs of Paris. An American cherry pie for a French family. Fresh cherries bought at the tiny little primeurs near the train station. The double crust was so yellow, the bright yellow of French egg yolks, the very yellow of French butter. Rolled out clumsily, dough pushed and pinched together, cherries pitted by hand with a paring knife and tossed with sugar and cornstarch. A lovely lattice crust.

 A French family who couldn't fathom the joy and comfort of a home baked cherry pie.


Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

 My husband's parents retired to a tiny little village, barely 300 souls, in the middle of nowhere. A tangle of tiny streets were lined with old stone houses, abodes of poor farmers in former days and some still, the village being surrounded as it were with apple orchards and fields of cows, rapeseed and beets. Their house was one of the newfangled modern things that was appendaged onto the old part huddled around the medieval church and old village well, a new house in unbecoming beige cement and dull chocolate brown shutters perched ungraciously and oh so inconveniently upon a hill.

 In the center of their yard stood a magnificent cherry tree, tall and stately, branches spread every which way, leaves lush, cherries abundant all summer long. As soon as the cherries burst forth around the middle of July, branches groaning under the weight of the fat, red fruit, we would gather under that cherry tree and, staring up, discuss our strategy. For, you see, the cherries were very high requiring a ladder to reach above even the bottom row of branches yet the ground under and around that tree was anything but sure. One side sloped making a ladder or chair perilous, indeed. And the big, chunky roots splayed out in a dangerous web, making a ladder downright impossible. But those cherries were so good, so flavorful we were determined to pick them all.

 And an entire Saturday of July was devoted to picking cherries. Scrambling up in the branches, or taking turns spotting the ladder for the other, which leaned falteringly against the trunk. Standing on old plastic garden chairs hanging on for dear life with one hand, the other grabbing cherries, my mother-in-law's battered old aluminum colander wedged between two branches to catch the harvest. All the best cherries seemed to be just out of reach for of course there was only so high we could go. 

 Exhausted, we finally give in and give up, loathe to leave the beauties still hanging, grabbing one, two, three more pairs one second I'm coming, I'm stopping now I promise just one more! The rest sacrificed to the birds who come to the feast during the wee hours of the morning while we sleep, before we wake, before we have the chance to gather up a second wind and attempt to pick the rest on the Sunday before heading home.

 In the cherry blossom's shade, there's no such thing as a stranger. – Kobayashi Issa 


Cherry Pickers

 Little maraschino cherries, glistening like bright jewels, tempting. They are so pretty. Plopped into a Tom Collins or an Old Fashioned, drinks for the parents. Or pushed into a swirl of whipped cream sitting atop a double scoop of ice cream, banana split, dotted with chocolate sprinkles. Sparkling. So feminine. To like or not to like a maraschino cherry, that is truly the question. Some years yes, some years no. There has been and always will be something so adult, a tad bit decadent, about popping a maraschino cherry into one's mouth, the hint of alcohol, the sweet whipped cream. There is something so 1960's about them, cruise ships and cocktail parties.

 I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees. - Pablo Neruda


Le Temps des Cerises

 Clafoutis. What is cherry season without clafoutis? Big black cherries (pitted or no?) tumbled into a baking dish and blanketed under a smooth batter (flan or crêpe?) smelling of milk and vanilla. Big black cherries peeping through the creamed preparation as if just keeping their heads above water. Baked, the shivering, wobbly flan hugs those big black cherries that seemingly haven't budged a whistle but oh a mouthful reveals the truth. Cherries gently poached in batter burst in an explosion of pulp, sweet cherries even sweeter, juicy cherries even juicier. Cherry season, le temps des cerises, means clafoutis to every Frenchman and woman.

 A pair of cherries joined at the stem top, suspended, drooping gently. Hung over a lover's ear, a child's ear, pendant. Perfect summer wear, a pair draped over each ear.

 A cherry year, a merry year.


Cherry season isn't complete without a warm cherry clafoutis. My cherry clafoutis is not like a traditional French one because here the cherries are caramelized before being added to the egg batter, leaving a sweet syrup to pour over the top.

ILVA'S CARAMELIZED CHERRY CLAFOUTIS
4 servings

200-300 g/ 7-10.5 oz pitted and divided cherries
a knob of butter
3-4 tbsp sugar
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
4 eggs
75 g/ 2,65 oz flour
150 ml/ 0,63 cup fresh cream
200 ml/ 0,85 milk
4 tblsp sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
butter

   Melt the butter in a small skillet, add cherries, cinnamon and sugar and cook slowly until caramelized. Stir or shake the skillet now and then. Put aside.

    Whisk eggs and flour quickly until smooth, then add cream and milk together with sugar, pinch of salt and lemon zest and mix it well.
Butter an oven-proof form and pour the batter into it. Distribute the caramelized cherries over it all  (but reserve the sauce for serving) and bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 25-30 minutes or until the cream has set and is slightly golden. Be careful not to bake it too long as it easily goes a bit dry.
   
   Drizzle the sauce over the clafoutis before serving.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Prop



 My mother collected collectibles, bibs and bobs, gewgaws and tchotchkes, pretty little things that were placed in elegant wood and glass cabinets to be admired. Never used, simply admired. Lovely cake forks and teaspoons in sterling silver, many charmingly molded and etched, decorated with roses. Beautiful teacups and cake plates, candy dishes and serving platters.

 And when her mother, my grandmother, passed away she brought back a tiny treasure trove of silver spoons and enamel cups once drunken out of by her uncles when they were mere tots, and other nice things. All to be placed next to crystal wine carafes (never filled with wine), porcelain vases (never filled with flowers) and souvenirs of Caribbean Cruises, stuck in time behind those glass paned doors. 

 Curios.

 Yet I peep into those cabinets and don't see collectibles, nor do I see memories. I see props. Through the eyes of a food blogger I see a fabulous choice of props at my fingertips if I only dare pull open those door, slowly, gently, and lift out, much like pick-up-sticks, mikados, a teaspoon here, a cake knife there, sugar tongs and miniature silver candy trays from amongst the breakables. Wrap each in cloth, t-shirts and socks, and slide them into a waiting suitcase to be carried across the ocean and home.

 Props.


 It may have been the hardest day of my life and surely the saddest. My heart had been wrenched out of my chest, grief-stricken, and I risked being swallowed up whole, pulled into that black space of pain and sadness. Blinded by my tears. My son, young and insouciant, or so it seemed, saw my distress and came to me, put his arm around me and propped me up. He supported me like a crutch, holding my weight as I leaned heavily into him, propped me up and walked me slowly towards the gravesite under the hot September sun where we would bury someone I loved more than all the world.


 Chin propped in my cupped hands, I listened to him utter the words, barely perceptible, words weaving in and out through the sounds of a wine bar, the clatter of knives and forks, the clinking of glasses, the bustle of bodies, screeching of chairs across tile, the buzz of voices. His own finally reached my ears, murmurs between unimportant obstacles of noise. I focused, listening to the generosity of his language, taking in the light from his eyes and the rest was forgotten, the flow of noise around me merely a prop.

 Propped up on one elbow, lying stretched out on his bed, the early morning sun spread across the sheets in a haze. He reiterated his declaration, hesitant but deliberate. His words mere props, like diamonds and roses, his look, his body language said it all. Propped up against the cushions watching tv in our ninth home together, I stare at the man who sat across the tiny table in that wine bar so many years ago. Our home is a mishmash of memories and objects, framed paintings by our toddler sons propped against one wall, camera tripod, umbrellas and brooms propped against another, mere props of the play that is our life.

 I have become his prop, or so he teases me, his trophy wife. Yet I know that in truth I prop him up as he needs, prop him up when he stumbles, support him when he doubts, carry him along whether or no he asks. I prop him up as he does me.


 We moved into this apartment with twice as many objects, books, things, a collection of props as we had room for. And boxes of props, dishes and platters, cutlery for an army, tea sets and pitchers than rarely saw the light of day except as props. Packets of plastic straws and wooden forks, Christmas balls and decorations (although we do not celebrate), antique spoons I, frankly, would be afraid to eat with, curious things I no longer remember where they came from. You understand. Props.

 I am well propped.

 "You can easily get rid of half of that stuff!" he exclaimed, hands propped up on his hips. "Do you really need it all? There is no room!" And so I found room, sacrificing non-props, claiming cabinet space inch by inch, adding shelves to the living room wall unit and squeezing it all in. My photo props. 

 Curiously, I use less and less of these props when I shoot. I am uncomfortable with props as if trying to shoot too many people or dress myself in someone else's clothes, someone else's life. But I do peep into the cabinets and stare at, ogle, coddle my props on a regular basis. I love them.


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Monday, June 9, 2014

Rose


La Vie en Rose

I can make
The most impossible things come true
Blue shadows never, sunshine forever
Roses in December for you.
- Ozzie Nelson

 We treated ourselves to one romantic day and night in a palace hotel. We went all out and reserved the Romance Package, why not, a gift to ourselves? It was the end of December, a winter colder, whiter than we remembered it could possibly be in Paris. Bundled against the glacial winds, we blew into the hotel entrance on a frigid brume yet warmed by the excitement of the adventure.

 We were shown up to a sumptuously appointed room, ushered in formally, elegantly by a gentleman in a suit and tie. He drew back the heavy drapes to reveal a stunning view of the gardens, cloaked under a veil of mist, mystic in its eerie, gossamer whiteness. Enchanting. He coaxed our attention from the window to the low table set between two boudoir chairs. Upon this table was set a tall vase of plush crimson roses, a bottle of rose-colored Champagne, and a small silver tray on which sat a luxurious assortment of petits fours, each tiny square was iced in pretty rose frosting, a tiny sugar rose perched atop each little cake.

 Rose petals strewn atop snowy white bubbles, tall, crystal flutes filled with Champagne the color of roses, topped with snowy white bubbles, mouthfuls of little rose cakes.

 Moonlight and roses.



Snow White, Rose Red

 Five young ladies, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, in shades of pastel, smile serenely, joyfully. A faded snapshot or two, once in bright kodachrome, now wan and watery, capture the moment of a weekend at camp. The hair, upsweeps, side buns and a hint of Farah Fawcett, and the clothing, peasant blouses and scarves, floral prints and a-line skirts, tell of an era. An evening gala is evident, a sisterly gathering for a photo to set the memory forever.

 Each young lady holds a rose in a shade of pink. The Rose Buds, they might have named themselves, best friends forever. A single rose given by a friend, he who would gallantly escort these five young ladies to the event and he passed out a single rose to each, in shades of pink, pale for admiration, gentleness, sweetness and grace, deep for appreciation and gratitude.


Turkish Delight

 The pale, almost translucent pink of a loukoum. Rosewater.

 Before we were married, he took my sister and I for our first Moroccan meal in a bustling, noisy restaurant in the North African neighborhood of Paris. The tables were crowded together under bright neon lights, tables much too small for the copious amounts of couscous and grilled meats, lightly charred, piled high, heaped upon serving platters that grappled for space between our own plates and glassware. An abundance of vegetables in warm, savory broth, vegetables that melted under the mere pressure of the back of a spoon. The sweetness of raisins, plumped by the broth, the satisfyingly toothsome give of the chickpeas.

 Our dinner plates were cleared away as we cried "No more!" The table cleared but not for long as the waiter silently placed a large silver platter in the center offering a selection of traditional Moroccan pastries, crunchy walnuts, gooey honey sticking to fingers, flakey, crispy phyllo leaving a trail across the white paper placemats. And loukoum. Pale pink, diaphanous, luminous. A flurry of powdered sugar, a cloak of white against the pink the color of rose, the scent of rose, the flavor of rose. What is it? we asked, innocent in all matters of Moroccan sweets. "Loukoum," he answered. "Turkish delight infused with rosewater."


Roses are Red, Violets are Blue

 The first one arrived. He rose before me, a lopsided grin covering his nervousness. He was sweetness itself, he was, but just not my type. He came bearing a birthday gift in an attempt to woo me (after clearly announcing that he had broken it off with his high school sweetheart, his fiancée. For me.) – he held out a single red rose wrapped in tissue paper. Proud and pleased. Thinking a rose would do the trick.

 And then the second one arrived. He rose before me, a suave smile exposing his confidence. He was sweetness itself, he was, but just not my type. He came bearing a birthday gift in an attempt to woo me – he held out a dozen red roses, deep and heady with perfume, wrapped in tissue paper. Proud and pleased. Thinking a dozen red roses would do the trick. 

The first one rose from his chair upon the self-assured entrance of the second, blushing rose up to his hairline when he saw the offering, the magnificence of a dozen roses to his meager one. But no matter the count, no mere rose could melt my heart if nothing else moved me.

 I never promised you a rose garden.


Rose-Colored Glasses

 Roses never moved me, never turned me on. Roses, I find, are too commonplace, a simple cliché. A gentleman bearing an armful of roses, how trite. How hackneyed. Stereotypical, roses are. One must have an imagination to woo!

 He never brought me roses, never slipped a diamond on my finger, was never so ordinary, never offered the expected. Tulips in shades of gold and mauve or peonies blood red on special occasions, blowzy, voluptuous, sexy. A balcony thick with gardenias, window boxes overflowing with bright red geraniums; a yard breathing sage, rosemary and thyme.


Life is a Bed of Roses

 My grandpa had two passions in life: religion and roses. And in an odd way, his roses were religion. Grandma and grandpa lived in an old, wood-framed, two-family home (painted blue), and occupied the bottom floor. Old, warped wooden parquet, claw-footed bathtub with a rubber plug attached to a long chain, a rope clothesline on an old-fashioned pulley system off the back porch that squeaked when pulled and a dusty, musty basement in which cobwebs grabbed at you, clung to your face, got tangled in your hair if you dared descend into its depths, off limits.

 They had a lovely little handkerchief yard behind the house. Summers brought a warm, comfortable breeze and soft, barefoot-friendly grass in that tiny garden. We longed to play there, badminton rackets in hand we had to find time when he was out, for he wouldn't stand us thwacking that feather-light plastic birdie back and forth over the roses. His roses. They lined the fence that enclosed the yard, branches gently spread out and along the wire, intertwining gracefully like loving arms encircling a child. And there were two large rose bushes in the yard itself, standing upon the grass, each caged in a wooden frame.

 I only remember grandpa doing two things: reading, studying and lovingly tending his roses. He was proud of those roses, huge, plump things, feminine and graceful, roses dressed in delicate, fluffy pink frills. Those roses paraded their beauty in front of us all summer long, perfuming the air, swanky and coy. Oh, neither boastful nor ostentatious, rather humble, gently blushing rose.

 One day as we kids were in the backyard with grandpa, we spied a fluffy little bunny in the garden, hiding among the leaves and tall grass that edged the yard. Grandpa dashed into the house and back out again clutching an old-fashioned slingshot, a slingshot that would make Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn proud. He pulled a small rock out of… his pocket or the dirt, conveniently located, took aim and thwack hit the tiny rabbit on the behind, watching in satisfaction as it dashed off. Horrified, we were horrified! Here was this quiet, studious, religious man, one of the kndest, most gentle human beings we knew, slinging rocks at tiny bunnies. "My roses," he exclaimed, "they eat my roses!"


Pannacotta. Is there a more versatile and crowd-pleasing dessert than pannacotta I wonder? It takes minutes to prepare and most of the work is done in silence while the forms are standing in the fridge so there is no real excuse not to make it. And when you get tired of one flavour, you can just invent another as long as you have a good base recipe. This rose pannacotta has very subtle flavour that makes me dream of flowering rosebushes and garden parties. 

ILVA'S ROSE FLAVOURED PANNACOTTA
4-6 servings

400 ml/ 1,7 cup fresh cream
200 ml/ 0,85 cup milk
3 tbsp rose sugar*
2 tsp gelatin powder

   Soak gelatin powder in a tablespoon or two of tepid water.

   Bring cream, milk and sugar to the boil in a small pan, when it is quite hot, add the gelatin and stir vigorously until completely dissolved.

   Pour the liquid through a sieve to remove the rose petals as they tend to be brown and not very pretty.

   Pour it into the cups, glasses or ramekins you are using and put these in the fridge for about 4 hours.

* It is very easy to make your own rose sugar, all you need is plain white sugar and rose petals from sweet smelling roses (it is important that they have a strong perfume as that is what will go into the sugar so start sticking you nose into any rosebush you find in your family's and friends' gardens).

ROSE SUGAR

50 g/ 1.7 ounce rose petals
200 g/3.5 ounce white sugar.

   Put petals and sugar in a bowl. I usually use my hands to crush the petals into the sugar but if you want you can chop them instead but then you miss out on having sweetly perfumed hands. When they are thoroughly mixed, put the rose sugar, which now is quite humid, in a jar or container with a close-fitting lid and let it stand for 24 - 48 hours. I usually shake it now and then. If you want it dry, just spread it out and leave it to dry; personally I keep it in its humid state and use it all as soon as I can because why resist?


Monday, June 2, 2014

Crumble



That's the way the cookie crumbles

 Cookies, I believe, are the most unforgiving of all baked goods; they are, in my humble opinion, time consuming and aggravating. I speak from experience. Folding in the flour, all that elbow grease – one's entire upper body and muscles we never otherwise use called into service - needed to turn those staple ingredients into something stiff and sticky, scooping up and pushing off spoonful by spoonful of batter onto a row of baking sheets, goo up to our elbows, in our hair and stuck to our face, then popped in the oven, 8 minutes, 10, 12 tops, waiting, watching, scooping, pushing more batter, another baking sheet, and another and another and another when will it ever stop and is the cookie dough actually growing? And. Leave the cookies in just one or two minutes too long and they are too crispy, burned around the edges. And crumbling into sand.

 That's the way the cookie crumbles. So why do I bother? Why bake cookies when cake is so much simpler in so many ways that cookies are not? My men. Love cookies.

 Cookies are a part of our childhood: tiny hands slipped surreptitiously into cookie jars, stolen treasure stuffed into pockets and carried off to be eaten sitting high up in the branches of a favorite tree or under the blankets shhhh no crumbs or mom will find out! Bedazzled by the array of cookies wrapped carefully in foil, bringing a handful of home to the school playground. Curled up with a book in the comfy armchair with a selection of cookies stacked up within easy reach, eyes locked on the page as we blindly feel for another and another. Cookies are child’s play, the perfect size, big enough to satisfy, small enough to allow for a selection, one of each, not having to choose just one. Satisfying first bite over and over again, an endless choice of flavors. And I am just happy that my little French boys experienced the pleasure, and continue to clamor (along with their father) for cookies.

 A packet of foil-wrapped cookies to bring to friends. Be careful! Or all the cookies will crumble.


If mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me. – Led Zeppelin

 I have a ring on my finger, a ring he slipped on above my wedding band just a few Christmases ago. Toujours. Always. Forever. One simple word etched onto a thin band of silver. No words were needed, he uttered not one except for maybe "Do you like it?" A tiny, sentimental gift but worth more than a mountain of gold for I know that if the world crumbles around me he will be there to save me.


  Crisps, crumbles, bettys and cobblers. Interchangeable. Simply the best of summer's fruit – or autumn, winter, spring – cooked into a warm, luscious confection, sweet compote with a touch of cinnamon or a splash of rum why not? Hidden underneath a crown, crust, crumble of cake, cookie, crumbs. Butter rubbed into flour tossed with sugar, brown if you please, and just a dash of baking powder for body. Butter rubbed into flour with the tippy tips of my fingers the better to blend the two if ever so imperfectly until crumbly and damp like sand on a Florida beach. Not too hot, please, not like a day at the beach.

 Crumble away. The dunes of sand on that Florida beach crumble away, erode to leave nothing in its place, threatening the buildings, the homes teetering atop. Somewhat like the fruit crumble being picked away, melting away leaving nothing in its wake but a memory, a kiss of fruit on one's lips.

 Sometimes I simply crumble bits of cookies, macaroons, ladyfingers, across the top of cooked fruit, caramelized apples, thick mousse, cookie crumbs in the guise of crumble.


  Rubbing fingers together, crumbling bits of bread nervously scattering the details across the tablecloth. Crumble and fall. Hearts and breadcrumbs.


 Fruit crumbles are a classic and truly a favorite in our home all year round. Apples, pears, rhubarb or cranberries all autumn and winter long, and come spring and summer stone fruits, cherries and berries find their natural place in my crumbles. The fruit melts into compote, sweet and tart, topped with a crispy crown of crumble. Replace the orange juice with rum or Amaretto or another liqueur or even a splash of lemon juice; add cinnamon, ground ginger or cardamom; use any combination of fruit that you love. Cut back the cornstarch, if you like; I don't add any when making simple apple or nectarine crumbles, but add it in when baking with berries, cherries or strawberries. The combination of nectarines and cherries is a particular favorite, pure pleasure.

Jamie's Nectarine Cherry Crumble
For 6 – 8 individual servings/ramekins or one 8- or 9-inch baking dish

Fruit filling:
6 cups fruit, half nectarines, pitted and cubed, and half pitted cherries *
¼ cup sugar (add more if the fruit is tart or not very sweet)
2 Tbs cornstarch
3 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice (can be replaced with 2 Tbs Amaretto)
½ tsp ground cinnamon, optional

* About 1 lb/500 g cherries, pitted and halved + 4 – 6 nectarines (depending upon size)

Crumble topping:
1 cup (130 g) flour
1/8 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup (50 g) granulated white sugar
¼ cup (55 g) packed light brown sugar
½ cup (115 g) cold butter, cubed
½ cup slivered almonds, optional but better

 Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Place 6 - 7 individual ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside.

 Prepare the fruit filling:
 Place all your fruit in a large mixing bowl – frozen fruit, if using frozen cherries, does not need to be defrosted first! Sprinkle the fruit with the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon if using and then add the orange juice. Toss everything together until all of the ingredients are well distributed and the cornstarch lightly covers all the fruit. I found that the easiest method was simply pushing up my sleeves and using my hands. Spoon the prepared fruit into the waiting ramekins making sure that it is evenly divided and there are fresh strawberries in every cup.

 Prepare the crumble topping:
 Combine all of the ingredients except for the butter and almonds in a large mixing bowl. Toss until well combined. Add the cubes of cold butter and, using your fingertips, rub or work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is evenly distributed, there are no more chunks of butter and the mixture resembles rough sand or crumbs. Toss lightly with the slivered almonds.

 Divide the crumble mixture evenly between the ramekins, spooning it generously on top of the fruit, making sure that none of the fruit is exposed. Gently press the crumble topping down onto the fruit.

 Bake the ramekins on the baking sheet for 35 – 40 minutes until the crumble puffs up and turns a deep golden color and the fruit bubbles up around the edges of the crumble.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Tuscany




 Tuscany is drunk with memories. Seven years of our lives in Italy, the odd weekend or holiday in the sage green hills and silver-tipped olive trees of Tuscany, fill the cup and overflow and I am back here after much too long a separation. Flooded with sensations, the warm sun on my skin (after chilly, rainy days in France) tickling out souvenirs of driving these same roads next to my husband, two little toddlers asleep in the back seat.

 Boxes of props and hulking, bulky camera bags have taken the place of those little boys. Ilva now sitting in the driver's seat. On our way to the old Tuscan villa for a workshop. Cameras, paper and pens, excitement and anticipation, anxious for all to go well.

 Eight women around a dining table, the strains of Italian pop rock push against giddy voices, a cacophony of laughter and stories as we get to know each other, or renew friendships. Bottles of red and one of bubbly white, frizzante, illuminate the evening, the deep, velvety baritone of Barry White serenading a meal. Years of Italian vino, salumi e abbondanza di festa color this evening, as we begin the first Plated Stories Workshop.

 You are my everything.

 Tuscany the perfect backdrop, participants exuding passion and industry, bursting with curiosity and questions, overflowing with energy. There is nothing like Tuscany, ancient, lush and vibrant, to inspire. Cameras click, laptops hum, faces peer into screens with intensity and concentration.

 Socrates the donkey, the spitting image of Eeyore yet evidently much more clever if his name is a mark of proof, hovers close by, urging our attention. Lips pulled back, tongue out, teeth bared, the braying begins, much to our utter amusement. Capture it in words, capture it in images.


 Red the color of Pienza. Burnt brick, old stone flushed with time and sun, burnished and bruised. Rough yet oh so elegant. We are surrounded by chatter; Italian, yes, but English and French and a smattering of German. Tables spill out onto squares, tables pushed closely together to make room for everyone, for more souls hungry for panini, hungry for street theater, hungry for a bit of Italian noonday sun. Conversations run into each other like red Tuscan wine poured onto the pavement.

 Three little boys lined up on a low wall against the amber stone clutching ice cream cones, intent on their mission. Huddles of cyclists in cerulean blue spandex, virile, take their place, lined up like little boys on that wall, bright spots against the stone, always moving, animated voices, laughter and eating ice cream, them, too, waiting to take off.


 This once impersonal conference room is bursting with activity, barely enough to contain all of the creative energy. Props shifted around on painted backdrops, cutlery handed round, exchanged, women hunters, primal urgings. Women shifting around the room, mumblings and grumblings and the occasional outburst assisting the learning process. One spread out on the floor, another standing on a chair, all taking up the entire floor space. Ilva peeping over shoulders, pointing out, challenging, suggesting, guiding, encouraging. Photography. 

 Eggplants, tomatoes, lemons, olives, Tuscan props.

 Writing. A whole different ballgame, an entirely different kind of beast. Or is it? Expectant eyes boring into mine, waiting. Tickety tick of keyboards, the scratching of pens on paper (yes!), words read aloud, giving birth to a story. A multitude of aha moments. Eureka!

 A voyage through the countryside, a trip to Pienza. What story can you tell? A clutch of Pinocchios, a collection of copper pots, a fragrant mountain of cheeses, musky, the damp scent of churches infused with wood, incense and centuries of voices. Chanting, haunting.

 Each group has its own distinct, unique personality, its own needs, its own dynamics. Each group brings something different to the table. Curiosity tainted with doubt fills the space, excitement mingled with self-consciousness. I love nothing more, feeling the electricity pass between teacher – me – and student – them, a charged atmosphere. Can you find words to describe a smell, a noise, a taste? Can you transform an image into text?

 Finding the words to describe the Plated Stories Workshop is so difficult, even for a writer. It is a feeling, a sensation, a dance of elation and serene contentment, back and forth between words and visuals. When push comes to shove? Yes indeed for how else to nudge students out of their comfort zones, to create a momentum forward, to prod and push each one into a higher creative territory and hold them there until they find their footing?


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