Monday, September 21, 2015


 He took me to a place under brilliant blue skies, surrounded by deep blue waters. We spent mornings wandering the streets of old villages under a blazing sun, burning stone streets, burnished stone reflecting centuries of unchanging traditions. We picked our way through meandering back streets, barren of life, admiring tumbles of earthenware, terra cotta crudely shaped, rough, matte terra cotta spilling from small shops with no one in sight. Chicken wire stretched across frames on every back and front porch displayed rows of tomatoes and grapes drying in the sun, broiling, withering, baking. 

 Afternoons, we would amble to the seaside, sit on the warm rocks that jutted out into the blue, sapphire and turquoise and azure blue that stretched forever. My toes would skim the chilly blue, neither the daring nor the desire to bathe as he did. Burning passion. His eyes so blue burned into mine.

 Dinners would find us at noisy family-style bistros, the sun still high, small tables lined up elbow to elbow under a colorful canopy where we would order brochettes of lamb drizzled with yogurt or fish from the sea broiled or grilled.

 He feeds me when I’m blue. Tiny sardines no longer than his hand, bright, lustrous blue, shimmering. He would slice a thin blade up each sardine and clean them one by one. Onions, garlic, parsley, spices redolent of North Africa, breadcrumbs if he feels like it. And he stuffs this mixture inside each blue sardine until bursting (but not quite). Then he weaves each blue sardine onto a brochette to hold it together. Broil. Until blistered and bubbling. Two on a plate. Bliss. Blessed.

 Black. San Lorenzo, la notte delle stelle filanti, the night of the shooting stars. We lived in the city where buildings and city lights allowed no night sky to filter through, no brilliance of stars, the starlight lost in the muted, muddy black of the night, in the bright city lights. But the Night of San Lorenzo, the Night of the Shooting Stars, we embarked on an adventure, bundling babies and parents into the car and winding up the mountainside, climbing away and above the city. We first stopped for dinner at an ancient convent which had become a restaurant. Rows of tables were lined up in the open courtyard in the center of the convent. A giant wood-burning barbecue grill held pride of place in the middle. Flames shooting skyward. Women scurried between the tables hefting bulky trays brimming with platters of grilled meats, bowls of creamy herbed polenta, salvers of French fries. And we dined until bursting.

 Back in the car, we climbed higher and higher until we couldn’t go any higher, and we pulled over onto the shoulder of the road, the edge dropping away into black nothingness. We got out of the car and looked up, heavenward, into the inky blackness. Black dotted, speckled with stars, white on black. There, look! Guarda! One would point up. And we would see a sudden movement, a streak, a smear, a blur of white against black and in a flash it would be gone. There, look! Another one! And there! Excited voices yet hushed as if any noise we made would stop the magic, chase away those stars like angels scattering. We stood breathless, watching, in awe, a touch of bewilderment, the shooting stars. Black speckled with white as far as we could see, a black so deep, so profound, so thick. Sprinkled with a mosaic of white.

 Foraging blackberries along the dirt paths that edged the village where his parents lived. A tangle, a snarl of blackberry bushes perched above the verge. Tiny berries black yet not, a bluish black the color of wine, nestled rather defiantly (boisterous) among the thorny (brutish) barren branches, beckoning. We would grab at them hungrily yet learning to bridle our enthusiasm and greed with the first bite of barb. A bit of blood. Then reaching in cautiously to pluck each berry and dropping them into our basket.

 We picked those blackberries eagerly imagining the pies that we would bake. But behold, these blackberries were hard, tiny things, all bumps and hardness that stuck in the teeth. We would pop a few in our mouths, bite and suck out the bit of flavorful juice but that was all these berries were worth. Bamboozled. Betrayed by beauty.

 Years later, a beautiful, breezy summer day, a country walk through fields and what do we spy but blackberries! Not hard little things but plump beauties, juicy and tender blackberries glistening like black baubles among the lush greenery. Lips, fingers stained black. A dusting of powdered sugar, white on black, like snow on charcoal.

 Standing in the kitchen on a blustery day. Staring out the window as the rain slithers down the pane and the world is a blur. A film of gloom, a mist clings to the glass as my eyes strain to catch movement, color outside, to little avail. Everything is a blur. Rain. People scurry by down in the street below and I see them swimming by, streaks of color wash across the sidewalk, the tram a smear of silver.

 A misty morning, the fog covers the countryside, damp clings to my skin, my hair, the ground, my shoes squelch, I am swallowed up by a fog that swallows up buildings, humans, the little I can see into a shroud, a blur of white. Ghosts dance on the horizon, trees, their bare branches stretched heavenwards like arms held high, swaying in the wind, movement, phantoms in the gray obscurity. Headlights poke through the fog suddenly and flash past, blindingly bright for a mere second, with barely a whisper, sounds muffled in the cotton clouds. Everything else is a blur.

 Or maybe it is just tears that blur the world around me. Soft and indistinct. Tears of pain, tears of laughter, the world is a blur, oblivious.

 I lift the lid of the pot and a geyser of steam assails me, blast, blitz. Eyeglasses fog and the world is a blur. I stare down into the pot bubble bubble and can’t for the life of me see what is down there behind the veil of vapor, the haze, and I wait for it to clear. I pull open the oven door and am enveloped in brume. I blink, trying to clear my vision but it is all a blur. Bedazzled. Squinting at labels, directions printed on packages, lists of ingredients, and it is all a blur. When oh when did this happen?

 Old eyes, blurred photos. Old black and white snapshots edged in white are faded with time yet captured a family in blurry shades of gray a lifetime ago. Someone held the camera with a shaky hand, excited by the moment; children squiggle and squirm and just won’t stand still so out of focus, forever a blur. Or maybe it is my old eyes squinting, searching for detail in the vagueness, voices in the silence. The past is all a blur.

 Life passes in a blur, a lifetime of meals cooked and eaten, remembered or forgotten. Life passes in a blur, one day you are young, eating peanut butter sandwiches in the front yard with your kid brother, the next you are preparing peanut butter sandwiches for your sons. One day your sons are cooking for you, blanquette de veau and boudin blanc and moules frites and they are all grown up. And I watch them, men now, cooking together for us and suddenly they are a blur….

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Monday, September 7, 2015


 Plated Stories has always been about inspiration, creativity, experimenting with the interplay between text and image, with food as muse. After a summer hiatus, we take off in a new direction: up until this post, the texts and the photographs had been conceived and created independently, with no interaction before posting, only inspired by the same theme, a way to see how one theme inspires words and images separately and how the energy changes when brought together. We have decided now to play with a wider palette of inspiration by interacting during the process: alternating posts, Ilva's photos will be inspired by Jamie's texts or Jamie's texts will be inspired by Ilva's photos; the inspiration can come from memories, words, the image itself, inspiration and creativity are 'free birds' to be caught in flight and we intend to continue to do just that. The starting point? A letter of the alphabet. Some posts will have a recipe, some will not.

« Apricots » she said as she handed me the bulging brown paper bag. I shifted awkwardly, uncomfortably in the much-too narrow bed trying oh-so hard to find a position that wasn’t painful and accepted the gift with pleasure. My mother- and father-in-law had driven all the way across Paris from the suburbs at the diametrically opposite side of the city to see the new baby, their third grandson. And she had brought me a gift of apricots. 

 Amazement. Those apricots were like none I had ever seen before. They were the size and shape of avocados, of those elegant artichokes the color of jade tinged with aubergine. Apricots the color of bridesmaids gowns, a soft, pale orange of creamsicles. The perfume was exquisite, escaping aromatically from the bag as I peeled back the paper. And the flavor was astonishing. Maybe I in my hazy state, alone in that hospital room with nothing to do all day, for seven days, except watch an angel sleep, maybe I in my bored and bewildered condition maybe the flavor of those apricots was exaggerated in my mind. But I think not. They were ambrosial. 

 Absurd. My mother-in-law made her pastry from scratch, pushing squishy, damp dough across the glass pie plate with her fingers, pressing it into the corners and up the undulating, fluted sides. Yet she used canned apricots, pouring off the heavy syrup, pressing perfect, regular, homogeneous, identical half apricot rounds into the pastry, hollow side down. Dusting it with crystallized brown sugar and pushing it into the oven, it was the best thing eaten on a Sunday afternoon on the terrace in the country.


 Animal crackers in my soup…. Monkies and rabbits loop the loop….

 Alphabet Soup Animal Crackers American cheese toasted between two slices of buttered white. A my name is Albert and I live in Alabama, my wife’s name is Alice and we sell Apples. A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. Abracadabra. Alice in Wonderland.  Afternoons baking cookies with any adult will do. A child’s life.

 How to eat an animal cracker. Head first, body first? Swirl the spoon around the bowl of alphabet soup and pick out the letters (don’t use your fingers the soup’s hot!). J. A. M. I. E. Fish them out only five of them and line them up on the plate to save for last. Floating animal crackers in a bowl of alphabet soup.

 Caramel apples Candy apples Bobbing for apples Apple fritters Apple cider

 An autumn afternoon. There is autumn in the air although an August afternoon when the days should be arid, fiery and airless. The evenings sultry, sticky, the windows thrown open to catch what breeze a summer night affords. Yet, here it is as autumn, cool and agreeable, luring us outdoors.

 I have always loved autumn. It is the sentimental season; we ache for something just out of reach, something illusory, nostalgic. It must be the odd light, unquantifiable, ambiguous, that filters through the trees as they flutter and fade to gold. Autumn is a season both exhilarating and melancholy. And I dream of aspirations, I think of people I have lost. I dream arduous dreams. Angst.

 And autumn is the season of abundance. My countertop is piled high with end-of-summer tomatoes of the deepest red streaked with orange, smudged with amber. Zucchini, courgettes, fat and awkward, bundles of green beans, rolled in newspaper are a garden gift from a neighbor. Acts of kindness. A garden a jungle of vines heavy with bunches of green grapes blushing purple, a hint of what’s to come. Tree branches weighted down by kiwis like teardrops. Rows resplendent with tremendous heads of lettuce astounding in size and number! Beds of beans, peppers, eggplant, and cabbage are lined with delicate tendrils of chives, feathery tufts of parsley, clusters of mint, ours for the taking. Pumpkins of varying shades of orange nestled in the green plants lie placidly, growing ever larger, drinking in the sunshine of summer turned autumn much too soon.

 Apple pie Apple compote Apple clafoutis Apple tart Baked apples with cinnamon sugar Apple strudel warm from the oven


African Adventure!

 Some children are born for adventure, have it in their blood, jump into new undertakings with both feet, laughing out loud. My firstborn son was such a child, courageous and curious. Happily dipping into a ditch, river or lake with both hands, a net or a fishing rod, buckets of snails or tadpoles or frogs found their way back home. Ever fearless, he tromped through woods, fields, beaches looking for animals, treasures, mushrooms, waltzed through museums and monuments asking questions, flitted up dizzying tower staircases, boarded airplanes all alone which would take him flying off to far-away lands when he was all but a tot, surrounded by strangers. And at ten, he and his father giddily prepared their backpacks for their newest adventure, a trekking holiday through an African desert. 

 They spent a glorious week in hiking boots, kicking up sand, days under the burning sun, nights tucked up in sleeping bags under the inky star-lit sky. Huge communal tents were set up for lunches and dinners, two gentlemen preparing tagines and couscous, salads and fruits, fresh breads to see them through the days, son ate greedily, joyfully, and turned nothing down. The boy was in his element, buoyant and excited, rolling down hills, sliding down mountains on the seat of his pants, running instead of walking, always twenty-five paces ahead of his father. Our little explorer could have extended his adventure for an added week and he would not have flinched. He lived every single moment to the fullest in great pleasure and delight.

 Two final days in Marrakech, they stayed in tiny hostels, a place to stash their luggage and lay their heads at night. The days were spent exploring the city, the markets, the sights, sounds, odors and flavors of Morocco. For their very first meal in Morocco together alone, an adventurous eater, son ordered a chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives. A big, bold order for such a young man, a meal bursting with flavors, salty, tangy, exciting! But he had always been a bold eater, afraid of nothing. Driven by his passion for eating, an adventurous spirit, his curiosity, he ordered this new dish. And fell in love with it. And for those several days, both before and after the hike, every mealtime found him ordering the same dish, Tagine de Poulet aux Citrons Confits et Olives – Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives. A dish now redolent with nostalgia and adventure.

 All grown up, he has traveled far and wide, Asia and Africa, and America, crossing countries on foot, on motor scooters, on wooden flat boats, and public trains and buses. And he has eaten boldly, adventurously, snake and dog and mice, eels, alligator. He has shared meals with groups of strangers on buses and beaches and under tents. But after all, he learned from the best, his parents eating adventurously in Africa, too. Road kill and bowls of warm walnut oil, local dishes and home-cooked dishes, in trains and buses and fields and deserts.

 Addicted to Adventure, his bags are packed and off he goes again. Another African Adventure.

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Monday, May 25, 2015


Still Life 

 The afternoons here are dead still, silent except for the chirping of the fat blackbirds, the constant drone of the dryer filtering through the open laundry room door, muffled and distant, white noise in this still afternoon. Sometimes the chatter of school children breaks the stillness and then dies away again as they scurry through town. I sit on the terrace, quite alone, for the terrace is quiet and still at this time of day, after the breakfast rush, before the drinks hour. I sit facing the sun and turn my body towards the heat like a sunflower. 

 My mind wanders, a rare pleasure and one that I only do when things are this still. Ideas push each other around like teens at a concert vying for space, memories elbow in sometimes disturbing the stillness, thoughts of my brother, cooking with him throughout the years. Chili for my sons and big pots of chicken soup, my very first Brussel sprouts, tasty and tender under his silent yet pointed guidance after the disease had taken away his voice, the kitchen still and much too silent. I cooked with him as I took care of him, ill yet my big brother still. 

 The loss of him is still with me, deeper than these memories. I think of him often in the stillness of day, in the still of the night.


Still Waters Run Deep

 I wonder if I stand very still, if I still my breathing, my nose pressed to the warm oven door, will I be able to see the cake rise, the pudding set? Or does it happen suddenly without anyone noticing? Can one spot the moment water passes from still to bubbling?

 I have always preferred still water to fizzy, sparkling, carbonated, effervescent. Flat water, they call it in Europe, as flat as a lake on a still summer day, no movement but the occasional, gentle flutter of water, as a dragonfly skimming the surface. Carbonated water tastes of Miami Beach old folks’ homes in the 1960’s all chilled gefilte fish and borscht, poppy seed Kaiser rolls and salty water reminding me of the beach. Sparkling water, as elegant as it is, has no charm for me, tickling my nose, making me burp, increasing my thirst for the saltiness.

Be Still My Heart

 Hotel breakfasts. Breakfast is one reason that I have always liked sleeping in hotels. One walks into the dining room and is greeted by the heady scent, the marvelous earthy fragrance of coffee brewing. Somehow, hotel coffee smells differently than coffee prepared at home. Buffet tables with the perfect cornucopia of carbs, croissants or bagels, donuts galore, tiny bite-sized pains au chocolat! I order a coffee with hot milk, please, and savor the pleasure, the calm morning stretching out before me as I partake of that hotel breakfast, someone else serving me, someone else clearing up. Oblivious to all activity around me, I sit quite still and focus on what is in front of me, coffee and croissant and husband.

 Now I am on the other side of the buffet, the one plugging in the coffee pot and placing baskets of croissants and brioche on the tables. Ten, twenty, thirty or twice that number arriving by ones, twos, threes, or fours, in droves, it seems, eyes searching for free seats. Guests such as I used to be breathing in the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee, gasping for coffee, asking for refills. Or pots of tea, pots and pots of tea, and baskets of bread in a constant flow. The rhythm of breakfast increases from slow dance to waltz to jazz, tempo upbeat. From stillness to swingtime.

 And this is when I find myself on the edge of panic. Be still my heart.

 Pause. I must remain still and calm for breakfast to pass smoothly, as smoothly as the thick, liquid honey that is drizzled over slices of goat cheese.

 Breakfast is anything but still. I relish the moments before breakfast begins when the morning outside is still, no movement in any of the rooms, no lights lit, when the city around us is still, deathly still, the dawn creeping up over the buildings, the dining room dark and quiet but for the crackling fire. Stillness.

 And breakfast will never be the same.

(I Love You) Still

 I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives as much as if we had never married at all. - Lord Byron

 It has been close to thirty years since we met and married and had a child. In that order. And we are still together. Funny, that. I look at him across the table, or across the room, or as he slips into sleep, keeping very, very still so he doesn’t perceive me studying him, and wonder at this togetherness. He once offered me a ring, a thin silver band that I still keep every single day and night on my finger nestled behind my wedding band that says “toujours”. Which translates as always, forever, or still. Toujours. Always, forever, still, as if these three words held the same meaning.

 And my heart still beats the same for him. Together, still.

He sings to me:
Still as the stars 
In the heavens above 
And slowly blossoming 
As a new found love 
Still as the night 
Still still the birds gently sing 
And soft as the wind 
That carries them on their wings


 My uncle (I think) once told me that my grandmother made bathtub gin during prohibition. Not quite a still churning out moonshine but something like it. I am trying to imagine this, my grandma in her old house, old bathroom, making gin in that old claw-footed tub while my grandpa, learned man, oblivious to most things around him when focused on his books, studying. He probably so still and silent in one room of the house, she in the bathroom making hootch without the still.

 Urban legend, family legends that still seem to stick around for generations, no one having had the gumption to ask grandma for the truth while she was still with us. But stories like this add spice to a family’s history.

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Monday, May 11, 2015


Table for Two

 He always said that I was enough for him. No, to be precise what he said was that the two of us was enough for him. “I’ve led a pretty wild life; I’ve done everything imaginable and now I am ready to settle down. I’d like to do that with you.” Being newly two, it was all very exciting, very romantic, extremely time consuming and fulfilling and I needed little more than just being two.

 His meaning was clear to me from the beginning. We would always be two, like an island, two as a single, closed unit. And two in the kitchen, one cooks, one washes up. One cooks, one bakes. One makes the main, one brings the dessert.

 A table for two. We sit facing one another, a hand stretched across the table, fingers lightly resting on the back of the other’s hand, hands pulled back sharply as the waiter approaches and begins to pour the wine. “Who will be tasting the wine tonight?” and I always nod towards my husband. Two dishes meant to be shared, and although he allows me to taste his he never tastes mine. One dessert, two spoons. Always.

Terrible Twos

 Plated Stories has turned two. So much has happened in two years, so quickly the time shoots by. One hundred blog posts, two workshops and one conference presentation, awards and nominations. We began Plated Stories on a hunch, on a whim, with the desire to create something different, a food blog that doesn’t simply feature, glorify the food we place on the table, the dishes we eat, but one that celebrates, that explores our total experience, at once very personal and very universal, of food, physically, emotionally, nostalgically, sensually. When you pick up a fork, when you ogle an orange, when you close your eyes and smell, taste, touch an ingredient, when you stand at your counter and whisk or crack an egg sharply against the side of a bowl, where does it take you? What do you think of?

 Two years of working together, the work sometimes work but more often than not play, in an attempt to continuously find creative, artistic inspiration, grasping at that inspiration and channeling it elsewhere in our lives. Plated Stories, two years of playing together on this playground. Jungle gym, teeter-totter, swing, slide. Up and down, back and forth. Side by side. The two of us.

 Two years of our readers inspiring us, encouraging us, giving us ideas. What will the next two years bring? A change of mood, a change of direction. We’d like to be a little bit terrible.

And Then We Were Two

 There were four of us, two girls, two boys, yet isn’t it always rather natural that four divides into two sets of two? One would think that quite naturally we would divide into two boys and two girls, or the two elder and the two younger but it was never like that. My older sister paired off, became two with our youngest brother and I became one of two with the older of the two boys. Two and two. Often two against two. We would sit at the dinner table face to face and face off, the two of us on one side, the two of them on the other and our parents, one at each end of the rectangular table like bookends. And as we ate dinner, because we were four happy eaters, we would try and outstare the other two, making discreet grimaces and signs invisible to the parents, just to make the other two burst into an angry fit or burst into tears. But all in good fun because we would be joyously giggling all the while. Well, two of us would be.

 There were four of us, four woman working together and wouldn’t you know it but a natural affinity grew in twos like rose bushes gently intertwining, each pair on a different side of the garden. And so we paired off, two by two, like we did when we were kids, the Buddy System. And off we marched in our own direction and our two became one, working together, teaching together, blogging together. Two just seems to work so well together; two opinions, two visions become so easily one.

 Like a best friend, always in on the secret.

Tea for Two

 Muffins tins march along two by two, always an even number, divisible by two! Two layer cake pans in each size for just the right size layer cake, two. Poptarts two by two, pairs nestled snugly in foil packets, just the right snack for me as a kid, whether cherry (unfrosted) or chocolate fudge (frosted, of course).

 Why do cans of chopped tomatoes or sliced mushrooms, cans of corn for salads in the summertime come in three?

 And then there are the pairs, the foods that are just better when they come in two, with their Best Buddy: peanut butter and banana together on toast (you thought I would say peanut butter and jelly?), bacon and eggs, fish and chips, macaroni and cheese. Burger and fries! Cake and ice cream, franks and beans.

 Yes, both milk and sugar in my coffee, two turning something dark and bitter into a sweet treat. Two scoops of ice cream, coffee and chocolate.

 Mustard and ketchup, salt and pepper, soup and salad, lettuce and tomato, does one ever appear without the other? Two rolls so gently off of the tongue, naturally.

Two, Too

 We had one son before we had been married two years and then we were three. Three changes so much that two didn’t have, our house became a home. And we would take turns carrying him in his pouch, close to our chests, or pushing him in his stroller. His turn then my turn, feeding, bathing, dressing, carrying him to the babysitter. Life changes when you are two and become three, when one is added to the mix.

 Two years later we had another son and something changed, once again, our world was jostled by that second son and then we were four. And four became a family. And then we each had one son, two of them, two of us. We each had one son to carry, to feed to bathe and dress, handing each son back and forth, taking turns but never again empty handed.

2 + 2 = 1

Monday, April 27, 2015


 How does one find inspiration in the ho hum of everyday? Cooking, creating, living, I often find my brain as blank as the slate in front of me, the white sheet of paper, the expanse of kitchen counter, the depths of the refrigerator. I search for what will motivate me to write. Or cook. Something to ignite a spark, an idea like the flash of a bulb over my head aha! Eureka!

 Oooh how easy to flop onto the sofa with a book or the television control in my grip. Or slip into the kitchen not to cook or bake but rather to indulge, a slice of cake, a cup of coffee and just my thoughts. Or lack of them. I luxuriate too often (don’t we all?) in the lack of inspiration, a mixture of self-pity and procrastination. It gives me the excuse not to try. Frozen pizza? Dinner. A writing project? Facebook.

 Finding new ideas in a world inundated with extraordinary visions and a dizzying plethora of images; finding new ways to express myself when the same memories keep popping up in my head, the comfort and ease of returning over and over again to the same words, the same stories. Trying to be unique, to stand out while retaining my own voice, trying to be original in spite of the sameness of my days. Simply looking for inspiration to move ahead.

 I flip through magazines, reading bylines, looking at pictures. I read books, the wit of Dickens, the wisdom of Austen, the whimsy of another, the magical language of many. And something ticks something off in my head. An idea. A word. A thought, ever so flimsy and insubstantial, sometimes solid and tangible. Even something bad, whether experience or writing, a book I have read that is mediocre, a magazine article filled with everything that I tell my students to avoid, a really bad morning, does inspire, gives me an anecdote, or provokes me to work harder, try harder, to sit down and write dammit!

 I surround myself with inspiration. I surround myself with people who inspire me, quietly, subtly, without meaning to, without knowing what effect they are having on me. They share their schedules and their projects, we kick ideas back and forth. What are you working on? Where can I take this idea? I don’t know where to start. Inspiration is found in the tiniest detail, ever so tenuous at first, until ideas are batted around, words knocked out and scratched into a notebook, bathed in inspiration. I watch, I listen, I ask questions.

 A workshop. Women around a table looking at me for inspiration (yet do they know that they themselves, each one of them is a shining light?). Women troubled by their writing, not good enough, not strong enough, not individual enough, not personal enough. Women who have boxed themselves in by their own expectations and imagined constraints. Women under the influence. Of my own words and process. A Plated Stories Workshop is meant to kick start creativity, open doors to new ideas and provoke unaccustomed ways of approaching one’s writing. Instill confidence, which is the first step to finding inspiration. They are more talented than they have yet to realize.

 Chairs are dragged from one room to the next, from meal to work and back to meal. Stepping around a small black and white dog determined to snatch edible props. All the while chattering about writing, about photography, about inspiration. I explain that one person’s cumbersome busywork is another person’s creative process, that it is all how you look at it, how you define it. She pushes them to try new ways of setting up and styling a shot, daring to shoot in the dark, challenging each with a different theme, a different style imposed. Tiny speckled quail eggs, bright green peas, turnips the color of the peonies in the garden, a splay of green shooting from their tops. I send them into medieval Chinon to capture their impressions in words rather than with a camera, we head to Château de Rivau where she instructs them to find something that inspires the perfect shot. Anything goes, from the swaggering, splendid peacock to the garden gnomes. Open your imagination to the unexpected and to the often-overlooked.

 And we are inspired. Emotional, intelligent exchange and discussion and seeing what each is truly able to do on her own, on our own, their incredible work, has inspired the two of us and we are energized. Plated Stories has always existed as a place where we can do as we feel, as we please with neither rules nor constraints, be inspired by whatever the theme provokes while using our work here as a way to inspire us in our other projects, a place to play when everything else seems like work. After being so inspired and motivated after this creatively enriching Plated Stories Workshop, we might just kick it up a bit and take it in a new direction.

 Inspiration. Illumination.

Thank you to our magnificent workshop participants Paola Thomas, Michaela Brandl, Renee Iseson, Stacey Wickman, Cornelia Valthe, Lora Wiley. Thank you to D’Arcy and Sebastien Du Petit Thouars of Château du Petit Thouars winery for generously supplying us with a selection of their wonderful award-winning wines. Thank you to Caroline and Patricia Laigneau for inviting us for an astonishing morning at Château du Rivau.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Think Green

 No, not Saint Patrick’s Day, although that is what you are thinking. I have never been one to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, no green beer, no green food, no parades for me. Although when I was in fourth grade I wore my Girl Scout’s uniform to school, green head to toe, on March 17 simply because it was the only green clothing I owned, simply to avoid spending the day being pinched for not wearing that most Irish of colors.

 Think green. Easter and Passover, the herald of spring. Trees sprout green finery, green bijoux, the garden overflows with green. A multitude, a brood of tiny yellow chicks stand knee deep in bright green grass, neon yellow fluff, prickly green plastic. Tiny baskets bursting with clouds of shiny green cellophane, a bundle of glossy green strips redolent of spring, art imitating life, in which multicolored aluminum-wrapped eggs snuggle, the colors of spring. Eggs nestled in green, painted like jewels, like candy, gaudy eggs hidden in the green grass, subterfuge, camouflage. Like picking strawberries ensconced in green. Passover greens, bitter and sweet, celery, parsley or lettuce to be dipped into salt water representing the tears of the slaves that we once were, yet the dipping process symbolizing hope and redemption. Rebirth. Green.

 Winter green, hale and hardy, kale and chard and spinach, makes way for spring green, delicate and tender, lettuces speckled with drops of water, bouquets of feathery herbs, fennel and chervil, plump, meaty basil just begging to be turned into fragrant pesto, parsley, both flat leaf and curly like a frizzy afro. Long slender shafts of chive tasting of onion and garlic but not quite; gathered in delicate, flimsy bunches they droop elegantly and wave back and forth. Great sea green artichoke bulbs and smaller, more elliptical artichokes in forest green edged in deep violet, both so aggressive with their tough green skins and prickly, thorny tips yet are so tender when eaten, cooked a paler shade of green. We shift our tastes, our ideas, our recipes, from winter to spring, and now brighten the green with salty feta and sweet tomatoes, bits of pretty violet shallots so sharp, spring green.

 Winter green, huge heads of green cabbage that we turn into pot au feu, long, slow simmering with meat and root vegetables until the bright green dulls to greenish-gray, sage green. There is nothing more comforting, more satisfying, than dipping my spoon into well-boiled green cabbage, scoop it up and slip it into my mouth where it melts on my tongue. A dull grayish-green that is warming. And spring green? Mouthfuls of lamb’s lettuce, long thin fingers of just-boiled green asparagus, buttered, under a shower of Parmesan, leeks served barely warm, white and green, in a puddle of chilled, tart vinaigrette. Now bright French green peas, so sweet, color tagine and risotto with green polka dots. Dusted with flecks of bright green coriander.

The Wearing of the Green

 My father used to make us great big bowls of pistachio pudding to be eaten stuffed into great fat choux or topped with dollops of whipped cream. That pistachio pudding was the color of leprechaun coats and the Jolly Green Giant. The color of store-bought pistachios. Mint chocolate chip ice cream was such an unbelievable color of green but I never liked the flavor anyway. I would honestly have rather eaten spinach.

 We were, in fact, happy eaters all four of us. Seated around the dinner table two by two we would gobble down whatever vegetable was put in front of us (my mother’s liver and onions and cabbage soup was another story). Canned spinach or broccoli would incite games and we’d be off, piling our plates high with green! Who could eat the most spinach would be Popeye for the day! Broccoli spears would become tiny little trees gobbled up by giants! Peas would be picked out of the pile of mushy canned peas and carrots, those carrots cut in perfect cubes pushed to the side of the plate. So not green. The peas pushed onto the tines of the fork for eating. Fried green tomatoes. Long stalks of celery, the hollow pale green trench filled with cream cheese or peanut butter and even if the celery had an odd, far-away bitter taste, flat and watery, the flavor of green, it was an excellent recipient for the stronger flavor of either cream cheese or peanut butter and how adult, bite into the celery (filament catching in between teeth) with a loud, satisfying crunch and I always felt so adult, pretending that I was at a cocktail party nibbling on hors d’oeuvres. A stalk of celery green against the deep orange red of a Bloody Mary, a single green olive glistening in a martini.

 But I hated the color green. As much as I loved to eat green I loathed it as a color. My hatred of the Girl Scouts may have had as much to do with the color of the uniform (or being forced to wear any uniform at all) as the activities. But every Tuesday I would don that green uniform – after school. I would never wear it to school as my sister did, proud as she was to be a Scout, I was embarrassed to be seen wearing the green. And head off to the weekly Girl Scout meeting, despondently. And one day, I must have been in junior high school (as my sister was off to college and I no longer had to share the bedroom with her) and my brother and mother decided to redecorate my bedroom without me. And they dressed it all in green. And not a lovely green the color of oceans or jade, not the faded, mysterious color of sea glass (perfectly rubbed to a smooth smoky green), not evergreen or turquoise green or moss green or emerald green. No. A flat, ugly Kelly green. Green and white gingham curtains, lampshades and pillows. An ugly green bedspread. Ugly it was and I could never understand why they decided on green.

Green Thumb

 I married into a family that spent afternoons discussing trees and plants, their language littered with the correct plant names, both common and scientific. Greenery, verdure, their passion. Those discussion would last hours. What they had planted and what they will plant. What’s growing in the neighbor’s garden, what is sprouting in their own, what they spied along the pathway through the village during a morning walk. They read books on plants, encyclopedias and dictionaries; they have collections of old botany tomes and almanacs, piles of copies of Rustica magazine. I, on the other hand, don’t know from green. A walk through the garden or down a country path and I’m looking for something to eat, berries or mushrooms or cherries on the tree; a stroll through the woods and I’m simply on a search for the perfect picnic spot. As far as greenery goes, if it isn’t greens – chard and kale, spinach and cabbage, romaine and lamb’s lettuce – I am rather a greenhorn. Although husband teases me for being green where greenery is concerned, I can indeed name some beyond the rose bush. I love gardenias and my parents had two beautiful bushes bordering our tiny strip of Florida front porch. Fat, succulent leaves a deep forest green surrounding lush white petals, heady with perfume. Gorgeous hibiscus flowers framed every doorway on the block, their luscious petals in all of their magnificent, ostentatious glory strutting and tumbling down paths in bright yellows, pinks and oranges against a background of green. Bougainvillea and rhododendron, all of those hardy, brilliant, colorful plants, green dotted with magenta, violet, red, or green palm fronds fanning lazily in the ocean breeze, or fat jumbo watermelons sitting placidly, green among the green, beauties basking in the hot Florida sun.

 But ask me to think green, hand me a trowel and turn me in the direction of the dirt and all is lost. I walk into a room and just look at a potted plant and it withers and wilts. Green to brown. Vases of flowers curl up in the fetal position to protect themselves, petals strewn across the tabletop, green leaves drooping pitifully. No green thumb, I am quite the contraire, a Plant Serial Killer. If it is green it will run screaming from me, grab onto my husband’s pant leg and beg for help, drag themselves towards the door trailing green leaves and bits of dirt, every man – or plant – for himself. My thumb, for all intents and purposes, is black.

 Yet my charming, talented better half is all green thumbs. He is a magician when it comes to growing things green, like an elf out of a fairy tale leaping from mushroom to fern to daffodil to mound of moss through the lush, green forest or dancing through some hidden garden at night, watering can in hand, leaving behind him a trail of silvery leaves and dew-kissed buds. All is green at his touch. Darling husband, keeper of all things green, created a magnificent veil of ivy green, a forest of green plants, on our terrace in Italy, recreated gardens around houses we have rented that had been disregarded and abandoned, has more than once swept me off to a nursery after settling into a new home and bought what to create a lovely little kitchen garden. Basil and rosemary, chives and mint and throw in a pot of thyme. Once home, spade in hand, digging down into the rich, dark, earthy soil, lovingly patting it down around each tiny green plant, he hangs them outside my kitchen window where I simply need to turn the handle and pull, touch the delicate, tender green leaves and choose. For, after all, green to me is for snipping, chopping, stirring, simmering, cooking.

 And when the basil leaves are plump and flavorful, when the rosemary is fragrant, the tiny moss green thyme leaves are tender, my fingers dance through their soft summer field of green, feeling like a little garden gnome, and pinch off leaf after luxurious leaf, heaping them up on my kitchen table, knowing just what they were destined for.

Green-Eyed Monster

 Ah, yes, I have mentioned my finicky, persnickety son Simon before, haven’t I? When speaking of food it is difficult to avoid speaking about Simon. Simple Simon he was and still is where it comes to food. My son’s mortal enemy, his nemesis where food is concerned is green. Flecks of green in a tender, moist, sweet, cake-like zucchini bread. He pushes it away, face crumpled into the worst kind of grimace, and he accuses me of treachery, trickery, dishonesty, cheating him like a conman luring him to play the shell game on some street corner, slipping him something green. He leans over the counter and peers into whatever is simmering on the stovetop as I am stirring and asks what weird things I have put into it. Read green. Zucchini, green beans, green pepper, peas, no matter how minuscule the mince or dice, all constitute weird things that I have slipped purposely into the food, secreted them in to force him to eat green unwittingly. He makes me livid green.

 Yet he loves green olives. He eats green olives like other kids eat candy. Any kind of green olives, salty or spicy, stuffed with dots of red pepper, sliced into pasta sauce, scattered across pizza. The only form in which Simon eats green.

 When he was small, I would place a scoop of bright-green steamed broccoli on his plate and before he could complain, before he could protest and say that he doesn’t eat green, I would shower down freshly grated Parmesan cheese, his favorite thing, and beg him to try. And he would suffer through the green in order to eat the cheese. Older, I discovered that spanikopita, layers of filo dough, crisp and tender and buttery, stuffed with loads of spinach, a dark field of green, would be eaten for the feta, salty, tangy, white as white feta, his other favorite thing, and I smiled to myself that I had indeed gotten him to eat green.

It has always annoyed me to throw away all the discarded trimmings when cleaning vegetables; it is such a waste of goodness! so now and then I keep it and use it for soups or purées. Pea pods for example, it is a perfect base for a soup although you need to make a little extra effort to get rid of all the fibrous strings but apart from that, pods are easy peasy to cook and above all eat!


The leftover pea pods of 1 kg/ 2,2 lb fresh green peas
1 small leek
4 medium potatoes
1 l/ 4,2 cups water or light stock
as much fresh mint as you want
a few tbs of fresh cream, optional
extra-virgin olive oil

   Slice the leek and cook slowly in a little olive oil in a pot. Rinse the pea pods well and take away the hardest parts, cut into large pieces and add to the leek. Peel the potatoes, slice and add them and the liquid to the pot. If you use water, season with salt.

   Leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes. When it is ready, blitz the soup and the fresh mint leaves in a mixer until smooth and then pour the soup through a sieve (not too finely meshed) into a pot or bowl and with the back of a spoon press the remaining fibers to extract as much of the soup as possible. Heat up, add fresh cream and season the soup to your taste. 

Monday, March 23, 2015


Pied Piper

 I have always dreamed of being a master piper. Pied Piper. Although I inherited my father’s piping tools, the pastry bag, now yellowed and stiff, and the many tips, somewhat tarnished and dented, I have never had the patience or the steady hand to pipe as he did. Swirls and squiggles, elegant roses or one’s very own name piped across the surface of a cake, pink or red or blue against the very white of the frosting. Happy Birthday Piping green leaves; press the tip just under the rose, squeeze, lift and pull. Piping edges around the cake, top and bottom, piping sweet frosting shells or rosettes, zigzags or beads. Or swags of buttercream all around the sides, dotted with pearls.

 I pipe out rounds of thick, creamy batter for perfectly round macaron shells. I pipe out choux dough for long, smooth éclairs. Hold the filled pastry bag at just the right angle, nose down, one hand supporting and guiding the pouch and the tip, the other hand gently, gently applying pressure, even and subtle, knowing just when to ease up, a sharp flick of the wrist and it’s done. Piping row upon row of meringue; meringue stars, meringue mounds, long, narrow tubes of meringue, gives me no trouble at all. On the contrary, I love piping, pushing out batter, dough and meringue from a pastry bag and I am pretty darn good at it.

 But I have tried my hand at piping frosting, buttercream or ganache, and have failed. Oh, I can make star shapes with the star tip, plop plop plop, a piping basic, fancy in its way, but not a lot more. I pipe and although my choux and my macarons are expert, perfectly piped, I cannot for the life of me pipe anything in buttercream but a mess. Scrape it off or smear it in and finally just give up.

Piping Hot

 Morning coffee, mugs of tea. Soup. I have an odd predilection. I need my hot drinks, my hot liquids piping hot. Pop a mug of something (morning café au lait reheated and ten and again at four, a bowl of soup from the refrigerator or a box for a solo lunch at noon) and zap on high. Heat.

 I was once told that my great-grandfather, an aged gentleman, educated, once wealthy then down on his luck, a man who never had the chance to leave his native Russia yet sent his son and then his daughters one by one, had this same idiosyncrasy, this same compulsion; he drank cup after cup of piping hot, boiling hot tea.

 All winter long I bathe in piping hot water. Like my coffee, my tea, and my soup, I need, I require my bath water to be piping hot. Submerge my body bit by bit (for it is blazing, scorching, steaming) down into the bath water, until I am under the piping hot water, under a thick layer of bubbles, up to my neck. And when the temperature dips ever so slightly, out I climb, skin slick and pink like a newborn.

 I am a woman of extremes.

Wedding cake: Pipe Dreams

 It was going to be a small wedding, a quick dash to City Hall, appear before the mayor, sign the documents and leave. Head home to a small, intimate celebration. A family affair and no more. We were as poor as church mice and even if we had wanted a fancy do, well, we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. But it made no difference because we weren’t that sort of couple. Duck into City Hall, tie the knot and that was all we desired. But we had to have his family and he had invited a few friends and we were twelve in all. He found an old suit in a pawnshop for which he traded a clarinet, owner unknown. Good old fashioned bartering. I purchased a few odds and ends in white and blue and his sister created my bouquet.

 All that was left was the cake. I made two. But one, a dense, dark, gooey chocolate cake, sinful as can be, would be layered and frosted with a heavenly cognac buttercream that I would make in my soon-to-be mother-in-law’s kitchen, piping on perfect flourishes I had imagined in my head, swirls and curlicues and flowers. It was nearing the end of July, a scorching July, sweltering, torrid, piping hot summer. The windows were thrown open but little air entered that long, narrow kitchen. The heat of the July afternoon was compounded by the heat of the oven as I baked my wedding cakes, increased by the heat of the stove as we prepared a wedding meal.

 Cakes cooled, I proceeded to the buttercream, my hopes, my vision soaring somewhere slightly above my aspirations where the wedding itself was concerned. This was going to be the wedding cake to end all wedding cakes. A drop dead gorgeous wedding cake. I beat the eggs and sugar over a flame and the sweat began to drip down my body, beads of sweat gathered on my brow as the temperatures climbed. I tossed in butter, cube by cube, whipping that buttercream until elegant ribbons spiraled and fell from my beaters. I added espresso and cognac and then I noticed that the buttercream was melting as I was melting in the afternoon heat.

 I frosted the cake, now working as quickly as I could. I spooned cognac buttercream into my pastry bag and began piping. The buttercream began to weep like damsels crying over lost love. It became sloppy, melting and separating faster than I could pipe it onto the surface of the cake, puddles of cognac appearing from within the depths of that buttercream, refusing to blend back in. Lovely loops and my attempt at piping I don’t remember what (our names? The date? Happy wedding?) were swallowed up in a sloppy sea of buttercream, my piping dissipating into a greasy disarray. What began as velvety frosty and graceful piping for a wedding cake had become a hot mess.

 I gave up, never piping our names on our wedding cake.

Pipe Down.

 The old piping would rattle and vibrate, clatter and jangle, seeming to come to life only at night as the lights were dimmed and the shutters closed, as we slid in between the chilly sheets, under the heavy down quilt. The silence outside magnified the noise coming from the piping within the walls. 

 11 Pipers Piping. Little boys given recorders on the first day of school. Everyone had to learn to pipe, although I never really understood why. Little boys standing in their bedrooms, reluctantly gripping recorders, filling their pipes with air and blowing, halfheartedly piping out tunes. Year in and year out, never piping better one year than the year before. There is still a collection of recorders tucked away in a cardboard box somewhere.

 Pipe up. My specialty was fabric hats, cloches, berets, Borsalinos, baseball caps in cotton, linen or silk, cashmere and wool. Hats all dolled up with feathers and blooms, great big blowsy silk roses or tiny cotton and velvet buds. Sometimes I edged the brims with contrasting fabric and sometimes I added piping. Edging a hat with piping was a complicated affair; well, more fiddly, fussy and time-consuming than difficult. A length of cotton cording, more or less thin, more or less thick, would be tucked inside a length of fabric (cut on the bias), which would be folded over the cording and carefully stitched inside. This band would then be stitched to the outer edge of the unsewn brim. The layers of brim fabric would then be pinned together and then sew together, the needle bobbing up and down up and down flush with the fabric-wrapped cording so when turned right side out the piping would run smoothly and tightly all around the outer edge of the brim et voilà! Piping!

 I grew up watching my father make choux, filling them with chilled pudding in a variety of flavors. Since marrying a Frenchman and raising French sons, I now take my dad’s choux and make them into éclairs. Chocolate éclairs are really the best, but I love topping them with a chocolate ganache with a touch of orange for a twist on the classic chocolate glaze. 


Choux dough:
1/3 cup (80 ml) milk
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
5 Tbs (70 g) unsalted butter
1 large pinch salt
1 Tbs (10 g) granulated white sugar
4/5 cup (100 g) flour
2 large eggs

 Preheat the oven temperature to 300° (150°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment or oven paper.

 Place the milk and water, the butter cut in cubes, the sugar and salt in a pot and heat over high heat. Bring to the boil; allow to boil for about 3 seconds. Remove from the heat and add the flour all at once. Stir to blend and then mix vigorously until it is homogenous. Return the pot to the heat and “dry” the dough by stirring vigorously and cooking for 30 seconds to 1 minute until the dough no longer sticks to either the pot or the spatula. Allow to cool slightly. Lightly beat the eggs then whisk or beat into the dough a little at a time. Add a little more than 2/3 of the egg or as much as just under the full 2 eggs (you should have at least a tablespoon of egg left), and the dough slowly falls off the spoon or spatula when lifted (not too fast).

 Spoon the choux dough into a pastry bag fitted with a plain, 3/4 –inch (20 mm) wide tip. Holding the pastry bag at a 45° angle from the baking sheet, pipe even, regular tubes of dough 5 ½-inches (14 cm) long onto the lined baking sheet, slicing the end away from the tip with a sharp knife; you can also pipe out large mounds for round choux puffs. Leave space all around the choux/éclair dough to allow for puffing and spreading while baking.

 Using your fingertips or a pastry brush, gently rub and coat the éclair dough with the egg, smoothing the shapes as needed. If you want to top the éclairs simply with slivered almonds, sprinkle the éclairs/choux generously with them now, pressing them gently to stick to the egg wash. Bake for about 1 hour until puffed and evenly colored a deep golden. You can prop the oven open slightly the last 5 or 10 minutes of the baking to allow steam to escape. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

Chocolate Pastry Cream:
1 cup (225 ml) + ¼ cup (50 ml), separated
3 oz (80 g) finely chopped semisweet chocolate
2 Tbs cornstarch
6 Tbs (100 g) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter (at room temperature makes it easier)
1 tsp vanilla or half a vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out *
 * If using a half vanilla bean/pod, split the pod down the center and scrape out the seeds. Place both the pod and the seeds and the 1 cup milk in the pot. Remove the pod once the pastry cream is made and before pouring it into a bowl to chill in the refrigerator.

 Bring the ¼ cup (about 50 ml) milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and stir in the 3 ounces (about 80 g) finely chopped semisweet chocolate; mix until smooth. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk; whisk until smooth. Add the sugar to the vanilla and milk in the saucepan. Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook. Add the rest of the hot milk to the egg mixture then return all of it back into the casserole and return to the heat. Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes just to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the melted chocolate, the butter, and vanilla. Pour the pastry cream into a heatproof pyrex or stainless steel bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use, up to 3 days.

Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache:
4 oz (120 g) Dark Chocolate with Orange Zest, finely chopped (or any good quality chocolate)
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
1 tsp unsalted butter

 Place the finely chopped chocolate in a heatproof medium-sized bowl. Bring the cream and the butter just to the boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it comes to the bowl, pour the liquid over the chocolate and allow it to stand for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir until smooth and continue to stir until creamy and thick enough to spread. If needed, chill the mixture until the desired pouring/spreading consistency is reached, stirring occasionally.

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