Monday, June 24, 2013


I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned 
- Bob Dylan 

 A Florida childhood, winters of handpicked citrus, paper grocery bags stuffed to overflowing with grapefruit, oranges, navels and tangerines lined up on dad’s old wooden workbench in the garage. But summer meant stone fruits, my joy, my life source. Peaches and nectarines by the armful, morning noon and night. Juicy flesh in golden yellow or pale pink the color of a maiden’s soft flesh, bleeding red. A tingle of tartness as my teeth push through the taut skin for that first bite. And then sweet, sweet as sugar, I cannot get enough. All summer long.

 Peaches and cream.

 Long, long, interminable drives in the old station wagon every single summer. Twenty four hours packed in the car, mom and dad, four kids and luggage, coolers and games, twenty four hours with the rumble of the engine, vibrations lulling one to sleep, the drone of the All the News All the Time radio in the distance; the same news over and over again in a loop, dad’s choice. I sat in the back-in-the-back, preferring the wide, low space alone, legs spread out in front of me, rather than sitting sandwiched between my battling brother and sister, their game of push-me-pull-you fight for the space meant no room for me. Staring out at the road taken rather than the road to come as it slips away behind us into the forgotten distance. Between games of A My Name is Alice…, My Father Owns a Grocery Store, License Plate Geography, I Spy, how we could entertain ourselves! And the snacks. Cookies, sandwiches, yes, but bags of peaches and nectarines were my travel companions, eaten one after the next. 

 Peaches and nectarines, stone fruits, icy cold from the cooler, I preferred them crispy back then rather than the ripe, soft fruits I enjoy as an adult. Crispy, crunchy like apples, the flesh popping easily off of the pit. Pop the bare pit into one’s mouth and suck out the last hint of flavor.


And it stoned me to my soul 
Stoned me just like goin' home 
And it stoned me 
 – Van Morrison

 A tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice placed on my bedside table by silent hands awoke me each and every morning, a chaser for the bitter daily ritual of quinine. The lusty heat of an African November slipped into the room, the sun as bright as a Florida August. Just the beginning. The gentle morning gave no warning as to what it would become by noon, wooing me into believing that the day would be comfortable, a hint of the autumn I had always been used to at this time of year. I slipped out of bed and glided downstairs to breakfast waiting. Bougainvillea dressed in tropical mauve fluttered outside the windows. A platter of mangoes.

 Evenings. Nigeria. Stoned?

 A newborn baby introduced to the scalding hot July of France. A young mother, exhausted, left alone with her bébé in a hospital room, window sealed tight against the noise of the workmen drilling, hammering, sanding just outside, stifling hot. Three meals a day, worthy of any hospital, followed by hours of quiet boredom. Books are stacked on the bedside table, the lovely little child is asleep in a cot next to the narrow bed. A bottle of water, paperback novels and boxes of whole wheat LU Petit Beurre keep her going, fuel for body, sustenance for the soul.

 Her mother-in-law would come from the other side of Paris to visit and see her grandson and bring her daughter-in-law paper sacks from the family shop filled with apricots. The biggest apricots she had ever seen, like oval baseballs. Yet, sweet, so sweet, the sweetest apricots she had ever eaten, made even sweeter by time and memory.

 We had been married for just three years and our second son was barely weeks old. July was already sizzling hot and steamy. We found it necessary to escape the cement and the walls of the city, bring our tiny children to something green, a place where the elder could run and romp and breath while we sat on lawn chairs, rocking a baby, in the cool breeze. Poor as church mice, we could afford no luxury vacation, no beach resort, no mountain sanctuary. But away we must go. 

 My husband’s parents had just bought an uncomfortable little house outside of Paris, snuggled in a tiny village, just like the picture postcards. We piled into my sister-in-law’s decrepit old deux chevaux, a classic. Top pulled back, hot wind slapping our faces, whipping my hair around my head, we trundled our way out to the country, an hour from Paris, our first family vacation as four. 

 The house was still empty that summer but for bits and pieces of furniture and what was needed to cook. No air conditioned luxury, the windows thrown open afforded a small breeze; awnings pulled down kept us in cool shade, bare feet on chilly marble floors. 

 We spent most of our time out in the wide expanse of lawn when we weren’t driving around the countryside searching out monuments and markets. But the stifling, dizzying temperatures drove us home quickly again, a summer heatwave, back to the green lawn, the tiny plastic pool, the lawn furniture and the fruit. A tremendous cherry tree stood stock still in the center of that lawn, a glorious cathedral of leaves lavish with July’s favorite stone fruit. Hours spent up in the tree, balanced on a ladder ever shifting and hesitant on the uneven lawn, grabbing handfuls of plump, sweet cherries, one in the mouth, two in the pail… How high could we, would we, dare we climb for the prize? Down at the foot of the lawn by the gate was a tall stalk of a tree towering over even the tallest among us, with sparse branches but baring the most flavorful greengage plums ever tasted. We found a long claw-like apparatus in the garage, a tool specifically designed to grab out-of-reach fruit and oh was the effort worth it. 

 Cherries and plums straight off the tree, the sweetest memories of a summer long ago.

Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? 
Can she bake a cherry pie, charming Billy? 

 The peaches and nectarines are already piled up in the old, cracked bowl on our kitchen table, the bowl the color of stained teeth with the funny little oranges painted on the bottom. Scoops of cherries wait impatiently in little brown paper sacks from the market, plump and deep lipstick red. Apricots, sweet gold, the color of bridesmaids’ gowns, give when gently squeezed between inquisitive fingers. 

 The fruit is late arriving on the market with not even a word of excuse for her tardiness. I stroll daily past the pastry shops and peer in cool glass cases filled with cakes and tarts each one boasting apricots or cherries or peaches all dressed up in French finery: tiny, delicate choux, wisps of spun sugar, swirls of whipped cream and showers of chocolate curls, I can’t but bring home my bounty of fruit and turn it into a gorgeous confection. Peaches or plums, nectarines, apricots, each begging to be nestled, coddled, cloaked in buttery pastry, desiring only to show off her feminine colors of pink, purple or gold, her sweetness complimented by a tender crust, her softness caressed by the crisp, flaky folds of pâte feuilletée

 I think of my mother-in-law pressing damp, tender, butter-rich pâte sablée across the bottom of a glass pie plate, grandmotherly fingers pushing it out to the edges and into the fluted indentations up the sides. She would then press apricot halves around and around in concentric circles, dust the whole with brown sugar before popping it into the oven. Simple, summer French home baking. 

 Old-fashioned lattice-crust pies chock full of cherries, bursting and oozing through the crisscross of pastry, were the American addition, the cultural surprise, on our so-very French table. Forks hung tentatively over dessert plates, eyes wide, smiles spread across curious faces. Cherry pitters popping out stones, juice trickling down fingers, spattering onto tabletop, spitting on clothing, bloody, angry, joyous cherries. 

 Crisps and cobblers galore, the perfect home for peaches, nectarines, cherries, any stone fruit you please. Warm, comforting in all of their homey glory, the crack of the crumbly topping, the spoon pushing through the dense biscuit, to release a rush of hot, gooey fruit, meltingly soft, the flavor so intensely sweet, tart and fruity. 

 Why is it that summer’s stone fruits all marry so well with cinnamon?

But it's all right now
Lets go home and get stoned 

 I was the unexpected daughter-in-law, the foreign one, and I often felt like an animal in the zoo, fending off curious glances, blushing in embarrassment for this faux pas or that. That first Christmas celebration, I wanted to bring something American to the feast and settled on a tart, glistening ruby red cranberry relish, so festive. And a bowl of guacamole. Not very in the holiday spirit, guacamole, you are thinking. More suitable for a summer barbecue. But guacamole, I brought. I sliced through the thick skins of two avocados, popped out the pit (putting it aside for later) and scooped out the soft flesh. The back of a fork was all that it took to press and mash and work that green avocado flesh the color of Granny Smith apples into smooth purée. Chopped onion, a bit of fresh, ripe tomato, spoonfuls of rich, tangy crème fraîche went into that bowl. Tabasco, just enough to give it a kick, not enough to shock my old-fashioned, prim new in-laws! 

 I picked up the slippery pit, weighed its heft in the palm of my hand before pressing it into the center of the creamy dip, the better to ward off darkness. 

 We all waited nervously for my father-in-law’s reaction. My husband had warned me that he did not take well to culinary surprises, nor did he welcome deviations from his set ways, those set ways including what he expected to find on his lunch, dinner or holiday table. “What is this?” he bellowed, as soon as he sat down. “Er, mmmm, one is cranberry relish, the green is made with avocados. Just eat them with the roasted capon.” All eyes were on him as he dipped a fork into the guacamole and tasted. Hearts pounded as he spooned quantities of both onto his plate and began eating. And throughout the rest of the meal, he joyously, loudly broke the dinner prattle and the rhythm of culinary noises with clamors of “Pass me the red stuff! Pass me the green stuff!” Sighs of relief all around.

Guacamole as cultural détente. 

 Avocado pits pierced through with a halo of toothpicks and perched on the edge of a milk glass just filled with tap water. Cinderella transformation into avocado plant.

Avocado. Those of us who were conscious during the Seventies probably have visions of avocados filled with shrimps or avocado dips when we hear the word. I happen to like avocados in every possible form so I won't say anything negative about these undeservedly ill-reputed dishes, but there are so many other ways to eat an avocado. Like this toast for example, so easy and quick to make and perfect for summer days when you hopefully are lazing in the sun or busy having fun.

4 servings

4 slices of rustic bread
1 large avocado, mature so it is easy to mash
sun-dried tomatoes, 2-3 whole ones
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 lime

   Put the sun-dried tomatoes to soak in tepid water for 20-30 minutes.

   Mash the avocado flesh, chop the tomatoes and mix with the avocado. Squeeze some lime juice over the avocado-tomato mash, stir, taste and season with salt. Add more lime juice if needed.

   Toast the pine nuts in a nonstick skillet until they have coloured a little, then toast the bread slices. Spread the bread with the avocado mix, sprinkle pine nuts over and grate some lime zest over each toast.

Monday, June 17, 2013


 A girl never forgets her first time.

 Dread mixed with excitement. Anticipation colored by fear: will she enjoy it? Or hate it, repulsed? Does she resist the pressure, knowing everyone around her is succumbing, giving in and giving up? She is now a college student, after all. This, she is meant to understand, is what everyone does, a part of the experience. Does she approach it tentatively, trying several different techniques? Straight up or kicked up, this way and that? Or does she just dive in, all or nothing?

 Does she judge from her first time or wait, experience it again, give it a chance and a bit of time, try and get used to it? Does she risk becoming… addicted?! All that she has heard has her trembling in her boots as the question is put to her again, one more time, just a little too pressing for her liking. She blushes bright red as she slowly admits that she has never before…. Is she ready for this? It is so very adult; does she finally take the step?

 Is she ready to let go of her innocence, her childhood? She is, after all, still so very young.

 And finally, ever so reluctantly, she says yes. Close your eyes and think of London.

 Steaming hot, oh so sweet with just an edge of bitter that gives it an air of something oh so sinful she wants to cry. And sigh with pleasure. Passionate, burning, new scents, heady and harsh yet so very fragrant, swirl up and around and swallow her up in a dizzying spell. She loses her head as her body flushes with warmth.

 And she takes that fateful step into adulthood.

 Once it is done, the self-satisfied glow washes over her. The excitement of having made that momentous decision, taken the plunge, no turning back. There can only be one first time and she will never forget it.

 Her first cup of coffee. The Devil’s Brew.

 Holy Hog, Fat Jack’s, Jim Bob’s, Fat Boy’s, it could have been any one, had one of any number of names. It was just another barbecue joint in another Southern university town, open 24/7, serving big platters of ribs and burgers, fries and cole slaw. But we would go there late at night. Or in the wee hours of the morning, after a theater production or a party. We would go there for saucer-sized Southern biscuits, white and fluffy, hot from the oven. Slathered with salted butter that would melt upon contact. Or plates of hash browns, crispy on the outside, tender and delicate on the inside. At 3, maybe 4 o’clock in the morning. Sultry, steaming Florida mornings.

 And mugs of coffee. Thick, heavy, white ceramic mugs found in any decent barbecue or breakfast joint worth its name. And cheap stainless steel spoons, dented and marked with time. And we would order coffee all around and the waitress, dressed in pink or white, one of those real Southern waitress uniforms, frilled apron tied tightly around the waist, crepe-soled sensible shoes and hair caught back in a bun, would place a silver coffee pot right on the table, understanding our thirst. We would fill our mugs and refill them, over and over again, all night long.

 And we would laugh and sing as we poured mug after mug of coffee, add a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, tip in a few of those little creamers, piling the tiny white containers into a mound on a thick white ceramic plate amid the crumbs and dregs of a midnight breakfast.

 I had my very first cup of coffee in that Florida barbecue joint. Wooden beamed ceilings, wooden tables and wooden benches, like dining at a State Fair. Bright, bright overhead lights, unforgiving in the early morning hours, but sure to wake up even the drowsiest, even the drunkest of the party. Memories of the milky, sugary sweet coffee that my mother always drank filled my head and I added two packets and how much milk? No, I did not like that first mug or even the second, no one does and don’t believe a soul who convinces you otherwise. I, like so many clever students before me, sipped, sipped, sipped, ordered a second cup and a third and slowly, over time, soldiered on until I couldn’t go a day without.

 How many trips to that diner, that barbecue joint did it take until I had fallen in love with coffee? Did it take weeks or months to develop an inclination, nay, an overwhelming appetite for the dark, bitter brew? And in no time at all, drinking pot after pot of strong, aromatic coffee in some all-night diner became a ritual.

 A secret vice, stolen moments, the giddy covert activities of a schoolgirl usually so well behaved and never, ever naughty. The second my mother’s back was turned, up I would steal to the table’s edge, silently, invisible to her ever-watchful eye and snatch mouthfuls, long pulls on a straw or sips grabbed by stealth while ice cubes pressed up against my hungry, eager lips, threatening to clatter against the glass, tumble out and give me away. There was something so alluring about those tall, silken iced coffees my mother would concoct. How I detested the bitter taste of her morning coffee, yet how I loved the creamy, sugary sweetness of these summer afternoon libations she prepared only for herself: a splash of coffee, rich with milk, ever so sweet like coffee ice cream or candies popped in your mouth surreptitiously, frosty with ice cubes rattling so elegantly against the glass. She protected those summer treats like a mama bear protecting her young against scavengers and outside intruders, so I was reduced to snatching gulps each time she stepped away, leaving that bewitching glass of heaven unattended. Try as I might, no matter how small I made myself, hanging around nonchalantly, inconspicuous in a corner of the kitchen, waiting, she always knew what I was up to and the warning came out sharp and businesslike… “Stay away from my iced coffee!

 There was a little bar at the corner, across the street from the indoor market, bright and sparkling clean, white on white. Tiny formica-topped tables scattered around the tiny space, a bench along one wall and a tall counter at the back, a mere four steps inside the glass door. It was the gathering place for the market’s vendors and artisans, minutes snatched here and there as the morning crowd lulled, just enough time for a coffee and a peruse through the newspaper.

 Any morning, one could find the handsome olive guy – with his dashing, old-time movie star looks. One leg elegantly crossed over the other, tiny demitasse in front of him, paper opened on his knee, oblivious to the world. Or the fruit guys or maybe the butchers, brawny and rambunctious, chattering loudly over rounds of caffé stretto, dark espressos with a kick. Once a week, my girlfriend and I would meet there after our morning shopping, bags heavy with artichokes, tomatoes, fresh tortellini, bread and taleggio; we would sidle up to the counter and order a cappuccino each. While the coffee dripped slowly into two cups and while the milk frothed and foamed, we would select a filled brioche, an Italian croissant, from the small, enclosed glass case at the end of the counter, choosing between orange marmalade, pastry cream or chocolate, then take our cup and our plate to a corner table where we would gossip, giggle and ogle the players.

 For the coffee lover, the coffee passionate, a silken, luxurious panna cotta, a chilled, sweet version of your favorite libation. Panna Cotta is the most Italian of desserts, and easier to make than one thinks. This coffee version is sophisticated and oh-so adult, my preferred way to get take my afternoon or evening addiction, the ending to a perfect meal. Top it with this smooth Bittersweet Mocha Sauce for a surprising marriage of flavors and sensations. Definitely a treat to keep all to oneself. Or shared with a loved one.

JAMIE’S COFFEE PANNA COTTA  with Bittersweet Mocha Sauce

Coffee Panna Cotta

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (8 g) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (750 ml) whipping cream (whole fat heavy cream)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 gm) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsps instant espresso powder or more to taste

Prepare 6 to 8 ramekins or individual bowls or demitasse cups. If you want to be able to turn the Panna Cotta out of the bowl or ramekin and unmold on a dessert plate, run the bowl under cold running water, pour and shake the water out but do not dry.

Pour the milk into a medium-sized saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the milk. Whisk quickly and lightly just so the gelatin is dampened and then allow to sit and soften for 5 minutes. Place the saucepan over medium heat and, whisking gently, allow the milk to heat until it is hot but not boiling, 5 more minutes. The yellow shiny splotches of gelatin floating on the surface will disappear when the gelatin is completely melted/dissolved.

Add the cream, honey, sugar, pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder to the hot milk and continue to heat, stirring, until the honey, sugar and espresso have dissolved. Taste and add more espresso powder if you desire a stronger coffee flavor.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool for several minutes. Whisk to combine well before pouring into the glasses, bowls, cups or ramekins. I always find it much easier to pour the liquid into a glass or Pyrex measuring cup with a spout and pour from that instead of directly from the saucepan.

Cover each bowl or ramekin with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or, ideally, overnight, until firmly set.

A half hour or so before serving, prepare the Bittersweet Mocha Sauce. Once the Sauce has been made and chilled, serve the Panna Cotta, each drizzled with the Sauce.

Bittersweet Mocha Sauce

2 ounces (60 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, or more to taste
¾ cup (200 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 tsps instant espresso powder
1 Tbs to ¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar to taste

Coarsely chop the chocolate and place it in a small saucepan with the heavy cream, the espresso powder and 1 tablespoon sugar. Heat very gently over medium-low heat, whisking or stirring, until the chocolate, sugar and espresso have all melted and dissolved. Taste, adding sugar until desired sweetness. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, stir again and pour into a glass measuring cup, bowl or jar and refrigerate until just cool enough to serve over the chilled Panna Cotta.

Monday, June 10, 2013


Once upon a thyme… 

 Snippets of basil, parsley and thyme filling jars were a thing of my childhood. Dried herbs of the common kind, miniscule cinders of deep forest green, sage and ashy moss, mysterious dust, heady with the scent of the earth and summer barbecues. Pull open the Lazy Susan, always that sharp squeak, the clattering of bottles of vanilla and cinnamon, canisters of sugar and flour, packets of tea and raisins, and search through the familiar little jars, each with its own green top. Push aside the dried basil and dried parsley and reach for the thyme. 

 A dusting of thyme on steak tossed on the grill, a pinch thrown into beef stew, stirred into red sauce. Flecks of thyme showing up against the pale of bread stuffing, the gold of omelet, hidden among the beans, green on green. 

 Fresh herbs were an expensive luxury, rarely seen, fairly unknown. 

 Moving through life, girlhood to adulthood, always passionately cooking, fresh thyme did not replace dried until strolls through French markets revealed a bounty of leafy greens, luxurious bouquets of parsley, basil and sage and exotic coriander, oregano and dill, fresh mint redolent of Morocco. And thyme. Hugging a single snippet of laurel. 

 Bouquet garnis.


Living on borrowed thyme…

 The house was concealed among the corn stalks and wild brush on the outskirts of Milan, a large, rambling thing built from bits and pieces of old luxury Ocean Liners. Dark oak flooring and paneling gave a warm glow to our rented home, muted white frosted panes etched Ladies’ Salon and Dames pushed inwards to reveal curiously shaped rooms. A large galley kitchen was our home-within-a-home, warm and comforting with her prickly stone walls, imposingly heavy marble-topped table large enough for a fleet of sailors, a stone bread oven nestled in the corner. The livingroom walls were lined with French windows that we would throw open all spring and summer long to welcome in the cool breeze and the warm sun. The yard spread out before us, a large golden field, stalks of weed and reeds waving gracefully in the wind, a private cove surrounded by woods where the boys and their dog could romp freely, often under the watchful – and amused – eye of Ettore, our old Italian neighbor and owner of this elegant pile and adopted grandfather – nonno – of our sons.

 The yard was a wonderland for a home cook such as I, filled as it was with herbs and fruit trees. And just outside the French windows were savory plants, a huge puff of a rosemary bush and several small tufts of thyme. I spent many a warm afternoon, the sun on my back, plucking and gathering branches of each which would be tossed into pots of simmering red sauce; leaves pulled off, branch pinched between forefinger and thumb, fingers sliding upwards, tiny leaves flitting off, scattering across the cutting board, chopped and stirred into risotto.

Biding one’s thyme…

Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine.


Thyme is of the essence…

 Staples, my French husband loves to say. We must go shop and stock up on staples. Flour, sugar (granulated and cubes), dried pasta and rice. Milk. Juice. Paper towels (dirty dog). Oh, mustard, mayo, tomato paste what else do we need? And a trip to the market for onions, a head of garlic (une tête!), primary ingredients, just what we always need on hand for pasta sauce, stews, really almost anything! And thyme. Thyme and bay or is it laurel? Thyme with its tiny pale leaves the color of sage. It dries so perfectly, lasts forever. Toss it into ratatouille, to garnish a vegetable quiche, scent a pot au feu, s’il te plait. Anything you choose. So very French. Un bouquet de thym.

 Tiny pinpoints like little pale bugs flecked across the countertop, unavoidable residue. Fragrant fragments of a much-used herb, bunches of dried thyme bundled together with bits of string stuck in an old dusty-gray butter pot like flowers for the cook. Pull out a branch or three to add to the soup, the stew, roll in a dough and what escapes but more little leaves falling like glitter, bits of stalks like crude needles scattered across tabletop, stove, floor.

No thyme like the present…

 Son arrives, out of breath yet glowing with pleasure and self-satisfaction, trailing dirt and leaves across the floor. A bright, warm Mother’s Day, the kitchen window, open to capture the breeze, the pale light filtering lazily into the room as I cook. Beaming son, a peck on the cheek and newspapers are spread across the wood under our feet. Tiny turquoise garden tools, trowel, claw and spade are pulled in from the window ledge as handfuls of rich dark earth are scooped up and pushed into terra cotta planters, empty since our old house with a yard. Dirt scatters as son squats over his project, lifting young plants, basil, chives, mint and the accustomed, familiar rosemary and thyme.

 His hands, no longer the hands of a boy, strangely more and more like my brother’s hands, long tapered fingers, an artist’s movements, a man’s hands, place each green plant in its place, the rosemary and its constant partner thyme side by side, tucked into the earth. He pats them firmly in place and sets them out on the narrow balcony. “Make sure you use them when you cook. Don’t forget they are outside the window,” as he gathers up the newspapers and packs the tools away. He brushes the black dirt off of his hands and smiles, proud of his thoughtful gift.

 Never did I realize how good zucchini could be until I moved to Italy. How important it is that they don't grow as big as my dear aunt liked hers to be (huge, watery, whale like things), that they are small and firm but above all fresh. The best zucchini I ever had grew in the garden of a friend's mother in Apulia, lovely and sweet zucchini that you could almost eat raw, they were so good.


pie crust:
5 medium sized potatoes, unpeeled
100-150 g / 3,5-5.3 oz butter or olive oil
500-600 ml / 2.1-2.5 cups flour
1,5 tsp baking powder
OR a pie crust of your choice, home made or bought

1,2 kg/ 2,6 lb zucchini
20 cherry tomatoes
a small bunch of fresh thyme, if you use dried thyme go a little easy with it as it is stronger than the fresh one
a pinch of chile pepper flakes (optional)
1 lightly crushed clove of garlic
2-3 tbs breadcrumbs
extra-virgin olive oil

  Make the dough: Boil the potatoes and when they are ready, peel and press them through a potato ricer. Do it while they are still warm because when they are cold it is really hard to press them through the little holes. Let the potatoes cool down a bit before adding butter, flour and the baking powder. Check if it is salt enough. You might have to add more flour depending on how watery the potatoes are, the feeling of the dough has to be elastic and not too firm. Line a pie tin with the dough, use the leftover dough to decorate with if you want.

   Cut the zucchini into 0,5 cm/0,2 in slices. Heat up olive oil in a large skillet with a sprinkle of chili pepper flakes and the garlic, after a couple of minutes add the zucchini, season with salt and thyme and fry on medium heat until golden, stirring often. It usually takes around 20 minutes.

   Pour half of the cooked zucchini into the pie form, distribute half of the tomatoes and cover with the rest of the zucchini. Press down the remaining cherry tomatoes, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a few sprigs of thyme.
   Bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C / 347°F) for about 20-30 minutes or until the crust is colden.

Monday, June 3, 2013


 I live in a city of sugar.

 Once the watery doorway between the unrefined colonies and a refined Europe. A port welcoming shiploads of exotic raw products from the islands, vanilla, rum, spices and sugar, bringing the flavor of far-off lands to our city, intriguing the people of Nantes, allowing them the luxury of dreaming of something tropical and extraordinary without embarking on a perilous voyage. Rum, spices, vanilla quickly became part of their culinary repertoire, enriching the gastronomic pleasures of a city.

 And sugar. Nantes became a city of sugar. The imposing silhouette of sugar refineries staining a shadow over the city, showering her with a dusting of sugar.

 Sweet, sweet success.

 My cupboard is filled to overflowing with a profusion of sugar. Dazzlingly deep periwinkle sugars of blueberry, hibiscus and violet. Girly pink bubble gum sugar and pale pink cherry granules. Sparkling sugars in gold and red and blue for tossing across the surface of a cake or dipping the tops of cupcakes or dusting mounds of macarons. Thick, dense, bumpy grains for pretty little chouquettes, grains whiter than white, whiter than freshly fallen snow, whiter than the color of the light bouncing off of Florida sidewalks, blinding. Cassonade, semoule, roux, vergeoise. Sucre glace, sucre en morceaux, sucre blanc and sucre blond.

 I am surrounded by sugar.

 Sugar and spice and everything nice….

 We were a family with a serious sweet tooth. Mom kept the freezer packed with gallon containers of ice cream in a rainbow of flavors: chocolate, coffee, vanilla and neapolitan. Plastic tubs of Cool Whip nestled alongside bags of candy bars and Sara Lee pound cakes and lemon pies, stacks of ready-made pie crusts awaiting a filling, one of the many cans pushed into the cupboard next to boxes of sugary cereals in yellow, pink and blue and poptarts in chocolate fudge, blueberry and cherry. Dad kept the countertop laden with sweets, bags of Mary Janes and Jolly Ranchers, sour balls, Tootsie Rolls and Strawberry Whips and the refrigerator filled with bowls of jewel-like prune and apricot compote, sweet and tart. Rare was a weekend when I didn’t find him pouring cake batter into a pan or pudding into cups or spooning choux dough onto baking sheets. Pull open the Lazy Susan to find jars of cinnamon-sugar ready for dusting on warm buttered toast, boxes of chocolaty powder for milk, jars of grape jelly and packets of Kool-Aid.

 Sugary treats were part and parcel of my girlhood, free for the taking, tiny hands of tiny children grabbing snacks and desserts whenever their little hearts desired. We simply followed in our parents’ footsteps, parents who could be found any evening sitting in front of the television with a bowl or a plate on their lap, a bowl or a plate piled high with something sweet, any afternoon grabbing handfuls of candy.

 Oh, don’t get me wrong. The quantities of broccoli, spinach, peas and carrots we four children could consume would make any mother’s heart thrill with pride. We were sensible kids and happy eaters, always part of the Clean Plate Club. Sweet didn’t trump savory. Oh no. We waited for mealtime with joy, ate with gusto and asked for more. Preparing a snack for ourselves could just as well mean a bowl of shrimp topped with spicy cocktail sauce or bagels rich with red sauce and cheese. We each of us delighted in bringing home recipes for Tuna Casserole or Chicken Pie from Scouts or Home Ec and whipping them up for family.

 But sugar. Sweets. Are just in our blood.

 Strawberries and sugar, sweet on sweet. A sprinkling of white on a bowl of cereal turning the milk to sweet, gulping down the very last drop. A spoonful of brown to sweeten steaming oatmeal, a puddle of salty yellow butter like watery sunshine spreading across the pale gray. A pinch or two thrown buoyantly, enthusiastically into a pot of red sauce, swallowed up in the bubbling brew, mellowing the acidic bite. A few good dashes of sugar to a sizzling skillet of onions melting into luxuriously smooth caramel. Savory and sweet.

 Sugar is sweet and so are you.

 Cookies are a part of our childhood, the safety and coziness of standing in the warm kitchen with mom or snuggled up against dad on the sofa at the end of the day. Adults, we homebake cookies for our children as a sign of love, a wholesome, sugary snack. These wonderful cookies, tender and moist, are the perfect sweet treat for the little ones yet are also a homey, comforting delicacy for the grown ups. Rolling the dough in sugar creates a slight, fine, crisp outer coating to these chewy, old-fashioned sugar cookies. 


1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
2 ¾ cups (415 g) flour
Sugar for rolling the cookies in

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds until blended and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, the cream of tartar, baking soda, vanilla and salt.

Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer then fold in the remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Form the dough into a ball, kneading lightly only as much as needed to create a smooth, homogenous dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Put a few tablespoons of granulated sugar in a small bowl.

Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and shape lightly into 1-inch (2 ½ cm) balls. Roll each ball in the sugar to coat and place the balls on ungreased cookie sheets spacing them 2 inches (5 cm) apart.

Bake for 9 to 12 minutes until spread, puffed, golden and just starting to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and gently transfer the cookies to wire cooling racks.