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.


  1. Lovely memories... I've always perferred my (raw) stonefruits crispy. You should see the apricots my friend's family grows in Valais. They are immense, plus they taste absolutely divine!

    Those toasts must be delicious! That is such a great combination and idea.

    Another wonderful post. You ladies rock!!!



  2. WHAT a beautiful write up. Loved every bit of it. Unfortunately never fond of stonefruits..but Your images makes me wanna enjoy it.
    I enjoyed browsing through every shot and your memories.

  3. What lovely images and imagery once again! I love the vignettes that instantly transport me to similar places. Except the cherry pitting photo. We do not have one of those gadgets. We use a paper clip straightened out into an S shape to pit cherries.

    I too adore avocados and cannot understand why anyone sniffs disdainfully at seafood salad stuffed into an avocado's cavity. Avocados with lime, sundried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts sounds delightful as well. Now if only I could have an avocado tree in the back garden... I've tried growing avocado from the stone but alas, alack, irradiation (I think it's irradiation, anyway) has killed it and every stone I try refuses to sprout. Even organic avocados.

  4. Between the memories of a newborn, a healthy avocado toast recipe, the wholesomeness and nurturing that is usually associated with food blogs, you open with a quote by a stoned bob dylan. Brilliant!

  5. the pictures are NOT just lovely ... they are just WONDERFUL !