Monday, July 29, 2013


 A summer stroll. The early morning coolness, the early morning silence. Always a dog trotting at our feet. Snapping images, words running through my head. A holiday even just around the corner from home.

 Grab a handful of wildflowers. Lie down in the grass, face turned up towards the sky, feel the warmth. Close your eyes and make a wish and blow. Watch the dandelion fuzz flutter away on the breeze.

 A stroll in the vineyards. Dew-kissed raisins bundled together tightly, kicking up dirt as we snake between the rows. A quiet, out of the way spot, a picnic in a clearing, pulling roasted chicken apart with our fingers and drinking red wine straight out of the bottle. Shake the crumbs off of the blanket and stretch out for a nap.

 The wonder of nature through the eyes of a child, down on all fours grabbing at slugs and snails, peering intently at antennae, scooping up handfuls of minnows and tadpoles. Squatting in the grass, poking at roots with a stick, mind wandering through time and space, head cocked at the whistle of a bird. Eyes peeled for movement, silent, introspective concentration.

 Plated Stories still on summer vacation.

Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; 
to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. 
~ Henry James

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Vacation

 A break is needed. A cooling down, a cooling off. The heat seeps in through the windows, entering on the stifling breeze, piggyback. Friends send photographs in faded colors, holiday snapshots of themselves poolside, feet up, drink in hand at the edge of the shot. Or images of hazy mornings on an empty beach, waves lapping gently up onto the damp sand, the sky a soothing blue, the ocean in calming shades of gray.

 Kicking up sand, gathering shells, a lifetime of walks on the beach early in the morning before the summer settles in for the day.

 “A real scorcher,” as the old men used to say, lined up in garden chairs down the sidewalk, pushing their hats further up on their heads and swiping at their foreheads with worn handkerchiefs.

 Plated Stories is slowing down. The heat of summer imposes, the dawdling dog days of summer. Trapped in the middle of the city like a fly in amber, the mornings are taken over by daydreams, the afternoons, one long restless search for comfort. Dogs splayed out on sidewalks, under trees, looking for respite; children dirty, sticky and stained with splotches of ice cream and syrupy fruit juice whine and fret. Windows thrown open, the city is quiet, no one is moving, snatches of noise, faint and distant, float in; someone sneezing, the rumble of traffic, a girl’s laughter.

 Plated Stories is slowing down, but hardly kicking back and doing nothing, idle hands not. A quiet break, concentrating on our work. Meandering thoughts, energy captured in short bursts, we two have pressing assignments looming, vying for our time, vying with the heat.

 Sleepy, listless days of summer, yet deadlines approach rapidly and our thoughts must be channeled into other projects. Patience, dear readers, patience. Pour a cool drink, place a scoop of sorbet in a fluted bowl, and wait for our return.

 A stroll on the beach, a week or so in the garden, a voyage of discovery on the other side of the world and we shall be back. But we will not leave you empty-handed. We will offer a few thoughts, a flourish of photographs to carry you through to the time we are back in full force, overflowing with time and energy and more stories to serve up, images and words plated for your delectation.

Monday, July 15, 2013


 His nose lifted in the air as he stepped over the threshold. He breathed in deeply and immediately his face lit up. “Peppers!” he exclaimed! “You’re roasting peppers!” His six-year-old nose detected roasting red peppers. The sweet, smoky, slightly charred scent of peppers under the grill, skin blackened and bubbling up in the heat. Flesh melting hot, silky, sexy.

 We would sit around that long worktable in that narrow, cramped studio working assiduously, industriously, stitching, cutting, measuring, gluing. A millinery studio in the middle of Milan, the five of us, myself and Nadia, Gian Carla, Clara and Nuncia, would come together and gather to work. And while we worked, our fingers running miles a minute, precise, well-trained, concentrated movements close to automatic reflexes, our heads bent over our work, we would talk. And as varied as our work was our conversation: talking, ranting, chiding, teasing, lamenting; hats and clients, fashion and politics, television, children, husbands, families. And food. Of course, food. This was Italy and this was a workspace filled with Italian women, overflowing with passion and emotions, a room flooded with opinions and expectations. And food was often the center of conversation, as central as it was in their home.

 I was an apprentice in more ways than one. I was only beginning on my long journey towards becoming a milliner and these four formidable women had been at it for twenty, twenty-five years or longer. I was a comparatively young bride with tiny children while these ladies had grown children and even grandchildren. I had been in Italy a mere year and a half and was a novice in all things, all ways Italian. And these women were - dare I risk sounding absurd? – experts.

 And I, as far as they were concerned, had much to learn.

 For Nadia, Gian Carla, Clara and Nuncia, food was more than sustenance; food was the glue that kept families together, nourished souls and kept husbands content and at home. A woman fulfilled her wifely duties by placing a hot, delicious meal in front of her man every single day at noon and every single evening.

 I was an unknown entity, a foreign object, something that they couldn’t quite figure out. I never understood if I was an amusement or a disappointment when it came to my wifely ways but I know that in their eyes I was often lacking. And I obviously was on the slippery slope, living on the thin edge of the wedge. And I risked losing my husband any day, any moment.

 As noon approached, Nadia or Gian Carla, after having spent the better part of the morning on the telephone with daughter, sister, mother and cousin organizing the minutia of both the noon and the evening meals – who would bring the bread, who would stop by the butcher, who would assure the pasta course – one of them would look at me (Accusingly? A glint of amusement dancing in her eye? ) and ask “What are you making for dinner tonight?” and they would wait, all eyes upon me, for the inevitably weak response. Salad or soup. “Followed by…?” “Well, nothing, just salad or soup.” Eyes would drop, look discreetly away, heads would shake in disappointment, warnings would be issued. And then the suggestions would be tendered.

 Rabbit with yellow peppers was a dish offered to me by Nadia, sure to be loved by my husband. She enumerated the shopping list of ingredients as I scribbled each down; yellow peppers and lots of them, rabbit, sage. She walked me through the cooking process as a mother to a daughter. She kissed her fingertips as she described the sublime flavor. And she promised me that if I made this dish at home then my husband would never leave me.

 I still make this dish often, tender rabbit smothered in a rich, flavorful sauce thick with yellow peppers, three plump, neon yellow peppers, cooked until meltingly smooth, cooked until the peppers release their smoky sweet flavors. And my husband is still happily by my side.

 My mother’s stuffed peppers. Hamburger blended with onions and rice and pushed into the emptied cavities of a row of green peppers. Oven baked, the peppers shrivel and shrink like the skin pulling back on a skull. The bane of my childhood. Memories haunt me. My father’s red chili peppers strung along the kitchen window hanging in swags like curtains the color of a Rothko painting, deep red melting into black. Neglected. A source of endless teasing.

 Slices of red pepper, cool and crispy. Teeth press into the flesh and a thousand droplets of water spray out onto skin.

 The peppery flavor of mustard greens, radishes, rocket biting back in self defense. Temper its enthusiasm, its anger, its spicy heat with sweet tomatoes, tangy goat cheese or the mild, cool creaminess of mozzarella. A dusting of salt, a bite into dense country loaf slathered with butter.

 Minute flecks of black like dirt, intriguing, earthy, dangerous, against the golden shimmer of olive oil, the pristine white of cream.

 The sting came sharp and sudden from out of nowhere. I groped my way along the hallway, one hand held forward to avoid bumping into another victim, one hand over my face, fingers pressing into my eyes. Oh, the burn! I pushed forward hoping simply to make it up and out into the fresh air. Where it came from I never knew, the pepper spray.

 He peppered me with harsh words and accusations like punches. He peppered me with questions about my past as he held onto my wrist, delicately yet firmly. He peppered me with kisses hard and fast like buckshot. He peppered me with tales of his virility, his adventures around the female kind, hard and fast. He peppered me with a steady stream of irrelevant thoughts in a vain attempt at removing the boredom from my eyes.   


 Our first cookbook contained a string of recipes as spicy as our love, as hot as our passion for each other. The shelf was lined with every imaginable pepper, grains in white, gray, black, burnt orange Cayenne nestled up against the very feminine pink peppercorns the color of kissable lips, all the way from India.

 A palmful of peppercorns scooped into the mortar. Snatching at the tiny orbs escaping between my fingers as they roll hither and thither across the table, bouncing onto the floor. Press the pestle down and feel the peppercorns crush under the resistance as the pestle is turned and lifted, pressed, turned, lifted. A pinch of ground pepper, a fragrant mélange, into the gumbo or jambalaya or shrimp creole.

 Some like it hot.

 The very first ratatouille I remember making, although heaven knows there must have been others before, was for our wedding lunch. Ratatouille of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, a wealth of red and green peppers and cloves of garlic long simmered until tender, the flavors mellowing like old gentlemen growing tender and drowsy in the mid-summer heat, yet concentrating into something intensely sweet with a hint of something smoky, was nestled inside delicately bland choux pastries. A rustic buffet reminiscent of a pastoral picnic spread out before the dozen guests; hunks of artisan cheese and loaves of country bread, terrines and pâté surrounded by crispy cornichons, summer salads seasonal and fresh, tangy Lemon Chicken washed down so elegantly with an abundance of Champagne. And the ratatouille snuggled inside choux. A wedding meal prepared by the bride and groom, a wedding feast fit for a king.

 Ratatouille is quintessential French home cooking in my book. Every French family, every French kitchen seems to have its very own recipe made with a preferred choice of fresh vegetables straight from the garden or market, which is why this dish is as versatile as the flavors are complex. Ratatouille is an easy dish to prepare and an easy dish to serve; it is perfect eaten hot, cold or in between, perfect for a meal indoors, al fresco, a barbecue, buffet or picnic. Prepare your own version with any combination of these summer vegetables and your favorite fresh or dried herbs: sage, bay, thyme, mint, parsley or basil. Sauté a combination of red, yellow and green peppers and then stir in one or more that have been pre-roasted and peeled, either chopped or pureed for the added layer of flavor.


Add more or less of each ingredient to taste. Increase quantities for more ratatouille. My recipe serves 4. 

2 large peppers (red, yellow or green peppers, or a combination)
1 yellow onion
2 zucchini
2 cloves garlic
4 fresh ripe tomatoes or 1 can crushed tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
Fresh or dried herbs: basil, thyme, mint, flat-leafed parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for cooking

Rinse and pat dry all of the vegetables. Trim the peppers; remove and discard stem and seeds. Slice one into long, thin strips. Slice the trimmed zucchini into coins; chop the garlic, the tomatoes and the onion.

Roast the second pepper under the grill of the oven until the skin is charred black and bubbling. Carefully remove from the oven and slide the pieces of charred pepper into a plastic bag and allow to cool. Slip a thin, sharp knife blade between the skin and the flesh and lift off the skin and discard. Slice the flesh into strips or purée and set aside.

Sauté the chopped onions in olive oil over medium or medium-low heat, stirring often, until very tender and golden brown around the edges.

Add the raw pepper, the zucchini and the garlic to the onions and cook, stirring often, until just tender and coloring around the edges. Add the fresh or canned tomatoes and the roasted red pepper. Add a handful of chopped fresh herbs or a pinch each of dried herbs. Salt and pepper. Add enough water to barely cover and allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until all of the vegetables are very tender, adding water as needed so the ratatouille doesn’t dry out and burn.

When the ratatouille is cooked to perfection, taste and add more herbs or salt or pepper as desired. Serve as a side dish to grilled or roasted meat or sausages or over rice or pasta as a vegetarian main. Serve hot or room temperature. This is ideal for lunch, dinner, a barbecue, a buffet or a picnic.

Monday, July 8, 2013


 The old, battered books pilfered from my mother’s kitchen cabinet over the long years I’ve been away, cookbooks and pamphlets and recipes ripped out of magazines taken surreptitiously and snuck through the house and into my waiting suitcase, have found their way back to France where they stand proudly at home next to my own purchases and gifts from friends and loved ones. Each of these timeworn and tired books seems so overjoyed to be pulled out of the darkness and brought back to life, sharing its secrets and retro recipes in my European kitchen.

 I carefully lift the cover of each, pull back spines that are cracked and hanging free, cloth covers faded and frayed, and look at the dates of publications, looking for those printed 1953 and know that these were wedding gifts to my mother. Her old Joy of Cooking sits in my kitchen next to The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, jumbled together so appropriately with my mother-in-law’s old, faded Ma Cuisine by the great Escoffier.

 A mixed marriage.

 I poke through these cookbooks, turning over the stained pages, and spy the recipes my mother cooked for us when we were kids, before she stopped cooking, conceding the battle like some old Civil War General when the game was up.

 The Settlement Cookbook. I adore the old cookbooks written by hale and hardy, stout old women who are published under their wifely name: Mrs. Simon Kander. Like the old well-worn Junior League cookbooks in which recipes are each credited to the owner, the homemaker who contributed the recipe: Mrs. Harold Davis, Mrs. Orville E. Comer, Mrs. Jake Dampf, Mrs. Calvin L. Simpson III, the rhythm only broken by the occasional Miss Winnie Thomas, Evelyn Wilsford, Dr. Elizabeth Faust. Spinsters? Old maids?

 Handfuls of brochures, promotional pamphlets chock full of recipes for Florida Seafood, Crisco, Florida Citrus or 300 Sensational Salads and Pickles & Chutneys, claiming their rightful place on a shelf full of hardcovers. Photographs in black and white or day-glo primary colors offer tempting images of Egg-Rice Salad, California Strawberry Salad, Celery Fingers, Dilly Tuna and Vegetable Toss. A Treasure Trove of dated recipes, our cultural history.

 Printed or hand typed, the plastic rings binding loose pages cracked and chipped, I scan each of the Sisterhood Cookbooks, 1950’s, 1960’s, ages old, as old as my siblings and I, looking for familiar names. I bump into my own mother’s name, among great aunts, the next door neighbor and women from the synagogue, under recipes, many long forgotten, some as sharp in my mind as to evoke a grimace of disgust or a smile of pleasure, a tingle of the tastebuds.

 Pot Roast and Sweet and Sour Tongue, Veal Scallopini and Easy Cream Cheese Cake. Peach Pie and Crown Jewel Dessert, just the very titles evoke sensations, tastes and sounds of clattering around the kitchen, noises of lawnmowers and hedge trimmers breaking the silence, white noise of a Saturday afternoon. Mealtime early evening, odors wafting from a pot on the stove, reaching us where we crouch over games and drawing us to the table.

 Why do old cookbooks seem more valuable than the shiny, flashy new ones we receive in the mail or select from among the multitude of beautiful bound tomes, the hottest latest editions, at our favorite bookstore? Those coveted volumes, some cheap publicity gimmicks, others our parents’ generation’s version of the e-book, recipes gathered from friends and snapped together between laminated paper covers with the image of a shapely young housewife offering up something on a plate hand drawn in blue or black, are handled with love and care, caressed and held with a near-religious awe. There is a certain charm, something nostalgic that draws us back to the jumble of paper stapled together or once bound in plastic loops, sentiments so much stronger than simply the joy of owning one more cookbook, adding flavor, sweetness and spice to each recipe made.

Here you are, finally 
Happy Birthday * Happy Cooking 
Your bro 
2 – 1 – 81 

 I packed up my suitcases and moved north to a bigger, brighter, more cosmopolitan city and to dreams of changing who I was, where I thought I could go. This perfect gift from my older brother, my mentor, my guide in all things culinary, the vegetarian epicure book 2, added recipe upon recipe to my repertoire alongside the already well settled dishes of its sister tome vegetarian epicure, dishes made with joy and pleasure over the years as I moved from city to city, country to country, as I married my Frenchman and raised 2 sons. This book, like its predecessor, is torn and faded, split in two, but loved immeasurably, kept in the kitchen and near my heart, not pushed off into some dark corner or carton, nor left forgotten, lost among so many others on the hallway shelf stacked with my many, so many, cookbooks.

 The years have flown by, sometimes racing at top speed leaving little time to do what we want, some years dragging slowly, painfully by, yet these cookbooks, my very first, the two cookbooks that were with me, my companions, from the very start of my journey through time and space, along the road of life, are with me still. These two cookbooks like two jewels among my most treasured belongings, objects dear that are the first to be boxed and packed when another move is upon us, the first to be unpacked and placed on a kitchen shelf. Along the road they have been joined by many friends, cookbooks British and French, Indian and Middle Eastern, cookbooks from around the globe to join these so very American cookbooks; they are all there, each one begging to be tugged off the shelf whenever I pass in the hallway or pause, running my fingers across their spines like a lover caressing the soft skin of a most beloved.

 Like the wrinkles on an old woman’s skin, the silver threading through once-ebony hair, the stains and marks, the torn pages and frayed covers of these cookbooks mark our passage through time, the wisdom and experience that comes with it. Pages bent down to mark certain dishes made for certain meals long ago, guests or loved ones, romantic tête-à-têtes or spooned into the rosy lips of a baby, a cookbook is not simply a bound volume of ingredients, measurements and instructions. A cookbook is memories and life.

 I handle the book delicately now, gently, like a newborn babe, like a broken heart; I carefully, very carefully turn back the front cover of my vegetarian epicure and reread the dedication – I have heard many times that offering a book to someone without a dedication is bad luck. The cover is faded, the pages brittle and torn, a book opened, perused, used and loved for close upon 30 years. Pages are stained, the pages upon which are printed my favorite recipes, bits of paper stick out between pages on which are penciled notes, calculations, measurements. This gem of a cookbook contains recipes I make over and over again, recipes loved by my new family, dishes even eaten by my persnickety, vegetable-hating son, his nephew.

 A cookbook remaining long after the one who gave it is no longer with us.

 We found an old notebook tucked away in a drawer of the house we were renting in the middle of nowhere in Italy. We turned back the cover and realized what a treasure we had stumbled upon. The pages were filled with the gentle, elegant handwriting of the wife of the house’s owner, Ettore, a man just short of 90 who lived next door with his brother. Ettore’s wife Anna had been a gracious hostess of dinner party after dinner party for friends, colleagues and family until she passed away in 1960 and she had scrupulously noted down the details of each and every meal, the guests, the wine served, the dishes made and shared. In this notebook, among many others, no doubt.

 The odd recipe jotted down, maybe something concocted at the moment, too good to be forgotten, possibly passed on from a friend or sister-in-law, a cookbook in its own right, a record of the times yet varying little with what she would have lovingly, attentively prepared for her guests today.

 A sure sign of her time, Anna refused to make the faux pas of ever serving the same guest the same dish, the same meal twice, no matter how far apart their invitation. In the weathered pages of this notebook, an endeavor of love and time, one could peruse the years, pass from decade to decade, holiday to celebration, and imagine the setting, hear the laughter, breathe in the smells emanating from her kitchen, the kitchen in which we stood while flipping through the pages of Anna’s notebook, her history overlapping with ours.

This recipe comes from my oldest cookbook, La cuisine Royal et Bourgeois by Charles De Sercy, published in 1691. The book is worn and much used, a little treasure I keep in my kitchen as a talisman, something that reminds me of all the cooks and cooking that has been going on for so many thousands of years. There are many recipes that are easily adapted for cooking today and I have chosen a sweet little pie/cake that reminds me of the modern galette one now finds in France. //Ilva

4 servings

pie dough for 4 small pie forms
4 egg yolks
4 tbsp sugar
4 tsp soft butter
1 tsp orange blossom water
zest of 1 small lemon

  Line the pie forms with the dough, keep the sides low. Stir sugar and butter, mix with egg yolks, orange blossom water and lemon zest. Spread out the the mixture on top of the pie dough and bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 10-12 minutes or until golden. If you want, sprinkle with a little sugar while warm. Serve with fresh fruit, berries and/or whipped cream.

Monday, July 1, 2013


  Fingers digging down into dirt, pressing into the earth, black quarter moons wedged under nails. Dirt scattered across the floor paying no attention to the newspaper spread across the wood parquet, lumps chased willy-nilly, scooped up and pushed back into terra cotta pots. Irreverent. Tiny plants bursting with fragrant leaves, he grasps each bundle of roots tenderly and tucks them one by one into the holes he has fashioned. Basil, rosemary, thyme and chives cupped in the dirt, his long, tapered fingers gather the damp earth around the base of each plant and pat it into place.

 Basil, rosemary, thyme and chives just out the window, free for the taking. I only had to push my face down into the herbs to breath in the scent of the earth and feel as if I lived in the country. I pinch off branches and carry them inside, a fine dusting of dirt across the old, cracked cutting board.

 Potatoes, beets, onions, roots pulled from the dirt, the basis of the earthy cuisine of my ancestors. Old leather shoes slogging through the dust and mud, I can only imagine the picture, dirty shoes leaving traces on the dirt road. Baskets loaded down with vegetables, a cornucopia of roots in the colors of the earth, shades of brown, laden with dirt. Cabbage leaves rinsed in basins of water for soup, potatoes washed of debris and grated with bared onions for latkes, beets transformed into borscht… washing away the dirt of centuries of shtetl life must have been quasi-religious, redolent of symbolism.

 Turnips, radishes and carrots, heads of cabbage and baskets of spinach, roots and leaves the staple of my peoples’ diet. Yet with what joy did they dine! Carrot tzimmis, potato kugel, onion bialy, cabbage soup. Today I weigh handfuls of one or the other, feel the heft, years of dirt and tears. Today I gather these same ingredients and I think about the days and nights passed in Russia as I rinse away the dirt and prepare my own wealthier version of these ancestral foods and partake with joy.

 One old photograph of my great-grandmother dressed all in black, imposing figure, stern, steady, serious look on a face framed and graced by an elegant white collar. Her young daughter stands at her side, her innocence dressed in pale gray. Youthful, girlish bow perched atop her flowing locks. Staring into the camera, a much-too-adult gaze. The daughter leans against a small table covered in a lace doily upon which sits a potted plant and books, the signs of a comfortable, educated family. The wall behind is wood, stacks of logs form their house in that old Russian village at the beginning of last century. Family lore has it that they were wealthy mill owners, grinding flour and distilling schnapps. The children were well read and multilingual, even the daughters, which truly was a sign of their place in society, the ease of their life. Before the turn. Before it was all taken away. Yet under their feet in this fading sepia-toned photograph is dirt. A dirt floor pounded down and swept clean, a dirt floor upon which this stout, tough old woman could spit with abandon, as was her way. That dirt floor, a bit of my heritage, coursing through my blood.

 Used to the bright lights, the scrubbed and sterilized modernity and the rows of boxes, the perfect pyramids of waxed fruits and clean vegetables of American grocery stores, my introduction to the French market was nothing short of culture shock. Pushing my way through the narrow alley that was Rue Mouffetard in Paris on market day or through the throngs of people hovering between stalls in any other town, I stared at the blood red carcasses hanging behind butchers’ counters, watched uncomfortably as vendors scooped up fruits, bagged loafs of bread and cut cheese with their bare, ungloved hands and let loose a shrill shriek when I noticed that rabbits were sold with their heads still firmly on their shoulders.

 Once home, I would dump my purchases out on the table to admire the farm fresh quality of the peaches, the apricots and the tomatoes; I would breath in the cool, tangy odor of goat cheese, peel back the hand-wrapped white paper to release the nutty scent of a hand cut comté; an ahhh would slip from between my lips at the dense resistance, the crisp crackle of the crust as I imposed a gentle pressure on a just-baked baguette.

 I would carry the cool lettuce, une laitue, romaine or feuille de chêne over to the sink and begin to pull apart the leaves, images of a mixed salad dancing through my head, shiny red tomatoes and carrots lined up awaiting their turn. And I would be faced with what appeared to be an entire garden… black earth clung to leaves in clumps that apparently no amount of rinsing would loosen. And tiny black slugs or a thousand gnat-like creatures like fairy dust would be stuck body and soul to each leave. Soak, rinse, soak, rinse. Nothing seemed to work, even as the clear water turned cloudy with bugs, even as a garden’s worth of dirt sunk to the bottom of the sink, impossible to rinse away.

 I discovered that carrots were sold both cleaned and straight from the ground, encrusted with enough dirt to leave a farm’s worth on the bottom of one’s shopping basket, a trail through the kitchen, a nubbly heap on the counter top. Thick, burly carrots, not as pretty or as uniform as those plastic bags packed with the bright, even, symmetrical neon orange carrots of my American youth, some short and stubby, some bent at odd angles like witches’ fingers. Brush off the dirt, scrub under water, rub and scratch until the dull orange of a real carrot is revealed under all of that dirt.

 Improvised picnic on the side of the road, brushing grit and dirt from chunks of Camembert and the sticky flesh of peaches and waving away flies from paper cups of wine.

 Ice cream on the beach… sand or dirt? Feet hosed down on the front porch. Sticky fingers itchy with dirt.

 Little boys rolling around in the dirt on the playground or in the field that stretches out away from the house like hogs in mud. A trail of dirt accompanies them into the house, across the kitchen floor as they clamor for lunch. Standing on tip-toe, tiny hands under the running water, swirls of dirt eddy down the drain.

 Grandpère’s garden. 6 little boys trailing after their grandfather along the dirt lane between the old stone houses on one side, the lush green potagers, kitchen gardens, on the other. 6 little boys following in grandfather’s footsteps, skipping, dashing back and forth, kicking up dirt and dust, excited to be out in the country, hard to contain 6 little souls.

 6 little boys playing in the dirt. He shows them how to dig up potatoes, finding the ones that peep above the surface, scratching in the dirt and scooping them up one by one, plopping them into the old rattan basket, to be turned into frites or purée. He lets them squat in the dirt between rows of lush, low green plants and pull off the strawberries, only the red ones, mind you, one for the basket, one popped into the mouth, little boys worrying not one dot about the dirt clinging to the fruit. 6 serious little faces listen attentively as he shows them the green beans dangling from vines, explaining how to gather them. 6 little boys gathered around “the pond” used to water the plants, turning dirt into mud, laughing and jostling each other much to grandpère’s delight. Together they dig up onions and garlic, lettuce and carrots. They pick raspberries and snip herbs and chase each other joyously up and down the length of the garden plot, back and forth between rows of the food that grandmère will bring to the table as lunch or dinner, little hands helping in the kitchen.

 6 little boys trudge, tired and dirty, back to the house, this time pushed and carried and encouraged along by grandpère. Shall they be shuffled into the shower, one by one, or shall they just be allowed to splash and play in the plastic swimming pool, the better to rinse off the dirt, tiring them out even more and guaranteeing they sleep the night through? Popsicles all around, glasses of sticky grenadine syrup mixed with cold water, held in grubby, dirty little hands.

 There is nothing finer in the summer months than a cool, crunchy salad seasoned with a clean, tangy, fresh dressing. We love this raw salad, healthy and satisfying, as a light lunch or dinner eaten with the windows thrown open to catch the summer breeze.  Easy to prepare, simply bring in the best of the garden, slice and shred, toss with the dressing and enjoy. From dirt to table in no time at all. This salad also makes the perfect side dish for a picnic or summer barbecue.

1 serving, a sketch

1 cucumber
1 carrot
2 radishes
1 piece of cauliflower
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted if you are unorthodox

2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp spring onion, finely chopped
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp vinegar
2 tbsp extra- virgin olive oil

   You need to use the finest shredder/slicer on a mandolin on all the vegetables; shred the carrot and cucumber finely and slice the cauliflower and the radishes finely. Put in a small bowl and mix.

   Mix the ingredients for the dressing and drizzle over the salad and dust with sesame seeds. Taste and season with salt if needed.