Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apricale, Italy: population 578

Just over the French border are some of the most enchanting villages in Liguria.  Its nice to take on the lazy pace from time to time, to sit in the square, have a drink and wait for the school bus to drop off the children. Yes, luckily, there are a growing number of young families to round out the population.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sistine Chapel: a wonder of this world


Scroll around and use the zoom- in/out buttons to have a trip to the Vatican.  Amazing what we can do now a flick of the mouse.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Aphrodite: the Restaurant

It was Thanksgiving Day, Thursday for us Americans but for no one else of course.

 So actually although I was grateful that day I decided to be really grateful that our grateful houseguest, Roge , wanted to take us out to lunch on Friday.  To try something new, we took the advice of a couple of friends and went onto a well researched site of a friend of mine:

In it we found a restaurant Jeanne Oliver recommends:

www.restaurant-aphrodite.com  of David Faure

I can't say that David Faure has my sensibility for decorating or making a website or brochure or even the art he chooses.  I think he uses too many colors, the presentations are too "busy", too "gimmicky" and scattered.  His descriptions of food, defy categorization but undoubtedly they are meant to be both humorous and inventive.    But David Faure was awarded a Michelin star in 2010 before he closed his restaurant for renovation.  We all wanted to go and find out for ourselves what molecular cuisine was all about.

 The ambiance in the restaurant itself at 10 Dubuchage in central Nice is very pleasing .  Upon entering there is an indoor "cascade", some abstract paintings, two rooms, one with an entire wall covered with growing things ( plants from moss to fern). On the lower level dining room which we chose, there is a very impressive temperature controlled wine cellar which serves as a pleasing viewpoint.

I have to say that  I think it is such fun to go to a new place and to be hungry and eager to experience a creative meal.  

  We were in this state of anticipation as we scanned the menu. The fixed price menu is 25 euros for lunch , the next  was 38 euros and the gluttonous menu was for 100 euros per person.

 My gourmet husband, who has a very refined and well educated palate, takes offense when I call the expensive menu, "gluttonous" because quite rightly it is not usually about more food, but about dishes that are harder to find or prepare.  I know that hours of experimentation goes into a new dish is put on the menu by a serious chef.

Having the "carte: explained though, I still wanted the "carte de jour". It sounded just right with a choice of fish or pintade (guinea fowl).  

The men took the 38 euro menu with more choices.  Monsieur went for pork cheeks and our friend, Roge,  had an octopus stew. They did sound so much better written and pronounced in french.

For a starter, the two men had ordered a  fresh pea puree,  a fresh pea soup, with slices of marinated vegetables on top and a couple of poached quail eggs all beautifully arranged.  It was sensationally good.

My aperitif also was appreciated.  It was zucchini straws sauteed in a batter with fresh marinated tuna slices.

The entrees  were very well prepared. However my" dos de dorade" in an artichoke puree , I thought was the winner for the main course. 

This young chef is apparently famous for his vaporous/techno cuisine which is found on the 100 euro menu.  For an amuse geule we were all served a foamy lobster mist in a bunoise  of haricots. It had its own purple potato chips and toast.
 This was all about tasty flavored air.  Is this the molecular cuisine?  I 
would like to go again to try this new cuisine before I make a pronouncement about it.

We were pleased with the wine list. The sommelier  went to the trouble of pointing us to several "vins de pays" on the list which he feels deserve higher praise or appellation.  We ordered a crisp, fruity white from a Saint Jeannet, a local village.  It was around 32 euros .

  I am surprised to have finally found a "fine" restaurant where the addition of wine is not the deal breaker for those of us who want to go out more often.

  I might add that my husband is more than qualified to choose wines as he spent many years in the trade. I saw that he was having a good time reading the list and the waiter had to sort of beg for it back.

My only disappointment of the lunch over-all was in the desserts.  I would not say that they were not imaginative but they weren't quite there yet.  Some more experimenting needed to go on for my salad with two kinds of blue cheese "ice cream".    And it was too salty...a no no  especially in a fine restaurant.

Whatever spice was in my husband's cooked fruit salad was too alien.  The  only thing I really loved was the molten chocolate cake that Roge ordered.

 When desserts go too far afield , I won't waste the calories ; but I would have gobbled up that little chocolate cake!

  On the other hand, the usual dessert menus in this town are more than boring so keep up the research, M. Faure.

 There was a very good looking berry dessert ( it had instead raspberries)  that wafted past us.  I would like to try that one.

To finish the meal, the waiter brought us a choice of meringues with our coffee and some squares of fruit pate. ( above).

    Meringues in my opinion are over-rated and beyond comprehension. The only  possible thing to do with them is put a piece into your coffee instead of sugar.   The fruit pate was very good though,  with a strange melange of flavors including banana.

We had a fine lunch all in, and we will go again to this restaurant .   I was pleased too, not to leave too full.  The portions, I thought were just right.

  And I am grateful.  Absolutely.   Thanks to everyone who cooked, served , cleaned and paid!     And thanks to the "Wandering Epicureans" blog for these photos.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Noyau Series: the idea

THis is the first series on the theme of  "woman".

  As well as " the origin of the world", I wanted to make reference to the heart or essence of something without which that object or person would not be what it is.

 Noyau in french means kernel as in a kernel or seed.

 The sexual kernel of a female in our species is still seen as a sacred, hidden part even in these modern times of baring all.   This most provocative part shapes conventions and ways of life of each person in our society.  It is a important, sacred element for life as we know it.  "Sacred" to some, that is.

 The equivalent part of a plant is essential to its procreation and continuation.  A seed, therefore, is the symbol of all possibility.

I use warm colors in all the series on "women"  to evoke flesh and the warmth of humanity.   By distorting the image I hope to provoke deeper contemplation of what we are seeing.  There is a fine layer of gold paint to evoke the idea of  "preciousness" or "treasure".

  I have done this series on stretched paper, using inks, pastels both dry and oil, texturing material, and pencil.    These small paintings are the size of postcards, 10x15 cm.

Full Disclosure:  I think that an artist has many subjects that he or she can talk about.  Most of us even like the confines of being told a theme to work on because it makes it that much easier to get started.  We like doing it.

 Most artists, I  do not believe, take the choice too seriously until they are asked to write the forward to their book.  Then suddenly, everything is deadly serious and pretentious.  This is the art game in the real world.

 I started this series at the local art school for adults.  The villa Thiole or Ecole Municipal d'Art Plastique is quite well respected and as you might imagine, has a few teachers who are frustrated that they have no time to do their own art.  These teachers try to get you to do what is in THEIR own minds.

I had one of these types of profs and so I embarked on this series to individualize my work and keep her from interfering.  It didn't work that way however,   She embraced the work and became more territorial than ever.    Ha.   At any rate, I continued the series of women for a few years and will show you other examples in future posts.  That teacher proved to be a pain in the butt and taught me a lot.

This work has been exhibited at The Villa Thiole in Nice, 2007 and  at the "Maison des Artistes" in Cagnes sure Mer, 2008.

Let me know what you think....

Noyau Series

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Improv" in the Kitchen

We had a pal over for lunch and we planned an Autumn menu:  Two pheasants, a braised cabbage with smoked bacon, pureed parsnips .  It all sounded great.

None of us had ever done the recipes together ....or separately for that matter .  But we had a beautiful Savoy cabbage and some jaunty little parsnips we had found on the Cours Salaya on Sunday and two handsome birds from the butcher .

We found a pheasant recipe from Elizabeth David's FRENCH PROVINCIAL COOKING.

If you don't know Elizabeth David,  and you like french food, then you should look into this English "Julia Child".  As the cover of the book says, "one could cook for a lifetime on this book alone. "

Our choice from the book was "Faisan A La Cauchoise" or Pheasant with cream, calvados and apple.

We have three sizes of heavy iron Le Crueset "cocottes" and the two birds fit happily into the big one with about a 1/4 cup of butter to cook it in. E. David says to cook it for 40-45 minutes but I always test the meat after 25 min. ( it's better to be sure.... NOthing worse than dried out poultry or game.)

Done,  So now that's on a medium flame.


This is an important step and makes for a necessary if not accurate rendering of all of your efforts.

Next:    Monsieur gets intimately involved in the peeling and dicing of the parsnips.

Our "bon ami" then starts dicing 4 apples to saute in butter for a side dish.  Gibier or game, as you know, is often happily accompanied with a fruit taste like apples, citrus or berries.

 Well and good, he is going great guns with the apple corer and extra peeler.

We tell some jokes, some stories and drink some more .  KCSM radio from the bay area jazz station is playing in the background.  Perfect.

The birds are half-way done and turned over, golden brown, before we realize that we are all going at a different pace.  There is no way that we are going to be ready with either the parsnips or cabbage whose recipes we want to prepare the first time with some care.

Running around, searching the fridge for a green substitute and "a starch".  As one of my relatives says, "Where's my starch?!!" translated as rice, bread or potatoes.

The birds are now ready after 35 minutes and Monsieur takes the meat off and puts it in the oven to stay warm while he prepares the rich sauce.  We take the fat and scrapings from the pot and pour in a little warmed cognac ( no calvados in the house) .

 After 2 matches it won't light for the big "flambee" number to burn off the alcohol.  After 4 matches it still won't really  light.  What is the secret here? .....who knows and frankly who cares!

 This is going to be such a killer sauce.  Next we add the cream to the sauce and "bubble it" until it starts to thicken.

 By some small miracle our greens and our starch (Asian red rice) are ready at the same moment and so are we.  It's 2PM and we are hungry.

Best pheasant I ever had!  Sincerely.   The secret is in the sauce...pun intended.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Continental Drift: driving in town

I would NOT say that the French are terrible drivers...... but I miss the relaxation of being behind the wheel in San Francisco.  Those steep SF hills never got to me even with a stick shift.   And there was an impressive police presence in California so we didn't get out of line.

We don't have a car here but we hire one from time to time.   This is our latest C5 above.

By not owning a car here, I will probably add years to my life.

 Instead I take my chances against dogs, prams, and armpits of serious neglect which may be found jammed together on the bus or tram.     Armed with music or a journal to scribble in,  the bus can be as close as possible to a pleasant experience in mind control.

To DRIVE in France you should be aware that:

  l. Any opening in traffic will be BOLDLY AND ASSERTIVELY filled even if a line is merging.  Shoving in the queue is a national pastime.

 2. If a lane is clearly marked in the street it is just a SUGGESTION.  (Anyway,  lanes are only the width of a car.... give or take a few centimeters.... so one should be expected to wander. )

 3.  If you are on a scooter, there are NO RULES ( that are followed)...after all you don't have to have a proper driving license to ride one.  (You can and will take off the muffler right away because you are probably a 14 year old boy.)

 4. Cities were built for carts and buggies so you have to expect DOUBLE PARKING for deliveries or the quick purchase of a pack of cigarettes, and streets changing from the right to the left side 3 OR 4 TIMES in the space of a minute.  Stay alert.

 5. Narrow lanes (like my street) are open to two way traffic.  You will always be the one to back up.  (Watch out for the ditch on your side though and scraping your side mirrors on the retaining walls.)

6.  POLICE ARE FEW ON THE ROADS.  It costs the state a lot to hire a policeman and give him extra benefits for life so you almost never see a traffic cop in action. Radar is used a lot for speeding. Without a police presence people will get up to a lot of nonsense, won't they?  Of course they will.

7. There are huge curbs 30 cm high to separate bus from car lanes.  If you need to turn right across the bus lane, Godspeed .  If you wait too long for the bus to pass you will get honking behind you.  Stay cool.

    The bug-a-boo for me is the AGGRESSIVE stance.

     My french girlfriend tried to pass her driving course and was left in tears each session with the instructor screaming at her to force her way into the fray.

     Finally he gave her a question that she knew she could answer:  "If there is a choice between getting forward or following the rules of the book of the route, which is it?"  Easy she said: " you follow the official guidelines."

    " WRONG:  Go For it!  Take the initiative", the instructor barked.

    The next worst driving habit is what I call Continental Drift.

     If there is a bicycle (velo) in your right lane don't wait or pull over or check your mirror to get around him.  Just drift over into the guy in the next lane left of you, without signaling. #*!**

    (And where is the fellow on the inside lane supposed to end up...in the flower bed?!!!)

    We rent a car to get in the big shopping and so that I don't lose my nerve.  I am driving this week, in fact.

    I get in, say a prayer and before long I'm into it ... ALLEZ Y, AN OPENING !!    I could do this.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Cauliflower Sunday

    This handsome vegetable made the basis of Sunday lunch today.  It is not a choice that I have ever made before but he was just so lovely, and organically raised and our friend Roge who is staying with us for a bit encouraged me to bring him home.  

    I just steamed up this beautiful flower...and then put him in a pan to saute him in olive oil and a few smashed garlic cloves.   

    As an accompaniment,  I rootled around in the cupboard and found three kinds of rice ( basmati and black wild rice and another red brown variety I found at the Asian market) which I prepared with some barley, cooked in two separate pans and combined after cooking.  

      Whole barley, like brown rice takes almost 45 minutes to prepare but the other rices were finished in 20 minutes or so. ( It's true that wild rice usually takes longer than Basmati but I only have four burners so I compromised a bit.)  

    This might have been a vegan meal except I put some soft goat cheese (chevre) on the plate and let folks help themselves at the table.  
    It was a sweet, sweet cauliflower.  We ate all the leaves with sea salt and a bit of red pepper flakes.  THe flavors were incredible!

    For dessert, I had my two squares of chocolate "noir".

    I am not a vegetarian but my husband and I do not eat industrially farmed food if we can possibly avoid it.

     Here as elsewhere in the world, you might pay more for sustainably farmed or raised products, but your body will thank you and so will your taste buds.  It's better to scrimp elsewhere if you feel the need.   

     As far as I know, you only get one body a lifetime and it's yours to care for...and that goes for an earth too.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Giacometti Studio: Part 3

    Sometimes when I'm watching a film or documentary at home, I take digital photos of some of the frames. I may see a texture or a composition that I like.

    We found a dvd about the artist, Alberto Giacometti done by the Gallery Maeght and I made a photo study of Giacometti's studio.  He had basically made his own Lascaux cave, complete with drawings and scratches on his studio walls.   In his last years he moved to an isolated Italian village where he lived a simple life with his mother.

    wall markings

                    These photos are often out of focus but they can be evocative, especially as I save only a cropped piece of the original image.

    studio wall drawing( detail)

    wall drawing(detail)

    detail of portrait

    One of his early works ( detail)

    The artist's mother

                                                                           Early still life

                        This one you can see the lighting in the room and the tv. I didn't crop it out.

                A photo of the artist just before he died at the age of 65.  He had begun to look like one of his statues, especially around the eyes?

    They say you paint and sculpt yourself unconsciously.  Seems so.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Garden secrets

    Oxalis can't wait for Spring

    Caterpillar can't wait for dinner of rose leaves

    Japonica can't wait to show off its Autumn display

                                   Succulent doesn't hesitate to burst forth after a heavy storm.