Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vegetable Soup and Postcards from Spain

Today we had a fabulous vegetable soup made by my talented husband who surprisingly has just started cooking last year and then only occasionally,  and has had only hits in the kitchen.  

  For this soup he used carrots, cabbage, leeks, onions, celery root, thyme and white beans for the basic texture and flavor.     But what made it extra tasty was that he made his own beef broth..  It is a lot of work , but the soup lasted us two days and was another  hit.......filling and wintery warm.

For the toast, (my little part), I stuck it under the grill in the oven and then wiped a clove of garlic over the slices and used some dry rosemary leaves on top as well as sea salt.  Then I drizzled extra fine olive oil over each slice as the recipe called for.

This really makes the difference in the over all taste sensation.   If you want to have a go, look up the recipe of Golden Bouillon by Rowley Leigh who has a column in the Financial Times.  We have tried several of his recipes and are keen on his ideas.  

Monday I am getting away from Nice on a little jaunt to Spain, where I have a friend staying in Marbella.   I am not sure that we will have nice weather (it's raining on and off in both places ) but it is a change of horizon.  It's funny how humans resist change at the same time that it's seemingly programmed into our DNA as something we need to do.

  Sure everyone wants more money , more happiness , more this and that,  but look how we often resist  that which is unfamiliar.   I have found myself doing that lately.  I need a little wake up. 

So now, I am off for a little mini adventure for a week and I will let you know how it goes.   

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Only Angels Have Wings: the film

I watched a film last night from the remarkable movie year, 1939. I've always wondered what recognition these movies would have achieved had it not been for the devastating chain of events which had begun the year before in Europe and China.
Jean Arthur, one of Hollywood's great comedic actresses, plays a show biz type who has for some reason sailed into a backwater South American port. 

There she meets a bunch of guys who work for a ramshackle airline that needs to get a big mail delivery contract in order to survive. Cary Grant plays the leader of this group.  He's been burned by women in the past, and, though attracted to Arthur, acts the tough guy who only cares about his job and his buddies.   Of course, Arthur falls for him but she's philosophical enough to know that he will not be an easy catch.  But her heart rules her head so she finds herself staying.

   Meanwhile, Grant and his band of tough outback pilots have enough to keep them busy, as they battle wind, rain, fog, old airplanes, big birds and some very tall mountains in order to get the mail to its destination.

One thing I love about this movie is that it successfully mixes comedy, adventure and larger, more serious life questions.  Grant and Arthur were two of the most successful comedic leads of their day but they were that because they play the situation, never the comedy.  I actually prefer Grant in this tougher character role which I have almost never seen him play.  

 I don't know what the filmmakers intended, but the movie almost seems to be a satire of macho action pictures.  Either that or the macho code was much stronger and in evidence at that time.  But then the code of honor in general was stronger then, it seems to me.   

I would say we are left with a confusing ending.  Not wanting to give it away and spoil it for you....  I will just say that I found the ending too abrupt and glib and not really satisfactory.  I would be interested to hear your take on it.

Another quite interesting aside is how much we have become intolerant to smoking nowadays!  This film could be a subliminal advertisement for tobacco as all of these old films were.  I love to see the cultural changes in a movie and try to think of how it was received at the time. 

However, in my book, it was not well enough received at the Oscars of 1939.  The movie won only for Best Special Effects.   Some of these are remarkable even today, while others are now laughably crude. But the special effects were the least of this film's allures.   The story is complex and rich and acting ensemble is top notch.
Aside from the principals there are great supporting perfomances by Thomas Mitchell, Richard Bathelmess and a very young, lovely but inexperienced Rita Hayworth.

If you can find "Only Angels Have Wings" on dvd you will find a lot to appreciate and enjoy.  


Friday, January 21, 2011

Paper whites

                                                     photo from Sunset Magazine

Digging in the garden, I found my stand of paper white narcissus pushing up through the oxalis which has spread itself in a congratulatory way as king of the turf.  

When I got my first apartment as a girl of 20, I decided to bring bulbs in early into the house and have continued to plant them inside or out wherever I find myself.  
A sniff of narcissus as you pass by is worth a thousand other thrills .  It is one of the things I associate now with the beginning of the year with all its hope for what might be ours with a shift of spirit....all that might be ours if we can just stay blithe and positive. 

 Did I just use the word blithe for the first time in my life?   Hilarious, I am waxing poetic.  That's what paper whites do for me.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bird Story #1: Moot Tor

                                                                                                 photo by Josh Russell

  When I lived in Carmel, we all used to stop off at the Carmel Cafe in the afternoons.  I am not sure if that is the same one that is there now on the corner of Ocean Ave.   This was in the late 70's when Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel and had the restaurant/pub called "The Hog's Breath Inn" where we congregated at night.  But I digress.

  In the afternoons, in Carmel, all the artists and writers downed tools and took a break.  I would be at the corner cafe sometimes with some friends.  There was a writer there called Robert Wright Campbell.  (I just looked him up and after that period in Carmel he became a pretty well known writer . )

But what I remember is that he was working on a book called: Where Pigeons go to Die .  That title stuck in my head because when we first moved to Nice a strange series of events made me believe that we had created that place....the place where pigeons go to die.

The first event was precipitated by rat poisoning put out by both neighbors on our flanks.  This resulted in the death of one of the couple of collared doves that lived in our garden.  He came on our terrace balustrade and hovered for a day and later was found under the bushes.  The couple of doves we feed now may be descended from that first couple.  One or two spouses have died over the years.

Some weeks later after the first incident, another pigeon came to us and let my husband pick him up and untangle fishing line that had wrapped around his leg.  He was so weak that we put him in the house in a basket and fed him for a night until he made it clear the next day (by standing by the door), that he wanted to take his chances.  He sheltered between two posts of the balustrade during that night.  In the morning he was still untouched by neighborhood cats, gained strength that day and flew away.

A year later, I saw the neighbor surreptitiously toss a pigeon over our fence into our yard.  Although we didn't talk to that Parisian neighbor much in those days, she must have sussed that we liked birds.

  It seems that this pigeon she tossed over also was tangled with fishing line.  We fully expected him to die because when his leg was finally unwound, it was black and lifeless. 

 We felt sorry and fed him.  He flew off that day and we expected never to see him again.  But he came back a few days later, missing a foot!

  After a few weeks of daily visits, we knew he had adopted us.

 My unique and wonderful Husband called him Mutor ( Pronounced Moot-Tor)  I accepted the name, never asking why.  About five years later I found out that it had something to do with mutation!  I have come to love the innocent and ridiculous names my husband finds for animals.  He is not a little boy very often , but in the naming of animals it is evident.

 Mutor stumped around on our terrace for over five years but finally stopped coming a year or so ago.   I think we gave him a few more years than he might have had.

 I am inclined to admit that I discriminate against pigeons in general.  One attracts another and you never get just two, except in the case of Mutor the outcast!

  But in the metaphor of life I am somewhat ashamed to say that I discriminate against these resilient and intelligent birds.  They take what life hands out.  They eat every seed you give them unlike the doves.  They never turn up their beaks and they wait patiently for hours for the possibility of a handout.

  There is a lesson here, somewhere.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Comfort food in uncomfortable times

  I have been letting myself agonize lately.  I have no good excuses,  nasty gremlin like fears just come over me like clouds of mosquitos and I act as if life were tough and scary.    Which we all know is not really true, not in the big picture anyway.   So many people are really " in the yogurt" these days.  I have some poignant examples of people in trouble we all do.  

 I have had to stop listening to the news and reading the headlines temporarily.  I think nowadays we have too much information to process anyway.

And I have had to give myself an imaginectomy since letting my imagination run wild into negative territory. I am shutting it down for a bit.

  To give myself an extra comfort today, I made us a bowl of lentil soup for lunch and we ate with Dove Boy on the terrace. ( Yes, my husband has given all the wild-life around silly names so it's Dove Boy and Dove Girl that we have as garden guests).

  I got this recipe from A Year at an Italian Table by Valvona and Crolla and Mary Contini.   It's called Braised Lentils.

Take a cup of lentils ( Casteluccio or Puy) and a small 425 g. can of plum tomatoes ( cut the heels off and use the juice), a chopped onion and throw them into a pot to simmer for 45 minutes.  Add enough water to cover and continue to add a little water as needed through the cooking.

AT the same time add salt and pepper, a large cut up garlic clove. ... a sprig of rosemary and a fresh bay leaf from the garden.    Put in a few tablespoons of  extra virgin olive oil and let the whole thing simmer gently.

When this is done to your liking ( about 40 minutes)  you will have prepared another 2 cloves of chopped garlic in 3 T of good olive oil, sautéed.  In this will be about a 1/2 teaspoon of peperoncino or crushed dried peppers sautéed with it.

 Stir this last in before serving.  You can garnish with parsley if you have some.

This is such a good lentil recipe that we have been having it about once a week for the last couple of weeks.  There is nothing like a good rich soup to make Winter seem more friendly.  Enjoy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

School Lunches in France: Nursery-School Gourmets

Have a look at this article from February of last year.  The culture defines the way one eats.  There is definitely a greater reverence for food here in France.   Wake up America!

School Lunches in France: Nursery-School Gourmets

By VIVIENNE WALT / PARIS Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010
Click here to find out more!

When the public school office of the 6th district of Paris summoned me to a meeting late last year, the tone of urgency in the letter sent me running down the block, into the 19th century courtyard of the town hall and up the narrow stairs to the top floor.
"What does your son eat for lunch?" the woman asked after I ran in breathless. I had no idea what to say. When my son started nursery school last September at the age of 3, I had registered him for the school lunch program. But when he failed to appear in the lunchroom after that, city officials quickly took notice. My explanation — that I thought he should take a break and eat lunch at home in the middle of the day — was apparently not sufficient. This was personal.(See 10 things to do in Paris.)
"The food is very good, Madame. The meat is 100% French," the official said, picking up a brochure from her desk. I knew this brochure well, having e-mailed it to friends in the U.S. last year as a this-could-only-happen-in-France conversation piece. It lists in great detail the lunch menu for each school day over a two-month period. On Mondays, the menus are also posted on the wall outside every school in the country. The variety on the menus is astonishing: no single meal is repeated over the 32 school days in the period, and every meal includes an hors d'oeuvre, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert.(See nine kid foods to avoid.)
There is more: the final column in the brochure carries the title "Suggestions for the evening." That, too, changes daily. If your child has eaten turkey, ratatouille and a raspberry-filled crepe for lunch, the city of Paris suggests pasta, green beans and a fruit salad for dinner.

(See the 10 worst fast food meals.)
I finally saw the system in action earlier this month. Caught short by a sick nanny, my son, who was accustomed to eating leftovers from the refrigerator, sat in silence with his 25 classmates at tables in the nursery-school cafeteria, while city workers served a leisurely, five-course meal. One day, when I arrived to collect him, a server whispered for me to wait until the dessert course was over. Out in the hall, one of the staff shouted for "total quiet" to a crowd of 4-year-olds awaiting the next lunch seating. "I will now read you today's menu," he told them. "First, you will begin with a salad."

Americans struggling with obesity epidemics have for years wondered how the so-called French paradox works: How does a nation that ingests huge quantities of butter, beef and cakes keep trim and have such long lives? It could be the red wine, as some believe. But another reason has to be this: in a country where con artists and adulterers are tolerated, the laws governing meals are sacrosanct and are drummed into children before they can even hold a knife. The French don't need their First Lady to plant a vegetable garden at the Élysée Palace to encourage good eating habits. They already know the rules: sit down and take your time, because food is serious business.(See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)
In his new book Food Rules, Michael Pollan states in rule No. 58: "Do all your eating at a table." French children quickly learn that they won't be fed anywhere else. Snack and soda machines are banned from school buildings in France — a battle that is now raging across the U.S. And France's lunch programs are well funded. While the country is cutting public programs and civil-servant jobs to try to slash a debt of about $2.1 trillion, no one has dared to mention touching the money spent on school lunches.(Watch an interview with Michael Pollan.)
Public schools in France are overcrowded, rigid and hierarchical. And parents, who are never addressed by their first names, are strongly discouraged from entering school buildings, let alone the classrooms. I cannot tell you what my child learns, paints or builds on any given school day. But I do know that on Feb. 4, he ate hake in Basque sauce, mashed pumpkin, cracked rice, Edam cheese and organic fruits for lunch. That meant stuffed marrows and apples for dinner. The city of Paris said so.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jamie Oliver on Obesity in America

I have been listening to this riveting presentation ( link above) by the English chef, Jamie Oliver about what has happened to food education and diet in America.  Even if you think you have heard it all...this will get you off your cushion.

 Tomorrow I will post an article about how the French are handling the same problem.     You still have time to change your resolutions for this year.

 Look who's talking .....sitting here on a sunny Thursday refusing to get off my upholstered tush and take a walk;

  ...she who had bacon (poitrine fume), an egg and a piece of toasted zucchini bread ( ie: cake) for breakfast!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Night Lights: Run up to Carnival

Place Massena with tram approaching

Same scene a few minutes later

Light show on the arcades

I was going to offer you this series during Christmas but I know they always keep some of the decorations for the Nice Carnival in February so I hesitated a bit too long perhaps.  

This was quite a show with changing colors and great classical music.  I think it was the rival of any big city.  

The Tree forest is gone but we still have most of it in place without the freezing cold of the night I took these. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tu- Whoo, Tu-whit, Tu Whoo


When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When Blood is nipped and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare 

 My cherished and unconventional mother had us memorize this poem as children.  I love the musicality of it... its potent images....but then, it is the Bard.   

 The poem still resonates now that we are having the coldest winter ( and perhaps wettest) winter recorded in 40 years here on the Riviera.   Still it is only 50 F today so we can hardly complain.

 I found this interesting fact on the blog of my good friend, Gail.     Take a look at her Best of Nice Blog        :  . 

 Her site is a good way to weed through all the sports and neighborhood news and get the kernels of the Nice Matin, our local paper ....and with her characteristic humor and sense of irony thrown in.  

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Karen Victoria's Caramels

My friend Karen in New York has been experimenting with a handmade line of candies.  I posted earlier about her chocolates and the latest pictures I got from her are these, her caramels.  She hasn't really decided on a name for her line yet and it's still in the early stages but my mouth is already watering over the pictures.  Here is what she wrote.

  "I made the coconut caramels with coconut cream instead of heavy cream and a touch of lemon extract which really worked. I did use some salted Irish butter but half the amount.
 They work! Two of my friends really liked them. I am amazed that people don't like coconut. My friend's husband doesn't like coconut."  

Well, I like coconut but maybe I haven't ever had it on caramels.  I would like to try plain and fancy (with the coconut).

 Guess what Karen?  I just discovered that if it is a small package, the postman can use his key and fit it in my mailbox.... and I won't have to collect at the Bureau de Postes.  ( hint).

 Now that your room renovations are over, you and Luchino, the fetching black feline, have to get back  in gear, Luchino to look for pigeons and sleep,  you, lady, into the kitchen with you!   Your public awaits the next installment of your culinary escapades.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sun Sets on 2010

Taken from La Reserve, Nice

End of year musings:

Today I got through most of the rocks and dirt left by the huge avalanche that happened behind the house in the last storm.

 It seems like a metaphor for life these days.  All you can do is haul away one little rock at a time and eventually you get where you thought you wanted to go.  Sometimes there are some giant rocks and those take a bit longer and more effort to move.

I had a memorable end of the year,  refusing to entertain thoughts of the woes or the problems that visit all of us, and seemingly more so last year.   Worry is over-rated and I am working on the art of denial.

There is something to be said for parties to dispel any fears. I had several lovely invitations of fetes to go to at year's end.

  I was invited for Réveillon ( the 31st celebration)  by my french buddies Patrick and Pierre ( not a couple).  This was a party where I counted at least 8 countries represented:  Senegal,  ALgeria, Russia, America, England, Italy,  Latvia, and Cuba not to mention, all the French guests who were there.   This is my favorite kind of fete especially if dancing or music is featured.

 We all danced far into the night and everyone kissed: men with men, women with women, men and women... at the stroke of twelve.  None of that homophobic nonsense that has long persisted in America.

 At this party too were a few children.   My husband had a long conversation with a budding violinist of twelve who is well on her way to a career in music.   There were guests from 5 to 70 years old , all "young".  The few kids who attended behaved beautifully and stayed up late.  It's too expensive for a sitter these days.  If the child is sleepy the next day, at least they had an adult experience and learned how to fit into that. Maybe its good not being the center of the universe, for a change.

   As you read this, I just passed my 4073th  blog hit.   In my first blogger year I have readers from mostly England, France and the States but the rest of Europe too...and Russia and Lebanon!   It keeps me going to have an audience.  What is that about?  It's like graffiti, it's dopamine.

  Many thanks for coming all this way with me.  Like Tin Tin and his buddies lets have many more adventures and episodes together.  Wishing you big imagination for 2011,  Bonne Année.

Taken in Biarritz 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Alfie Boe warbles a bit.

  Every new year needs to start with an Alfie.  Every home needs an Alfie.   Let me introduce  Alfie Boe singing for his supper.