Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mulet gris et Salicornes

 Going up to our vast outdoor market at Place Liberation in Nice is always a treasure hunt.  Among the more than 100 stands are several fish stalls, one of them specializing only in shellfish and related seafood delicacies.  With our  houseguests, Phoebe and David back from Italy, we went to Place Liberation early in the morning, searching for the best and the freshest to bring back for a Sunday of culinary feasting.

For lunch we chose a huge quantity of smallish mussels known as bouchots mussels named after their growing technique :bouchots ropes, on which the mussels grow tied in a spiral on the pilings and planted at sea .   Mesh netting prevents the mussels from escaping or falling away. This method needs an extended tidal zone and I have only seen it being used on the Ile de Re but is probably used extensively along the Atlantic coast.

                                                                                        photo eat like a

We decided to have mussels for our lunch, thoroughly cleaned and then steamed in a glass of wine.  With some butter, garlic., olive oil and parsley, the liquid from the mussels made a fine broth for mopping with a crusty baguette ......or in my case, eating with a spoon.    Monsieur had had a pot of borlotti beans bubbling on the stove for a few days and he added, baby tomatoes, sage, basil, oil, garlic, vinegar  to make a rich soup which we served as a second course.    We enjoyed a bottle of Meursault  Blagny with lunch.  And for dessert..... green figs so ripe that the "honey" ran from their burst skins.  

But wait , I am not finished.  After a siesta, reading, knitting, and hours of a chat fest, we were at it again....with a "dead" fresh , giant gray mullet that Pheobe had spotted at the second fish stand.  He was a "beaut" and even more "intéressant" as he cost only ten euros, cleaned and ready.    An equivalent sized "loup" sea bass would have been about thirty five euros!!

Here "he" is roasted with parsley and lemon tucked into his cavity and bathed in olive oil.   The fish took about 15 minutes at number 6 oven temperature ( 350F ) in an oven preheated for 15 minutes or so.  A mullet is a robust "hunter" fish and his flesh clings at the spine.  It is really an impressive backbone that can't be easily sliced to remove the head.  When most of the fish is done there is usually a stubborn bit near the spine that is not quite done.  But the rest of the flesh is flaky and tender.   Mullet is an easy fish to deal with.  ...few bones other than a few large ones that are easy to spot.

Here is our grey mullet before it was baked on a bed of foil on a  "cookie" sheet.    To go with our fish we decided on simple boiled potatoes garnished with olive oil, salt and pepper and a big helping each of Salicornes . We don't see "salicornes" very often as they grow around marshes and not in the Mediterranean.  Again, I first tasted them in the Ile de Re off the Atlantic coast of France.

Salicornia europaea is a kind of succulent algae, highly edible, either cooked or tossed with vinaigrette as a salad.   In England it is one of several plants known as samphire ; the term believed to be a corruption of the French name, herbe de Saint-Pierre,  "St. Peter's Herb."

Samphire is often cooked, either steamed, sautéed or microwaved and coated in butter or olive oil as we did.   Due to its high salt content, no salt is added and it must be washed thoroughly first to remove any sand that may be clinging.

 After cooking, the Salicorne is the bright green color of seaweed, and the flavor and texture are a bit like young spinach stems or asparagus.  Samphire is often used to accompany fish or seafood dishes.

  It was wonderful with the gray mullet that came out perfectly roasted after about 15 minutes in the #6 oven.   We served the fish only with slices of lemon, no sauce necessary.

 So engrossed were we, that we hardly spoke as we took the first bites of our dinner.   It was one of the best meals of the year and that is going some.

   We should all indulge in the abundance of the sea that we can find in our areas. Certainly those of us in Nice have no excuses not to.    In the future it may not be so affordable or caught wild as this fish was.  The freshness makes such a difference that you can convert any non fish-eater to a new way of life.

For dessert, a taste of both apple and "tartes citron" from the patisserie called Delices d'Or on Avenue de Gambetta. 

 On the pastry box it says "Le gourmandises n'est pas un vilain défaut." "Greediness in not an unpleasant defect" 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Mysteries of blogging...


  Blogging is such a strange and wondrous experience.   Its a mystery really.  There are some days that the title of my blog appears in another font that I didn't put there.  Then just as mysteriously it is replaced by the one I did order.  There are times when the colors of the background or... say the lettering... is not what I applied.  ..... but just as soon as I notice it, it is replaced yet again by some unseen force.    Or the showing on Firefox has a fatter font than the same one I am using to design my blog on Safari.

And then there is the automatic spelling corrector that replaces the word "tying" for the word "fishing" without any warning and when I correct it yet it again it goes back to it's own way.   Machines as secretaries : not always satisfactory!

  Another puzzlement is why do some posts get lots more traffic than others.    I can understand just now why Giacometti posts are getting a lot of hits because I took some pretty decent pictures of that exhibition and people want those to pass forward, I suppose.

But why Eggs in Meurette is getting a lot of attention right now is a mystery to me.

  My all time most visited posting is Cherry and Almond blossoms from Sat. May 2011 which as up to 80 hits by now.  I think people are searching for that Van Gogh blossom picture all of the time.

There is a certain satisfaction from seeing one's all time hits.  In my case it is well over 30,000 since I started.  There is always the possibility that some of these are machines but most of my readers are American or French and then it breaks down pretty much into English speaking countries like Canada, Australia etc.  I do get the surprise visits from Asia and the rest of Europe too.

I have to admit that the feedback keeps me going and I am disappointed that it is getting harder to comment on the blog.  The letters and numbers when asking you to prove you are not a robot, could be easier deciphered if I were a robot.  Now Google puts some illegible, scrambled letters and a photograph of a number.  It takes several tries to hit it right. The machines out there are getting more and more sophisticated at spamming and this is one of the prevention strategies.   I "feel" for those who make their living this way.  It is not always understandable the machinations of a machine.

It is the end of another August which was pretty darn miserable as far as the temperatures went.  The humidity has now backed off and the mornings are cool and perfect.

 I just got back from another trip to the Valley of Marvels ( Val du Marveilles ) Park de Mercantour , our huge national park in the vicinity,  where Jeanne and I stayed for a few days and hiked in Casterino , a ski station up higher than Breil sur Roya and agreeably cooler.  Here are a few pics taken with the cell phone.

 We took a refreshing hike, me with my plastic pool shoes as I had not scheduled to do any hiking this time and didn't have all my kit.  But those little plastic shoes were fine for the sharp flint-like stone and I made it to the first destination on our trail which eventually leads to the Refuge to Valmasque.

The Valley of Valmasque is from a local legend of a witch called Masca who was accused of all the ills that had occurred in the village and was eventually chased into the deserted valley.   But perhaps it was not such a bad location for her as there are three large lakes which make the 7 hour trek ( I hope they mean going and coming) such a sought after destination.

 There is a hostel type " refuge" there where one can spend the night near the lake called Lac Vert or Green Lake.  It is accessed by a trail where the marmots are little sentinels along your way barking one to the other as they do.   And if you have your field glasses you might see a mountain goat ( chamois) as I did this time.

  In any case the first big pond on the Roya River is reached after only a  30-45 minute trek from Casterino and is an agreeable picnic spot.    We lazed about and watched the Vairon fish fingerlings, about 10 cm long, which act as food for the trout.

 I have yet to see a Roya River trout being caught but I did see a few fly fishermen catching their line in the trees along the bank.  It doesn't look easy.

                                                                                                                   Jeanne at our picnic spot

Today we are waiting for some guests who have been vacationing in Italy on their way back home to England.  It is the time of the "rentree" when everyone returns home after holiday and resumes their habitual life.    I don't expect that habitual life for me however.   I will travel and receive lots of travelers from now until Christmas.  I'll keep you posted when I have my machine with me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Summertime and the Livin' is Easy...

Fish are jumping and the cotton is high...."  George Gershwin

   Newly cleaned surfaces of Notre Dame Cathedral in Nice

I am having a busy summertime despite the heat.   The other week or so, I stepped out to see a concert at Our Lady ....Notre Dame Cathedral in Nice.  The evening was a free offering by the American Youth Orchestra of Philadelphia and they were damned good.  I guess it helps to have a popular selection on the program, including Stars and Stripes Forever by Souza but all of the selections were beautifully rendered and narrated in American accented "French" .  It was amusing to watch the seemingly youngest member, around 7 years old, in the percussion section wending Cymbals, Xylophone, and triange as well as a big bass drum.  You can see her peeking over the drum in the picture.  Her bangs flew every time the cymbals were struck...charming.

   I went to this event with my friends, Jacquie and Philippe and there I noticed cultural difference number 138. Americans give a standing ovation for any good effort,  not just applauding for merit.  The youth orchestra did a fine job but their experience is what it is.   They may grow to be excellent one day but they are very young.

 I observed that the first 15 pews in the church were probably the American parents of these children, traveling through Europe with the orchestra.

                                  Members of Philadelphia Youth Orchestra tune up in preparation for their concert

 At the finale of the concert, all the Americans jumped to their feet to give a standing ovation while the French remained seated and applauded, albeit enthusiastically.  After the 3rd curtain call , the Americans remained standing and clapping and the French slipped away out of the hall.     I think this difference is about what Americans feel about rewards.   Is effort to be rewarded as much as excellence?  Americans will say yes to the former especially if children are involved.  I am not sure about the French but my sense is no, only merit will be rewarded and that only subtly.  I'll bet the French would say that the standing ovation is really over-used by the Americans. who are "childishly" enthusiastic.  Hmmm.

My next venture out was to Nuits de Suds , a summer international music festival which takes place in the Place du Grand Jardin de Vence each year and which we attended last year at the price of 14 euros instead of this year's fee of twenty.  Yes, prices are really going up around here.   But probably because of the price hike and the economy woes in general , we were able to land a table this year and enjoy a decent glass of wine while we listened.

                                                                         Gocoo lead drummer
 The first concert was by Gocoo, a group composed of 40 exuberant drummers.  The traditional style of Japanese drumming is mostly done by men but this time the majority were women.....and I must say..... young women, as very few arms are up to the kind of punishment and endurance required for this traditional "tambour" drumming done at full force.   The flailing arms and thunderous beat endured for at least an hour and a half without let-up... (we came in at the middle).  However, I was impressed by what I witnessed of these inexhaustible and talented musicians. And you couldn't help but be affected on some visceral level by these ancient Japanese rhythms .  

                                                                     Kid Creole and The Coconuts

The main concert for the evening was Kid Creole and The Coconuts, the latter presumably referring to the sensuous dancing girls who were a constant on stage (except when making one of at least 8 costume changes) during the show.   The group's presentation is humorous and fun but King Creole and his side kicks didn't get into their musical groove until half way into the concert.  Still, they got there and finally had the audience dancing and swaying.  We had long since abandoned our table to move to the beat.

Another summer activity is swimming.  I am not a great swimmer but was curious to see the total refurbishment of the municipal pool at Breil sur Roya where I was invited to spend the night with a girlfriend.

  The town was crowded for the summer festivals.  But it is still cooler than Nice and tranquil by comparison.  The "piscine" is quite impressive as there is a beautiful open roofed pool served with solar panels and a grassy outdoor area where one can rent a chaise for the attractive price of 1 euro . You can picnic, rest in sun or shade or just stare up at the surrounding cliffs as I did intermittently between reading and swimming.  And the smell of wood throughout is irresistible.

We had a good swim , a hike through a minuscule hamlet whose name escapes me  , and a gathering of plums from a "wild" Reine Claude plum tree.  Jeanne and I couldn't abandon such abundance and we brought home enough for two pies at least.   I made mine with Paleo crust featuring almond and coconut flour and coconut oil as a binder.  I also added some ripe peaches for the sweetness.   It was pretty tasty.

Here is the Roya river in all its riverness... its still fishing season there if you have mastered fly rising.

And the surrounding parks and trees of the lovely village of Breil sur Roya near the border of Italy.  

On our hike we starting identifying local edible and medicinal plants.  But none of them but the blackberries and plums really enticed me.  I hope I never have to live off the land...I'm afraid I would starve.  

One last report about Les Compagnons de la Grappe, a small wine cave and restaurant that Katherine found and invited us to a few Friday's back.   It is located just off of Place Garibaldi at 2  Rue Catherine Segurane.   Telephone: 04-93-55-69-24

 After we were given one of the few tables available,  we were served a lovely glass of wine from their cave selection.   On certain nights there are simple dishes on offer.  We all opted for the beef carpaccio which was copious and tasty.

 The best part of the evening though was some very young musicians who entertained through the evening singing pop songs and standards.  They were able and charming to hear and watch with their unexpected sang froid.   The girl's name is Josephine Schute and she and her band are not too concerned about keeping up their facebook page called A.JAM.    But if I see her name mentioned again I will try to go, especially in this cave where their selection was more toned down from their usual rock music with the full band.   It was great to see kids under 20 years old really finding their passion and delivering with panache.

The cave was a little short handed or maybe they were just inefficient with their serving.... so our evening stretched out a lot longer than we expected.  Still when you are in France, you expect to expand the evening out for as long as it takes. ...not always a bad thing.

  Yes, summertime...and the livin' is easy.  Fish are jumpin'  and.... well....I can't speak for the cotton but .....the prices are high. ... (apologies to George).  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Paleo Diet update

                                                                                                                    Paleo Brownie from Liz PCF

I am surprisingly still doing the Paleo lifestyle diet......well more or less.  The idea was to wake up my body and shed some pounds but secretly I thought I would have given up on it by now, 2 months later .

 With our society swimming in fake industrial foods and all of us addicted to cheap grains and sugar, I felt that my chances of sticking with it were fragile at best.    But I really wanted to scale back my dependencies and protest against all of the disgusting stuff disguised as edible one finds nowadays on super-market shelves even in France , the land of culinary sanity.

 Besides, I was tired in the morning before I even had "boots on the ground".  What was that about?

What is the Paleo Diet ?   According to Loren Cordain who wrote the original book , The Paleo diet",   touts the foods eaten by our ancestors 500 generations ago when we were hunter-gatherers.  These would be mostly fresh fruits, vegetables,  meats and seafood which are high in soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phyto-chemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats and low-glycemic carbohydrates that are known to promote good health .

 What is not on the list are refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydtates and processed foods that are associated with heart disease, diabetes, and scores of other health problems.   The regime asks dieters to replace dairy and grain and legumes with fresh fruits and "veg".

All of this is designed to target against what are known as Syndrome X diseases ( obesity, hypertension, unsatisfactory blood cholesterol and other blood lipid levels, Type 2 diabetes and gout).

A complementary goal is to keep the body slightly alkaline, so that the disease symptoms of acid/base imbalance will improve.  The concerned diseases here are osteoporosis, kidney stones, hypertension, stroke, asthma, insomnia, motion sickness, inner ear ringing, etc.

  Now I don't knowingly have any of these diseases but I know that most of us in the western world do not have a good track record for staying disease-free as we age and so I am game to try to start now with a preventative approach to health.  Besides, I am really vain and want to look and feel as good as I can for my age group.  

I have done some cheating on the diet with cheese, cream in my coffee, and salt.  These are hardest to do without.   And I have craved desserts as I try to get off sugar.  Almost all of the recipes for "Paleo desserts" one finds online include either agave syrup, honey or Stevia.   But compared with white sugar, these concoctions are still in the safe zone if one does not indulge in them too often.   And 85% dark chocolate is allowed so... Whew.

I have asked all of the questions about calcium sources, B vitamin sources, cooking in ovens which Paleolithic man didn't have, and the short brutish lives of Paleo people etc..... and am more than satisfied with the answers I have found addressing these concerns.

 There are hundreds of sites about Paleo but one of my favorites is Marks Daily Apple .    This is not just a diet as you will see by looking at Mark's pictures.  Most of the people involved in the diet are cross-trainers and I too have started up with a walk or some yoga to get my body engaged again.  This is not an option for this life style.  You must do something physical to reap the benefits of Paleo and I am not a good swimmer, alas.

 The only side effects that I can see thus far into the exploration of Paleo are "monkey breath" (which happens if your protein to vegetable ratio gets out of whack) and muscle cramps in my legs which has happened three times already while I was asleep .Agggh.

So now I eat some bananas for potassium and take a multi-vitamin occasionally for magnesium.   I am still a lot better off than I was before as far as nutrients are concerned and best of all,  I no longer am hungry or feeling deprived in any way as I so always on calorie counting regimes.    I will never do one of those again.

Well, I shouldn't say that I don't feel deprived at all.  I did cheat on a cup of  "midnight cookie dough Haagen Daze" the other day and I was totally guilt free...perhaps not a good sign for my longevity with the Paleo plan.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gasiorwski XXe Peintre Fou : Maeght

 Here was the teaser painting on the poster that got me to pay 19 euros for photo privileges and entry into The Maeght Foundation last week to see the Gasiorwski Exhibiton.
    It is an interesting self portrait which reminded me of my own "Doughnut Eater " painting below.  I was curious.

                                                                                    m. payne

The exhibition started promisingly with a series of well rendered photo realistic paintings done with unknown tools, maybe a sponge, or brillo pad produce these pointillist style paintings with images taken from the family album.

This one is very creepy with a old person's face......apparently the artist mixed  images together.

and moving up to a quite startling canvas depicting the pubis of the former painting .

This one has interesting volume and shadows done without a brush.

Despite the success of these first hyperrealistic canvases, Gasiorowski starts into "pictorial suicide" by violently criticizing  western traditional painting and the art market.

  He tries ,in effect,"to make painting disappear", to eliminate the frame and the canvas.  "The pictural act is my only problem".  

The next thing we see in this exhibition is another style completely... (Gasiorwski was fascinated by the cave of Lascaux I find out later online.)

I am speechless.  where is this going?

The art world, the galeries , the museums and even the artists, not surprisingly will not forgive him for his bitter critique of art society.  He is totally isolated without offerings of exhibitions. 

 He  withdraws from the world of art but continues to pursue his ideas of the foundations of art and he invents several fictitious scenarios to work from.   First the War of 1975, then AWK his own academy:  Worosiskiga ( anagram for his name)  led by a tyrant....of which emerges 500 hats signed by celebrated artists. 

This is possibly the meaning of these first paintings we see in the hallway upon entering the present exhibition.

Although Gasiorwski continues to unabashedly criticize artists who are trying to enter the system of the art market,  he has one friend in the art world,  Adrien Maeght,  who gives him his first exhibition in 1981. 

 It is not a success but Adrien Maeght organizes others and pushes his "discovery" forward until  in 1983 Le Musee d'art Moderne de Paris gives Gasiorwski a big showing.

  Gasiorwski continues to make up stories and scenarios:  an imaginary tribe of indians called Kiga of Worosis.  Peasants appear in paintings in an homage to Cezanne.  The imagined Kiga, primitive painters , mix excrement and aromatic plants to use in their Cezanne like compositons.  They make cakes of excrement that Gasiorowski uses " like the apples of Cezanne". 

  This is not evident in this exhibition but apparently the "jus" of these "merde" cakes is collected and used for the series called "Jus".    IN addition there are fictional objects, and his quite effective series of flowers (which you can find only on posters and books in the store at the Maeght.) and do not make up part of this exhibiton. 

  It would have been helpful to have some of this history while viewing the present exhibition as all of this information I found on French websites and does make the show slightly more comprehensible. 

After the 1983 event, the "artist"  starts the huge  dung colored canvases that are unrolled and displayed in this exhibition. There is often the image of  " a line" the "fil d'Ariane", sometimes in gold leaf which stands out from the muddy colors being used.  He borrows from images again from Lascaux to Manet as if he wants" to rejoin the territory of the painter "???.

 This is the most cheerful wall of the present exhibition....for those of us that appreciate color.

A few paces away we see this comment on war...the "great medals" being obliterated by black paint on glass.  Easily digestible statement but a relief to me amongst all of the other incomprehensible and uninspiring offerings.
 A Gioccometti like image without explanation.  I could not comprehend the titles.

 Now this one was the only one in the exhibition that I could understand really by the title.  There are some faint letters under the gold leaf line that refer to the Title: Commander  This is another comment on war, possibly Gasiorwski"s ficticious war.

 Here starts the enormous canvases unrolled and flung on the wall for the remainder of the displays.

 Part of the same canvas...

Yeah, Yeah, yeah....


I could easily change the saturation and make this into a great photo, but then it would not represent the real canvas.

This one however, shows better....

I want OUT of Here.....

Below are the series of whimsical flowers in pots that are by the same artist.  Obviously he has a different idea that he is trying to portray and one that is much more easily assimilated .    It is not surprising that on the brochures of this exhibition and even in the timeline, a liberal use of his colored paintings are shown, although almost none of them are in the main exhibition.   If we are meant to feel his angst ,.... we do.  

Posters offered in the book store...not seen in the exposition.

This  landscape by  Gasiorwski graces the stairs in the gallery.   It's hard to believe it is the same artist...a man who has some talent but who is at odds with the classical ideas of painting: harmony and beauty.

 He wanted to reinvent painting and for a moment in time he did.... by failing to paint. .... but I have met a thousand artists in my twenty years of painting.  They all have moments of inspiration and fallow , or angry periods.    They are all seekers, like Gasiorwski.

But they don"t have an Adrian Maeght in their corner.