Friday, November 14, 2014

Of cabbages and kings....

Visit to a real pumpkin farm
The only thing I can reference from the famous poem,  "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is that I am going to "talk of many things" and eventually of "cabbages" but not "kings".     After all it has been a long while since I have posted and I have a few things to catch you up on. 
First of all, I just got back from a wonderful visit with my family. of those vacations where you are reluctant to return to "real life".  There was Sarah and Joel's new baby to hold and coo over.... which for me, a childless old Auntie, is a big,  big deal.

Next there was the happy time I aways have not only with "my girls" but with my brothers and "man" relatives as well. 
 It helps that I visit only once a year.  This means that everyone makes me the center of attention and plans all sorts of delicious parties and outings to attend and my brothers and sister give me their undivided devotion. 

When I am in the Pacific Northwest,   it is usually Autumn with all the leaves and homes looking particularly festive.  There are decorations on all the porches.  Its an American tradition.

  Then there is Halloween on October 31 which is a major celebration not just for American children but also for adults ( at least in Seattle) who along with the kids,  don costumes of various degrees of cleverness....and in the case of the adults, sexiness. 

Little monster in Queen Anne

When in America I ride the Amtrak Coast starlight train, which has scenic views. I leave at 5 in the morning from Eugene and get to Seattle by noon.  

And when I am there in the northwest,  I drink real coffee instead of decaf and frequent coffee bars for a cup of java (Seattle is the home of the coffee bar).

  I also have a "Martha cocktail" at Crow, a nearby restaurant in Queen Anne.
  Yes,  my sister has her own drink at her local restaurant/ bar, just down the street from her house.  If you go there and ask for a "Martha" you will get a very dry , "lime- drop " without the simple syrup in it and just a rim of sugar in the vodka martini.  And thanks to her they are served in a martini glass.   It is a winner but I can only have two and a half before its time to go.  Martha and I always share the last one.   It seems we have some of our best talks at Crow.

And I eat very well when I am back home.  Besides the wonderful home cooked fare,   my visit falls during restaurant week and the local eateries are offering special deals on outstanding meals and locations.

When in Seattle,  I take walks up to Kerry park and since I get up so early from the time change, I see it when all the professional photographers are there getting the best view of the city.  And I see it also in the afternoons as in this photo above. 

I visit with young friends and old that I have hijacked from my sister and niece in Seattle.   I have Joel's mom to go "squandering" with at thrift shops ( I finally found some Uggs at the second hand shop)  and Joel's house renovation to admire.  And I have three  of my wonderful, talented and breathtakingly handsome nephews living there ( the fourth is now in New York with Sam his new wife and Jules is traveling in Asia)   as well as two of my beautiful, accomplished nieces to hang out with. ( Susan, the third,  is studying in NYC)  I also have three sisters- in- law who I really like being around.  

I even watch movies and football on Dave's "wide screen" while in Oregon.   I am now a fan of the Oregon Ducks and their former coach Chip Kelley who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles.  He was  responsible for transforming the game of College football to what it has become today.  He is devoted to his players and has a wonderful ethic for his teams. 
 I am impressed by him, the new coach, Mark Helfrich and the team... who probably has the largest fan base of any college team.  ( Take a look at the new app that tells such things). 
 It is fun to see my quiet, professor brother going wild over a touchdown.   Roge got hooked on football when he was about 5 years old when my father was a university professor.  My dad took him to meet the players at his first live game at the University of Redlands where my father was teaching some of the players in his engineering classes.  

Another thing I get to do in America is learn new recipes.  Most of my family is into what I call "clean eating".  That means fresh produce, few grains ,  and grass fed animal protein.    Some of my relatives are more strict than others but they all like to find beautiful food and to cook it.  (We are privileged to be able to afford such food. )

My brother-in-law, Josh, taught me how to make kale chips which are so seductive they could substitute for popcorn.  

Now that I am back in Nice , I have not found any kale but found instead lots of Savoie Cabbage.  So just for an experiment, today I tried to make the chips with cabbage instead.  Savoy cabbage looks like this and it comes, of course,  from the Savoie in France which borders on Italy.

To make my chips I used just the outer leaves but I will try using the rest later.  I washed them and de-veined them, removing the large vein with a knife, discarding it and then cutting the cabbage leaves into bite sized pieces.   I added a few Tablespoons of good olive oil, salt and pepper and tossed it all in a bowl. 

I had preheated the oven to number 6 traditional. That is 395 degrees F.   (We used 350F in Seattle.)

Then I used parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spread the cabbage pieces thinly so they wouldn't stick together. 

I baked them for 6 minutes without turning them and they were just crisp enough to be ready.

These are a bit chewier than kale chips, not quite so delicate... but Monsieur ate half the bowl and I ate almost the rest of them so I guess they will be a staple around here. 

 Its a good way to snack and your body as well as your palate will thank you.   Cabbage is just about the healthiest food you can eat.  Look it up. 

"The time has come,' the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —

      And whether pigs have wings.' "

from the Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

L'Ecole de Nice: Restaurant Review

 I have heard various reports about the restaurant: L'ecole de Nice....a place that has been around since 2012 but I had never tried.  One couple I know had poor service there, but no one has complained about the food itself.   

  So I decided it was time to go find out first hand and to take one of my good buddies along. 

 Meet Patrick.

      The restaurant L'ecole de Nice is named for the art movement of the same moniker that includes Arman, Alocco (nice guy), Ben, Cesar, Yves Klein and many other  Nicoise artists from the 60's.    The concept of this bistrot marries art, music and cuisine to represent the city of Nice.  

The idea was conceived by three friends: the "chef étoilé,  Keisuke Matsushima ; his second in command, Yoshinobu Seki and a Franco /Japanese composer and DJ called Marc Panther.  

The Michelin starred chef has two other restaurant collaborations:  The Poisidon (17 rue Gubernatis) and the original restaurant named for him : Keisuke Matshshima ( 22  rue de France).  

Since this is a "cantine"  we were rewarded with the same quality one would find at the other restaurants but with a much reduced menu and modest prices.  For two courses, the price is 18 euros and for an "entree, Plat et Dessert"  ( three courses) the price is 25 euros. One can add a fish course for another 10 euros : 4 courses for 35 euros for lunch.  

I chose the menu of the day which happened to be rabbit which I love and peach melba which is also a favorite.   

Here is my rabbit dish: the cylinders of tender rabbit sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes.  There was something else ( more than one) which might have been "sweetbreads". What do rabbits have more than one of?  It was really tasty and didn't taste like liver.  I am not really sure what it was but it was delicious. 

I forgot to get a picture of Patrick's starter which was an aubergine pate with a chèvre cheese sorbet.  It was a winning combination.  

For the second course, Patrick chose slices of Rouget with scalloped potatoes:  He was quite  pleased with this dish as well.

Then the friendly Japanese waitress brought our desserts:  

Patrick had pineapple cannelles with white strips of merengue served between them.  The flavor was reminiscent of those banana candies we had as kids called circus peanuts.  Do you remember those?  

  But the flavor of his dessert was much more nuanced, thank goodness.   But what does Patrick think about it?  

NO... just kidding:  actually he liked it.  

And did I enjoy my peach melba?   Yes, the peach was poached in cinnamon and ginger and the ice cream was home made. 

I would give a thumbs up to the cuisine, the ambience and the service of this little bistrot.  The room was a little less formal than my experience the other day at Le Passe plat and I think I prefer more formal. 

 But you notice, the plates were white or just a clear dish for the melba.  ... which is much more appealing with the colors of the food than the overly used slate ( ardoise) for a table service.

With any of the restaurants that offer a reduced menu, I think one needs to go back and try different offerings on other days.  

 And in the case of "L'ecole de Nice"  you won't have any trouble persuading Patrick or me to do just that. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Simple Pleasures : Fish

If you are blessed to live by the sea here in Nice, it pays to take advantage of the best outdoor markets  and fetch in some fresh ingredients and prepare a fish meal and "eat in". 

 I never learned to appreciate fish while  growing up.  My mother, who did the cooking hailed from Oklahoma and didn't know how to prepare them!    Even in San Francisco ,  some of the few fresh fish stalls were in the tourist area of Fisherman's Wharf, a place no self respecting resident wanted to go.   ( Now I hear that they have a great outdoor market in S. F.)

So when friends came visiting last weekend we decided to get up early and go to Liberation market up at Place Charles DeGaulle.  ( see an earlier post). 

  Once there, we headed for our favorite fish stand ( the one with the most customers) which is manned by a poet from Algeria.  This poet/fisherman has given monsieur two volumes of his poetry and according to him the fishmonger/poet is inspired. 

 But I digress. 

The best fish stall at Liberation has a variety:  farmed fish or fish caught daily either with nets or lines.  A fresh fish caught the same morning in the great majestic sea ....which spreads itself not five minutes from our doorstep.... is expensive (as is all protein these days).   But when you consider how much more expensive it may be next year, it may persuade you to splurge now.   And if you were to enjoy this quality of fish in a restaurant , the tab would be three times more costly or wouldn't be available at all. 

Our choice was soon settled on an exquisite specimen of sea bass (loup).  My friend, who is a seasoned and excellent cook,  had suggested that roasting the fish in its own juices and serving it simply with a salad and crusty French bread was what was needed.   I was eager to comply and learn.

Here is our beautiful boy weighing in at 2.7 kilos.

 We roasted the sea bass in a glass baking dish ...with the head severed but included in the dish (for maximum juices and to fit it all in).  We used fresh parsley and dried dill stems in the cavity and good olive oil drizzled over the "poisson"  and covered the top of the pan with foil.  The oven had been preheated when we put our "loup" in at #5 (275 C, 350 F.)

  It took about half an hour at this low temperature before the flesh came away from the spine.

 Here is the platter with three-fourths of the fish...  enough for four of us to enjoy second helpings.  We saved the rest to eat cold the next day.  And we saved Mozzi his piece, of course.

 Here is our accompaniment of fresh cherry tomatoes in olive oil with chopped parsley.  The secret to this salad was the quality of the olive oil and enough of it in the tomatoes for soaking up with bread. 

 A salad of fresh lettuces, a baguette and bottle of crisp white wine were all that was needed to complete our picnic on the terrace.  

I have to say it was a perfect meal.  Everyone was pleased.    The preparation was so basic that there was no hiding the quality of the fish .  Delicately roasted in its own juices, the sea bass was actually the best I had ever tasted.  

 So yes, we will be back to the Algerian poet quite soon.  I will read his "cahiers de Poesies" and sing his praises for both of his creative pursuits.....but  it will be his "gifts of the sea" that will be foremost on my mind.  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Transforming a little piece of earth.

Those of us who love rootling in the dirt will begin to understand how invigorating it is to transform a piece of bare earth into something that one can call a garden.  

My little bare corner before planting.

  I wouldn't have dared start this project unless I had gotten a lot of preparatory help from Rodica and Monsieur when my ankle was in a cast.  In fact Rodica and I only started the clean-up which took countless hours.  I didn't really dream big until Monsieur took Rodica and I out to the garden center. 

  The soil in our area of the Mediterranean is mostly clay.  There are a lot of rounded pebbles and rocks which keep the plants drained but  there are too many rocks on the surface to look attractive .  Some  Mediterranean plant species do well in this rocky soil but it can get so dry that in the summer I cannot even get my trowel into it. 

 If one wants to go beyond native plant varieties for a garden in the Mediterranean you need to bring in top soil, the more the better.  In the nurseries here we can buy it in bags of 50 l.  We needed about 12 bags for this project which we bought over the course of a week.

 Monsieur's dream was for me to take the corner in front of the Pyracanthus hedge and transform it into a sort of "herbaceous border." like I had done in the front.  I loved the idea and started by checking out what was available from two garden centers.  A lot on show were annuals and perhaps we started too late for putting them in. Usually May is the start date.  We will have to see what transpires in the fall.  I hope I have enough perennials and grasses to keep the basic design in place.

Here is my finished result for the empty corner above:

I haven't finished distributing the flagstones yet. 

And moving in a little closer you can see what I have here: 

The finished corner

In the photo below you will see the right arc of the garden which I had just put in place.   On the left of the big rosemary bush is salvia with purple spikes ... drought resistant and bee friendly.   I also have three magenta celosia with jaunty spikes. 

 When Rodica was here we picked out some Kalanchoe which are the succulents planted in a group here in showy pinks and oranges.  To go with those we chose some zinnias which have lush leaves which look good even when the flowers are not on show.  

 Also you will see two ornamental grasses, a red one and the light green with red tips.  And in the foreground is a pelagorium and a few irises. This new planting is to the left of a small tulip magnolia tree and in front of two cypresses of different species.  This is the garden to the right of the "empty corner" that I had put in during my convalescence.  

On the other side of the corner completing the "horseshoe" I have clumps of society garlic with sprightly violet blossoms These are so easy to cultivate that I have divided the clumps over the years and spread them about.  Behind these I have several plants of Cosmos which is an annual.  This is another butterfly and bee attractor as are the lavender bushes during the summer. 

That pink blossomed plant is Echinacea or coneflower.  I have 4 of these in various shades of orange and pink throughout the planting .    The cluster of white flowers have not been identified but it is a composition of two plants put together. 

Center Salvia, garlic on right and left, huchera bottom left.

Getting back to my corner, that is salvia again with the purple spikes next to a couple of Coleus with red and green leaves which I have spread throughout.  I also show here a dark purple-green ornamental grass ( to the left of photo) and a crocosmia with the orange blossoms.  It seems to be a slightly different species than the crocosmia which comes up all around my garden in the spring.  In the foreground you see one of 4 hucheras with tiny white flowers on fragile stems.  These are called coral bells and come in variegated colored leaves.

Mallow Rose

This beauty is a mallow rose Hibiscus.  These are rather showy flowers but the color of the leaves was what attracted me.  The flowers are 15-18 cm across or about 7 inches.   They blend in surprisingly well in the border.

In the newly transformed corner I have four kinds of ornamental grasses, one of them is called "angel hair" which seems apt. 

 And there are some red and green cabbages along with the intense chartreuse of the ornamental sweet potato.

 A garden it seems is never static... nature surprises, enthralls and disappoints us.   My new creation is mine now but we will see what nature has in store for me. ... It's all part of the fascination of gardening.   And creating a garden is not at all the same as maintaining one.  Hmmm.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Restaurant Review: Le Passe-plat

Le Passe Plat  Restaurant

It seems to me that since I have been preoccupied, a bunch of new restaurants have cropped up in Nice.   So now, since I am mobile again my friend June and I  have decided to explore some of them for lunchtime dining.

Trip Advisor seems to have the most active review source so we decided to look there first and found  Le Passe-plat on the port at 4 Bis Quai Papacino which had just opened in May.  

  If you live in Nice, you have passed this little place a hundred times without perhaps realizing that it has changed owners.  It used to be the Magic Pumpkin ( le Zuccha Magique), a vegetarian restaurant fond of cheese.    Having dined there once and having been overstuffed like the proverbial fatted calf  I vowed that though delicious.... it was not my kind of place.   

The traditional building looks exactly the same as the former restaurant.  So it was a surprise to enter and see that the interior has been completely modernized.   Now instead of a dark cave-like room, one sees the "passe -plat" window where the young chef is at work.  There are a handful of well spaced tables and a small bar has been added.  The interior now feels modern, light and airy.  And for those not bothered by the proximity of the street, there is the choice of sitting outside. 

The restaurant specializes in fresh market finds and keeps the menu small:  4 entrees,  4 mains, and 4 desserts and a "plat du jour" all reasonably priced.  The main courses range from 19-23 euros. 

 We were pleased that looking at the offerings we didn't see any of the tired old menu items one is used to in many Nicoise restaurants.  The chef specializes in original dishes with a contemporary twist.  I saw echoes of Asian paired with French cooking, for example.      

  I understand that the restaurant is owned and operated by a husband and wife team.  He is the chef and she does the service.      For our waiter this time we had a friendly young man who answered all of our questions and brought us each a glass of exceptional good white wine to sip while we made our choices. 

Everything on the slate looked promising but we decided to skip the starter and head straight for the "plat principal"   

 June chose the restaurant's signature dish of roasted lamb cooked for 7 hours.   It was served with a row of jaunty potatoes and rich gravy.  She was quite happy with her choice and if I were to come back I will try that succulent looking lamb dish myself.

 I chose the sliced ahi tuna dish which was done with an Asian sauce served on the side for dipping and a melange of carrots in a delicate red sauce.   I wasn't keen on the tuna marinade but the vegetables were heavenly and I like tuna underdone so that was fine.  

For dessert I opted for a "chocolate molleux", a little cake served with a soft, runny center.  The surprise in this one is that the inside  sauce was made of speculoos (as in the Dutch cookies) .  The main spices in speculoos are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper.   So the flavor with my chocolate was a kind of carmel sauce with a kick.    The chocolate molleux was served with a huge dollop of Chantilly.   

June was much more "sage".  She chose the mango tiramisu for dessert.  Since I was in a kind of trance while I mainlined my chocolate, I never found out if hers tasted as good as it looked. 

Ok, so yes we had a good dining experience but I can still nit pik. 

My first gripe is that we were given only two flavors for our main plate.  Yes, we could have ordered a starter but they looked sizable ( all around 12 euros)  and there was no small green salad or vegetable offered.  Not everyone will be wanting three courses for lunch.  I can imagine that I could have been given a few tablespoonfuls of cold soba noodles or a Japanese cabbage salad in a tiny bowl with my tuna and June could have had my carrots , for example to go with the "meat and potatoes".   As it was I couldn't finish my tuna because it got boring with just the carrots to pair it with. 

 It reminds me of the story of the kid who liked to eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwich off of three plates , one with the peanut butter , one with the bread, one with the jelly.  I don't like that my meal is split up so profoundly that I can have only two flavors at a time. 

My second gripe was the use of "ardoise" plates.  Now think about it ..... slate might be trendy but does dark gray really set off the colors of Ahi tuna slices or orange carrots?  Much better to serve them on a simple white plate.  And that's another thing, why serve two of the same color dishes at all?  Two red dishes on a black plate just was not visually interesting or enticing to me. 

My third suggestion is not about noise so much but about intimacy in dining.  This restaurant just happens to be on the section of the port that is closest to the coast highway.  It is a heavily trafficked street without a view of the water..... just some huge yachts and a parking lot to gaze at.  Although the restaurant is quiet inside,   my suggestion for outside is to put as many tubs of trees and bushes as are needed to shield the two outside tables and make a cozy hide-away.  It would soften the look of the place and the plants would be seen inside too. 

Would I go back again to Le Passe-plat?

  I would like to try some of the other offerings and get to the bottom of this chef's skills.  And I would like to dine there in the evening and take in the lights of the port on the way home or maybe get a pedal bike to take us up "the promenade".  

    But seeing how picky I am,  I will want to see what else is out there for the same price range and see if I can come up with my dream dining experience.   But , if my gripes don't resonate with you then you will probably love it. 


Friday, August 15, 2014

Steve McCurry: Retrospective

This iconic image was taken by Philadelphia born, Steve McCurry… He became famous when he introduced his haunting images of the conflict in Afghanistan.  

  This particular photo of an unknown Pakistani girl made its way around the world in 1984.  The girl with the green eyes aroused such curiosity that a National Geographic team was sent to try to locate her.   In 2002 they found the girl's identity and the photo taken 17 years later is displayed in this exhibition as well.

Each of the 27 images that make up the exhibition is carefully chosen and tended to achieve maximum impact.   And each is a masterpiece of composition, light and color.  

 I found that McCurry's sensitivity to the beauty found in the rugged faces of the struggling peoples he sought to photograph  to be remarkable.   The portraiture is stunning.

This free exhibition ( until September 21)…. is housed in the  gallery called Theatre de la Photopraphie et de L'image ….. 27 Blvd de la Dubuchage , Nice.  

  If you haven't already…..Go!

Walk into Town. Yes!

August 13

I buy three lined notebooks as if I have something of great import to say or maybe I am going to write " the great American novel". 
 But today is a marker of a day….. even if I don't write about it.  

It's the first day since May 28  that I have walked down the street to the bus on both legs…. "sans" crutches,  sans boots or straps.  

My intention was to take the bus to the center of town and then walk up to FNAC where there is always the best selection of lined notebooks in town,( not quadrilled… as the French prefer) , then proceed back down.  

  Now, after an hour or so of standing and browsing in Fnac I have made my way down to Starbucks in Nice Etoile.   I need an excuse to sit down and Starbucks is the only place where I can order half real coffee and half decaf in the same cup. 

Its 11am in Starbucks and everyone is having a sweet: a muffin , a piece of carrot cake with his coffee.  Still, no one in the bar is "as big as a house" as you find now in America.    But I am afraid I have seen the tendency of corpulence even here.  We now see husky teenagers and children in France that we didn't see 20 years ago.  All these snack bars along Jean Medecin are not helping.  It's too easy now to stroll and "grignoter" ( to nibble).  But a snack at 11H00 is a simple pleasure and it seems harmless enough once in a while. 

The 3 months of a useless ankle have left me rudderless in more than one way.  Not being able to walk properly felt final, as if it were the edge of not being able to do other important things….like create, or think, or go out on one's own again.   

A strange dullness took over during my convalescence and all I wanted to do was sit in the garden and pull the weeds. ( Maybe this is a metaphor. ha!)  But today I feel hopeful.  

 My ultimate destination for today is to see Steve McCurry's photography exhibition at Le Theatre de la Photographie at 27 Blvd Dubuchage. 

 I am guessing that walking and gazing at his work will inspire me and get some oxygen to my brain.   

 Maybe I will fill the notebooks after all.   Ankles crossed. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Samantha and Christophe

My nephew and his new bride are visiting for a week as an extension to their Parisian honeymoon.  We are all having a peachy and amusing time swapping stories, feasting on summer fare ( team effort) and visiting just a few select attractions.   It's quite hot now in August for sightseeing and we are glad the couple wants to just "be" here with us.   

  The pair will be heading soon to live in the town of Annandale on Hudson in New York.   For his graduate studies Christopher has a full scholarship from Bard College in operatic voice and choral directing.    Sam will be working towards a museum curator's  degree or finding work in the town.  

 While here, Samanitha and I have been having a "gay old time" playing dress-up with my vintage clothes collection.  I am pleased that she wants to take some of the pieces with her.     Its time to pass on these clothes to a young and beautiful woman who will really wear them.  My niece Sarah and her mother have modeled them for me in years past with great style and panache.  Now Samantha is the only other person I have met who can actually fit into them.  

Like Sarah and Martha,  Samantha wears these outfits I enjoyed and collected with grace and charm.   In fact they look like they were made just for her. 

Barney's New York….. modern fox fur hat with modern coat

 60's Bill Blass sequined jacket with 30's straw hat

Straw and velveteen cloche from the 20's

Silk crepe silver studded 20's long gown cut on the bias

Leopard print deerskin hat from 50's
Beaded bonnet from the 20's

"Irene" designed suit probably from 40's or 50's

This is a hat I made from a nondescript felt hat and fur pieces found at the thrift store.   I wore it as part of my costume for Masha in THe Three Sisters in my theatre days in S.F.    This is my red scarf and thrift store coat I found in Nice.

This is a rare scarf that Monsieur gave me that is woven with gold and silver threads. It also has interesting tassels and is a 20's piece.  The necklace I bought in Hong Kong 30 years ago.  

Samantha models a cut velvet coat from the 30's

This dress is part of a collection of bespoke dresses Monsieur bought from the niece of the Reynolds Linoleum heiress in America

It is a fox fur trimmed velvet dress designed by Don Loper who also designed for Marilyn Monroe

A brass studded gown from the 30's

A 40's cheongsam with a myriad" hooks and eyes". That's what makes it fit like a glove. 

Christopher models a men's japanese kimono from the 30's.  Too bad I can't convince him that he will use it.

It was wonderful to have the newlyweds here and we hope that they will put us on their agenda for a future visit.  After all, Samantha hasn't yet visited her roots in Sicily.  And that would be as good an excuse as any for the couple to come back our way.  But knowing how "way leads on to way" I may have to visit them first.