formats

Tomato and Spinach Tortellini

Published on April 21, 2014, by in Pasta.

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My mother’s favorite game when I was growing up–to me, it seemed more a game than anything else–was flipping apartments.

My childhood is marked, not by memories in one room, but by days of finding my room at the back end of a new apartment, like a treasure hunt. The four of us kids usually didn’t see the new place until it was completely finished — wallpaper we had helped pick out of a catalogue already dried, the floors emanating the scent of linoleum and the walls still smelling of fresh paint, the furniture we recognized from the old place in new and unfamiliar places. To this day, when I walk by an apartment being renovated and smell that smell, I’m propelled back in time.

Every once in awhile, though, my mother would have to meet with a contractor, and we would be allowed to play in the new space, brown paper covering the floors, doorknobs removed and set aside until the fresh coat of paint had dried. I remember, especially as I got older, being in awe as I watched my mother go over floor plans and look at swatches of color and fabric; in her mind, the house was already ready to be lived in. To me, it looked like a mess.

I have never been able to look at a map and see what it’s trying to say. I get lost coming out of the métro stop, even if I’ve just looked at the map of the area. I call the Country Boy, who sighs and laughs a little and then gives directions that make sense to him, but not to me.

“Cross the street.”

“Which one?”

“The one in front of you.”

“I’m at an intersection.”

“Well just keep going on that street.”

“Up or down?”

“Towards Bastille.”

“How the heck should I know where Bastille is?”

I’m very frequently lost. My spatial reasoning is horrible. I don’t get how other people see the world.

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That being said, I’m very much at home in the kitchen. I know where everything is, and there’s a logic there that makes sense to me and that, I recognize, does not make sense to TCB. One day last week, after a very long filming, I came home and told him I was too tired to make dinner, something that has never actually happened before. On the rare occasions where I don’t feel like cooking, we order in. But I was hungry and it was late, and I asked him to take care of it.

After 15 minutes, he came out of the kitchen, a worried look on his face, holding a bag of raw pasta.

The kitchen doesn’t make sense to him. Pretty much no other place makes sense to me. It’s a very odd — but quite symbiotic — relationship.

 

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Tomato and Spinach Tortellini

300 grams fresh tortellini (I used a combination of ham and cheese, but use what you like)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 large can peeled, whole tomatoes
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach
2 heaping tablespoons of crème fraiche
fresh black pepper and salt

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Crush the garlic clove and add it. Cook it, stirring frequently, until it becomes golden on all sides. Remove and discard.

Add the tomatoes to the pot, crushing each one in your hand as you add it. Add the juice and season with salt and pepper. Simmer 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the tortellini according to package directions.

Drain the tortellini and return it to its pot. Add your desired amount of sauce; you may have extra. Add the spinach directly to the pot of tortellini and stir until it is wilted.

Serve the tortellini in bowls. Top with the crème fraiche and some freshly ground pepper.

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formats

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

Published on April 20, 2014, by in Uncategorized.

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Last night, I went to mass with the Country Boy’s grandmother. As much as my father likes to believe that France is a Catholic country, it’s not. It hasn’t been, really, since the 1950s or 60s. Of his grandmother’s 12 children, none brings their family to church.

I’m not judging anyone, nor am I claiming to be a perfect Catholic. It’s just funny the sorts of things that a day like this, a day that’s a recurring marker in this cyclical way in which we measure time, can make you remember.

We were standing in his grandmother’s kitchen yesterday afternoon. There’s a small table in the kitchen that can fit six if you don’t mind rubbing shoulders. I found myself wondering how all 12 could sit comfortably around it.

“Make yourselves at home,” she said, and so we made coffee — TCB, his brother, his sister, respective significant others — and we perched around the table and went through the calendar they make every year with family portraits of all 12. I can remember most of their names after more than three years; TCB’s brother’s girlfriend is still learning, but she’s quicker now than I was at the beginning. All of the sisters look the same, and most of them have nicknames in the French style: Nana, Nono, Jojo, Bibiche, Didine.

There’s something about this space, this room, that reminds me of the breakfast nook at my grandmother’s house in Jamaica, Queens, where it smelled like old wood and there was always a container of Tang in the pantry. Here it’s Nutella and pains au lait.

We didn’t go there often, but we always went for Easter. I don’t know if my parents had a rule about that, but it always felt like Christmas was with my mom’s parents, and Easter was with my dad’s, at least when I was very small. Someone would organize an Easter egg hunt on the front lawn, we would watch March of the Wooden Soldiers in the den, and my grandmother would make scrambled eggs. It’s a simple memory, but sometimes those are the best.

My grandmother’s name was Rose, but when we were small, we called her Nana Ro-Ro. A coincidence too bizarre for fiction.

Happy Easter, Nana.

formats

Asparagus, Radish, Spinach, Buffalo Mozzarella

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It may seem strange to post this right after posting that spring is officially here, but I was a little bit late on my last post, I guess, and on top of everything, that exceedingly short period that’s one of my favorite moments of spring is over.

Skinny asparagus are gone.

I hope you don’t find me melodramatic in saying that it is a calamity.

I remember when I first moved back to Paris in September and met the Shoe Fiend; we were talking about all the exciting things there were to do and see in Paris, and she lamented over one thing.

“There are no asparagus here.”

I assured her that there would be in several months, but I couldn’t fault her for not knowing. Hailing from a country where you can get strawberries in December means that seasonality is a relative affair. While the white asparagus that are so popular here in France are seldom available Stateside (or rather, such was the case when I lived there — um — seven years ago [I should probably stop overgeneralizing about the States]), the skinny green ones tend to be pretty easy to find in mega marts for most of the year.

Not so in France.

It was only about three weeks ago that the first bunches of pencil-thin asparagus started becoming available at my local Carrefour. I stocked up, not that I distinctly remembered what was coming. I just knew I had to get my hands on as many bunches as I could. And sure enough, after just a handful of recipes, it happened: one day, there were no more skinny green asparagus. My grocery store had replaced them with skinny white asparagus, and my local primeur was stocking the fat ones that the Country Boy likes boiled with a good amount of butter.

I love asparagus. I will eat properly prepared white and fat green asparagus — prepared by someone else. But when it comes to asparagus in my kitchen, I am a spoiled brat. I want pencil-thin green asparagus. I want them roasted. That’s all I want.

I’m demanding when it comes to monocots.

Now before anyone gets huffy, I’m not claiming that these skinny asparagus are absolutely nowhere to be found. I’ve seen organic 400 gram bundles at Monoprix for 9 euros.

I considered them. At length.

Maybe they’ll make a comeback this spring. Maybe I’ll have to wait til next spring. At any rate, Americans, cherish your asparagus; you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

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Asparagus, Radish, Spinach, Buffalo Mozzarella

1 pound pencil-thin asparagus
2 tsp. olive oil
1 lemon
2 hefty handfuls of baby spinach
about a dozen baby French radishes
5-6 leaves basil
fleur de sel
1 ball (125 grams or so) buffalo mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Break the asparagus at their natural breaking point. Cut them in half. Place them in a baking dish with the olive oil. Toss together and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 20 minutes, until tender and slightly charred, tossing once.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the radishes. If they are too spicy, soak them in a bit of cold water.

Place a handful of baby spinach on each place and dress with lemon juice. Plate the asparagus over and to the side of the spinach, and dress with any pan juices.

Sprinkle the radishes over the top.

Place half of the buffalo mozzarella on each plate. Tear some fresh basil leaves and sprinkle over the top. Season with lemon zest and fleur de sel.

formats

Late Winter Salad

Published on April 9, 2014, by in Salad.

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Getting to work in the morning has become different in the past few weeks.

For one, I go to the gym before work, which means that I get to the neighborhood quite a bit earlier than I used to, at around eight. I did used to come in that early in the winter, but it was winter, and it was cold, and it was dark, and it was far less pleasant than it is now.

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Now, I know everyone.

The neighborhood where I work actually isn’t in Paris, but in Boulogne, a suburb of the city. The street where we work is home to a permanent market, similar to Rue Cler (though far smaller), with two bakeries, two pharmacies, two greengrocers, a butcher, a fishmonger, a supermarket, a café, an Italian épicerie and a charcuterie. Deduce what you will about how the French prioritize.

There is no wine shop, but luckily, the cheese man sells wine.

Much of my work involves filming video recipes, and when we’re filming, someone has to go grocery shopping. While there is occasionally someone else to fetch the last-minute things a chef forgot to ask us for, when it comes to ordering the bizarre cuts of meats, foreign vegetables and fish that our Portuguese fishmonger has never heard of, it’s usually me. And that means that I have made friends with most of the people along the street.

In the mornings, I have time. I have always loved mornings for that. Of course, if you’re rushing into work at the last minute, you don’t have time, but arriving an hour and a half before work begins gives me the luxury of observing the neighborhood in the morning, and it’s the sort of scene you can’t make up.

One of the greengrocers is getting a coffee at the café, already decked out in his uniform brown apron. The café owner, who usually calls me mon ange, doesn’t notice me; I don’t take it personally: I’m out of context in the morning. He’ll say his first bonjour this afternoon when we stop by for a drink before lunch.

The other greengrocer is already at his post, unloading the trucks from Rungis. He calls me charmante.

The butcher, Franck, is having his morning cigarette in front of the closed Asian traiteur. He calls me Emily, and when he writes my factures, he spells it properly. Even the Country Boy’s family sometimes forgets the y.

They all tutoie me except for the fishmonger, but I can’t fault him for it: I know what it is to be overly polite to compensate for the foreignness of the language.

As I walk through this neighborhood that is not mine but which I have appropriated, I can’t deny it.

Spring is officially here in Paris.

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That being said, I know that’s not the case everywhere else, particularly in certain parts of the States. I made this salad a few weeks ago, before all of the fantastic produce had started popping up, when all I had to choose from was arugula and root vegetables. Still, it was fresh and tasty and perfect for the weather, just starting to warm up.

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Late Winter Salad

2 Tbsp. olive oil, separated
2 carrots
2 parsnips
2 cups baby arugula
1 lemon
2 ounces feta
1/2 red onion
1 avocado
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the carrots and parsnips into fries. Toss them with one of the tablespoons of oil and a bit of salt. Roast, turning occasionally, until soft on the inside and caramelized on the outside, about 20-25 minutes.

Toss the arugula with the remaining oil and enough lemon juice for your palate. (For me that’s a whole lemon, but I like lemon.) Season with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice the red onion and toss it in the the arugula.

Halve the avocado around the pit and separate the two halves. Use a spoon to remove each avocado half from the skin. Thinly slice the avocado lengthwise, and fan it out over the top of the arugula. 

Remove the parsnips and carrots from the oven, and place them decoratively in bunches over the top of the arugula. Drizzle any cooking juices over the top. Sprinkle the feta over the salad. Dream of spring… it’s coming soon.

P.S. If I’d had some cilantro, I would have added a bunch of it to the salad… but TCB hates it, so I didn’t.

formats

Chèvre, Asparagus, Peas, Arugula

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Before I moved to France, I didn’t know that cheese had a season.

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Luckily, I have a Country Boy, who has taught me many things:

- Usually in French apartments, all of the plumbing is connected, so if the sink is blocked, you can cover all the other drains with wet sponges and plunge it.

- If you don’t like the answer you’ve gotten from a French fonctionnaire, it’s OK to stomp around and yell a little bit, but it goes over better when you’re “French since Charlemagne.”

- Cheese has seasons.

- Goat cheese is better when you pet the baby goats first.

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These pictures are from last year, but last weekend, TCB and I returned to the farm near his parents’ house where they sell fresh goat’s cheese. We always make a stop in the goat nursery first to pet the baby goats.

Baby animals are very exciting for me. TCB says he doesn’t get how I can get so excited about baby animals. I tell him that I don’t see how he can get so excited about taxis.

It’s very Country Mouse and City Mouse.

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TCB has always dreamed of having a pet goat.

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I secretly think it’s because he wants to have non-stop goat cheese all the time.

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At the farm, they sell four different cheeses, each of which has been aged a different amount. We always opt for two of each. The très sec are my favorites, with their hard and crumbly texture.

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Sometimes, when we can’t get through them all just snacking on them off the end of a knife, I combine them with other seasonal ingredients: asparagus, peas, and a bit of baby arugula.

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It’s a pretty nice way to say hello to spring.

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Spring Vegetable Fricassee with Fried Goat Cheese Rounds (serves 2)

1 pound asparagus
2 tsp. olive oil

1 cup freshly shucked peas
1 handful baby arugula
salt and pepper
lemon juice (for those not opposed, i.e. The Country Boy)

4 goat cheese rounds
plain breadcrumbs
1 egg (if you have it; I didn’t, which is why the breadcrumbs in these photos look a little sad)
canola oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the woody ends of the asparagus and cut them in half. Toss with the olive oil and a bit of salt, and roast for about 20 minutes.

When the asparagus are nearly cooked, bring a pot of water to a boil. Season with salt. Shock the peas for about 1-2 minutes, until they turn bright green. Drain and toss with the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a frying pan over high heat. Dip the goat cheese rounds in a bit of beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Fry for about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.

Toss the arugula with the peas and asparagus and add to the plates. Top with the goat cheese rounds. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

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formats

Another Salade Niçoise

Published on March 23, 2014, by in Salad.

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I don’t feel like a foreigner anymore.

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I suppose it’s been a long time coming, but I had an “aha!” moment yesterday. We came out to Coullons to visit The Country Boy’s family. We drove from the train station to the tiny town that I’ve got no idea how many times I’m visited. TCB asked his mom to pull over so he could buy a pack of cigarettes before the Tabac closed for lunch. He joked that he was going to buy a lotto scratch card instead; he mentioned it by brand name, but I understood. Nostalgie radio was playing Michel Sardou. TCB and his mother were talking about the local mayoral elections, immigration politics and socialism. It was raining. We were parked in front of the red brick town hall.

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I don’t know which combination of these elements sent me back to my time in Lille — the rain, the radio, the brick, the background noise of conversation — but I realized, suddenly, that that constant feeling of other-ness that I’d felt during my time in Lille and, to be honest, for most of my seven years in France — was gone.

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The music, the buildings, the language… the things that had seemed quaint and new and intriguing when I first got here were now just… normal. Day-to-day. I wonder if I would find America less familiar, now. I wonder if there would be things that would shock me there, the opposite things that shocked me here: long opening hours, modern architecture, lack of smokers. I wonder if I would be charmed by things that I witness in America, the way I was when I first arrived in France and was charmed by the way that people always said bonjour and au revoir and gave bises and stopped to talk to each other in the street.

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Things became even clearer in the evening, when we went to a friend’s house for apéro. Drinks were poured, and we sat for at least 20 minutes, just talking, no one drinking, before our friend’s mother finally reached for her glass and said, “Bon.

The rest of us followed suit, lifting our glasses and looking each person in the eye, saying tchin. It’s natural now. So natural that, for once, I didn’t look at it with the sort of navel-gazing other-ness that I usually have when I participate in routines that are normal for others and foreign for me. It was normal for me. So normal, in fact, that I probably wouldn’t have even written about it if our friend’s mother hadn’t looked at me and said, “Vous faites ça aux États-Unis ?” Do you do this in America?

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I assumed she was talking about saying “cheers” and clinking glasses. I said that we did, but that it wasn’t quite as obligatory. They all laughed; I realized we were talking about apéro in general.

My answer still stands.

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TCB’s father says that if you want to get a drink in the country, you should be sure to “stop by” at 11:30 or 7pm. He’s right. It would be considered extremely rude to not offer a drink to someone who knocked at your door at those times. And that’s something that I don’t think will ever happen in America.

That being said, it’s been so long since I’ve lived there that I can’t say for sure.

 

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On a somewhat unrelated but no less important note, I can now announce that, after seven years, I finally like mushy, overcooked green beans. I think this means I’ve officially gone local.

 

Salade “Niçoise” (which has very, very little to do with Nice)

2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

2 medium-sized potatoes, boiled and sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 small can haricots beurre (or green beans)
10 green olives
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 green onion
a few chives
1 can tuna, canned in olive oil, drained

Mix the dressing in the serving dish: whisk together the mustard and vinegar. Emulsify the oil in by whisking while slowly drizzling it in. Season with salt and pepper.

Wash and spin dry the lettuce leaves. Toss them with the vinaigrette.

Arrange the tomatoes, beans and potatoes in sections in the bowl. Add the tuna to the center. Sprinkle with the olives, thinly sliced green onion (both white and green parts) and chives. Season with salt and pepper.

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formats

Spinach Risotto and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Published on March 22, 2014, by in Rice.

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“Inferior people talk about others, average people talk about things, superior people talk about ideas.” -Dr. Robert Monaco

I don’t think that I’m alone in that I never met my paternal grandfather. I have a lot of friends who, growing up had just a few or even one grandparent, and I had three, plus my maternal great-grandfather, so I was doing pretty OK as far as grandparents are concerned. That being said, when I was very young — maybe four or five — I was obsessed with knowing everything there was to know about my grandfather.

In retrospect, I think I must have scared my dad a bit with these requests. I didn’t want to know what he was like when my dad was little; those questions came later. But my mother had already had two more children and may have even been pregnant with a third, so I knew that there was a certain amount of time when there was a baby coming before the baby had actually arrived. And I slowly figured out that my grandfather had been alive during that time. He knew about me.

This is the part where I probably scared my dad.

I used to wake up crying, and when one of my parents came in, I would tell them I missed my grandfather, the one that I had never met. I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of the night to see an older man sitting on the edge of my bed, though I concede that it was likely a dream. And just once, when I was ten, someone called the house and I answered, and then man said he was my grandfather; it wasn’t the voice of my mother’s father, and I hung up immediately. For hours after, I wished I had stayed on the line. I still don’t know who it was.

I don’t know what any of this means, nor have I ever really tried to decipher it. After the age of ten, that connection to my grandfather disappeared, and I no longer felt this need to know more about the time where our lives almost crossed paths.

But I did want to know more about the man he was. I draw stories out of my father as best I can, whenever it seems natural, whenever it seems as though he may have something to say. Sometimes he doesn’t want to talk about his father, which I understand. In some stories, my grandfather seems more like a character than a person, a doctor raising four children, a genius who couldn’t understand why no one else was.

He was precise. One of my favorite stories comes from when he first met my uncle by marriage. He was driving, peering through a small window of clarity in an otherwise fogged up windshield. My uncle, attempting to be helpful, wiped the condensation from the inside of the car. My father was terrified, but my grandfather, though he was likely fuming inside, said nothing.

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My father has a few triad sayings inherited from his father. One is that you spend a third of your life asleep, so get a good mattress, and a third of your life working, so do something you love. I can never remember if the third part is about finding someone to spend the third part with or doing something you enjoy, so I try to do both.

The second is my favorite. “Inferior people talk about others, average people talk about things, superior people talk about ideas.” I’ve been hearing it for so long that I’ve never questioned it, never really even thought about it except to put it into practice. Talk about ideas. Talk about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Talk about books and art and music. Talk about things you question and things you don’t quite understand.

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I’m still sorry I never met my grandfather, but I suppose I can feel lucky that he left behind a strong enough legacy for me to have some idea, however small, of the man he was.

Spinach Risotto with Confit Tomatoes

1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. olive oil
1 shallot
salt and black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine

1/2 cup frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
2-3 cups chicken broth or water, warmed
1 Tbsp. prepared pesto
1 Tbsp. butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Halve the cherry tomatoes and toss them the the olive oil, orange juice and salt. Place in a glass baking dish and roast while you prepare the risotto.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Finely mince the shallot and add to the olive oil. Season with a bit of salt. Sauté until slightly golden, about 4-5 minutes. 

Add the arborio rice and cook until translucent, 1-2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Add the frozen spinach. Cook until the liquid is absorbed.

Add the chicken broth or water by the half-cupful, stirring until all of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Continue for approximately 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender but still al dente and the risotto is thick but slightly soupy.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the pesto and butter. Serve in deep soup plates topped with the roasted cherry tomatoes.

formats

Crawfish Mac and Cheese

Published on February 11, 2014, by in Pasta, Seafood.

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I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was obsessed with those “who are you most like” tests in high school. I distinctly remember filling one out while at Andover that would tell you which boarding school you were meant to attend (I got Groton) as well as which cast member of a variety of different television shows you most resembled. There was a site that hosted a multitude of them, the name of which I now forget, though I’m sure it still exists in some form.

I’ve become obsessed with a new test, though this one isn’t telling me which character I am from Game of Thrones or Mad Men. My newest obsession is the Myers-Briggs test that I’ve been forcing all my friends to take and then share their personality type with me. I’m sure no one close to me is surprised to learn that I’m an ISTJ.

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“The ISTJ is extremely dependable on following through with things which he or she has promised. For this reason, they sometimes get more and more work piled on them.” I almost laughed when I read this part. I’m becoming nearly famous in my office for having people ask me to do things, shooting eye daggers at them… and then doing it anyway.

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“ISTJs will work for long periods of time and put tremendous amounts of energy into doing any task which they see as important to fulfilling a goal. However, they will resist putting energy into things which don’t make sense to them, or for which they can’t see a practical application.” This part was perhaps a bit more telling. I know that I take on too much. I know that I have too many things on my plate. But the description of having my own set of rules, my own way of deciding what’s important… well that actually made me think. And then I read the next part.

“The ISTJ is not naturally in tune with their own feelings and the feelings of others. They may have difficulty picking up on emotional needs immediately, as they are presented.”

Bingo.

This part kind of hit the nail on the head for me. If there was any doubt that I had been placed into the proper category — not that there really was –, it disappeared.

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I had a conversation a long time ago with Professor Snark. I told her, point-blank, that I have a hard time being empathetic, though I think I phrased it more akin to, “I don’t have lots of feelings.”

I didn’t always know that this was true about myself, until I realized that not everyone uses logic to sympathize with others. That some people actually feel what others feel; the Country Boy is like that. I, on the other hand, have a hard time noticing when things are important to others if they’re not also things that are important to me. And I know that it’s something that’s hurtful, especially because I prefer when people don’t talk to me about the things that I find emotionally stressful, a characteristic of mine that my sisters are particularly attuned to. (It might be interesting to note, here, that Little Sister and my father both got placed into the same category as I did, which I find not at all surprising.)

But I digress. Even if I can logically recognize that someone else is in pain, I react the way I would like others to react to my own pain… by letting me vent, nodding, and promptly changing the subject. And then I freak out when I realize I reacted the wrong way. The Myers-Briggs has something to say about that too.

“Under stress, ISTJs may fall into catastrophe mode, where they see nothing but all of the possibilities of what could go wrong.” When I stumbled upon this — catastrophe mode — I was certain that the writers of the test had been spying on me, watching as I cried for no reason and tried to tell TCB that there was nothing wrong. Because often, in catastrophe mode, nothing is wrong. But everything feels wrong. I assume that it’s a difficult thing to comprehend for someone who’s never lived it, because it’s far from logical. If I didn’t know catastrophe mode intimately, I would not be able to fathom it.

But there’s more. And while up until this point, nothing I read was all that surprising, when I reached this point, I balked a bit. “Being perfectionists themselves, they have a tendency to take other people’s efforts for granted, like they take their own efforts for granted.”

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I know that I have faults, though I don’t always recognize them. I’ve liked examining this test over the past few weeks, but I won’t make my categorization my excuse; I’m sure that my strong-willedness, my single-mindedness, my lack of empathy have hurt people in the past. I’m sure that my own distance from my emotions can’t be easy for those who are emotionally linked to me. And while I know that my family and close friends get it, for the most part, I also know that they must find themselves having to make excuses to deal with my bluntness, my brashness, the harsh way in which I judge the world and judge myself.

So to those to whom I don’t say it enough: I may not know how to show it particularly well, or even think of showing it all that often, but I know what a pain in the neck I am to deal with most of the time… and I appreciate your patience and continued tolerance of being around my sarcasm, wit that borders on coldness, and general lack of softness most of the time.

Does crawfish mac and cheese make up for it?

Crawfish Mac and Cheese

1 tsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 small onion, minced
1/4 green bell pepper, minced
1/4 stalk celery, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 pound crawfish tails
salt and pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
3.5 ounces cheddar cheese, freshly grated
2 ounces goat cheese
6 ounces whole wheat pasta
2 green onions, green portions chopped

Heat a pot of water to a rolling boil. Season with salt and add the pasta.

In a saucepan, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onion, pepper, celery and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Strain the pasta when cooked and reserve to the side.

Add the flour to the pot with the vegetables and switch to a whisk. Whisk the flour until cooked, about 1-2 minutes. Slowly begin adding the milk, whisking to incorporate. Cook until it just comes to a boil, then remove from the heat and add the crawfish tails.

Season to taste with salt, pepper and Cayenne. Whisk in the cheeses until melted. Toss with the cooked pasta.

Topped with the chopped green onions and serve.

formats

Mediterranean Pasta with Feta Sauce and Used Books

Published on February 8, 2014, by in Pasta.

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When I was growing up, my father called me Emily Reader. The capitalization is my own, an interpretation of the way he said it. As though that were my name. My mother called me Emma Louise; my father called me Emily Reader.

A name is an identity, and Reader was mine, an identity I drew to during the years when everyone is trying to figure out who they are, when forging an identity becomes important. In the fourth grade, our teacher personalized that “don’t do drugs” speech by asking us to look around the classroom, calling attention to the fact that someone sitting in this room would offer us a cigarette, some day. It left me speechless.

In high school, I chose Reader. It made things a bit easier.

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I buy my books used, when I can. Not only because it’s cheaper, but because I love finding the notes of other readers, other people like me, meeting these sentences for the first and hundredth time, so moved that they can’t help marking the page. My favorite is the exclamation mark. I know what it is to react in such a visceral way to words that there are none to describe it. There’s something nearly vulgar about it, like a gasp or a moan or a sigh.

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Buying used books in France and in America are two different endeavors. In America, I’m overwhelmed by choice. I spent high school afternoons and vacations enveloped by the Strand, swimming in pages. I would leave with stacks of 20, so large I couldn’t hold them, so many it was comical. Linguistics texts and science fiction paperbacks and copies of classics that were well-worn so that Dickens could be rolled and carried in my cargo pants pocket and Vonnegut could be carried into a tree.

In France, books are French. It’s a different literature, a different feeling that comes from finding one I love. It’s more work to read in French, even now, less automatic, more difficult to get lost. It’s not that I don’t like getting lost in the livres de poche area of a bookstore, where even new books cost four euro. But when I stumble upon a bookstore with piles and piles of English-language paperbacks sitting out on the sidewalk near Saint-Michel, it’s like being back at the Strand. I page through them and stumble, not only on notes, but on forgotten postcards and entry tickets to the Louvre. I imagine the person who read this book on the flight over, found himself sacrificing it in favor of wedging a few more souvenirs into his bag for the journey back. And somehow, this book has found its way to me.

Mediterranean Pasta with Feta Sauce

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 eggplant, diced
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
salt
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast

150 grams uncooked whole wheat pasta

1 cup Greek yogurt
100 grams feta cheese
fresh black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the onion, cherry tomatoes and eggplant with the tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt. Add the garlic cloves to the pan. (Alternatively, wrap them in aluminum foil and add them to the pan.) Roast the vegetables, tossing occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes have shriveled and the eggplant has colored.

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, preheat a frying pan over medium heat and add the teaspoon of olive oil. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Cook 3 minutes per side, until golden brown outside and cooked through inside. 

Remove the chicken from the pan and dice. Return to the pan with the roasted vegetables, reserving the garlic cloves. Add the pasta and a small amount of the cooking water to thin the sauce enough to stick.

Add the roasted garlic cloves, yogurt, feta and black pepper to the blender. Blend until creamy and smooth.

Serve the pasta tossed with the vegetable sauce topped with the feta sauce.

formats

Thanksgiving(s) 2013

Published on January 20, 2014, by in Uncategorized.

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This post is a bit (um… 2 months) late, but I have my reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that December seems to breeze by, especially when Christmas is the crux of your work schedule. And January… well you’ve all borne witness to my radio silence this month.

But it’s more than that. I’m having a hard time finding something clever or even interesting to say about Thanksgiving this year, perhaps because I’ve posted about Thanksgiving many times already. Thanksgiving as an expat is a completely different holiday than it is when you are close enough to go home to your family… and when it’s a national holiday.

This year, I had two Thanksgivings: one giant one that surpassed even my biggest Thanksgiving, hosted by a friend who lives outside of Paris, and one much smaller Thanksgiving — just me and The Country Boy. After two previous Thanksgivings that had ended in sensory overload for my poor Frenchman, I decided to make the traditional meal for just the two of us, so that we could celebrate in the language we speak best: franglais.

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The first Thanksgiving, celebrated the Sunday before the real Big Day, was a franglais occasion as well. We had hot mulled cider and negronis to start, as well as some truly fantastic confit pigs’ ears, which I do not have a picture of because they were all gobbled up. 2013-11-23 13.12.35

We had rabbit pâté and were warned to look out for stray shot. I didn’t stumble upon any, but knowing how fresh these rillettes were made them even more delicious, somehow.

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We had truly fantastic stuffing and lobster mac and cheese that the Country Boy raved about. Considering that he’s a blue box fanatic, it’s not surprising that he fell for the real thing.

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There were also salads, which were quite welcome, and four turkeys: two deep-fried and two smoked. Each more delicious than the next and neither of which I photographed, though I do have footage of the deep-frying somewhere in the recesses of my Smartphone. Suffice to say, it was pretty extraordinary as far as Thanksgivings go, and perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to the atmosphere that was Thanksgiving before I took it over, before it became a holiday I was in charge of instead of a holiday I attended and broke opened tubes of Grands biscuits for.

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This being the case, I did make Thanksgiving for myself and the Country Boy. We barely made a dent in all the food. There was chicken and mashed potatoes, of course. A stuffing that I intended to make with chestnuts, then forgot; instead, it was celery and onion and bread and delicious, delicious chicken juice, which I finally made myself, because I had the oven space and because I had the time — TCB wasn’t rushing me, and I wasn’t rushing myself, thinking about having people over.

Anyway. I don’t have much else to say about Thanksgiving this year. It’s come and gone, and so has Christmas. Working in food took some of the magic out of it for me this year, as did having my pool of fellow expats quickly dwindling. But that’s OK. I like to think the Country Boy enjoys Thanksgiving just as much as we do… even if he doesn’t quite get cranberry sauce.

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