Category Archives: Food/Cooking

Genetic Memory, Huguenots and the Richard LeNoir Market

Have you ever heard of genetic memory? According to Wikipedia, it’s:

…memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time.It is based on the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code.

I’m sure there’s only a tiny little speck of DNA in me that’s left over from my French ancestors, but I do believe it completely dominates over all the English, Scottish and whatever else is traveling through my veins.

The French part of the family were Huguenots–protestants who rebelled against the Catholic Church during the Reformation. They were persecuted and even massacred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many fled, including my ancestors who ended up in Manakin Town, Virginia, in 1699.

Like I said, that’s just one vague ancestor centuries ago, but I’m convinced that genetic memory is why I love France so much–especially the markets.

In April, we spent a morning at the huge Richard LeNoir Market just off the Place de la Bastille. I had collected a few Euro from each of my companions and was buying picnic provisions.

Like bread…Cheese, of course…Some fruit…

Maybe just a little more cheese…

We also had pate, charcuterie and some sweets…

Not the most elegant table I’ve ever set, but when you consider that this was just a few feet away, you really can’t complain.

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So Just How Clean Is Your Organic Girl Lettuce?

I’ve never been a big fan of lettuce in a bag–especially those cellophane bags of sad, brown iceberg lettuce with a few shavings of carrot thrown in for good measure. You could practically see the germs floating around in the scummy brown water that always seemed to accumulate in the bottom of the bag.

I remember being at more than one gathering when the hostess pulled a similar bag out of the fridge, opened it and poured it right into a salad bowl.

No thank you.

But recently, I’ve been lured in by the Organic Girl brand sold at Whole Foods.

50/50! - 50% spring mix & 50% baby spinachThe products are touted as being triple-washed. And, as their website states:

Fabulous–you’ve found organicgirl! these are no ordinary greens. these are organicgirl® good clean greens. introducing the next generation of organic produce, grown in harmony with the earth usda certified organic and cultivated with a keen eye for superior quality. each leaf is nourished with love from mother earth, and packed in a 100% recycled plastic clamshell 100% Plastic Packaging . we have it on good authority that mother nature is an organicgirl, and we’re confident that you’ll agree – mother always knows best.

Old habits die hard, and the first time I bought these greens I put them in my trusted salad spinner/washer. What washed out was pure dirt–almost enough to make mud pies from.

Now don’t get me wrong–I know full well that lettuce grows in the dirt. When I buy greens from my local farmer’s market, there’s always dirt attached. No biggie.

But when something purports to be clean, there shouldn’t be that much dirt attached. If their triple-washing leaves this much dirt behind, it makes you wonder about the rest of their process.

Nevertheless, I tried again with a different mixture–a lettuce/spinach blend. Once again I washed it myself. Only this time, instead of dirt, there were soap suds in the bottom of my washing bowl.

Frankly, I’d rather see dirt than suds of an unknown origin.

After two or three rinses, the suds went away.

But not before I learned a lesson–no more “prewashed” greens.

I’ll save the money and wash my lettuce myself.

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Slice of Life

We had a fancy dinner party last night. Lots of silver, crystal and china. Linen on the table. Fully stocked bar. Fussy (but delicious) little canapes. Lots of wine followed by tawny port.

About two hours before the guests arrived I was peeling potatoes. Midway through the second one I managed to peel off part of the nail of the little finger of my right hand. I would like to say that the blood spurted across the room, decorating the shiny fridge with artful splatter.

But instead it just welled up and out in a steady stream. For a couple of seconds I just looked at the blood dripping in the sink. I was hoping that there was just a bit of skin missing and not part of the nail. I held it under running water. It hurt like the devil and I was afraid to look.

You see, losing a nail is one of those things I’ve always dreaded. The thought of that exposed skin just makes my toes curl up under my feet. I have this image of exposed nerves just dangling there…waving in the breeze. Ready to latch onto whatever germ comes its way.

It didn’t stop bleeding for a while and I went through several bandages before my company came.

I managed to finish cooking. I was telling my guests about the mishap and explained that because of the accident their potatoes would be served with the skins.

“Whose skin?” one asked.

I’ll never tell.

 

 

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New Year’s Day Black-Eyed Peas

One New Year’s tradition in the South is eating black-eyed peas for good luck.

Many decades ago I vacationed in San Antonio with my parents and younger sister. Our family vacations were all about food. I remember going to New Orleans for upscale seafood–we dined at Antoine’s one evening with a family friend who had his own waiter there. The gulf coast was for shrimp. And Texas was for then-exotic Mexican food.

One night at the Little Rhein Steakhhouse in San Antonio we were served an amuse-bouche of black-eyed peas. The whole family loved them and they were the highlight of the night. After we returned to Franklin, my mother wrote to the steakhouse for the recipe.

They responded with the following:

5 lb dried black-eyed peas

1.5 gallons water

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1 lb butter

1/2 cup Lowery’s seasonall

2 1/2 tablespoon salt

3/4 tablespoon garlic

1 tablespoon pepper

Soak peas for two hours. Place in ovenproof dish with all other ingredients. Cook at 325  for 2 hours.

So–you probably don’t want to cook five pounds of peas. I cook one or two and cut the recipe accordingly. Be warned–sometimes two hours isn’t enough.And I add a country ham hock.

My parents used to make this for New Year’s–they’d have an open house-type party where people could come have a drink, some peas and watch some football. Cumin was a foreign commodity and had to be purchased in Nashville.

So–if you’re in the mood for a New Year’s good luck charm, try the black-eyed peas.

And best to you in 2012.

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Summer in a Jar

I’ll never be accused of being a Martha Stewart-esque homemaker, but I do like to cook. This summer, I got the canning-freezing-preserving bug and here’s what I ended up with.

The first project was a joint undertaking between me, younger sister, her husband and daughter.

Tomatoes were the order of the day.

We started here:

These tomatoes, plus the other crate we bought because these were too ripe, were to end up canned and as marinara sauce. The sauce part was easy, but the canning part created much angst.

But we prevailed. And this…

Became this:

And then this:

Became this:

And, ultimately, this:

The next week, the peaches at the Farmer’s Market caught my eye and they ended up like this:

Have you ever taken a really hot biscuit, added a fat slice of butter to its steamy  center and then slathered on homemade preach preserves? Well, if you haven’t, I highly recommend it.

The final project was undertaken by me and husband.

Cucumbers…

Plus garlic…

Plus dill….Plus the secret ingredient….
Plus jars….

Equal this:

It all adds up to summer in a jar. It’ll taste great come January.

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If Condiments Were Drugs, then I Live in a Crack House.

I got a new refrigerator last week. It’s all shiny, stainless steel goodness and the fact that I love it so much is just a tad bit bothersome. It dwarfs my old one and I bet Ellie’s and Pueblo Girl’s would both fit in it with room to spare.

Refrigerators are funny things. Some of the food that’s stored on the shelves is transient–just taking up temporary quarters until it’s baked or grilled or boiled. But other items seem to take root. They apply for citizenship, stake their claim and hunker down in the dark chill for all time.

Beware–those items breed–especially the condiments.

As I was transferring items from the old fridge to the new, I made a few discoveries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I prefer the Hellman’s in the middle. Husband prefers whatever he finds on sale. The one on the left is one I inherited after my last lake trip. And there’s more in the pantry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to try different kinds of barbecue sauce. Husband prefers the one on the right. And there’s more in the pantry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a selection of random flavor enhancements. No matter how hard I try not to, I always seem to have two jars of capers open at the same time. Is it just me, or does that happen to y’all too? Of course, there’s more in the pantry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s where it really gets scary–seven kinds of mustard, including two that I bought in France several years ago and have been “saving” because, you know, I bought them in France.  We had a friend join us for Thanksgiving. As he was loading up his car for the trip home yesterday, I asked if he wanted a turkey sandwich for the road. He said that he did, but could he please have mustard on it instead of mayonnaise.

Sure. What kind would you like?

He looked at me, slightly perplexed.

Dijon…whole grain…spicy…tarragon…um, regular yellow…

You see, my friend lives in one-mustard-only kind of world. The idea of having to choose among mustards was foreign, but he went out on a limb and opted for the whole grain. I snuck a little dijon on the bread as well, just for a contrast.

So tell me, is this condiment fetish just me or do they breed in your refrigerator as well? And don’t get me started on the pickles, relishes and olives. That’s a whole other blog.

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Finding the Real America in California

A few years ago celebrity chef Alton Brown had a show on the Food Network called Feasting on Asphalt. He and a camera crew rode around the country–carefully avoiding interstates–in search of real American food. In other words, they did not go to Chilis, Applebees or any other place you’ve ever seen a tv ad for.

He found good and bad. Good biscuits and ham in the South and a bad concoction of cactus and something else in Arizona. Unfortunately, he actually did feast on some asphalt when he face-planted off his motocycle somewhere out west.

Next time Alton gets an urge to travel and eat in some out of the way places, he needs to come to northern California.

We landed in San Jose on July 4 and drove north about 2 hours to tiny Monte Rio on the Russian River, about 10 miles from the Pacific. It’s another world. By about Wednesday, it occured to me that we hadn’t seen a red light since leaving the Bay Area behind. We had traveled from Jenner where we watched the seals from the side of the road down to Point Reyes, the foggiest place in the U.S. In between, we drove though Bodega Bay, the tiny coastal town Alfred Hitchcock chose as the setting of The Birds.

Along the way we saw lots of Italian places. Lots of signs promoting barbecued oysters, a local favorite, and plenty of roadside joints that just promoted themselves as “restaurant and bar.”

This is not a chi-chi area, despite its beauty. And I’m not saying that we had any great meals except for what I cooked–especially my ersatz coq au vin simmered with an excellent local syrrah–until we went to the town of Sonoma. There we ate at The Girl and the Fig and it was outstanding. If you’re ever there, try the heirloom radishes with anchovy butter.

These local places are not guided by a corporate philosophy–they were not selling dishes created in a test kitchen hundreds of miles away, dishes based on focus groups and profit margins. Husband had tongue tacos in a tiny Mexican place in Occidental, something I really can’t imagine on a Taco Bell menu.

I think that for many of us, California is the last place we would think of when it comes to “real” America. But we forget about what a big place this is. It’s not all fake tans and red carpets.

I like my travel with a dash of funky every now and then. It’s why I adore the Keys. If you’re looking for a little adventure, you might want to think about the Russian River in western Sonoma County. It’s not fancy, but it is gorgeous. I’ll put up some pix next time.

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