Farmer’s Market in Aix-en-Provence

And….. I’m back from France full of inspiring adventures to share with you!

Today we’re visiting the Farmers’ Market in Aix-en-Provence. Since we were there on a Monday, we toured and shopped the Marché Place Richelme: a local producers market on Place Richelme near the city hall, daily 9:00AM – 12:30PM.

5553169352_5475c24053_z

In early April, there isn’t much produce grown locally as it is early in the season. The strawberries, however, were just starting and we saw tender new asparagus.

DSC03984 DSC04001

Other produce is imported from Spain and warmer climates, but the produce is still quite fresh because it doesn’t have to be shipped very far (France is the size of Texas).

DSC03981 DSC03982 DSC03983 DSC03986 DSC03987 DSC03995 DSC03998 DSC04000 DSC04002 DSC04003 DSC04004Then there was the cheese! The Provençal locals take their cheese very seriously. Their olive oils, tapenades, sausages and pates are also palate – pleasers.

DSC03994

I gave this vendor my business card and told her to watch for her farmstand on my blog.

DSC03989 DSC03988 DSC03990 DSC03991 DSC03992 DSC03993What do you think of when you think about the south of France? Do you visualize fields of lavender?

Lavender-Field_-Abbey-of-Senanque_-Near-Gordes_-Provence_-France

We visited this abbey, but it was too early in the season for the lavender to be flowering.

Local farmers sell many types of lavender products in the markets and tourist shops. Our group bought lavender sachets and the famous Savon de Marseille soap in the market.

DSC03997

DSC03996

I found the market to be very inspirational and now that I’m home, I’m back to cooking with fresh and organically-grown ingredients. I can’t wait until our own farmers’ markets open in early June!

Bookin’ and Cookin’: The Tea House on Mulberry Street

Food and interesting stories. Each is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so when they are skillfully woven together into a book, we get twice the happiness. Today I’m reviewing The Tea House on Mulberry Street (2005), by Sharon Owens, in this episode of Bookin’ and Cookin.’

In her debut novel, Sharon Owens has woven together an ensemble cast of twisty Irish characters, set in the sometimes grim face of Belfast. Penny and Daniel Stanley own and operate Muldoon’s Tea Rooms, which Penny inherited from her parents, but they’ve both got secrets. Brenda Brown lives next door in a crumbling apartment and creates dark paintings that reflect her sad spirit — and she’s a “true fan” of Nicholas Cage. The Crawley sisters have devoted their life to helping others and basking in the reflected glory of their father’s WWII bravery. Rose is lonely and dispirited in her flower shop, and Henry is aghast at his wife Aurora’s need to impress people through her book club and enormous new conservatory. Arnold and Sadie co-exist in a loveless marriage, with Arnold’s success selling conservatories and replacement windows giving him an excuse for philandering and leaving Sadie with the care of his aging parents. Claire and Peter lost track of each other seventeen years ago and have never since been able to establish good relationships because they are still in love. In each story, which interconnect in the style of Love Actually, there are twists and turns, and some are even unexpected. I suspect you will cheer for Sadie and wonder if Penny and Daniel can ever make up for their years of hurts and secrets. Because these characters are mature people with problems that can occur in mature relationships, it’s not really chick lit for the reader looking for something light.

These stories are set on the daily plate of tempting goodies that come out of the kitchen at Muldoon’s Tea Rooms and will have you determined to find a tea room of your own to visit. Although there’s only one recipe actually at the back of the book, there’s a lot of creative inspiration here for your own tea party.

With a devastating review on amazon.com from Publishers’ Weekly and mixed reviews from both Amazon and goodreads viewers, you might find this book to be Maeve Binchy “lite.” I listened to it on audio, and found Caroline Winterson’s interpretation to be sprightly and compelling. Still, it gets four stars from both sets of reviewers, so I don’t think I’m alone in suggesting that The Tea House on Mulberry Street is worth reading.

While Nigella Lawson is apparently now sold on no-bake Cherry Cheesecake, this recipe for baked New York Cheesecake from smitten kitten is more like what Daniel and Penny served at Muldoon’s. As for me, I’m still savoring the special treat that Sandy made me several years ago and I’m generally able to satisfy my cheesecake cravings locally by shopping at Eli’s Cheesecake — and I go to the outlet whenever I need cheesecake for a large group!

Bookin’ and Cookin’: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

It’s been a long time since I started reading a book that I just could not put down.

If you love food and love restaurants, you will really enjoy Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. From glimpses of her start in the Berkeley food scene of the 1970s to leaving The New York Times to move to her position as Gourmet magazine’s Editor in Chief, Reichl spins a tale of great food, great friendships, and great fun.

I was hooked on page one as Reichl tells about meeting a waitress on an airplane bound for New York in the summer of 1993. She had just accepted the position as the restaurant critic for the New York Times and was making a scouting trip to look for schools for her son. The waitress sitting next to her told her that every major kitchen in NYC already had her photo pinned to the wall so that staff members would recognize her when she came into their restaurant. That was when she realized that she would need to develop disguises to go incognito when scoping out restaurants for potential reviews.

The book tells tales of visits to very famous restaurants that were on bullets lists for foodies and tourists during the 1990s — Tavern on the Green, Windows on the World, Daniel. She also tells of visiting not-so-famous restaurants in hopes of exposing the Times readers to great food and broadening their palate. She would visit a restaurant in disguise multiple times and with different groups of people, checking on service as well as food quality. Then she would go back for a final visit as “herself” to see if Ruth Reichl, the NYT restaurant critic, got bigger raspberries, a better table, more attentive service, and better cuts of meat than did her alter egos.

I loved the insider’s look at places I’ve dreamed of, read about, and in several cases, never got to see, such as Windows on the World, which perished along with America’s innocence and the World Trade Center in 2001. Ruth Reichl wrote about the restaurant, in this article from 2011.

There’s talk of a movie being made of the book, which I think could have some promise, but apparently they are having a hard time getting it made. Too bad — I’d watch the movie of this book if the movie is actually true to the book.

I encourage you to try some of the recipes that appear in the book — she was a working mother who cooked dinner for her family when she wasn’t going out to dinner at some fabulous restaurant — and she started her career in California as a chef. She has a number of recipes linked up on her website, as well.  I’m going to try the mussels, myself. I’ve never made it at home and Ruth’s recipe makes me think I can be successful.

I’ll let you know.

Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice

I’ve gone through some crazy days in the last couple of weeks and have fallen away from my cooking at home efforts. Too much take-out and too many restaurants — even if there were some really good restaurants, which I’ll link up later.

When I got my daily email from Once a Month Mom, I knew I was ready to cook again if it involved making this easy Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice.

Except that I didn’t have any ham. But I did have Sriracha sauce which I bought on impulse after a friend talked about it on Facebook. I didn’t even know what it was.

I substituted shrimp for the ham and added a big granny smith apple to give it even more fruit. We served it with three sauces on the side — peanut sauce (Music Man’s favorite), sriracha sauce, and sweet and sour sauce. The sriracha is quite spicy and the sweet and sour toned it down a little while still leaving some zing.

Easy, easy, and delicious. What’s not to love?

As for restaurants, we went to an opera dinner at Villagio, in Roselle, Illinois, and enjoyed both the music and the food. Then we discovered Mia Figlia, in Chicago’s Edgebrook neighborhood, which we’ve added to our take-everyone-from-out-of-town and in-town list of favorites. It was unpretentious and that good.

I encourage you to try OAMM’s Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice. Or shrimp. Or chicken. Or pork. Or with no meat at all. You will love it.

Comfy Chicken Soup

Chicago’s in for it again! We might need some comfort food over the next few days!

Last week when we had our snowstorm, I decided to make some chicken noodle soup. The change in barometric pressure was giving me a headache and I figured some comfy chicken soup couldn’t hurt.

IMG_7288BB

I checked to see if there were any traditional French recipes just because I’m going to France on vacation — and well, just because. Apparently the French make chicken soup with potatoes rather than noodles and I didn’t have any potatoes in the house. This recipe from Chatelaine looks good, however.

Since I already had the ingredients for the noodle version, I went with this Cooking Light recipe. Easy and delicious. I added a handful of the ribbons of kale and romaine that I keep in the refrigerator all the time to add to soups and eggs, and topped it with some good quality cheese. And yes, there are two kinds of noodles in there — some leftover wide egg noodles and also whole-wheat fettuccine. I think the fact that chicken soup is a “whatever’s in the fridge and pantry” kind of dish is what makes it continue to be so popular across diverse cultures and cuisines.

Since Music Man was also home recuperating from his arthroscopic knee surgery, I decided to make a sandwich as well.

IMG_7286B

I toasted two pieces of bread, spread some basil pesto (a good substitute for mayo, by the way) and Laughing Cow lite cheese on it, and added two slices of Canadian bacon. It made us feel like we had gone out to a fancy lunch place — while still in our pajamas!

I’m linked up today to On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Please stop by and check out the work of other inspiring bloggers!

Grandma Lill’s Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs

StoneGable
I’m linked up today at Stone Gable and I’m revisiting a well-loved recipe from 2010 on my old blog. Many of you are talking about making your sauce from scratch, using either fresh or self-canned tomatoes, and I applaud you for that. In her day, Lill was probably thrilled to be able to find canned convenience items with which to make her special spaghetti sauce; in many ways we’ve come full circle with homemakers from earlier times who also used fresh ingredients — but they had no other choice. This post brings you both memories of my family and memories from the kitchen of another beloved grandmother.

From June 28, 2010

I didn’t know my grandparents very well. My father’s parents were both gone by the time I was old enough to remember them, and my mother’s parents were pretty remote in their interactions with the rambunctious children of their youngest daughter. They were retired and moved back to their hometown by the time I spent any time with them, and I would not say it was quality time. My grandfather came to live with my mother and father when he was no longer able to live alone, but I was out of the house and long gone by then. So, when I see my friends grandparenting their own grandbabies, it makes me happy to see how involved they are with these precious children.

Recipes passed down from my grandparents? I don’t remember any, but I’m pretty good at appropriating other people’s family recipes . Over the years I have gathered together other families’ recipes and made them my own. We have only one “family recipe” that I know of, our famous Scalloped Oysters, but I don’t know where this came from.

lillian-corselloToday’s recipe was not stolen, however. I’m lucky enough to be friends with Linda, whose mother we remembered on June 24. Everyone knew her as Grandma Lill, and although she’s not actually my grandma (she’s not even in the right generation to be my grandma), her recipe was freely given to us.

As I reread my niece Jessie’s post on Vanderbilt Wife which honors my father and her grandfather, it seems totally fitting that I honor Grandma Lill today. We paid tribute to Grandma Lill at her memorial service and Jessie wrote her post on the eve of my dad’s memorial service just a year ago. At both events, there were new great-grandchildren who will not remember their great-grandparent, but life renews itself through the cycles of birth and death. We are also renewed through the memories we share with our children and grandchildren and that includes our recipes.

Grandma Lill embraced Italian cooking and passed her recipes down to her children. Her meatballs are famous — and I hope you will enjoy them yourself in her memory.

Lill’s Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs

Meatballs
2 pounds ground beef
1/2 medium onion — chopped fine
2 eggs beaten
1 cup Progresso Italian style bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Small amount of oil for browning meatballs
Mix all ingredients together and form into “golf ball” size meatballs. Carefully brown meatballs in oil on both sides in a Dutch oven. Remove meatballs.

Add to pot:
1 medium chopped onion
1 sliced garlic clove
Sauté until tender.

Then add:
3 12 oz. cans Contadina tomato paste
1 14 oz. can Hunt’s basil and garlic diced tomatoes
5 cans water
2 tablespoons each of dried parsley, basil, and oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add meatballs. Cook uncovered 2 hours — stirring occasionally.

Printable Recipe

While you’re at it, try the scalloped oysters. It may seem weird, but for those of you who love oysters, this recipe will just melt in your mouth.

MANGIA!