My Market Street

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When our son made his first trip to Paris in 2008, he wryly observed that the city seems to be founded on the notion to stop, have a drink, and TALK with someone every 50-100 feet. It certainly is a place that fuels unlimited possibilities for café crawling. Within almost any radius of where you stop walking, a viable opportunity presents itself. Locals readily establish a favorite café in which to hangout in their neighborhood or “quartier”. Here you take a load off your feet, eat, drink, talk, or muse. It’s also the best entertainment to be found.

In telling one of my French neighbors about the ritual I have at a particular café, she informed me that I had simply established “un poste d’observation”. Now that is what I say to my husband when he calls wondering where I am. It’s an activity of high importance, assessing the cast of characters who walk by on any given day. And when he can, he hurries home to join me.

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invisible sign says “sit here”

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Of course, there are market streets all over Paris—open markets, covered markets, farmers’ markets, daily markets, bi-weekly markets, organic markets. But the most important is the one closest to where you live. I never know exactly what we will eat until I venture out in the late afternoon to see what looks delectable on our market street. And if there is, by chance, an open café table on the sidewalk, I take it as a sign that I must sit there for a moment or two. In nice weather I can count 11 businesses with sidewalk tables on this narrow street. For my habitual musings and entertainment, I have pledged allegiance to only one. It’s on the corner, as you enter “market street”.

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On Market Street by Arnold Lobel, HarperCollins 1981

There is a children’s book by Arnold Lobel that goes by the title, On Market Street. It tells the story of a little boy enticed by shopping on a particular street. He buys everything from A to Z, then trudges home carrying it all. This reflects my own experience because on this small pedestrian street is just about everything I could want or need.

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Butchers, boulangeries, patisseries, florists, cheese purveyors, dry cleaners, books, jewelry, fruit and vegetable vendors, grocery stores, crepes, sushi, caviar, oysters, Italian-made pizza, middle eastern food, tiny cafés and restaurants, coffee, tea and chocolate shop, wine, champagne and liquor, Italian and Greek delicatessens, kitchen and household products, candles and decorations, and a pharmacy. The only things missing are clothing and shoes. Which happen to be around the corner on a very long shopping street of boutiques.

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Before emptying my wallet for the day’s necessities, I sometimes settle into a beckoning chair at my favored poste d’observation. Greetings are exchanged with the server. Usually I order a glass of wine. This varies by the season or time of day. On a warm day, Côtes de Provence rosé or a Loire Valley white wine is standard. In cooler temperatures, a burgundy or Bordeaux is cozier under the overhead heaters. Every apéro beverage comes with a savory nibble on the side. Something salty and always slightly stale. Homemade potato chips are the standard limp offerings. Sometimes a tiny glass of pretzels fills in. It’s what I expect and is always perfect.

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this or that, ça dépend

On either side of me the tables are full. To the left—a kissing, smoking couple, drinking French beer and sparkling water. To the right—two women of a certain age sharing a crepe sucré. One drinks coffee, the other sips a beer. I give them only a cursory glance because my gaze is focused on the cobbled pathway in front of me. This is where the rest of the world enters or exits “market street”.

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cruches plus cool shoes

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the ubiquitous chariot

The favored times at my café are weekdays during the late afternoon/early evening hours. Or, around noon any Sunday morning. The parade of passersby is constant and unrelenting during either of the preferred times. It requires my full attention. It’s never disappointing. Sometimes I’m absorbed by the range of footwear—spiky heels, stylish boots, flip flops, sandals, platform shoes, sneakers, orthopedic shoes, chic Italian shoes. Other times it might be a whirl of transportation modes to ponder–bicycles, scooters, strollers, prams, wheelchairs, motorbikes, crutches, canes. Shoppers stroll by rolling carts or “chariots” to haul heavy purchases. They carry armfuls of baguettes [always!],

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flowers, wine, fruits and vegetables, roasted chickens, oysters or prepared food from the delis. On Sundays, a cacophony of sound permeates the air. Crowds of Parisians are acquiring ingredients for afternoon lunch “en famille”. IMG_3724Vendors hawk produce, servers rattle glasses and silverware, babies cry, friends greet each other with kisses, dogs bark and fight, children laugh and run around, music plays, and always people talk, talk, talk over everything.

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The sweetest sights drifting by are small children and dogs, completely comfortable in the hubbub. Once in a while I observe someone watching me watching them. The ritual is recognized. Smiles are exchanged. The parade moves on.

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cute

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cuter

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the cutest

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the cutest encore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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almost time to move on…

As the wine and stale chips dwindle, I move toward the shops and my own errands. Trudging homeward with arms laden, I pass “le poste d’observation”. Someone is already sitting in the chair I recently occupied. They are watching me walk by. Fait accompli.

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Excerpt from On Market Street by Arnold Lobel, illustrations by Anita Lobel

“The merchants down on Market Street

Were opening their doors.

I stepped along that Market Street,

I stopped at all the stores.

Such wonders there on Market Street!

So much to catch my eye!

I strolled the length of Market Street

To see what I might buy…

My arms were full on Market Street,

I could not carry more.

As darkness fell on Market Street,

My feet were tired and sore.

But I was glad on Market Street,

These coins I brought to spend,

I spent them all on Market Street…

On presents for a friend.”

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An Egg in the Coffeepot

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“There is more than the communion of bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” These words, which MFK Fisher wrote decades ago, guide my interest when food, people and place are combined. I do believe in the blending of spirit when nourishment and conversation about important things are shared with family or friends. Bread and wine are not necessarily the catalysts for creating a communal bond. It can happen, too, with a pot of egg coffee.

Three weeks ago, quite unexpectedly, we reconnected with a group of people in the U.S. It was one of those bittersweet reunions—gathering to celebrate the life of a friend who passed away. And, at the same time, seeing others with whom we had shared great moments in the past. The weekend was one of those memory jolts that occurs when you re-encounter special friendships after losing touch with them. It’s easy to catch up because what you loved about them before is still there. Then you want to hold onto those feelings after you part.

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courtesy of marilyn larson

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courtesy of marilyn larson

For several years in early marriage, we made repeated visits to a stone farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the home of the Larson family, parents of long-time friends. Their cozy house was thick walled, with deep windowsills, constructed from native fieldstone. Of all the warm memories of time spent on that beautiful farm, the clearest one, by far, is standing around an enamel coffeepot with a broken egg inside.

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enamelware, port de vanvres flea market, paris

Legend has it that the recipe for egg coffee was carried on a boat from Sweden to the New World sometime during the 1800s. In Larson family lore, the story came about this way. A young Swedish girl named Edla moved to southern Minnesota to find work in the late 1880s. She was terribly homesick, often going into the fields to have a little cry in the evenings. Then,  Karl proposed marriage and a new life began on his farm. It was 1890. There was no more homesickness. And there was always a pot of egg coffee on the stove. Two generations later, five-year-old Dale Larson walked across two farm fields to visit his grandparents. To gain his mother’s permission, he had to take the hand of his older sister. She was six-and-a half. Upon entering the kitchen, Edla would say, “Milk is bad for you, coffee is good. Drink this.” So he did. For the next 80 years.

more flea market searching for the right pot

Every time we visited the stone farmhouse, we drank it too. It was a morning ritual, perfected over the generations, fascinating to watch, delicious to drink. But it actually became the symbol for something else—time spent with people we admired and loved. And who loved us back. Important life lessons were quietly absorbed over cups of egg coffee in those years.

During the memorial weekend for our mutual friend, subliminal messages from the Larson kitchen returned so clearly. It’s simply this; spend your time with people who bring out the best parts of you. The better version of you. Then, remember to go back to get refreshed.

I tried making egg coffee each time we returned from Michigan. But it was never quite right. I was probably too impatient or caught up in push button coffee making. Eventually the attempts stopped. The antique enamel pot became merely decorative. It makes sense, now, that what I was trying to do was replicate the feeling of being with special friends rather than simply making a beverage. IMG_2506These days I’m more willing to find the sweet spot in perfecting a ritual as much as enjoying the end result. With a coffee pot from the flea market and step-by-step guidance from my friend, a new breakfast routine has been created. Gazing at the courtyard colors, sipping a hot cup of egg coffee, I’m reminded of fragments of Kahlil Gibran’s “On Friendship”:

“…And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit

… …And let the best be for your friend…

…And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds it morning and is refreshed.”

necessary ingredients

LARSON FAMILY EGG COFFEEIMG_2416

  • 1 enamel coffee pot
  • 1 egg
  • very coarse ground coffee
  • boiling water
  • chopstick or something long to stir with
  1. Determine how many cups of coffee your pot makes.
  2. Break one egg into the bottom of the pot. [With or without the shell.]IMG_2479
  3. Measure in coarse ground coffee for the number of cups. I use one rounded scoop for each cup [and one extra scoop for the pot]. This should be determined by preference.IMG_2485
  4. Stir the mixture with a chopstick to blend egg with the coffee grounds.IMG_2486
  5. Pour boiling water over the egg/coffee mix.IMG_2449
  6. Place enamel pot over heat. When it starts to foam up and boil, turn it off.IMG_2499IMG_2455

 

 

 

7. Cover and let steep 5-10 minutes.IMG_2502

8. Pour into cup and enjoy. [You can use a sieve to strain, but if you pour slowly, it's not necessary.]IMG_2517

 

 

This is about as good as it gets for coffee drinkers who love a strong, yet very smooth, mellow brew. What happens scientifically is this: The egg congeals the grounds into a clump and neutralizes acidity that sometimes makes coffee bitter. It also acts as a filter, because essential oils from the beans are in the finished beverage, rather than on a paper filter. More oils make better tasting coffee. If you throw the whole egg with shell in the pot, you probably get some calcium carbonate benefits. I’ve tried it both ways, finding no difference in taste. Grandma Larson added additional water to the pot all day. She was probably frugal with eggs and coffee. I tried adding a second round of water and it tasted fine, but I wouldn’t go beyond that. Just start over. You can afford the eggs.

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perfect petit déjeuner

 

Sipping Avocado Margs in Summer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur United States home is in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We live, seasonally, in a cabin built on a hillside outside the town of Estes Park. The backside faces the lofty Front Range—mountains towering 10-14,000 feet above sea level. Our cabin sits at a “lowly” 8500 feet under these formidable peaks. We gaze upon them from a deck in the summer, or through windows by a wood-burning fireplace in the winter.IMG_2021 There are no streetlights and roads are unpaved because this hillside community is outside the city limits. It comes landscaped with native pines, tall grasses, sage shrubs, and wildflowers. The only maintenance is digging up an occasional noxious weed or harvesting fallen pinecones and branches for kindling. IMG_1888We built a sacred fire ring with rocks from the land. Campfires are enjoyed around its’ circular border, with stories and laughter or simply the silence of a starry night. Framed by tall ponderosas, this has been our home-away-from-overseas-home since 1991.

The annual summer return to the cabin commences with the first morning wake up call. It’s early, due to a pre-6:00 AM sunrise. Coffee is made before we pull the rocking chairs onto the deck. Mountains and clouds to the south and west are pink-tinged at first light. As the sun makes its’ way gradually upward, colors shift to yellowish gold. When it finally peeks over the eastern ridge line, the sky turns robin’s egg and then lapis blue. The rest of the scenery follows with true colors. Second cup of coffee, still in bathrobes, day begins.IMG_2079

IMG_2076IMG_2085There is a different way of “being” in the mountains from our life overseas. Time is simpler, less hurried, less structured. It’s not necessary to “do” much of anything, at least for the first transitional days. We live casually in a uniform of blue jeans, moccasins or hiking boots, cotton or flannel shirts, depending on the temperature. I have been known to wear a fringed leather jacket, but only in that environment.

We eat differently too. The thinner air and long days tempt us with food and drink that somehow “belong” in the high country. Hearty breakfasts of bacon and egg sandwiches, layered with jalapeño jack cheese, tomatoes, and leafy greens are often consumed on the sun warmed front porch. Along with strong black coffee it seems to fuel the day for stacking firewood, trimming dead tree limbs, or hiking into the National Park.

When it’s time for a break, there is one place we always return. Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.35.49 PMEd’s Cantina is a 30-year locally owned and operated Mexican restaurant on the main street of town. The sign on the side door simply states: “Get in Here”. Equally direct is the logo: “Live Forever. Eat at Ed’s.” It’s hard to resist a slogan like that. Eventually you just have to see what is going on there. Avocado Margaritas are what we found. Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.36.28 PMDietician Daughter, notably savvy in combining nutrition with good taste and pleasure, showed us the way. We fell in love, one by one. It’s a great reason to drop in at Ed’s on a warm summer afternoon.

For the nutritionally minded, avocados are one of the healthiest food choices around. They are a terrific source of mono-unsaturated fat. For the uninitiated, this kind of fat is desirable for it’s ability to lower LDL [bad] cholesterol while raising HDL [good] cholesterol. The fats and vitamins [E and C among them] are good for skin tone and texture. There are documented gains for the avocado’s anti-inflammatory properties, including reducing the pain of inflammatory disorders such as arthritis. There you have it. Avocados, even in liquid form, provide a nice range of health benefits!

This summer, we ate a lot of avocados in the form of the simplest, lime-iest, homemade guacamole. Store bought jars, tubs or tubes cannot compare with the flavor of your own effort. It actually takes very little effort because “less is more” with guacamole. Allow the avocado to shine with subtlety and a light touch. By adding only a minimum of ingredients its’ innately creamy deliciousness is enhanced. Enjoy guacamole as a sandwich spread [breakfast egg sandwich, yes!] or, more traditionally, as a dip with tortilla chips. Better to keep your avo margs and guacamole dipping as separate ventures, though. Spread out the good times and the good nutrition.

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esmeralda sells her wares at farmer’s market

GUACAMOLE à la Colorado

  • 2 [or more] ripe avocados
  • diced red onion
  • diced or pressed clove of garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • juice of fresh lime

Cut around outside of avocado and separate the halves. Scoop the meat out of the rind with a spoon and discard the pit. Mash avocado in a bowl with a fork or potato masher. Add onion, garlic, S&P. Stir together. Squeeze in as much fresh lime juice as you like, to taste. Adjust seasonings.

  • Best when served with Esmeralda’s homemade tortilla chips from weekly Farmer’s Market. Thin and not too salty. Delicious with any dip or alone.
  • Will keep in refrigerator without discoloration by covering with plastic wrap pressed down on top of guacamole, allowing no air space.

    basic guacamole ingredients

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    mash avocados

 

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add onion, garlic, S&P

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squeeze lime juice

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guacamole dip with esmeralda’s chips

ED’S AVOCADO MARGARITA [AVO MARG by order]

  • ½ ripe avocado
  • Jose Cuervo Silver Tequila
  • Agave syrup
  • Limeade [they say theirs is homemade, but frozen concentrate is fine]
  • Ice
  • Lime garnish

In blender, scoop one half avocado, a shot [or so] of tequila, a generous squirt of agave syrup, an even more generous pour of limeade and lots of ice. Blend together on high setting. Serve in tall, salt rimmed beer glass, garnished with a slice of lime.

  • Best when sipped with a good friend, on outdoor patio with the Big Thompson River rolling by.
  • Second best is having it alongside the veggie burrito–filled with fresh squash salsa, rice, black beans and Mexican cheese.
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In blender: 1/2 avocado

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add tequila, agave syrup, ice, limeade

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almost ready

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the pour

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Live Forever at Ed’s.

 

 

 

 

You Say Jam, Nico Says Confiture

IMG_0878What to put on toast in the morning was not something I thought much about for most of my life. That is, until four years ago, when we moved to France. It still strikes me as odd how a seemingly nondescript food item can be turned into an art form once you step outside your normal way of experiencing it.

Most jams and jellies in North America are found in the supermarket aisle alongside peanut butter or honey. They can be chosen by color, flavor or, in my case, if there was seeded red fruit in it. One lone jar typically sat forgotten in the door of the refrigerator until I remembered to pull it out. It had the status of something easily ignored, possibly moldy.

Within the first year after our move, I experienced what can simply be called a “Jam Epiphany”. Students in French language courses learn “la confiture” is something to spread on the breakfast baguette or to stir into plain yogurt for dessert. Outside of class the learning curve rises sharply when you find that confiture in no way resembles Welch’s-fructose-sugar-product in a jar. Yes, it comes in jars, but the first difference is that there are shelves upon shelves dedicated to the myriad brands and flavors in every market or shop. The second difference is that you want to savor, remember, and talk about what it tastes like.

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considering the options: la chambre aux confitures

One day, while wandering about in Paris, I discovered a small shop completely dedicated to “Les Confitures”. This specialty store, stocked floor to ceiling with out-of-this-world-taste-sensational jams, was not in my normal shopping district. But it is spectacular. Now I plan excursions across town to pick up a jar, or two, or three.IMG_0843

What is it about jam in France that turns my head around? For one thing, each jar tastes exactly like its name–-to the ingredient. You can close your eyes and identify the fruit from which it is made without even looking at the label. The sweetness is not overly sugary and very subtle. It tastes like pure, sweet, fragrant fruit in spreadable form.

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7 perfectly arranged confitures

Sometimes confiture can even taste like flowers. At a breakfast buffet in a chateau hotel in Normandy, I zeroed in on an arrangement of seven jars in a perfect circle of color, each with it’s own long handled spoon. They bore names like Violettes de Provence, Cerise Grillotes, Oranges Améres, Lait Confiture, and Roses Confit. I tried four of them on the good fresh bread being served. Each tasted more exceptional than the previous one. Those named after flowers were exactly as you would imagine a violet or rose would taste. They even had what looked like pieces of flower petals mixed into the jellied consistency. Lait Confiture was light caramel in color and taste. It was notable for it’s exquisitely creamy texture that made you want to close your eyes and hum. This summer when my nephew was visiting from the United States, I watched him quietly stir one spoonful of Beurre Lait Confiture into his black coffee each morning. A creative tasty pleasure, indeed.

I have written before of my love for French butter imbedded with crystals of sea salt; how I spread it daily over toasted pieces of seedy baguette. On the weekends, breakfast has a different routine. My husband and I share a leisurely petit déjeuner in the small eating area overlooking the vine-covered courtyard of our apartment building.IMG_0893 He starts the coffee and begins making a plate of toasted baguette. Sometimes we have the good round bread from Poilâne bakery. On the round marble-topped table goes a clean cloth. From the refrigerator comes a special pottery container. It is filled with confiture transferred from its original jar to this more festive, colorful one. The flavor is whatever is on hand: mango, fig, strawberry/rhubarb, wild blueberry, pear, or simply “fruits rouges”, red fruits. Weekend breakfasts are when we indulge pleasurably—when there is time to sit and read, or converse quietly, without rushing out the door. It’s a sweet formula we have come to love, with a pot of confiture as centerpiece.IMG_1230

Recently I learned something new about enjoying fine confiture from a young boy. Nico, ten-years-old, lives in Strasbourg, and stayed overnight with us one weekend.

His mother and I were chatting over coffee when he arrived at the table to have breakfast. I served him a small wedge of Spanish omelet and two pieces of baguette toast. While our conversation continued, I became distracted by Nico’s approach to his food. He looked into each of the two open jars of confiture and smiled to himself. Next, he scooped a generous amount of strawberry/rhubarb jam onto a piece of toast. With patience and precision he pressed the fruit of the confiture into the larger holes of the baguette using the back of the spoon. Then he smoothed the entire surface, back and forth, back and forth, for about three minutes until it was evenly and completely covered. All the way out to the very edges. Not a millimeter of bread showed through. It looked beautiful. Like a rosy still life painting. Once satisfied that it was perfect, he began to eat. For Nico, nothing was more important than preparing his toast and confiture, just so.

It reminded me of a story MFK Fisher wrote about Lucullus, the gourmand from ancient Roman times. He was reputed to host lavish, elaborate banquets that were noteworthy in reputation. Yet even a solo dining experience was important to him. Once, when served a meal where “he was conscious of a certain slackness” in the repast, he became annoyed. When the summoned chef protested, “We thought there was no need to prepare a fine banquet for my lord alone—–“, Lucullus responded icily, “It is precisely when I am alone that you pay special attention. At such times, you must remember, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.” Now, right in front of me, it was clear that Nico was dining with Nico. With full attention and pleasure.

We stopped talking and simply watched as the second piece of toast was readied. With no less concentration, each meticulous motion was repeated: smilingly scooping out jam, pressing it in, painting in long strokes until it completely reached the edges. His mother asked him, in French, what he was enjoying more, his toast or his confiture. There was no need to answer. Nico’s contentment was visible right down to his little boy soul.

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In Paris:

  • La Chambre aux Confitures
  • Specialty Epicerie
  • 9, rue des Martyrs, 75009

www.lachambreauxconfitures.com

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Two Non Cooks Saved by the Brazilians

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World Cup 2014: Germany 7, Brazil 1 [soccer-blogger.com]

There has been plenty of press about Brazil lately. Their national depression over losses in the recent World Cup barely registered with me. Recently reported problems readying venues for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro seem a minor glitch. These things usually work themselves out. Even if, in the end, there is little hot water in the hotels, as Sochi 2014. The Games must go on.

My love for Brazil comes from another place entirely. Once, many years ago, a Brazilian recipe solved my first-dinner-party-hosting angst in Singapore. An overseas friend recently reminded me of this. She was there. As it turned out, it saved her too.

Mary [aka Mimi by her family] was part of my life in the first three of our five international settings. We met in Singapore as part of a group of friends and families who celebrated Thanksgiving and went on beach holidays together. Then, in Cyprus in the early 1990s we became better friends. cyprus-europeShe lived in the apartment above us and was our son’s third grade teacher. I loved her creative style of communication. When Mary wanted to see me, an empty coffee can was lowered from the balcony above our terrace on a piece of string. Rounding the corner from the driveway, with a tin can swaying in the breeze, I knew there would be a folded piece of paper inside: “Meet after school for a brisk walk” or “Come up for a wee dram of scotch” on her tiny balcony. Often it was both. mtaiwanLater, in Taiwan, we were part of a group of women who bonded during weekly Friday afternoons with wine and hors d’oeuvres in each other’s homes. “Wine and Unwind” sessions solved most of the world’s problems, at least during those years.

The first year in Singapore we accepted many invitations to dinners, parties and holiday events. By the next year, we were past due in repaying friends for their hosting kindnesses. At the time, I barely cooked and certainly nothing worthy of dinner party fare. I consulted cookbooks and generally worried about what to do. For the family, I tended to stick to one-dish meals, everything mixed together without all the fuss and muss of separate courses. I took MFK Fisher’s advice to heart; an in-home dinner party is best when served to no more than six invited guests. Since this would require several weekend party paybacks, the menu needed to be deliciously repeatable for us too.

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singaporean chili crab, courtesy of serena foxon

Singapore was, and is, ripe with fantastically fresh seafood. It’s also known for spicy cuisine from the mix of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian cultures. In the late 1980s, we regularly dined at a seaside restaurant on Punggol Point. There we feasted on chili crab that made our lips and faces sting from layers of spiciness. It was served with thick pieces of white bread to mop up the sauce. The whole thing was so delectable that no one stopped eating until the table was a littered mess of shells, claws and sauce. It was eaten informally, with the hands, wearing a paper bib. When you finally stopped, past the point of “full”, chili sauce covered both hands, went up the arms, and was smeared across cheeks and chin. There were hoses conveniently accessible afterwards.

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laksa, courtesy of fiona foxon

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walking down emerald hill road

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peranakan place, earlier days

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peranakan place, now

Another Singaporean dish I adored was Nyonya Laksa. This is from the Peranakan culture, a combination of Chinese and Malaysian cuisines. It’s a coconut, curry-based soup with noodles, vegetables, prawns, and small, hardboiled quail’s eggs. I lost my taste buds to the heat of spices in this soup and never looked back. A walk from our apartment down historic Emerald Hill Road took me to the restaurant at Peranakan Place, on Orchard Road, where I learned to eat this national treasure. It’s a double whammy to be sweating from the heat and humidity of daily tropical temperatures while simultaneously sweating from spicy food in an un-airconditioned cafe. We adapted. And loved it all.

It was actually another friend who helped solve the dinner party dilemma. Knowing that I needed simple and foolproof, she suggested a one-dish wonder, Brazilian Shrimp Stew. Finding fresh shrimp and produce was easy. Mixing them all together to cook in a large pan, even easier. To serve—a portion of rice for any size appetite with shrimp stew swimming over the top, seemed like a hostess’ dream. Easy preparation, plenty of time for socializing with guests and a tasty result—I could not ask for more.

Mary was among the groups of friends invited for dinner. At the time, she was raising twin sons and a husband, all with good appetites. Like me, she was [and is] uninspired by daily cooking. This easy-to-make stew not only caught Mary’s fancy with its’ spicy shrimp tastiness, she adopted it’s crowd pleasing potential to her own style of entertaining. Since reminding me of eating shrimp stew first under our roof, then making it her own success story, I now call it “Mimi’s Brazilian Shrimp Stew”. It has saved two non-cooks from dinner party anxiety uncountable times.

The enjoyment of Mimi’s Stew should be more global and far reaching than this shared history. It is for anyone and everyone who loves Brazil, her emotively fanatic football fans, and the simplicity of a scrumptious one-dish meal. Just add dessert. Bon appétit.

Mimi’s Brazilian Shrimp Stew

  • 1 kg [2.2 lbs] peeled shrimp
  • 1/4 C. olive oil
  • 1/4 C. chili oil
  • 4-5 large fresh tomatoes, diced, or 1 large can diced tomatoes [do not drain or seed tomatoes]
  • 1 large onion, chopped [or a combination of red and white onion]
  • 1 large green, yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped [or all three]
  • 3 T. parsley [fresh is always best, cut with scissors]
  • 6-7 crushed garlic cloves [or more]
  • fresh hot peppers, red or green, chopped and seeded [optional, or to taste]
  • 1 t. salt
  • ¼ t. pepper
  • ½ can unsweetened coconut milk [or the whole can because what else will you do with the rest?]

Heat oils. Add all ingredients except milk. Cook 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add coconut milk. Serve over rice. Use chopped green onions and fresh lime wedges as garnish. Squeeze lime juice over the stew table side. Serve with good bread to mop up the sauce.

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basic raw ingredients

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ingredients ready to cook

In Mary’s words: “I have made this recipe many times. Since you don’t specify how many it feeds, I just add more of everything if it doesn’t look like enough.”

Spoken like a true non-cook, who adapts.

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cooking for 15 minutes

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mimi’s stew

I made this twice recently for back to back dinners and it serves six easily.

The Memorable Not-So-Great Birthday

lk-articles-Kneipp-Techniques-658x437It was a birthday to remember. Our daughter turned 22 before Christmas 2006. We were overseas in Germany; she was in Colorado. There was no opportunity to bake a cake. Instead, I invited her on a mother/daughter adventure after the holidays. It would include some fasting and detoxifying, the Deutsch way. It was an opportunity to study foreign nutritional practices before completing her undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Food Science. She said okay because, after all, I was paying. As it turned out, she would have preferred the cake.

malteser-clinic-of-weckbecker_128_2_1280_720_5_1403698681A friend told me about the Malteaser Klinik in Bad Brückenau. She seemed to know a lot about it without having been there. Her details were factual rather than descriptive. A naturopathic German physician pioneered a treatment plan to maintain, or restore, optimal health. It included many detoxifying therapies. It was medically supervised. It was located next to a forest. It had spa-like attributes—indoor pool, gym, sauna, hiking trails. There was free time to bond and have fun. However, we were underprepared.

I registered us for a five-day “Therapeutic Fasting Classic”. It was their most popular package. Normally clients stayed for 7, 10 or 21 days, under doctor’s orders. The plan [translated from Deutsch] included:

  1. Fasting drinks, fasting broths, etc.
  2. Best medical attention: two physician contacts per week
  3. One supervised ergometer training
  4. Daily Kneipp therapy
  5. Daily colon therapy
  6. Daily Kartoffelsack or feucht-heisse leberpackung [hot-humid liver potato sack]

Even with a good dictionary, not everything was entirely clear. During check-in, it was explained that fasting is an optimal way to rest and restore the digestive organs from processing solid food. Animals do it naturally, as in hibernation. Undisciplined humans [like us] pay clinics [like this] to tell them how to do what animals do instinctively.

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dinner

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lunch

pineapple-and-carrot-juice-recipe

breakfast

That evening, in the communal dining room, places were already set with hot tea and one tablespoon of solid honey, served with a tiny spoon. It took the edge off since we had not eaten since that morning. Then we realized this was the entire meal. Nutritionist daughter said the honey was to give our brains some carbohydrate in order to function while fasting. Breakfast the next morning was a glass of fresh carrot juice. Lunch—a bowl of clear broth with freshly chopped herbs to sprinkle on top. Refills allowed, with extra herbs. Q4mU6.St.117Dinner was the same as the night before, except tea flavors changed daily. Between meals there were stations with unlimited water, tea or a faux coffee made from barley. Daughter suffered from abrupt caffeine withdrawal headache, not helped by sympathetic doctor’s brief temple massage and, “It will go away soon.” She looked at me crossly, but remained silent.

Each day was scheduled around “meal” times, morning therapy appointments, and an afternoon potato sack ritual. Kneipp therapy is designed to toughen the body by alternating hot and cold water to various parts of the anatomy. banner_image5After a timed soak in warm water, the targeted area is immersed in icy water for 30 seconds. Circulation is encouraged; the immune system and bodily functions are strengthened. The logic seemed sound. Reality was slightly more shocking. The first session was full body immersion in a tin bathtub filled with very warm water. Lovely. tin_bath_yorkExcept, shortly after you relaxed into the water, it was time to get out and be sprayed front and back with very cold water. Three times in the warm tub, three times out for an icy shower. kneippAfter the cold-water-hose-wielding Frau did her thing, a small lament surfaced, “WHY, exactly, are we doing this for my birthday?” Point taken, but we were already there. And we had no car.

Thankfully, daily Kartoffelsack liver detox had its’ high points. While we sipped broth at noon and tried to chew the fresh herbs, a hot, damp sack of cooked potatoes was being put into our beds. Back in the room, under the duvet, we placed the towel wrapped sack over the right side of the torso. Shortly afterwards, a dream-like state of semi-consciousness took over, with vivid imagery. It was strange and pleasant at the same time. After the first day we began to hurry through lunch, anticipating warmed bags of smashed potatoes to help our livers and fuel surreal dreams. As they cooled, we roused enough to push them to the floor. Then, without speaking, rolled over into a heavy, drug-like sleep. We did not know the principle behind this therapy, but it never disappointed. It was a good way to pass a few hours.

By the second day, caffeine headache was gone, attitudes readjusted, and therapies were at least tolerated. Open communication was important because it was necessary to do some “inner work” as well as support each other through the nonstop, aching hunger. After the potato sack nap, afternoons and evenings were a long stretch of time to fill. I brought the book Perfume by Patrick Süskind. perfumeIt’s a dark sort of story set in France in the 1700s, dealing with murder and the sense of smell. It proved to be highly entertaining, even humorous when read aloud. We played endless rounds of Scrabble, Backgammon and card games. We listened to music. I watched German game shows on TV, answering questions for the contestants. We walked to the village in late afternoon dusk to be distracted by the shops. We worked out daily in the gym before tea/honey suppertime. Comedy proved to be one of the best diversions. First season television episodes of the American version of “The Office” provided such laugh out loud pleasure that we savored two, or more, each day. By the third day, adaptation set in. Appetite diminished. We were genuinely full after bowls of broth or tea. We had more energy after “rest hour” with the potatoes.

On Friday evening we were ushered to an area of the dining room screened off from the fasting crowd. A table for two was set with linens and candles. The Clinic Director lit the candles and made a little speech congratulating us on completing the fast. We were cautioned to re-enter the food world carefully in the upcoming days. They served us soup, slightly thickened with lentils, onions, carrots and savory herbs. There was a plain piece of toasted bread. Taste buds reawakened. Every flavor was discernible. There was joy in feeling texture in the mouth. We chewed and swallowed slowly. The next morning we breakfasted on a kind of warm, nourishing gruel with a glass of apple juice before being picked up.

That evening, back in the home village, we went out for a restaurant meal and talked about the experience. We had gone there knowing next to nothing about the German approach to health. That was definitely the adventure part. The not-so-great birthday part was simply that it was not an ideal choice for a healthy 22 year-old. At the time, I thought any adventure, even an “unusual” one, would be more meaningful than something tangible. It was certainly memorable, but understandably forgettable as a gift. Since then, with our far-reaching geography, family birthdays are special when we can simply be together. With cake. Without broth.

 

WALDORF RED CAKE–Especially for Birthdays

DevilsFoodCake1

  • ½ C. butter
  • 1 ½ C. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz. red food color
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. cocoa
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. white vinegar
  • 2 C. + 2 T. flour

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add cocoa and food coloring. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients. Stir in vanilla and vinegar well. Pour into 2 greased 9 inch round cake pans. Bake 350F. [180C.] until done~30 minutes. Cool on racks before frosting.

FROSTING

  • 3 T. flour
  • 1 C. milk
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. butter

Cook flour and milk over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Blend creamed ingredients into the cooled flour mixture. An electric mixer works best. Spread frosting on bottom layer of cake. Cover with top layer and complete frosting. Enjoy with loved ones.dscn0537wald-red-sm

Fabio Meets Brownies Cocaine

French baking ingredients, except vanilla extract from USA

Baking can be a handy skill. There are several things to like about it. It’s mental because you measure and time things accurately. It’s physical because it involves beating, stirring, or folding ingredients together. It’s meditative because while things are in the oven you might as well read or mull something over in your mind. Or, just get busy and clean up the mess, which goes back to being physical. There are important sensory and emotional elements too. Whatever is in the oven smells great, creates memories, and tastes better than anything from the store.

My reasons for enjoying baking evolved over time. In the beginning, it satisfied a rabid teen-aged sweet tooth. At 16, I was baking cookies regularly, convinced it was “healthier” than Coca Cola and candy bars. Later, it was an expression of love for a growing family. There were no appetizing sweets when we lived in Asia. Imported Oreos or Chips Ahoy were available in the form of stale crumbs. Fig Newtons were an occasional purchase, but only after surreptitiously squeezing the package to make sure they were fresh. I kept the family in homemade cookies, muffins, and coffee cakes for years. Baking was also useful for saying thank you to friends for a kindness or favor.

51p4erpkBvLWhen our children were very small, there was a storybook called Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy. I’m not sure they even remember it. It was really for mothers, which is why I remember it. An elephant named Mrs. Large tries to claim five minutes of peace from her three rambunctious offspring. Of course she never does. They always want to see what she is doing. They follow her into the bathroom while she is bathing, into the kitchen while she tries to read the newspaper or drink a cup of tea. She never claims a full five minutes by herself because they want her undivided attention. At one time or another most mothers of young children fantasize about a bit of quiet solitude away from family routines.

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Once, an artist friend in Cyprus gave me such a gift. We lived in Nicosia for three years in the early 1990s. Most of that time, Fabio lived in an ancient stone house in a small Greek village. His lifestyle inspired him to paint oil canvases of Cypriot village life, or the countryside, or the sea. He was a good Italian cook and loved to talk about food, but he did not bake. He had quirky rules about portion sizes, particularly sweets. He always took “a bite” of sweet while drinking his strong Italian coffee. One bite. No more. I enjoyed strong coffee, with or without a bite of something on the side, so we got along fine. He knew I had a young family with the usual busy demands. He also understood I enjoyed being on my own. One time when he planned to be in the city for the week, he asked if I would like to stay in the village for a couple of days. “Yes!” was the only possible response. I planned an overnight getaway for five minutes of peace.

villages-architecture

The house was built in old-Cypriot style. A high stonewall with a wooden door opened onto an uncovered cobblestoned courtyard. The rooms of the house were not connected to each other. Instead, they opened directly onto the courtyard. On one side was the kitchen and living room. On the other side was the bathroom and two bedrooms, one atop the other. An open stone staircase led to the upper bedroom. Olive trees, cactus, succulents, herbs and flowers were in clay pots or scattered about in earthy plots of garden.

village house courtyard

courtyard as outdoor living room

The house walls were at least two feet thick. The wide stone windowsill in the kitchen held ripened tomatoes, drying herbs and smooth rocks that looked like  eggs. There were decorations in the form of blue glass “eye” amulets to ward off bad spirits. I settled in and went exploring.

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foraged baskets turn into home decor

The house nearby begged for archeological excavating. It had crumbled into abandoned ruins long before. Minor foraging produced two mud-encrusted baskets with holes in the bottom. They cleaned up nicely. I fixed a simple meal in the primitive kitchen: eggs with fresh tomatoes and herbs, village bread and wine. Before falling asleep, I stared at the stars from my bed under an open window.

Driving back to Nicosia the next day, I considered the gift of restorative time Fabio had unknowingly bestowed. In an old fashioned house in a dusty village, I had a quietly rejuvenating adventure. SONY DSCA baking thank-you was in order. Something to challenge Fabio’s portion control principles. There are brownie recipes and then there are BROWNIE recipes. BROWNIES COCAINE can sideswipe almost anyone with its dark chocolate-y decadent deliciousness.

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brownies cocaine

A day or so later, I brewed some strong coffee and placed six squares of Brownies Cocaine on a small serving plate. Fabio listened as I told about grooming the courtyard garden, re-arranging windowsills, scavenging the rubble next door. He silently ate one, two, three, four bites–until, the plate was empty. This recipe became a rule breaker that day. Fabio returned to the stony village with extra brownies for other coffee mornings.

And I returned to family life with fond memories of a quaint old courtyard that offered a whole lot more than five minutes’ peace.

BROWNIES COCAINE

  • 3/4 C. butter
  • 1 1/8 C. unsweetened cocoa [A good European brand is optimal.]
  • 2 T. oil
  • Melt these ingredients together slowly, over low heat, stirring continuously. Set aside to cool.
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 3 C. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract [Good vanilla is key to great baking. Spend money on this.]
  • Beat the eggs, salt, sugar and vanilla together.
  • Stir in cooled chocolate quickly using only a few strokes.
  • 1 1/2 C. flour
  • Add flour by folding in.
  • Bake 350F. [180C.] 25 minutes in greased 9×13 pan. Cool before cutting.
  • Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.
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out of the oven

 

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au natural

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with confectioner’s sugar