Sunday, October 16, 2016

Provence Dreaming - Nice

 Feasts of Provence by Robert Carrier published by Rizzoli, c. 1988 ---    The inspiration for this trip

      I started dreaming about returning to Provence some years ago but the trip never happened. Australia and Calabria happened, but Provence got pushed back. I wanted to revisit a few places I had enjoyed, like Nyons and the Gorges du Verdon and St. Paul de Vence, and I also wanted to explore new regions in the ancient Roman "provinces."  I assembled various books and articles on Provence from my collection, and one wintry night last December I started browsing through Robert Carrier's Feasts of Provence.  I read the following paragraph in his introduction: "All around the little village there were hills of pine and scrub and wild herbs, and then further on other villages-- Entrecasteaux with it's lovely old chateau; Le Thoronet with its austere abbey,  Flayosc, Villecroze and Tourtour.  Nearby lay Cotignac, one of the prettiest villages in the Var, with its charming open square and fountain. To me this is one of the loveliest areas in all France." When I finished reading,  I knew where I wanted to go.

Provence and its regions

                  I found a fanciful map of Provence in Erica Brown's Provence Gastronomique

             And based on Robert Carrier's recommendations and my memories, I planned my trip...

This time I would forget Paris and begin in Nice. We would drive to Cotignanc and surrounding towns, continue through the Gorges du Verdon and up to Nyons, a town I had visited twice before and bookmarked to revisit for a longer stay. I would make sure to see the Pont du Gard and spend the night in nearby Arles with its amphitheater and Van Gogh foundation, before heading back to St Paul de Vence for a return visit. Then we could swing down to Menton on the Italian border to catch the striking Cocteau museum. Finally, we would  end the trip in Nice where we had begun. Now I needed to make reservations.

Leaving Dublin after a hearty breakfast with Irish brown bread

Oddly enough, our trip to Provence began in Dublin. It turned out to be complicated and expensive to fly to Nice from San Francisco so we took Aer Lingus to Dublin. We stayed overnight at the Albany House B and B, took in some sights, had a superb dinner and continued on to Nice the following day.

The Long Room, Trinity College Library---Dublin
Of course my first order of business in Dublin was to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Ever since Library School I had hoped to see the ancient Celtic illuminated manuscript of the four gospels written in Latin and illuminated on vellum.  I pre-booked tickets so I wouldn't be disappointed. Luckily Trinity College was a short walk from our B and B, and on the way we got to pass St Stephen's Green, a huge park packed with Dubliners frolicking about on this unseasonably beautiful day,

Sweet pea puree with raw scallops and vegetables

Pictured above is one of a number of stunning courses we ate at Bang Restaurant in Dublin, possibly the best meal of the trip. Don't miss it if you go to Dublin. Extra plusses for the moderate tab and the short walk from our hotel. We almost got locked in the park strolling home! I can't wait to return (and I still need to see James Joyce's house)

We landed in Nice on another lovely day and took the short cab ride to the Hotel Swisse overlooking the Baie des Anges. We were thrilled with the view from our third floor room. This hotel was a winner!

Early morning view from our balcony after a light rain, then down to a great French breakfast

We plunged right into Vieux Nice, which started only a few blocks from our hotel. We got wonderfully lost wandering the scenic streets, and on our first afternoon we somehow missed the Cours Saleya, with the huge daily market.

The next morning we made sure to check our map and head straight for the famous market which rambles all along the Cours Saleya, conveniently near our hotel.

On our way to the market I spotted two agnes b shops, one for men and the other for women. Because the store in San Francisco closed years ago, I was thrilled to discover my favorite designer so close to our hotel. I admire her so much I wrote a blog about her, My Agnes b. blog

                           Farther down Cours Saleya we found  Alzieri, the famous olive oil shop

Place Rosetti
I'm smiling on the fountain at Place Rosetti in the center of Vieux Nice, probably because I had just enjoyed a gelato at Fenocchio's, best glacier in Nice.

Place Rosetti
Every time we wandered in Old Nice we seemed to wind up at this bustling Place filled with happy locals and tourists eating, drinking and relaxing. There were Irish flags hanging out of some windows, due to the influx of Northern Irish football fans. Somehow I had planned the trip to France during the infamous European Cup Soccer matches, all held in various cities throughout FRANCE.

Great museums flourish in Nice and our first destination was the Musée National Marc Chagall, a pleasant bus ride up through the smart residential Cimiez district. The museum houses the largest selection of Chagall paintings anywhere. The collection is stunning and I have included only a fraction of insets that struck me.

Adam exposing his rib in a yoga pose (half lotus)

After our serious viewing, we crossed the lawn to the adorable café for a cool drink. Then we took the bus back down to town

The  Musée Matisse is farther up the Boulevard de Chimiez. The grounds are a bit shabby and the collection itself is not as impressive as the Chagall museum. In fact we were glad that we went to Musée Chagall first. This was an anticlimax. Still, we enjoyed seeing some impressive works like the odalisque above and the dancers below.

One  of many Matisse drawings in the museum

Our captain

One morning after delicious croissants and café au laits, we took the 11 a.m. coastal cruise with Trans Cote d'Azur from Nice's colorful Port. We spent a pleasant hour on the Mediterranean viewing the elite villages from Villefranche sur mer to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and marveled at the picturesque hills dotted with villas of the royal, super-rich and famous.

Villefranche sur mer

I never tired of the pastel and ochre buildings, and the particular hustle and bustle of the ports along the riviera. But after four stimulating days and nights in and around Nice, it was time to get out our Michelin map #245, rent a car and move on.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Green Bins Near and Far

                                                                                                                                         photograph in the New York Times

When I saw this woman tenderly clutching her kitchen compost bin I got excited. What's the occasion? She turns out to be Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist who runs the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior at Rockefeller University, nicknamed the Smell Lab and lives on the upper West side of New York. At work and at home she celebrates all smells. "Some people divide the world into disgusting or nice," she said, "I think all smells are great."

Like my sister Lucia, Leslie stows her compost in the freezer when the bin is overflowing. Lucia then takes the frozen waste to the country on weekends, to add to her garden compost pile. Her daughter Hannah contributes her family's compost as well. Leslie takes hers to the nearby 79th street greenmarket, at the Museum of Natural History. where they accept residents' compost.

This proud fellow is overseeing the compost collection at the greenmarket on West 97th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam in Manhattan. I attended the market on a Friday morning last September and it was lovely.

At the same 97th Street market I spotted this photographer shooting close-ups of the collected compost, just like me.

I noticed this compost bin in Calabria, Italy during my travels there last September. In the foreground is a tray of figs drying in the hot afternoon sun.

                 On our trip to Australia we saw this recycling bin at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney

             Colorful garden clippings headed for the compost pile at Hanalei Bay Resort on Kauai

  Dropping off waste at the picturesque recycling center near Princeville on the island of Kauai

 Pineapple, papaya, bananas---We must be composting in Hawaii again. This time it's the Puakea Ranch on the Big Island!

                                      Colorful spring veggie parings in my kitchen green bin

   I have never featured a photo of me and my green bin. It's about time, so here we are together in Berkeley on my deck.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Vegetarian Epicure

Here I am with Anna Thomas, sharing stories about the 1972 first edition of her book The Vegetarian Epicure. I brought my copy to Book Passage the Saturday she visited to sign copies of her new book Vegan, Vegetarian Omnivore.

I bought her first book shortly after arriving in Berkeley. Unfortunately, I have no memory of where or why I bought it. I was not a vegetarian but the recipes and whimsical pen and ink drawings appealed to me on some level. The cover is now faded from years of  sunlight, but the pages aren't worn and food-stained enough to suit Anna. It's true, I have only made three or four recipes from the book and most are from her delectable dessert section; in fact, I often noticed that vegetarian cookbooks of that era were heavy on desserts, perhaps to compensate for the lack of meat and poultry. Because she was born in Germany of Polish parents,  her sweets are wonderful old-world specialties, and because she loves Christmas, there is a lovely holiday section. Somehow, perhaps because my mother was Swedish, I gravitated toward that section.

When I proudly showed her my 1972 first edition, we chatted about how she started to write the book. She was a poor student at UCLA in the early '70s and loved to entertain. Her friends were so taken with her creative vegetarian meals that they encouraged her to write a book. But she was busy in film school and had little time for another project. Then, in 1971, fate intervened and the US invaded Cambodia. The student protests were so violent and disruptive that the regents closed the university and disbanded classes. I too remember those explosive times in Madison and Berkeley.

Here is a short item from Wikipedia about that era at UCLA:

"In 1971student unrest at UCLA was further exacerbated when President Richard Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard fired upon student protesters at Kent State. Hundreds of student protesters marched through the UCLA campus and vandalized several buildings, including an ROTC building, and part of Murphy Hall. Chancellor Young declared a State of Emergency and summoned the LAPD on campus; 74 arrests were made and 12 people reported injuries. This demonstration and many others at UC campuses throughout the state caused then-Governor Ronald Reagan to shut down the state's colleges and universities for the first time in California's history."

With no classes to attend, Anna wrote her book, found an agent through a friend of a friend, and got the book published by a division of Random House without a hitch. The publisher paired her up with Julie Maas, who did the charming drawings to illustrate Anna's recipes, and a classic was born.  Apparently publishers were scouting for vegetarian cookbooks at the time and The Vegetarian Epicure came along at just the right moment. The book is still in print.

While she was signing copies of her new book for customers and friends, and while we snacked on the delicious dip she brought and served on french bread with goat cheese, she inscribed my "vintage" copy of The Vegetarian Epicure for me.

                                                        MOJO VERDE

Here is the spicy, green, herbaceous dip Anna made from her new book Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore. "It's a knockout Spanish appetizer divine with crisp roasted potatoes" or on crackers with goat cheese.
She encourages people to continue to entertain despite all the difficulties with guest's dietary restrictions. She feels that eating together with friends and family makes life worth while.
6 cloves garlic (or fewer), minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup mint
1/2 green serrano chili, minced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
                                Pulse in food processor, then add
3 small slices of a baguette
5 T. olive oil
3 T wine vinegar
                                Pulse all ingredients together until pureed

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cheryl, Ryan and Louisa hosting Marnie

                             Three of my Book Passage friends hosting an event for Marnie the dog

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year with Cardamom-Walnut Crescents

A happy New Year's toast to all and a recipe for my favorite holiday cookies----cardamom-walnut crescents. They are a snap to make and the result is a tender, exotically spiced delicacy. The special ingredients are ground cardamom and vanilla sugar for the topping. I used Patricia Rain's prepared vanilla sugar that we carried at Scharffen Berger Chocolate when I worked there. Make sure the ground cardamom is fresh since it loses it's potent aroma after a year or so, and the cardamom is the whole point!

Vanilla Sugar and Cardamom for cookies

This year I baked the crescents on my new silicone baking sheet by Chef'n, a present from my niece's husband BJ, who works for the company. He revealed that it takes at least two years to develop and introduce a new product. The sheet worked especially well since I could bake on it and use it for cooling as the recipe requires.

Freshly baked cookies cooling on the silicone baking sheet

Cardamom-Walnut Crescents
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup walnuts halves
  • ¼ pound unsalted butter, chilled and cut in to 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
  •  teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine all dough ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until the dough resembles coarse meal. Then process continuously until it begins to gather together.
  2. Roll 2 teaspoons dough at a time into half moon shapes. Arrange on an ungreased baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Bake until firm to touch, about 18 to 20 minutes.
  3. When cookies are done, let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack. Sift the vanilla sugar over them immediately. Continue cooling for 15 minutes. The cookies may be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Memories of a Recent trip to Calabria-Part II

Fresco in the Monastery in Amantea

                         We saw more peppers drying in the charming resort town of Diamante

The next day we headed for Amantea. an ancient town built on rocky precipices. We trekked up to the restored 16th century monastery, which once housed an order of Nuns called Le Clarisse and has now been converted into a first class restaurant and Inn.

                  We had a memorable midday meal at the restaurant, which began with fresh anchovies.                                    

Potato cakes covered with fresh anchovies- a stunning first course at Le Clarisse

After lunch and another bus ride, we checked into our final resort, Porto Pirgos. Our room had a terrace with another stunning view of the Medeterranian. Again we could walk down to a private beach or swim in the beautiful pool.

In the evening we tore ourselves away from our water sports and headed for the picturesque town of Tropea for sightseeing, shopping and dinner.

A breathtaking view in Tropea

Tropea was beautiful at nightfall

On our final day we headed for the fishing village of Pizzo, known for its gorgeous beaches and its gelaterie which line the town square.

A view of the beach in Pizzo from above


                                    Enjoying the spouts of cool water at the fountain on another hot day

I loved this old fountain

The seafood we had for lunch at Ristorante San Domenico was freshly caught by local fishermen and was  unsurpassed in flavor and ingenuity of preparation.

The octopus served over a puree of chickpeas was one of my favorite dishes of the trip

Then on to the main piazza with its plethora of competing gelaterie, all  serving the town's specialty- Tartufo di Pizzo. This is a molded ice cream dessert resembling a giant black truffle, with a cocoa coating concealing two layers of ice cream: a chocolate layer on the outside and hazelnut within. But the surprise is in the center -- a molten fudge sauce that oozes like lava when you cut into it.

Tartufo di Pizzo

Serious gelato consumption in Pizzo

Our journey begins and ends with red peppers drying in the hot sun. We saw these when we visited Agriturismo Manitta, high in the hills above Tropea. We arrived Saturday evening for a tour of the gardens and a final cooking class. Then as the sun set and  the locals arrived to have a romantic dinner al fresco, we too sat down at a long table set for our group and began to eat the feast the staff prepared just for us.

Peppers hung to dry at Agriturismo Manitta 

Here we are mid-meal on our last night at Agriturismo Manitta, high in the hills above Tropea  

Now that our trip is over and well documented in these last two blog posts, I must thank our tour guide and indefatigable leader Rosetta Costentino (and her husband Lino) for creating such an unforgettable experience. We ate and drank exceptionally well, we stayed in lovely lodgings, we saw places of unimaginable beauty and we experienced Calabria, the "toe" of the Italian peninsula, through her eyes. Seeing the countryside in this manner was a rare opportunity and I'm fortunate to have enjoyed it with my sister Lucia, another Italophile and a good sport. We can't wait to return!

Rosetta teaching a class with the chef at San Michele before lunch

                                         Rosetta Costentino's book about her native Calabria

"At the southern tip of the Italian peninsula lies an Italy that few people know: a land of fragrant citron and bergamot orchards, ancient olive groves and terraced vineyards; a place of tradition and ritual, where the annual swordfish catch and hot pepper harvest are celebrated with elaborate festivals, and where women still roll pasta dough around knitting needles."