Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fall Farm to Table Prep

I am running through my memory banks trying to figure out when I had to host somewhat elaborate dinner parties.  Ever since the day I bought a plywood round to go on a tiny three legged table in my NYC studio, I think it’s always been onwards and upwards.  This weekend I am delighted to hostess a dinner party in honor of three of my favorite Blogger/IG friends coming to visit.  What am I going to do?? Put on the dog, so to speak, and roll out some awesome food, gather some wonderful people and have a party!  Tomorrow in the wee hours I am going to the flower mart to get greens to supplement the garden cuttings and flowers for the table.  And I had a nice arch of cornstalk with fairylights at night but the Canadian Farm Girl Boss doesn’t like it, so tomorrow we go for olivier or something green. 

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I love to create a menu around what is seasonal and best and what new foods my guests would like to try.  Sunchoke aka Jerusalem Artichoke is on that list, and today at the Santa Monica Farmers market I bought two kinds.  They look gnarly but they have a great taste, raw~

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Awesome figs, yes, came home with me.  Fall compote for the dessert table….

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Great fall colors, though I did not buy….

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I love to introduce American shoppers to celery root or celeri rave or celeriac.  Whatever you call it, it’s a versatile staple you should know how to use….

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No pomegranates for this party, but the display was nice….

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A thoroughly French Portrait: Potimarron and Celeri-rave~

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Posies were pretty, but I bought their Herbes de Provence goat cheese, which I will use for an appie~

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And organic fresh dates….calling for bacon and bleu~

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Back in Laguna, I loved what I had found.  Quince to go in a compote, grey shallots, dried and fresh strawberries…it was all good~

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Soon everyone was tucked in~ YUM.  These will be topped with cream and berries and then lidded. Personal desserts, French Style. Oui.

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Mendiants made with organic pecan and candied orange zest and dried strawberry that packs a punch~

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I made pecan cookies with a different butter than usual..and I got a spread.  Ooops. 

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But no worries, I gave them the Jackson Pollock treatment and they taste great~~~

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Tomorrow we have another day of work, more cooking and baking and shopping…starting with the flower mart.  It will all be worth it…can’t wait to welcome our guests on Friday~

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Fall Style

A few of my long-time blog followers came to my cooking class last month.  Sometime during the afternoon, they asked if they could peek into my china cupboard, and mentioned how they miss my regular posts so much.   Since I have been a little caught up in all my various projects, I have been blogging less frequently.  For some reason I hadn’t really thought about my posts being missed…but suddenly, I realized I have a sort of an obligation to continue to blog, and maybe soon vlog, and in any case to share what I see and what I am doing.  So as I wrap up a few other projects, I will try to also blog a little more often. 

I am always thinking to seasons ahead.  In June & July, I am thinking of Fall.  By August, I know what I want and need for Christmas.  Each year is a little different, each year has a different inspiration, and of course, nothing is possible unless you can find, make or grow just what you want to see.  The pumpkin offerings vary from year to year, and it pays to have a wide variety of sources.  I sometimes grow pumpkins and squash at home from French seeds, but it’s become easier to find them through local farms and suppliers.  Yesterday I made the trek to Lavender Hill Farm in beautiful Fallbrook, San Diego.  The field is sloping, trimmed by lavender and herbs, and you can gather pumpkins in the wheelbarrows on hand, and also cut some others. 

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The drive to Fallbrook was really the official kick-off for the fall decorating season.  Our temperatures have cooled off just a little, and it doesn’t feel like New England, but nonetheless it is Fall, and we all want out homes to reflect the season.  I started planning several weeks ago, when I planted various heirloom pumpkin seeds in various containers.  Here are a few sprouts, a few weeks old.

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I spent the weekend making the rounds to the first offerings of pumpkins and squash.  Some from Lavender Hill, and my favorite farms, shops, grocery store and farmers markets, and some from Trader Joe’s.  Today, I began to pull together various elements, organized in a stack of vintage crates. 

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This year, I am going for mostly green and white.  With a little planning, this will transition from Fall to Thanksgiving to Christmas and into the new year.  For my own home, the orange Turban squash will be made into soup tureens before Christmas; others will become soup when I am looking for a meal on hand.  The green pumpkins will all be fine for several months as long as they are not in the full sun.  For now, they look seasonal and inviting, though this is not their final arrangement. 

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The sprouted pumpkins will continue to grow over the next month, through Thanksgiving….they will provide green color and a context for the pumpkins.  Though everyone can see most of the pumpkins are cut, the vines will be fresh and young and beautiful around them, not to mention it’s going to be fun to watch them grow over the next few weeks.

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And of course, it’s that hunt for variety and novelty that is so much fun during this season.  I love this one, with a long stem that I cut, and a large, exaggerated, ribbed side.  I think the color will change, but I love it now.

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I will add to my collection each week, and some of the new ones will go to friends and clients. Pumpkins are not equal, and I look for those which are perfectly imperfect, with character, with life…

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A trio of a small white pumpkin which I cut with a long stem, a mini-turban and a buttercup squash all sit together.  These will be made into soup or crostini, after we have enjoyed their shapes and form.

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Sometimes it’s the markings that attract me; this year I love this green and white variety.  There are several other varieties I have not seen, like Marina di Chiogga, and I have not been to Chino Farm and I have not bought my first slice of Fairtale or Musquee de Provence from Don at the Corona del Mar farmers market.  Oh there are so many great weeks of Fall ahead of us!!

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And as you select your favorites, don’t forget the stems.  I look for unusual and long stems.  You might see a stem, but I see a handle of a small soup tureen for dinner for four, with chunky Herbes de Provence croutons.  We will make these in our cooking class in a few weeks.

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This variety has a super thick stem; I wish they would have left it longer, but it’s still beautiful like this~

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If you go to the pumpkin farms, you can cut your own, like this small green.  The colors often change as the pumpkin matures.  I wonder what color it will become?? 

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My pumpkins this year are mixed in with terra cotta pots filled with herbs and white impatiens.  Only white.  This week I will add paperwhite bulbs in to these pots, and the pots will transition through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and early December, when more pots of paperwhites will be added to the mix.

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So far, this is a very modest haul.  But it’s a start.  It helps that I have made friends with one of the guys at Trader Joe’s and I got some primo pumpkins.  The best ones go fast! Shop often! 

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I have the entry done up with cornstalks, which my family hates, truly, but it’s for my dinner party guests.  I am saving the reveal of the finished install for the party guests, so you will see it on the blogs later in October…

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Inside the house, I collect various gourds and squash that are prime soup tureens or amazingly sculptural, like this one.  My dining room alcove will also hold a pretty display for my dinner party guests, you will see in a few weeks.

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This gourd is from Trader Joe’s, snatched by me before it went out for sale.  It is perfectly shaped, large, perfectly colored, sits up straight and has a nice long stem attached.  Maybe not Pumpkin Lotto, but it’s a major score.  I love the striped green next to the random patchy green. 

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So, keep your eyes out for the best pumpkins, gourds and squash you can this season!  I have not mentioned the other varieties that I buy to eat, but we’ll talk about that next time.  For now, get some Fall décor going, please!!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Comment Bien Recevoir

I started writing this post when our first guests arrived this summer, just the start of a stream of friends new and old coming to experience the beautiful town of Beaune, Burgundy’s wine & food, and a little bit of French hospitality.  Getting the house in shape for guests is some work, but mostly requires me to plan and anticipate every guest’s needs.  But in the balmy summer weather, I can open all the doors, windows and volets or shutters, and get the house in summer shape.  So let me take you on a short tour of parts of the house, and share a little bit of how I have prepared for guests. A visit starts at the entry, and there is always something seasonal to mark the door, in summer, fresh herbs and lavender.  It’s easy for guests to find your house if you have some kind of welcome marker, though this summer it seems some tourist took a fancy to my door dressing and one day the lavender ribbon and ivy and lavender sprigs were stolen!  I take it as a compliment…  Once through the front door you enter a marble corridor and see the terrace straight ahead.  Enlargements of vintage postcards of Beaune are waiting to be hung here.  The walls are solid stone and we must hang the frames carefully from the ceiling above.

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First though the door though, you pass the heating room as well as the bouanderie.  This is the laundry room + powder room.  I had an armoire split in half and the sides flipped; so that inside that door on the right is a stacked washer and dryer.  I have never seen this done before, I was just thinking of what to use for on-hand cabinetry.  But I have yet to have a visitor not exclaim that this is totally clever.  A collection of old dames-Jeannes or demijohns on top on both sides.  The light fixture is from a vide-grenier.  It’s great to see each piece in the house and know when and where we bought it.  The cave or wine cellar is adjacent.  Maybe I’ll do another post just on this room; it deserves its own post.

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A guestroom is on this floor too.  This is a former coatroom.  The walls are done in faux seagrass. with pretty silk drapes tiered and pleated at the bottom by my local seamstress.

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The bed is dressed in vintage French linens from my collection, today with a heavy crocheted border sheet and Matteo blankets.  White linens only for me.

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The windows on your room looks out onto the terrace.  There is a WC and shower also in this room, which is occupied during these pics and so a little rumpled….but that means bien comfortable!

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The terrace is cool and inviting in summer, and great when the heat ramps up in July.  I painted a set of six chairs from the brocante with the Farrow and Ball paint bought in town, and brought the quilted runner and tricolore pillow from California with me.  And of course now my bike Mathilde is also sharing this space, waiting for her next run.

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Most of the time, men don’t understand this kind of stuff, and I’m sure if I weren’t here this kind of fluff wouldn’t make it out onto the table.  And maybe even the table wouldn’t make it outside.  But there are candles lit, day and night, and roses or other flowers, always.  If you have been traveling from near or far, this is a nice place to start your visit.  Very chilled wine would soon fill these glasses…

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The terrace is small, but perfect in summer.  Lots of blue sky above, dappled light in the later afternoon, cool and calm…next summer, I’ll have window boxes on each of the floors.

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Inside, in the kitchen, I have a small “bar” area with various waters, teas and glasses.  The tea cups are white porcelain, from the thrift store.  I’ve gotten tired of drinking coffee from a bowl, not to mention it’s a horrible way to drink tea.  Love my tea cups!

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Sugar, cocoa powder and cinnamon are all on hand but in English silver sugar shakers.  The British know how to do tea right!!

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Various French silver tea pots and copper kettles are ready for service, and in the morning you will find these steaming on the stove.  R isn’t sure why I need more than one copper kettle.  Well, that’s because this one is three litres, and this one is four litres….and a few weeks later I added a little personal-sized kettle as well as one more even more enormous from Guy.  I know, a little addicted!!

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Also in the kitchen you’ll see a stack of vintage cutting boards in various sizes.  The largest one is used to make pasta; the others are for bread and for putting guests to work chopping vegetables or herbs.  This is where we will cook a large dinner together with our guests on Saturday night.

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Over the last few days I have had the time to clean and rearrange.  The storage jars for flour and sugar, salt and lavender are in a new corner now, along with 19thC trays and lots of sterling candlesticks.

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The kitchen is also stocked with all kinds of fruits for you to come nibble on, as well as herbs and a few standard provisions.  Each week after the market on Saturday I rearrange this bowl with the fresh produce and herbs for the week.

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Just outside the kitchen door you will find several stacks of baskets, some vintage and some slightly newer; all different shapes and sizes depending on who you are and where you are going.  Don’t leave home without a basket in hand!

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Now just around the corner you will be in the petit salon.  This is where we will eat our Saturday dinner, but for now it is set up with a little vignette and fresh roses; ready for a glass of wine.

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On  the tables and in the large cabinet, I have arranged my collections of white porcelain and copper.  This large pot is called a daubiere, for the stew called daube.  It weighs a good ten pounds empty, and has the dove tail joinery of the very old copper.  Maybe sometime if I have 20 people for dinner we can use this one!

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After a large meal, especially in winter, guests fight to lay claim to the daybed in the grand salon.  Filled with soft pillows and a foxy throw, it gets a little afternoon light and is a welcome spot for a nap, if you aren’t going to the parc for a walk or a three hour hike.

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The linens on the daybed are either vintage or made by an expert local seamstress.  Best best best….

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In summer, the house is full of locally-cut lavender.  Not a French summer without lavender!  The cut lavender you find in the US may come from France but if it does it’s usually treated with chemicals, and it smells not of lavender but of some odd spray…better to find a good local source if you can.

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So there are just a few pics for those of you who keep asking me for more images!  I am getting ready to plan dates for next summer in Beaune, and already a lot of friends new and old who will plan to come stay with us and perhaps also spend a few days in the South or in Paris.  I’ll have dates soon if any of you want to come joint me.  In the meantime, I think back to just a few weeks ago and summer days in Beaune.  The place that inspires me and feeds my soul!!