Wednesday, February 24, 2010

up to my knees in bay leaves...

I have found myself in a bit of a predicament.

Let me explain.

At the end of the last semester, a few professors were moving out of the Chateau, back to the real world of Oxford, Ohio. They cleaned out their apartments, their closets, their kitchens....and I became the halfway house for discarded spices, half full boxes of oats, extra pasta - you get the idea.

To give you an idea, I have three nearly full packets of bay leaves, three bottles of curry spice, and a ridiculous amount of corn flour and millet, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

At first I was completely overwhelmed - what in the world will I ever do with this much extra food. I didn't even know what millet was! And then I figured, why not have fun with it?

So, the goal for the next couple of weeks is to use only what I have in my pantry (and I have plenty) to make meals. No (or very little) grocery shopping, and a lot of creativity. You see, a lot of the things that ended up in my pantry were things that I usually didn't eat, not because I'm picky, but maybe because they've never been in my normal diet.

Last night I made this curried millet for dinner (minus the corn) and I'm thinking these peppers might be super tasty in the near future.

And because I also inherited some frozen bananas (strange, but true) and happen to have some maple syrup laying around, these cookies will definitely be happening...

This corn flour, however, is leaving me uninspired. I love corn bread, but at this rate, I'll be eating corn bread every night until I leave for the summer in May.

This is my cry for help: if you have any delicious, tasty, outside-of-the-box recipes for corn flour, please toss them my way?

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Grace a carnival, last week I did not work (ah, how I love thee, European celebrations). So what's a girl to do with a few free days? Convince a few lovely La Rochelle folk to hop in a car with her to explore Belgium and the Netherlands, with a few bits of Germany and France for good measure. Oh, and throw in a business professor named Al.

We started in lovely Luxembourg, exploring the old casemates and introducing the La Rochelle gang to la vie Luxembourgeoise.

Monday morning, we hit the road, stopping in Aalst, Belgium to participate in some Carnival festivities. Note: in this particular Belgian town, the local men traditionally dress up as women during the celebrations. See above.

Monday night, we found ourselves in Antwerp, sipping beer with an ex-pat named Geoff...

...Tuesday was Rotterdam, eating apple pie at a North African restaurant....

...Wednesday and Thursday we discovered Amsterdam, Dutch pancakes, tulip markets and the peril of driving those winding canal roads....

...Friday was Koln (but not before two hours of traffic), and a 533 step hike to the top of the cathedral belfry (it's really not a true European vacation until you climb to the top of a church)...

...and Saturday we ended our little tour in Strasbourg where we attacked a mound of Alsacien Sauerkraut. 

We parted ways in Strasbourg - the Rochlais made their way back to La Rochelle, while the Luxembourg group headed back to Differdange to start a new week of work.  When I pulled into the Chateau parking lot, officially finishing this little roadtrip, I could help but feel like that girl who came to Europe for the first time three and a half years ago, tipsy with the thrill of discovery and adventure.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's day

*from kate spade valentines

Je ne suis pas Rimbaud, ni Voltaire, ni Hugo pour te dire ces mots, mais je te les dis quand meme: je t'aime...

 - a message for a loved one from a Luxembourgish newspaper

Luxembourgish Feast

On Thursday night, I joined a group of our students (and our Dean) at a cooking class. Held at a  former professor's house, the evening was all about eating in Luxembourg - the structure of the meal, cooking using only ingredients from the country, and discussing why Luxembourgers eat the way they do.

It was like a Luxembourgish Thanksgiving feast (I told the husband that I was going to end up rolling down the street)

So, what do they eat in Luxembourg? 50 years ago, only things that could be grown or found in Luxembourg. Now they can import pretty much anything, but for this particular evening, we cooked a Luxembourgish feast at its purest.

We began with the aperitif - a Luxembourgish cremant (the equivalent to Champagne, made near the Mosel), pastry wrapped pate, bread (made in the Ardens) with cheese, and a very interesting meat 'jelly.'

First course: Gekrauselt Zalot or Frisee Salad

1 head of frisee lettuce
1 clove of garlic, 1 shallot
4 slices smoked speck
bread cubes fried in butter

1 tablespoon mustard
salt, pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Worcestershire sauce
*notice there's no oil? Oils used to be very rare (no olive or walnut trees), but cows were not - so they used what they had!

The salad was served with Grompere Kichelcher or Potatoe Fritters
1 kg potatoes
3 onions
2 shallots
4 eggs
parsley, salt, peper
3 tablespoons flour
oil for frying

Shred the potatoes, using a grater, into a cloth. Press out all the excess moisture from the shredded potatoes. Mix in chopped parsley, shallots and onions. Add the beaten eggs, flour and salt and pepper to taste. Form flat cakes out of the potato mixture and fry them into the hot oil until golden brown on both sides.

The main course was Paschteit or Vol-au-vent

1 dressed chicken
coarse salt
100g fresh mushrooms
peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves
4 vol-au-vent or puff pastry circles with a lid

Place the chicken together with the vegetables, bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns in cold water and cook for 2 hours. Prepare a roux (a combination of butter and flour cooked together) for the sauce. Add some of the chicken stock to thicken the sauce. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cube the chicken and sweat the mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter. Put everything together in the sauce, adding lemon juice to taste, before filling the vol-au-vent.

And dessert? Delicious, delicious apple crumble. 

Unfortunately, I don't have an exact recipe, but it was the most basic of crumbles. Apples baked down until they were like a really chunky apple sauce, topped with a flour, sugar, butter crumble topping.

Simple, tasty, and the perfect end to an amazing meal.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Beautiful Florence

Last week I went to Florence for work. Back to Florence I should say. It had been 3.5 years since my first visit - the first time I got lost in the cobblestone alleys, tasted the cappuccino, gazed at the David...


I couldn't help but think about everything that had changed in that space between my visits and the transient nature of life. And even though lives and people are constantly moving in and out of Florence, this beautiful city has remained so enchanting and so so lovely.

Crepes, crepes, more crepes...

I heard about Chandeleur around Christmas time. We had invited the Dean to our final Sunday brunch of the first semester (something  that the tenants of the Chateau have made an unofficial habit of). He, being french, suggested on making crepes. And then proceeded to school us on proper thin-pancake production...

It was then that he mentioned Chandeleur, a holiday on February 2, when the French traditionally eat a meal of crepes. A holiday about crepes?? Why hadn't I heard about this before? The idea is to celebrate the presentation of Jesus to the temple, but in this century, it means...crepes.

And crepes we ate. Traditional, buckwheat, egg-less, egg-less with beer, topped with chevre, swiss cheese, sausages, jams, sugar and of course, nutella.

So many crepes were made, and the kitchen became so smokey that one of the guests had to escape for a brief moment to get some fresh air - we weren't going to mess around. This was a holiday about crepes, and crepes we would have. Lots and lots of crepes.

The Dean, while we were eating, smiled and started telling us his own story of Chandeleur. His mother, very pregnant (with him) and very much in labor (though the nuns at the hospital had told her she was mistaken) was in such pain on the day of the Chandeleur that she couldn't stand still. Every time she flipped a crepe, she would give a little jump, hopping around the kitchen as the crepes flew.

Legend has it that if you can successfully flip a crepe using only one hand and holding a coin in the other, you will have wealth for the remainder of the year.

How did it work out for me? Well, let's just say I had been practicing. Cha-ching!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Expat Book Club

Any American living in a non-English speaking country will understand me when I say 'English literature is like crack.'

You love it, you need it, and once you get your fix, you can't stop. Soon you find yourself talking to anyone who speaks English to see if they have a spare book to throw your way. And if you do happen to find an English bookstore (I'm looking at you William Shakespear & co.), well, there goes your paycheck.

Luckily, I brought the big suitcase back to the States over the holidays. I was able to import what seemed to be an entire bookcase load of books over to Luxembourg to sustain me.

Currently on the docket? Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover

I'm about 50 pages in, but I'm liking this book for a couple of reasons:

1. I love food, food culture, cooking, etc. This book is essentially about a family growing fresh produce, and eating flavorful (seasonal) whole foods.

2. There are recipes included. sold.

3. It's educational. And yes, I miss learning dearly. For the time being, this book is filling that void.

4. It reminds me of those days in New Mexico, trying to coerce the lettuce to grow at high altitude. When I read this book I find myself back on the ranch, knee high in sunflowers, chasing cows out of the pasture...