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baby spinach, orange & feta salad

I’m pretty much a lousy patient. For starters, I’m notoriously bad about calling the doctor in the first place.  Give it a day or two, it’ll pass. I’m sure of it. (That gene’s on my mother’s side.) Frequently I’ll forget and need reminders nagging to take my medicine, or I’ll fail to drink enough water when I do. And that whole “bed-rest” thing…that’s for someone who’s, you know… sick!

I made an exception this time. Allow me to boast (I may never have another opportunity like this one again) – this time I was an exceptional patient. (Except for that whole wasteful bed-rest thing.) I’ve been fighting (well, not me alone) a very nasty infection. I’m pleased to announce : we’ve won! I took my medicine. I drowned myself in fluids. I ate my spinach. And you should too! (How quickly we turn smug and start to nag!)

Baby Spinach Leaves, Orange & Feta Salad 

in a Walnut-Citrus Vinaigrette

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Baby spinach leaves

Orange – especially Blood Oranges if you can find them! – thinly sliced

Feta Cheese, crumbled

Pea shoots or seed sprouts

Olive Oil & Walnut Oil

Juice of fresh Lemon

Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Toasted Walnuts – Optional

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For each share of salad, about 2 cups of beautiful baby spinach leaves, washed, dried, tumbled into a bowl; peeled and thinly sliced orange, dropped on top. (Reserve as much of the fallen juice as you can.) Vinaigrette – couldn’t be easier. Equal amounts of olive oil and walnut oil. Equal amounts of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and orange juice. (Start with equal parts oil & citrus juice…adjust to suit your taste.) A few grinds of black pepper, and pinch of flaky salt. Stir, drizzle, toss. Read more

roasted cauliflower & hazelnut salad

Another vegetable dish, fit for a feast, made before the rush ~ and one that likes the temperature of the room, right where you set it.

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In the fall, my mum buys big burlap bags of nuts and over the course of the winter she shells them, roasts them then puts them away, mostly for baking. Her house still smelled of an alder wood fire and roasting hazelnuts when I showed up. It was a very lucky day for me to have a sweet long visit with my mom and to walk away with my pockets bulging nuts. My luck didn’t end there because I’d just bought a beautiful organic cauliflower and (several) pomegranates without a plan. And in my newest cookbook, a dish that paired them all together. Kismet! Somedays, things just can’t get much better.

One more recipe from the sumptuous new cookbook of Yotam Ottolenghi (Jerusalem) and then we’ll give the poor man a rest.

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Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad

(serves 4 as a small side)

1 head Cauliflower, broken into small florets (1½ lb, 660 g)

5 Tablespoons Olive Oil – divided

1 large Celery Stalk, cut on an angle in ¼-inch slices

5 Tablespoons Hazelnuts, their skins on (30 g)

1/3 cup Parsley Leaves, picked

1/3 cup Pomegranate seeds (from about ½ medium pomegranate)

generous ¼ teaspoon ground Cinnamon

generous ¼ teaspoon ground Allspice

1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar

1½ teaspoons Maple Syrup

Salt & Pepper to taste

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Preheat the oven to 425°F 220ºC

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roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs

You thought I’d forgotten Wegetable Vednesdays?  I’ve taken quite the break – but all along the way I’ve been gathering inspiration. I’ll try to make up for a little lost time with the next two installments. And then we’re back on track…

New things to do with the same old vegetables every Wednesday around here.

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It’s nearly Thanksgiving so let’s talk turkey. So to speak. 

You’ve noticed…getting a feast on the table is no small fete.  The most challenging part of the entire undertaking is getting all things to the table either as steamy hot or icy cold as you want them.

Maybe you’ve got your own methods for ensuring this happens as we idealize it should – maybe it’s one well-orchestrated movement at your house, with ten experienced helping hands, moving seamlessly in your commercial-sized kitchen while your great uncle plays Mozart on the concertina and your kids play board games on the rug. But if that’s not you (and it sure isn’t me)…

here’s a thought…

What if a couple delicious side dishes were meant to appear

– utterly perfect –

at room temperature?

“room temperature, on purpose!”

that is a thought…

One such dish might look like this:

And with the next post (tomorrow or Friday) I’ll show you another. (No feast will get the best of us!)

I’ve spoken raved about Yotam Ottolenghi before. (See Marinated Turkey Breast,  Cauliflower & Cumin Fritters… or a favorite Roasted Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar & Lemon, or  Roasted Eggplant with Pomegranates & a Buttermilk Sauce …. if you missed the raves.) This dish comes straight out of his latest (and glorious) cookbook, Jerusalem.

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~ serves 4 ~

~ or 8 if two or more vegetable side dishes are served ~

Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Fresh Figs

4 small Sweet Potatoes (2¼ lbs. 1 kg)

5 T. Olive Oil

scant 3 T. Balsamic Vinegar *

1½ T. Superfine Sugar

12 Green Onions, sliced in half lengthwise, then 1½” segments

1 Red Chile, thinly sliced

6 Ripe Figs, quartered **

5 oz. (150 g) soft Goat’s Milk Cheese (optional)

Flaky Sea Salt & Freshly-ground Pepper

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*no need to use a premium grade balsamic for this one

**A note on the figs – Ottolenghi suggests here to go for a plump fruit with an irregular shape and a slightly split bottom…some resistance but not much…

Try to smell the sweetness. 

(How to pick a fig, or how to live a life?)

Preheat the oven to 475°F (240°C) – yes very hot – not a typo.

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the guinea pig speaks

Recently it seems that Spree’s Grateful Guinea Pig has gone silent on us.  So for those of you who’ve noticed his absence and missed this endearing little rodent, I thought I’d share a recent page from his travelog –

a letter sent home to family from the Guinea Pig in Provence… 

I’ll keep my own remarks to a minimum, but certain things he says bear correction explanation. (You’ll see them in red.)

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Dear Family –

Time marches on and we find ourselves at the end of September. As previously reported, we’ve migrated to the north and east of the lovely St. Remy. We’re finishing up three days here in the Vaucluse/Cotes du Rhone region of Provence.

As you know, the faire Spree is partial to markets. Here in France they refer to them as marché. The uppity folks here insist on making up their own words for everything, anoyyyyying! (I assume you’re not to be fooled…Guinea loves the French!) You might recall we went to Arles to visit their marché, and though we liked Arles very much,  the marché wasn’t quite so inviting; we did manage to break multiple vehicular (!!!) and social morés in the process though so the day was not a total bust. (Among other things, SGGP got to practice his cursing, which, when the mood strikes, he so enjoys.)

On our way to Vaison la Romaine, we consulted the Oracle of Rick Steve’s to see what marchés we might intrude upon along the way. Carpentras drew the short stick. Aided by our trusted disembodied friend, Charlotte, the GPS lady, we navigated to the middle of Carpentras – a large village or small city. We stumbled right into the marché but were late for the party which means that you can stay but your vehicle is unwelcome. I could tell that Sister Marie Antoinette had her mouth soap at the ready, but she went unprovoked on this day. Mind you, there were plenty of sighs, nose noises, Guinea grunts and gee willikers to be heard but the Sister’s personal Maginot line ( look it up ) was not transgressed. Mobile vespers were avoided this day. (It’s probably obvious to all and unnecessary to mention…the Guinea Pig grew up Catholic.)

We drove round and round looking for a small flat wth a view for our vehicle but none was to be found. Ultimately we landed in the parking lot of a supermarché, how ironic.  So we packed up all our gear and took to the friendly and inviting aisles of the street market.

Now, my idea of a marché was that there would be row upon row of locally grown, plump, luscious and colorful produce and flowers. The growers would lovingly dress the displays of bounty and invite all to engage with them. There was some of that to be sure, but there were also stacks of shoes on display, jeans, trinkets, bric-a-brac, and small appliances.  I was underwhelmed but Spree was fascinated and so eager to take everything in through her eyes, her open heart, her nose and mostly her ginormous camera lens.

I was a ways ahead of her, gliding along with my compact Sony digicam, starting to notice some sneers, snarls and snootieness.  (I have to insert, this was by no means the norm!) This was business to these marché merchants – if you ain’t buyin, buzz off. The lovely Spree was giddy, smiling and enthralled at being one with the indigenous peoples and desperately wanting to share their story (and the entire experience), through her pictures and words.

I strolled past a stall that had little bundles of dried lavender in sachets, some clusters of lavender flowers tied with string, and  plump, ripe purple and green figs in cartons. I raised my camera just as a woman glared at me from behind the stall and finger-waved, saying, “no photo!” Doing my best Dale Carnegie impression I put my hand on my chest and said pardonnez  moi, bowed slightly and retreated.

Unaware of the dangers,  Spree sauntered innocently and smilingly behind and raised her Canon howitzer and snapped one quick shot of the (irrresistible) figs. Apparently this was all it took for the Miss Congeniality of Carpentras to go all postal on the unsuspecting Spree. The woman reached down below the table, rummaging urgently through a knapsack to pull out and point directly at Spree, a … Wait for it……………….CAMERA! She waved it violently back and forth,  threatening the innocent Spree, Madonna of Shannon, with unholy imaging. Spree’s eyes were like saucers! The woman aimed her point-and-shoot, only centimeters from Spree’s face, and snapped the trigger several times. It was clear the Taliban had finally made it to France. (Guinea, that’s a little harsh!) Spree was shaken, (that’s no overstatement) her humanity had been insulted and her Canon had been nullified, NON!

So much for the romance of marché.

. . .

Luckily we reversed that event today with a visit to L’Isle sur la Sorgue’s Marché de Dimanche. This village is in the Luberon area of Provence, east of St Remy and Avignon. It’s a more rural, hilly and even mountainous area. L’Isle sur la Sorgue has several canals and streams running right through the center of town, making it feel a bit like a small-scale Venice.

This marché was everything we imagined.

It had street after street lined with produce, olives, breads, cookies and pastries, cheeses, mushrooms, fruits, flowers, fish and other seafood, meats, sausages and charcuterie, music (live), handmade crafts,  antiques and OMG, the people. They love their marché and they bring their dogs. (Watch your step there, Guinea!) The sun was out, the music was great, the people were friendly and welcoming, the smells were incredible!

We spent hours tooling around, sampling, ogleing, (buying!) interacting and a lot of people watching, a favorite French pastime.  We were relieved that Dale Carnegie lives on and we had some very warm human moments. (More than we could count!)

In the afternoon we drove deeper into the Luberon and visited a hilltop town called Bonnieux. It’s a very small village carved into a hillside with narrow streets and no parking to speak of. Read more

so what’s in a salad?

Fresh-air markets, booths and stalls stretching for blocks and blocks, wooden tables piled high with newly-picked fruits and vegetables.  Luscious juice-sweet fruits, all round-body shapes and colors. Rustic root or bright green vegetables some with the earth still clinging to them. Farmers in aprons, their hands, soil-worn and calloused, paring off samples for us to taste. And we held out our hands and we tasted, and we bought what we couldn’t resist. But we’d made some kind of cosmic mistake! We had no kitchen to take our booty to, no salad bowl, no wooden tongs. No aprons of our own. So it happened that everywhere we went, my longing for brilliant color tossed in a bowl grew. We had some nice salads while away, but they weren’t the salads of home. And  the salads of home are the foods I miss most of all when we’re away.

So here, for you (and for me) brilliant color in a bowl. (and between us, so delicious it’s startling!)

Once again, as is usually the case with salads around here, a list of ingredients but no amounts. I’ll give some rough guidelines, but you know how you like your salads from home, so no one will be as good a judge as you …

 

Brilliant Winter Green Salad with Pomegranate, Apple & Almonds

Baby Spinach – or Arugula  (which do you prefer, mild and green, or slightly bitter? Or maybe a mix of the two.)

Apple, cored and sliced

Pomegranate seeds (see a previous post for the most ingenious way to remove these wonderfully tart & crunchy little seeds)

Basil – leaves laid out on top of one another, rolled tight like a cigar and sliced thinly

Slivered Almonds, toasted brown

Shallot, sliced thinly and sauteed to a toasty brown in a bit of oil

Soft, mild goat cheese – Optional

Vinaigrette (see below)

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Thinly slice the shallot and drop it into a small medium-hot skillet to which you’ve added a small amount of oil. Stir occasionally until browned. Remove to a paper towel.

Toast the almonds – in a 350° oven for perhaps 15 minutes. Check frequently. (The last bit of browning goes very quickly.) About the last 5 minutes you might (might!) want to place the shallots in the oven along with the almonds to dry and crisp them a bit more. 

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate. (See previous post link above. You’ll also find another delicious salad there.)

Toss all ingredients into a bowl (reserving a little of the seeds, nuts and shallots for sprinkling on top.) Toss with a little vinaigrette. Taste to see if amply dressed. Drizzle more as desired. Sprinkle bits of brilliance on top.

Would you like me to taste it for you and tell you why it’s so good?

Even this time of year, most markets will still have fresh crisp baby spinach leaves. These leaves taste mild and green and like Health itself. (Arugula, a little or a lot, but only for those who like the mildly bitter. I do!) Crisp sweet-tart apple, toasted almonds tasting of the hearth, threads of fresh basil winding throughout (these you nearly taste in your nose), crunchy smoky bittersweet bits of shallot, bursting tart seeds full of juice…and then…if you like this sort of thing…mild and creamy, exquisite white cheese of goat.

I . love .  this .  salad !

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a trip in ruins

One short kilometer from the town of Saint-Remy where we were staying, on our way to visit a famous Roman ruin, we passed this.

Guinea Pig did a swift and highly illegal maneuver with our rental car and came to a skidding gravel-spraying stop. We climbed out to explore. As it turns out, what we’d come across was the Mausoleum to the Julii – erected around 40 B.C.E. – one of the best-preserved mausoleums of the Roman world. We’d heard about the ancient ruins of Glanum and figured we must have arrived. We expected there to be more to the fabled site than this, but we didn’t see it, so we took our time examining closely what we could see. It was still early morning, hardly a soul up or out.

My camera was still pressed to my cheek when Guinea (whose attention span can be a bit short at times – more truthfully, mine a bit long) wandered across the street, wag-jerked his head, lifted his paw and waved. He’d found something.

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the dream…Saint-Remy de Provence

The Guinea Pig and I took a fast train south, from Paris to Provence. It was our first time in southern France and we  weren’t sure that we’d made the right choice on where to land…that is, until we arrived. Then we knew.  Saint-Rémy was just our speed.

Situated in the heart of the Alpilles,  Saint-Rémy is built on one of the oldest archeological sites in all of Europe. (The next travel post – I’ll share some amazing ruins virtually “next door” – inhabited by the Romans between the 6th century BCE and 3rd century AD.) The current town of St. Rémy is encircled by remnants of its original 14th century walls. Some of the buildings’ facades date to the Renaissance.

This town was the birthplace of the famous astrologer and physician Nostradamus.

(More recently, Van Gogh spent years here…but more about that in a moment.)

Nostradamus

Saint-Rémy is filled with Renaissance facades, residences, convents and chapels. Its winding streets are cobbled and water drains down the center.

The sun shines hard here and the mistral winds blow fiercely when they do.

Pick a color, and then pastel it…or silk it…these are the colors Saint-Rémy wears.

Windows bear shutters

and frequently wear flowers.

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Because the Guinea and I tend to eat our three squares no matter where we are, we’ve developed a nose for the aromas of good food rising from the stove and wafting out the windows. We found some of our favorite here…

‘Twas so good in fact, we found it twice…

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We experienced a couple highlights during our stay in Saint-Rémy, apart from the food. One, the Roman ruins of Glanum I’ll share next time;

the other, so moving, was the Cloître Saint-Paul, and with it, the Asylum where Vincent Van Gogh was confined for a time. (1889-90)

Some of his most famous paintings were done during his stay here. (Among the many,  Starry Night and Self-Portrait.) When you walk the beautiful hushed grounds here, you’ll see where he set his easel and pulled out his brushes to paint. And you’ll see the magic that was Vincent’s mind.

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