Fleur-de-Amuse-Bouche

Marina made all of the plans. We were to meet her friend Abby and my friend Vanessa (Abby’s mom) in an undisclosed location. She arranged for my sister Lee Ann to come stay with her Nonna.  She even arranged a Sunday morning massage.Image

As we got in the car on this Saturday morning in January, she punched the destination into the GPS while I put my fingers in my ears and started chanting, as not to hear “Siri” repeat her every entry.  It was an easy drive, the highway cutting through the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. About two hours into the trip, we got a call from Abby and Vanessa. Their trip from Kutztown was delayed by a snowstorm. As we kept driving, I soon guessed where we were headed—Corning, NY.

Marina and I explored the town until we got another call from Abby and Vanessa. We would meet at the Corning Museum of Glass. There, we spent several hours tracing the history of glass, selecting our favorite glass artifacts, and watching a glassblowing demonstration. We got our second-wind back at the Rosewood Inn and a recommendation for dinner.

The innkeeper told us three tempting tidbits about The Cellar restaurant. First, the wine menu comes on an iTablet; second, the Lamb Lollipops are “lovely”; and third, the Avocado Cacao Mousse is vegan food from heaven.

The iTablet wine list is technology I can get used to. Vanessa used her charm with the flirtatious waiter and upped the three-Lamb Lollipop appetizer to four so we could each taste the lamb with chevre, fig demi-glace, crispy prosciutto, and mint. We were sitting there, enjoying the evening, when a surprise concoction of shredded carrots and cucumber, with either marinated seitan (wheat meat) or tempeh (soy product), and topped with cilantro sprouts, arrived at the table in white ceramic spoons. (Our collective memories are misted by the red wine, so we’re not exactly sure of the ingredients.) Vanessa and I said to the waiter, “But these aren’t Lamb Lollipops” and the waiter gave us his melting smile, saying, “No, this is the amuse-bouche. Courtesy of the chef.”

After the waiter left the table, Marina translated for us. An amuse-bouche literally means something to amuse or entertain the mouth.

When we got home, I did a little more investigating. An amuse-bouche is often a whimsical creation intended to invigorate and tempt the appetite. According to the Dictionary of the History of the French Language the term originated in 1946. The first mention of amuse-bouche in the U.S. was an ad in The New York Times for a special New Year’s Eve dinner at a South Orange, NJ restaurant called Gitane. The year: 1985.

The amuse-bouche is a greeting, a single bite-sized hors d’ oeuvre (my sister Lee Ann always jokingly pronounces them hoover-doovers.)  It is different from an appetizer because it is not ordered from the menu; it is a tasty gift from the chef. Often an amuse-bouche is served in an Asian-style white ceramic soupspoon, in a demitasse cup, or on a skewer. As I was reading the description, I realized I had been gifted with multiple amuse-bouches five years ago at Chez Leon in Liege, BE, a neighborhood restaurant that Marina’s au pair family frequented. When we went to Chez Leon, one amuse-bouche followed another. I figured it was because Denise and Benoit are regulars, but apparently, in many restaurants everyone is a special guest…except in State College. I don’t know of any restaurants that serve amuse-bouche. I guess in a college town, everyone is so self-amused that chefs don’t see the need.

The Lamb Lollipops were fantastic and the vegan chocolate mousse deserves a blog entry all its own. Our mother-daughter weekend was joyful and it was good to connect to Kutztown news via Vanessa. She told me she joined Tim Stark’s Eckerton Hill Farm CSA and got a blue-green warty heirloom Marina di Chioggia Squash that she didn’t know how to prepare. Now this is one of my favorite winter squashes, not only because of its first and last names (Chioggia is the coastal town just below Venice) but because it tastes so darn good in Spicy Pumpkin Chowder.

Just talking about Marina di Chioggia drove me into the kitchen when we returned home to make a pot. Since I owe Vanessa the recipe, I will share it with all of you. If you have Marina di Chioggia (I had puree in the freezer), use it by all means. If not, a neck pumpkin or any winter squash will do.Image

Spicy Pumpkin Chowder

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, chopped

3 fresh sage leaves

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 potatoes, unpeeled and cut into ½” cubes

2 10-ounce packages of frozen corn

4 cups vegetable broth

4 cups pumpkin puree

Cayenne, black pepper, and salt to taste.

Melt butter in large soup pot and add onion, sage, garlic and stir frequently until soft. Add potatoes, corn, and broth, and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. In a saucepan, mix pumpkin, peppers and salt, and heat through. Add to corn-potato mixture, stir to blend, and serve.

Worth Remembering: A daughter is the happy memories of the past, the joyful moments of the present, and the hope and promise of the future.  ~Author Unknown

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