Fleur-de-Marcella

Family PortraitOne Christmas chef-phew Wille gave me a family portrait. It is a drawing/watercolor of the Allium Family: Papa Garlic, Mama Shallot, Sister Scallion, Brother Leek, Aunt Pearl, Uncle Walla Walla, cousins Chives and Cipollini, Grandpa Bermuda and Grandma Wild Onion. It is hanging in a place of honor on the pantry door of my mother’s kitchen.

This holiday I unwrapped a gift from Wille and it was Mi Comida Latina cookbook. In an email Wille explained that the Allium print and this year’s cookbook were created by the same woman—Marcella Kriebel of Washington, D.C.

Wille explained that he met Marcella before the holidays.

“You are such a gadabout at those farmers market,” I teased.

He asked me what a “gadabout” was and corrected me—he met Alice Waters at a farmers market (and bought a cookbook that she signed and he gave to me several years ago), but not Marcella. He met Marcella at a Christmas Market.

I explained that “gadabout” was an old term for “social butterfly”.

Again, he corrected me. He was not just being social; It was business.

“Now that I am Executive Chef, networking, networking, networking, with any and all Latin American food lovers.”

I guess I need to start referring to him as my Exec-Chef-phew.

Yes, Wille is the executive chef at Ruta del Vino, a Latin American Wine Bar and Restaurant in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The menu offers dishes from Mexico to Peru and from Brazil to Argentina: Pulpo Anticucho (grilled octopus), Sudado (butternut squash soup), as well as more familiar Chile Relleno and Empanada, and 18 wines from Latin America.Mi Book

I haven’t made it down to Wille’s restaurant, but I have been flipping through Mi Comida Latina. In sub-zero wind chills it has me lusting for sun-warmed San Marzano tomatoes and the pop of fresh cilantro gathered from our herb bed.

Although I’ve never travelled south of the border, Mi Conida Latina had me traveling back in time to a Saturday afternoon when my dear friend Terese showed me how to make empanadas. Terese is a world traveller and had eaten empanadas in Argentina. When she returned from her trip, she adopted and adapted these stuffed dough pockets in her Allentown kitchen. They were the perfect grab-and-go snack for her lanky teen-age son to inhale between school and sports practice—and it worked. He is now a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Each page of Marcella’s Mi Comida Latina could be framed as artwork or devoured by an everyday cook in the kitchen.  2018 promises to be a culinary Latin American adventure.

The cookbook’s step-by-step instructions and illustrations are like travel postcards from a friend.  Stories that accompany recipes take you to a diner in San Juan to sample a sweet breakfast bread, to Oaxaca  to sip a drink from a street vendor, or to Quito to taste cassava fritters.  Marcella takes the mystery out of Latin American cheese, explains how to eat a mango without peeling or slicing open the fruit, and taught me a better way to cut an onion.  If I keep reading, I may have the courage to eat a cactus pad, expand my chili pepper repertoire, and unlock the subtleties of the Belizean spice Annatto. Laurie LynchArtwork

More on Marcella: If you would like to know more about Marcella Kriebel or buy a print or cookbook, check out her website https://marcellakriebel.com She has a new book called Comida Cubana: A Cuban Culinary Journey.

Gardening/Language Sidebar: When the kids were toddlers I had a part-time job maintaining residential gardens in the Lehigh Valley. We had one client in Orefield whose Southwestern-style home had gardens to match. I dreaded weeding amongst the Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear cactus) but never knew I could have eaten them. Don’t ask me why, but the bright red fruit of the prickly pear cactus is called a “tuna”.

Written on Slate: Or at least inscribed by Marcella in my copy of Mi Comida Latina, “Cook with love!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fleur-de-End17

Around the world in 365 days and I didn’t use my passport once. This is my 28th blog entry for the year and over that time it was read in 40 countries including the USA. It boggles my mind that through the wonders of WordPress.com I can easily send out my kitchen and garden adventures, recipes, photos, and miscellaneous thoughts to the Internet and then track readership!Centerpees17

I want to thank all of you who have read faithfully over the years—and those of you who are new to the blog. Just for the heck of it, I will list all of the countries whose residents visited Fleur-de-Blog this past year: Algeria, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States of America. I value your comments and emails, and hope to hear from more of you in 2018. Laurie Lynch

Resolutions, Resolutions: If you need a little inspiration for the coming year, click on the following link. For many years Wendell Berry has been encouraging everyone to eat responsibly by participating, preparing, and learning.

https://colchesterfarm.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/wendell-berry-the-pleasures-of-eating.pdf

Nest of Vegetables: We signed up for winter shares from Plowshare Produce again and we are reveling in roasted vegetables and velvety spinach salads. Our newest favorite recipe is Greens Quiche with Celeriac Crust, adapted from Simply In Season and shared through PP’s newsletter.

For the crust, mix together in pie pan:

3 cups shredded celeriac (or potatoes)

3Tbsp olive oil

Press into shape and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until it begins to brown. While the crust is baking, beat together:

3 eggs

1 cup milk

¼ tsp. salt and pepper

1 tsp. dried parsley

Arrange on baked crust in order given:

¼ cup onions, chopped

1 cup cheese, shredded

1 bunch greens, chopped and sautéed

½ cup cooked bacon or ham, or chopped and sautéed mushrooms

Pour egg mixture on top. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until browned on top and set in the middle, another 25-30 minutes. Allow your “nest egg” to cool 10-15 minutes before serving.

Cook’s notes: I tend to overfill when it comes to vegetables and I paid for it when I made this dish: Major overflow into the bottom of the oven. Next time, I’ll use a deep-dish pie pan or even a casserole. Also, I found some beautiful bunches of tatsoi at the Boalsburg Farmers Market and used it as my greens, chopped raw, without sautéing, and it was perfect.

Written on Slate: “No Seed, No Food. Know Seed, Know Food.” Ken Greene, Founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library

 

Fleur-de-WordNerd

RooftopIt must be an occupational hazard.  One of my favorite Christmas tunes is “Up on the Rooftop” where reindeer pause with Santa Claus.

Working for a roofing company can get hectic during the holiday season.  First of all, our customers want to make sure their rooftops are winter-ready.  Then, there is Thanksgiving, Hunting Season, St. Nicholas Day, Christmas, in rapid succession.  It is vacation time for many of our guys.  Regardless, roof leaks wait for no one.

And neither do fall leaves, which clog gutters and downspouts, keeping our roof maintenance department with barely a moment to pause as they inspect and clean debris from the roofs of approximately 250 properties.  Each of these inspections produces a pile of paperwork, with photographs, descriptions, and checklists.  Most inspection reports run three to five pages, but some may be 14, 22, or 36 pages long.  My job is to make those reports legible, understandable, and easy for the owner to sit at a desk and get a rooftop perspective of the property.

‘Tis the season.

Editing is a thankless job but it can be done in a warm office with a sturdy roof overhead, protected from wind, sleet, snow, and downpours.  The same can’t be said for the working conditions of our maintenance techs.  But sitting at a computer all day does have its downside—words start dancing across the screen, click, click, click.

When I was working on about the 200th fall inspection report, I stared at the words “tears in the roof membrane” and couldn’t make sense of them.  I kept reading it as “tears” (as in teardrops), not “tears” (as in rips, punctures, gashes, slices, stiletto heel jabs, broken beer bottle slashes).  Ah, this English language of ours.

It was time for lunch so I went home to see my son and co-word nerd, Richard.  Out of the blue he asks, “How do you spell trough?”

“T-r-o-u-g-h,” I answer.

“No, can’t be.  Since when does a ‘gh’ sound like ‘f’ or ‘ph’?”

Caught off guard, I didn’t have the presence of mind to say, “Well, how do you spell ‘cough’?”  No, I just said, “Blame it on the Brits.  It’s their language.”

Now this was an especially low blow to a fellow who was born in the Lehigh Valley, raised in Kutztown, but college educated in Europe.  He insists on pronouncing the word aluminum “al -loo-min-ee-um.”

“Well Mom, I can’t help it if Americans spell aluminium incorrectly.”

He’s right, you know.  An English chemist named Sir Humphry Davy named the new element he discovered in 1807 “alumium”.  Then, he changed it to “aluminum”.  In 1812, he settled on “aluminium” which coincidentally rhymes with the other “ium” elements: sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

Meanwhile, in the good old US of A, the spelling flip-flopped between the “um” and “ium” endings until the 1900s, when the “um” spelling took over.  In 1925, the American Chemical Society officially adopted the “um” ending.  The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry wouldn’t stand for that.  In 1990 the IUPAC officially standardized the correct spelling as “aluminium”.  Needless to say, that did little to change the way Americans pronounce or spell the damn word.

Words can play tricks on you.

Again, I’m back in the office editing inspections and sending out invoices before 2017 comes to an end. I keep looking at the work “Restraunt”.  I know it looks wrong, but I can’t figure out how to fix it.  Finally, I just place my cursor at the end of the word and backspace until I have “Rest”.  Then I let my fingers do the typing: “Restaurant”.

It’s likely that some of our roofers didn’t win their 8th grade spelling bees.  They were the fellows in gym class who shimmied up the rope to the rafters…and let go…or the ones who fiddled with wrenches and saws in shop class.  They know how to trace a stained ceiling tile in an office to the exact location on the roof where they’ll find a hole no larger than an infant’s fingernail. And more amazingly, they perform this magic a dozen building stories in the air, in all kinds of weather.

For the most part roofers are men of few words (in six years I’ve yet to meet a female roofer). One of my editing pet peeves is that they consistently neglect to say or write two specific words: To Be.  “The roof needs repaired.”  “The gutter needs strapped.”  “The ridge cap needs replaced.”  The missing “to be” problem is a Central Pennsylvania phenomenon. Some blame it on Scots-Irish settlers. Academics call the omission a “lazy contraction” or simply a “non-standard” use.  I was raised in Central PA too, so it is a grammatical point that needs watched, ho, ho, ho.

The minute I say roofers are men of few words they contradict me.  I’m reading an inspection report when I get to the summary sentence: “The roof area seemed to be in good condition at the time of inspection.”

It is my job to say (to myself): “Hey, you guys are professionals. You may need perimeter warning lines or raptor rails or safety monitors when you are on a roof, but when you are concluding your inspection report don’t get wordy just to be safe. Tell it like it is.  ‘The roof is in good condition.’  Done.  Finished.”

‘Tis the season.

Soon after Thanksgiving, the office “goodie” table begins to fill up with cookies and toffees, sugared pecans and salty pita chips, cheese dips, jams, jellies, salsas, all sorts of holiday edibles.  One of the first gifts to arrive are two stacks of bright red boxes with 8-inch or so tall chocolate letters standing at attention under a window of cellophane.

We get them each year from ATAS (Aluminum Trim And Shapes) International, manufacturer of metal roof and wall systems, headquartered in Allentown.  Jack and Nel Bus started the business in their home basement in 1963 after the couple and their eight children moved from The Netherlands to Canada to the US.

In The Netherlands, Sinterklass (St. Nicholas, patron saint of children) appears with his helper Piet (Peter) to visit children from mid-November through Dec. 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day.  During this festive time it is traditional to give a chocolate letter corresponding to the first letter of a child’s first name, N for Nell or W for Will, as a special treat. The Bus family rekindles the tradition by sending chocolate letters spelling out ATAS to their customers.

For some reason they always send our office two sets of chocolate letters—A-T-A-S, A-T-A-S.  The editor in me thinks it is time for a word scramble—but the chocolate letters disappear before I can work on any spelling games.  Merry Mary Marry! Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Logic will get you from A to Z; Imagination will get you everywhere.” Albert Einstein

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Dumas

It is one thing to travel back to the tables and kitchens of mid-1800s France, but imagine your tour guide is the swashbuckling author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

That’s exactly the trip I took when I opened Dumas on Food by Alan and Jane Davidson which features selections from and translations of Alexandre Dumas’ Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine.

(Before we get too involved in food, let me note that in French literature there are two writers by the name of Alexandre Dumas. The first is referred to as Alexandre Dumas, père—the father—which distinguishes him from his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils. Now that we’ve cleared that up, père Dumas (1802-1870) wrote hundreds of books during his lifetime. Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine was published after his death in 1873. Fils Dumas (1824-1895) was a novelist and playwright. His romantic novel La Dame aux camélias was adapted into Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata.)

Dec. PJM

PJM Blooming in December

But it is the père that I am writing about. Dumas on Food follows the dictionary style, beginning with Absinthe and ending with Zeste, with an exhausting examination of fish and fowl, and all things that crept, crawled, and slithered into the Dumas kitchen or tables of his travels. We’re talking heavy on hermit crabs, dog, kangaroo, and sea anemones, as well as bacon, barbel, barracuda, bear, beef, blackbird, boar, bonito, bream, brill, and burbot—and those are just the Bs. By the time I reached the Ps, Dumas was recalling a trip of Saint Tropez where, in the middle of a public square, tables were laden with a feast. The feature of the meal was roasted Peacock/Paon with its raised sapphire neck in the front and its tail feathers spread in a fan, bringing up the rear, roast bird in the middle.  My stomach turned a couple of times at the image and I was ready to say my vegetarian vows.

I don’t mean to infer that Dumas forgot vegetables in his dictionary. It is just that they are simply a side dish to what could be shot in the woods or plucked from river or sea. One of the most beneficial things for me was the French food coupled with the English translation, reinforcing my elementary French lessons: Asparagus/Asperge, Beetroot/Betterave, Eggplant/Aubergine, Garlic/Ail au singulier, Aulx au pluriel, and Onion/Oignon. Of course Dumas wrote Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine in French and Dumas on Food contains English translations of selections from the original.

Dumas on Food is peppered with food story gems and delightful descriptions too.

He writes that Fennel/Fenouil is an aromatic plant popular in southern Italy where it is eaten like celery.  “It is not unusual to see working people with a bunch of fennel under the arm and making their lunch or dinner of this, accompanied by bread.”

Dumas explains that the lowly Peanut/Arachide is also called pistache de terre (the pistachio of the earth) and he refers to the Pimento/Piment, as the “coral of the gardens” due to the red color and variety of shapes. Within the pages, Dumas describes of the best way to skin an eel, how to tell if an egg is fresh, and, if you dare, how to use the juice of 12 ducks to flavor 15 poached eggs.

Cardinal & Amaryllis

Cardinal with Amaryllis

One of my favorite passages was on Butter/Beurre:

“In a few counties where I have travelled, I have always had freshly made butter, made on the day itself. Here, for the benefit of travelers, is my recipe; it is very simple, and at the same time foolproof.

“Whenever I could find cow’s milk or camel’s milk, mare’s milk, goat’s milk, and particularly goat’s milk, I got some. I filled a bottle three quarters full, I stopped it up and I hung it around the neck of my horse. I left the rest up to the horse. In the evening, when I arrived, I broke the neck of the bottle and found, within, a piece of butter the size of a fist, which had virtually made itself. In Africa, in the Caucasus, in Sicily, in Spain, this method always worked for me.”

His story under the heading Cavaillon Melon/Cavaillon is priceless. In 1864 the Municipal Council of Cavaillon sent a letter to Dumas saying they were establishing a town library and wanted to get the best books they could to fill the shelves. Would he be kind enough to send two or three of his best novels?

“Now, I have a daughter and a son, whom I think I love equally; and I am the author of five or six hundred volumes and believe myself to be just about equally fond of them all. So I replied to the town of Cavaillon that it was not for an author to judge the merits of his books, that I thought all of my books good, but that I found Cavaillon melons excellent; and that I consequently proposed to send to the town of Cavaillon a complete set of my works, that is to say four or five hundred volumes, if the municipal council would be willing to vote me a life annuity of twelve green melons.”

The municipal council unanimously endorsed his request. Sources say Dumas sent 194 of his books to the Cavaillon library, and the town of Cavaillon sent Dumas a dozen melons each year, without fail. “I therefore have only one desire to express, which is that the people of Cavaillon will find my books as charming as I find their melons.” What a guy! Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Everyone recognizes the smell of garlic, except the person who has eaten it and who has no idea why everyone turns away when he approaches.” Alexandre Dumas

3 Musketeers: It is not often that a novel is so popular that it takes on a new life as a candy bar. But that is exactly what happened in 1932 when M&M/Mars created 3 Musketeers. It was originally three mini-bars of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry nougat—sort of a candy rendition of Neapolitan ice cream. By 1945, chocolate won out and became the full bar that we know today.

A Holiday Gift: In the past few weeks, three people (including my daughter Marina) have requested my Cranberry Upside-Down Cake recipe. I checked my blog, and it turns out I’ve never shared it with all of you—a true blunder. But, I can be forgiven—Cranberry is omitted from Dumas on Food as well.

In Kutztown, I often made this cake for Christmas breakfast. That expanded to Thanksgiving Day for snacking, Christmas dessert, and, since cranberries are so easy to freeze, to a lovely Valentine’s Day treat. ‘Tis the season for cranberries:

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

1 stick butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and dried

Rind of 1 orange

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1¼ cup flour

1½ tsp. baking powder

½ cup milk

1/3 cup red currant jelly, orange marmalade or your choice

Butter a 9-inch round pie dish with 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle ½ cup sugar evenly over the bottom of pan. Arrange cranberries in pan. Put orange rind in food processor with metal blade. Add remaining sugar and chop fine. Cream together remaining butter and sugar mixture. Add egg and vanilla. Sift together flour and baking powder. Stir into butter mixture, ½ cup at a time, alternating with milk. Stir until just combined. Pour batter over cranberries and bake on baking sheet at 350° for 1 hour. Cool on rack for 20 minutes. Melt jelly or marmalade over low heat. When cake is cooled, run knife around edge and invert on plate. Brush top and sides with melted jelly.

P.S. I often omit the jelly glaze part and it turns out fine.

Written on Slate: “I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they’d slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent from our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.” Elizabeth Berg

Fleur-de-AbsolutionGravy

Not too many Thanksgivings ago, UT (Uncle Tim of maple syruping fame) caught hell for messing with our chef-phew Wille’s turkey gravy. It had been “reducing” on the stove for hours and was about to be poured into the gravy boat when UT decided to give it a little flavoring… peppermint oil flavoring.

That Thanksgiving there was more grumbling than gobbling around our dining room table. And every time since, when either the words “gravy” or “peppermint” are uttered, there is a collective groan and “Remember the time…”

This Thanksgiving we had a small gathering—my mom, Richard, UT and wife Lee Ann, and me. Lee Ann and Tim brought the turkey, cranberry chutney and two desserts (one that we found in the basement refrigerator after they returned to Connecticut.) Richard manned the bar while I was on for the vegetables, dressing, and yes, the gravy.

I found a “low-fat” gravy recipe I thought I’d try. On Thanksgiving morning UT said he heard about a stress-free, fabulous gravy recipe on Connecticut Public Media Service’s (WNPR) The Food Schmooze with Faith Middleton and Chris Prosperi. We decided to go for it. This wasn’t the day to count calories.

http://foodschmooze.org/recipe/chriss-make-ahead-turkey-gravy/

I didn’t have the strip of bacon the recipe called for but figured “smoked” paprika instead of plain paprika might make up the difference. Other than that, I followed the recipe line by line, including a half-cup of red wine and a touch of maple syrup, another nod to Tim. Richard had organized the spice cupboard, ridding it of expired powders, rubs, and oils (including peppermint and anise). I figured I was safe. I took a taste, and then another, pretty darn good.

The oven buzzer went off for the dressing. I turned to check it and finished plating the salads. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw UT, ever the jokester, dump the “cook’s” (mine!) wine into the gravy pot. It just made it richer. For holidays and every day, forgiveness is just as important as thanksgiving. Laurie Lynch

Candy Cane Express: When Marina visited this fall, she had a list of requests from her colleagues for certain items from The States. We found the Lucky Charms cereal but in the candy aisle, Halloween candy filled the store shelves. No candy canes. November 1, that all changed, so I bought a box and mailed it to Brussels. It arrived today, and Catarina is in candy cane heaven. This proves I have nothing against peppermint—just don’t put a candy cane in my turkey gravy!

Ha, Ha, Ha: A three-year-old gave this reaction to her Christmas dinner: “I don’t like the turkey, but I like the bread he ate.” Author Unknown

Fleur-de-Ballymaloe

My mom started singing “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” shortly after Halloween when we walked into Walmart and saw floor-to-ceiling Christmas decorations, holiday candies, and aisles of twinkly lights.

“Aren’t we going to get a tree?” she pouted.

“Not until your birthday,” her Scrooge daughter replied.

This week I turned on my computer and started humming the same tune.

I’ve gone from daydreaming of fox hunting in England when I was a horse-crazy tween to office gazing at file cabinets and imagining a busy kitchen in Ireland. A few years ago I came upon the Ballymaloe Cookery School website: www.ballymaloecookeryschool.com/

I signed up to get occasional emails and when they arrive, I’m always transported to the Irish countryside. This last one is so enticing: A 5-Week Cookery Course in August 2018. Students learn how to prepare jams, preserves, and chutneys, expertly peel a tomato, and make “really good meat or vegetable stock”. There’s a course called “How to Fool Around” which covers Blackcurrant Fool and Rhubarb Fool, and one that offers to solve my decades-old culinary conundrum: How to fillet a fish. Class members can stay in cottages for an extra fee and on Wednesdays, select activities such as fermenting Kombucha, foraging hedgerows, or milking the cows.

Window

Window Watching

The Ballymaloe Cookery School is in the village of Shanagarry, County Cork, on Ireland’s south coast. For you history buffs, Shanagarry was the occasional residence of William Penn before he set sail across the Atlantic to establish Penn’s Woods (aka Pennsylvania).

Well, there’s no harm in mental meandering. Maybe some day…Laurie Lynch

Speaking of Ireland: I heard from our first Project Children “child” who visited Kutztown for three summers. Shauna, from Larne in Northern Ireland, is now a young woman working in Canada. She and her partner Dave bought a home on Vancouver Island that “needs a bit of work” and they are expecting a baby March 31.

Worth Watching: If you get the chance, be sure to catch the documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry produced by Robert Redford and Nick Offerman. Berry is a farmer, writer and activist in Port Royal, KY. Watching the movie I was captivated when he talked about the 40-pane window he built in his studio, where he composed his “Window Poems” as well as 40 other books of poetry, essays and fiction, while farming the land for more than 40 years.

Be On the Look Out: The Spotted Lanternfly was found for the first time in the U.S. three years ago—in Berks County. It’s a threat to the state’s food crops so all of you gardeners and nature lovers need to know about it. For more info: http://news.psu.edu/story/492907/2017/11/07/research/penn-state-researchers-take-aim-invasive-pernicious-spotted

Seasonal Plug: Richard is visiting from Belgium and we’ve been making his new favorite dish—Bobotie—which I wrote about last spring when Koen and Marina introduced it to my mom and me. He says, “It tastes like Thanksgiving.” Hope you all have a warm and festive holiday filled with thanks.

Written on Slate: “I have always loved a window, especially an open one.” Wendell Berry

Fleur-de-Foodies

French Lavender

French Lavender sets the stage

Mes chers amis.

I have been occasionally making cassoulet for almost four decades. It is a dish of meat, white beans, and other stuff from southwest France. It was never amazing…”

My eyes brightened. This was no ordinary email.

Karen went on to explain that during her youth she and Bob drove their 1972 Fiat through southwest France several times, unaware of the history of Cathar country. After raising four children to adulthood and enjoying various careers, it was time to make up for youthful ignorance. Last spring Karen returned to southwest France with her niece and a friend.

“All the medieval towns and Cathar strongholds were a dream come true, and Carcassonne, Toulouse, and Castelnaudary were cassoulet central,” Karen wrote of her trip. Her Airbnb hostess Caroline “pointed me toward the certified Maitres du Cassoulet of Carcassonne: Oui, there are at least two certifying French societies for cassoulet chefs. They have actual diplomas and awards and regular competitions from village to village. Comment Française.

Long story short, at a charming terrace restaurant in Carcassonne she ordered cassoulet and vins du Langue d’Oc, “and the rest languishes in a mist of ecstasy.”

Cassoulet x4

Cassoulet x 4

After Karen’s recent Midi Pyrenees experience, she felt compelled to match the magic of cassoulet on this side of the Atlantic.

She decided the secret of the slow-cooked casserole was using authentic duck confit and good quality garlic sausage. So, on September 24, she sent out an email invitation to her supper club tasters plus one (moi) and began investigating recipes, bean types and preparation, crust formation, meat options, the breadcrumb controversy, cooking vessel materials and shapes—all of the ingredients needed to re-create the cassoulet of southern France in Kutztown, PA. Guests were asked to chip in for the main meat ingredients, bring French accompaniments, and a bottle of wine from the region. Ooh-la-la!

Five days later a date was set (November 4), as was the contribution, $10 each. And the fun begins.

October 10: Karen orders ingredients and plans her cooking schedule.

October 26: “The duck confit is waiting in a big can in my larder and I am working on the other ingredients.”

October 27: After much research, Karen settles on a final cassoulet recipe from The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France’s Magnificent Rustic Cuisine by Paula Wolfert.

She attaches the recipe. It’s four pages long. The ingredients include pork shoulder, ham hock or pig’s knuckles, fresh pork skin, rendered duck fat, lean salt pork, chicken stock, six confit of duck legs, drumsticks and thighs, hard pork fat, garlic-flavored pork sausages—definitely a fete de carne à la Française—dried white beans (Tarais, Lingots or Cannellini) and an assortment of vegetables, herbs, aromatics, and walnut oil.

Now just typing the above paragraph has me exhausted, but you have to understand, for Karen, there is no happier place than her kitchen. If she has two hands on the computer keyboard, she probably has a pot of confit des oignons finishing on the stove, not to mention two full refrigerators in her larder, a third in the kitchen, and shelves of chutneys, preserves, and dried, homegrown herbs.

The challenge ahead energizes Karen. “This may be my most ambitious cooking project ever, and I am very excited. Thanks for sharing it with me and helping to make it possible!”

Voilà! Let the countdown begin!

Nov. 1: “Bob took me to pick up all the meats I ordered today and is at Echo Hill getting me cannellini beans. I’ve blanched the salt pork, now cutting, seasoning, and overnighting pork shoulder and ham hocks. Soon the beans will be soaking. Then, real cooking tomorrow ‘til Saturday.”

Nov. 2: “I have adapted the recipe to make the dish over four instead of three days, which lessens my daily workload, especially on the last day. I also show below the final ingredients tally. Luckily, the price per person came in just under $10. As you can see, the duck confit alone costs $74.80.

“I’m really happy to have the opportunity to make an authentic version of this epic dish! Back to the kitchen.”

Nov. 3: “… I am also now removing meat and fat from duck and pork bones along with some other tasks to prepare for the final assembly of the cassoulet tomorrow …”

Nov. 4: The other dinner guests are scheduled to arrive at 6 p.m. Since I was driving from State College and spending the night, I arrive at 1 p.m. to “help” Karen prepare. I stash my overnight bag in the guest room. Downstairs, the tables are set with lovely blue-and-white china and a huge pot of French (of course) lavender. Four earthenware casseroles of cassoulet are bubbling in the oven.

Hostess Karen

Hostess Karen

Karen and I sit together sipping tea and water, catching up on each other’s lives and kids. Then we walk through her garden where a beautiful peach-colored climbing rose (Karen called it by name) is blooming and honeysuckle unfurls on a trellis. We see the last of Bob’s butternut squash extravaganza twining across the garden. As the sun eases into the trees, guests arrive.

Jasperdean has a selection of French cheeses. I arrange my pickled topinambour (Jerusalem artichokes) and olives on the hors d’oeuvres table. Ann T. baked baguettes. Ann P. made a celeriac salad that is cool and light, the perfect accompaniment to the hearty cassoulet. Susan carries in a Tarte Tatin with caramel sauce. And yes, the fellows appear with plenty of wine.

By now, you must suspect that Karen is a bit of a perfectionist. At the end of the meal, she said she wasn’t happy with the cassoulet—it was a lot of work (four days) and it just didn’t measure up to what she remembered being served to her in France.Pig

For me, the sense of culinary adventure, a delicious meal, the attention to detail, the warmth of rekindling old acquaintances and gathering with new friends around the table is the beauty of terroir, in France or in Kutztown. Avec des compagnons chaleureuse et une assiette savoureuse, on s’amuse. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Better to eat vegetables and fear no creditors, than eat duck and hide from them.” The Talmud.