The excitement of coming home is often trumped by the reality of an empty fridge. Rarely in my family actually. Back home, we have this tradition to invite the weary travelers for dinner so that they don’t have to worry about getting groceries, cooking while unpacking and sorting laundry. They also know that they can start recounting their trip and everyone will listen and partake.
The meal is nothing fancy, nine times out of ten it will be a quiche and a salad, a fruit and some yogurt. There may or may not be a cocktail or aperitif before the meal and a few many pictures looked at after dinner. The whole idea is to get together and pay attention to the ones around us, listen and smile along with them. It’s good for the soul.
Bill’s family is not like that. Nothing negative in my saying this, it’s just what it is. It’s not something they do. I am ok with that. When my in-laws were still traveling, I would do it for them. I think they thought it was "another cultural difference". I heard that comment a lot at first, always in a jovial way. And yes…there are lots of things that we do differently. But we like getting together around a good meal just the same, also.
When we travel, I try to have something easy waiting for us in the freezer. That way, I can just put them in the oven or on the stove and start unloading, sorting laundry, and all the fun stuff associated with "home atmosphere re-entry". I am not this organized for everything but I do notice that I am when there is food involved. On se refait pas…one doesn’t change!
I know that even if we have great meals while traveling, we will have a hunkering for seafood, plenty of clean and light flavors, a big plate of vegetables, and something sweet to end. It’s nothing fancy but it comes together easily while we find our bearings at home again.
I like to fix us something that packs a punch in the healthy department such as salmon. After days on the road, it makes me feel like I am bringing all our levels back up in a flash. By the time we are done unpacking and everything is sorted out, my fish is ready to cook, which takes virtually no time, and the vegetables are just crisp and al dente.
For dessert, while I am completely fine with a piece of fruit and a yogurt, I like something that brings me closer to home, even if only in my thoughts. Something that I know my mother or grandmother would have made for the travelers coming home that day. One of the things my grandmother was an ace with baking was her fruit tarts and her riz au lait (rice pudding). These are comfort food for me.
One day my aunt and uncle were coming back from their vacation, she started preparing a meal for them and plopped me on the stool next to her so I could watch her waltz with pots and pans and work her magic with ingredients. She decided to turn her rice pudding into a rice pudding cake. Gateau de riz is truly a home cook’s dessert in France. Almost an institution. She found the recipe and we made it our own. With figs. Lots of figs from the market. And lots of whipped cream. She loved whipped cream. I do too.
To this day, everytime we go away on travel, I either prepare a galette loaded with fruits (so they won’t go bad while we are gone) or a "Gateau de Riz Au Lait" and park them in the freezer. Once back home, I just sprinkle either or with some sugar, heat it up in the oven and by the time we are done with dinner, dessert is warm and ready for us. And we are ready for bed!
In about 48 hours, and in between two photo gigs, we are taking another road trip (shorter this time) to Orlando, Florida. On Disney ground. And it’s not even a vacation and I’ve never been to Disney. I am teaching t at the USCPA Annual Conference. They revamped lots of their sessions and asked that I teach a couple of workshops of Food Photography & Styling. I am really honored to be among chefs who are small business owners and entrepreneurs and who get together to share knowledge and information. I am taking an extra day to do "the Disney thing" and get it out of my system though!
This past Sunday, as I poured over both our packed schedules for August and September, trying to secure itineraries, airfares and hotels, my brain just about exploded and I exclaimed "Oh boy, I need a drink!". I like an aperitif once in a while but I was really thirsty was something light on the alcohol content(I did not want to book a flight to Seattle while I was supposed to head out to New Hampshire!) and refreshing against the heat and humidity around.
Luckily, friends were coming over for dinner to celebrate my friend Holly Herrick’s Tart Love almost-book release (she had a review copy to show me my photographs "in action")and I had the perfect excuse to try this Apricot and Cherry Breezer cocktail from Bakers Royale. I marinated the apricot juice with dark cherries the first time (depicted above) which made it a really cool shade of red-purple. It hit the spot perfectly! Refreshing, light and not completely boozy that you can’t function. I saved the extra in an ice cube tray to thaw and use up as needed, mandated, prescribed or required…! This cocktail will be the perfect thing to have next week when we get home and unpack. To repack almost instantly.
Cheers to you and to August! It is definitely a busy month to us all as we try to wrap up the summer…but nothing that can’t be helped with good food, good cheers and good people!
Gateau De Riz Aux Figues, adapted from this one from Elle A Table:
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup short grain rice
1 cup water
1 can coconut milk (14oz)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
6 large eggs
20 small figs (more if necessary to cover surface of cake, mine were really tiny)
Preheat the oven to 350F and position a rack in the middle. Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with parchment paper.
In a large saucepan, bring the rice, one cup water and half the coconut milk to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover and let cook until all the liquid has been absorbed (about 20 minutes). Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, mix together the remaining coconut milk, brown sugar and the eggs until well blended. Add the rice and mix until everything is well incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
Cut the figs in half and arrange them on the cake. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until the top is golden brown. Eat warm…it’s nicer.
Miso Salmon With Ginger Vegetables:
2 teaspoons brown miso paste
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
Two 4-oz salmon fillets
1/2 red bell pepper (I used a couple of mini ones)
1 cup snow peas
2 garlic cloves, minced
In a small bowl, combine the miso, sesame seeds and half the grated ginger. Rub the salmon fillets with that mixture. Heat a large saute pan and sear the salmon for about 4 minutes on each side in a little sesame oil.
In the meantime, prepare the vegetables: in a large saute pan or wok, heat a little sesame oil again and cook the red bell pepper and snow peas along with the garlic and remaining grated ginger until al dente.
Serve with the salmon.
Apricot Cherry Breezer:
Click to get the recipe on Bakers Royale.