Yesterday, I packed a change of clothes, the 16 year-old pup and we headed down to Charleston for the weekend. I almost said, "home to Charleston" but home has become this "in between" where my heart resides. Charleston will forever be home. This is where I fell in love. With him. With the South. With this incredibly puzzling time of history. With a city living at a sound of a very peculiar beat. Where unbelievable friendships formed and tested time, growth and loss.
Yet, there is not much of what people would consider a home remaining for us in Charleston. Our house there is now empty and Bill moved in with his parents for the time being. But we have a home. We have multiples. They are not made of wood or stone. They have been build with our hearts, our stories, our tears and worries, our joys and laughters. While I could become completely nostalgic and sad of times passed, I just take a moment to appreciate the fact that we have made a home of wherever we are together, regardless of wherever is.
Everytime I make the drive down to Charleston, my heart stops in its track at the first sign of marsh land and tall grass. There is a definite look to that part of the world. It lures you, grabs you and never lets go of you. I do miss sunsets and sunrises over the marsh. At the same time, I have fallen completely in love with the luscious foliage of Birmingham, the drives up and down the hills of the city, the genuine kindness of the people there. I was dragging feet getting out of the house yesterday morning to get down here. I felt home. I was going to the other home.
Home is truly where the heart is and I am incredibly lucky to be able to call both places home.
There is something that will always make me feel anchored to a new place and that is baking. The simple act of putting a cake in the oven and being rewarded with the scents of vanilla, pears and cake batter is enough to make anyone feel good anywhere. I could be in my grandparents' home and making an apple tart with my grandmother or with my mother next door making madeleines. I could be here or there and I would feel the same. Grounded.
If making a simple cake is any reflection of the life I lead, well, I made this cake at home in Alabama and took it home to Charleston to be shared this morning around the breakfast table at my in-laws. I am happy and comfortable in my own skin wherever I am. And right now this wherever is "in between". And I will always make a good simple cake to remind me of that (Recipe after the jump).
It’s been a long time coming and took a little bit of juggling and re-adjusting positions and schedules but my family is here. My parents, my brother, his wife and my two nieces arrived late Thursday night after a long day of traveling. It’s been nothing but laughter and catching up since then. And it feels good. Real good.. We get to spend a Christmas and New Year’s Eve together. The first time in many many years.
There was no Birmingham in our future when we started planning this family vacation last year. There was no new position in my photography career, no new house, no old house full of moving boxes. No being long distance relationship for me and Bill thrown in the mix. Needless to say, it has taking everyone a lot of giving in, giving up, selflessness to make it happen and have everyone feel good.
That’s my family. Tight. Together. Tighter after the last year mourning so many close loved ones in short periods of time. Tragedy struck us hard many times over the years. But we came out stronger. We came out better and with such an expanded amount of love and "do – live – go" attitude. I know they give me strength.
I had my "this is so worth it" moment this morning when Bill and I took the dogs for a jog on the beach. After the horrendous week that we all felt as a nation and community, sharing the sorrows of so may families, I could not wait to hug mine. My nieces, so beautiful, so young and innocent. Their parents, their fears as caretakers and educators. My parents, for the many many good things and tough lessons they have brought us over the years.
The next few days will be all about cooking together for Christmas, hanging out and just be together. We have decided to mix American and French traditions for Christmas dinner and I am looking forward to breaking into the foie gras and at the same time have my nieces have their first go at sweet potato casserole. One thing for sure, there will be Buche De Noel. And Spiced Poached Pears with Mascarpone Cream. And definitely my grandmother’s Riz au Lait, or rice pudding will be made over the next few days.
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, filled with good cheers, lots of love and great food. Keep up with traditions or make new ones but most importantly, take care of yourself.
I hope you all had a fantastic holiday weekend. We kept it low key having dinner with a good friend on Christmas Eve and with family on Sunday. Yesterday was spent with friends again over a light lunch and a relaxing afternoon.
Thank you everyone for the sweet and kind words of condolences about my grandfather’s passing. It made this weekend a little easier to navigate. Oh there were tears, trust me…but they were immediately followed with a feeling of peace. My heart was full of all the goodness one can give and receive in a lifetime. Thank you again for your patience and care.
Let me play Santa a little bit longer and announce the winners of the Christmas giveaway. I asked my dear and only to give me three numbers at random among all the valid entries. Yes, he’s my random number generator.
The two winners of Plate To Pixel are Jenny Mendes and Adrienne from A Big Mouthful.
The winner of Girl Hunter is Wen from Journal Through Lens. Congrats! Please send me your snail mail addresses at mytartelette AT gmail DOT com.
Now on to the recipes…
Every year at Christmas, smoked salmon has to be part of the appetizer offerings at my parents'. It’s tradition. Salmon, blinis and foie gras with brioche toasts. Since we started last week without any firm plans for Christmas Eve, I was making my own plans to prepare a nice dinner for two and relax on the back deck watching all the docks decorated with Christmas lights. A sight to be seen…for sure.
On the menu was a Salmon Bisque, followed by crab cakes and finished off with a Pistachio and Pear Gratin. As the soup was simmering, my inbox started buzzing and within minutes our plans had changed for the 24th. Not a problem. From the scents wafting through the kitchen, we would not be disappointed to have it for lunch the next day. The soup was a cinch to put together, light and tasty. Everything one can ask for during busy times and especially in between a few copious meals.
The gratin was a unexpected hit with Bill and one I will repeat soon and with other fruits too. I had a surplus of tiny cute Forelle pears from a couple of projects and was trying to find other ways than tarts and tartlets to use them. Nothing wrong with those…trust me. I am the first one to slow down for a slice of pear tart!
This dessert is the perfect results of many kitchen happenings all coming together at once. Too many pears, red currants finally being available now that the temperatures had dropped, a pound cake made on a whim one night I could not find sleep and there you have it. A light, fragrant, cozy and comforting vanilla custard blanketing thin slices of cake with tart little pops of red currants every other bites.
From the look of immense delight at the dinner table the other day, I can safely say these two recipes were a huge hit. Making another batch of soup today!
Salmon Bisque, adapted from Saveurs France:
Serves 4 to 6
Notes: do not worry about how fine a dice, cube or chop, the ingredients are since they are all going to be pureed. Croutons are somewhat of a tradition in my family with soups and I simply toss some cubed day-old bread with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and toast that over the stove. Crème fraiche is a perfect topping for the soup but sour cream is a fine substitute.
Salmon can be expensive, so I usually ask my fish guy at the store to give me the good scraps they cut off when filleting whole fish. They are most happy to find a taker and usually give me half price on those.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white parts only, well cleaned and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, sliced
2 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups vegetable stock
1 pound skinless salmon fillets, cubed
salt and pepper to taste
croutons, crème fraiche and chives to garnish
In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium. Add the leeks, garlic, carrots and potatoes and sautee for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine, stock and salmon. Season with a little salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool and puree until smooth (see notes). Check the seasoning and serve. Top each bowl with some croutons, crème fraiche and chives if desired.
Earlier this year, the nice folks at Blendtec gifted me with one of their mixers and this is what I now use all the time to puree and blend soups. Takes less than a minute for super smooth bisques and soups. A immersion blender or any good capacity and sharp bladed food processor will also do great here.
Pistachio and Pear Gratins, adapted from Saveurs France.
Notes: I love my friend Jeanne’s recipe for pound cake. I had the pleasure this summer to work with my friend Clare on Jeanne’s gluten free baking cookbook and had to make about 75% of the recipes for photography. I got to tell you, Jeanne is about the only person I now trust for gluten free baking anything. Everything is always tasty, correct and of great texture. The recipe she came up with years ago for her gluten free all purpose flour blend is super easy and substitute cup for cup with regular all purpose flour so feel free to go gluten free or not without fear.
Once the pound cake is made and cooled (feel free to prepare it a day in advance), the assembly comes together in no time.
6 small Forelle pears (or 2-3 medium pears)
12 thin slices of Jeanne’s pound cake (minus the glaze)
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sugar
½ cup red currants or other berries
2 tablespoons finely ground pistachios
Butter a 9×13 gratin dish or individual ones and preheat the oven to 350F. Position a rack in the center.
Peel, core and thinly slice the pears. Set aside (don’t worry about oxidization too much since the dessert assembly is fast but you can always sprinkle them with a bit of lemon juice if you wish).
Cut the pound cake slices in triangles. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, vanilla, eggs and sugar until smooth.
Layer the pear and pound cake slices in your gratin dish(es). Slowly pour the custard batter on top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with some red currants and ground pistachios scattered over the top.
As I was making this tart for Shauna’s Gluten Free Thanksgiving Baking Round Up, I started reflecting on how much I enjoyed being an expat in America around the holidays. I now have an entire second family, a tight group of friends and handful of added occasions to celebrate new traditions and holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc… Even Christmas in B’s family is light years away from mine. Starting with the food of course.
I did not grow up around pumpkin pie, pecan pie or double crusted apple pie but like anyone entering another family, expat or not, there are new traditions I have come to love. Some I have been privileged to make my in-laws discover as they let me bring my own creations to their tables. One of these dishes was my grandmother’s Tarte Fine Aux Pommes. She was famous for it. And for good reason. One of the simplest and yet most aromatic and satisfying thin crusted pie I have ever had.
She’d start by making a very basic applesauce with heirloom and very tart apples, a bit of cardamom, and lemon. She’d then layer it at the bottom of a very thin pate brisee crust and top the tart with thin slices of fresh apples. It was thin on all counts, rustic and absolutely amazing. The textures, fragrances. That bit of crunch from the crust, the oozing applesauce underneath and the pretty slices of apples on top. A feast for all senses.
When Shauna sent out an email to put together a massive round up of gluten free baking recipes for Thanksgiving, my head started spinning. Wow! Thanksgiving was indeed so close and I felt like I was already one train wagon behind! But it is indeed necessary to start such a big round up filled with so many options for baked treats for the holidays. Whether you are gluten free or need to bake gluten free for someone coming to break bread at your table, that round up provides you with so many delectable options.
Go check it out on Shauna’s blog. It’s awesome. And tempting. And delicious.
I first thought about making pumpkin pie but it’s not our true favorite to celebrate. We tend to like apple pie and tarte tatin, tarte fines and the like. Instead of using apples like my grandmother, I chose one of my favorite Autumn fruit, Forelle pears. They are juicy and fragrant. Cute as can be and one fits in my pocket quite perfectly…
I was going to go with Shauna and Danny’s recipe for Asian Pear Tart in their book but the Asian pears were literally the size of mini watermelons so I substituted Forelle pears and instead of making applesauce like Grandma would have, I followed Shauna’s directions to use apricot jam. I knew there was a reason I was holding on to that last of homemade apricot jam from this summer! You don’t have to go that extent but don’t skip on the quality is all I’m sayin’…
Did you see the giveaway going there on her blog? Pretty cool, non?! Guess what?…Shauna is graciously giving one copy of their book to one of you guys! Whether you like stories, recipes, tips, challenges, there is something for everyone. There is love to share. Beautiful words, delicious recipes and inspired photography by Lara Ferrroni. A feast for the senses!
All you have to do is leave a comment on this post between now and Sunday November 21st at midnight Easter time, when my better half will draw a winner at random. No anonymous comment, sign an initial, X or a name so I know you are not a robot! One entry per person. Good luck!
Notes: I am writing down the recipe as Shauna and Danny wrote it for their book and adding my changes as I go along. The only reason behind my substituting flours was due to our personal preferences and what I have on hand in the pantry.
For the crust:
1/2 cup sorghum flour – I used millet flour
1/2 cup tapioca four – I used corn flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon – I left it out
pinch of salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) frozen butter
1 large egg
1/4 cup ice cold water
6-7 medium Asian pears – I used 10 Forelle pears
1/3 cup sugar – I used 1/4 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped – I used 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/3 cup apricot jam
Prepare the tart shell:
Sift together the millet flour, corn flour, potato starch and sweet rice flour into a large bowl. Add the sugar, cinnamon if using and salt. Sift into another bowl (I admit I skipped that part).
Grate the frozen butter directly into the dry ingredients with a medium cheese grater. Work with your fingertips until the dough feels like cornmeal or large pieces of sand.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg and the water together with a fork. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the liquid, and start gathering the dough together with your hands or a fork. Gather the dough into a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
Butter and flour an 11-inch tart shell (I used 2 rectangular pie shells). Pull the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature a little. Roll the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper to the approximate size of your tart pan. If the dough tears a little, just piece it back together with your fingertips.
Freeze the tart dough for about 30 minutes.
While the dough is freezing, preheat the oven to 375F. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the dough, fill with dry beans and blind bake for 15 minutes. Let cool.
Prepare the filling:
Core and peel the pears and toss them with the honey and cardamom (or vanilla bean and sugar if using).
Spread the apricot jam evenly at the bottom of the pie shell and layer the pear slices on top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool and serve with whipped cream if desired.