Archive for December, 2011

Maybe All This, poem for the New Year

Saturday, December 31st, 2011



Maybe All This

by Wislawa Szymborska


Maybe all this

is happening in some lab?

Under one lamp by day

and billions by night?


Maybe we’re experimental generations?

Poured from one vial to the next,

shaken in test tubes,

not scrutinized by eyes alone,

each of us separately

plucked up by tweezers in the end?


Or maybe it’s more like this:

No interference?

The changes occur on their own

according to plan?

The Graph’s needle slowly etches

its predictable zigzags?


Maybe thus far we aren’t of much interest?

The control monitors aren’t usually plugged in?

Only for wars, preferably large ones,

for the odd ascent above our clump of Earth,

for major migrations from point A to B?


Maybe just the opposite:

They’ve got a taste for trivia up there?

Look!  on the big screen a little girl

is sewing a button on her sleeve.

The radar shrieks,

the staff come at a run.

What a darling little being

with its tiny heart beating inside it!

How sweet, its solemn

threading of the needle!

Someone cries enraptured:

Get the Boss,

tell him he’s got to see this for himself!


Cornmeal Pound Cake with Poached Rosemary Pears

Saturday, December 31st, 2011


We assembled a group for a holiday lunch and hike, and my friend brought this cake.  “I just got it from the internet,” she said, as if it were not something ridiculously special.  A cornmeal pound cake, graced with pears poached in a rosemary syrup, sugared rosemary sprigs on the side, this dessert is winter fondly remembering September.   It would be a divine end to a meal remembering the passing year.  Rosemary is for remembrance.

Leslie Hammond’s Cornmeal Pound Cake with Poached Rosemary Pears

serves 8



3 cups water

2 cups sugar

1 cup dry or off-dry Riesling

3 fresh rosemary sprigs

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

8 Forelle pears or other small pears, peeled, stems left intact


Pound cake:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/3 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 large eggs, beaten to blend in medium bowl

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Syrup and candied rosemary:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

8 (4-inch-long) fresh rosemary sprigs

Baker’s sugar or other superfine sugar



For pears:

Combine first 6 ingredients in large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add pears and bring syrup to boil, turning pears occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until pears are tender, about 20 minutes. Chill pears uncovered in syrup until cold, at least 3 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

For pound cake:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk flour and cornmeal in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar, then salt. Drizzle in beaten eggs by tablespoonfuls, beating constantly, then beat in vanilla. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, beating just to blend after each addition. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in foil and store at room temperature.

For syrup and candied rosemary:

Bring 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to simmer in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rosemary sprigs. Simmer until syrup reduces slightly, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer rosemary sprigs to rack and drain. Cover and reserve rosemary syrup.

Pour baker’s sugar into shallow bowl. Add drained rosemary sprigs to sugar, 1 at a time, turning to coat thickly. Place on paper towels. Dry at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Let sprigs and syrup stand at room temperature.

Cut dark ends off cake. Cut eight 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick cake slices. Cut each slice diagonally in half. Arrange 2 halves on each plate. Drain pears. Stand 1 pear on each plate. Drizzle each dessert with reserved rosemary syrup and garnish with candied rosemary sprig. Serve, passing remaining syrup separately.


Lentil and Grain Chili with Cucumber Raita

Saturday, December 31st, 2011


I belong to the “Always Eat Lentils On New Year’s Day” religion.  Some may call it superstition; I call it religion, because I believe eating lentils – any recipe, any shape, any  temperature, any course – will make the following year a lucky one.

There are plenty of other methods for waving in the New Year, and guaranteeing it be a friendly visit – eating some form of pig is supposed to promise good health; eating greens promises wealth.  A tall dark man is supposed to be the first person of the year to cross your threshhold.  I subscribe to all of the above, but I believe – I believe –  in lentils.

Here is this year’s lentil recipe in my house, a Todd English stew that tastes like chili and is cooled with the Indian cucumber and yogurt condiment, raita.  Eaten in Folly Cove, MA, they’re Global Lentils.  Feel free to make lentil cakes, lentil loaf, or what we’ve often done when we’re unprepared –  simply boil them with onion, garlic, thyme, and tomatoes.  It’s all lucky.

Happy New Year.



Lentil and grain Chili with Cucumber Raita

from Todd English

serves 8 generous portions


1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 large Spanish onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 small jalapeno or Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and minced

2 chipotle peppers, seeded and minced

1 20-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 – 4 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1/3 dried oregano

2 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over

1 cup cooked chick peas, rinsed

1/2 cup barley

1/2 cup bulgur wheat

8-10 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper


Place a large stockpot over medium heat and when it is hot, add the olive oil.  Add the ginger, garlic, onion, carrots, and celery, stirring well after each addition, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the jalapeno pepper, chipotle peppers, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin oregano, lentils, chick peas, barley, bulgur wheat stock, salt, and pepper, stirring well after each addition, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and cook until the lentils are soft, about 1 hour.

Top each serving with a dollop of cucumber raita.




Cucumber Raita


2 cups greek yogurt, (I used full fat.)

1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves.



Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve.





Avocado Pate, a certain success

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

This recipe is guacamole all grown up.  Four avocados pureed with cream cheese, shallot, garlic and chili powder, the pate becomes a suave version of one’s favorite Southwest flavors.  The elegance of the texture is a surprise; the flavors are old friends.  Shamelessly lifted straight off the pages of Epicurious, this is a certain home-run, a buffet success, instantly the dish around which the party will happen.  The internet reviews dazzle with unanimous five-star ratings.  Have I said enough?

An acquaintance first introduced this pate to me.  I didn’t know the woman well, but one chip-full and I suddenly presumed all sorts of positive things about her.  I saw her knowledgeably flushing out fly-by-night or tired holiday party ideas like bacon-wrapped this and marscapone stuffed that, recognizing a winner when she saw one.  What is a winner?  I’d say it’s a dish you set down, and gradually a crowd surrounds it.  Guests interrupt each other to say, “have you tried the such and such yet?” Strangers bond over discovering the absolute best thing into which to plant a chip.  A winner dish both surprises and reminds, like the Socratic method of learning:  it seems brand new but also recalls a taste you’ve known for years.

I didn’t fry my own tortillas; I used toasted toasted pita chips, which weren’t bad, but not as indulgent as homemade tortilla chips, which the pate-bearing woman brought.  They truly set the dish up to say, “this is a really good party.”

Set this pate between the Champagne bottles at New Year’s Eve or the beer bottles at a Superbowl Party.  If I haven’t said it enough, it’s a winner, and on its way to being a classic.  Move over onion dip.

Avocado Pate




4 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted

2-8 oz. cream cheese, room temp.

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon salt



4 to 6 tablespoons chopped, unsalted pistachios

½ cup finely chopped, fresh parsley

Lettuce leaves

½ cup black olives

10 to 20 cherry tomatoes, quartered



Line 6-cup rectangular loaf pan with 3 layers of waxed paper, extending over long sides only. Brush top sheet of paper, generously with oil.

Puree avocado and cream cheese in processor until smooth. Add shallots, garlic, lemon juice, chili powder and salt to puree for approx. 30 seconds.

Transfer into prepared pan, smooth top. Press plastic wrap onto surface of puree and refrigerate for at least 6 hrs or overnight.

Remove plastic and unmold onto serving platter.  Remove wax paper.

Put pistachios and parsley, with a little water for moisture, in food processor. Pulse a few times to blend.

Apply that mixture over sides and top of pate.  Garnish around the sides with lettuce, olives and tomatoes.  Serve with tortilla chips.


Homemade Tortilla Chips



12 corn tortillas, cut into quarters

vegetable oil if deep frying

1 teaspoon salt



Add enough oil to come halfway up the sides of a large heavy pot or electric deep fryer.  Heat oil over high heat to 360 degrees.

Without crowding, working in batches, deep fry the tortillas quarters until golden brown, turning once, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove to paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.




Larsen’s Fish Stew

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011



There are two very nice things about making Larsen’s Fish Stew.  The first is that while you’re chopping the onion, celery and potatoes you get to think about Larsen’s Fish Market, one of two fish markets that sit right on the dock on the eastern side of Menemsha Pond in Menemsha, a tiny commercial fishing harbor in Chilmark, Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard, coordinates 41.352507°N 70.765193°W.


Larsens sells fish unloaded off boats often parked at the store’s back doors.   Making this fish stew, I remembered an afternoon of running away from the kids and in-laws with my husband, and sitting on picnic tables outside Larsen’s, having a deliciously sequestered adult moment of cold white wine and freshly shucked littlenecks, and watching those boats unload.  A sign on the Larsen’s fish menu warns, “Call for daily specials, prices and availability.  Sunset in Menemsha is very popular, so please order early in the day.”

You’ve got to love a place that warns you about the power of its sunsets, which I’ve seen, and they’re correct to caution.  If you’ve ever been to Menemsha, or even if you haven’t, sunsets are another bonus daydream that comes when chopping vegetables for this fish stew.

The second really good thing about this stew is the most important –  how delicious and unusual it is.  Yes, it begins with the usual celery and onions sauteed in butter, but then the recipe calls for Mirin, or Japanese Rice wine, which adds a sweetness akin to sherry but not as alcoholic and English tasting.  It’s sweet but light.  Next, the recipe calls for Old Bay.

I knew I’d owned the can of Old Bay in my cupboard longer than my eldest child has been alive, so I decided to google it and make my own.  At first it’s amazing, and then it’s just funny that the yellow, blue and red box associated with all things seafood below the Mason Dixon line is basically a little bit of every spice in most people’s cupboards.  “A blend of 18 herbs and spices,” the Old Bay site says.  Born in Baltimore, and named for an old steamship that traveled Chesapeake Bay between Maryland and Virginia, Old Bay is mace, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, clove, celery seed, white pepper, smoked paprika, dried mustard, etc. – a flavor profile that looks like the spilled kitchen contents on a French – English battlefield.

Without the ponderousness of cream and sherry, but with the sweetness and spice from the Mirin and Old Bay, Larsen’s Fish Stew is a beautiful holiday meal.  We had it last night with Swedish Coffee bread, and Tom Stockton’s endive and pear salad.  If we’re all very good maybe Tom will release his recipe, because this was where the road to beautiful, simple holiday meals ends.

I’ve made a perfectly acceptable version of this with cod and scallops alone, picky-eaters acknowledged.


 Larsen’s Fish Stew


6 tablespoons butter

1 large Spanish onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1/8 cup mirin (sweetened sake)

1 tablespoon  seasoning (recommended: Old Bay)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 quarts fish stock

2 quarts clam broth

4 large potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound crab meat, picked over for shells

1/2 pound lobster meat, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 pound sea scallops

1 pound small shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 pound skinned whitefish, such as cod or halibut, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 pound firm whitefish such as monkfish or swordfish, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 pint half-and-half or cream, heated (do not boil)



Melt butter in a large stockpot. Saute onions and celery in butter until soft and translucent. Add mirin and continue to cook until it is almost reduced. Stir in crab boil seasoning and 1 tablespoon pepper. Continue to cook approximately 1 minute. Pour in fish stock and clam broth and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook the potatoes until just tender. Continue to simmer and add crab, lobster, scallops, and shrimp. Return to a simmer and add fish. Gently poach fish until just cooked.  To be precise, put a thermometer into the soup.  At 140 degrees the fish will be perfectly cooked.


After that it will begin to toughen.  Add heated half-and-half, and bring back up to temperature. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.



Dinner and Gifts from Lula’s Pantry

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Lula’s Pantry in Rockport is the where sugarplum visions become reality.  It’s a beautiful place to shop for foods – everything from Lavender Fromage Blanc to McCLure’s Pickles, preserved lemons to handmade lemon curd, to cookbooks, to the most beautiful housewares you’ll find north of the home section of Barneys.


The perfect gift for almost anyone is here, and you can enjoy one of the best views in the world – out the back of Lula’s Pantry Rockport’s fishing boats toss in the winter seas, while our famed red fishing shack, Motif #1, marks the beginning of the harbor.


I was in Lula’s Pantry recently and couldn’t resist the handmade Ligurian Pastas, “Sapori di Liguria.”  Rough rounds of handmade pasta, Croxetti, are marked with the images of old Roman coins.  Foglie d’Ulivo are a rich green pasta shaped into olive leaves.  Tossed with a jar of Ligurian Pesto, this pasta is a wonderful gift that says Buon Appetito and Peace at the same time.



Swedish Coffee Bread

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

When Europeans first began returning from the East with spices, nations picked their favorites.  Most chose cinnamon, which is found in everything from Venetian fish dishes to British meat pies; the Vikings chose cardamon, thus defining the sweet, earthy aroma of Scandinavian pastries;  Cardamon is what makes this coffee bread from Joan Mansfield Swedish; it wafts with the spice’s gentle notes, complimented by a simple butter and brown sugar interior.



One hundred percent Swedish, Joan grew up in Pigeon Cove, Rockport, Massachusetts, where a growing Swedish community cut stone in the quarry industry.   Joan’s mother, as a teenager, followed relatives from Sweden to Rockport for work, and met her husband there.   Mansfield still makes traditional Swedish foods, and festoons her home with gnomes at Christmas.

This sweet bread recipe is what Joan’s been making as long as she can remember; Simple but redolent, it’s a traditional treasure, probably what’s been coming out of country ovens in Sweden since the Vikings returned with the first cardamon pods.

Swedish Coffee Bread



2 cups lukewarm milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 packages yeast

1 cup warm water to dissolve yeast

2 eggs

2 sticks butter

1 tablespoon cardamon

5 cups flour plus enough to make the dough firm enough

3/4 cup brown sugar



1 cup confectionary sugar

4 tablespoons milk

1 tsp. vanilla


chopped walnuts

candied fruit for decoration



Add the sugar and salt to the milk.  Dissolve the yeast separately in one cup of warm water.  Beat eggs and melt one stick of butter.  Add these to the milk mixture along with the cardamon.  Add the dissolved yeast.

Put all into a large bowl, and mix in the flour.  The dough will be sticky.  Put onto a board and knead the remaining flour into the dough, trying to keep it as soft as possible.  Joan says the secret to a good bread is keeping the dough soft.

Let rise until double.  Punch down, and allow to rise again.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Take half the mixture, knead it a bit, and then roll out into a long rectangle.  Melt the remaining stick of butter, and distribute evenly over the dough.  Spread with the brown sugar, and roll the dough up into a log.  Bend the log into a ring.  Put onto a baking sheet or in a round pan.

Take a sharp knife and cut into the ring about half-way, or a little more, going all the way around the ring.

Follow these same steps for the remaining dough.

Let the rings rise again for a 1/2 hour, and then bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, approximately 40 minutes.

Frost with confectionary sugar glaze, cherries and ground nuts..

Black Cake and Homemade Wreaths

Thursday, December 15th, 2011


My family is kind of traditional and kind of not.  Since I’ve been a child my mother and I have made our own wreaths and garland for Christmas, only we don’t do it every year.  Some years someone’s too busy, or not around, or we can’t find the clippers.  My family is also members of that mocked tribe of humanity who eat fruitcake.  My grandmother  – not a warm, round gramma type but a bony, mascara-ed, glamorous Daaahling of a grandmother – made a moist, black glistening loaf every year.   Consuming it was a rite of passage; if you could put down a slice of Miney-Me’s (our nickname for her) whisky-soaked cake you were old enough for a lot of things.

It would be romantic to say that we’ve continued the tradition of making my grandmother’s fruitcake every year, and some years we do.  But we also like fruitcake so much we’re willing to experiment.  Yeah, I know, who experiments with fruitcake?  Pie? sure.  Crock-pot recipes?  of course.  No, my family takes their traditions and shakes them up.


This year my mother and I found both time and our clippers, so my daughters and I went to my mother’s house with a great bag of boxwood, juniper, white pine, and assorted scavenged greens.  (My mother clipped some of her rhododendron leaves and blossoms, good for focus and structure.  Dried hydangea and lavender give a little Provencal atmosphere.)

While we tied little bundles of greens with wire, my mother served her most recent fruitcake trial:  Black Cake from a 2007 article in the New York Times.  In this cake the dried fruits macerate for a few days, and are then ground in a food processor before being mixed into the batter.  Black Cake has all the rich, complicated flavors of fruitcake with a texture like moist gingerbread.

Like lots of fruitcake recipes, this one could be made now and held for a year to mellow, but it wouldn’t be too young if you served it on Christmas Eve.  No one would mock you for adding a few slices to a tray of Sugar Cookies, and some guest just might even come forward to reveal their “I’m a fan of fruitcake” badge.  Chances are, they also secretly call people “Dahling.”



Black Cake

Adapted from the Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook



1 pound prunes

1 pound dark raisins

1/2 pound golden raisins

1 pound currants

1 1/2 pounds dried cherries, or 1 pound dried cherries plus 1/2 pound glacé cherries

1/4 pound mixed candied citrus peel

2 cups dark rum; more for brushing cake

1 1/2 cups cherry brandy or Manischewitz Concord grape wine; more for grinding fruit

1/4 pound blanched almonds

1 cup white or light brown sugar for burning, or 1/4 cup dark molasses or cane syrup; more molasses for coloring batter

4 sticks (1 pound) butter; more for buttering pans

1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) light or dark brown sugar

10 eggs

Zest of 2 limes

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Angostura bitters

4 cups (1 pound) all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon.


At least 2 days before baking, combine prunes, raisins, currants, cherries, candied peel, rum and brandy in a glass jar or sturdy plastic container. Cover tightly; shake or stir occasionally.

When ready to bake, put soaked fruit and almonds in a blender or food processor; work in batches that the machine can handle. Grind to a rough paste, leaving some chunks of fruit intact. Add a little brandy or wine if needed to loosen mixture in the machine.

If burning sugar, place a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add 1 cup white or light brown sugar, and melt, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stir, letting sugar darken. (It will smoke.) When sugar is almost black, stir in 1/4 cup boiling water. (It will splatter.) Turn off heat.

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Butter three 9-inch or four 8-inch cake pans; line bottoms with a double layer of parchment or wax paper.

In a mixer, cream butter and 1 pound light or dark brown sugar until smooth and fluffy. Mix in eggs one at a time, then lime zest, vanilla and bitters. Transfer mixture to a very large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Fold dry ingredients into butter mixture. Stir in fruit paste and 1/4 cup burnt sugar or molasses. Batter should be a medium-dark brown; if too light, add a tablespoon or two of burnt sugar or molasses.

Divide among prepared pans; cakes will not rise much, so fill pans almost to top. Bake 1 hour, and reduce heat to 225 degrees; bake 2 to 3 hours longer, until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove to a rack.

While cakes are hot, brush tops with rum and let soak in. Repeat while cakes cool; they will absorb about 4 tablespoons total. When cakes are completely cool, they can be turned out and served. To keep longer, wrap cakes tightly in wax or parchment paper, then in foil. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 month.

Yield: 3 or 4 cakes, about 4 dozen servings.


Quiche and dining alone in Paris

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Paris is, of course, the land of gilded meals, meals meant to be shared and celebrated with others, but I learned that the city is also brilliant at serving the lone diner, making them feel nourished spiritually and otherwise.  In Paris one often sees beautiful older women tuck themselves into corner tables for lunch, often a small dog at their feet.  Or a stately gentleman in a crisp blazer might walk into a patisserie and be greeted with a warm, “bon jour, m’sieur!” and have the madam run out from behind the counter to seat him at his favorite banquette.  Paris has been feeding these men and women as long as it’s been opening oysters and pouring white wine.  I learned to spot these situations, and follow.  I had many extremely delicious – and, by nature of the situation traditional meals.

I also learned that the quiche and salad lunch is alive and well in Paris.  We’ve destroyed it here.  On this side of the Atlantic quiche is usually a wet pastry below a dry, flavorless, eggy thing with skin on top.   In France, two days in a row I followed my lone-diner trail to restaurants with cases of quiches so gorgeous, so clearly high and moist, burgeoning with interesting interiors, I simply couldn’t order anything else.  I was no pioneer, but why stray from perfection?  The crusts were tender, but had their own toothsome integrity, a buttery crumbly thing to be enjoyed with the filling, not buried by it.  The fillings were hot, poignantly cheesey custards, all together fabulous museum-going, market-working nourishment.   Put beside one of these quiche a gently tossed salad of butter lettuce and mustard dressing, and you have one of western civilization’s great achievements.

I feel as if I’ve rediscovered a French antique worth bringing home and incorporating into my American life, kind of  like those antique linens I discovered at the Vanves Flea Market in Paris.

The following quiche recipe has no extreme ingredients, but a well-made ham and leek quiche, served out of the oven, has the culinary bones to be a classic star at any of the holiday meals in the next weeks.  Or, to feel very refined, put your dog on a leash, and plant him in the kitchen while you have lunch.



Ham and Leek Quiche



one tart dough recipe for a 9 inch pie

about 3 medium leeks

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

one quarter pound thinly sliced smoked ham

1 cup Gruyère, coarsely grated

1 cup Italian Fontina, coarsely grated

1 cup whole-milk mozzarella, coarsely grated

3 large eggs

one eighth teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

one quarter teaspoon black pepper

one and three quarters cups crème fraîche (from two 8-oz containers)



Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Roll out the dough and line a 9-inch pie tin with the rolled out pastry. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.  Line the pan with parchment paper. Fill it with dried beans as a weight. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until just golden brown. Remove the beans (they can be reused for this purpose) and discard the parchment paper.   Now preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Halve the leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into half-inch pieces, then wash well in a bowl of cold water, agitating leeks. Lift out and drain leeks in a colander and pat dry. Melt butter in a heavy skillet over moderately low heat and cook leeks, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Line warm pie shell with sliced ham, overlapping layers as necessary to cover bottom and side of pie shell completely. Toss cheeses together and sprinkle evenly into pie shell (do not pack cheese), then spread leeks evenly on top of cheese. Whisk together eggs, nutmeg, and pepper until combined well, then whisk in crème fraîche until smooth.

Carefully pour half of custard on top of pie filling, gently moving cheese with a spoon to help custard disperse evenly. Slowly add remaining custard in same manner. Cover pie loosely with foil, gently folding edges over crust (keep foil from touching top of cheese mixture) and transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake until center of filling is puffed and set (center will be slightly wobbly but not liquid), about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool on a rack at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving (filling will continue to set as it cools). Serve warm or at room temperature.


Butter Lettuce Salad



1 head butter lettuce salad, cleaned and torn into pieces

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Fine sea salt

Fresh ground pepper

about one eighth cup olive oil

Coarse French sea salt



In a small bowl combine mustard, vinegar, fine sea salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine ingredients. Gradually whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified.

Distribute lettuce onto salad plates. Drizzle generously with dressing. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.



Vanves Market, Montmartre Cemetery, & Alice B. Toklas Oysters Rockefeller

Sunday, December 11th, 2011


Everyone should visit the Vanves Flea Market and the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.  They’re both outside.  They don’t have to cost anything, but in the case of the market, if they cost something it’s a deal.  And they both make you think about past French lives.


Tom Stockton first told me about Vanves; he told me that was where I might find antique French bed linens.  Antique bedsheets weigh about 6 kilos each and make you feel as if you’re sleeping in a castle, because they were made for people sleeping in castles.  I went to Vanves yesterday morning in search of cafe au lait bowls and said sheets.  The cafe au lait bowls were cher.  Charming, but cher, and there weren’t many of them.  On the other hand, someone in France seems to be cleaning out all the 18th century castle linen closets because the Vanves market was loaded with heavy, linen sheets.  You know how flea markets go through phases?  Suddenly old rusty watering cans are everywhere?  Well, in the case of Vanves, it’s gorgeous linens.  Needless to say, my suitcase now exceeds the carry-on limit.


But, you can’t go to places like this and not wonder about the lives that once needed these sheets, these cafe au lait bowls, all the beautiful printing materials that were at Vanve yesterday.  So, you can’t help but wonder about French kitchens and linen closets in 1885, for example, how people were living their lives then.


Of course any cemetery inspires the same reflections, but visiting the Montmartre Cemetary is like name-dropping and reflecting at the same time.  And your jaunt through history isn’t linear – there’s Emile Zola and around the corner is that ever-a-player, ballet dancer Vladimir Nijinsky.


There’s Hector Berlioz.  Up a few family tombs is Escoffier.  – oh.  sigh. – There’s the first French man I ever fell in love with – dark, firy, puckish, brilliant.  Francois Truffaut.  Seeing the graves of the famous doesn’t diminish any irrational affections.  Those aren’t my roses on Truffaut’s grave, but I liked them.


Montmartre, a gray quiet in the middle of Paris (Yes, those people were still feeding the cats there, who are also famous.) is a wonderful pause from the museums and the shopping.  It’s a few acres of lichen and stone covering a density of powerful, brilliant humanity; it demands reflection if not awe.

My dinner tonight – my last Paris dinner – was 6 Utah Beach oysters and a glass of Grave sec, at a delightfully classic brasserie called the Cafe du Commerce, on the Rue du Commerce, depuis 1921.


In honor of that, I’m including another Alice B. Toklas recipe, this time her Oysters Rockefeller.



Alice B. Toklas Oysters Rockefeller


1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup finely chopped raw spinach

1/8 cup finely chopped tarragon

1/8 cup finely chopped chervil

18 cup finely chopped basil

1/8 cup finely chopped chives.

Oysters- opened

sand or rock salt

bread crumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper




Preheat oven to 450 F.   Fill an oven-proof platter with salt or sand, and rest the oysters in it so they don’t wobble.

Chop all the herbs, and mix together in a bowl.  Put a heaping 2 tablespoons of the herbs on each oyster.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs and dot with butter.  Bake about 5 minutes or until hot..