Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer 2017: The more things change...

"Plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose". That's the old French aphorism: "The more things change, the more they are the same." Many years ago, I decided,"Plus ça change, plus ça change"... "The more things change, the more they change". Never felt that more strongly than this summer in Brittany, where so many things are disappearing: antiques shops, markets, simple good food in restaurants. But I had a very good sojourn, for five weeks, so I'll talk about the good parts, and some of the high spots.:

Beginning with: Les Fermes de Betty, in Combrit, where I have stayed for a number of years:
        

That's my bedroom, right in the middle of all those luscious hydrangeas  (I remember the summer they were planted, such a hot and dry season that there was a watering ban on, and I really didn't expect them to survive at all). They did, and so does everything there:

        


That's a yummy climbing rose that grows just outside the breakfast room door.

   
It is such a perfect country setting (anyone's dream of what Brittany should look like), and there is some constant rural company: the two little donkeys Betty gave her husband for Xmas one year.

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It is always fun to go into Quimper: this year, there was an exhibit of old travel posters at the Musee départmentale breton that was just stunning - click here to see for yourself! Judy and I went in to see it, stopping to admire the plantings on the bridge as we crossed.

          



        
I have the catalogue, so I can curl up here at home among all those gorgeous places depicted by all those terrific artists. That was the Golden Age of French poster art, and this is a wonderful grouping from that time.

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Another day, we had lunch in  Pont l'Abbé, at a very good restaurant, "L'Essentiel". Excellent fish preparation and a yummy dessert. This is a fairly new place, and the best thing to come to that town, food-wise, that I can remember (so sometimes, when things change, it can  be for the better.)

I wanted to visit "My Ladies" while I was there:



This stunning group was created by the artist, Francois Bazin, who also did work for the de la Hubaudiere faïencerie in the 1920s. In my book, "Collecting Quimper", on. p.10, there is a picture of the principal figure seated alone. I think I have loved these ladies from the first moment I ever saw them, and I  have never been to Brittany, in all these years, that I did not visit them twice: to say "Bonjour" and again "Adieu".


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Crêpes, of course, are the region's most famous delicacy, and no one makes them better than my friend Michel. To sit at his kitchen table, while he is deftly ladling and spreading his buckwheat batter onto a piping hot griddle, slathering them with butter as he folds them onto plates (yes, he has cheese, and ham, and other toppings available, but I prefer them just as he does: butter only) is a special treat worth ditching any diet regimen for and spending a weekend's worth of calories. He is also a fine gardener, so after lunch, we took a stroll to admire his plantings.

      




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Another festive lunch was with my friends, Daniela and Henrik,  from Berlin who were there for several weeks. We went to Benodet, to one of my old favorites, Le Transat, sitting outdoors on their terrace, facing the Odet River...it was one of the best days, weather-wise, of the whole trip (which was mostly standard Brittany chilly, overcast and rainy).
        



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The one-day outdoor antiques market at Locronan has always been one of my favorites: not because I have ever found very much to buy, but the assortments have always been very interesting and diverse, I see people that I have known for years, and the village itself is such a lovely old spot.




I have always gone very early in the morning, so I can at breakfast at the hotel and watch the dealers setting up right in front of me.


 
This year was, sadly, dismal: the weather, the dealers, and the merchandise. Here is what I bought:



What are they? Five small silk handkerchiefs that look embroidered but are actually very delicately painted! The dealer told me such an interesting story about them, as follows: they came from a man in St. Nazaire, who claimed they came from a museum started by Mme. de Gaulle after the second World War, to honor the American soldiers who took part in the liberation of Brittany. When I pressed her for more information, she shrugged, and told me to look on line for more! Well, I have done so, and so far have not come up with anything whatsoever! If anyone can shed some light on these, do please contact me! The only thing I can add is my hostess, Betty's comment, "These are not typical French ways of saying things".

Anyway, I'm afraid that Locronan is one more pleasant memory, but no longer a viable market. The very next day, at another (uneventful) market in St. Marine, I ran into



Francois Nozières, whom I had seen at Locronan; he told me that after I left, the rain became so heavy that dealers arrived and simply turned around and left. I'm afraid that speaks more to the buying climate than the weather.

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And then on to Paris, (of course, it was a gorgeous day when I was spending most of it on the TGV)  and one night in my old neighborhood in the 7th arrondissement.



That's the corner of the Boulevard Latour-Maubourg and the Rue St. Dominique, looking towards the Place des Invalides. At least, here, the owners' names may change, but there is still a brasserie on every corner.

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And now..home! Still sorting, photographing, writing....



New web pages in early September...you'll get a letter from me the minute they are posted. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer...Joan

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Winter 2017


        The winter of our discontent...sorry, I have no intention of turning this into a political statement, but as I was driving to the auto train last month to return home, and thinking about my past three months I simply couldn't shake the phrase...
I'll skip over the obvious reasons I am psychologically impaled on Shakespeare... and concentrate on the bright spots of this winter's sojourn in Florida: Mostly thoughts about food.
To start: In Venice, my beloved French bakery, Croissant and Company, have added some new goodies this year. Saturdays  only, a small round chocolate loaf, crusty on the outside, soft in the middle, luscious toasted with sweet butter or cream cheese. As you can see from the pictures, everything looks (and is!) delicious




That's Jean-Pierre, le patron, and his son Ben, the head baker: everything comes out of those ovens fresh and warm, all day long and I love to sit and watch the parade of  baguettes piled up on trays...




This is my favorite spot where I can survey the whole scene, talk to people, and forever be diverted by the decor, which I call "A Frenchman's Dream of Florida".  The charming paintings are done by daughter Jess,   and Lynne, la patronne, who is English, has a marvelous strawberry-colored hairdo, to complete the decor!



Oh!  I forgot to say the most important thing of all: they are from Quimper! And if you go to their website: Croissant and Company, Venice, Florida, you can indulge in a glorious visual feast without expending any calories.

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In Sarasota, I had a Thai chicken ginger soup that was super. When I can replicate it, or find a good online source, I'll  let you know. I've sampled several other places, but less appealing. I suspect this was the best due to just excellect ingredients and that indefinable pinch of TLC.

In Mt. Dora, I stayed at Farnsworth House for some weeks, and became so friendly with Kim and Soren, the innkeepers, that they let me take over their kitchen long enough to teach them how to make my bread pudding.

Recipe: Ingredients:
 Three large bags of bread scraps: crusts, baguette bits, whatever. 16 eggs, 1 1/2 quarts milk or part half-and-half...that is the basic custard. I prefer to let the trimmings add the sweetness: so, 1 bag frozen fresh cocunut, sweetened. 1 small jar apricot preserves. 1 cup lightly toasted slivered almonds. Three large deep casseroles, or souffle dishes, lightly greased, preferably with butter.
Method:
  Put all the bread (which you have been saving, so it may be right out of the freezer) on a large flat baking sheet, and toast in a 300o oven until it is dried out and pale brown...you can be toasting the almonds at the same time.  Divide the bread amongst the baking dishes. Beat eggs, milk, coconut, and pour over the bread. Put small dollops of the apricot jam here and there throughout, pushing them down into the mixture. Sprinkle the almonds over the top, but also push in slightly.  All this not only may be done 24 hours ahead, it is actually better, as it gives the custard time to soak well into the bread.  Just cover with saran wrap, and refrigerate...take out an hour or so before getting ready to bake. Bake at 350o approximately 1 hour....this will depend slightly on how deep your dishes are. They are done when risen, puffy, and slightly browned on top, and a knife inserted (like any good custard) will come out clean. Allow 15 minutes to set before serving.



A word about seasoning, flavorings: if you find not quite sweet enough, a light sprinkle of powdered sugar on top before serving, or even a sprinkle of granulated sugar while baking should be enough. If you are lucky enough to find unsweetened coconut, then you may want to add 1/2 cup sugar to the original custard mix.  I do not suggest adding vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon, nutmeg or anything else, but that is my own preference as I find the apricot/coconut/almond balance exactly right.
 And this may be reheated, gently, if there are any leftovers. Bon appetit!
As you can see, these quantities made enough for three casseroles, 6-8 servings each.  This is a very flexible recipe, I have refined it to my own particular likes and dislikes (no raisins!), but one can vary it indefinitely.

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Kim loaned me a book, "A Land Remembered" by Patrick Smith, which is an incredible fictionalized account of the settling of Florida. I have already recommended  it to friends here, and I  recommend it highly to all of you.  Not only is it a wonderful story of pioneers in that part of the country, it is a sobering look at how much of our history is founded on violence, even by honest men of goodwill, who were only fighting to protect their own lands and families.
It was very odd for me to be truly idle for three months...
So shortly I'll be back in my website harness, and pictures of recently acquired Quimper purchases will be on line...you'll be the first to know (all of you)!

-Joan

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Food and Faience, Yum!

I was lucky to be raised by a very good cook: my mother, who just instinctively prepared delicious, appetizing meals, and always well presented. Over the years, in addition to her repertoire, I've added lots more from books, magazines, friends, dining-out experiences, trading tips with my three children.

But times have changed and everyone's eating habits have changed. When I think back to my catering career, when every menu started with three hot hors d'oeuvres, and three cold ones, before the dinner, be it seated or buffet, I wonder now: "How did we do it? How did we all manage to eat and drink so much?"

So my kitchen research nowadays is much more into: Easy, Nourishing, Healthful. These are just three of the recipes I am currently using, one I developed some years ago, one quite new, and one from a friend.


On to the kitchen!

A Good Green Soup:


 Basic Ingredients: Bag of Broccoli Florets, Carton of Baby Spinach and one of Baby Kale,
             One or two large Onions, Chicken  Bouillon and or Vegetable Bouillon, Milk

Method:In a large soup pot, steam the broccoli in the bouillons until quite soft, put spinach and kale in on top,put lid back on and turn off heat. Those greens will be wilted-cooked in no time. In a separate pan, saute sliced onion until lightly caramelized. Add to main pot, coarsely puree with an immersion blender, and add milk to thin as desired. Season to taste: little or no salt needed depending on your bouillon stock,; I like lots of black pepper, and nutmeg on top.

A Winter-Summer Salad:




Basic Ingredients: Romaine Lettuce, Feta Cheese, Watermelon, Croutons, Oil and Vinegar

Method: I find this is best created directly on each plate as it composes better that way than if all tossed together. Make croutons first: I use any crusty French bread, Mexican rolls, or whatever, just dice, slide onto a flat baking pan and into a 375o oven. While they are toasting, chop the lettuce, dice watermelon cubes, and crumble cheese ...assemble in layers, dress very lightly ( olive oil and white balsamic vinegar are my choices), salt and pepper to taste, and at the last minute, a handful of toasty-hot bread cubes on top.
 Picture:101-0213

The Delicious Protein Snack:


Basic Ingredients: Large carton Cottage Cheese, 6 Eggs, Lemon Juice, Sugar, Cinnamon

Method:   Blend all to a soupy consistency in a regular blender , pour into individual ramekins, set them on a rimmed pan, and pour hot water around them. Bake at 350o until they puff and crack slightly at the edges...usually about 45 60 minutes.  The variables here are the lemon juice...I like lemon flavor,(think good cheesecake!)but one could omit or use vanilla instead and I use as little sugar as possible; could be varied with honey or possibly a sugar substitute. Cinnamon is also a variable; can be baked in, as here, sprinkled after, or omitted.



These keep very well, refrigerated, for as much as a week, and I have even frozen them on occasion.
Garnish with orange sections, or grapes, or, as I am about to do right now, eat one still warm from the oven!

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Where does the faience come into it?  I do use interesting old pieces in my kitchen, I do eat on it, and, of course, I am still buying and selling it. All the pieces shown in this blog are from stock and are for sale.

The soup was to be served on one of my 19th century plates (of which I have a good shelf-ful) that are not Quimper, but what I think of as O.F.F.., meaning Other French Faience.


The duck plate, and the floral to its left are from the Bourgogne_Auxerre region. The bird plate to the left of that is old Nevers.

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Salad plate is from St. Clement, late 19th century



As is its mate on the right. The little tureen is from Tours.

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The delicious snack fixings are piled in a wonderful old Quimper server.



It  awaits a new home with other pieces from that factory, that era.

You are welcome to contact me about the food, and/or the faience.
   Joan Datesman
 






Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Garden Room!

When I moved several years ago, my children came and did yeoman duty with the packing; but it was up to me, in the new, much smaller home, to unpack and decide where things were to go.

I had already made the second bedroom into my office/showroom: took off closet doors, moved office furniture and shelving in ahead of time.

    



So all of the important components of MerryWalk Antiques were arranged for. But that first week, I often found myself standing in that space, some precious object in hand, and thinking,"This will go in the other room", and then realising, "THERE IS NO OTHER ROOM!" Fortunately, the two-car garage, where I had also installed shelving, took lots of the dilemmas.(We'll take a stroll through all of that later on!)

Including a big box too heavy for me to lift, that I'd been toting around for 25 years or so.Did I really want to burden myself one more time with this weight? After all, this was downsize time! But the box contained three large fragments of a Porquier Beau fireplace surround, and I had always intended either to use them myself, or sell them to a client who was adding on a room or was willing to reconfigure a wall to use them. No such event ever occurred, and here I was, one more time, with this lugubrious problem.

Well, I did indeed bring them along, and a year or so after the move, I was ready to knock out a wall and create what the French call a "jardin d'hiver". Basically, I was just enclosing the outside deck, so it was not a large addition, 10'x12', to be precise. As I planned it, I thought about the old house, and realised the only thing I truly missed was my gas log fireplace. A FIREPLACE! Yes! And a place, after all these years to use the Porquier Beau pieces. The builder liked the idea and created exactly the right framework for the tiler to make the installation.
                  The three large fragments:


 


Just as I was searching through my inventory for appropriate additions...and I really didn't start out to make a  PorquierBeau/Rouen annex...I saw a gorgeous umbrella stand coming up for auction in France. I knew it wasn't of the period, but here was the pattern, which I had never seen on an umbrella stand. Had to have it! With the assistance of my French connection, Judy Datesman, we got it: it has trundled its way across France, and was actually shipped just one day before the Paris bombing last December (I was relieved that French Customs didn't think it was a bomb casing and destroy it, but no, it arrived in all its pristine glory.)


There is no mark on it; I would theorize it was a special order for someone any time from the 1950's to the 1980's. A worthy research project in its own right.

So the fireplace wall composed itself thusly:


 And there are other interesting plant holders. Some are good old French faience:




  As well as a handsome set of large American jardinieres:


And a glorious big swan found in a local consignment shop:

 

Any time of day, the light is wonderful in this room, and it has added, both literally and figuratively, an important new dimension to the house and my life here.


Last fall, I brought in the begonias and lots of other things; they wintered over reasonably well, but now everything has gone outside to fill out planters that have fresh blooms. Now, only an occasional flower comes in to add a touch of color to the room:
               


We are having a long, cool spring, so the tulips lasted well, and my magical peach-colored iris (one spray in the Porquier Beau wall pocket above) are coming out everywhere! More about those another time; it is time to do new web pages...so you'll hear from me soon again...Joan

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Chewy Brownies: a Tribute to my Mother

Chewy Brownies: a Tribute to my Mother.

My mother was a wonderful cook and baker; our dinner table was  properly set, and the food was appealing  and delicious.  Her pet peeve was a plate that had no color balance, hence the paprika shaker and the fresh parsley were always at hand. (I once was taken to dinner in Philadelphia by a friend who was anxious for me to try his newest dining find. My dinner plate was fish, mashed potatoes and cauliflower, sans even those simple garnishes. I could hardly keep from laughing out loud, remembering my mother's rules.)

And some things have stayed in the family forever, including this recipe for Chewy Brownies, unlike any I have ever seen printed anywhere. When I went to shop for this blog, I was so pleased to find so many of the same labels available that she had used so many years ago.
         

No, we didn't have "organic Dark Brown Sugar", so she just used whatever dark brown came in a box, and our eggs were not brown eggs, but they did come from a very nice farmer named Ivan G. Little (Mother and I used to refer to him as "Mr. Gee, Ivan") who came into Baltimore every Friday with eggs and poultry. But all those other labels are the old familiar ones: Hershey's Baking Chocolate, Diamond Walnuts, Gold Medal Flour, McCormick's Pure Vanilla. And that is the total list of ingredients. Here's the method...(quantities listed at the end of this blog)




Heat the chocolate in a small heavy-bottomed pot (many recipes say "over boiling water" so as not to scorch; I find this works just as well). At the same time, chop walnuts (don't buy already chopped walnuts, they will never be as fresh).

Beat eggs and brown sugar well, add vanilla, then the melted, cooled chocolate. Then just fold in the flour until it is mixed and no white showing (but do NOT beat well at this point; this batter is like muffin batter and overbeating will make the final results tough). Then fold in the nuts.


Pour batter into baking pan lined with parchment paper (this wasn't even around in my mother's day; it's a vast improvement over greasing and flouring pans for any kind of baking). Scatter reserved nuts on the top, and bake at 350°, roughly 20-25 minutes. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean, but  just barely: these are chewy...if you overbake, they will become too dry and cake-y (if that happens, save the whole thing, and make an ice cream cake, layering this with vanilla and coffee ice cream).



When the pan comes out of the oven, cut immediately, and then brownies can sit until ready to be lifted onto your serving dish (one of the virtues of baking paper!)

And here is the original recipe, typed up for me about 50 years ago by my mother, when I was getting ready to open my catering  shop, The Yum Yum Tree, and she sat and typed all my scattered random recipes so I could put them into a useful file.


I don't really expect you to be able to read this, so here it is:

    5 eggs     
    5 oz. baking chocolate   
    3-1/8 cups dark brown sugar (pack down well when measuring)
    1-1/4 cups flour 
    2-1/2 tsp. vanilla 
    2 cups chopped nuts (save about 1/2 cup to scatter on the top)

    Beat eggs and sugar. Add vanilla, chocolate, flour, nuts; stir as little as possible.
    Bake at 350° 20-25 minutes. Cut while still warm.

These freeze very well, properly wrapped.

Enjoy! Joan Datesman