Thursday, June 25, 2009

Yesterday’s Concoction Inspired by My Frustration and Fred’s Comment in France

I am no great chef, so it doesn’t happen very often, but now and then a new dish simply presents itself to me. A few years ago I had a vision of shrimp and bell peppers with feta and sun-dried tomatoes over rice pilaf, and it became one of my signature dishes for a while. A reliable, simple, colorful, flavorful dish that people weren’t going to get anywhere else.

Yesterday, I was trying to decide what to make for dinner that night. The boys were coming over, and I wanted something that would appeal to them as well as me, but something a bit different than the ordinary fare, and something that wouldn’t take too much time, when another culinary light went on for me.

While on my recent trip to France, I was complaining to Fred, my traveling buddy, that the US still really hasn’t caught on to crème fraiche. You can find it in any French grocery store, but while many other delicious French foods and ingredients have become much more common in the states since my first trip abroad a quarter century ago, this one is still fairly rare. It shows up on the menus of many fine restaurants, but I can’t get it at my local grocery store. She suggested Boursin as an alternative for my purposes—creating a creamy sauce for a pork or chicken pasta. The Boursin idea kept rolling around in my head for a couple weeks without finding traction, when suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with it.

So, here’s what I came up with and what you will need to make it chez vous:

chicken breasts.
olive oil
white wine

An hour before cooking, cut chicken breasts into one inch pieces and then marinate them.

Mince two very large shallots, then sautee them until they turn brown. Add the chicken. When it is nearly cooked, toss in some small pieces of prosciutto. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan. Pour a little white wine into the pan, and turn up the heat. Once it has begun to cook off a bit, turn the heat back down, and mix in the Boursin until it is smooth and creamy, then place the chicken back in the pan, and mix until it is all covered in the sauce.

I served this over pasta with haricots verts on the side, and R. said I should quit teaching, go to the track for a few years to get enough money, and then open a restaurant. Not only is it one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received for my cooking, but it sounds like a fun way to raise money for such an enterprise. In any case, it’s easy and delicious. Try it at your home.

Success du Panache

Nearly twenty years ago while spending a couple weeks in Provence I was introduced to a drink I fell in love with: the panache (pronounced pan-uh-SHAY—there should be an accent mark over the e—pronounced correctly, the first and last words of the title of this piece should rhyme). I was told it was a mix of lemonade and beer, and after a day of hiking around the warm, dry countryside (always concluding with a final uphill to the town where we were staying), a glass or two of this was more refreshing and flavorful than anything I would have imagined on my own.

When I returned home, I set about recreating this concoction on my own, and met failure after failure. Clearly what the French called lemonade was different than anything I could find in the Midwest. I even tried mixing lemonade, mineral water, and beer, but to no avail. The funny thing is whenever I told friends what the drink was made of they all did some version of wrinkling or turning up their noses—lemonade mixed with beer didn’t sound appealing to anyone.

As time passed, I almost began to doubt my memory. It seemed like something I had made up or dreamt, and eventually I even forgot about it. When I returned to France for the first time a couple years ago, it never even occurred to me to try to track down a panache. Coffee éclairs, bread, cheese, and wine—yes! Panaches—never crossed my mind. Of course, I was in Paris and Bretagne, places that with their relatively cool climates might not have as much cause to cultivate panache drinkers.

This year’s trip, which started out with Paris and Bretagne, passed without incident, but one of the first restaurants we went to once we headed south listed panache on their drinks menu. I knew I needed to ditch the high school students we were traveling with, and find a little time alone to see if I still found this drink satisfying almost two decades since I last tasted it.

I only had to wait a couple of short, hot hours—the perfect preparation for such an event. It proved to be nothing less than glorious. The rest of our time on the Cote d’Azur, I looked for opportunities to savor a panache at the end of a hot day of walking and sightseeing.

At some point, while enjoying one of my drinks and mourning that I would soon be leaving them behind, it dawned on me that I lived in the age of the internet. Surely, I could find a recipe, so I could recreate this drink in the comfort of my own home. And I did. Though, it is more commonly known as a shandy, some version of this drink is enjoyed in a number of countries around the world.

While that seemed affirming in and of itself, I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found a discussion thread on the topic, which included the telling detail—Trader Joe’s carries a French lemonade and a lager is the ideal beer with which to blend it. I promptly went out to the suburbs and bought multiple bottles of their limonade, and raced home to try it out—a 100% success. I no longer have to cross an ocean for this pleasure.

Bonus Happiness Point: Trader Joe’s is opening a store near my home, so I no longer have to make a trip out to the suburbs to load up on supplies.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Six-Year-Old Boy's Response to Hearing "Passionate Kisses" by Lucinda Williams

"I'm going to make up stories about hugs and kisses, only they're gonna be warrior hugs and kisses."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thirteen-Year-Old Boys

Yesterday R. and his friend played 57 games of ping-pong!