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Frenchie and an Ode to Summer

27 Aug

Traveling by plane high above the clouds warmed up by an unobstructed hot summer sun through the small oval window.

A morning walk barefoot in the grass – a garden in July by the ocean.

A southern dinner party at a friend’s house surrounded by lush trees and summer noises.

A green coconut milk pistachio ice cream scoop in a red bowl one afternoon on the balcony.

A thin book eagerly devoured, a poem by Wilde, on a bench in a Mexico City park. The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

A red plum tart with Grand Marnier cooling in the shade next to a plastic container of freshly picked blackberries.

Summer…

First summer in Charlotte. First summer in a new region.

Expectations, hesitations, and the unknown. Will it be as hot and humid as described?

A time for adventures and discoveries through the neighborhoods – familiar ritual of exploring a new city as if I was traveling.

The sunlight catching the shiny plants on the beautiful southern porches.

Exciting moments as everything around me becomes more familiar.

A quick birthday getaway to Charleston, SC where the humidity and scorching heat could not be avoided.

An escape back in time.

An enchanting condensed world with so much charm.

It felt as though I was back in Boston for a weekend – with a southern twist.

Cobblestones, colorful old doors, gardens, bicyclists and a cosy atmosphere.

Trekking calmly through the small streets expecting the unexpected.

Quel charme !

And did I mention that the food alone is worth a visit?

Husk, F.I.G. or The Cocktail Club captured my taste buds and proved to be wonderful additions to the birthday plans.

In keeping with the southern destinations – going a bit further south, it was time for this couple to get married.

Back in Mexico to explore the big city.

I don’t know if “sprawling” could well describe the feeling of walking in the city. Giant maybe?

Energized and colorful.

Historic and very modern.

And this slight cool breeze I did not expect.

The reception matched the local colors.

Shrouded with love and great friendships with the sprinkling of Mexican food.

Creating the pages of memory lane one twinkling eye after another.

And we all felt it when it was over – can we do it all over again?

And summer wouldn’t be the same without the simple small pleasures of watching the sunset in Newport, RI or marveling at a farm in southeast Wisconsin.

It feels as if you’re seeing with your whole body.

A certain complicity with the other onlookers – not our first sunset but it could very well be.

Simple dinners too. The French are keen on fresh, light and colorful summer meals.

A cold red and golden beet salad with garlic and curly parsley.

The traditional summery grated carrot salad with olive oil and a dash of lemon juice.

Et pour ce soir ? Une autre salade de carottes râpées !

And every week a new twist to the salad – juste pour essayer, to give it a try.

Et bientôt l’automne…

But summer kept me busy.

More than just a taste of it, summer came, settled and enthusiastically made me embrace it with each mouthful, scenery and encounter.

And what best way to enjoy summer but on the grass with a picnic basket and the love of your life?

Merci l’été…

Grated Carrot Salad with Black Radish and Fennel

12 oz (350 g) of carrots (about 3 big carrots) – peeled

1 black radish (8 oz – 200 g)

1 fennel bulb or 2 small bulbs (5 oz – 125 g) – cored

7 Tbsp of olive oil

the juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon of Champagne vinegar

sea salt and pepper

4 Tbsp of curly parsley – chopped

1 Tbsp of tarragon – chopped

With a food processor, grate the carrots and black radish. Place the grated vegetables in a bowl.

With a mandoline, thinly slice the fennel bulb (1.5 mm – 1/16″). Set aside.

Prepare the vinaigrette and whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice and vinegar as well as the sea salt and pepper.

Pour the vinaigrette over the grated vegetables and mix until well coated.

Add the slices of fennel on top, cover and place in the fridge until cold or ready to serve.

Before serving, add the herbs, mix and serve.

Frenchie and Puerto Vallarta

2 Apr

For a first time in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta proved to be everything I had expected.

Warm, colorful, charming and artistic.

From sunrise to sunset, the city exuded a calm and peaceful grace.

Oh and those sunsets! How could I forget them?

Alternating between old town and new town, oceanside and mountain terrain, Puerto Vallarta was everything I had pictured and imagined.

And for a first time in Mexico, it was perfect.

My Mexican friends always told me they couldn’t believe I had never gone south of the border.

My French friends just shoulder-shrugged along with a big eye roll – Quoi ? You’ve never been to Mexico?

The proximity of the country gave me no excuse.

And as I was leaving Puerto Vallarta driving to the remote mountain town of San Sebastián del Oeste, cruising on the winding roads of the Sierra Madre, climbing up and reaching new heights at 4,800 feet (1,460 m) – I thought to myself… why did I wait so long to come here?

Smells of mountainous dusty roads and green leafy trees slowing moving with the crisp air moving through.

Corsican memories coming back with wild herbs and pine-oak scents floating around and rushing through the rolled down car windows.

Hawks circling under the bright sun.

The greenish and blueish tint of the agave plants in the sun easily attract the eye.

The coffee roasting in the sun with its strong aroma released for all to enjoy while touring a coffee plantation.

Lemon and grapefruit trees with heavy branches, ready to be harvested.

Cows running through the cobblestone streets followed by what seemed to be the smallest shepherd dog with the loudest bark.

And they all obeyed the tiny dog while passing older gentlemen with straw cowboy hats resting in the shade of the church.

It is always interesting to find and eat lunch in what appears to be someone’s house.

A tiny restaurant with 2 tables. Staircase going up to the bedrooms. Some local products in display to purchase.

And la señora making food in her kitchen while her husband takes orders.

The flipping noises of the soft tortilla dough balls exchanged from one hand to the other in a slapping sound.

The clinging metal press used over and over to flatten fresh thin tortillas.

Listening attentively to the sounds of food being prepared away from customers’ eyes – I almost didn’t hear the host dropping a bowl of fresh salsa on the table with a cuidado that could only mean one thing: spicy!

The streets of old Puerto Vallarta offered the best adventures and discoveries.

Watching women make quesadillas and juices.

Tasting tequila from the small shack shop next to the bus stop and around the corner from the abandoned rusty truck.

Dipping my finger in honey samples made locally.

And stopping for a bite at the tortilleria.

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Eating lunch at the Ocean Grill restaurant is an experience of its own.

A bus ride to Boca de Tomatlán, a water taxi to the restaurant, cliffs and oceanside views, a pristine cove and delicious food.

The octopus dish was by itself a good enough reason to travel to Ocean Grill.

The secluded cove accessible only by boat looked like a movie set or something created by computer technology.

You can find it all in Puerto Vallarta.

The modern and the old.

The tourists and isolated neighborhoods.

The beach restaurants targeting foreigners.

As well as the small food places barely lit at night attracting local residents for a fun meal amongst friends.

The city allowed for my many food guilty pleasures.

Sampling fresh fruit and seafood at the food stalls.

Coconuts, melons, mangoes, oranges.

Ordering a taco to go and a freshly pressed fruit juice.

Picking out chocolate truffles made locally at Xocodiva.

Picking out samples of chorizo to try on the spot.

Smelling the bubbling pots and pans with meats and stews at street corners.

The experience at El Mole de Jovita where the black bean dip is slowly mixed with mole poured from a hot dish meticulously stirred and guarded outside for all to see was exquisite.

I could also tell you about the outdoor dinning experience at the Vista Grill with stunning views of the city and a seared tuna paired with eggplant cakes that I cannot forget.

Oh and a passion fruit crème brûlée – exoticism paired with a French classic.

It wasn’t surprising that I wanted to make inspired food from this Mexico trip after landing back in Boston.

Colors from the trip.

Flavors and fragrances.

Ingredients noted along the way.

And a celebration of spring.

I wanted something easy to make and even easier to eat.

Something I could picture myself eat on the terrace of beautiful and secluded Villa Savana overlooking the city, reminiscing about a successful vacation.

A unique place worth a stay!

Fresh with cucumbers, green with avocados, creamy with Mexican cheese and colorful with hints of pink and purple.

A small verrine – not too much.

Reenergized, inspired and ready to tackle the Big Move.

Happy to finally come back with Mexican memories and delicious thoughts about a week spent in Puerto Vallarta.

Happy Spring and happy gazpacho!

Creamy Avocado Gazpacho Verrines with Smoked Salmon

4 seedless Persian cucumbers – sliced

3 ripe avocados – pitted, peeled and cubed

4 scallions – green and white parts – sliced

1 celery talk – sliced

0.5 Granny Smith apple – chopped

0.5 green pepper – sliced

2 garlic cloves – minced

2-3 Tbsp of chopped flat-leaf parsley

2-3 Tbsp of chopped cilantro

1.5 cup (355 ml) of water

1.5 Tbsp of sherry vinegar

1 Tbsp of olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

1.5 teaspoon of sea salt

freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon of ground coriander

3 oz (85 g) of queso fresco – Mexican cheese – crumbled (plus more for assembling the verrines)

juice of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lime

2 oz (55 g) of smoked salmon – sliced

red amaranth microgreens

In a blender, mix and purée all ingredients together except the salmon and microgreens.

Taste for seasoning. Add more salt if needed.

Variations: omit the cheese if you are lactose intolerant. Remove the lime if you don’t enjoy sour. Add more water if too creamy/thick. Remove the salmon as a vegetarian option.

Set aside in a big container in the fridge to cool.

When ready to serve, prepare small glasses or verrines with smoked salmon at the bottom. Pour the gazpacho over it and top with a drizzle of olive oil, crumbles of queso fresco and a handful of red amaranth microgreens.

If you really like salmon, top the verrines with more salmon.

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