Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ode to an Hermes scarf

I tuck my chin in towards my chest and squint against the dust swirling around me. The Mistral winds have arrived out of nowhere. They sneak and slide, having all but pushed Summer, that swanning girl, out the door. Instinctively, I reach up and pull my scarf tighter around my ears.

It is my old Hermes scarf, my favorite that has travelled with me all over the world. Objects come into our lives, some disappear mysteriously, others stay. I try not to be too attached but there are pieces that give comfort. They tell me of who I once was and remind me of where I am now.

No one wanted this particular scarf, bought on ebay for 50 Euros. Already, it was trouée, a whole in one corner and touched by a slight ink stain. It was exactly what I was searching. Something I could wear hard without the guilt of ruination. Nothing precious and yet appreciated. A little glamour, linking back to another life before of glorious Manhattan to carry into the desert of the unknown.

I held it over my mouth during a sandstorm in Mali. Covered my head with it in Samarkand, folded the worn parts under to look chic in Udaipur. And in one of my favorite moments des mes voyages, I wrapped it over my hat with a firm bow under my chin while crossing the Serengeti, clinging to my sweetheart on the top of a barreling truck, exposed to the wind. Smiling so hard it hurt from the excitement of being.

The Mistral carries a different tune but flaps my scarf with the same song. The dogs run out ahead along the quay of the Rhone and I follow quietly in my quiet life. So soundless with nothing but the howl of the wind that I could wonder if I really did have those adventures or only dreamed them. My hand reaches up instinctively again to be sure, to secure this object, now frayed, luxury lost but memory-filled. A talisman.

PS. Thank you to all who responded so honestly and thoughtfully regarding my previous post.
I have a very exciting follow-up to it, coming soon...
PPS. - Thank you for all of your amazing responses! We are out of town and I will respond correctly next week...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Being true

I am putting aside what was ready for today as I have been thinking about Lou Reed's passing. And I can't say that I was a fan. I don't own any of his records and we couldn't afford the tickets to his concert in Arles' Antique Theatre a few years back. But I am an admirer. Because I know enough about him to have seen that he was true, to himself and to what he wanted to create. He was...a word that I tend to dance around gingerly these days...authentic. 

Let's see how that word is defined... well, there are actually quite a few options in Merriam-Webster but I'll choose what suits me: "Authentic: real or genuine, not copied of false. True and accurate. True to one's own personality, spirit or character." And interestingly, as related to music: "of a cadence: progressing from the dominant chord to the tonic." My musicians friends, is that appropriate for his music? Tell me, I am curious.

I am ambling towards a question and feel free to answer or not as it suits you. I know that there is talk in the popular parlance of "living an authentic life" but there seems to be so much space around that idea that I am not sure what to make of it. Or maybe I have put upon it a sticky veneer that is ready to be wiped away. Mr. Reed might have shredded such a feel-good cliché on his guitar while imperceptibly nodding his head in time.

And yet, we all need comfort. Reassurance. So often we look outwards for it but if I can remember, I will tell you along with myself that it is there within, that diamond bright of true. Real or genuine, not copied or false. 

What does authenticity mean to you? Does it mean the same thing as "being true"? Is it something that matters in your conscious thoughts or efforts? If I am being honest, really honest, I don't have an easy answer myself or at least not one that I could explain quickly. But I have a feeling that it is not in the absolute nor in the gigantic. Not all of us can soar through a life but we do, each of us, have our  wings.

I am going to read Ben Ratliff's article on Lou Reed this afternoon. If you would like to join me, you can find the link here.

And I will close by saying that I did wait on Lou Reed once in New York, while he was dining outside on a warm summer evening, leaning in closely to his companion, Laurie Anderson. I am no gossip but I find it worth mentioning that while Lou Reed will remain acclaimed in music history as a "punk poet" the man I saw that evening was every inch a gentleman. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sometimes cloudy days

Sometimes cloudy days are best.

For seeing.

For thinking.

For being quiet.

Have a lovely weekend...

And if you need permission to go take a nap or read or watch an old movie? Well, I give it to you!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Food E

My Mom and I were having a conversation that we had already had many times before. "No, no, no you and Remi are real cooks," I insisted. "You both are unafraid to try anything, no matter how complex and you make it look soooo easy. Me, I am a lazy cook." "No, you're not. You cook all the time!" she responded without losing a beat.

I thought about that for a second. And to the corn-pepper quesadillas that I had whipped up to go with the last dregs of my chili for lunch. Dinner was already forming in my mind. I knew that I had to use the zucchini and so would probably shred it in a sauté with shallots, cumin and curry. That would go on top of teriyaki salmon (I am big on layering stuff in bowls) and topped with some sort of tahini sauce (it ended up being tahini, soy, lemon, olive oil). So maybe Mom was right (and isn't she always?).  But then again, all of this is super simple to do. There are no "techniques" involved, no themes, no recipes.

And while I do own some fine cookbooks, I usually read them like novels in hopes that something will filter down to my Swiss-cheese memory (one aside about my memory problems and food--my Mom will back me up in that I may not be able to remember the name of the movie that I watched last night but I will be able to recall exactly what I ate the first time I was at say, Uglesich's, more than twenty years ago--Muddy Water Trout with anchovies and jalapenos, easy).

Instead, I usually just look at what I have and make something up. That is why I tend to call myself a lazy cook and not really a foodie, which implies not only encyclopedic knowledge but derring do. But I do love to eat, I do love my wine.

So perhaps instead I am a Food E as in Food (that's) Easy.

Somehow things that come over the internet seem to strike me in a more immediate "Oh, I need to have that now," type of way and so, looking over what I brought back from the market today (plus a bag of oysters and another of mussels that were immediately put into the fridge), I can see that I would like to make:

Sharon Santoni of My French Country Home's mind-bogglingly simple roasted tomato soup
David Lebovitz's Moules Frites (happening tonight)
Saveur's Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce, link found via their newsletter
Gallivanta of silkannthreades' Crostata (I am so not a baker--luckily as I already eat my weight in cheese--but this looks tempting)

Other food goings on that caught my attention around Ye Olde Webbe?
-- The hilarious NK of Bread is Pain has launched (after many of us begged) a new blog, Bread is Pain FoodThis recipe for leeks and pancetta pasta was delish.

--By chance, charming Jeanne at I dream of just posted today about her recent experience at the outdoor markets in the ancient Kingdom of Bhutan. Take a look-see, it is fascinating.

-- Now, this doesn't quite count but my friend Jennifer of the Gustia blog has mentioned that she hopes to do a post on the recent olive harvest and pressing that happened recently at her house in Menton. I am still tapping my wristwatch on this one. Maybe if we ask her nicely? "Oh, Jenniferrrr...."
*UPDATE: Yay! A new post from her hot off the press: From Ventimiglia to Pigna*

-- Do you remember when I made a link to a lovely blog that I had stumbled upon while researching Hotel Crillon Le Brave? That is Map and Menu and it is a delight. Meredith is an extremely talented lifestyle photographer and her honey, Michael is a charming web developer so they make a great team. They love to travel and their enthusiasm is infectious. Plus, they take their huge black Lab, Orvis, with them whenever they can, so seriously, what is not to like? I can't wait to hear about their trip to New Orleans (and Edgar, if you see this, they just came back from Sonoma).

--Speaking of puppers, well, I can be a little slow on the uptake and so just noticed that the beautiful (inside and out) Kristin Espinasse has a few videos on her epic blog, French Word-A-Day (I also just noticed that she has 42,085 readers. Yes, you read correctly). Now, if you pop over there right now, you can see photos of a young Smokey (one of her two insanely lovable Golden Retrievers--shh, don't tell Ben and Kipling) but you can also watch a video of Kristin making cake with Smokey's Mom, Braise here:

--To toot my own horn (woot! woot!), you can read my post for the Tuesday Dinner series on Ann Mah's blog here. In it, I probably whine about being lazy some more but give a good recipe for a Provençal tart. Now, I realize that it was published some time ago so why bring it up? Because this week's participant of the series is none other than Patricia Wells. Me. Patricia Wells. Same series. I nearly fainted. (And yes, Ann's book is absolutely as great as I said it was. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll become seriously hungry).

--An apple a day? Laoch at Counterintuitivity recently provided this link to a TED talk with William Li about foods that starve blood vessels feeding the growth of cancer cells and one of his readers gave a link to a list of foods that do so. It can be found here.

And I hope that this epic post (my longest posts are always about food, what does that say?) stirred some happy hunger out there as well. I will just finish by thanking my Mom for cooking for us from scratch every night of my childhood when I was growing up. Yes, it was considered outright wacky that she made such 'exotic' foods as "lasagna" and "chicken curry" in the 1970's Midwest of the U. S. of A but she did it anyway and gave me the lifelong gift of a love of food because of it. Merci, Maman! 

So do tell, what kind of cook are you?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kings of the mountain!

Well, hellooo there! I am actually guest-posting over at the uber-talented D.A. Wolf's blog Daily Plate of Crazy but do you think that I could leave you empty-handed? Bien sûr que non! Because I don't know about you but I am in serious need of fluffy pupper photos. Ben and Kipling are at their finest when they are dehors (aka outside) plus there is nothing like being up on a mountain -- one where some very special things happen -- to inspire their spirits to shine. 

If you would like to read my guest-post, something of a companion piece to my previous post, by all means please click here!

From my little family to yours, wishing you all a wonderful week ahead...

©Remi Benali--Merci, sweetheart for this photo!

to listen:

Friday, October 18, 2013

The lost village of Sadde

"Why don't we try that way instead of going directly to Avène?" I suggested, pointing straight ahead. A tiny flicker of surprise rolled over Remi's eyebrow. He is the suggester, the spot finder and an incredibly talented one at that. I am more of the "Can we head back now?" variety I have to admit. A lazy adventurer. But Remi is the real thing and there is never too far, too wide or too long to go.

So up the road we started and the further the car crawled, the steeper the hill, the blinder the turns and the worse the condition of the road. If I didn't have supreme confidence in his driving (and I do, this is a man who has driven down Africa from north to south), I would have peered continuously over the cliff's edge but instead I kept gazing forward, eager to see where the trail would lead. 

The sign had indicated a distance of two kilometers and yet that small journey seemed a world away. "Who would live here?" we both wondered. We pulled to a stop in front of a smattering of homes, each more neglected and sadder than the next. Appropriate, as the village is called Sadde. It is what had piqued my curiosity in the first place. And then to arrive in the middle of what is already the middle of nowhere and find it abandoned...well, it was a mystery. What had happened here?

Perhaps it was the ambiance, perhaps it was tom-foolery of the light but I had trouble finding my focus.

So many locked doors and shutters closed tight.

Paint left to chip and iron to rust.

A breeze chased and found me, trembling tough flowers and vines overhead.

It sent a deep chill through my bones. All of this loss...left me feeling sadder than Sadde.

"Heather, come on up here," Remi called to me quietly. I picked my way up a sloping stone staircase and took a sharp intake of breath.

"Nu-uh." I couldn't believe it for there, hidden amidst the ruins was a gorgeously renovated home, replete with a kidney shaped swimming pool suspended over the hills. It had been impossible to detect from the front but my, what a secret hideaway.

We laughed and began to see the village in a different light, especially eyeing (as we are want to do) un bergerie or sheepfold. Hmmm...we would keep the original elements of the sliding iron...

...and wooden doors but fill them in with steel-mullioned windows on the inside, add a sleeping loft, a fireplace and voila! The perfect vacation hut...

...with 360° of mountain tops for a view. Ah, not looking so triste after all, now is it? 

Appearances are tricky and this particular discovery was enough to make this adventurer, lazy or no, feel a warm glow of the heart. 

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Minute on the mountain

There are minutes of the ticking kind and minute, minutieuse, of the little. I have a tendency to be fond of both, most especially when they meet. 

High up on a mountain, a butte points over the Grands Causses, a valley known for its vultures swooping on currents of hot air.

A see of big and little so close, so close that they exchange confidences in the winds cupped around my ear.

 But rather than only look out...

...searching for the sea that can be traced at the horizon...

...I wonder at the waves at my feet. Rock, field and flower.

We feel content and languor beneath the shadows of rolling clouds.

PS. Remi and I wish to thank all of you that sent such kind comments and emails for his 50th birthday...