June 27, 2010

something's happening here

Our garden is showing signs of fruition...

We've already harvested the garlic scapes & planted more mixed salad greens & mesclun in place of the peppery arugula we ate shortly after cutting. Strawberries & cherry tomatoes are ripening, & the pepper plants & summer squashes are flowering. Basil, parsley, herbs & nasturtiums are growing exuberantly in their pots.

After waging a losing battle with the slugs, we've given up on beans, although the chard & spinach have a fighting chance now that we're keeping a forty-ouncer stocked for our voracious gastropods.

It still fills me with awe, the absolute bounty that comes from just a handful of tiny seeds.

We've been in Vermont for a little over a decade now, but this is our second vegetable garden since moving to the North East. While in San Francisco we had herb & veggie gardens, & at our little house on Potrero Hill a rosemary hedge that lined our front yard & from which our neighbors would take snips if their recipes or dinner inspirations called for it. While I miss the long & mild growing season on the West Coast, there is nothing like the anticipation & sheer excitement of the seasons & fall bounty in Northern climes.

some of last year's bounty

Growing up on the border of Québec, my parents kept a vegetable garden in our back yard during the short yet balmy summers. I remember helping my mother weed, catching garter snakes, & studying the seed packets that illustrated the veggies that were to appear, each placed on top of a stake which stood at the head of a neatly planted row. While studying as a Biology major in college, my fieldwork consisted partly of digging up sedges & studying their physiology, as well as drawing to-scale illustrations of their root systems & overall structure. I've always loved being around plants, but for many years I was at an arms-length from the botanical world as I pursued my other love, art. And now, so many years later, the two worlds have met again.

Our little Vermont bungalow has southern exposure & a perfectly sunny spot for a garden plot, something we missed while living in our loft space & village apartments prior to that. Of course, a patio garden or kitchen window herb garden is not out of the question in almost any space, but a combination of plant-eating cats & jungly, dark surroundings prevented us from putting the effort into it before finding our present abode. That & the fact that there are many organic farms & much incredible produce available to us in our area, making it easy to find wonderful food & support our local farmer's efforts. We are a short walk from the local Farmer's Market, & a slightly longer walk from the town's Food Co-op, both of which have fantastic selections of fresh, local fruits, vegetables & cheeses.

Regardless, there is nothing quite like walking into your back yard (or patio, or rooftop) & picking something fresh from your own garden & eating it within minutes of doing so. A renewed interest in people growing their own food has resulted in a crop of fantastic books & online resources to grow edibles in almost any type of space or situation, & most cities have community garden plots & a slew of programs, classes & organizations that can give you guidance if you prefer hands-on experience. It's not difficult to grow things, & highly rewarding, as well as a much more practical & efficient use of the energy that would otherwise go into the upkeep of a lawn, & a great way to use spaces like rooftops, balconies & empty lots to a higher potential.

June 25, 2010

a tale of two spectacles, or, eyeglasses: a love story

Yes, call me obsessed.

I recently lost my eyeglasses, frames that I had had for 15 years. Yes, you read that correctly: 15 years. Another person may have said to themselves, hey, I got many good years of use out of those frames, & now it is high time for a change.

But, good readers, without a twinge of irony, I must say that I loved those eyeglass frames. I felt they were part of my identity, & aesthetically, I found them beautiful & loved the way they complimented my face.

Allow me to go back in time, to the Mission District in San Francisco, where I first encountered the eyeglasses of my dreams...

But first, a brief bit of personal optometrical history: the first pair of eyeglasses I acquired was while I was in college in Ithaca, New York, when it became apparent that in order to make out the equations on the blackboard in the vast chemistry lecture hall, I needed eyeglasses. I got a pair of small, round John Lennon-esque spectacles, with tortoiseshell rims & those crazy wrap-around ear things that prevent them from falling off your head if you are looking down - quite handy for bicycling & skiing, etc. They were practical, & did the trick.

Fast forward to the mid-90s, when the thought of wearing the aforementioned frames in public on the fashionable streets of San Francisco was mortifying, & film subtitles were getting blurrier & blurrier. It was apparent I had to do something, so I found a well-respected optometrist in the Mission who also carried a great selection of frames. After spending a good afternoon trying on frames, I finally decided upon a pair of angular wire rims, nothing terribly special, but again, they did the trick & complimented my face well. But just "meh".

Feeling rather unsatisfied, & thinking that perhaps I should feel more than "meh" about these devices that would in effect become part of my facial features, I looked to the other end of the shop...

And then I saw them.

In the case of higher-end frames, the case I had written off as beyond my means at the time, were a pair of Alain Mikli black wire frames, with a lovely chunk of tortoiseshell on the bridge of the nose. Simple, chic & classy, with a slight cat-eye to them. Perfection!

It was love at first sight. The incredibly generous optometrist allowed me to pay for them in a few installations, so I could wear them out on the street that day. And, fifteen years later, they stood the test of time. I still loved them, & got compliments on them from friends & complete strangers alike.

And then I lost them.

I called the last place I remembered wearing them, & inquired into their lost & found. Thrice in one week. The kind & goodly folks who answered the phone were very patient & helpful, but alas, had not found them. So, in order to be able to drive & function as a normal sighted person, I got new glasses within the next few days.

My new frames are gorgeous: Kate Spade golden brown horn-rims, rimless on the bottom, with a beautiful pea-green color on the inside. Not the lightening bolt when I first tried on the Mikli's, but definitely a more mature, measured love when I saw them on the sparkly shelf in the optometrist's shop. I realized it was time to start considering a second pair, a spare, since it had become painfully obvious what a royal pain in the arse it is to be stranded without good eyesight. But I still missed my old pair.

And then I found them.

We went back to the restaurant/pub where I'd last remembered wearing them, &, not being able to let it go, I told the waitress the (abbreviated, I mean, I know I'm obsessed) story of my eyeglasses. And then she pulled them, the frames through which I'd viewed the world for over a decade, out from behind the cash register. I felt tears well up in my eyes, I'm ashamed to say.

Well then, Monsieur Mikli's, in the near future you will get lenses with my updated prescription,& in the meantime will be my spare pair. And Madame Spade, welcome. I think this is the beginning of a long, beautiful love affair.

June 21, 2010

ladies who dine

How lucky am I?

Once again, I was completely bowled over by the culinary prowess of these women. We feasted on delicious Vietnamese en plein air, then went inside my charming friend's stylish pad for dessert & Vietnamese coffee, & a suite of parlour games that had us laughing so hard I don't think there was a dry eye at the table.

A host of fireflies saw us to our cars when the festivities were over. Thanks again, ladies, for a wonderful evening!

Banh Dua Ca Ra Men
Coconut Créme Caramel

for the caramel
1/4 cup sugar (I used turbinado with good results)
1/4 cup hot water

for the custard
1 cup fresh or canned coconut milk
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°

to make the caramel
Cook the sugar in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until browned & melted. Stir the hot water into the caramel slowly, being careful to guard against splattering (the mixture will bubble vigorously). Boil the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved (about 2 minutes).

Pour the caramel into a 1 Quart soufflé dish or 5 4-oz. ramekins. Swirl the caramel around in the dish(es) to coat all of the surfaces with caramel.

to make the custard
Combine the coconut milk, milk & sugar in a medium saucepan over low heat. Scald until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs & vanilla together. Gradually whisk the hot coconut milk mixture into the eggs, blending thoroughly until creamy & uniform.

Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, or a pitcher for easier pouring. Pour the custard into the caramel coated dish(es).

to bake
Line a large roasting pan with 2 layers of paper towels. Put the souffle dish or ramekins in the pan, & add hot water to reach half way up the side of the pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not disturb the custard while it is baking, the "secret" to producing a smooth & velvety custard.

Remove the dish(es) immediately from the hot water & let cool for 1/2 hour. Chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

to serve
Run a cool knife around the edge of the custard & turn out onto dessert plates. Garnish with lime zest. We ate ours directly out of the ramekins for a more casual approach.

from "The Foods of Vietnam" by Nicole Rauthier

June 20, 2010

happy father's day

My Father & I at the Buffalo Zoo, making a new friend. I can see a lot of myself in my Father in this photo.

Thanks, Tav, for being a great Pop! XXOO

June 17, 2010

daydream getaway

This is where you will find me today, if I have that faraway look in my eyes...

A day in a summer spent in such airy loveliness & comfort would go something like this for me: after a morning of exploring the streets of Nîmes & environs, catching up on reading, spending afternoons painting, making dinner with fresh vegetables from the local market, & drinking a glass of red wine in the bath before retiring to bed...

from here via here

June 14, 2010


The Mister & I got away for several days, & drove up through the Green Mountains to one of our favorite cities. Montréal has been our vacation spot of choice for years now, & has never disappointed. We spend our days eating, walking, going to museums, hearing live music, & lolling in the many parks. I get to use my rusty French, & we don our more citified shoes & clothing pulled out from the back of our closets.

Montréal was also the city of my childhood, the nearest urban center where we used to go as a family & with school groups to take in museums & french cuisine (not to mention poutine!). Then, as a teenager, it was a place to go dancing & to bars where the drinking age was younger, & the bartenders, well, more lenient. Things have changed from the days of Tiki bars with cloyingly sweet mixed drinks & bad 80s cover bands. Although I hold those memories dear, the city feels like a new & fresh place, revisiting it in my adulthood.

Merci, á Montréal...

June 13, 2010

ladies who dine

I am lucky to know a group of women who are as obsessed with food as I am, & not only as connoisseurs, but as incredible cooks as well.

A few months ago they decided to start a monthly get-together which revolves around cooking a meal from a different culture, & I am thrilled to be included! I missed the first, which was Ethiopian cuisine, but have since swooned over Korean, & last month Mexican fare. I plan on documenting our feasts henceforth.

Here are some images from last month, hosted by my fabulous friend who lives in a gorgeous little one-room schoolhouse in the Vermont countryside.

fried ice cream

for the cookie crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp lime zest

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Lightly beat together the butter & eggs. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the egg mixture & mix well. Add the lime zest. Line an 8x8" pan with the mixture & bake at 350ºF for about 10 minutes. Let cool, & crumble into fine crumbs.

prepare the ice cream
Scoop the ice cream into ~1/4 cup-size balls, & refreeze.

prepare the sauce
Melt together 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate with 2 Tbsp sweet butter in a double boiler. Beat in 1/2 tsp cayenne or more to taste.

to cook
Remove the ice cream balls from the freezer just before you are ready to start frying them. Beat a couple of eggs lightly, & have them ready in a bowl right next to the bowl of cookie crumbs. Coat the balls in the beaten egg, then the cookie crumb mixture, then the egg mixture again, followed by a second coating of the cookie mixture.

Deep fry the coated ice cream balls in for about a minute until they just turn golden brown. Spoon some warmed chili-chocolate sauce over the top & serve immediately.

June 8, 2010

a little about me

Growing up just south of Montréal & just north of the Adirondack mountains, my childhood instilled in me an appreciation for both the natural & aesthetic worlds. As an adult I studied biology & art, & after many travels set up my studio with my husband & a couple of felines in a small town in the green hills of Vermont. I divide my time as a graphic designer & marketing stylist, scrimshander, painter & drawer of small things, & budding chocolatier.

Thanks for stopping by/merci pour votre visite!

If not credited or directed otherwise, photographs are by yours truly~ if you would be so kind, please credit me & ask permission before using my photos~ thanks!