Monday, July 30, 2012

Raviolis aux cèpes

Monday 9 July
Our next night at the Aix Festival was a new opera by George Benjamin, Written on Skin.  It's based on an old Provençal story - boy meets girl, boy loves girl, husband makes girl eat boy's heart - so it was perfectly in place at the modern-brutalist Grand Théâtre de Provence.

We held body and soul together with a pre-opera glass of wine and some potato chips, and after the stunning finale, returned to Richeaume to cook up some more of our Place Richelme buys: fresh raviolis aux cèpes, dressed with butter and one of the local goat cheeses made with herbes de Provence.  With it we drank some rosé from (where else?) Aix.

Farmers' Market at Place Richelme, Aix

Sunday 8 July
We are staying near Aix-en-Provence, at a winery named Domaine Richeaume.

It is not only staggeringly beautiful, set in the red land topped by the ridge that ends in Cezanne's Mont Sant-Victoire, it has actual Roman remains on the property. 
After our late and fraught arrival last night, we took today easily.  We set the Garmin to find the place again (very important!) and drove into Aix for the Sunday farmers' market at Place Richelme, which our friend Ann had recommended to us. 

We loved the vivid colors and smells, and bought a nice range of local specialties: heirloom tomatoes ("variétés anciennes"), olive bread, three kinds of goat cheese, anchovy fillets "nature," black olives, and a savory sun-dried tomato spread.

Early that evening we went to the first of our operas at the Festival of Aix: Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges at the Theatre de Jeu de Paume.  It was appropriately magical, but a lot sexier than anything they'd come up with in the States.  For example, check out that teapot.

As we'd lunched late, we only needed snacks for dinner when we got back.  We and the kind housesitter Franzi drank a slightly sweet Château les Tonnelles Bordeaux, and ate crusty olive bread spread with goat cheese and that delicious tomato spread, which we'd love to make ourselves. 
The closest equivalent I've been able to find so far is this, from Kathleen Finn's The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.
Diffusion de Tomate Provençal
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red medium bell pepper, peeled, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped (1 ½ cups)
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped (1 cup)
6 to 8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (¾ cup)
12 Niçoise olives, chopped
3/4 tablespoon capers
2 cups chopped fresh basil
In a small sauté pan, warm the oil over medium heat.  Add bell pepper, onions, and garlic and cook until soft.  Add the chopped tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and capers and cook gently.  Remove from heat.  When cool, add the basil.  Add coarse salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Patisserie Paul, the Paris Airport

Saturday 7 July
When things go wrong, they go really wrong.  We flew out of Edinburgh, but our flight to Paris was a half hour late, and Charles de Gaulle is such a maddeningly huge and badly-organized airport that despite running as hard as we could, we missed our plane to Marseille by 5 minutes. 
The nice lady at the Air France desk got us onto the next plane and gave us sandwich vouchers, which we spent at the airport version of Paul, where the bread looked like bread and the fillings looked real instead of plastic.  We had two sandwiches: tuna Dieppoise and pavot poulet, with orange juice.
We got into Marseille at dusk, picked up our car, wrestled with the Garmin, and spent a couple of hours driving in all the wrong directions.  But by midnight, we found our place and collapsed into bed.

Howie's Victoria Street, and some music at Sandy Bell's

Friday 6 July
After a literally stunning afternoon out at Ian Hamilton Findlay's garden, Little Sparta, we came back jubilant, bone-tired, and a touch gobsmacked.

It was all we could do to stagger up Victoria Street to a restaurant we'd seen and been attracted to, Howie's.
Of course, on a Friday night they were booked to the gills, but the kind manager said she saw a table where the couple looked like they would be moving on soon, and the young barman got us some glasses of wine as we sat on a banquette watching less hopeful diners get shooed off.  We were happily seated within 20 minutes for what turned out to be  our best meal in Edinburgh.
We had started off drinking a Trivento Tribu syrah 2011, and we then went on to an even nicer malbec from the same vineyard.
Our starters with one plate of game terrine (pigeon, pheasant, chicken, and smoked bacon) with spiced orange marmalade, and another of locally hot-smoked salmon paté rilletes with semi-pickled cucumbers and salad.
Our mains were confit of duck leg with spicy tomato cassoulet of chickpeas, onions and chorizo, and slices of a juicy haunch of Rutherford Estate roe deer, served with a potato cake topped with rutabaga-like neeps, blackcurrent jus, and arugula.  The latter even put the Witchery venison in the shade.  All the flavors were strong, simple, and well combined.
On our last night in Edinburgh, we hoped to hear some good Scottish music, so we walked over to a local place called Sandy Bell's.  There was such a crowd that you could barely hear the musicians, and one guy even wanted to start a fight over Holt resting on someone else's seat.  But everyone else we met (two identical twins who were not so identical; a recently-bereaved singer and her 81-year-old pal; editor of a physiological journal at Cambridge; and a guy with a dog who should have been "Garryowen" from Ulysses but was too good-natured) was cheery and welcoming.  We stood and were stood to a round of creamy Dark Island ale, and had a wonderful last night in Edinburgh.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Popular Culture Dinner at Spoon

Thursday 5 July
Barbara has spent her Edinburgh days mooching around the museums, and today got to wave the Scottish flag in front of St. Giles' Cathedral as the Royals gathered for the meeting of the Order of the Thistle.  In the past three days of "Holyrood Week," when the Queen is in residence here, we have seen more men in kilts and more women in silly hats than in our entire previous lives.  (Note for the future: wearing a tiny "fascinator" hat makes anyone whose butt is bigger than a twinkie look ridiculous.  Get a rear view mirror, ladies, and reconsider.)  Even Kate M. wore a reasonable-sized hat that didn't quite match her yellow coat for the ceremony, and Princess Anne looked very dashing despite the enormous feather.  The Queen, unfortunately, didn't hove into view from this aspect.

But in the meantime Holt has been conducting serious business at a conference on Roman popular culture.  Tonight was the obligatory conference banquet, so we gathered at a restaurant called Spoon near the university.  It's the sort of place where the tables, chairs, plates, and cutlery are all unmatched - typical university boho vibe.
For a set menu, the Scottish-style food was good, and there were always three choices, including a vegetarian option, which we, of course, avoided. 
For starters we had Cullen Skink, a thick creamy smoked haddock soup with potatoes; and a clod of Dingwall haggis (again, unobnoxious - and now we've even had black pudding with it as a Full Scottish Breakfast) on a potato and apple rosti with some greens and mustard dressing.
Mains were venison stew with carrots, neeps, and potatoes; and a little tranche of grilled salmon with "spring cabbage" (apparently there are also summer and winter varieties), thyme, and lemon dressing.
Desserts were cranachan (a little pot of lightly flavored cream with raspberry jam at the bottom) served with a stick of shortcake; and a rich dark chocolate and coffee walnut slice with Campbelltown (whiskey) crème fraiche.
It was great to chat with the conference organizers and participants at Spoon (rhymes with "Scone," as in "Stone of").

The Witchery, Edinburgh

Wednesday 4 July
First, we want to give a shoutout to our lunch spot, which was called Oink.  Actually it doesn't need a name, because this hole in the wall has an entire pulled pig in its front window.  They pile the pork on a brown or white bun, add a smear of haggis (surprisingly inoffensive) or sage and onion dressing (preferable), decorate with relishes of sweet chili sauce or apple (we recommend both), and hand it to you.  Makes an excellent quick meal.
Our dinner venue, however, was as spiritually far from Oink as it is possible to get: The Witchery hotel and restaurant, right in front of the entry to Edinburgh Castle.

The view through the portal actually looks like a castle itself.  The darkened dining room was welcomingly warm after the chilly fog outside (though the host greeted us with "It's like Malaysia in here!"), and had elegant painted wood ceilings, elaborate lights, candles, and beribboned napkins. 

Every local supplier is named and praised on the menu.  We started with Guy Grieve's scallops baked with herbs, garlic, and Iberico pancetta (much subtler than the usual chorizo); and six luscious oysters from the Lindisfarne nature reserve.
Then we progressed to hot-smoked Loch Duart salmon with warm sea vegetables (samphire, perhaps?), thick sweet potato chips and oyster hollandaise; and gamey rump of Borders roe deer on a crusty circle of pommes Anna, adorned with chocolate oil, a few dice of roasted squash, wild garlic, and a little purple fig.
Our wine was a bottle of Mont Joie sauvignon blanc, and a glass of Montaguillon with the venison.  And tonight's scotches were Bun and Ben: Bunnahabhain 12 year old, light, flowery, but with a punch of alcohol; and the much richer and heavier Benromach Sassicaia, aged in the winecasks. 
We walked home in a romantic fog.  No, really.

Ondine, Edinburgh

Tuesday 3 July
In Edinburgh, temperatures were in the 60s, and there was almost dancing in the streets because it didn't rain today.  We managed to get up the hill to see Edinburgh Castle, and then down it again for a rest and a late dinner at Ondine, which is near our hotel.
It's a fairly tony spot, lots of 80s glitz around a raw bar.  There were plenty of people out this late, too.  The sun doesn't set until around 9:30 in Edinburgh, and it seems to encourage an almost Spanish dining culture (featuring good beer instead of cava, of course).
We started with six succulent, briny Caledonian Rock oysters (we had wanted Loch Fyne Rock, but they were out).  Then our mains were crisp fried haddock and chips on a tasty minted pea purée; and a grilled fillet of sea bass with a side of potato salad enlivened with tiny brown shrimp (good idea, that).  
To accompany, we had a nice white Rioja, and in order to encourage the local producers, a small shot each of single malt (Old Pulteney and Balvenie), which should help us get over our jet lag.

Somewhere Over the Atlantic

Monday 2 July
We're heading off to Edinburgh, via Paris (you'll see why above).  So we were condemned to Delta's typical meal of shreds of chicken breast in spicy tomato sauce over yellow rice; iceberg "lettuce" with cucumber and tomato; a little slab of cheese; and for Holt, bread, crackers, and 2 brownies (Barbara skips the bready objects). 
Luckily they give you free wine on international flights.  Helps you forget what you just ate.

Zucchini Pancakes with Lox

Sunday 1 July
We were trying to use up the stuff we've got in the fridge, which included 3 zucchini.  So we went back to this recipe adapted from Holt's original, well-stained, Moosewood Cookbook.
3 cups grated zucchini
3 eggs, separated (usually 4, but this is fine)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup minced scallions
1/3 cup flour
salt and pepper
butter for frying
Lightly salt the grated zucchini and let it sit in a colander for 15 minutes, then squeeze out excess moisture.  Mix with egg yolks, feta, mint, scallions, flour, salt and pepper.
Beat the egg whites to form soft peaks, and fold into the rest of the ingredients.
Melt a knob of butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Make silver-dollar size pancakes with a heaping Tablespoon of the batter, and brown them on both sides, 4-5 minutes a side.
We topped ours with drained yogurt, lox pieces, and chives.  You know, this would make a good milchig change-up for latkes some Chanukah.