Croissant: “However you choose to pronounce it at home, it is perhaps worth noting that outside of the United States, the closer you can come to saying “kwass-ohn,” the sooner you can expect to be presented with one.” Bill Bryson
Very seldom do I do something ‘on a whim.’ Going out on a limb for any reason is uncomfortable. That’s why I’m still not clear when I decided to go all in to learn a second language. Realizing I already knew many termes de cuisine française, why not pursue French, I decided. If I could cook it, I could speak it. While logic never was in play here, my enthusiasm was the only encouragement I needed. After checking out schools and heeding by advice from friends, I enrolled in a month-long immersion program on the French Riviera at the Institut de Français in Villefranche-sur-Mer. I attended each spring for four years.
Besides my months of study in France, at home I took classes, on-line courses and sometimes had tutors. Many Wednesday nights, determined to bingewatch my way to fluency, it was soirée cinéma chez moi. The thing is, dear Reader, I never mastered conversational French. Vocabulary and grammar, tense, mood and voices, I’m very good. Understanding others, always improving. Mixing it up with french speakers around a dinner table. Dommage.
I’ve always been an eager learner, studied and done well. My failing didn’t feel good. I was embarrassed. Still I returned year after year. Realizing that even while struggling, I was absorbing something, I persevered. After four years, combining immersion with other studies, I confidently believed I knew enough to survive safely in France by myself. That was the payoff. It’s when I began spending several months in Paris each winter. More importantly, that’s when I became a self-declared authority on croissants
IZOLA’S STORY and MORE. SURPRISING SAN DIEGO
While you and I may never bake a batch, I came to San Diego and discovered a croissant that stands tall with the many I tasted in Paris and Europe. Already winning awards and named the 2022 best bakery in US/Canada by Yelp, IZOLA is just 21 months old. Specializing in six different kinds of croissants, five flavors of sourdough breads, amazing Tahitian Vanilla Knots and more, it opened its ‘window’ for business soon after the Covid shutdown.
Here’s IZOLA’S story. Business and life partners Jenny Chen, a retail merchandiser, and Jeffrey Brown, a well-considered photographer, were caught in Paris just as I was when the borders began closing in March 2020. After returning safely to a lockdown in San Diego, Jeff says he decided to ‘start that bakery that had always lingered in my mind.’
Never mind that Jeff had never baked bread nor realized the complexity of making croissants. Re-purposing his third-floor photography studio located in East Village into a bakery, he and Jen went to work experimenting with croissants and breads that could meet their expectations. On June 10, 2020, piling 12 croissants carefully in a basket, she opened their third-floor window. Using ropes from their personal rock climbing cache she lowered the basket down to eager customers. For the next 8 months, in what became a community event, they sold baked goods out of their window. . “It takes 4 days to create handcrafted croissants,” he explains. “Our team layers butter from Normandy with our croissant dough to finish with 96 individual layers of butter that when proofed, then baked, expand to create a honeycomb texture that is an architectural marvel in and of itself.”
It’s been a wonderful winter. Heading home in one month. Missing my Gant family and friends. Mary
On most days I consider aging a privilege, not a predicament. Remember Andrew Rooney who spoke his mind on CBS Sixty Minutes? “It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone,” he said.
I deal with my aging-a-privilege chromosome month by month. Being especially joyful during the peak moments. Determined to work through the predicaments. Fixing pesky problems if they are fixable and being accepting if they aren’t. Seems to work.
Last week I spent an amazing day, one-on-one, with a friend of 70 years. Growing up together in Manchester, Iowa, Judy and I had seen each other only 3-4 times since high school graduation. She was our class math whiz and stuck with that until her last year in college when she switched to Special Education. A graduate degree and countless years in the classroom later, she became a Resource Specialist for Special Education in the San Diego school system. At times during our day together, we were finishing each other’s sentences. Scary, right? During the Pandemic I joined a monthly Face Time conversation with her and four other school chums. Now, more than 2 years later we’re still going strong.
Tuesday I drove to Yorba Linda to revisit the Nixon Presidential Library. I was first there in 2013 but it’s been totally renovated since then. Besides wanting to see this updated version and acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords (January ’73), I needed to deliver my Passport which verified my visiting all 13 libraries managed by the Archives.
I met Juan Ugarte who helped me fill out the necessary paperwork. (That’s him in a suit and me wearing jeans with frayed cuffs. Totally mortified. Sorry, Mom.) The staff seemed happy I celebrated this occasion at their library, looking on as Juan give me my medal. Several guides gave me tours proudly showing off their new “digs” with upgraded more realistic and factual exhibits.
What began in the summer of 1963 at the Hoover Library in West Branch, Iowa, ended in March 2023 in Yorba Linda. I’m very pleased.
SHORTCUT CHILI CHICKEN adapted from I Dream of Dinner (so you don’t have to) by Ali Slagle
While I can’t feed the world’s hungry children, I can be more responsible about the food I buy and more efficient in handling it. I recently purchased I Dream of Dinner (so you don’t have to) by the multi-talented Ali Slagle.
Slagle’s book in not a conventional cookbook but may be the book you need to reignite your cooking chops following the drudgery of cooking 3 meals a day during the Pandemic. She can help you put a delicious dish on the table using fewer than eight ingredients in less than 45 minutes. Her recipes are spicier than I usually like but I either adjust the spices or, if I’m feeling daring, adjust my palate.
This widely popular chicken chili, the first recipe I made from this book, is from her Mom. Ali and everyone who knows Ali’s mom love it.
1 Medium Yellow Onion, coarsely chopped 2 pounds of Ground Chicken 1/4-1/2 cup Ketchup 1 24 or 28 ounce can of Tomato Puree 1 12 to 16 ounce jar of medium-hot jarred salsa 2 15-ounce cans of pinto, black or any beans of your choice for chili 2 teaspoons any Hot Sauce (Optional) 2 Tablespoons of ground Cumin (start with 1 TBS) 2 Tablespoons of EVOO Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high before adding the coarsely chopped onion, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook for 3-5 minutes until they are softened but not yet browned. Push to one side of pot.
Put in the ground chicken. Season generously with S&P. (Yes, in addition to the S&P you’ve already used.) Cook, without stirring, for 5-8 minutes. Break the chicken into big pieces, stirring in the onions and cook until opaque, 2-5 minutes.
Stir in 1/4-1/2 cup of ketchup. If you are adding hot sauce, do it now. Stir into the mixture until it is mostly absorbed. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened and flavorful. If it gets too thick, add water.
Drain and rinse 2 15-ounce cans of the beans of your choice. Stir in the beans and cook until heated.
Coarsely chop 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and stems and stir in just before serving.
Cathy O’Connell and I have broken bread in London, Paris, Aspen and El Jebel, sharing wonderful meals and experiences together. But nothing tops the hilarity and merriment of Christmas dinner at her brother Barney’s condo in Encinitas (Cali) last Sunday night.
2023, MAKE MEMORIES
For the past 10 years I’ve turned my keys over to The Gant and taken a solo winter adventure to parts unknown. I plead guilty to grumbling about the pivot from home to rental each year but have settled into being more streamlined, doing with less. This winter, hoping to begin a writing project, all I needed was a quiet landing in an English-speaking country.
As with everything I do, my family jumped in to make it happen. For Emma, a senior at Point Loma Nazarene U. in San Diego, it was a no-brainer.“Why not move to one of the small beach towns near me,” she suggested.
Raise your hand if you ever considered inviting your grandmother to live nearby during your college years! Following Emma’s suggestion and after Grandma signed on, her mom (that’s my daughter), Melissa, jotted down a few communities they thought I’d like. Recalling that I once almost rented a flat with no kitchen, Missy also pulled up VRBO and began searching herself.
And that’s how, following a 1,000-mile drive from Aspen, I just settled into a lovely townhouse, with a fully-stocked kitchen, 80 stair steps from the Pacific Ocean in Solana Beach. What makes it especially fortuitous is Emma was just accepted into the Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program in Duke University’s School of Medicine so, like her sister Clara, who is in Terre Haute, both are enrolled in year-round programs. I am lucky to be here with her this winter.
2022, CELEBRATE MEMORIES
Last fall I stopped my world and got off. Many of you will relate to my on-going dilemma. When I moved back to Aspen in 2013 and moved into my furnished condo, I brought with me the contents of two houses. In time I’ve gotten rid of the furniture but I’ve always kept my 10’x15’ storage unit which is loaded with wall to ceiling boxes.
Every year my very able CPA gets more exasperated that I don’t deal with this. Early on he was sympathetic, a difficult job, raw emotions. Running out of excuses, four years ago I explained I couldn’t bear to get rid of my Christmas decorations. That excuse, which I also used the following year, did not fly. Yes, I could understand his not understanding why I didn’t understand the wasteful co$t involved.
Last October, weighed down with too much baggage, I went cold turkey with my storage addiction. For one month I shut down my life. Literally. Four days a week I made the 30-mile commute to forage through boxes packed in 2004 and 2013. Whatever was in them, labeled or not, I obviously hadn’t needed. Although my family and friends grew tired and downright rude about my pestering them to take items, most things were too nice to ditch.
On the days I wasn’t in Carbondale at the warehouse, I was dispersing what I’d unpacked to charities, libraries and the like. My favorite stop was the Aspen Thrift Shop managed since 1949 by local volunteers, primarily women who are my friends. This reminded me what I was doing for one month, they do every day.
It was hot and dusty work. Even wearing gloves, brutal on my nails and abusive to my manicure! Paper cuts do hurt. I bruise easily so my arms were a eerie shading of black-and-blue. A time or two there was blood involved. Albeit longer hours/days and fewer breaks or snacks, I wondered, was this a glimpse into life as an Amazon warehouse employee?
Each box I broke down for recycling was a victory. I thought this would be tough emotionally, it wasn’t. I shed a tear every so often but laughed more as I was reminded of silly memories, appreciating a Life well lived and still plowing forward. When I was finished, had swept out my unit and pulled down the folding door, I don’t know who was happiest, Me, Melissa or My Friends. Probably, all of the above.
Hugs, Love and Happy New Year, Loyal Readers
DORIE, ALWAYS AT HER BEST
Perhaps, like me, you’ve had enough sweets, drink and holiday fare…..until Super Bowl weekend or, perhaps, Valentines Day. While I don’t often include meat in my menu, when I do I want it juicy, ultra-flavorful and tender to the max. And, leftovers. A must. This is my go-to recipe for winter. A flank steak is more affordable than most cuts. The marinade is the kicker. It’s magic. And, it works with many cuts of beef and chicken cutlets.
This marinade, with its 1-2 punch both flavors and tenderizes the steak and then is used to sauce it. (TIP: To have more sauce, I doubled this recipe which keeps nicely in the refrigerator for 4 days.)
This can also be turned into fabulous-tasting sandwiches or a delicious salad
Two inches of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 tsp sugar 1/4 cup soy sauce, low-sodium preferred 2 tablespoons olive oil or neutral oil Finely grated zest and juice of 2 large or 4 small limes 1/4-1/2 cup cilantro (including tender stems), finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1 flank steak, 18 ounces total (or, 2 skirt steaks or 1 hangar steak or chicken cutlets, if desired)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the curry paste in a medium bowl and mash it together with the ginger, garlic and sugar. Add the soy sauce, oil, lime zest and juice and the cilantro, stirring to blend. Taste, and add more curry paste or garlic, as needed.
Place the meat in a dish that will hold it snugly. Pour over the marinade, then rub it into both sides of the meat. Cover the dish and either let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate it for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. (If you’re refrigerating the meat, it might be easier to just pack everything into a zip-top bag.) Remove it from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.
When you’re ready to cook, remove the meat from the marinade, scrape whatever solids may be stuck to the meat back into the bowl and pat the meat dry.
Use cooking oil spray to grease a grill pan or cast-iron skillet and place over high heat. Add the meat. if you’re cooking 2 steaks, don’t crowd them. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the meat’s thickness. (A flank steak will cook faster than a skirt or hanger – it may need just 2 to 3 minutes on a side.) Turn the meat over and cook until done just as you like.
To check on the meat, make a slight cut to the meat and take a peek, remembering that the meat will continue to cook a bit after it comes off the heat.
Transfer to a cutting board to rest. Season with salt and pepper and let the steak sit for a few minutes while you reheat the marinade. Bring the marinade to a boil in a microwave (HIGH) or in a pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Cook for a few minutes, then remove from the heat.
Slice the rested steak as thick or thin as you like, against the grain. Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve warm.
TIP: I suggest serving this with Ina Garten’s Sautéed Broccoli
Years ago I flew to the Food Blogger Conference in Seattle to join twenty other French Friday with Dorie members to support Dorie Greenspan, the keynote speaker. We were part of a virtual group cooking through her latest award-winning book, “Around My French Table.”
At that time, it had been 30-some years since my being in a plane crash. After trying everything from pills to hypnosis to single malt scotch, I was still terrified to fly. Usually flying alone, I never chatted with seat-mates, watched no movies, didn’t catch a wink and if I’d spot a plane nearby, I’d alert the stewardess.
On the Seattle flight, shortly after taking off, my seat mate who I later discovered was a psychiatrist, psychologist or something, said, “You look like you’re a worrier.”
At that time, dealing with several issues including grief and wanting to close down the conversation, I responded, “Ya think?”
Without losing a beat, he began, “I can help you with that.”
In short he correctly reminded me that worrying is not productive. “Do this,” he suggested. “Every time you begin to worry about something, write it down, park it someplace and do not think about it. Then pick a day. I would say for you it’s every Wednesday at 3pm. When you check out your Worry List every week at 3pm, I predict most of those worries would have already solved themselves and some now just seem silly.”
Readers, you just heard the short version but you get it. He finished his remarks just as we were landing in Seattle. Ironically, I sorta liked that idea although my family thought it was bonkers and my friends scoffed. Still, I tried it for a time, it seemed to work but like every How-To idea or diet, I forgot about it.
In September I decided to dust off and tweak that old idea which had worked so well. In the past three years, since the Pandemic began, I felt I’d lost my Joy and despite what I considered ‘Herculean’ efforts, I couldn’t find it. Like each of you, I’ve been knocked down a time….or four or five, but I’ve always bounced back quickly. For the Life I’m now privileged to live, this lack of feeling Joy, if you will, is disappointing to me, embarrassing to write about and even disgusting. But what I’ve found from ten years of writing this blog, when I voice a concern or sadness or muddle and ask myself, “Should I write this?” there are always a few readers who have similar feelings but not a vehicle to share it or a confidante to tell it.
In the past month while thinking about this post, I’ve wondered what Joy really looks like in Year 2022. Each day I’m trying to come up with and jot down what I call “Joy Juice.” (Well, it’s better than drinking it.). Even finding $50 in my jean’s back pocket recently counts!
OUR BEARS AT PLAY
DORIE’S FRENCH APPLE CAKE, A GENIUS RECIPE
I first baked Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake on December 8, 2012 when I was a member of French Fridays with Dorie. Every week we would make a group recipe choice, bake it and write up a post about it on our blogs. Every since then I’ve baked at least 10 of these cakes each year. This apple cake was my favorite recipe in the book and the favorite of many “Dorista’s.”
Later it was celebrated in the first of the Food52 genius cookbooks, Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook. At the time, one of its editors wrote, ‘know that apples cobbled together with gently boozed up, custardy cake are going to be well received.’
MARIE-HELENE’S (Dorie’s good friend) FRENCH APPLE CAKE
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (If you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbs. dark rum
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
8 Tbs. (1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled)
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it. If you use a larger pan, it will lose some of its height.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.
3. Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks. If possible, use 4 different apples of any kind.
4. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish. Bang the pan on the counter 2-3 times to remove air bubbles.
5. Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 to 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
6. Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.
SERVING: The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream. Marie-Hélène’s served her cake with cinnamon ice cream and it was a terrific combination.
STORING: The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature. It’s best not to cover it tightly because it’s too moist. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.
Pretty sure the question was, “Where did the summer go?”
What hasn’t yet left the building is this year’s bountiful crop of tomatoes. As long as we can still slice and salt a ripe, juicy tomato, pile it between two slices of white bread slathered with butter or mayo, it’s still summer.
Here’s another thought. If you bake Dorie’s recipe for her Simple Tomato Tart and tweak it to your liking, you’ve got a friend forever. Simple is the key word here. What cranks this tart up a notch is the two-mustard/honey mixture spread over the crust before adding the sliced tomatoes. This works served warm, room temp or cold for any meal or with drinks.
Labor Day week-end is when I pull together my winter game plan. As many of you know, I leave Aspen for the 4-month ski season. The business woman side of me kicks in when I turn my keys over to The Gant for winter rentals. Since many of you have asked, yes, it’s a pain to re-organize my condo for renters.
It’s also given me the ability to not only live at The Gant but also winter in places like Maui, San Miguel de Allende and Paris. That’s why the scale tips heavily to letting strangers sleep in my bed!
This year I’m sitting tight in a (yet unchosen) tiny, beach cottage on the southern coast of California. During the Summer of 1963 while attending summer school at the U of Iowa, I drove over to nearby West Branch to visit the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library which had just opened. I was blown away by that library. On that day I promised myself I would visit every presidential library in the country. There were three others.
Unfortunately/fortunately, Life got in the way of that dream. When I found myself alone ten years ago, there were thirteen libraries! Beginning in 2013, I began to fulfill that promise . I completed my journey on November 16, 2018, during a raging snow storm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is why perhaps at last count only 99 other people have done this.
I planned to write about this phenomenal adventure when I became unable to travel independently anymore. However, now is the time. I have no end game nor know where I’m going with this. It’s not for profit, just for my personal pleasure. I enjoy a wonderful life but it’s impossible to find quiet blocks of time when I’m gone all winter and have a busy summer /fall in Aspen.
“Presidential Libraries are home to hundreds of thousands of artifacts. They’re storehouses of billions of records. They preserve legacies, offer insights (and opinions) on history and are a testament to the incredible power of the office of president of the United States.” Author Kathleen McCleary
A SIMPLE TOMATO TART adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking with Dorie
3-5 medium and large tomatoes, depending on size of tart pan
1 Tablespoon of Dijon Mustard and 2 Tablespoons of Grainy Mustard
1-2 Tablespoons of Honey, to taste
1/2 Cup of grated cheese such as Gruyère; Comté or cheddar
Olive Oil for drizzling
Fine Sea salt and freshly ground Pepper
Variety of herbs (optional), basil leaves, thyme or rosemary springs, finely chopped parsley, basil or cilantro
1. Mix together your favorite 8-x-11 inch pastry/tart dough or use store-bought pie dough. Partially bake (Blind Bake) per the recipe/package instructions, cool and set aside on your tart pan of choice.
2. Slice your tomatoes fairly thickly (1/2-inch thick slices). Place a double thickness of paper towels on a large plate or cutting board and sprinkle with salt. Cover with a double layer of paper towel. (I did this twice.) Allow to drain for at least 20 minutes or you can also do ahead and store in the fridge overnight.
3. Center a rack in the oven and preheat t0 400 degrees. Place the partially baked crust on a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat.
4. Whisk together the mustards and honey in a small bowl, adjust to your taste and spread the mixture over the BOTTOM of the crust. Tear and spread basil over the mustard mixture. Top with 1/4 of a cup of grated cheese. Layer the tomatoes in a single layer over the mustard. Season with pepper and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil.
5. Bake to tart, depending on size, for 20-30 minutes or until tomatoes can be easily pierced with a knife. At that point sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and heat for another 2-3 minutes before removing from oven..
6. Scatter finely chopped herbs of your choice over the top. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.