FlàneurAn observer who wanders the streets of a great city on a mission to notice with childlike enjoyment the smallest events and the obscurest sights he encounters.

Tuesday was Macaron Day 2018, a celebration of this beloved morsel and to raise money for cystic fibrosis. Begun by Pierre Hermé in 2013, many Paris pattiseries now participate. I went to the source (Sylvia, pictured, works for Cystic Fibrosis) to donate and eat macarons.

It’s a rainy, bone-chilling cold Paris evening, providing me the perfect opportunity to rewind this past week for you. Before these seven days blur into “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium,” moments, here are mine. Deciding this week’s most unforgettable sighting was a toughie. I’m calling it a toss-up between
noted architect Frank Gehry and a young french mother.

On Thursday I took the metro to the Bois de Boulogne, a large public park in the 16th arrondissement. My destination was Foundation Louis Vuitton, the city’s newest art/cultural center located on the park’s western edge. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, he wanted “to design, in Paris, a magnificent vessel symbolizing the cultural calling of France.”

Mission accomplished.

I ate lunch at Foundation Louis Vuitton at its signature restaurant Le Frank, named for architect Gehry. The food was meh but sitting under his fish light sculpture worth the pricey meal. Gehry is obsessed with fish. In 1983 he was commissioned by Formica to design a fish lamp, his first, using their then-innovative plastic laminate.

Also on Thursday I was walking down the Rue de Rivoli when I approached a bus stop. Passengers were getting off while others waited to board. There was a snafu at the back door as a young mother chattering on a mobile (left hand) tried backing out of the bus while tugging a stroller (right hand). Bags were hanging from the stroller and, oh, the baby of course. After maneuvering it down the steps, her stroller landed with a loud thud. Mama’s talking never lost a beat. The gathering crowd watched in amazement as she gathered herself, making her way who-knows-where.

Mission accomplished.

It’s nice to pick a neighborhood bistro, always a friendly stop. Mine is La Fontaine Sully.

The July Column is a monument standing in the center of the Place de la Bastille to commemorate the Revolution of 1830. (Think actor Hugh Jackson.) It anchors my neighborhood and is the beacon to make my way home everyday.


Despite the weather, Parisians seemed intent on celebrating Easter week. While we North Americans are partial to jelly beans and Peeps, flavored marshmallow candy shaped into chicks and bunnies, the French prefer chocolate. For the myriad of artisanal chocolate shops in Paris, Easter is profitable.

Johana helps me choose my chocolate at Edwart’s. David Lebovitz recently featured this shop in his blog.

She insisted I sample a number of chocolates before choosing my own. By the time I finished sampling I didn’t need a box of chocolates!


Patty Price, an extraordinary baker and blogging colleague who lives in San Francisco, is in Paris taking classes at La Cuisine Paris. We met at the popular Breizh Cafe and talked (what else?) food while treating ourselves to Chef Larcher’s galettes de blé noir, buckwheat crêpes.


Tuesday I joined La Cuisine Paris for its three-hour Marais Soirée Gastronomy Food Tour to offer my taste buds an intensive workout. It was the ultimate CrossFit training session – wine, charcuterie, fromage, bread, Foie Gras, and chocolat but the pastries…full stop.

During the food tour our guide, Amber, suggested a #food hack. “If a patissierie, boulangerie or chocolat shop has chandeliers, go in.” We stopped by Aux Merveilleus de Fred (has a huge chandelier) where the bakers work in the windows. That’s very enticing for those who pass by. This shop’s main product is the merveilleus, a fantastically rich cake with a layer of meringue, a layer of whipped cream, a layer of meringue, a layer of whipped cream followed by a coating of one of 7 different toppings. Oh la la

The product. (I chose pink – cherry.) Aux Merveilleux de Fred photo


Centre Georges Pompidou


The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, Gothic architecture at its finest, was the destination of choice for hundreds of tourists.. I happily joined the crowd to look, see and marvel. It’s also a Friday, the day the Crown of Thorns, the wreath reputed to have been worn by Jesus, is displayed. This relic traveled from Jerusalem to Constantinople circa 1063 and by 1238, during the reign of King Louis IX, landed at Sainte-Chapelle for safekeeping. Thorns were often given to European royals to commemorate great events. At the British Museum I recently saw a thorn gifted to Mary, Queen of Scots when she married King Francis II. The thornless remains are kept in the treasury at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

I don’t do selfies well but wanted to show that I was there. Notre Dame Cathedrale. (I’m in the red stocking cap on the right.)

The Crown of Thorns, from afar. I got closer which was very exciting for me but was in a cameras forbidden area.

Happy Easter to you readers celebrating Easter this coming week. I also gratefully appreciate so many of you for commenting or sending me e-mails, texts and articles since I’ve been in Paris. It keeps the solitariness at bay.



Cappuccino with a chausson aux pommes and pain au chocolat at Au Petit Versailles, called one of the top ten bakeries in Paris


Last Saturday morning I stopped by a currency bureau to exchange my US $$$ for Euros. Having been in Paris only 3 days, I prepped for the conversation needed for this transaction. As I stepped to the window, I did my spiel en français, and felt quite pleased with my performance. The young man behind the counter smiled…bigly.

“C’est vrai,” I asked. He nodded his head. He understood.

“I guess you know I’m American, huh?”

He laughed…bigly.

The first carousel appeared in France in the second half of the 19th century and quickly became very popular with the Parisians. Today there are at least 20 and one is in my neighborhood. There is also a carousel museum.

Lenôtre has a shop on Rue Saint Antoine. For Easter they are featuring a collection of Les Tortues (turtles). I think this photo of my taking a photo of “Tortue Surfeuse” is fun.

Friday at the Picasso Museum I flipped to English when questioning a guard about an upcoming exhibition.  “It’s alright,” he said. “I like to practice my English.”

“Petite fille sautant à la corde”, an assembly of found objects and scraps by Picasso

I’ve shopped so often at Monoprix, the major retail store on my block, clerks already understand my fractured French. For my first Paris meal at Au Bouquet St. Paul’s, I ordered Magret de canard aux figues et miel and, voilà, quack, quack. However, anything revolving around food and drink albeit unpolished, pas de problème. I’ll get there, my friends. Time is on my side.

I pass this gentleman every day. He seems formidable.


During the past six years I have learned to be comfortable traveling alone. If you make a wrong choice on a solo trip, you fix it without feeling guilty for ruining someone else’s day. In my six years of going solo I’ve never met a problem I couldn’t resolve into a better solution. In my opinion, traveling alone makes you braver. Inspiration kickstarts creativity, expanding your mind. Dealing successfully with the unknown gives you courage. You learn to trust your instinct.

However, as many of you understand like I do, life can turn on a dime. For now, at least, I am privileged and somewhat in a hurry to be able to push boundaries. If not now, when? This 6 weeks in Paris is all about that.

Throughout Paris, if you notice or look carefully, there are small “art” objects stuck to walls of buildings and monuments. Mysterious artists such as Jeff Aerosol, Nemo, Space Invader, Philippe Gerard and Underground Paris create these pieces. John Hamon just posts his photo! It’s fun to be on the lookout for these.

Last Tuesday morning I boarded the Aspen to Chicago flight, beginning a six-week adventure into the Unknown Zone. By Wednesday morning I was unlocking the door to my tiny studio apartment in Le Marais. Unpack. Shop. Explore. Jet lag be damned. My apartment is modest, adequate and within my budget. (Yes, I have one.) It’s safe, quiet and I have already bonded with all 240 square feet.

What is fabulous, of course, is the location, Rue Saint Antoine, a street dating from the 16th century. Directly across from my apartment is the gorgeous 17th century Saint Paul-Saint Louis church, a magnificent blend of French/Italian Baroque architecture. The 170’ July Column of Place de la Bastille, dedicated to the 1830’s Revolution, anchors one end of the area. Christian Vabret’s charming corner bakery/restaurant, Au Petit Versailles du Marais, the other. Since it opens at 7am, who doesn’t need an early morning croissant and cappuccino?

Standing by my building’s doorway I spot boulangeries (5), a fromagerie, dozens of cafes and bistros, chocolatiers (5), Monoprix, grocery stores, fishmongers, flower shops, wine/Foie Gras shops, a bookstore and more. Much more.

It’s been a happy beginning.

Bonne nuit de Paris.

“Boy, those French. They have a different word for everything.”
Steve Martin

*Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina



Tarte au Chocolat et Confiture de Lait – CooktheBookFridays

It poured last week. Rains were so heavy that 188,000 people were evacuated from a three-county area in northern California. A possible dam failure at Lake Oroville, a reservoir that supplies much of California’s drinking water, threatened to break, sending a 30-foot wall of water down its emergency spillway.

Oroville Dam is the largest earth-filled dam in our country. Standing at 770-feet tall, it’s the tallest dam in America beating out Hoover Dam at 726-feet in height. During our 8 years in nearby Henderson, Nevada, I was mesmerized by that structure and dragged my family and any somewhat-interested friends to see it. Remembering the expanse of HD, I cannot contemplate failure. Luckily the Oroville Dam held with more rain expected this week-end.

Blueberry Dutch Baby

The point is I’ve been house-bound for too many days. This “Big Question” post evolved from those stormy days. Lebovitz’s Chocolate-Dulce de Leche Tart is my CooktheBookFridays recipe. Don’t be hanging around the house when this tart is sitting on the counter. The tasty Dutch Baby always seem magical to me. Rise and flop. But I digress…..

FIsherman, Rock, and Pacific

Michael and I moved to Aspen in 1988. We knew no one, so imagine how delighted I was when our social calendar filled up during the next few months. That would be, I admit, because I joined, participated, accepted all invitations and never met a stranger. By the end of our first summer, Michael, who preferred small doses over gulps, was over it. One night, after a 10-evenings-out marathon, I walked into the bedroom to find him in bed with the duvet pulled over his head. “I am not going out for the next week, he declared.

I wailed that we were lucky to be making so many friends and he was going to ‘ruin my Life if he wouldn’t do this.’

His answer was muffled but clear. “Then, I’ll just have to ruin your life.”

The end.

The tart has been pre-baked and covered with a layer of dulce de leche before this chocolate mixture is poured over it. Sprinkle with sea salt and put in the oven for final baking.

However, what I discovered he loved, as did I, was to entertain 8 guests for dinner at our Silver King Drive home. A home-cooked supper became our means of socializing. The key to those successful parties was not only good food and drink but also great conversation. In those years the banter flowed easily, no planning or forethought needed.

After pouring the batter into the cast iron pan, I sprinkled the berries on top and will put in the oven to bake.

Fast forward to my life now at The Gant. Although living on a smaller-scale, my means of socializing remains the same. In today’s world, however, planning food and drink pales to the forethought required to insure non-combative repartée.

It may seem self-serving but when I make the effort to cook a meal, I’d prefer my guests enjoy it. If someone spends an evening with me, I’d like them to leave with good memories, not indigestion. And, frankly, I want to be smiling also.

These small California Brown Pelicans don’t seem to mind that the fisherman commandeered their rock.

As the hostess, I can manage good behavior to a degree but here’s a great conversation starter I’ve used successfully at my table. It’s called The Big Question and is a monthly feature in The Atlantic magazine. A week before the scheduled dinner, e-mail and ask all your guests to answer The Big Question. As dinner is being served, begin asking for responses. After just an answer or two, the conversation takes flight that will wander down interesting avenues and carry you through dessert. I promise. It’s refreshing and a time-time out from the day-to-day. Worth a try.

After your guests have given their answers, share The Atlantic’s responses from 5 or 6 experts, further broadening the conversation. Here are some examples:

What animal has most changed the course of history? Answers: Colo, the first gorilla born into human care; The mockingbirds collected in the Galápagos archipelago; Lucy; Martha, the last known passenger pigeon; whichever wolf was the first to slink up to a Paleolithic-era campfire; earthworms; rats.

Other questions 1) What day most changed the course of history; 2) Who was the worst leader of all time; 3) What was the best fictional meal ever; 4) What was the most influential TV Show ever;

Here’s the Link:

When the Great Blue Heron’s in full-on breeding plumage, its bill and lower legs change from yellow to orange and the area around the bill turns a bright blue. It sports long ornate plumes on its head, chest, and back.

CHOCOLATE – DULCE de LECHE TART My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz’s

Serves 10


DIRECTIONS: To make your own dulce de leche, start the process early in the morning as it does take awhile. The ingredient is a can of sweetened condensed milk. You can either boil your unopened can in a pot of water for 4-5 hours or open it up, spread it in a baking dish and bake it for 1 1/2-2 hours until dark golden and delicious.

2. This tart is a showstopper and not complicated to make. When it comes out of the oven, the tart will still be pretty jiggly. Never fear, it’s ready. After it’s cooled and, if desired, refrigerated, it will be ready.

3. Serve the tart with softly whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just as is.

BLUEBERRY DUTCH BABY by Ben Mims, Food & Wine Daily


3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
3 eggs
6 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup blueberries

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting


Preheat the oven to 425°.
In a bowl, whisk the flour with the milk, pomegranate juice and eggs until blended. In a 10- 12-inch cast iron skillet, melt the butter over high heat until foamy. Pour in the batter and sprinkle on the blueberries. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the pancake is golden brown.
Dust the pancake with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately.

CooktheBookFridays is an international group of food bloggers who are virtually cooking their way through My Paris Kitchen cookbook by David Lebovitz. To visit the group’s site, click here.



Jam Thumbprints with Toasted Coconut, MACARONS by Fançois Payard and World Peace Cookies

In the mood to feel good? Need to unplug for a moment? I can magically make that happen: (1) Read my blog; (2) While still (hopefully) chuckling from Dorie & Ina: The Art of Fierce, drive to to your local theatre to see “La La Land”. If you’re not happy after (1) and (2) then, apparently, you don’t do happy.


One afternoon, during the Thanksgiving holiday, my son-in-law asked if I wanted some coffee. It wasn’t 5 o’clock anywhere so coffee sounded like a good substitute. “I’ve got a new cup for you, Mary,” he said as he reached into the cupboard.

He set the “new” cup in front of me. As you can see, it says, FIERCE. Melissa, standing nearby, watched as I morphed into my ‘hurt feelings’ position. You know, head down, shoulders rounded, going mum. Realizing her mother was of a different generation, she jumped in, “Mom, mom, that’s a good thing. It’s a compliment. My friends just gave it to me and we thought you’d like to use it.”

“You mean being a fierce woman is a good thing?” I questioned, somewhat amazed.

“Yessssss,” Missy emphasized. They – gave – it – to – me – as – a – compliment.”

“It’s good, Grandma” Emma chimed in, with the entire family shaking their heads in agreement. (I knew Clara, who remained silent, was thinking, “Whew, that was close.”)



So I’m all over this but discovered via Google I was fiercely ignorant in the urban slang department. The first twisted version of fierce grew up in the 1990s and later evolved into a fashion statement. Six years ago model/television personality Tyra Banks hijacked it and social media went nuts.


Today fierce, in its affirmative form, seems to have landed between ‘the combination of a positive mental spirit, bold words and unapologetic actions used collectively’ and women ‘who are on fire and possess too much swag for the common man or woman to handle.’

Take your pick.



However you phrase its definition, Baking Icon Dorie Greenspan and renown television personality and author Ina Garten are double-digit fierce. That’s why I’m featuring them and their favorite cookies in today’s post. Both are incredibly hard-working and classy women who, for thirty-some years, have shared their lives and talents with us. This special season is an opportune time to reign glory on Dorie and Ina. Let’s do it.


The seemingly indefatigable Greenspan, an IACP/James Beard award-winning cookbook author, just published her 12th cookbook. Greenspan was the French Fridays with Dorie guru of our virtual group which cooked through all her recipes in Around My French Table, More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. This week-end I baked her renown World Peace cookies featured on the cookbook’s cover. All recipes below.

Then there’s the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, whose tenth cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey, just hit the bookstores. Having always been an Ina fan, I already own most but am trying to fill in the gaps by haunting favorite used book and thrift stores. Long ago I bookmarked her Jam Thumbprint cookies from her Family Style cookbook. Fun to mix together and a tasty morsel.


As I end this post, my last for 2016, I thank you for loyally following my blog. It seems amazing that my subscriber list continues to grow with other readers stopping by occasionally. I appreciate your comments and personal e-mails. Know these two things for sure: 1) I love writing this blog; 2) LOBNB’s Readers are FIERCE.

Sending kindness and good wishes to All.

WORLD PEACE COOKIES by Dorie Greenspan, Dorie’s Cookies

Makes about 36 cookies


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup BEST-QUALITY unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped into irregular sized bits


1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

2. Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed until soft, creamy and homogenous, about 3 minutes. Beat in the salt and vanilla.

3. Turn off the mixer, add all the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to start the blending. When the risk of flying flour has passed, turn the mixer to low and beat until the dough forms big, moist curds. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix with beater on low to incorporate. Sometimes the dough is crumbly and sometimes it comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl. Happily, no matter what, the cookies are always great.

4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it together, kneading it if necessary to bring it together. Divide the dough in half. Shape the dough into logs that are 11/2 inches in diameter. (Use a ruler for a correct measure.) Don’t worry about the length — get the diameter right, and the length will follow. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and freeze them for at least 2 hours or refrigerate them for at least 3 hours.

5. When you’re ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

6. Working with one log at a time and using a long, sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. (The rounds might crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between them. Slide in the fridge for 15 minutes before baking. Cut the second log and put in the fridge while you bake the other.

7. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes — don’t open the oven, just let them bake. When the timer rings, they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, and that’s just the way they should be. Leave the cookies on the pan and transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can munch them, let them reach room temperature or put them in an airtight container.

STORING: The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just bake the cookies 1 minute long.

Oven-Ready Thumbprints


by Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa, Family Style cookbook

Yield:32 cookies


3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
Apricot preserves and Blackberry preserves or filling of your choice


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla.

3. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together.

4. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

5. Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet.

My baking and cooking projects improved when I invested in a food scale two years ago.

6. Press a light indentation into the top of each with your cookie ball with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation.

7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.

TIP: 1. Use your food scale to gauge a 1-oz. ball of dough.
2. After making the thumbprint cookies, slide the entire pan in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before baking.
3. These cookies freeze well.



Tarte Crumble aux Cerises, this week's CooktheBookFridays recipe.

Tarte Crumble aux Cerises, this week’s CooktheBookFridays recipe.

“Is this a sharable story?” I’ve been asking myself. “Can I blog about this to inspire or bring a smile?”

If something really nice happens, I wondered, can I flip it into a Pay It Forward challenge for you readers as it was for me ?

Coin flip. Heads, yes. Tails, yes. (It was Heads.)


There’s dessert, also. For CooktheBookFridays, this week’s recipe is Tarte Crumble aux Cerises. Cherry Tart in English. Tarta de la Cereza in Spanish. Fabulous in any language.

Gorgeous butterflies visit Colorado's High Country.  Hunter Creek Valley, Aspen

Gorgeous butterflies visit Colorado’s High Country. Hunter Creek Valley, Aspen

Before counting calories, let’s talk. Cheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s CEO and author of Lean In, lost her 47-year old husband last year. She’s tough but grief is grief. It can be masked but, to my thinking, hunkers down like a boulder in your heart. Cheryl’s now writing her second book, about resilience, calling it Option B. “I have learned,” she once wrote, “that resilience can be learned.”

Long before Cheryl lost her husband, I was living the 8-year process of losing mine. As strong and tenacious as I consider myself now, during those years I was not. “If Plan A doesn’t work, Mom,” my daughter, Melissa, would counsel during a crisis, “we’ll go to Plan B or even C.”

Most Saturdays I can be found at the Maroon Bells, monitoring the trail up to Crater Lake.  This is my week-end office. It's tough duty.

Most Saturdays I can be found at the Maroon Bells, monitoring the trail up to Crater Lake. This is my week-end office. It’s tough duty.

After Michael died and I returned to Aspen, my challenge was not only to heal but be content and useful. Realizing this was a high bar, I considered it a deserved goal. This blog, as you know, revolves around my doing that.

About twenty years ago I joined a ragtag group of ten Aspen locals who were helping the “real” and understaffed USFS Rangers monitor our trails. We raided their warehouse for cast-off uniforms, buckled on backpacks and lived the outdoor dream.

During my eight year absence, this dream job morphed into the Forest Conservancy, a razor-sharp, volunteer organization of officially-sanctioned USForest Service ranger representatives. When I returned to Aspen in 2013, the FC, now 100-plus strong, became my Safe Haven. After jumping through a few hoops, taking classes and actually memorizing a rule book, I received not one but two spanking new uniforms. Welcome home, Mary.

Remember the Cooper's Hawk babies?

Remember the Cooper’s Hawk babies?

They grew up to be big boys. One of three.

They grew up to be big boys. One of three.

At that time many FC colleagues had undertaken the rigorous journey to become Master Naturalists, the FC’s educational arm. I balked at joining their ranks. Too much responsibility. Too much commitment. And, honestly, I didn’t have the wisdom.

Being supportive, however, I always join them on Maroon Bells’ Discovery Day Saturdays when, loaded with exhibits, they man individual booths, talking with tourists about flowers, trees, moose, bears, geology and more. I’d hike the trails, interacting with 400 to 600 visitors each DD. But, being a Master Naturalist, No is No.

7:30AM, Maroon Bells - I came upon this young man, a carefully set blanket with champagne on ice nearby, on his knee proposing to his girlfriend. A few  early visitors stood quietly, watching. "What if she says No," one whispered.  (She didn't.) It was an officially-sanctioned proposal, the happy couple decided.

7:30AM, Maroon Bells – I came upon this young man, a carefully set blanket with champagne on ice nearby, on his knee proposing to his girlfriend. A few early visitors stood quietly, watching. “What if she says No,” one whispered. (She didn’t.) It was an officially-sanctioned proposal, the happy couple decided.

Two weeks ago, our Mama Bear who oversees the MN program, called a short meeting after DD’s end. I abhor meetings, they tend to ramble, but at days end I joined my other hot, weary colleagues at the Bell’s tiny amphitheater.You know where this is going, don’t you? There was food, drink and chocolate cake. Uh-oh. Before I could execute a quick exit, I became a MN.


Surprisingly, I found myself unbelievably pleased (see poem below). It’s not the distinction, (so much more to learn), but their planning and effort. It’s friendship and a forgotten word in today’s world, NICE. Playing nice is a cheap Pay it Forward option whatever the alphabet letter. I’m calling it my Option N.

“For twenty years Mary Hirsch has been a volunteer ranger,
Hiking the trails, helping folks out of danger.

She has a sparkling personality and sure gift of gab
And in her uniform, she looks simply fab.

Since she has done the time and taken the classes,
We hope she joins the rest of us who work off our asses.

The birders have told us you’d be a great Master Naturalist
So we hope you will join us, in fact we iNSIST!

As the great Teddy said, “It is done, I do declare it.”
Here is your pin and now you MUST wear it.”


To celebrate my joy I adapted this sweet cherry tart from David Lebovitz’s Tarte Crumble aux Apricots because I could not find Colorado apricots yet. Whatever the fresh fruit, use between 1 3/4-2 pounds. The lip-smacker in this recipe is the Crumble Topping which can be used with other baked fruit pastries. I used a 9-inch springform pan but will move up to 10-inches next time.

Use a springform pan for this tart.

Use a springform pan for this tart.

TARTE CRUMBLE aux CERISES (Sweet Cherry Crumble Tart) Adapted from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz.

Serves 8-10

6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85g)
unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, room-temperature
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

3/4 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (Being heavy-handed with my spices, I used 1 TBS.)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

2 pounds ripe, fresh apricots, pitted and quartered (or, sweet cherries)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (I used 1/2tsp.)

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, to serve


1. TO MAKE THE DOUGH, remove butter from the refrigerator 10 minutes before using it and to let it soften slightly in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed just until no visible lumps of butter remain. Add the egg yolks, flour and salt. Mix until the dough comes together. (You can also make the dough in a bowl using a spatula and a little moxie.)

2. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9- to 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Use the heel of your hand to press the dough over the bottom of the pan, and a little less than halfway up the sides. Try to get the bottom as even as possible, not because anyone will see it, but so it bakes evenly. Put the pan in freezer for 30 minutes.

The crumble topping should look like this before you pop it in the fridge to chill.

The crumble topping should look like this before you pop it in the fridge to chill.

3. MAKE THE CUMBLE TOPPING by pulsing the almonds, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor until the almonds are broken up into very small pieces. Add the butter and pulse the food processor. After a few moments, the mixture will look sandy. As you continue to pulse, pieces will just start clumping together. Stop pulsing at that point and chill the crumble topping. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can make the crumble topping by chopping the almonds finely and mixing the topping with a pastry blender or by hand.)

4. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).

5. Line the springform pan with aluminum foil and a single layer of pie weights (or dried beans). Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the tart shell is browned.

6. After the tart shell comes out of the oven, make the filling. In a bowl, mix the fruit with the sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla. Do not make the filling too far in advance because the fruit may become too juicy.
Transfer the fruit to the tart shell and even them out. Strew the crumble topping evenly over the fruit.

7. Bake the tart for 50 minutes, until the crumble topping is nicely browned. (I baked my tart exactly 50 minutes.)

8. Let cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the tart to separate it from pan, in case any juices ran over. Let rest for 30 minutes, then remove the sides of the springform and let the tart cool. The edges may look rather dark, but should taste fine, not burnt.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

COOKtheBOOKFRIDAYS is an international virtual cooking group making their way through David Lebovitz’s outstanding newest cookbook, My Paris Kitchen. To see what my colleagues baked this week, go here.



Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta from River Cottage Veg Cookbook

Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta from River Cottage Veg Cookbook

The Good News: For the first time in my Adult Life I have no one to care for.

The Bad News: For the first time in my Adult Life I have no one to care for.

White Beans with Grilled Artichokes Salad from River Cottage Veg cookbook

White Beans with Grilled Artichokes Salad from River Cottage Veg cookbook

One of my dearest friends recently lost her husband. In our frequent conversations she once lamented that she has ‘so much time on her hands,’ to which I replied, “Can you lend me some of that time?”

We laughed. I love to hear her laughter but she certainly understood that I ‘got it.’

For many, the past thirty, forty-some years have been about mates, partners, children and family, never mind work, careers, bringing home the bacon thing. Until one day, it isn’t. At first I was amazed, well, okay, angry, when some would say regarding losing Michael, “It’s easier for you because you had so much time to prepare for it.”

My yard is a flower shop but no container in sight around here.  So I retrieved my cannellini can from the bin and made my own vessel for my bouquet.

My yard is a flower shop but no container in sight around here. So I retrieved my cannellini can from the bin and made my own vessel for my bouquet.

Another check in that Mary-Was-Wrong column because it’s true. Thanks to our medical community, both his and mine, I was counseled and badgered eventually into ‘making a life.’ When Michael died, although rattled, exhausted and unbelievably sad, I had a wobbly framework to, as the Brits say, Keep Calm and Carry On.

Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk cookies by Ina Garten, Make It Ahead cookbook

Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk cookies by Ina Garten, Make It Ahead cookbook

That’s what this week’s post represents, that carrying-on thing. (I’ll never nail down calm.) Although I have no one to love and care for, I have a huge family and friendship circle to love and feed and care about. Luckily my food world collides into my friendship circle. Here’s what I mean……

It's a lucky day when one can spot this little guy, a Burrowing Owl. He's guarding the burrow and searching for food while Mama is minding the nest.

It’s a lucky day when one can spot this little guy, a Burrowing Owl. He’s guarding the burrow and searching for food while Mama is minding the nest.


Cal Poly Care Package

Cal Poly Care Package

This week-end I have a dinner date with a handsome young man. Cav O’Leary, a freshman at nearby Cal Poly, was our Aspen neighbor. We helped raise him, bought his fundraising offerings and loaded his Halloween sack with sugar stuff. Last May I attended his high school graduation. To say I love and care about this kid is an understatement.

The Cookie Dough

The Cookie Dough

After dinner he’ll, of course, be returning to Cal Poly with a Care Package which includes Ina Garten’s favorite cookie, Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunks. Although I’ve made some adaptions and substituted ingredients, this is Ida’s cookie (recipe below). It’s terrific.

If you bake cookies often, please try a cookie scoop. It makes baking so much easier.

If you bake cookies often, please try a cookie scoop. It makes baking so much easier.

I’m excited about my recipes for Cottage Cooking Club this month. For a recent birthday my friends, the Grauers, hosted a Polenta-on-a-Plank party. So Much Fun. Donna made three delicious ragus, beef, kale, and mushroom. After that wonderful evening we all vowed to introduce more polenta into our menus. I failed with that until this week when I put together Hugh Whittingstall’s Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta from his River Cottage Veg cookbook.

Polenta on a Plank

Polenta on a Plank

Why Hugh calls this a ragoût instead of ragu, I don’t understand. A ragu is a sauce while a ragoût is a thick, highly-seasoned stew of meat, poultry or fish made with/without veggies. Since it’s his cookbook, he can call it what he wishes but I call it a thumbs-up dish and guest worthy. However, it’s decadently rich. Go easy on that “large knob of butter.”

Polenta with 3 different ragus

Polenta with 3 different ragus

After returning from hiking with a friend last week, I had Hugh’s White Beans with Roasted Artichokes on the table within 15 minutes. This is a hot salad with creamy beans and cheese, grilled artichokes and tangy lemon dressing which, by adding crusty bread and a beer, made us a great lunch.



Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies Make It Ahead cookbook by Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter/Publishers

Makes 48 cookies


½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1¼ cups old-fashioned oats, such as Quaker
¾ pound bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, chopped in chunks (Tip: I used Ghirardelli Chocolate 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Chips, available in your grocery store.)
¾ cup dried cranberries
Fleur de sel (I used Maldon sea salt flakes)


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line sheet pans with parchment paper.

2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again.

3. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix in the oats. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don’t overbeat it! With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate and cranberries until the dough is well mixed.

4. With a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop (or two spoons), scoop round balls of dough onto the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. (In my opinion, this is optional.) Put the cookie sheet into the fridge for 10 minutes before baking.

5. Bake for 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

TIP: If you make cookies often and don’t own a cookie scoop, buy one. If you don’t have the salt, the cookie is still fabulous. I did a taste test, over and over again.


Mushroom Ragoût with Soft Polenta by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg cookbook

Serves 4


For the Polenta

1 2/3 C milk
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
A few peppercorns
½ onion and/or 2 garlic cloves, bashed
1 1/4 C quick-cook polenta
4 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
3/4 Parmesan other well-flavoured hard cheese, finely grated

For the Ragoût

2 tablespoons olive oil
A large knob of butter
1 1/2 well-flavored mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped
2/3 C red wine
2/3 vegetable, mushroom or chicken (non-vegetarian) stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve (optional)

A trickle of top-notch olive oil
Extra Parmesan or other hard cheese, shaved


1. For the polenta, put the milk and water into a saucepan. Add the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and onion/garlic. Bring to just below the boil, then set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.

2.Make the ragout. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and half the butter in a large, wide frying pan over a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and pepper and turn the heat up high. Cook, stirring often, to encourage the mushrooms to release their juices. Continue to cook until most of the juices have evaporated and the mushrooms are starting to concentrate and caramelise. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a minute more.

3. Add the wine and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half. Check the seasoning.

4. To cook the polenta, strain the infused milk and water into a clean pan (or just scoop out the flavorings with a slotted spoon). Bring to a simmer, then pour in the polenta in a thin stream, stirring as you do so. Stir until the mix is smooth and then it let it return to a simmer. Cook for just 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, rosemary and cheese, then season generously with salt and pepper (adding at least ¼ teaspoon salt).

5.Immediately scoop the polenta into warmed dishes, top with the juicy mushroom ragout and serve, with an extra trickle of best olive oil and a few slivers of shaved cheese, if you like.


WHITE BEANS with ROASTED/GRILLED ARTICHOKES by by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg cookbook

Serves 2

5 ounces grilled/roasted artichoke hearts in oil, cut into wedges, plus 1 tablespoon of the oil
1 garlic clove, slivered
1 14 oz. can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good handful of salad leaves
Crumbled or shaved Parmesan CHUNKS, to finish


Heat 1 tablespoon oil from the artichokes in a small frying pan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry gently for a minute or two. Add the artichokes and heat for a minute or so, then stir in the beans. Heat, stirring, for 2–3 minutes, until everything is hot.
Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste (the artichokes may already have contributed some salt).
3 Arrange the salad leaves on two plates and top with the hot beans and artichokes. Finish with the Parmesan chunks and serve warm.

Tip: Oil-preserved, char-grilled or roasted artichoke hearts are available from delis and some supermarkets like Trader Joe’s.

Cottage Cooking Club is an international on-line group. led by Andrea Mohr of The Kitchen Lioness, which is cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. If you’d like to join us as we explore more of Hugh’s cookbooks, go here.