The Year in France, Part II…..

Okay, this continues the explanation of my year – well, really ten months – at the university in Angers, France. After a somewhat circuitous routing flying Icelandic Air, our group arrived and we spent the first afternoon in Paris. A couple of staff members from the university met us with a bus. Despite the jet lag, we did get a quick tour of some of the highlights and one would think I could recall my very first meal, but I don’t. As I mentioned, I was the youngest of our group and when we later met the students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, that also held true. Everyone was basically indulgent with me, although in addition to being the youngest, I was also the one with the least French background. Most had of course taken multiple French classes, although my month in Canada had helped. In fact, my first day of class with our professor, she asked why I spoke French with a Canadian accent. Naturally, I wasn’t aware I was speaking with an accent.

Anyway, the program was set up as semi-immersion in the sense our professors did not speak English to us. You could choose to take this even further by living with a French family rather than in the dorm, but I wasn’t ready to go that far. My lack of French background did place me in the lower level class so only one other student in our Louisiana group was with me. As I mentioned in the last post, this part of the university was designed specifically for foreigners to learn French. We had students from Denmark, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and probably another country or two. All the classes were the equivalent of college freshman level. We had a number of field trips as well as classes and we were able to travel on weekends and holidays. It was about a three hour train trip to Paris and so it was not uncommon to do so. I tended to not go off as much as some of the others, but after a while, one of the French girls invited me to dinner with her family and I went there maybe once a month. She was the only one who spoke English so it was good practice.

English was not widely spoken in town and so transactions in stores, at the post office, etc. did sometimes result in either misunderstandings or protracted time to accomplish something.

As for food, what a difference it was. Aside from the fact I never thought about eating horse, (and didn’t have that very often), it was doing things like learning to eat fruit with a knife and fork. Peaches are not all that difficult – an apple is a different matter. At the time, I wasn’t a coffee drinker and that’s one of my regrets. I had a lot of hot chocolate and hot tea.The experience quite simply changed my life and when I returned home, there was a bit of, “How do you get them back on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” (Old WWI song for those who may not know of it). Also, as it turned out, my high school diploma and college credits were unexpectedly impacted. That will be the third part to this tale.

 

How It All Started…..

A discussion the other day brought back memories of what was in all probability one of those sequence of events that truly changed my life. Quite some time back, the state of Louisiana created the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. They had a couple of programs; one of which was a summer school in Quebec at the Centre Linquistique quite far north in Jonquiere. I had taken French my junior year of high school, but the price for the summer school was outside of our budget. My grandparents on my mother’s side had an arrangement about taking some of the grandchildren each summer on a special vacation. We were sort of grouped by ages and the same year this program was started was when my “group” would have gone with my grandparents, although I don’t recall now where it was supposed to be. Anyway, they gave me a choice of going with them or they would send me to the summer French program.

I will put this into perspective. I would be seventeen later that summer and while we had traveled some, certainly never to that distance, nor on an airplane. The program was set up for a month, I think, with classes every day, and trips around the area. The program culminated with trips to Montreal and Quebec City. Needless to say, this was an incredible adventure. The other thing to understand is Louisiana truly in divided culturally into North and South Louisiana. For those who like extra detail, Lecompte is the “dividing line”. North is predominantly Baptist followed by other Protestants with a smaller percent Catholic. It is piney woods and a fair number of hills, with relatively few bayous and swamps. South Louisiana is mostly Catholic and “Cajun”, less elevation, with far more bayous, swamps, etc. and what most people outside of Louisiana envision. The point here is the “preservation” of French had a stronger appeal in South Louisiana, so most of the students in that initial program were from the other parts of the state. I had quite an adjustment to make in the whole process.

In fact, it was attending that program that subsequently led to me going to France during my senior year of high school. I’ll explain that in my next post.

Lost A Couple of Days…..

It’s been another of those weeks where my time at the computer was “parsed” between being at meetings/events and handling other obligations.

We did spend Sunday though at the annual Rum Renaissance Festival put on by the Burrs, who moved the festival this year up to Fort Lauderdale to the Broward Convention Center. It’s a nice location being only a couple of miles from the airport and having three hotels within a 10-minute walk. The Hilton is at the marina which gives an extra treat if you enjoy seeing boats coming and going.

Since it was the first year in the new location, there will no doubt be some changes based on experience and feedback. There are only one or two suggestions we will make. Anyway, the festival had 70 vendors, some interesting seminars, music to relax to, and plenty of fun people to talk to. Hubby is more the run drinker than I am, but the way we actually became involved is because when I spun the character of Chris Green off to create the series featuring her – Deadly Doubloons, False Front, and Georgina’s Grief – I decided to make her a lover of sipping rums. In searching around to include different rums in the stories, I found http://www.robsrum.com and didn’t realize at the time a friendship would develop from that initial inquiry. It can indeed be a small world.

 

Not Sure What To Call The Dish….

Every now and then, we deviate from certain recipes purely because of particular ingredients we have on hand. The other night we had planned to do Snapper Vera Cruz. When we make that, there is usually sauce left over and we’ve had leftover sauce from other dishes lately. We also happened to have extra sun dried tomatoes in olive oil because there was a buy-one-get-one at the store. So, instead of using a can of tomatoes, if I used a smaller amount of sun dried ones, that would give us a nice sauce without leftovers. On the other hand, sun dried tomatoes are normally with Italian dishes (at least for us) and not Southwestern cuisine. Anyway, we proceeded with flavoring the snapper fillets with a seafood blend a friend created and gave us for Christmas. Seasoning for the diced onions, sun dried tomatoes, and can of green chilies was a Chipotle sea-salt, black pepper, and cumin. It was 3-4 minutes sauteing the veggies in the skillet, then pushing the veggies to the sides of the skillet to cook the fillets around 4 minutes, turn and cover the top of the fillets with the vegetables for another 4 minutes. It was a simple, one-pan dish and didn’t use a lid.

The recipe worked, although we agreed a little more cumin would have been better and we might add garlic next time. Again, we tend to not use garlic in Southwestern dishes, but since we obviously had already “blended cuisines”, there was no reason not to consider it for the next time. We couldn’t come to agreement about what to call it and are open to suggestions. Oh, and there were no leftovers.

Key West Spots….

Hubby and I made our way to Key West yesterday to spend the night for the first time. Friends we’ve not seen in many years had a port call for a few hours and we linked up at First Flight, a restaurant and brewery previously known as Kelly’s Caribbean Restaurant and Brewery. With parking the issue it is, I booked us into a small inn about a 25-minute walk from the center of town. The mostly open air place was good and we all had a great time getting caught up. Hubby and I paced ourselves a bit since we intended to remain in the center and have dinner at another place. We did wander to Mallory Square after, but with sunset scheduled for almost 8:00 p.m., we didn’t want to bother with it. We did, however, go into Sloppy Joe’s for a drink and some excellent music.

Before leaving the inn, Hubby suggested I take the umbrella to ward off rain. Rain that wasn’t actually predicted except maybe a brief shower. That turned out to not be the case. It did start as a light shower and for a little while seemed as if it would move off. We were on our way to the A&B Lobster House and close to a CVS. Since the small umbrella we had wasn’t really doing the job, Hubby took shelter under an awning with some other people and I popped in to buy another umbrella. The deal with any umbrella, however, is it doesn’t do much to shelter your legs or your shoes, especially not when there are apparent drainage problems with the streets. On the other hand, the restaurant we were going to was closed-in rather than open air like many of them. A higher end place for sure than First Flight, but an excellent meal and the rain had slowed to a drizzle by the time we left. It did stop within a short time as we walked back.

That Apple Cake…..

I don’t do much baking and certainly far less than when we had son and teenage friends around the house. I’ve mentioned in posts before how I do not have the knack for dealing with pastry and I am definitely not creative when it comes to making a cake, cupcakes, or cookies look pretty. Today, however, happens to be one where I needed to prepare a specific cake (well, I mean specific because I chose it) for a social event. I had decided on an apple cake that I haven’t made in ages. It goes all the way back to my very early years in the Army and I can’t even recall now which wife did this one and then shared the recipe. Notwithstanding the fact it has apples, it is not what one could call nutritious. Delicious yes, and it has the added benefit of being one of the recipes you are supposed to make a day ahead. The batter is quite thick by the time you get everything in (done by hand) and when done, the cake is very dense. But if you want something in the “comfort food” category, here it is.

2.5 cups flour; 2 c sugar, 1c salad oil, 2 eggs, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3 cups chopped apples, 1 bag butterscotch chips (caramel or white chocolate would work, too).

Sift flour and cinnamon together. Put oil, eggs, and sugar in bowl and stir with fork. Add flour mixture in small batches and blend in. Stir in apples. Place into 9X13 baking pan and top with butterscotch chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes (I find 57 min to be right for my oven).

The melted chips make it a little harder to cut, but you have to wait around an hour before you can do so. You can leave it in the pan and cover with foil or if you want to take the squares (rectangles) out and place into some other dish/container, use a spatula and be gentle. It can fall apart since it does take a few hours to set up. It does not require refrigeration although you can if you like. I serve it at room temperature and you can top with whipped cream and some kind of berry if you’d like.

“Little Chickens”…..

The game hens have finished thawing for tonight’s dinner. This is one of those meals that brings back fond memories. The title of the post by the way comes from a scene in a TV sitcom where the rather demanding woman of the house told the housekeeper to pick up game hens and said, “And don’t buy little chickens and tell me it’s the same thing.”

Anyway, we now grill game hens as a weekend meal, each have half, then do a meal of leftovers later in the week. When Hubby and I were going together, he invited me to his place for dinner. We hadn’t really had many discussions about his culinary ability although we did both enjoy food. I more or less assumed it would be steaks because that’s kind of a guy thing. I walked into his condo to see the table set, a lemon slice in the water glasses, salads ready, the wine opened, and a lovely aroma from the kitchen. He had just taken the roasted game hens stuffed with brown and wild rice from the oven. I expressed my pleasure and he explained someone had once given him the advice that as a bachelor, he needed to find and perfect just a few dishes – one for special dinners, one to take for pot-lucks, and one to have as central to parties. That was to be in addition to the common guy expertise with grilling.

The game hens were obviously the special dinner, he had a wonderful broccoli rice casserole for potlucks, his chili-cheese dip for parties is always popular and he did a killer chili. As you know if you follow this blog, cooking together is something we share and the number of his specialty dishes has definitely expanded. We’ve had a few we’ve experimented with that while they were good, we determined they just weren’t worth all the trouble. It’s been a lot of fun along the way, not to mention delicious.

A Tough Business…..

There are few small businesses that are easy and those with a lot of competition add an extra dimension of difficulty. Restaurants are among the most difficult for several reasons. The facility and health requirements are constant demands, and by that I mean a place can be all set to go for the day and the/a stove goes out. That can create all sorts of turmoil.  Health inspectors can show up unexpectedly and maybe the temperature for the hot water in the sinks isn’t correct. It may seem like a small thing, but can cause problems.

The simple fact is restaurants have to price within a narrow band of similar restaurants and managing inventory is difficult, especially if you want to promote “fresh”. That aspect means potential for spoilage which equals higher operational costs. Labor is of course a huge headache because again that is one of the major costs and turnover is common. Hiring good staff can pose problems, and keeping them even more so. Anyone who has ever spent time as a waitress/waiter knows this and anyone who experiences poor service does, too.

We have a local restaurant/lounge which is attempting to “transform” and it will be interesting to see what happens. The new manager is quite pleasant and means well, but there are a number of obstacles to overcome. One of the aspects is potentially mutually exclusive target markets. There may not be as much disparity as initially appears, so I will hold off judgment until I see how things progress. The menu at the moment is quite limited which is generally a good idea going back to inventory and quality management. Of the four items our group sampled, three were good and one was questionable. Again, the actual “transformation” will include new menu items, but having something that works well in the meantime is a basic step. I always hope the best when someone has a vision, is willing to take a risk, and works hard. We shall see.

A Meandering Day of Fun…..

Burr’s Berry Stand as one of the stops of the Redland Rallye. (Photo from Rob)

Okay, back to pleasant topics. Saturday will be the annual Redland Riot Rallye. Rob and Robin Burr, along with son Rob, Jr. and I’m not sure who else, will greet teams at Historic Cauley Square on Dixie Highway, (Hwy 1). Redland is the large agriculture area that was carved out in the latter part of the 1800s by pioneering families who figured out how to work the difficult, but excellent soil. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the intense summer climate here means there are two distinct growing seasons. “Winter crops” are fabulous strawberries, tomatoes, corn, etc., that give way to exotic tropical fruits of mangoes, avocados, papaya, etc. A number of families and farms shifted from edibles to ornamental plants and there are side-by-side nurseries with hundreds of varieties of palms, beautiful flowering shrubs, orchids in all shapes and sizes. Not surprisingly, fruit stands/markets grew  up over the years, most of which are seasonal. The density of foliage in Redland causes much of this to be obscured from public view and not until you turn into a place do you see the growth. Thus, there is almost a “hidden Redland”.

Rob, who is of the seventh Deep South Dade Burr generations put together the Redland Riot Rallye in 1992 as a way to introduce people to these places. It is set up to be a day of leisure, of exploration followed by a fun party at Schnebly Winery and Brewery, a beautifully landscaped operation that has flourished through the vision and hard work of Peter Schnebly and his family.

The process is pretty simple. Each car (or whatever vehicle you choose) is a team. Sign-in is 10-11:00 at Cauley Square where you are provided a map and a card with questions to be answered at the fourteen stops. The Rallye ends at Schnebly where the cards are turned in not later than 5:00 p.m. There is a prize for the winner and plenty of fun to share.

Our schedule has prevented us from participating and once again, Hubby won’t be available, but I am going to make at least part of it this year. Here’s the link to learn more. www.RedlandRiot.com

Tricky Leftovers….

With social gatherings in full swing, my husband has given up trying to get me to properly calculate the amount of food required for guests. I am a little better than I used to be, but it is marginal, shall we say. I totally believe in the “better too much than too little”. That of course pretty much always results in leftovers; some of which can be passed along to guests and others not. I have also done posts in the past about the creative use of leftovers. However, the culinary reality is not all leftovers do work well with reheating and transformation of them can be tricky. One of the most difficult to deal with is a pastry wrapped item or anything with a “crisped” topping. If you reheat in a microwave as most of us do, the topping will be soggy. If you re-heat in the oven, you may be able to preserve the topping by carefully using the broiler, but whatever is underneath might not be warm enough.

In general, I go with a two-step process. I start by taking whatever it is out of the fridge and let  it come to room temperature. Yes, I know the Food Police say don’t do that, but so far, illness has not resulted. If it something like a casserole, I gently remove the topping and set it aside. (By the way, this process is likely to detract from aesthetics.) I have the oven at 350, cover the casserole tightly with foil and try a 20-minute reheat. It might take longer depending on the density. Oh, I also spread it out as thinly as possible in the dish to help with reheating time. Then I remove the foil, replace the topping and either lightly dot with butter or sprinkle in Parmesan cheese if it is compatible with the dish. Four to seven minutes under the broiler will usually work, but you do have to watch it because the timing isn’t exact. Re-crisping is good – burned not so much.

Although this process isn’t good for everything, I have had a lot of success with it.