Foodie Heaven, Continued: Iceland Part 4

Tryggvaskali Restaurant- Selfloss, Iceland

On the second night of our Iceland adventure, we had dinner in the small town of Selfloss about an hour from Reykjavik. The charming Tryggvaskali Restaurant is housed in a historic building that was built in 1880 and since 1900 has been in continually in operation; either as a store, inn or restaurant.

The building even has it’s own ghost. According to local lore: “On September 30, 1929, there was a loud knock on the west door of Tryggvaskála, and when Óli J. Ísfeld, a restaurateur, opened the door, he saw a tall and thin woman with an 8-10 year old child with her. This vision disappeared from the restaurateur as quickly as it appeared. Testified later that it was a maid who was supposed to start at Tryggvaskála that day, but had died during the summer, without it being reported in Selfoss. She had been paid in advance for the work, and throughout the years the staff of Tryggvaskála have felt that they have been helped at times of stress.”

From our table by the window we looked out at lupines hugging the shore of the pristine Olfusa river.

Selfloss, Iceland

The fish in Iceland was incredibly fresh with many meals featuring either cod or salmon. At the Tryggvaskali restaurant I noticed an unusual appetizer on the menu; whale tataki with garlic soy wasabi and sesame seed. I had to try this, I wasn’t sure when I would have the opportunity to sample whale again! The fish was lightly grilled and similar to sashimi. The texture was a tiny bit rubbery but the flavor was delicate and briny.

Whale Tataki

For entrees we enjoyed beautiful presentations of pan fried ling cod served with garlic potato salad, grilled corn and honey glazed carrots and salmon with pesto and charred broccoli over barley.

We had many excellent meals, but one simple lunch stands out. We found the Geirabakari Kaffihus totally by accident. Once we left Reykjavik, the landscape changed dramatically, stark and atmospheric with waterfalls cascading down mountains that at one time were covered with trees.

On a cloudy overcast day, we drove down a desolate road and approached the small town of Borgarnes. We were looking for a place to have lunch, not setting our sights too high.

Geirabakari Kaffihus stands next to a few nondescript small businesses, slightly run down around the heel. But when we entered the bakery, we were met by the yeasty aroma of freshly baked goods and the cafe was filled with local people queued up to the counter. Keeping with the plan of the trip to indulge in whatever we wanted to eat, we chose flaky buttery croissant sandwiches filled to the brim with ham, cheese, cucumbers, lettuce and tomato; all covered with a creamy dill sauce. This was accompanied with mugs of rich steamy hot chocolate- simply delicious!

Geirabakari Kaffihus Borgarnes, Iceland

Way too soon, our Iceland adventure was coming to an end. On our last day of the trip, we returned to Reykjavik. For dinner that evening we had made a reservation at the Public House, a trendy gastro pub with Asian influences. The best way to describe the eclectic menu would be Asian Tapas. We ordered probably too much food: vegetable dumplings; crispy tacos with roasted beets, goat cheese, fig jam and truffle mayo and grilled lamb kebabs with miso, ginger and pickled cucumbers with sesame seeds. I am not a great fan of lamb, but this was the most tender and full of flavor lamb that I have ever tasted. The spicy and assertive flavor combinations from the various dishes were perfect with mugs of frosty Icelandic beer!

We left a tiny bit of room for two desserts: skyr panna cotta with coconut and salted caramel and strawberries with oat crumble and strawberry sorbet; then it really was time to travel back home!

Many of the restaurants and cafes that we visited offered excellent fish chowders; all unique and equally delicious. What they all had in common is that they were not thick and gluey like some New England fish chowders.

This past week I found myself with a surplus of sweet fresh corn and fish chowder came to mind. I channeled all of the Icelandic chowders that I had tasted and came up with up with a chowder filled with corn, cod, leeks, potatoes, celery and onion; garnished with crisp bits of prosciutto, scallion and parsley. This would also work with shrimp or chunks of salmon. You can also add a few pieces of fresh kale; I was lucky to be given the most tender kale from a friend’s garden. We ate this with hunks of rosemary sourdough bread from the Hungry Ghost Bakery and a salad of fresh greens and local tomatoes with balsamic dressing. A glass of chilled rose would also be lovely with this! Enjoy!

Summer Fish Chowder

Ingredients:

1 /2 pound cod cut into chunks

3 medium red potatoes cut into small pieces

1 onion finely chopped

1 medium leek, rinsed well finely chopped

4 ears fresh corn

2 stalks celery finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

few pieces fresh kale torn into small pieces (optional)

For garnish:

a few tablespoons of finely chopped parley

2 scallions finely chopped

1/8 pound prosciutto

2 tablespoons flour

Make Stock:

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add corn. Cook briefly for one minute and remove corn from pot.

With a sharp knife, scrape corn kernels from cobs and place in a small bowl. Put corn cobs back in pot and simmer for about 1/2 hour. Strain liquid and reserve stock.

In a clean soup pot, heat olive oil over and add onions.

Saute until onions soften slightly.

Add leeks and celery- cook for about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over mixture and combine well.

Add potatoes, thyme, bay leaf.

Add stock- it should come to about 1/2 way up the pot.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

Cover pot and simmer until potatoes are soft and then add corn and pieces of fish. Cook only a few minutes, just until fish flakes easily.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

In a small pan heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add prosciutto and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towel and break into small pieces.

Add garnishes of scallions, parsley and prosciutto if desired.

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“It’s safe in here- I’ll just stay a little while!”

HAPPY END OF SUMMER! STAY SAFE!

Kite Hill- Ancram, NY

Foodie Heaven! Iceland: Part 3

Tryggvas- Selfloss, Iceland

When planning our recent trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the restaurant scene in Iceland. I had heard that the food was boring and not very creative; I decided to plan with an open mind and with not very high expectations. What I discovered was a vibrant food scene that has changed greatly in the last few years. We found restaurants that used the freshest, often locally sourced ingredients; the food was creative and lovingly prepared.

The first day of our trip was spent in Reykjavik; we arrived early in the morning and dropped off our bags at the charming Apotek Hotel. We asked the desk clerk to recommend a good bakery and her eyes lit up. She said, “You must try Baka Baka for the most delicious pastries”. We decided early on that for this trip there were no holds barred; we were going to enjoy as much sugar and rich food as we wanted! We headed down the street, walked up a small hill and saw the open door of Baka Baka beckoning to us.

As we entered we were welcomed with the rich smell of coffee and freshly baked pastries. We ordered a yeasty fragrant Cardamom Bun filled with almond paste and enjoyed it with coffee and a pot of herbal tea that had the light delicate taste of currents.

The plan for our first day was to explore Reykjavik and at the the same time try to stave off jetlag. We spent the next few hours walking slowly around the quaint streets and adjusting gradually to the lovely cool windy temperature of 50 degrees F!

The time flew by and we were ready for our first lunch reservation at Hosilo, a small unpretentious restaurant on a quiet side street. The other diners were young Icelanders and as we waited for our food to arrive, we enjoyed listening to the lyrical sounds of the Icelandic language. The food was creatively presented; I started with an appetizer of “watermelon” sushi-cool, rosy slices of fruit in a savory gingery sauce. Expecting the taste of raw fish, my taste buds were jolted awake- a good remedy for my sleepy mind!

I had some of the freshest and most tender shrimp I have ever tasted with house made pasta, basil, tomato and roasted garlic.

It was all bathed in extra virgin olive and served with a slice of crunchy parmesan toast.

We were starting to fade quickly, but thought a walk down the hill to the harbor and to the Harpa Concert Hall might revive us.

Harpa- Reykjavik, Iceland

Luckily for us, we discovered that there was a short interactive visual installation offered; Circuleight. As we entered a large gallery, we were surrounded by animations that were inspired by eight natural elements: lava, glacier, water, algae, micro organism, flora, basalt, and volcanic gas. If you waved your hand or came close to one of the images, the image would respond to the motion; it gave the effect of the artwork improvising. The installation was accompanied by a score written by the Icelandic composer Hogni Egilsson. I found a place to curl up, leaned against one of the walls and immersed myself in the experience; although I confess, I fell briefly asleep! It was time for a short nap at our hotel.

Circuleight Installation- Harpa

Just an hour of sleep and we were refreshed and ready to continue on our culinary adventures of the day! For dinner, I had a made a reservation at The CooCoo’s Nest. From our hotel, we walked a few miles to the quirky, newly developed section of the waterfront with art galleries, specialty food shops and restaurants. CooCoo’s Nest was opened in 2013 by Anna and Lucas Keller.

The CooCoo’s Nest- Reykjavik, Iceland

A passionate chef, Lucas is originally from California and trained and worked in Italy. Since opening, the restaurant has gained a loyal local clientele.

It was Taco Tuesday, so we ordered the sampling menu of 3 different tacos that included tequila marinated fish with guacamole, shredded cabbage and spicy sour cream; slow cooked lamb, salsa verde and pickled raddish; and a vegetarian taco with sweet potato, charred broccoli and a spicy romesco sauce. They were delicious and the flavors danced in our mouths.

The CooCoo’s Nest- Reykjavik, Iceland

We ate our dinner outside the restaurant at a picnic table and watched young families strolling by; several of which were licking ice cream cones. Glancing to our right we saw an inviting ice cream shop- well one more treat for the day!

An interesting flavor was listed on the wall that looked very similar to my last name- “Danskur lakkris”. I asked for a taste and the young clerk told me that the flavor was Danish licorice. Very nice, but I settled for a double dish with dark chocolate and lemon ginger crunch and then enjoying our ice cream, we walked oh so slowly back to our hotel; the sky still bright blue in the late evening. Shortly after we returned to our room we fell into a deep slumber!

Thus ended our first day in Reykjavik. Coming soon…. one more Icelandic blog detailing the other food highlights of our trip; some from restaurants where the food was simply but expertly prepared in lovely peaceful settings.

Silfra Restaurant- Nesjavellir, Iceland

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Well, THEY sure ate a lot!”

Twin Lakes- Salisbury, CT

HAPPY SUMMER-STAY SAFE AND COOL!!

Iceland: Part 2/ Geothermal Baths and Icelandic Brown Bread (Rugbraud)

Deildartunguhrar Geothermal Spring- Borgarnes, Iceland

Late last winter, when we started to plan our trip to Iceland, the thought of soaking to our heart’s content in a hot thermal pool was the balm that got us through the dark days of the latest omicron wave. And here we finally were, peering into the largest thermal spring in Iceland at the Krauma Baths in Borgarnes, Iceland!

Krauma Thermal Baths is one hour from Reykjavik and next to one of Europe’s most powerful hot springs. With a temperature over 212 F; the water bubbles vigorously up from the earth. In the above picture, my intrepid travel buddy Carol is obscured by steam from the spring.

We walked up a path to the thermal baths and the gracious attendant ushered us into sleek contemporary changing rooms where we showered and changed into our suits. As an added treat, we had reserved fluffy white robes. There were several pools heated to different temperatures; around 39 C / 102F.

At the present moment, during the most recent heat waves and climate change woes, the thought of submerging my body into a hot tub, is not at all appealing! But, stepping outside in a wet bathing suit with an outside temperature of 50 Degrees and a stiff artic wind blowing, it was an amazing feeling to slowly sink into a hot thermal pool; all tension melting slowly away. This was not a touristy site; small groups of hardy North Europeans were enjoying tall glasses of frosty beer while soaking in the pools. After one sip of beer, I believe I would have drowned!

I did make somewhat of a thermal spa faux pas; I saw a smaller pool with no other guests in it and thought the privacy would be nice. I climbed in eagerly and then let out a bit of an uncouth yelp; the water was ice cold. I realized too late that this was the pool to use after exiting from the sauna!

Krauma is open year round; I love this picture of brave souls in the winter enjoying the hot springs! An image that is a good antidote to our current high temperatures!

After we soaked to our heart’s content, I mentioned to Carol that I believed I was “cooked” and ready to return to earth! Our next stop was to our lodging for the night, a charming unspoiled B&B nestled in the hillside; Hotel A, in nearby Kirkjubol, Iceland. We had a lovely dinner, more to come about this in the next blog. The next day at breakfast I noticed a dark brown bread on the bread board and added a slice to my plate along with fresh fruit, a bowl of skyr and smoked salmon. I spread the bread with fresh blueberry jam and it was delicious. The bread was hearty, slightly sweet and full of flavor. I asked the young desk clerk about the bread and he immediately looked it up online for me and printed a recipe. Originally Icelandic Brown Bread was steamed in a thermal pit overnight. When I returned home, I looked at several online recipes and decided to try a recipe from King Arthur Flour. Some recipes require baking the bread all day in a low oven or in a slow cooker. The King Arthur recipe called for 2 hours in the oven. I decided to try this method and modified the amount of sugar. I replaced the honey in the recipe with a small amount of Agave Nectar and used a smaller amount of dark molasses for flavor and color. And, the bread was very easy to make! The recipe calls for baking powder, baking soda and buttermilk and there is no yeast or rising time involved. The texture of the bread improves greatly after a day and was delicious sliced and toasted; spread either with butter or jam. The bread would also be lovely with smoked salmon and dill or other savory toppings.

ENJOY!!

Icelandic Brown Bread

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups stoneground dark rye flour ( I used Bob’s Organic Flour)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1/8 cup molasses

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the center position. 
  2. Weigh flour or measure it by gently spooning into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. 
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, and molasses.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring to combine.
  6. Transfer the batter to a lightly greased 9 inch loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with foil. 
  7. Bake the bread for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and remove the foil from the pan. Leave the loaf in the turned-off oven for another 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and turn out of the pan onto a cooling rack.
  8. Cool completely before slicing thinly and serving with butter or your favorite savory toppings.
  9. Store leftover bread tightly wrapped at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week“!

“How long do we have to wait for the Brown Bread??”

STAY COOL AND SAFE!

Iceland Part 1: Lupines and Blueberry Skyr Pie

I was convinced that something would prevent my friend Carol and I from traveling to Iceland. At the last minute, either my husband or I would get Covid or some other emergency would come up; but the heavens smiled in our favor and as the plane lifted up into the clouds, Carol and I held our hands tightly together and said, “We did it”!!

So many choices and things to write about the trip. I have decided to write a three part blog. The second post will be about geothermal pools, volcanos and the Icelandic brown bread that I am going to attempt to bake. The third post will be a foodie’s delight; a road tour of the restaurants and cafes that we visited- even with all of the hiking and walking that we did, I managed to put on a few pounds!

With all of the disturbing events in our world, I hope you enjoy the next few entries as a brief respite!

We spent the first two days of our trip in quaint and charming Reykjavik and could easily have spent a week there walking around interesting neighborhoods, visiting museums and enjoying excellent restaurants and cafes.

Harpa Concert Hall- Reykjavik
Reykjavik Harbor

After our stay in Reykjavik, we headed out in our rental car, about a 3 hour drive along the coast to the western peninsula towns near Anarstapi. I was not prepared for the breathtaking and unusual landscape.

Brilliant purple lupines lined coastal inlets and mountainsides.

Volcanic rock looked as if it was tossed randomly in the fields.

Often, we were the only car on the road with sheep slowly crossing the road.

So many things to share; a hike between the two small towns of Anarstapi and Hellnar stands out. From our cozy lodging, Fosshotel in Anarstapi, we walked to the trailhead for a 4 mile hike along the sea cliffs. The rocky path, high above the ocean, was strewn with volcanic rock.

Wildflowers dotted the rugged landscape with the cries of seabirds reverberating from the cliffs.

The air was bracing, clear and invigorating; my four layers of sweaters and winter raincoat a perfect match for the sudden blasts of artic air- and this was in July!!

At the end of the hike, there was a treat awaiting us; the path led up a small set of stairs to cozy and atmospheric Cafe Fjoruhusio. The tables were covered with embroidered place settings with patterns of tiny wildflowers. The air smelled of coffee and fresh baked pastries; cinnamon mingling with butter and chocolate.

Cafe Fjoruhusio- Hellnar, Iceland

An outside deck overlooked the cliffs and the ocean.

Sykr, Icelandic yogurt, appears in many dishes. After securing a lovely spot on the deck, we ordered a piece of Blueberry Skyr Cheesecake. I am normally not a big fan of cheesecake, but this cake was light, full of tangy flavor and had a blueberry topping; irresistible! Just a few bites were all I needed; any more and I don’t think I would have felt light footed enough to make the return trek back over the craggy and rocky trail to our hotel!

That night we had a delicious dinner at the Fosshotel and since it does not get dark at all this time of year, we were able to take one more small walk at 9 PM. Just down the road, we saw a small weather beaten church; it looked like the metal structure had withstood many storms. Next to the church was an ancient graveyard overlooking the sea.

Anarstapi, Iceland

There were hours of daylight left, but shortly after returning to our room, we fell into a deep sleep. I woke briefly in at 3:00 AM and the sun was still shining brightly!

More to come………

We made it back safely home, without incident and knock on wood, no Covid! As we entered the customs hall at Newark, I was expecting to be met by throngs of sweaty, exhausted travelers. There were at the most 20 people in line. Amazed, I asked the elderly African American guard: “Where are all of the people”. He remarked dryly, “Don’t ask questions, just pray to G-d!!”

During the trip, we enjoyed desserts, ice cream and treats with abandon. After all, we did not want to miss out on anything! One day, we had three desserts (although we did share them)! Back home and to reality, I was thinking fondly about the rich Skyr cheesecake that we devoured happily. I decided to create a version with no refined sugar, healthy and guilt free. I perused a few online versions and here is what I came up with. I made the crust from whole grain flax crackers rather than sweet graham crackers and sweetened it with a bit of coconut sugar. I added a handful of toasted walnuts and some lime zest and instead of butter used a vegan butter substitute, although melted butter would also be fine.

For the filling, I used plain lowfat skyr (I used the Siggi brand) and added some pureed wild blueberries. The best part was the substitute for whipped cream. Here is a bit of kitchen magic: I put a can of whole fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight and the next day opened it and scooped out the solids. Beat together with monk fruit sweetener and vanilla, it miraculously morphed into what looked like whipped cream and it was delicious!

Blueberry Skyr Pie

Ingredients:

Crust:

12 Back to Nature flax flatbread crackers

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons lime zest

3 tablespoons melted butter ( I used Kite Hill plant based butter)

1/8 cup coconut sugar

Filling:

1 cup Wymans wild blueberries

2 cups plain low fat skyr

1 can full fat coconut milk ( refrigerated overnight)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1 cup fresh blueberries

To make pie:

In a small saucepan place blueberries and slowly bring berries to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until berries release their juice and berries soften. Place berries in a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and press down on solids. Refrigerate until cold.

Make pie crust:

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees

Place crackers and toasted walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Process until crackers and walnuts are finely ground. Place in a bowl and add cinnamon, lime zest and coconut sugar. Mix well and then add melted butter. Stir well and place mixture in the bottom of a pie pan. Pat firmly and place in oven. Bake about 8-10 minutes until crust is lightly brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Make whipped coconut:

Open can and carefully remove the solid coconut from the top of the can. Place in a mixer and start to slowly blend. The mixture will start to lighten- add the vanilla and monk fruit sweetener and beat on a high speed until mixture resembles whipped cream. Set aside.

Place skyr in a large bowl- slowly fold in whipped coconut mixture and then carefully fold in strained blueberries.

Place mixture in pie crust and smooth over evenly. Decorate with fresh berries and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. We liked this light dessert so much that we are bringing a tartlet version to our friends in Boston as a house gift this week!

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the Icelandic Tree of the Week from Reykjavik!!

“Glad that I could appear in the blog all the way from Iceland!!”

HAPPY SUMMER!

Provence Revisited: Part Two

Cassis Calangues, Cassis France

Even for a person who enjoys the cold, I can now say enough! I am more then ready for spring! There are promising signs, the days are getting visibly longer and the dirt roads have turned to mud! This week most of the snow melted. So, this is an excellent time for Part Two of Provence Revisited.

In my blog entry from February 7th, Provence Revisited, I talked about my trip to Provence in 2017, made possible by a Professional Development grant from Hofstra University. The main goal of the grant was to learn about the cultivation of oboe cane (the species of cane is called arundo donax) that grows in southern France. For the trip, I was accompanied by my good friend Amanda. The plan was to spend three days visiting cane plantations and interviewing the growers in Hyeres and the surrounding area near the Mediterranean Sea. No hardship there!!

Arundo Donax Cane

After that, we would have another three days to travel around Provence, with visits to Aix en Provence and Marseille. The main theme for this part of the trip was to visit museums and historic sites, including a visit to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey where the monks tend acres of fragrant lavender. AND, of course food played a major part of the planned itinerary!

Our trip started in Cassis, east of Marseille in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. Cassis is a quaint Provencal fishing village that is famous for the stunning and majestic Cassis Calangues; white limestone cliffs formed over 120 million years ago. We took a boat ride through crystalline blue water where we were treated to views of the magnificent and regal Calangues cliffs, that have inspired so many painters and artists; a wonderful way to start our adventure.

Cassis Calangues

Cassis, France

There were so many places that we would have liked to visit, but an excellent decision was to visit Aix en Provence; a small charming university town with beautiful architecture and bustling with energy! We checked into our hotel, Hotel en Ville; chosen partly because it was in walking distance of our lunch reservation at Chez Feraud! For this trip, I was looking for restaurants that were charming, unpretentious and most importantly offered great food. Chez Feraud did not disappoint!!

The food was excellent- I ordered a vegetable terrine that looked liked a beautifully arranged mosaic and a fish entree; grilled red mullet with black olive tapenade and roasted potatoes- but it was the dessert that I still remember clearly, simple poached figs served over homemade vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce! The only problem was that it was now time to walk to our next destination; Musee Granet. The only desire I had at the moment was to sit in an outdoor cafe and people watch; so this is just what we did!!

Chez Feraud- Aix en Provence

After we finally recovered from lunch- icy lemonade with fresh mint helped- we slowly walked to the museum. Originally started in 1766 as a free drawing school, the museum has grown to it’s present size to include over 12,000 works and masterpieces. The day we visited, there was a special exhibition of contemporary works of art that were edgy and boldly colorful.

The next morning we drove to a leafy neighborhood in the Lauves Hill section of Aix to visit Atelier Paul Cezanne. In 1901, Cezanne bought a plot of land that at the time was open countryside. He built a simple two story house and from 1902 until his death in 1906, he worked here daily in his studio. After viewing the studio, I walked outside to the garden in the back of the house; surrounded by the lush greenery, I sat quietly enjoying the sense of history.

Atelier de la Paul Cezanne

Atelier Paul Cezanne

The next day we headed up into the hills towards Apt. Our hotel was in the town of Gargas about an hour from Aix. Picking hotels sight unseen can sometimes result in not perfect outcomes. But in this case, I was delighted that the clientele in the charming Mas de la tour, was not touristy, and included a French motorcycle group and a group of handicapped youths on a field trip. The rooms were charming and very reasonable priced. Housed in a 12th century structure that once was an abbey, it was not far from the beautiful hills towns of  Roussillon, Gordes and Bonnieux.

We checked into the hotel and then it was time for our lunch reservation in the medieval village of Bonnieux at L’Arome, across the street from a breathtaking view of the hills.

Bonnieux, France

Usually my recollection of memorable past meals is on the mark, but here I only remember that the food was delicious. Perhaps the stunning scenery distracted me and the fact that I was sitting on a terrace in the middle of Provence in a medieval hill town! My only regret is that I did not obsessively take pictures of the beautifully plated food. Here is one picture of my appetizer, almost too beautiful to devour, which I do remember that I happily did!

L’Arome- Bonnieux, France

That night, overly full from lunch, we had dinner in our hotel’s cozy outdoor courtyard restaurant. I remember that the food was good, but the best part was observing the other guests and the hotel’s friendly dogs that eagerly visited the tables. Amanda snuck a bit of her beef daube, that was a bit gristly, to one of the dogs!

The next morning we drove to the charming small city of Apt, famous for it’s bustling open air market place held every Saturday at the Place des Martyrs de la Resistance. The streets are filled with small stalls that sell everything from fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread and pastries to colorful fabrics, pottery and antiques.

Marketplace, Apt
Marketplace, Apt

I purchased a small tart made from puff pastry, filled with figs and almond paste. I placed it in my bag for later in the day when a snack was called for. And, this is one of my favorite parts of the trip: our next stop was the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Gordes. Started in 1148, the monastery still has an active religious community of monks that gather together seven times a day for prayer. The monks are famous for their cultivation of lavender. As my friend Amanda navigated our rental car around the steep and narrow roads, I took out my fig tart and as I took a bite, the fragrant scent of lavender wafted into the car! Heaven on earth!!

Abbey de Senanque Monastery
Abbey de Senanque Monatery

The monks have very generously structured their daily life to allow the public to tour the monastery. The tours were in French only, and I could only pick out a few words or phrases, but it was lovely to listen to the fluid and musical language as we walked through the chapels and cloister areas.

When I am traveling, I sometimes find that the unplanned discoveries are often very rewarding. Driving along a back road, we saw a sign that said La Boutique du Molin and we pulled off the road to investigate. It turned out to be an artisanal olive oil cooperative where the growers from the area bring their crops to be processed into olive oil. The friendly and helpful owners offered to give us a tour of the facility and they talked about the process of making olive oil. Then, we had an olive oil tasting where we sampled many different flavors of olive oil. It was fascinating to discover the different character and taste of each oil. And, of course we ended up purchasing a good number of bottles for friends and family.

We flew into Marseille and our original plan was to drive back to Marseille and spend our last day in France touring around Marseille before we returned home. We got to Marseille late in the afternoon- the steep and narrow streets of Marseille were very difficult to navigate our car through and by the time we found our hotel, New Hotel Bompard, a small nap was in order. We did not get to visit some of the places on our itinerary: the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde, Parc Borely, and the Chateau Borley (museum of decorative art)- this will have to be for another trip!

Then it was time for our dinner reservation at Chez FonFon. We walked down the steep and crowded streets to the restaurant, located in the old fishing port. Across the street from the restaurant was a crowded open air night club- it looked like a movie set from a Fellini movie. Chez FonFon is known for it’s excellent Bouillabasisse specialties, but after a few days of indulgence, I was not that hungry. I ordered a small appetizer of grilled fish and this was perfect along with some bread and a glass of wine! Afterwards we walked around the port and then very slowly back up the long hill to our hotel and very welcome beds!!

Chez Fonfon- Marseille

So, back to reality! Every day it seems as if we are getting closer to our new normal and if all goes well, more freedom. Writing this blog has awakened my desire to travel again! The other day, a simple dish of roasted red and yellow peppers brought back memories for some of the bright flavors that I tasted in Provence. The peppers can be served over pasta, grilled fish or chicken and with some crusty French bread and a glass of Rose wine, you can imagine that you are sitting on a terrace in Provence!

Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers

Ingredients:

2 red peppers

2 yellow peppers

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To make peppers:

Pre- heat oven to 450 degrees

Cut peppers in half and remove seeds and ribs. Slice into medium size strips.

Place on a large baking sheet and pour a few tablespoons of olive oil over peppers. Mix together with your hands.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast peppers for about 20-30 minutes, stirring about every 5-10 minutes with a spatula.

Roast until peppers are soft and start to caramelize.

Serve over pasta, grilled fish or grilled chicken.

Enjoy!

arundo donax- wild oboe cane

As we drove down the hills back towards the Mediterranean, Amanda noticed that the vegetation had dramatically changed and she said, “There it is, on the side of the road- wild oboe cane!”

My over packed suitcase made it safely back home with Rosé, a huge bag of oboe cane from Daniel Rigotti and of course olive oil! AND, I can happily report that I checked out several of the restaurants and hotels that we visited and they seem to all have survived the pandemic! Perhaps a return trip may happen in the not too distant future!!

Stay Safe!

Provence Revisited: The Search For Illusive Oboe Cane!

Photo: Jean-Francois Rico D’Addario Cane Plantation- Hyeres, France 2017

What a few weeks! Trump is finally gone and it seems like we have woken up from a bad dream! Add to this, Paul had a health scare, but thankfully all is well. The trails are icy and hard to navigate and it is really cold out there, so long walks will be curtailed for a while! We both are feeling a bit of cabin fever and impatience as we wait for the vaccine and financial relief for so many people that are suffering. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for a little escape to a happier and warmer time; with memories from a trip to Provence that I took in 2017. This was part of a Professional Development Grant from Hofstra University titled: “The Search for Ellusive Oboe Cane.”

First, a bit of context:

One of the challenges of being an oboist is that in addition to playing an aerobic and difficult instrument is that one must also carve their own reeds. It is a precise skill learned over many years; at times the process can be Zen like, but it can also be a major source of frustration. Reeds are notorious for playing beautifully and then, with a small change in the weather they can become unresponsive and difficult to play.

We oboists have earned a reputation for being slightly eccentric, also thinking we are under appreciated because of what we have to deal with daily. This short and very humorous YouTube video perfectly illustrates a typical oboist!

Oboe, Clarinet, Saxophone and Bassoon reeds are made from a species of cane called Arundo Donax. Sorry for the pun, but Paul calls it donax don’t tell! It thrives in hot humid climates with some of the best cane grown in Southern France. When I was thinking about ideas for possible Professional Development Grants, the thought of visiting the source of reed cane intrigued me and of course, it did not hurt that this was in Provence! When I mentioned my idea about the trip to oboists, their eyes would light up and they would say,” What a brilliant idea!” When I brought up my plans to anyone else, the comment was, “You are going to Provence and will spend your days in hot and humid cane fields?” Then, they would politely smile. I was delighted and honored when I was awarded the grant and here begins the adventure:

First, I needed a knowledgeable tour guide. I was very fortunate to be connected with Jean-Francois Rico who lives in Nice, by Rob Pollan, the husband of the wonderful repair person Kristen Bertrand. For several years, Rob worked for D’Addario Woodwinds and knows many of the cane growers in France. Jean-Francois was the perfect guide. His grandfather was the founder of Rico Reeds. In addition to owning Rico Reeds, he has also worked as a professional photographer. He knows all of the cane growers in the area, is fluent in both French and English and loved having the chance to visit old friends and acquaintances. He was also a wine and food connoisseur; a match made in heaven! Each night during our trip, Jean-Francois would suggest a restaurant and also made suggestions about which Rose wine to sample. One night at dinner, as he was describing regional dishes and cooking techniques, my travel companion Amanda and I nodded our heads eagerly in recognition. He seemed a bit surprised and then said: “for Americans, you two seem to know an awful lot about food”!

Along with my intrepid travel partner and good friend Amanda, we spent three days traveling around and meeting many of the different cane growers in the Var Region of Provence. Not only did Amanda think of good questions to ask the various cane growers, she was also an excellent driver and in our standard six speed Peugot, she expertly navigated the myriad difficult rotaries and hairpin curves on the windy mountain roads! Under the backdrop of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea in Hyeres France, we visited the cane fields and learned a great deal about how the cane is grown and then dried for a year before it is ready to be used to make reeds. Hyeres is in a beautiful and un-touristy section of Provence; on the Mediterranean, not far from Marseille.

When we settled into our first hotel, Hotel Mercure, in Hyere, I knew I was in cane country; the walls were decorated with reed cane!

On the first morning of the trip, before our meetings started, we drove around the village of Hyeres and enjoyed the exquisite scenery.

As we rounded a corner, there it was there was-right in front of me- wild Arundo Donax growing on the side of the road! I asked Amanda to stop the car and I jumped out to get a photo!

Arundo Donax is a plant in the grass family and is not directly related to bamboo. Ancient reed instruments used the same material. It is also cultivated for woodwind reeds in Spain, Turkey, China, Argentina and Mexico. Perhaps I also need to travel there!

Our first visit was to the MARCA FRANCE cane plantation and the knowledgeable and cordial manager Nicolas Righi explained the process of harvesting, curing and then processing the cane to us.

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

 The stalks are harvested only after 2 years of growth. Harvest time is mid-December through March and is said to take place on the new moon. I came to understand that most of the cane cultivated on the plantations is processed to make clarinet and saxophone reeds. Oboe cane is usually harvested in the wild and the sources are a closely guarded secret! I gently pried a bit to learn about some of the locations and was also gently rebuffed!

The wild cane is not coddled with fertilizers and irrigation, so the resulting diameter of the cane will be smaller; perfect for oboe reeds! I also noticed that cane was often grown next to or close by vineyards; cane and wine seem to like the same soil. The area around Hyeres is also known for excellent rose wines- more on the wine later!

An important but tedious job is sorting the cane by the size of the diameter; a painstaking and precise job.

photo: Jean-Francois Rico

We next visited Rigotti Cane in nearby Cogolin. I was excited to meet owner Daniel Rigotti, as I have used his cane for many years. The company was managed by his father Franco until 2012. Daniel was very gracious and even though it was the middle of a busy work day, he took us to meet his parents. They invited us into their lovely home for tea and cookies and then treated us to lunch at a delightful small cafe. Cogolin is just 15 miles from Saint Tropez, but it is a small un-touristy Provencal village. It was a very hot day; the restaurant was outside under a covered patio. I remember that I was sweating so much I could hardly enjoy my salad of mixed greens with goat cheese toasts. Our gracious hosts offered us glasses of chilled rose; it was a perfect day that I will always remember. I felt that we were truly experiencing and sharing another culture.

In the cane fields with Daniel Rigotti and Jean-Francois Rico.

We also had the wonderful opportunity to visit the D’Addario Woodwind cane plantation in Hyeres and to meet Philippe Weibel an expert horticulturist.

photo: Jean-Frqncois Rico; with Philippe Weibel, D’Addario Cane Plantation

Coming out of the hot blazing sun, I entered a lush and verdant grove of Arundo Donax plants. Surrounded by the giant stalks, it felt as if I was in a humid tropical forest. Philippe jokingly greeted the plants and lovingly described some of the techniques he used to encourage the optimal growth of his charges. He picked up a clump of soil and crumbled it in his hands. He knew by feel exactly what the soil needed. I observed that under his stewardship, the plants grew to be strong and healthy; large in circumference, perfect for clarinet and saxophone reeds, but this would not be used for oboe cane!

Along with bags of tube cane, I had purchased a rather large number of bottles of rose wine and olive oil to take back home as gifts. Before we left the D’Addario Plantation, Philippe made sure to give me expert packing advise to make sure my treasures made it safely back!

The next three days were spent traveling around Provence, including visits to Aix in Provence and Marseille. The main theme for this part of the trip was to visit museums and historic sites including a wonderful visit to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey where the monks tend acres of fragrant lavender. This will be part of the next Provence installment: Provence Revisted- Part Two!

Back to the cold snowy winter!

I think a recipe that invokes memories of summer and plenty of sunshine is in order; with a dish that has evolved over a number of years. When our daughter was small, each summer we would travel to Deer Isle, Maine where we rented a house with our dear friends Carol & Hal Ober and their son Matthew. After a day of swimming and hiking on the island, we always made dinner together. This would also sometimes involve a Blueberry Pie that we got from one of our favorite restaurants, The Fisherman’s Friend in Stonington, Maine. With the freshest ingredients purchased from roadside stands, we often put together a casserole that included eggplant, tomatoes, plenty of garlic and maybe also some zucchini and parsley. Topped with some bread crumbs and a bit of feta cheese, it was delicious! I believe it was Hal who first coined the phrase, “Here is a little dish I like to call Eggplant Provencal”!

The other day, I got firm fresh eggplant and a bunch of organic parsley in my coop order. I cut the eggplant into thick slices, placed it in a strainer and sprinkled it with salt to remove any bitterness.

Good tomatoes are nowhere to be found now, but a large can of whole peeled tomatoes cut into chunks, substituted nicely! After I rinsed and patted the eggplant slices dry, I added just a bit of olive oil to lightly coat the pieces and broiled the eggplant until it was golden brown and crispy. I layered the eggplant and tomato sprinkled with chopped garlic and parsley. I topped the dish with breadcrumbs and olive oil and baked the casserole covered with foil wrap for about 40 minutes until the eggplant was soft. I removed the foil and baked the dish a bit more until the top was nicely browned and the juices were bubbly.

This is a perfect dish for the middle of the winter- served with a crusty baguette and a glass of rose; we can dream of warmer, safer days!!

“A Little Dish I Like to Call: Eggplant Provencal”

Ingredients:

1 firm large eggplant

1 large can whole tomatoes

3 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped

olive oil

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

* If you have capers or pitted black olives on had, this might be nice to add.

To Make Eggplant:

Pre-heat Broiler

Slice eggplant into thick slices and place in a colander. Sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse and lay on a few sheets of paper towel and pat dry.

Place eggplant on a baking sheet and lightly coat with olive oil.

Broil each side until browned and slight softened.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place half of tomatoes on bottom of a medium sized casserole dish.

Layer eggplant on top and sprinkle with the garlic.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Add remaining tomatoes with their juice on top and sprinkle on the parsley.

Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on top.

Cover tightly with foil and bake about 40 minutes until the eggplant is very soft.

Remove cover and bake about 10 minutes more until top is nicely browned.

Let the dish sit for about 10 minutes and ENJOY!!

This is also great the next day!

As I write this, the wind is howling outside and our latest Nor’easter is almost finished.

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!