A Silent Witness

The rain is falling outside, lightly, soothingly. I listen to the sound, old as time, and breathe a little deeper. My soul, like the parched ground all around, drinks it in.

I just returned from a short trip in DC where, for a couple of days, I got to be a tourist. This means that I had entire glorious days alone to walk and lose myself in the details of a new place…and I did just that.

I walked five to six hours every day, devouring the city with my eyes.

The Georgetown area quickly revealed itself to be my favorite. A mixture of old and new, the cobblestone streets and flowered lamp posts reminded me of small villages in France and Switzerland.

I walked into Dean and Deluca and drank in the delicious gourmet-ness of it…beautiful little pastries piled high in precise white, pink, and brown pyramids; shelves bursting with oils and spices that managed to tease my taste buds despite the thick colorful bottles separating us; mouthwatering artisan cheeses from all corners of the world cascading over each other in their eagerness to show off. I took it all in, eyes slightly glazed, as if in a dream.

And then there were the neighborhoods, little islands of peace and quiet in the midst of a bustling city. I strolled around, soaking in the sounds, the colors…

…peeking into windows, glimpsing old books stacked on end tables under heavy set lamps and imagining the lives that belonged to them.

I am always amazed at the little things we notice when we take the time to really look. I love being in a new place and having hours on end to discover, because discovering requires looking, and looking will reveal all sorts of things…little gems hidden right below the surface of everyday life.

Like an old tree, stubborn with age, standing its ground and growing around a fence. Proving, yet again, that nature is the strongest.

Or a flower growing through the sidewalk; who, proud of her strength and resilient spirit, arches her graceful neck towards the sky.

My days of strolling the city, talking to no one and yet seeing everyone, taking in the details, sounds, colors, and gestures, left me happy and at peace. I felt surprisingly renewed…as if disappearing into life is exactly what I needed to re-discover life.

Thank you D.C. for a wonderful trip.


Peaches and Memories

The air is still. The house is quiet. I sit in the living room watching the leaves outside slowly float to the ground.

It is a day of heaviness in the heart. Time stands still. And yet, as I watch the brown leaves fall, I am witness to the exact opposite: time, unstoppable, passes.

My grandfather passed away a couple days ago.

He was 88 years old. His life was long, full, and happy. He was ready to go.

But it is still hard to say goodbye.

I sit here, feeling the loss, and I find myself grasping for memories. I want to remember it all...the laughs, the games we used to play, how he used to call me his poupée, his princesse and twirl me around the living room.

As I let my mind wander, I am brought back to my childhood and all the summers I spent in the mountains of Switzerland where he and my grandmother lived. I remember him bringing fruit out, sitting on the porch together, feeling the bright summer sun warm my skin, and biting into the ripest most delicious peach I had ever tasted. I can still feel the tickle of the juice as it ran down my arm. We didn’t have peaches in Africa and I thought they were the best thing on earth.

I remember him asking me and my brother if we wanted to dance, a twinkle in his eye, and then laughing as we jumped up and down excitedly shouting “Oui! Oui, grand-papa! La Danse des Canards!” We would watch intently as he pulled out the old record and placed it on the record player, gently, allowing it to crackle a couple seconds before the music came on and filled the room. Then we would all quickly move to the middle of the living room and the three of us would start dancing around in a semi-crouched position, wiggling our butts, flapping our “wings,” and altogether being as utterly duck-like as was humanly possible. We sang at the top of our lungs, and my brother and I tried not to fall over laughing watching my grandfather do his best to be as silly as he could be. No matter how many times we danced to that song, I felt the same thrill and excitement every time.

Those are the memories I cling to...cheeks aching with laughter, deliciously sweet peaches, and endless bear hugs.

So this morning, searching for some comfort and the memory of childhood summers spent with grand-papa, I found myself in the kitchen baking peaches.

Gluten-Free Peach Muffins

In an attempt to make these muffins healthier, I replaced the oil with unsweetened applesauce. I was thrilled with the result! If you don’t have applesauce, you can use canola oil or melted butter instead.

1 ½ cups gluten-free flour mix of your choice
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 small to medium peaches or 2 large ones (preferably organic as they are not peeled)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Mix well until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl mix the eggs with the applesauce, and vanilla extract.

Wash and dry the peaches. Cut them into slices and then cut the slices into small chunks.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid ingredients into the well. Mix slowly with a whisk until just combined. Add the peaches and gently fold into the batter with a wooden spoon.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners and fill each cup 2/3 full. If you have batter left over, distribute evenly across the cups. Mine all ended up being completely full. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean.

When ready, take pan out of the oven and let sit for one to two minutes. Take out muffins from pan and put on cooling rack.

There is a lot of fruit in these, so they are very moist and don’t require any toppings.


Papas Bravas

When I think back on this three-day weekend, it is hard to remember that I never actually left North Carolina. My senses swear to the contrary.

On Friday night, as I mentioned in my previous post, Josh and I strolled along crowded Parisian streets, the scent of mussels and french fries infusing the hot summer night air.

On Monday, we went to Spain. We traveled there on burning lips, golden potatoes, and slow-cooked tomatoes.

The day had been planned for some time; ever since Josh mentioned that his favorite Tapas dish was one he had had in Spain called papas bravas. He hadn’t had it since, which is all I needed to hear to pull out my planner and mark the calendar with a “Tapas” day. What better excuse for another culinary adventure?

“Papas bravas” means brave or courageous potatoes, and once you’ve tasted the sauce that is served with this dish, you understand why. Its whole reason for being is to be as hot as possible, challenging anyone who crosses its path with its fierceness.

The tomatoes are cooked in onion, garlic, paprika, and dried chilies. They are left to simmer on the stove top until their bright summary essence collapses into the dark almost ferocious flavor of the spices. This sauce does not dance around the word "hot;" it embraces it as if its life depended on it.

But the potatoes, brave beings that they are, counter the heat with a softness so delicate that it is almost sweet. Add on to the mixture a drizzle of mayonnaise or homemade garlic aioli, and what you get is an explosion of heat immediately offset by the creamy softness of the starch and the sweet tanginess of the aioli. A veritable symphony in the mouth. No wonder it is one of the most popular Tapas in Spain.

Of course, to really turn the afternoon into a culinary adventure, we had to have other dishes from Spain.

First, we settled on a version of the traditional Spanish tortilla that, while still starring eggs and potato as its main ingredients, also included green and red peppers and was baked as opposed to cooked on the stove top. It had a golden puffy quiche-like quality when it came out of the oven that made it hard not to devour immediately, but somehow we resisted. We let it cool and then cut it up into delectable little squares, just the right size for popping into eager open mouths.

Lastly, we decided to change gears completely, and opted for roasted red peppers stuffed with crab. So simple and so delicious.

We spent the afternoon side by side in the little kitchen, pealing, chopping, dicing, and sautéing as we tried new foods, shared memories of Spain, and danced to flamenco music. The hours flew by as we worked, talking and laughing, and before we knew it the day had turned into night.

Finally, glasses of Spanish red wine in hand, it was time to sit down and eat.

There are few things that give me as much pleasure as watching someone get gob smacked by the emotion of the flavor in a first bite of food they love but haven’t had in a long time. Their face becomes a remarkable canvas of emotion; surprise, ecstasy, and nostalgia all fighting for first place before the person finally closes their eyes, sighs contentedly, and sinks into the magic of it all, letting themselves travel wherever the food may take them.

I watched gleefully as the emotions danced across Josh’s face. Then, sinking into the magic myself, I let the spices take me back to Spain.

Papas Bravas

The Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed
3 teaspoons Spanish paprika
2.5 teaspoons chili powder (start slow and build you way up)
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Sauté the onion and garlic in a heavy based saucepan on medium heat until translucent. Add the spices and cook, stirring often, for another minute. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve in a bowl or put in a dispenser to drizzle over the potatoes.

The Potatoes

4 large Russet potatoes
Canola oil for frying
Sea salt

Wash, peel, and cut the potatoes in 1 inch cubes. You can either boil the potatoes first and then fry them to get them golden and crispy, or deep fry them.

If you choose to boil them first, cover the potatoes with water and boil them for 10 minutes. Drain and let them cool before frying them to a golden brown in an inch or two of oil.

If you choose to deep fry the potatoes, fill a heavy pan with enough canola oil to completely cover the potatoes (make sure there are a couple inches between the oil and the top of the pan) and heat to the point that oil pops when sprinkled with water or fizzles when you put a potato in. Fry the potatoes for six to seven minutes, until they start to sizzle. Remove from oil, drain, and allow to cool. Once cool, fry again for another couple minutes until they turn a golden brown. Drain and sprinkle with sea salt.

Serve immediately with the sauce and a side of mayonnaise or aioli. Enjoy!



Food is one of my favorite ways to travel.

When the scent of cilantro wafts up from my cutting board as I stand in the kitchen chopping, I find myself once again walking the streets of Quito on my way to lunch in one of the many little restaurants that border the streets, where I know that no matter what I order, I will first be served a bowl of fresh ceviche topped with a little green mound of those flat, bright green leaves. Thinking back, I can practically taste the citrusy raw squid swimming among the pungent fragrance of the herb; it still tastes faintly of the sea.

When my mother fries plantains, the sweet aroma of ripe bananas simmering in oil brings me back to the little wooden stands where I would stop to have lunch along the side of the road in Ivory Coast, watching the women fry mountains of black plantains in enormous iron pots. I plop the deliciously sweet alloco in my mouth, letting the sugary softness of the banana melt on my tongue, and I can practically feel the plastic chair sticking to my back under the hot African sun. As I reach for another, I can hear the gleeful laughter of children playing soccer on the dirt street, shouting victoriously as they kick empty cans into imaginary goals.

And whenever I happen upon the intoxicating fragrance of mussels steamed in white wine broth, paired with the mouth-watering smell of crispy hot french fries, I am whisked back to a busy Parisian street and an even busier Parisian restaurant that serves the best Moules-Frites (mussels and french fries) I have ever eaten. ‘Chez Léon’ is actually technically a Belgian restaurant, but moules-frites is as traditional to the north of France as it is to the French-speaking part of Belgium.

And in my heart, regardless of origin, this dish will always embody hot summer nights in Paris.

So when Josh and I decided to watch the movie “Julie and Julia” and make a French night out of it, I jumped on the opportunity to make homemade moules-frites. He had never had mussels before and I couldn’t wait for him to discover the flavors...I wanted him to travel to Paris with me for the evening.

I decided to serve the fries with garlic aioli. I naively thought this would be easy to do. Boy was I wrong. It turns out aioli is an incredibly finicky thing. It took me two tries and a lot of wasted eggs before I even got close. But, in the end, it was worth it. The garlicky creaminess complemented the french fries perfectly and we have enough left over that I can now use it in other dishes. Ah, sweet decadence...

The mussels and french fries proved to be smooth sailing after the aioli adventure. I had decided to cook the mussels a little differently this time by adding fennel and a touch of my favorite French liqueur, Pernod. The anise flavored liqueur brought out the taste of the fennel just enough to give the broth the essence of something special without smothering the delicacy of the shellfish. The fries were golden crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and I found myself dipping them in the sauce again and again, trying to soak up as much as possible.

The evening turned out beautifully. We paired the meal with a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and, just like that, we were back in France sharing one of those languorous meals that lasts deep into the night.

I closed my eyes, breathed in the flavors, and felt the Parisian summer air all around me.

Moules Frites (Mussels and French Fries)

If you’re going to serve these with aioli, I would make the aioli first, as it can sit in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the meal. Next I would prep the french fries and go through the first step of frying them. They can sit and wait while you prepare the mussels. Once your mussels go in the pot to cook, go ahead and complete the last step of frying the fries, and everything should be ready at just the right time!

Frites (French Fries)

5 medium russet potatoes
Enough canola oil to fill half a pot
Sea salt

Scrub potatoes under running water to get rid of all dirt. Pat dry. Peel potatoes and rinse. Cut potatoes into thin or medium-sized strips (about ¼ inch thick). Fill a large pot halfway with canola oil and turn heat to medium-high. While oil is heating, thoroughly dry the potato strips with a towel.

Once oil is ready (it will pop when sprinkled with water or fizzle when you put a potato stick in it), add half the potato sticks. Make sure they are completely covered in oil. Fry, stirring occasionally, until they start rising to the top of the oil and look soft and limp (6 to 8 minutes). They will remain pale looking, so don’t wait for them to turn golden.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a colander lined with paper towels. Add the remaining potato sticks to the oil and repeat process. Before you transfer the second batch to the colander, remove the first batch and put in a baking pan lined with paper towels. The potatoes can sit and wait until the rest of the meal is ready to go, before the last step of re-frying them.

When the rest of the meal is almost ready, add half the cooked potatoes back into the oil stirring frequently until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to colander. Pat potatoes with paper towel to take off excess oil. Transfer potatoes to dish and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat with remaining batch. Serve at once.

Serves four (or two if you’re both really hungry!)

Moules (Mussels)

2 pounds mussels
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely diced
1 cup fennel, thinly sliced
2 cups white wine
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons Pernod
Salt to taste

Scrub the mussels under cold running water and pull out any beards. Discard any mussels that are broken or open and don’t close when you tap them on a hard surface.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for a minute or two before adding the fennel and garlic. Cook vegetables for about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 5 minutes. Taste the broth and add salt to taste. Add the mussels, drizzle the Pernod over them, and shake the pot so that the mussels get tossed with the liquid (you may need to stir them to make sure they all get coated with some of the broth). Cover and cook for 4 minutes, shaking pot occasionally. Mussels should all be open. Sprinkle parsley over them.

Serve into deep bowls, discarding any mussels that did not open. Pour a generous serving of the broth into each bowl. Serve with a side of french fries.

Serves two.

Garlic Aioli

The ingredients are really simple, but don’t be fooled; the process of making aioli requires lots of care and patience. The key is to pour the oil in very slowly. My first batch was a catastrophe because I got ahead of myself and, after about five minutes of slow pouring, thought I could increase the speed and pour a little faster. Everything went from a nice creamy thickness, to instant watery green soup. There was no salvaging it after that. So remember that the key here is patience. Stick to a constant slow stream of oil and you’ll be just fine.

4 egg yolks
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¾ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon water
Salt to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Put the egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor or a mixing bowl and mix until light and creamy (in the mixing bowl, you can either whisk by hand or use an electric mixer – I recommend the electric mixer; your arm muscles will thank you). Add the oil very slowly – I recommend dripping it from a teaspoon or tablespoon – whisking constantly until the mixture thickens. Once all the oil has been incorporated, mix in the parsley. If the mixture is too thick, add the tablespoon of water or a bit more lemon juice. Season to taste. Serve with french fries.

The sauce will keep for up to three days in the refrigerator. I love adding it to all sorts of dishes (mushroom omelets with fresh thyme, fish baked in the oven, rice and vegetable casseroles…the possibilities are endless!)

Eat, enjoy, and laugh deeply!
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