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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lots of Pretty and Delicious with Recipes!

 I'm always amazed at how quickly gardens grow especially when you look at pictures from a month prior and think how pretty everything is and then you compare the difference in a few weeks and the absolute lushness - it's brand new to me every year no matter how long I've been a gardener.  For example, look at June below; the long border, and then a few weeks later below that.

 And two more - June, then late July

 And again - June, then late July

And then these lovely combos below:

 Tonight Dan and I took a walk and we could smell those Casa Blanca lilies you see above from across the street and down aways - exquisite!
 Color right outside the kitchen door above and below:

More combos below:

 Chartreuse aralia and fuschia sunpatiens
 Stone wall and moss
 Lily and orange million bells
 Heuchera with Creeping Jenny
And sister combo Leslie and me - she came to Boston on business a couple weeks ago and took us out to dinner - thank you Leslie!
And finally - lobster bacon combo - lunch at the Pilot House in Kennebunkport ME a couple days ago - so delicious!

Now for two really really good recipes that are also super super easy!  The first is a spectacularly flavored chicken dish where I had the recipe on my phone, the ingredients in the fridge and garden, I'm on my way home from the Kingston house and I call Dan and tell him to preheat the oven and throw these ingredients together in this order.  I get home 1/2 hour later, the house smells so incredible and 1 hour later dinner is on the table - 5 minutes to prepare, 1 1/2 hours to roast and a one pot dinner is on the table - you have to try this!  I could eat this once a week and the leftovers the second day were even better if that's possible.  The recipe is chef Jamie Oliver's and it's called Crazy Genius One-Pot Chicken.  Here is what you do:
 Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large oven proof pot place 4 chicken leg quarters with skin on.  Throw on a huge handful of fresh basil, stems and all - just rip them up a bit and throw them in - no chopping necessary.  Throw on 2 large handfuls of whole cherry tomatoes or 4-5 medium tomatoes cut in quarters.  Then toss in a bulb's worth of whole peeled garlic - just separate the cloves.  Then pour in one can of drained and rinsed white cannelini beans, 2 handfuls of unpeeled tiny potatoes, 2 tsp chili powder or a large pinch of red pepper flakes (we used chili powder), drizzle some olive oil over it all and place in the oven, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours.  You won't believe the flavor of roasted basil!  Here is a picture of Dan's cooked dish below - I took the pic after we had already dished ours up so it's not as pretty.  Enjoy!

Now for the best Apricot jam (my favorite jam flavor) you will ever eat and so easy!  This is a recipe from Provence and there's a secret to it.  Here goes:

5 pounds of apricots - rinse, halve and pit - no peeling!  Save 12-15 of the pits - this is critical!  Now, crack each pit open with a nut cracker to reveal the almond like nut inside - set those aside and throw all the other pits and shells away.
In a large, heavy bottomed pot toss in the apricots, the nuts and 3 3/4 cups of sugar.  Turn heat up to medium and then stand at the stove stirring constantly for about 45 minutes to one hour while you read a book standing up (or sitting if you can pull up a tall stool).  That's what I did and it was fun.  The sugar will dissolve and the apricots will melt into a puree.  Do not let mixture ever burn or stick to bottom of pot.  It will thicken dramatically.  Once it does, transfer the jam into a large bowl and let it sit over night.  I covered it with plastic once it was cool.  24 hours later put the jam back into a pot and heat it until it is hot and starts to bubble (this takes just minutes), it will remain really thick.  Pour or spoon hot jam in to half pint jars and process 10 minutes in boiling water.  The nuts soften and break up as you cook the jam and their flavor is delicious when you get a bite of one but they do not alter the flavor of the apricots but they do enhance it somehow.  You will notice there is no pectin or lemon juice added to this recipe.  In the 2 pics below you can see the apricot nut meats.
 It gets really thick!  Now, pour it into a bowl as you see below and give it a 24 hour rest on the counter.

 Reheat until it starts to bubble and then pour in to jars and process 10 minutes.
I made raspberry jam from my Kingston harvest the same day I processed the apricot.

A couple more pretty things - I bought two sun dresses at the St. Remy market and they hit a couple inches above my knee and I wanted them a little longer so as I have been doing a lot to dresses that I prefer to be longer, I embellish the hems with trimming and give them a customized look.  Here is what I did to a red one you see me wearing below and then the green one on the ironing board.

They both look so cute and the lengths are perfect!  Joanne's has tons of great trimmings.

You know I have 7 stock tanks in our yard that we grow veggies in right?  Well, here is another use (wheel turning in my head) for one that we found at the coolest nursery in Kennebunk - Snug Harbor Farm - such a wonderful nursery and little animal farm that specializes in topiary (of herbs and annuals) and succulents - I adore both.  Here are some examples of their nursery stock:
 You can see the lavender and rosemary topiary on the left side above.

 Look at what they have done to Coleus!

 I highly recommend a field trip for you New Englanders to this nursery/farm in Kennebunk ME!

And lastly, just for fun, I opened up one of the the blue bird houses in my long border after the bird family had vacated to see what their apartment looked like.  Pretty cool huh?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Dream That Cost Fifteen Pounds Of Flesh

WARNING:  As with most of my posts lately, done once a month or so, it's a long one but a fun one!

Dan and I recently returned from a trip to Provence that was unlike any one we have heretofore taken and I am happy to write about it because I want to keep living it for awhile as it was very hard to come home.  That trip however, came at a price beyond its monetary one.  You see, I made a deal with myself and Dan for that particular adventure; I earned it - it wasn't a done deal until I met a goal.  We wouldn't have gone if a certain date arrived and I hadn't kept my end up.  Everything was cancelable or refundable up to a certain date.  This was a dream trip of mine, my own little fantasy - Dan just came along for the ride.
 You see me going in to the Boulangerie above?  Those are the kind of places that got me in to trouble in the first place.  Back in March when we were waiting at a train station headed for NYC, I was sitting next to Dan and I had an epiphany - maybe that's not the correct word but whatever.  Out of the blue I turned to him and said "I have to lose ten pounds or I am going to die of misery".  He looked at me like "whaattt???"  "Yes, I can't stand this piece of flab that torments me from the back of my waist that I can feel constantly puffed up at the top of my pants, underwear, spanx, shorts, whatever and ten pounds is keeping me from true happiness, a fitted shirt, and optimal health (enter drama)."  He replies (as he must, but he means it) "no you don't, you look great to me".  Those ghastly two words - "to me" that compute in my mind as "I don't mind if you're a little chubby".  No really, I tell him that I have got to lose 10 lbs or I can't travel anymore as it is the travel eating that has put that flab there and I can't stand it anymore - this is something that I can control and it's been bothering me for too long but I hate dieting, I detest dieting, I don't overeat as a rule and have cared for my weight and health all of my adult life because I can't stand dieting (or feeling chubby) but after five years of marriage to a travel loving husband, the back fat had slowly crept on (though I lose 5 of it every spring doing yard work and then slowly put it back until the following spring) and that means I have to go on a diet!!!!!  I need something awesome to reach for, something out of the ordinary, something to give me the strength to do something I absolutely dread and as I am telling him this, the answer is already in my head and as I say it out loud I feel that it is ridiculous and selfish and a total waste of money but I say it anyway expecting the same line of thinking from him (ridiculous, selfish and a total waste of money) but to my surprise he answers "if that's what it takes, I think it sounds like an interesting and enjoyable reward and I'll go with you".  What I suggested rather tentatively is that perhaps if we could spend a week to 10 days living like locals in some Provencal village in a cute little apartment where we had to buy our bread and vegetables fresh every morning and sit in squares and read books and watch people and pretend we lived there and just took it easy and slow everyday instead of the frenetic type of exploring we normally do, well maybe that could work (pause and hold my breath).  And his wonderful answer to which he added, "come up with a place and a plan".  That was too easy.  Now came the hard part.

Provence in south eastern France is where I really wanted to do this and I found a very reasonable apartment in the charming, not-too-small, not- too-big town of St. Remy that I booked in early April and was cancelable at no charge on or before June 26th - my day of reckoning.  This apartment was perfectly situated at the entrance to the centuries old down town on the floor above a bistro in a stone building on a street lined with ancient sycamore trees right next to the town fountain where three roads intersect.  When we arrived, we realized that we couldn't have found a sweeter location as that intersection is where all the fun begins and the free public parking was just two blocks away (parking along the streets is almost impossible so this close-by parking area was a big deal).  We bought our airline tickets as well and after we got back from Japan in late April I officially started "the diet".  I hung a picture of a very lovely woman in a tasteful bikini (no puff of flesh above that waist band!) that I found in an Athleta catalog with a large paper strip attached to the top that read PROVENCE on a wall in our bathroom and carefully planned how I would live on 1200 calories per day with absolutely no cheating starting April 24th.  Not a crash diet by any means but low enough for slow and steady results.  I was so motivated that I almost enjoyed the diet and in 9 weeks I had lost not ten, but fifteen pounds! Back fat gone (and my chest).

 Our apartment was above the Bistrot Des Alpilles - the first three windows right above it.  In spite of being above a bistro, we never heard noise from it at all and never from the other three occupied apartments.  Our entrance was behind it down a cute alley and every day we emerged from it on to this shop lined street you see below.

The first thing we did every morning of those seven glorious days was to walk to the boulangerie and buy our bread - whole wheat demi baguette for me and croissants for Dan.  Then we returned to our apartment and I made my hot chocolate that I drink every morning of my life if possible on the stove top while eating an apricot and a fig or slice of melon and then I would sit down with my mug of ambrosia and eat my demi-baguette with butter and local apricot jam and catch up on social media and mail.

Then we left our abode, parting ways, each with our own morning plan until meeting up for lunch at some cafe or bistro.  The first couple days we had lunch in St. Remy but after that we drove to a different nearby village each day to acquaint ourselves with our area.  In one neighboring village, Maussane Les Alpilles, we ate lunch in the town square at an outdoor table and then we visited the local coop to buy a couple bottles of olive oil that we read in several books was reported to be the best in Provence - thank you Patricia Wells and Peter Mayle.

 This was my favorite square of the many in the village - it's in a residential area while the other dozen or so are not and I would go there and read or just sit during the after lunch hours while people were home in those houses and I could listen to their voices (and the cicadas) and smell the wonderful food smells coming out their windows while they had their siesta.  Dan's favorite square below was in the heart of the town and always crowded and busy and he spent part of every day there reading and people watching.  That is invariably where we would meet up too after our separate adventures.

 There's Dan first thing in the morning before the throngs arrived to fill up every cafe chair, table and bench.  Kids and dogs would run around the center.  Below he took this picture of "his" square and his book that he texted to me while I was hours away a-lavendering.

Another square taken while we were on our morning bread run.  

 My favorite dinner of all (and every dinner was fabulous - we ate in St. Remy each night at a different restaurant going for the typical regional dishes) was below you see rabbit thigh and leg with an amazing mustard glaze over a polenta cake and a tomato eggplant compote on the side.  The sauce/glaze was exquisite!

 Every decent sized village in Provence has a weekly outdoor market - you can find online postings of what day of the week they are held and Wednesday has been St. Remy's day for forever and it's year 'round.  We dashed to it right after breakfast and spent about three hours drooling over the offerings.  What an abundance of fresh produce, herbs and spices, soap, perfume and other beauty products, lavender products, meat (raw and some being roasted), seafood, olives, clothes, hats, shoes, belts, jewelry, books, records, jams, jellies, honey, linens, knives, breads, cheese, olive oils, etc etc - the most wonderful market I've ever attended - it was extensive; it spanned blocks and blocks of the town!

 Apricots!  So ripe, all of them.  I ate about a half dozen apricots every day of that trip - they were so so so good!

Now to the apartment:
Dan looking over the main road from our balcony our first morning.
Here are some pictures of our apartment below:

 The main church in town and below you can see that they are honoring my namesake.  Yes, my mom named me after Saint Therese.  She was a good Catholic girl, my mom.

Melons for sale in the town of Pernes Les Fontaines.

I spent one entire day chasing lavender fields all over the areas I had read they would be blooming.  Dan did not join me on this adventure - he said he didn't want to interfere or hinder me in any way as he knew I would be driving all over the country side on a mission to see as much lavender as I could (and frankly he doesn't really care about lavender fields ) and buy freshly distilled lavender essential oil, lotions, soap, perfume etc!.  And eat ice cream for my lunch in the tiny town of Cereste at Scaramouche.  I read about this ice cream in Elizabeth Bard's book - "Lunch in Provence" - she (an American) and her husband (a French man) created it.  The ice cream did not disappoint!  Dan took this picture of me below as I set out for my adventure (and to document my dress of the day) - I was so excited I could hardly stand it!

 Lavender planted in someone's front yard near the town of Apt.

 Where I ate lunch - ice cream!  Dark Chocolate and salted caramel.

 Lavender fields seen from the hilltop town of Viens.
 I pulled off the road and stopped to watch the lavender harvesting here and the smell in the air - oh my gosh!!

 I got chased out of this field by the farmer - I was only taking a picture and I apologized and then he laughed and waved me off.
 This is a huge pile of lavender that has been put through the distillery process and it becomes compost. I learned about this in the Lavender Museum in the town of Coustellet.

 Another day, another lavender field.  This one is behind the Sanatorium in St. Remy where Vincent Van Gogh stayed while he was recovering from a depressed and dark time of his life and where he painted Starry Night and dozens more of his famous ones.  The sanatorium is still functioning but the room and wing where he resided is open to the public.  It's a gorgeous place as are the gardens and he was very inspired there.
Uncomfortable looking bed but look at the view from his room below:

On my lavender day I also discovered something very unexpected - I had driven to the very remote village of Simiane la Rotonde and I decided to tour the remnants of a castle/chateau in that town - a town of very narrow, steep stone streets.  When I entered the reception area, the young french girl hearing my American accent asked me if I was with "Young Living".  What?  Isn't that a Provo, Utah, company that sells essential oils I asked her, (the competitor of DoTerra oils of the same town and marketing formula)?  Well, I walked all over the castle remains and then climbed some winding stone stairs to the "aromatherapy school" where a class was in session (the big spiel actually) and lo and behold, the room and castle belong to Young Living!  The Utah based creator of this company owns the castle and some of the town and all the farm land below that grows lavender and other plants from which the essential oils are distilled.  How funny to find a Provo, Utah, company with part of its holdings here in this remote area of Provence.  All my kids and some of Dan's went to school in Provo and I know many people who are totally into essential oils from those two companies -  that's why I found it so funny and unexpected!  Well people - you can know that your oils come from real provencal plants and are authentic!
 Above - the Young Living aromatherapy center at the chateau and the YL farm below.  That cluster of buildings you see on the hillside above the farm is the town of said chateau/castle/aromatherapy school.

One day we drove to the sea about an hour away from St. Remy to the town of Cassis.  After walking all around the town we took a boat ride to see the calanques, cove-like inlets that look like fingers on the map and in each calanque is a beach, some reachable by car but others only by boat or steep walking trail.

 Look closely and you'll see people using that huge smooth rock as their beach.
I went into the water at the local beach in Cassis expecting it to be warm since it's July in the Mediterranean in the south of France and it was as cold or colder than our current New Hampshire ocean temperature - I was shocked!

 Besides the Lavendering day and the day in Cassis, we generally stayed in "our town" doing all sorts of activities that St. Remy had to offer and really taking it easy and becoming very acquainted with that town and all of its streets, shops, many restaurants, museums, squares and other nooks and crannies.  Our final day though we decided to explore the northern edge of Provence and a bunch of pretty towns I had read about while lounging in my own square reading the Michelin guide to Provence.  What a delightful excursion that was and I kept saying over and over as we drove the picture perfect roads through stoney villages and farms and vineyards and orchards all so tidy and pristine that I did not want to go home and go back to my sad and hard life.  Just kidding - my life is really wonderful!  You know what I mean though - living a fantasy is pretty delightful and it was ending too soon!

 Espadrilles - very inexpensive and comfortable - men and women wear them (that's a male above) and they come in so many colors and patterns.  I bought a pair like that gentleman's.
 Don't you want to see what is behind that door?  I certainly do.

 The roads everywhere are lined with Sycamore trees or as they call them over there, Plane trees.  Every time we got in the car and drove through them I took pictures from my car seat - I have dozens of tree pictures.

This is a picture of the first dress I wore on the trip - I wore a dress every day and so did most of the females - both locals and tourists - it was fun to look at everyone's dresses and pretty sandals and espadrilles - the wrap-around-your-ankle espadrilles.

Two last dress pics and then they are all documented for this post/journal entry.  I want to remember what I wore those wondrous eight days!
 The best part of all is that, since this post is all about what fifteen pounds got me, is that I didn't gain an ounce on this trip believe it or not!  I ate three amazing meals every day that included bread, butter, sauces, meats, fruits, veggies - lots of veggies etc but no snacking in between meals, no pastries, no chocolate, no junk - I wasn't hungry for them nor did I need them.  I only had ice cream once and that was for lunch in Cereste.  I was not dieting at all - I was simply eating like the French do (minus the wine).   In the late afternoon I might eat a couple of apricots or figs because we didn't eat dinner until 7:30 or 8 pm but that's it.  Hooray!  Dan didn't gain any weight either - bippity!  I also find this very embarrassing to write about - weight, dieting, like TMI.  Like too personal.  Sorry.

(Dan's square late at night)  A BIENTOT PROVENCE!!!!