A Time Ago

6 years ago today I was in La Rochelle, France. Probably on my way down to the shore–taking in the hot, salty Atlantic Ocean air and looking for new vantage points out into the harbor. Or I might have been in a cafe drinking beer and watching Coupe du Monde on TV. Whatever I was doing, it definitely involved something boozy, something edible, and the family I was traveling with. My own family, of course–just a very limited number of them.

6 years ago I graduated from pastry school and then had no idea what to do next. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in a restaurant or a hotel or somewhere else. Originally, I had thoughts of maybe joining on with a cruise line as a way to meet people and get some good stories while doing a bit of traveling, In the meantime, I went to France with my Grandmother.

In Paris we met a cousin who had travelled on her own from the East Coast. Our plan was to hang out in Paris for a few days with a rented apartment as our home base, before taking a train to meet my uncle. Uncle Rob was living in a tiny town called Saint-Simeux, in prime cognac country, working on a photography project and just generally living an enviable life.

Our couple of days in Paris were of course, a hoot. We drank a lot of cheap champagne (some of it from water bottles), ate a lot of delicious food, and walked everywhere. Then we took a train to a town whose name I cannot for the life of me remember. My uncle met us at the train station and we left immediately for La Rochelle where he had rented an apartment within walking distance of the sea. It also had a pool, which was spectacular. Never mind that the one toilet stopped working halfway through our stay, which made it very difficult to live comfortably (we had to use another tenant’s restroom for a day or so while we waited for a plumber to fix ours).

We hung out in La Rochelle for about a week, as I recall. It was some of the best times I’ve even had travelling. While we were there we went to a huge festival of some sort and were out till 3 in the morning. This might not sound like much, but when you are travelling with an 80 year old woman, you don’t often stay out until 3 in the morning. After La Rochelle we spent time in Saint-Simeux, taking day trips to tiny towns along the coast, and to places like Cognac and Bordeaux.

It’s hard now, recalling all the details of our trip. Towards the end of our journey–while in Royan clambering through German Pill Boxes from WWII–our car was broken into and my bag was stolen. Among other things, it contained my little snapshot camera and my travel journal. I was completely heartbroken and it made the rest of the trip–thankfully only another 3 or 4 days at that point–sort of bittersweet.

I lost the list of town names I had recorded–all the towns we visited while driving through the country side in search of excellent food and cognac from small distilleries. I lost most of the pictures of us as a family in Paris, where I didn’t want to carry my huge borrowed Fuji around with me night and day. I lost the tangible form of all the little thoughts and feelings from my experiences.

Mostly though, I kept it all intact. I remember the feel of the sand on the beaches. I remember giggling maniacally with my Grandma as we knelt down in an ancient church in Saintes, pagans to the core.

I can taste the flaky, almost bitter caramel crust of a well made baguette. I can smell the pungent tang of a cheese shop in the heat of a June afternoon; the salty, fleshy whiff of a fish market stocked with huge foreign fish and glorious langoustines to grace your plateau de fruits de mer. I can recall watching the bubbles rise on the side of a glass of Kronenbourg 1664–or a glass of champagne. I can’t count the number of vineyards, sunflowers or towns ending in -gnac that I saw, but I can tell you that the number of glasses of cognac and coke combined with the number of glasses of pastis reach into the dozens.

There are of course, things that stand out. I’m going to highlight some of these for the next couple of weeks.

I’m dying to travel right now. I mean really travel. We’ve been here and there and everywhere in the last couple of months, and we’ll be going to Israel for my sister-in-law’s wedding in August, but I miss being in a foreign place with no schedule, no constraints–no children.

I’m going to content myself with reliving some of the more memorable meals from that trip, every last one eaten in the heat of summer: perhaps alongside a river, or in a quiet restaurant somewhere in the countryside. Now that summer is (hopefully) finally making it’s way to Seattle, I am ramping up by picnicking like a pro and nobody does it better than the French.

First up is a beverage to whet your appetite. It’s not a recipe, per say. More like a suggestion.

It’s very simple. Take a glass and fill it with a cool–but not cold–wine. It doesn’t need to be expensive, and it can be any varietal that is refreshing chilled.

Ok, Ok. It can be a beer if you want.

The second step is to take it outside, and the third is to drink it. You can repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 in any combination as often as you like for the rest of the summer. The 4th step is very important though–when you drink this glass of wine, be aware of how it makes you feel and try to think of another time you felt that way.

Think about the friends you sat with, the conversations you had, the food you ate. Then, make plans–for this summer–to do something that will make you feel that good all over again.

Traditions Made New

A couple of years ago we started having people for New Year’s Day brunch, which was I guess some sort of weird indication that we were becoming grown ups or whatever. It was the year after we bought a house, so maybe that had something to do with it. The first couple of years we spent the entire day totally hungover, but the hangover has slowly become less and less. 

This year instead of a brunch I prepared a four course dinner for a few close friends, and we just ate and drank and ate some more, and then we watched Bridesmaids. It was one of my favorite NYEs ever, and I’ve had some pretty amazing ones.

The next day was the birthday of my Aunt, so I made a cake for her and took it to a large family gathering at my Dad’s instead of the brunch. The timing was perfect to have the burden be on someone else to host a big New Year’s Day event, because of how busy we’ve been this month.

We spent the afternoon in the sun: a very welcome change for the start of the year. One that I hope will be a good sign of things to come. It’s been a dark December.

One thing this means we missed out on was the annual NYD tradition that started that first year, one we like to call “Eat the Year.” It is pretty much what it sounds like. We make an edible “20**” and then we consume it as a group. There has also almost always been some sort of skype/gchat thing happening, the most notable being a bi-coastal dance party. Over gchat. Moving on.

Original Eat the Year. We were a little egg crazy: new chickens, and someone brought duck eggs

Well this year we did “Eat the Year” over gchat with some of the original creators and it was great. We had to eat all of it ourselves, since we were the only ones here, but it was good just to see the smiles on those friends faces as we just said hi for a minute and talked about what they year might bring (building more shelves, obviously). 

Good bye, 2011. You rocked.

For me, this simple tradition is just a way for us to mark the start of the year with the people that really matter to us. We feed our bodies with the food, we feed our heads with the idea of a fresh thing, and we feed our hearts and souls with a meal made with hope and love and joy in mind when it is made. It’s nourishing all around. 

I hope the start of your year was as joyful and full of love as mine. Maybe this year you will start a new tradition, or find a way to keep up an old one that maybe needs some of the dust brushed off of it. And however you spent the time ringing in 2012, I hope it is the best year yet.

The Family

I want to tell you a little bit about our household, before we get too far in our relationship. You might just decide this blog will be a little too wacky for you, but I think you will find us to be wacky in an endearing sort of way. I hope you do anyway.

Here is a list of the people/animals who live at our house:

First there’s me: Venessa. I am a pastry chef by trade but mostly just a person with a passion for creating. I grew up in the Great Pacific Northwest and I am so so glad I still get to live here. My parents are both artists so I grew up with a bedroom full of paints and dress-up. It pretty much hasn’t changed, except that I added passions for cooking and urban farming on top of that. 
Next up is Joe: He’s my amazing husband, and this blog was really his idea. He planted the seed in my head while I was out planting seeds in the dirt. He’s an avid cyclist; he loves my cooking; and he makes me laugh everyday, even when I don’t want to be in a good mood. I could go on and on about him, but I’ll save that for later. He’s also the reason we keep Kosher. 

Tagging along with Joe are his two sons, my super funny and bright step-sons: Isaac and Aaron. They’re 8 now, but when I met them they were just 2 1/2 and cute as buttons. They’re witty and energetic and they keep me on my toes. They also dearly adore the next member of our little clan…

Our littlest farmhand: Lilli! She’s 8 1/2 months old now, and is my treasure. She always has a smile for you, especially if you happen to be a member of the animal kingdom. She’s just started crawling, and the world better watch out because she is going to do big things someday. She was born at home (someday maybe I’ll tell you about it, if you’re curious) and she is the inspiration for a lot of the projects I have found myself in the middle of lately. 

We also are fortunate to have a whole circus of animals who live with us:

Scourge, the cat. She’s a little bit on the silly side and we love her for it. She puts up with our antics pretty well, and as a reward she gets to eat challah with us on Fridays.

Our veteran laying hens: Mambo, Andromeda and Effie. These girls are going on their 3rd summer and they are still laying like champs for now. They love love love our new house, because there is a much bigger yard for them to rule. Also, who knew that chickens could climb stairs?

And our newest members of the flock: Shadowfax, Harriet, Minnie, Hot Dog and Reepicheep. We brought these gals home in March, and they are almost full grown now. All the names have a story, but it’s a long one to tell  so I’ll spare you for now.

Recently we added a colony of bees. We’re keeping them at the house of a friend who has a much bigger yard than us, and also fruit trees to benefit from the pollinating goodness of a couple of beehives on the property. They don’t have names really, but they sure are fun!

We also have a plethora of fish, who I can’t leave out because Isaac and Aaron are very proud of them. Diz, the goldfish, is at least 20 years old. There are the cloudfish, who all have names but I can’t remember any of them. And then there is Bloody Mary–she was adopted when the boys were going through a scary stories phase. 

All in all, it’s a pretty full house. But, I don’t think it would be our house if it wasn’t for all the friends we live with.