April 22, 2014

Life List # 3 - Attend a cooking class in Italy or, my Food adventures in Sicily – Part 2

… So here I am, back to Palermo airport. Nice to see again my luggage lost somewhere in Rome… and ready to meet the other participants to this lifestyle and cooking workshop.

We are twelve women coming from different background and culture... The promise of meaningful encounters…
Jana, talented artist from New York ; Angelica, poetic storyteller from Venezuela ; Ericha, my teammate in food styling exploration ; Heather, adventurous globetrotter from Canada ; Elyse, our chef next door from Brooklyn ; Zoe, one of the most attentive student when all in the kitchen, hands on cooking ; Melissa, meticulous food reporter from Philadelphia ; Kat, healthy writer from Canada ; Nicole, photographer with a cheerful laugh from Philadelphia ; and, Jasmine, my passionate roommate from Milan !

After a gourmet breakfast made of a large assortment of homemade jams, breakfast pastries… with lively conversation around the table… we get started with a tour of the Casa Vecchie estate… a gorgeous place…

The cookery school is in an elegant country residence surrounding a square courtyard where you will encounter Gino, the rooster and its court wondering around. Stepping outside the courtyard, you are blown away by the amazing landscape. Beautiful vineyard all around as the cookery school is located within the family estate where wine is produced.

Wherever you look, your eyes are instantly enthralled and so your camera… an inviting wooden stairs here take you to the vegetable garden and its hamac, a path there walk you to the winery across the rolling vineyard, or Oh look, another path ! And you get lost in the Sicilian countryside… Beau-ti-ful !

Serious things started soon with food styling, composition and photography sessions… Baskets full of fresh-cut vegetable from the garden, antipasti, props… Missing anything ? Just sneak into the kitchen ! Very interesting and inspiring to pair and to look at other participant settings and working process as well.

At some point, shooting food makes us hungry. Time to head to the kitchen. Early evenings would start with a cooking lesson.
All gathered in the open-plan kitchen with antipasti and a good glass of wine from the winery, we would be chatting. Fabrizia would start to cook telling more about the recipe, the ingredients, the culinary traditions…


Hands on would be more than welcome but hands would be busy shooting anything food related or, holding on a glass of wine…
After the antipasti would be all gone and the glasses would be empty, dinner would be ready to be served and we would all move to the large table to fill our hungry estomac after such a promising cooking lesson.
More wine, more passionate chat and loud laugher would go on and on all evening.

No need to mention that each dish is a feast for the senses… I still recall those amazing gnocchi di ricotta made with fresh ricotta, of course…

We visited a dairy farm where an artisan cheese maker demonstrated the art of ricotta making. From the sheep to the ricotta… from the ricotta to the gnocchi di ricotta!

Since it is all about food and photo, we went to Palermo at the largest outdoor food market for more food and photos. Imagine a group of twelve women wandering at the food market all together with their big camera, all shooting at the same time, the same aubergine, the same cauliflower, the same orange… oui, that was fun !

Our last day was very special. March 19th is Saint Joseph’s day, San Giuseppe in italian. In Sicily, people honor San Giuseppe for preventing them from starvation during the Middle Ages, with impressive altars. The altars are covered with food and flowers. The family members or villagers would gather for a week to prepare the offering.

We were very fortunate to visit the Saint Joseph’s altars in several villages around the cookery school…

That was a year ago and I recall amazing memories, food memories of course, but as well stunning countryside and nice people…
By the way, Béatrice announced another workshop in Sicily this coming October… Go for it, you are going to love it !!!

March 20, 2014

Tomato soup by Nati

The association of words, « Cyprus » and « winter soup », sounds pretty odd. Winter in Cyprus, really ? What are you talking about ?
I know I cannot talk about winter when the sky is outrageously blue, when the clouds are anecdotal or when the temperature does not drop below 15 C° at daytime.

This is not an authentic winter in comparison with our icy-cold winters in Paris : freezing temperatures, short and dark days, frozen or snowy sidewalks, runny noses, steamy glasses, everybody hide under several layers of cloths and smokes mist… I never thought I would be missing those winters.

So when they announced heavy snow in the Troodos mountains, I was all excited : « Bad weather conditions across Cyprus. Many roads leading to villages remain closed due to heavy snowfall. 80 cm height of snow at the Mount Olympos (1.952 m). Temperatures dropped below 0 C° in the montains… »
… I was already looking forward to drive up there and enjoy an authentic winter in Cyprus… before it all melts…

So here we are, driving up to the Troodos mountains with a large smile and as excited as kids. Something funny and unique is to see the cars driving down, with a little snowman made on their windshields. « We are all kids » like Nati says !

We are all kids!
Now that we have our winter, we can have our winter soup ! It is going to be a tomato soup.
For this recipe, I sat back with my notebook and enjoyed the show : Nati demonstrating how to make a tomato soup. Of course, no soup can involved!

Needless to say, the snow melted long ago but as I was making this tomato soup a couple of days ago, I thought I would share this recipe with you… regardless of the outrageous blue sky, the absence of clouds and the 23 C° we are having those days… so boring !

January 21, 2014

Life List # 23 - Become a wine connoisseur or, my wine tasting in Burma

I’m French so people assume I know about wine, but I don’t !
I don’t want to become a wine connoisseur for the cliché. But I must say I’m actually enjoying this nectar of the gods and in the past years I have found myself deepening my pleasure of experiencing new wines and discovering the complexity of the vinification …

A few months ago I was traveling in Burma and in a conversation with backpackers in Rangoon, the words « Wine tasting » popped up. Wine Tasting in Burma, really ? So I grabbed my Lonely Planet to find out that there were two wineries in the region of the Inle Lake, in the eastern part of the country. A must try !

So I tried. But I would like to clarify my intentions: I was planning to go to Inle Lake regardless of the winery tour !
After days of intense heat it was nice to enjoy much cooler temperatures…

Back to business ! Myanmar Vineyard or Red Mountain Estate ? I went for the second.

The project of a vinery in Burma started in 2002 : French winemaker. Winery equipment from Italy. 75 hectares. Altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level. Plants from France, Israel and Spain. Oak barrels from Hungary. Bottles from France. Fresh nights and sunny days. First harvest in 2008. Production of 85,000 bottles in 2011, 120,000 bottles in 2012… My wine tasting in 2013*.

The wine tasting takes place outside on the terrace. The winery overlooks the vineyard. The sun sinks. We can guess Inle Lake in the distance. Peaceful silence. A couple of visitors, breathless, push their bike uphill toward the winery…

Sauvignon blanc : dry, fruity, metallic aftertaste
Rose d’Inle : Dry, savorless, strong, dull color
Shiraz – Tempranillo : Strong
Late harvest : Semi-sweet, fruity

Not very moved by this selection so I order a glass of my favorite wine : Pinot noir !
Amazing Pinot noir… Bright color, clear, dense, ruby at sight. Rich in aroma, toasted-smoky smell. Another swirl… fabulous bouquet. Well balance as I don’t like so much excessive acidity.

Amazing view, good wine, few vegetable tempura and the peaceful silence turns into loud laugh !

I went home with one bottle of Pinot noir 2012 and I wish I had brought home some more !

* This reflects only my personal taste. Make your own opinion.

December 27, 2013

The very well-known secret to deseed a Pomegranate

My interest in pomegranate started not very long ago when I tried them out in Cyprus. I did not fall in love at first bite… It is such a piece of work to get the seeds out and frankly this granular texture was not my thing.

Pomegranate is a big thing in Cyprus. I have seen nice pieces of jewelry with pomegranates design as well as house ornaments.
With its numerous seeds, pomegrante symbolizes fruitfulness, abundance and good luck… Some think that pomegranate was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden… Why not?... The origin of the word pomegranate derives from Medieval Latin pomum granatum, literally « apple with many seeds ».

This winter fruit has great health benefits so I tried again, and again… Eventually, I found out the well-known secret to deseed pomegranate, and I started to enjoy those beautiful rubis… I love the color of the Pomegranate !

Here is the secret…
Cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon to gently but firmly knock on the pomegranate skin. The seeds start coming out and fall through your fingers into the bowl. Then sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin.

Et voilà, the pomegranate seeds are ready to nicely liven up your salad…

Oui, I did check the spelling of « Holiday » as I was not sure about one « L » or two, but I realize I miss the « S » at the end… So this year,

I wish you a very special and unique Holidays !

August 18, 2013

Life List # 3 - Attend a cooking class in Italy or, my Food adventures in Sicily - Part 1

French cuisine is known as one of the best in the world but being French, attend a cooking class in France sounds a little bit… flavourless. I rather go for another best cuisine in the world… Italian cuisine ! Italians are passionated people, they speak with their hands, their culture, ancient history and Art speak for itself... they must know something about food too !

Oui ! I want to attend a cooking class in Italy !

Meantime, I have been following Béa’s blog La Tartine Gourmande for a couple of years now, after I discovered her work on a french TV documentary program. Her pictures sublimates food… Here I am not talking only about flavour and creativity, but Art !… very inspiring…
So when she announced her next Food Photography Workshop will take place in Sicily… oooh, I had to go !

So here I am in Sicily, taking the train from Palermo airport to Palermo downtown while my luggage is lost somewhere in Rome. It is pouring buckets and my umbrella is in my luggage, somewhere in Rome… I am daydreaming, watching the rain falling and I am smiling inside : I am in Sicily !
About twenty minutes after we left the airport, the train stops. I understand there is an electric issue with the railway due to the heavy rains. Pretty soon we are asked to walk across the railway with our luggage to catch the diesel-driven train coming on the other platform to rescue us.
A couple of stations later, the train stops again. I don’t understand what is going on but I hear someone singing loud (not that the passenger was singing but the italian language sounds like it to me) something about the trains in Democratic Republic of Congo… « la Repubblica Democratica del Congo »… and everybody starts to laugh !… the construction of the railways in D.R.C. is a remain of the belgian colonisation… old and not maintained…
There is an obtacle in the middle of the railway… we cannot go further… A Sicilian passenger call her boyfriend to pick up her at the train station where we are stucked… Still pouring buckets and I end up squeezed in the back of the little old red Fiat of the boyfriend of a Sicilian, between a Mexican girl and another one from Guatemala ! A passionate conversation is going on in a mix of italian and spanish. I love Italian language with this strong sicilian accent !

I arrived in Palermo downtown in the evening. My lost luggage somewhere in Rome is now waiting for me at Palermo airport. Still raining. I am soaked but I am happy and I am enjoying a nice dinner at Casa Del Brodo : Maccheroncini alla Norma, home made pasta with tomato, ricotta cheese and aubergines… end of my first day in Palermo. Buona notte !

I spent the following day exploring Palermo…

Fontana della Vergogna & Quattro Canti

Cappella Palatina
Mercato Ballaro
Mercato Ballaro
… before going back to Palermo airport to pick up my luggage lost somewhere in Rome and meet up with the participants of Béa’s workshop. 
How exciting !

May 19, 2013

Pecan pie and stories about tailors

Oh la la, time is flying and stories and ideas are piling up… Here is one of them… I have a soft spot for tailors...

The other day, Nati came home with an impressive bag of what I would call non-identified nuts. It was a gift from the tailor to thank him for the nice amount of work Nati gave him. I thought it was a nice gesture.
My tailor in the old town fixed the small hole of my pants for free. While he was working, we made conversation with the little greek I know. I came back several days later with homemade biscotti to thank him. I like tailors !

Oui ! I do, my grandfather Joseph Furda was tailor for ladies in the 50s. He was working at home : 2, rue des Moulins in the first district of Paris.
He was well known and he even had the wife of a minister as client. In the parisian salons, ladies were talking about the tailor on Moulins street with the little girl who was climbing on his back… she was my mother taking the opportunity to climb on his back whenever he was knee down to fix a tailor.

My grandfather was signing his work with a label « J. Furda » sewn inside. Sometimes, his clients were coming back because they had gained weight and needed their tailor to be adjusted. My grandfather was recognizing his work and from time to time he could see his label was replaced with the label of a famous haute couture house such as Chanel. Not sure he enjoyed that…

Back to the non-identified nuts… The city girl I am could not figure out what was it. I never saw such a big and long shells before… Pecan nuts of course ! So this is how looks like a whole pecan nuts… I see… let’s bake a Pecan Pie then !

Remove the shell of the pecans is a long and very messy piece of work having the piece of shell flying through the kitchen but enjoying a generous piece of pecan pie is a nice reward…

February 20, 2013

Life List # 17 - Climb the Nyiragongo volcano in Democratic Republic of Congo

Why in the world would I like to climb the Nyiragongo volcano in Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.Congo) ?

In 2005 I took a two-years leave from work to participate in a humanitarian mission. The french Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) « Medecins du Monde » sent me to Goma in D.R.Congo.
The Nyiragongo volvano (3.470 meters high) overlooks Goma, the biggest regional capital in the eastern country next to the border with Rwanda. The volcano is still active and its last eruption in January 2002 had damaged significantly the city.

During my mission in 2005-2006, I could see the volcano from the back of our compound. The obvious marks of the lava flow were still there : dark dust and volcano rocks everywhere. Getting closer to the volcano you could observe smoke coming out fissures.

A couple of weeks after I arrived to Goma there was an expedition to climb the volcano. I joined the group : volunteers from other NGO and locals who would escort us to the top. How exiting is that ?

The ascent started slowly but surely on volcano stones, as big as my fists and rolling down under every step I would take. It is like climbing a dune with big grains of sand. Very soon I was out of breath. I must say at this point that I am not an athletic person at all. Unfortunately. 

Soon the weather changed and it was raining buckets ! We get all completely soaked. And now every step was even more difficult to make. It felt like I was carrying the buckets of rain, so much my soaked pants were heavy. So far from the goal, I eventually gave up and came back to our compound breathless and so disappointed…

There were not so many opportunities to go again as you need to get permission from the authorities : the area might not be so safe if rebels are around. As well you need to consult the Goma Volcano Observatory (GVO) to make sure there is no forecast of lava, smoke or ash eruption or gas release…

In May 2006, few weeks before I leave D.R.Congo, there was another expedition planned but I could not go… we had to work on the accounting ! I enjoy very much accounting but that day I think I hated it…

Several months after I left D.R.Congo, Nati who was not my husband yet at that time had the chance to climb the volcano and experienced camping on the edge of the crater ! Those are his pictures… isn’t it amazing ?

Missing that golden opportunity to climb the Nyiragongo volcano is my biggest regret in life. I was there. I could have done it but I missed it !

I recall this dream of mine when last November D.R. Congo made the headlines on BBC for its unrest in the province of North Kivu : a new rebel group call the M23, took Goma…

David, our cook was not very optimistic about the situation of his country back then when the first democratic elections in more than four decades were being organized. 

I hope the future will give him reasons to believe again in his country.