Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

Musings

Writings on food and memory by Holly

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An Especially Grateful Thanksgiving

The older you get, the more you realize how important it is to be grateful for all that life, God and the universe have given you. When I was a kid (though always grateful), I think I took for granted that I would always have a warm house, a full refrigerator, parents who loved and disciplined me, and a merry future with a great education, hopefully marriage and children, and a rewarding career. And, except for children, all of those things were always there.

As I enter the early years of my 5th decade, I realize how lucky and blessed I have been and am grateful for that and all that still remains. First and foremost, health. I’ve witnessed many friends, my age and many much younger, lose beloved friends and family members this year, many to horrific and hard to understand circumstances. I’m grateful to have two parents who are still vital and healthy, even as they both move towards their mid-eighties. I’m grateful for my beautiful house, a house that has become  a home in the first full year it’s been lived in by me and my little pet family. It now houses memories and shadows of faces and good, well-lived and sometimes sad days past. I’m grateful for my bed, which I embrace every morning and thank “it” for proferring such a delicious night’s sleep. I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbors. I’m grateful for a steady stream of work in an unpredictable business.  I’m grateful for the beauty of the world that surrounds me in Charleston, my adopted home of almost seventeen years. She still stuns me and silences me with the glory of her sunsets and the wisdom of her old soul. I’m grateful to have made it through months and days of mourning the dual loss of my beloved Tann Mann and Chutney Cat last spring. Days and months that felt like I was walking through milk (no, make that bechamel, cold bechamel and not a well seasoned one) wearing a blindfold on my eyes and shackles on my feet. Finally the blindfold and shackles fell, milk cleared to bright and eventually happy, and for that I credit God, faith, family and friends, and especially Mr. Purrfect, my slate grey and pure white Tuxedo cat who thinks he’s a dog, walks on a leash, and curls up on my back as I sleep. He also loves yogurt and a nice bit of cheese and has been the source of much amusement and joy since he entered my life six months ago. I’m grateful to my darling Michael (affectionately known as The Adorable One, or TAO), a constant rainbow of love and laughter who walked with me every step of the way, good and bad, this year and for several past.

Finally, I’m grateful for Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith, Sept. 6, 2016) which was a joy to create and write and I’ve loved watching people cook from it this fall and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. The recipe that follows is one of my top three favorites in the book, and one of the top ten I’ve ever created for any cookbook or anyone. It’s perfect. The celery trifecta – celery root, fresh celery, and celery seeds – is the idyllic foil to the creamy potatoes and offer delightful little bites of texture and flavor in each bite.  And, what goes better with celery and potatoes than turkey? This is THE consummate side for your table. Make it today or on Thanksgiving, refrigerate, and reheat it over a water bath while the turkey’s resting and everyone begins to toast the holiday, giving thanks for all they love and value.

Triple Threat Celery Mash - A picture from my kitchen phone, not from Mashed.

Triple Threat Celery Mash – A picture from my kitchen phone, not from Mashed.

Triple Threat Celery Mash

(Yields 8 servings)

1 large celery root, rough outer skin and inner skin removed and discarded , and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

2 stalks fresh celery, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1”-lengths (Note: Reserve any fresh celery leaves for garnish)

Water to cover

1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Finely chopped fresh celery leaves for garnish

Place the prepped celery root, potatoes, and fresh celery in a medium pot. Cover generously with fresh, cold water. Add salt. Bring up to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer over medium/medium low heat. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until all ingredients are very tender when pierced with a knife or fork. Pour the potatoes, celery root, celery and water into a colander and drain well. Return to the warm cooking pot. Heat the celery/potato mixture over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking to move around the pan and dry out the ingredients. Separately, heat the cream, butter and celery seed in the microwave or in a saucepan until warm and melted. Pour, in thirds, into the celery and potato mixture, mashing coarsely with a manual masher to combine and puree. Season with salt and pepper, tasting to adjust as needed. Serve hot, and garnish if desired with a few chopped celery leaves. (Note: The mash will store beautifully in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Reheat over water bath or microwave before serving.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, Holly and Mr. Purrfect, The Cat who Thinks He’s a Dog

mrpurrfect2

Tann Mann Dog and Chutney Cat: A Love Story

Prologue

I wrote this a few weeks ago in the wake of the passing of my pet loves. At the surface, it has little to do with food or cooking, but in many ways it does. Cooking, for me, is a way of nurturing and offering love. These sweet friends gave it to me freely and continuously every day for many years.  I hope in some small way it will help those dealing with grief in the loss of someone loved, pet or human. Much love, Holly

Tann Mann and Chutney became the best of friends. Posing the night before we moved to James Island, a little over a year ago.

Tann Mann and Chutney became the best of friends. Posing the night before we moved to James Island, a little over a year ago.

Like all great love stories, this one has elements of  beauty, joy and tragedy. It is the tale of a precious dog and a cat. As their Momma, I had the pleasure of watching their story unfold for the decade it lasted.

It begins with Tann Mann. A native of Fayetteville, NC, he came home to me and Charleston at five months of age. A handsome cocker spaniel sporting a velveteen, chocolate coat and amber eyes, both playful and wise, his early years were spent sashaying around the peninsula greeting his buddies. There were many: Angus MacGregor, Scarlett, Rex, Rebel, Sister, Blue, Ivy, Bucky, Houston, Daisy, Apple, and Scout, to name a few.

By the time he was two, he spent his Friday mornings at The Ralph Johnson VA on the fourth floor with retired vets in the nursing home there. He was good at it. Patient and calm, he would sit quietly while the patients petted him, always eager to offer his signature high five. At home, most days were spent watching me cook, or very close by my side, at all times. Doggie ice cream treats and loving petting was abundant. Life was good; very good, indeed.

Enter Chutney Cat, about the time Tann Mann was in his prime at age seven. We first saw her on one of our countless walks, crouching and scared behind a bush by an old Victorian on lower Rutledge Avenue. I talked to her gently but she would not approach and scattered when I reached out to her. Two days later, she showed up in my back garden, partially hidden by an azalea. I sat on the stoop for a long time, talking with her. Finally, a can of tuna did the trick and because she didn’t have any owners I could find, she became a part of our household.

The beginning was rocky, and Chutney Cat played very hard to get with Tann Mann. She wanted very little to do with him or anyone, for that matter. Whatever trauma she had experienced, it took her six months to “come out” and really join the family. At first, for the grey, white and apricot Tortoiseshell beauty, Tann Mann was an afterthought, a pest really. There was a whole lot of swatting and hissing going on. Tann Mann would take it and just sally forth, his pride a little worse for the wear.

But, little by little, the bond formed. I’d find them rubbing noses, exchanging long glances, climbing the stairs together, sleeping back to back on my bed. We spent ten years in that house and by the time we left, Tann Mann and Chutney Cat were approaching their twilight years.

Chutney Cat fell in love with country life on James Island and especially loved sunning on the screened porch.

Chutney Cat fell in love with country life on James Island and especially loved sunning on the screened porch.

I retired Tann Mann from the VA because it was becoming too physically demanding for him and we all moved to a house in the country on James Island. Chutney Cat especially embraced her new abode, relishing the lower, broader window sills which afforded easy access garden viewing. She relinquished her former huntress ways, and instead preferred sunning and frolicking inside the screened in back porch.  She loved to stare into the new gas fireplace and Tann Mann the forest view from the front door. Their pace became slower, their snoring louder, and their back-to- back sleeping pose longer. They both loved to watch me cook, Tann Mann from under the coffee table and Chutney Cat from her favorite sofa perch, Tann Mann’s chocolate button nose often sniffing to inhale the aromas.

Tann Mann donned his therapy dog proudly and loved going to work at the VA.

Tann Mann donned his therapy dog proudly and loved going to work at the VA.

These were such happy days. It seemed like they would last forever. But sadly, they came to an end, or at least a new kind of beginning. Now fourteen and a half years old, Tann Mann got sick over the course of a few weeks and when he was finally diagnosed, I had to release him to death. He died in my arms with a cascade of love surrounding him. The goodbye was intensely difficult for me, as Tann Mann was my soul mate dog. I returned home to Chutney Cat, hoping we would enjoy many more days together where I could spoil her with one-on-one love.

But, this was not to be, either. Starting the very first day Tann Mann did not come home, Chutney Cat started slipping away. First, sleeping in his bed or other new places that he favored, increasing her sleeping time to practically full time and by the sixth day she stopped eating, which was one of her favorite things. Even tuna fish wouldn’t do the trick. At first I thought she was grieving, but a trip to the vet proved that sixteen year-old Chutney Cat was also terminally ill with a cancer that couldn’t be fixed. She died in my arms, her sweet head on my right forearm, eyes closed, purring and almost relieved.

While she and I were grieving together, I observed Chutney Cat a lot. Her eyes would open wide at times, as if she was seeing or sensing something I couldn’t. Maybe it was Tann Mann, maybe it was pain, or maybe just a broken heart.

While my heart remains broken for my departed and cherished loved ones, it gives me joy that they found true love not only on this earth, but also in Heaven. True loves, even or especially when shared between animals, is everlasting. They taught me that, perhaps their greatest gift of all.

Thank you, my darlings and sweet, sweet dreams. God bless.

Tann Mann       December 24, 2002 – April 5, 2016

Chutney Cat     birthdate unknown, 2000 – April 12, 2016

 

Much gratitude to the love, compassion and care provided by the staff at Ohlandt Veterinary Clinic and Charleston Veterinary Referral Clinic (West Ashley).

 

When a House Becomes a Home

I’ve lived a lot of places. Boston, New York, Chicago, Wyoming, Paris, Southern France, Minneapolis, to name a few. But, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived in Charleston (fifteen years) and never as long as in a single house as the one I currently call home (ten years).

Now two weeks away from a move to a new house in Charleston (hence my extended blog absence – apologies),  I’m finding myself in an increasingly reflective and nostalgic state about how and when Charleston became my adopted, long-term home, and how and when the house I’m currently living in became a cherished home.

Charleston’s easiest. It was literally love at first sight and she’s never given me even an inch of slack to break her spell. The poetry of the architecture and landscape interwoven with the beauty and pain of her history leave me completely spellbound to this day and almost certainly will until the day I die.

This house is another story. I wasn’t even officially looking for a house when she found me. Her rigid Georgian lines (on the front exterior) and masculine-looking brick didn’t initially appeal to my senses. This house was originally built for and lived in by individual families, but by the time I came across her, she had endured several years of single male professionals’ occupancy, and bore the neglect of nesting apathy. All white and “vanilla,” with a knotty, twisted and overgrown garden, she needed love and tending. She needed living.

Once Tann Mann and I moved in, we set about doing just that. The garden got a face lift, the walls got color, the windows were adorned with curtains. The brand new refrigerator, once likely home to forgotten, spoiled milk, Jell-0, and stale bread, was now fully stocked with food to create recipes and feed friends. The brand new oven was christened with pot roasts and meat loaves.  I became familiar with her sounds and midnight creaks, accrued over nearly eighty years of living. Tann Mann found his favorite spots, and made them his own, especially his bird’s-eye perch at the top of the steep stairs or very near me working in the kitchen. Eventually, Chutney Cat found us and slunk her way into our lives and our hearts.

Tann Mann right at home, in the kitchen, begging for treats from the tables.

Tann Mann right at home, in the kitchen, begging for treats from the table.

Lasting friendships with endearing neighbors that became as beloved as family formed. Memories were made. A best friend married the love of her life in the garden. I fell in love with the love of mine over long talks and deep laughs in the very same garden. Christmas trees were selected and decorated and placed in the front living room window – the decidedly best spot for viewing from within and from the street. Kids plodded through the ‘hood en masse every Halloween. Neighborhood pets were born and some sadly died….all live in my mind and heart forever. Especially Angus, Scarlett, Ivy, Rebel, Sister, Houston, Bucky and Blue.  Speaking of Blue, one day out of the clear blue, then-neighbor Bill Murray showed up on my doorstep, patted Tann Mann on the head, and most endearlingly asked me to dinner, where he proceeded to tell me I was beautiful and sang “Me and Bobby McGee” in a French accent.   Quel amazing night!

Did all of this make it home?  Absolutely, all of this did. But, what really made it home for me was my kitchen.

My beloved kitchen in my home on Gibbes Street.

My beloved kitchen in my home on Gibbes Street.

Long gone was the vanilla white, about five years ago replaced with sage and sun yellow, to reflect the sunlight that beamed into the windows and warmed the honey-hued oak floors. Ten years into its life, my oven wears the patina of what seems like a thousand tarts and the stove a lifetime of recipes for my cookbooks and meals for me, my friends and family. I love my kitchen. If I could take her with me, I would. Today, I’ll be packing up large chunks of her into boxes sealed with tape to be sent off to my new house and my beautiful new kitchen. But, there are things bigger than boxes that can contain much more. My kitchen and this old house, my home, will reside forever in my heart. There is room for a new home, but saying goodbye to this one will be very hard.

Thank you for joining me here over the years. I look forward to taking you on many cooking and writing journeys in my new place.

Bon appetit!

 

Pink is the New Red (and White)

Provence Roses Prove Their Food Pairing Panache

Dry rose and the south of France, particularly in the coastal region of Provence, go hand in hand. There, it is considered the ideal lunchtime, seaside and all-occasion wine and Provence is also home to France’s oldest vineyards and the world’s largest producer of rose wines.  A combination of clay-limestone soil, mistral winds, and sunny, hot and dry climate lend themselves perfectly to this sometimes under-rated and narrowly perceived wine.

Although exports (and coinciding sales) of rose to the U.S. have been steadily increasing since 2003, it still carries with it (especially in sultry Charleston) the perception of being a cool, light, crisp wine for summer aperitif sipping. Vins de Provence and McCrady’s joined forces in a recent media lunch held at the restaurant to permanently retire that limiting cliche and enlighten those in attendance on the power of pairing Provencal roses with food.

It’s All in the Grape

Contrary to another common misperception, a true rose is not a blend of white and red grapes, but is made from red/purple grapes. Unlike a Burgundy, however, roses have very brief contact with the skin, before being strained and fermented. The result is a a gorgeous pale pink wine which pairs beautifully (and suprisingly) with almost anything. McCrady’s Banquet Chef Lucas Weir and Vins de Provence put together a convincing and delectable, five-course lunch of pairings. Here are some of the visual highlights.

 

Smoky, grilled shrimp, a robust, sweet persimmon sauce, and the earthiness of peanuts and benne seeds were the perfect match for a crisp, nuanced Hecht & Bannier Cotes De Provence Rose.

Smoky, grilled shrimp, a robust, sweet persimmon sauce, and the earthiness of peanuts and benne seeds were the perfect match for a crisp, nuanced Hecht & Bannier Cotes De Provence Rose.

Buttery, steamed trout, a peppery turnip puree and lemon-infused Carolina gold rice met their match with Maison Saint Aix, AIX Rose.

Buttery, steamed trout, a peppery turnip puree and lemon-infused Carolina gold rice met their match with Maison Saint Aix, AIX Rose.

Rich, smoky pork with a side of crunchy chestnuts , truffles and the sweet/tart bite of grapefruit were idyllic with the grapefruit notes of the Chateau de Berne Terres de Berne.

Rich, smoky pork with a side of crunchy chestnuts , truffles and the sweet/tart bite of grapefruit were idyllic with the grapefruit notes of the Chateau de Berne Terres de Berne.

It’s interesting and worthwhile to note that all of these bottles were very reasonably priced, and most fell just around $12 per bottle. And, they’re even pretty enough to keep around as table art.

Beautiful rose bottles from Provence.

Beautiful rose bottles from Provence.

As one of the reps at the event pointed out most eloquently and accurately, “Even though they’re all pink, they’re not all the same.”

Bon appetit! Remember to drink some rose at every meal and any time of year. You’ll be astounded how well this wine works with food when properly paired.

Casual, Romantic Weekend Plans in Charleston

Beautiful Charleston is full of wonderful things to do and delicious places to eat.  Whether history, gardening, beaches, cuisine or architecture is your passion, there really is something for everyone here.

The link below looks at local places to take in romance in a casual, easy way, that I enjoyed with my boyfriend visiting from Williamsburg, VA.

http://charleston.thepermanenttourist.com/eighty-four-hours-in-charleston/

Michael and I enjoy a stroll on Folly Beach and a view of Morris Island Lighthouse.

Michael and I enjoying a stroll on Folly Beach and a view of Morris Island Lighthouse.

 

Enjoy! We surely did.

Meanwhile, remember that The French Cook – Soups & Stews (Gibbs Smith), my seventh and all time favorite cookbook (I love the recipes) officially releases on September 1.  Follow me here for updates on upcoming signings and look for it in bookstores near you and on Amazon.

The French Cook-Soups and StewsHappy cooking and bon appetit!

Holly

 

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