OFF ON VACATION
How much time has it been, how many years, since JP and I took off together on a getaway? Too long! We have had a long five years or so, spending our free time (and not so free time) taking care of others, of loved ones, parents, siblings, sons, instead of taking care of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, it has all been worth the trouble and effort, family first, but now it is time to take a little time for us. Just the two of us. Yes, we will be flying off to family, JP, Clem and I, to Florida this summer where we will meet up with Simon at my mom’s and we will enjoy our first real family vacation together since, well, since I can remember. But this weekend and for a week, it will be just the two of us.
We are the perfect traveling companions, the Yin and the Yang of partners: he pulls me out into the fresh air, walking shoes on, binoculars or camera around his neck, for nature treks or museum visits, discovering towns and byways, recounting historical tales of wars and religion, of kings and queens and warriors and artists, I keep him calm and relaxed making sure that he understands that vacations are for rest and tranquility, more fun and less work. He leads me to markets, open-air and covered, to hidden bistros or snack bars known only to the locals or elegant restaurants enjoyed by the rich and famous; I pull him into bakeries and pastry shops, Aladdin dens of spices or elegantly-appointed boutiques heady with the scent of chocolate. Together we pack picnic lunches with fresh fruits and cheeses chosen at local market stalls, stopping off at the town’s best bakery for a fresh loaf of bread, all to be savored in some lovely open field, the grass gently waving in the breeze, lying in the warm sun and drinking wine straight from the bottle.
We love traveling together, love exploring together, wandering through cities and towns unknown, meandering up and down quiet side streets, along bustling thoroughfares, discovering wonderful food shops and local specialties, buying unusual spices or pastries or treating ourselves to an exciting kitchen utensil or two. Other than the fabulous cities we’ve lived in, we’ve explored New England from Pennsylvania up through Vermont to Montreal, Rome and Budapest among other enchanting, magical places. We’ve sat in the jewel box of an Opera House in Budapest and listened, enraptured, to Cosi Fan Tutte, and nibbled on cherry tart and Dobos Torte in glamorous, gilded, Old World tea salons; we’ve driven through the Adirondacks on our way north, both mesmerized and stunned by the beauty and grandeur of nature, climbed the blue-green mountains above Manchester, Vermont in the chilly New England summer air; we’ve strolled hand in hand through the Roman Forum, his storytelling bringing the old rocks and stone sculptures to life then followed by the most memorable meal ever at Piperno in the Old Jewish Ghetto, insalata di puntarelle, fritto misto, crostata di amarena. He’s known the best tapas bar in San Sebastian, the best restaurant in Bilbao, he bought me red rubber boots in Rome and brought me to see Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, not once but twice. We’ve swam in clear, blue water off the coast of Cyprus, bartered in a language that wasn’t our own for coffee cups in a bar full of fishermen and local workers and eaten souvlaki, tzatziki dribbling down our chins, under grape vine entwined terraces and we’ve seen ancient mosaics and chatted with old men in small town squares, offering us sips of whatever they were drinking.
Maps and restaurant guides in hand, this time we are off to Lyon and Annecy starting with a 3-day stop in the mountains of the Salers region to rest in a mountain hotel. 3 days of fresh air and romance punctuated by elegant meals and visits to the spa. Ah, yes, how we deserve this. Bring along good walking shoes to go with the picnic lunch and a good book to get sleepy over while our feet are up, poolside. Lyon, well, Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France, isn’t it? So must you really ask what we’ll be doing there? Bouchons et chocolatiers, patisseries et restaurants. Quoi d’autre? Annecy, oh Annecy, quite possibly the most beautiful, most romantic town in France, the Venice of the Alps, a town of rivers and lake and flowers, cool mountain breezes and gorgeous monuments, architecture and red rooftops. I’ll wind through the streets, map in one hand, camera in the other and discover this jewel all on my own, popping into shops to try this pastry or that and trying very hard not to fall in love with this most wonderful, gentle of lovers.
As you read this post, I will already be there, miles away, head in the clouds, tummy filled and satisfied. So I offer you this treat, something oh-so American as I am off discovering a France that I still have yet to get to know, yet to fall in love with. Strawberry Shortcake. Yes, it is strawberry time in my region of France, gorgeous, plump and oh-so sweet Gariguette strawberries that veritably beg me to turn them into Strawberry Shortcake. A roll and a knead of the slightly sweet biscuit dough, rolled out thick, cut into circles and baked to rise up fluffy yet dense, crispy on the outside as a shortcake should be, just barely sweet to hint of dessert yet bland enough to highlight the sweetest of berries. Slather on the freshly whipped cream or compliment it with the best of vanilla ice creams and you have the perfect summer treat, a delicacy of old-time, old-fashioned America, of porch swings and lemonade afternoons, of graceful women in lovely gowns and gentlemen in hats and white suits.
And I, my friends, will be back in one week brimming with stories with which to regale you, delicacies to share and adventures to dream on.
I would like to send this to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for her Magazine Mondays.
From a 1989 (I believe) Chocolatier magazine
1 cup (125 g) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour (I used bread flour type 55)
2 Tbs granulated sugar
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
8 Tbs (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
¾ cup (180 ml) half-and-half or light cream
1 - 2 pints fresh strawberries (you can easily use a combination of fresh summer berries)
Sugar to taste
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar to taste
Dash of vanilla extract
- or –
Vanilla ice cream
Rinse and pat dry the strawberries then hull and slice them. Put the slices in a bowl with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Set aside.
Make the Shortcakes:
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Stir together the flours, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt until blended. Add the cubes of butter and, using the tips of your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until there are no more chunks of butter and the mixture resembles sand. Add the cream and stir with a fork until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and it begins to gather into a ball.
Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead quickly, adding a bit more flour if too sticky, until you have a smooth, homogenous ball of dough. Do not overhandle or overknead.
On a lightly-floured work surface, gently (do not press hard, the dough is soft and should remain fluffy) roll out the dough to a thickness of not less than ¾ inch thickness. Using a 3 or 3 1/2 –inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out thick circles of dough – you should have 6 biscuits – and place them on a cookie sheet.
Bake the shortcakes for 12 to 15 minutes until the shortcakes are puffed up and golden brown both on top and underneath.
Cool the cakes on a cooling rack.
Whip the cream, adding sugar a bit at a time, until very thick and peaks hold. Beat in the vanilla. Sweeten to taste.
To serve, carefully split the shortcakes with a sharp knife and place the bottom of each on individual dessert plates. Spoon the prepared strawberries onto the bottom of the shortcakes, spoon either a large spoonful of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream on top of the strawberries then top with the top halves of the shortcakes. Serve immediately.