Our hopes were dashed to the ground before we could even find a steady footing. Summer had burst upon us sunny, hot and bright. I had painted my toenails my favorite shocking pink and had dug out my sandals; husband had slipped on his shorts and folded away his sweaters. We spent a few afternoons with the dog walking through the park, watching in wonder and amusement as Marty learned to feel comfortable wading into the cool water of the Erdre. His reluctance edged away just a little each time we went, each time he tentatively stuck a paw in the river, took a hesitant lick then waded in a little further than the previous visit. The heat pounded down on us as we strolled further into the park and poor Marty was reduced to a panting bundle of exhaustion, anxious for another refreshing dip on our way back to the car.
What pleasure not having to slip on a jacket and grab the umbrella whenever we desired a bit of fresh air and a stroll into the center of Nantes to run errands. I had begun waxing eloquent on the beauty of summer, extolling the limpid, aquamarine skies and the warm kiss of the breeze on my skin before the bite of the searing heat made us yearn to find our way back to the cool apartment. Yet here we are, one more time, sitting in the house taking refuge from, yes, the rain. Again. We duck out just long enough to walk a now miserable Marty or dash to the market to pick up an ingredient or two for a meal.
But we try and look on the bright side of things. We’ve taken advantage of the atrocious weather to clean and reorganize, getting Simon’s bedroom ready for his return, straightening our respective “offices” and workspaces for more efficiency and comfort. We recently, finally, decided to sell my clumsy camera, traded it in towards a new one for JP while I took possession of his. He has been giving me lessons; one day I, too, will master and control my camera and begin taking fabulous food photos! Oh yes! We watch movies, read and write. He cooks and I bake and we even let the dishes pile up in the sink, testing our limits, seeing which one of us breaks down first and does them. I have been preparing my presentation on Food & Culture for IFBC, working with the girls to finalize details for our second From Plate to Page workshop and trying to keep up on my everyday writing obligations.
no longer to carry rain or usher storms,
but to add color to my sunset sky.
- Rabindranath Tagore
I have always loved rainy days when I could enjoy them indoors, watching the mist rising up from the sidewalks merging into the rushing drops as they fall like thick masses of twine from above. The windows fog up only catching the occasional spatter against the panes. The brilliant white stone of the buildings on the further side of the square fade to yellow in the somber, drab gray of the backdrop of sky. The lights dim, the room taking on mysterious hints of an old black & white film. Curling up with a good book in my corner of the sofa, all cozy and comfy, steaming mug of coffee perched within easy reach, then all is well in the world. But when I have been promised summer; when I have felt the warmth of the sun on my skin and the gentle kiss of a mild breeze; when we have enjoyed scorching afternoons and balmy evenings; when July rolls by and fades into August and summer has been a mere thought, ephemeral, fleeting; when the promise of those heady days of summer rich with picnics and outdoor romps bleeds painful and dark across the canvas of an all too early Autumn; when our plans are dashed to the ground and we are kept prisoner, lonely, anguished, sullen prisoners in our own home, then all is no longer well in our world.
What’s with the weather, anyway? Blue skies augured another lovely day as I tumbled out of bed this morning. After working for an hour I realized that I still needed to dash to the market for fruit, vegetables and something appropriately lunch-like. The boy, home for the weekend, was still a-snooze and JP decided to slip on his hiking boots and head outside for a bit of country air. I was on my own. It was pushing 10:30, 10:45, 11:00 a.m. and the market becomes a battle of nerves, a contest of wills as the morning moves towards noon. Jostling through the crowds, elbowing one’s way through the narrow aisles choking with shoppers, strollers and the mindlessly oblivious, working one’s way up the market between the chilly glass cases and the wooden stands filled to capacity with the late-Sunday morning crowd is more than some can endure. So I knew that it was time to leave. I tied on my pink hightops, shrugged on my raincoat, grabbed the basket and ran. The sun was indeed out, albeit rather hesitantly, so no need to take my cap (or so I thought). I calmly, cheerfully did my marketing, scooping up a brown paper bagful of gorgeous mirabelles, tiny jewel-like plums of an elegantly golden yellow streaked with the reds and purples of a sunset; sweet, sweet Reines-Claudes; peaches and nectarines; a basket brimming with good things. Yet as I stepped out of the market, I was met with a veritable deluge. What?! I thought that we were finally finished with this madness! And then, as I stood there wondering how quickly it would pass and whether or not I should wait it out or go ahead and make a dash for it, I thought of JP. Out on his lovely promenade in the countryside, his Sunday morning healthful stroll out in the green.
Well, all’s well that ends well and although we both arrived home rather damp, to say the least, we dried off and warmed up, no worse for wear and sat down to a hot lunch. JP had taken some shots with his new camera and I had gotten some chores taken care of and some letters sent. I still hover somewhere between love and hate when it comes to the chill, damp, dreariness of these unexpected rainy days, between the coziness of our safe haven indoors and the yearning to be outside warming in the summer sun. Autumn seems to want nothing more than to claim her place well ahead of schedule. But I realize that with my trip to New Orleans and Florida nearing that I should appreciate and enjoy the cool season we are having while I can. I have been warned that Louisiana in August makes the searing, stifling heat of a Florida summer seem meek in comparison, so I am bracing myself. Yet how I look forward to discovering this magical city, the kingdom of gastronomy and all the good things she has to offer. How excited I am at the prospect of the conference; meeting and spending time with people, friends I have come to know only on the internet; attending the sessions and learning so much; speaking on a subject of which I am so passionate about, food and culture, and hopefully inspiring others to think about it, see it in a whole new light. And how happy to find myself in Florida with my mother in my childhood home; how much pleasure derived from rediscovering old school chums and old haunts; how anxious I am to see my baby again, to shop with him, eat all that I can’t get in France with him and just see him all grown up. So, yes, I will put up with the rain just a little while longer, content, knowing what awaits me shortly.
Without the rain there would be no rainbow.
- G.K. Chesterton
And Mathilde always brings a ray of bright sunshine whenever she comes over to bake with me. We made the absolutely delicious, fruity Greengage Galette and we made these Lemon, Blueberry and Poppyseed Muffins from a cookbook that I had offered her for Christmas. She is passionate about baking, but as a beginner I wanted to offer her a book that was both simple and inspiring, and this one by Trish Deseine certainly is. Tangy lemons and sweet blueberries are the perfect match and nothing says Summer more. Add to that the subtle crunch of poppyseeds and these muffins are not only simple enough for a beginning baker to make but absolutely delicious. The only change we made to this recipe other than adapting the quantities of lemon and poppyseeds to our own taste was the addition of whole blueberries to the muffins, which, for some odd reason, Ms. Deseine does not do. Go ahead, make these yourself and prolong the warm days of summer for just a little longer, no matter what the weather is outside.
LEMON, BLUEBERRY AND POPPYSEED MUFFINS
From I Love Cake by Trish Deseine
12 normal muffins + 9 mini muffins
1 cup + 1 Tbs (150 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup (150 g) granulated brown sugar
1 Tbs poppyseeds, or more or less as you like
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries, lightly tossed in a bit of flour just to coat
Juice of 1 lemon
3 – 4 Tbs powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
A few blueberries to decorate
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line muffin tins with paper cups.
Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, the poppyseeds and the finely grated lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Stir or whisk to combine.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the vegetable oil, lemon juice and the lightly beaten eggs. Stir or whisk together gently just until combined and well blended. Do not over mix. Fold in the blueberries.
Fill the muffin cases ¾ full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the muffins, removing from the oven when slightly puffed, set in the center (the surface may be just cracking) and beginning to color a golden brown. Remove the paper cases with the muffins from the tins and allow to cool on racks.
Prepare the glaze by stirring the powdered sugar into the lemon juice until smooth and slightly thickened – taste and add a bit more sugar if you want it sweeter. Carefully spoon glaze onto each cooled muffin, making sure to cover the entire surface. Serve decorated with a blueberry tossed in a bit of granulated white sugar perched on each muffin, if desired.