THE WEEKEND BEFORE THE TRIP
My suitcase lies open at the foot of my bed, clothes spilling out as items are piled up, tossed on to the top higgledy-piggledy. Shorts and flip-flops, swimsuit and sandals, lipstick in every shade of pink, clothes for a conference and clothes for a shopping mall, clothes for strolling the French Quarter of New Orleans and clothes for lounging around the house in the heat of a Florida summer. Frantically have I been working, packing, writing a presentation and blog posts, planning, organizing and wishing that I had more time!
The weekend passed quickly and enjoyably with friends visiting. Husband cooked and I entertained, mostly talking about food. Saturday afternoon and Sunday allowed us the chance to rediscover our city through the eyes of a tourist. JP was group leader, escorting us from one site to another and regaling us with tales of the city’s history. Pointing out gorgeous buildings old and new, admiring the view of the silvery city spread out and shimmering below us as we stood perched atop the Butte Sainte Anne, we crisscrossed Nantes trying to get everything in, not missing one interesting or intriguing thing. The Cathedral offered a cool respite from the afternoon’s heat as much as an ice cream eaten on the Place Royale as the fountain of the Loire and her tributaries danced and spattered behind us. And of course we brought our guests to the Talensac market on Sunday morning, pushing our way through the weekend crowd as we chose what to have for lunch. I spent a lot of time chatting with Marie-Noelle, talking kids and food and, well, mostly food. She fed my desire to discover more local food traditions and recipes, and I filled a sheet of paper with names and ideas, cakes and tarts to try and I even invited myself to her house so she can teach me how to make certain traditional plats, dishes, her way, the French way. Two days spent with her and I am fired up to get cooking and writing.
At the end of this week I will actually be in New Orleans! I cannot believe it! All the planning and discussing and it is finally here! I will be so sorry not to see my wonderful friend Lael there (and hope she is healing well and quickly), and I will miss her humor and warmth, but I will be dashing around the city with Gwen and getting to know Sarah, Andie, Dianne and Nancie better – and in person. I have been working my little tail off preparing my talking points on Food and Culture, which I will happily be presenting with Jay of Bite and Booze. I am also extremely excited to be working alongside Dianne of Will Write for Food, who is to moderate our presentation. This will be my first American food blogger conference and my first trip to New Orleans and I am equally thrilled and excited about both. See, I keep using the same words over and over again, my head is simply spinning with, yes, I’ll say it again, excitement!
And then I am off to Florida to see my mom and my baby boy. Together, the 3 of us will shop and eat, shop and eat and, yes, shop and eat some more. Sadly, my man will be left behind with his new projects, the older son who starts back with his third year of studies and, of course, The Marts. Being separated from JP is never easy no matter how often I fly off to the States without him, but as I, the woman of the family, leave for a few weeks, the three men bond which warms my heart. And when he stays behind and allows me the luxury of a long visit with my mother, well, more shopping for us!
I have left you with very little food for thought today. I have neither waxed eloquent on a subject near to my heart nor posed a curious philosophical question. I have delighted my readers with no quirky tales of my past nor caused the heat level to rise to simmer with provocation and romance. I count the minutes of every day, marking off items on a list as I complete preparations, jotting down thoughts on a sheet of paper already heavy with ideas. I listen to Simon as he chatters on and on about New Orleans, thrilled to be able to guide me virtually around his city and suggest where to find the best Po’Boy in town. Gwen and I shoot e-mails and private twitter messages back and forth, back and forth as we prepare our speeches, pack our suitcases, try and squeeze into jeans that absolutely fit just last year and talk about food. Friday morning, she’ll be taking me to breakfast at Café du Monde for coffee and beignets, New Orleans style, and then I’ll take her to Sucré, New Orleans’ famous pâtisserie where we are expected and where we hopefully will get to meet Chef Tariq Hanna. Then we may just be ready for the excitement and activity of the conference! Laissez-les bons temps rouler!
I leave you today with a favorite summer recipe. I am not sure why this silky, creamy, luxuriously rich risotto has become a summer mealtime favorite, but it has. Maybe it is the clean, tangy lemony flavor that fills the mouth with each bite, or maybe because it makes the perfect summer meal just served with a crisp, cool mixed green salad topped with summer’s best juicy, ripe, sweet tomatoes and tossed with a tart vinaigrette. With a glass or two of a beautiful chilled white wine. Whatever the reason, this is an absolute must-make for anyone who loves risotto, lemon, summer or, to put it bluntly, eating. Seriously. And now I rush off to throw a few more things onto the pile of clothes on my bedroom floor, hoping that at least some will fit, polish up my presentation one more time before printing it out and start dinner for the man and I. Have I forgotten anything?
And maybe this time you can leave me a suggestion or two about what you may, in the future, want me to write about... or a question or two you might want to ask me. Feel free. I am open to suggestion, though I beg you please, only serious suggestions and questions permitted.
From I Risotti fromAnna de Conte’s Italian Kitchen
Serves 4 – 6 as a first course or side dish or 4 as a main dish served with a mixed green salad tossed with a Balsamic vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette.
2 pints (1.25 liters) light chicken or vegetable stock, homemade if possible, or if not…. I use 2 broth cubes
2 oz/4 Tbs (60 g) unsalted butter
1 Tbs olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 branch celery, finely chopped
10 oz (300 g) rice for risotto (arborio or carnaroli)
½ unwaxed, untreated lemon
5 or 6 fresh sage leaves or ½ tsp dried sage
Leaves from a small sprig of fresh rosemary or ¼ tsp dried rosemary
1 egg yolk
4 Tbs freshly grated Parmesan
4 Tbs heavy or light cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring the stock to a boil and remove from heat. Some recipes say to leave it on a low simmer during the preparation of the risotto, but I never do.
Heat half of the butter and the tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet, pot or terra cotta risotto dish. Add the chopped shallots and celery – what the Italians call the soffritto - and gently cook for a few minutes until translucent and soft. Add the rice and stir to coat all of the rice well with the fat. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes until the rice is translucent. Pour a ladleful or two of the hot broth or stock over the rice, stir and allow to gently boil until the liquid is almost completely absorbed by the rice.
Continue to add the broth, ladleful by ladleful, or two at a time at the most, over the course of the cooking period, stirring constantly, allowing each addition of broth to be almost completely absorbed by the rice before adding more liquid.
Meanwhile, grate the zest from the half a lemon and mix it into the finely chopped fresh sage and rosemary or with the dried herbs. Mix this into the rice halfway (about 10 – 12 minutes) into the cooking.
Continue until the rice is meltingly tender to the bite and the risotto is thick and creamy. This should take more or less 20 minutes. Do not worry if you do not need all of the broth. Or if you do not have enough broth then simply add water at the end as needed.
Squeeze the juice from the half lemon. In a small bowl, combine and whisk together the egg yolk, the grated Parmesan, the cream, the lemon juice and a generous grinding of black pepper.
When the risotto is cooked and the rice is very tender, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the egg, cream and Parmesan mixture along with the remaining butter. Cover the pan and allow to rest off the heat for 2 minutes before giving the risotto an energetic stir until well combined. Serve at once.
I usually serve this Risotto al Limone simply with a large, tossed salad dressed with a clean, tangy vinaigrette made with Balsamic vinegar and a good quality extra-virgin Italian olive oil. Add a loaf of fresh bread and maybe a plate of Italian cheeses or cold cuts and it is the perfect meal. Especially wonderful in the summer.