September 26, 2018

Dear friends,
On my first day in France, I dined sumptuously on winey lamb shanks and a platter of to-kill-for cheeses at the home of a friend. The next morning we sipped coffee and nibbled brioche at a boulangerie where the loaves are baked in a 200-year-old brick oven. My vacation was off to a good start.

Tony and I are wallowing in the good life in Southwest France where we came to visit our friend, Linda. Later we will cap our trip with a few days in Paris before returning home. But I’ll hate to leave this place even for Paris.

Our friend, a great cook, lives in a restored historic home in the ancient village of Homps, just South of cassoulet central and smack in the middle of rose wine, aligot, foie gras, truffle and wild mushroom country.

The pace of life is slow. Mealtime is given its due. The least we could do, we figured, was try to fit in.

The best way to describe what we’ve been up to is with a gut check. Because, frankly, we haven‘t done much besides eat.

ALIGOT, GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY ROAST AND SAUTEED VEGETABLES

What I cooked last week:
Carrot-leek soup with lardons, thyme and cream; sauteed zucchini, onions and sweet red peppers with garlic and herbs de Provence.

What Linda cooked last week:
A rolled turkey thigh roast rubbed with mashed garlic and spices and grill-smoked until juicy-crisp; a magret duck breast rubbed with five-spice powder and pan-grilled to medium-rare, with salad, magnificent cheeses and my soup, above; spaghetti Bolognese and garlic bread.

What I ate in restaurants, cafes and bakeries:
Brioche and coffee at Boulangerie au Marche du Herbes in Olanzac, France; Luque olives, gazpacho with crab profiteroles, coquelet (baby chicken), roasted, over mashed potatoes with olive oil and black olives, vegetable (eggplant?) crisps, grapefruit sorbet with lemon and vodka and panna cotta with raspberry coulis and diced cantaloupe compote at En Bonne Compagnie in Homps; pate on a baguette with cornichons at Le Grande Fontaine in Caunes-Minervois; steamed mussels in Roquefort sauce and frites at a place whose name I can’t remember in St.- Pierre-la-Mer; buckwheat crepe stuffed with ratatouille and chevre cheese at Ty-‘Zac Restaurant in Olonzac; hamburger a point with sauteed mushrooms on a toasted bun at Ty-‘Zac; pork and duck cassoulet at La Girouette in Carcassonne.

TIDBIT
Here are five regional food items of the Aude in Southwest France I wish I could buy in Ohio:
1. Dark chocolate studded with candied violets (violets are a specialty of Toulouse);
2. Truffle salt with bits of real truffle;
3. Prunes d,Agen (the famous plump, juicy local dried plums);
4. Aligot, mashed potatoes beaten with so much local Tomme cheese that it drips in strings from a spoon;
5. Grand Fermage Sel de Mer Butter studded with grains of coarse sea salt. I could eat it with a spoon.

Five things I spotted in French supermarkets that I doubt I will ever see in Acme or Giant Eagle:
1. Vol au vent (puff pastry shell) filled with sweetbreads, in the deli case;
2. Three-pound cans of foie gras;
3. Frozen gougeres;
4.An intact, whole cured jambon cru, the French version of prosciutto;
5. Canned coq au vin.

THE MAILBAG
From Carol B.:
My husband and I were both raised on Miracle Whip and we passed it along to our kids. I still much prefer it over mayo because I like its tangy flavor. The lady who wrote to you last week reminded me that both my mother-in-law and mother used Miracle Whip because they couldn’t afford mayonnaise in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

It would be interesting to do a little survey of people’s preference, which I imagine is tied to their ages. My husband and I are in our 70s. Maybe younger people prefer mayonnaise because they grew up with it. Just sayin’.

Dear Carol:
I bet a lot of food lovers, both younger and older, prefer mayonnaise — specifically Hellman’s — because the popular cookbook authors of the 1980s told us to use it. If you ever cooked from the “Silver Palate Cookbook,” you were converted. I grew up on Miracle Whip but didn’t have it in my house from about 1982 until this year, when Tony snuck a jar into the refrigerator. If you like the flavor of Miracle Whip but not the second-day watery problem, just add some vinegar and sugar to mayo.

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