Thursday, January 29, 2009
Memories of France
My husband Randy is a master finagler. Everything he finagles is above board but he is just one of those amazing people who can ask for things and get them. He spent many years in the Navy and was able to do some incredible things (spend time with the Norwegian Navy, travel in Israel, study in France), all because he asked and they said yes.
This quality served us well the year we lived in London. We went to Euro-Disney for a conference (and a weekend in Paris), we went to Israel for a week so he could meet with a company his employer was thinking of buying. Oh yes, and he got us to London for a year!
Before we moved back to Seattle, and after he had been recruited to work for another company, he finagled a trip around northern Europe so he could "meet the teams." If you know my husband, you know that he worked hard on that trip. He never doesn't work hard. But he also got us to Tallin (Estonia), Stockholm, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris in the week and a half after we left London.
Once he was done with meetings in Paris, we rented a car and took our time driving south to Provence to meet up with some friends. I will always remember this trip for many different reasons. First, obviously, I got to see cities in Europe that I had never seen which is always thrilling. I was on my way back home to the States which I felt really excited about. I was going to see a part of my beloved France that I had heard so much about but never seen. We were going to witness parts of Llance Armstrong's historic 6th win of the Tour de France. But perhaps most of all, I was hyper aware of the baby growing in my belly.
Right before we left London, I had an ultrasound (at 16 weeks) which told us that we were going to have a boy. The incredible joy I felt seeing that little fully formed person is difficult to describe - if you have witnessed an ultrasound for your baby-to-be, you know what I am talking about. We were beyond thrilled that he was going to be a boy and over the moon to see that he looked healthy. About a week later, once we had gotten to Stockholm, I started to bleed. Of course, it happened on July 4th, so I was unable to reach a doctor back in the States and the Swedish doctor we spoke to just told me to hang in there and if the bleeding increased, to go immediately to a hospital. My first thought when I woke up, the last thought I had before I drifted off to sleep, and every other thought in between was whether or not I was going to lose that precious baby for days. Once we got in touch with our doctor back home, she told me to stay off my feet as much as possible which is difficult in small European cities where you really just need to walk everywhere.
I did notice that when I took it easy, the bleeding stopped. Once I started walking too much, it would pick back up again. So, as much as I enjoyed the travel on that trip, when we finally made it to Provence, I could breathe easy. We were staying at a property where we had a wonderful room with lots of communal living space and a pool. We weren't near anything except tiny perfect French towns. I pretty much just took it easy for the first few days. As my fear began to subside, I began to explore the paradise that is Provence. I did see Llance Armstrong come through Nimes (although I was sitting on the sidewalk). I did see countless vineyards and walk through the markets of Arles. I also sat in the sun poolside and got lots of sleep.
Once home, I had another ultrasound and everything looked fine with our baby. Just 17 weeks later he was born and showed himself to be perfect.
So what on Earth does all this have to do with lentils?? This incredible dish (one of my absolute favorites - like take it to a desert island favorites) comes from Patricia Wells' The Provence Cookbook. It is the one cookbook I took with me on our trip there. Not only did I use it to cook lots of delicious food for our friends that week, but I also used it as a reference. Wells details out where the best markets are, where the best pottery is, and profiles some of her favorite farmers. It is an amazing cookbook but also a resource for traveling in her beloved Provence. Because this book really is a love letter to Provence. I cannot open this lovely cookbook with its sunny cover and inviting prose without thinking of my incredible son, now 4 years old. How worried I was! I had no idea that really, as a mother, you just keep worrying...
Lentils with Capers, Walnuts, Walnut Oil, and Mint
Adapted from The Provence Cookbook
You could use regular lentils in this recipe, but Le Puy lentils are worth seeking out for their firm texture and density. Toasting the walnuts really brings out their flavor so don't skip that step. The method of cooking the lentils may seem overly fussy here, but I trust Wells implicitly, so I always follow her advice when making this dish.
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
6 tbsp. walnut oil
1 1/2 cups (8 oz.) French lentils, such as Le Puy
2 cups vegetable stock
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thirds
1 onion, peeled and stuck with a clove
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 capers in vinegar, drained, rinsed, and chopped if large
1 cup fresh mint leaves
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Place the lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a jar with a screw top (such as a jam jar). Cover and give it a good shake. Add the oil and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning and set aside.
2. Place the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water. Tranfer them to a large saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, remove the saucepan from the heat. Transfer the lentils back to the sieve and drain over a sink. Rinse the lentils under cold running water again. Return the lentils to the saucepan, add the stock, season with salt, and bring just to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the carrot and onion. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are cooked but not mushy. Taste to make sure. Remove the onion and carrot and discard. If there is still liquid in the pot along with the lentils, drain them once again in the sink.
3. Transer the lentils to a large bowl. Add the walnuts, capers, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the vinaigrette to taste - you may not need all of it. Toss well. Once the lentils have cooled a bit, add the mint and toss again. Can be served warm or room temperature. Keeps 2 days, covered, in the refrigerator.