Author Archives: Georgeanne Brennan

Inspiration: The Thirteen Desserts of Christmas in Provence

Tradition says that Provence’s thirteen desserts of Christmas Eve are symbolic of the Last Supper, when Christ last dined with his twelve apostles. Almonds, walnuts, figs, and raisins, part of the dessert, are called the quatre mendiants, or “four beggars” because the colors of the nuts and fruits symbolize the monks’ robes of the four religious orders that are vowed to poverty: almonds for the Carmelites, walnutss for the Augustinians, figs for the Franciscans, and raisins for the Dominicans. As time has passed, the religious significance of the thirteen desserts has waned, but the cultural importance endures.

The exact composition of the thirteen desserts various in different regions, even villages, of Provence, with one thing in common:: at least twelve of the desserts should be composed entirely of produits de terroir, locally grown ingredients, while the thirteenth can be something exotic, such as dates or tangerines. The evocative photo above, by Sara Remington, appears in La Vie Rustic – cooking and living in the French style (Weldon Owen 2017), and showcases figs, black and white nougat, dates, tangerines, quince paste, raisins, almonds, walnuts, and sweet biscuits. Often a fougasse, or bread made with olive oil will be included.

I like the idea of a simple dessert, composed of seasonal fruits and nuts, and maybe a confection or two like an almond and walnut tart. (See blog post Time for Tarts for the recipe)

The platters here are pewter, but La Vie Rustic’s Pistachio serving boards large and small, with a French vintage knife or two would be good choices, linking the past with the present.

 

Time for Tarts

 

In France, patisserie windows always have a full display of  lush tarts filled with custards and topped with jewel-like fruit combinations, of golden glazed apple tarts, and, best of all, especially in winter, nut tarts, like the one above. The crust is buttery and flakey, the filling sweet, the nuts toasted and crunchy. Each rich bite is rewarding, perfect to have with a cup of tea in the afternoon or to follow a meal, whether splendid or humble. The photo, by Sara Remington, is from La Vie Rustic – Cooking and Living in the French Style, as is the recipe below. It is an easy tart to make and combines walnuts and almonds, both of which grow in abundance in northern California orchards as well as in France. The nuts are harvested in September and October, just in time for the winter holidays, where they play a major role in confections of all kinds.

As a nod to nature and what it gives us, I like to serve this tart on a one of La Vie Rustic’s Walnut cutting boards .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Pastry

1 ½ cups flour

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup butter, cut into ½ inch chunks

1 large egg

Filling

2 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 inch piece of vanilla bean

1 ½ cups walnuts and almonds, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. F.

To make the pastry, in a bowl, stir together the flour and the sugar. Add the butter and work it in with your fingers or a pastry cutter. The dough will feel crumbly Tightly pack the dough into a ball. Using your fingers, press the dough evenly into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, reaching to the top of the rim.  Set Aside.

For the filling, in a bowl, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, and eggs. Slit the vanilla bean and scrape the soft inner bit into the bowl.  Beat until well blended. Stir in the nuts and pour the filling into the pan. Do not over fill.

Bake until the crust and the filling are golden brown, about 50 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Loosen the edges of the crust with the tip of a knife, then remove the pan rim and slide the tart onto a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 8

A Special Gift -Freshly-Milled Olive Oil, Meyer Lemon and more

It only happens once a year, in winter. Olives are harvested and milled. A few weeks later the oil is bottled. Except for a small amount that is bottled immediately. That’s olio nuovo, or new olive oil. La Vie Rustic acquired a limited amount of Seka Hills Estate Olio Nuovo, from nearby Seka Hills here in Northern California in order to offer a special gift for the holidays. Our Olio Nuovo and Citrus Salad Set combines 250 ml of the fresh olive oil, a jar of La Vie Rustic’s Sel d’Agrume (French sea salt blended with California orange and lemon zest), and a fresh Meyer lemon – all the ingredients needed to make a French-style winter vinaigrette, including a recipe card. And to inspire for spring salads, the set includes an overpack of 6 different heirloom French lettuce seeds with an information card telling the history of each variety, and full planting and harvesting instructions. The lemon is picked from La Vie Rustic’s  Meyer lemon trees the day the set is  shipped………..Olio Nuovo and Citrus Salad Set $40.00

Vintage French Comes Calling

Vintage French Comes Calling

There’s something special for me about incorporating vintage, heirloom tableware items into daily life where they serve as both a memory of the past and the people who prized them, as well as creating new memories when used today. I’m happy to introduce three new La Vie Rustic French vintage products just in time for holiday  parties and shopping. To read more about the Vintage French products, visit the Cuisine-Kitchen page at La Vie Rustic.

Pictured above are La Vie Rustic French Vintage Knives, a set of 4. Each knife is different, but all have a silver plated, decorative collar. Mix them in with your own tableware for a bit of French style and nostalgia.

French Vintage Knives, Set of 4……………………………………………………………$79.00

Pictured here is a hand milled and hand crafted California Pistachio Wood Mini-Cutting board which comes with a French Vintage knife. Each board varies in the pattern and color of the grains, which is part of their charm. The handles of the French vintage knives vary too in pattern and color, reflecting the wood. At just 11 1/2 inches long and 5 inches wide, the board and its knife are just the right size to tuck into a picnic basket or back pack, perhaps starting life as a stocking stuffer.

Pistachio Wood Mini-Cutting Board with French Vintage Knife……………………….$42.00

This  French Vintage Serving Set, pictured below,with its slight patina and decorative elements adds a note of elegance to whatever dish you are serving, whether it is a salad or a platter of roast beef. Sometimes the knife and the fork will have the same pattern, other times not, but are always beautiful and good to hold in the hand.

French Vintage Serving Set (1 fork, 1 spoon)………………………………..$39.00

French Vintage Escargot Pots for Francophiles

Vintage French Escargot Pots for Francophiles

Escargots never see to go out of fashion. They appear on menus from Paris to Provence, and

almost anywhere in the world where French food is on the menu. In French supermarkets you can buy snail shells stuffed and ready to cook – just pop them into a hot oven. Snail ‘farms’, where snails are cultivated, date back in Provence to Roman times, 2,000 years ago, where ruins of snail farms have been found in the department of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Today, not far from the town of Greoux-les-Bains, in the same department, is the snail farm Escargots du Verdon where visitors can see the long rows of snails ranging along small waterways, and purchase artisan preparations of  canned and frozen snails of all sorts.

However, it is very easy to prepare snails yourself, especially with these vintage escargot pots, just large enough for one plump snail with room for plenty of seasoned butter. They are made of stoneware and each one is a little bit different, which adds to the charm. La Vie Rustic’s set of 12 pots comes snugly packed in a Kraft box with a  full color recipe card for the classic Escargots a la Bourguinonne. Photo by Frankie Frankeny.

Of course, the cute pots can also be used for salt cellars or even tiny vases for flowers with stems clipped short.

French Vintage Escargot Pots Set of 12…………………………………..$35.00

Time to Shop

Time to Shop for the Holidays – or Just for You

I’m happy to announce that the new La Vie Rustic Cutting Boards and Serving Platters are ready to pack and ship, just in time to get a head start on holiday gifts. The boards, artisan milled and crafted in Northern California from pistachio, California Black Walnut, English Walnut and olive wood, make a beautiful and useful gift for anyone who loves to cook and present beautiful food –think cheeses, charcuterie, tarts – in a stylish, sustainable way.

 

Due to the terrible wildfires in Napa, we were unable to get the Rancho Gordo Royal Corona Beans for our popular White Bean and Winter Savory Soup Set, but now they are available. Our soup sets, a combination of beans, herbs, artisan salts, fresh bay leaves and full color recipe card make an excellent gift.

For anyone who would like to garden, our classic Potager Garden Set with Maps makes a thoughtful gift. With 13 individual packets of vegetable seeds (well, one packet of flower seeds, but they are edible flowers) 13 zinc garden stakes and three large garden maps, one for each season, all the gardener will need is at least 12 square feet of soil in a sunny location. We even offer a Children’s Kitchen Garden Set with six packets of large, child friendly seeds and full instruction cards with botanical, historical, planting, and harvest information.

 

 

 

 

It’s not too early to think about holiday cards. La Vie Rustic’s Letter-press printed Joyeux Noel cards, packed 12 to a box with matching envelopes, and blank inside make an unusual and special greeting card. The vintage letters were hand-set by a master printer in Northern California.

 

Take a Peek and See What’s Coming Next Week

Cutting boards and serving platters of Black Walnut, English Walnut, Pistachio, and Olive wood, all milled and hand-crafted in Northern California, plus La Vie Rustic’s popular letterpress printed holiday cards will all be available for purchase and shipping starting October 16, 2017. The lovely photos of boards and platters above are by Frankie Frankeny.

Of course, it’s not to early to order garden and kitchen gifts like the White Bean and Winter Savory Soup Set, Gros Sel hand-thrown ceramic salt jar, Potager Kitchen Garden sets, and more, all available right now. No need to wait until October .

 

 

Saffron Crocus Shipping Today

Saffron Crocus Shipping Today September 2, 2017

Beautiful saffron crocus bulbs arrived September 1 and all pre-orders will ship today, September 2. There is still time to order and plant for an almost-instant gratification harvest in October. La Vie Rustic will be fulfilling orders and shipping now through September 15, while supplies last.

All you need is a square foot or so to plant 25 saffron bulbs

If you have a couple of square feet of sunny ground, you can grow 25 saffron crocus plants. Yes, just a small little patch of ground, or even a couple of 10 inch deep or so pots or window boxes, you can have homegrown saffron. Honest. Pre-order now from La Vie Rustic to get your shipment of saffron crocus bulbs in early September to plant asap. In 30 days, by mid-October, you will be gathering the first of your harvest. It’s easy, fun, and the saffron you grow and harvest will be of superior quality. Think Paella and Risotto and Fish Soup with Rouille. (recipe included with order). And, each year the bulbs multiply, so at the end of 3 years, you’ll have 4 to 5 bulbs for everyone planted this year. It couldn’t be easier!

Saffron in Provence

Saffron, Anyone?

A few years ago, when I saw a sign for Safran Provence, or Provencal Saffron at a fish mongers, I became intrigued by the idea of growing my own saffron. Saffron is a necessary ingredient for such French fish dishes as Bouillabaisse and Soupe de Poissons (my personal favorite), and the popular Spanish Paella, so it wasn’t surprising to see the sign, near another fish-loving condiment, Sel d’Algue, or seaweed salt.

When I asked for the saffron, I was told it was sold out and would be back in stock after the local October harvest. Saffron is the orange stigma of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativa), and I’d had great success growing other types of crocus, so why not give it a try? That June my husband and I placed a pre-order for 500 bulbs from a reputable bulb producer in Holland. We were told to plant them as soon as they arrived in early September. We planted about half of them before leaving on a trip to Provence. One of the projects on our list was to find a commercial saffron producer.

A neighbor of mine in Provence is a former Garde de Champetre (rural policeman) of two small  villages and knows everyone for miles around, plus he’s started growing his own saffron.

He gave me names and contact information for several local producers, and I called the first one on the list, who happened to be in the next village over, introduced myself and asked if I could meet him and see his saffron fields. He told me, “There’s nothing to see. There’s no bloom yet. Not until October.” I would have been happy to see the plants, but I didn’t want to force the issue, so instead I asked if we could at least meet so I could ask him some questions about saffron production. “OK”, he said. “How about in twenty minutes at the bar?” Since the village has only one bar, no name was needed.

Over glasses of rosé, pastis, and sparkling water, M. Begremond gave me and my husband a verbal tour de force of the history of saffron growing in Provence, (introduced by the Greeks, grown all over at one time, production diminished with the wars, his family has been growing it since the 1800s, and he is currently growing about 45, 000 bulbs), the current market prices ( French-grown saffron brings 22,000 Euros per kilo (2.2 pounds), Spanish 17,000 Euros and that from the Maghreb a mere 1500 Euros per kilo), and the growing, harvesting, and yields of saffron bulbs. The latter was accompanied by illustrations sketched on sheets from a Richard Pastis notepad borrowed from the man who owns the bar, who also happened to be M. Begremond’s cousin.

Once we got back from France in early October, we planted the rest of our bulbs according to M. Begremond’s directions. Our first planting, done in September started blooming right on schedule, in mid-October. It was very exciting to go out every morning to harvest the blooms, bring them inside the kitchen, carefully extract the stigmae, and set them out on a plate to dry. Each of these bulbs produced a flower, but the later planting was less successful, with only about half of the bulbs producing a flower. Ideally, each flower will give you 3 stigmae, or threads.

I stored my precious saffron in a small jar as soon as the stigmae were dry, in a day or two. Every few days, I’d open the jar (I still do) just to breathe in the incredible aroma. It was so different, so much more aromatic and complex even than other saffron I’ve purchased. I’ve used some of it, for Soupe de Poisson, for risotto, and for a seafood paella.

This year, I’m looking forward to an even larger harvest, since the crocus bulbs mightily replicate. I dug up one, just to check, and there were 4 bulbs where last year there had been one. So, my 400 bulbs planted last year have now multiplied to over 1500!

New! La Vie Rustic Selling Crocus Saffron Bulbs

I’m very happy for La Vie Rustic to offer Crocus Saffron bulbs to its customers for pre-order. This is important as we will ship them to you immediately upon their arrival here from Holland, for you to plant on reception. You should have a sunny location large enough to plant 25 or 50 bulbs 6 inches apart. The ground should be weed-free, and turned over to at least 10 inches deep. The bulbs can also be planted in pots that are at least 15 inches deep and filled with potting mix. It is important to plant your bulbs as soon as your receive them.

The blooms will begin in October, just 4 to 6 weeks after planting, and continue for 3-5 weeks. Plan to harvest daily.

Your Crocus Saffron bulbs are a robust  8-9 cm, and come packaged in a muslin bag, with a La Vie Rustic instruction card for planting, care, harvesting, drying, and storing, plus a full-color recipe card for French-Style Soupe de Poissons.

Pre-order your crocus now to insure delivery in early September and start planning the dishes to use your home-grown saffron.

Bag of 25………….$16.00

Bag of 50………….$30.00

Other News and Ideas

La Vie Rustic- Cooking and Living in the French Style by Georgeanne Brennan (Weldon-Owen 2017)– signed copies are available at Food52.com or buy at your favorite bookstore or on-line. Try the Fig-glazed and Fig Stuffed Pork Roast, Pistachio and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachio Oil, and Strawberry Mousse. Over 100 recipes, loads of gorgeous photos, plus stories.

Plant now for Fall Harvest

Now, mid-summer, is the time to be planting your fall garden. We propose:

La Vie Rustic French Lettuce Seed Collection

La Vie Rustic French Chicory Seed Collection

Get a head start on a year-round garden, planting in August and early September for a fall crop.

Potager Year-round Garden Box with 13 seeds, 3 garden maps and full planting, growing, and harvesting instructions plus 13 metal garden markers.Comes packaged in a gift-worthy Kraft box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming soon:

La Vie Rustic Sel d’Algue, seaweed salt. It’s especially good to season seafood and pasta, or to use anytime you want a taste of the sea. Try using it to flavor butter.

La Vie Rustic Pistachio and La Vie Rustic Olive Wood Serving Boards made from California trees by an artisan woodworker at his small mill in Northern California exclusively for La Vie Rustic. These are truly one of a kind and will make a very special Christmas gift.