Peach-Blueberry Galette + “Market Research”

Fresh produce connected the dots of my culinary journey through Europe. Punnets of strawberries packed for a picnic by the Seine and in palatial parks. Sprightly bell peppers cut into matchsticks and nibbled with Comté aboard the train. Plastic cups overflowing with nuggets of pineapple and melon hawked by Mercat de La Boqueria vendors to unwitting tourists for four times the price of the same amount of produce just a few feet farther (A-, N-, R-, and I ventured past, before opting for bargain juices four times cheaper than what we would find at farmer’s markets back home). Pan con tomate and tortilla española, perfumed from floral olive oils and paired with glasses of feathery, effervescent Cava.

This celebration of the seasonal has followed me back to America. My windowsill now hosts pots of chives and basil, ready to be folded into omelettes and layered in caprese salads. I have mixed mango into muesli, squeezed lemons into muffin top batter, and slathered strawberry sauce on panna cotta. Yet, still, I find myself dreaming in flavours that I once took for granted. A bag of cherries as precious as polished rubies, their worth weighed in the palm of my hand. Creamy avocados sliced over salads or scrambled with eggs the way my sister does, fluffier than cumulus clouds – my kryptonite. Peaches bursting out of their velvety skins and dribbling juice down your chin – my nectar and ambrosia.

I remember the first peach that I had in college. One night, a basket of peaches appeared in the dining hall. I pounced on them. They bore signs of jetlag, but I did not care. The peach bruised at my fingertips as I built up to that first bite, a moment of great anticipation; the seconds following, of bitter disappointment. It was an experience comparable to, I imagine, eating a hairball. I finished the peach on principle, before retreating to fantasies of peach jam and peach cobbler and peaches in their purest form, plucked straight from the tree on an Okanagan family vacation.

So when I was feeling the itch to make a galette à la Paris street food, laced with crisp edges and oozing with filling, and when I spotted just-ripe peaches at the grocery store, I knew it was meant to be. This galette recipe happens to be gluten-free and dairy-free, for those of you with associated food allergies or sensitivities. I happen to love the robust, earthy flavour of buckwheat, which is usually used for such a galette, but since my recent experiments with nut products (vanilla almond milk, cinnamon raisin cashew cream) left me with a surfeit of almond meal, almond milk, and cashew cream, I incorporated those instead. I could see other sweet and savoury combinations bringing out the almond flavor of the crepes – claret cherry compote, roasted pear and blue cheese medley, caramelized onions and Gruyère, brown butter and sage sweet potato stuffing – but for my peach craving, this galette hit the spot.
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Gorgonzola and Greens Pasta + The (Sort of) Last Supper

IMG_4937We thought that it would be our last shared meal for a long time. In fact, that “long time” turned out to be six-and-a-half sleepy hours, before he joined me in eating corn flakes bathed in cold milk, mine slightly soggy and peppered with peanuts, his still crisp enough to create crunching noises in rhythm with the steady striking of rain. Bowls rinsed, bags gathered, bodies embraced and released all too soon, I set out beneath a canopy of steel-grey clouds that flapped like slashed curtains.

See you laters can be just as hard as goodbyes, especially when the point at which “later” will become “now” remains undefined. After finishing my final college exam on the final day of Finals Period, I went through Senior Week and Commencement Week much like many of my peers, seeing and saying see you later to the people whose presence had enriched and defined the last four years of my life, whose absence would at first feel alien. In a flurry of duct-taped boxes, UPS receipts, and flights, I was off romping through Europe with A-, N-, and R-, spending more time applying knowledge gained in my senior spring architecture course and expanding my stomach for gelato after every meal than I was dwelling on having to part ways with my travel companions eventually, for a long time, or at least for some time.

Despite what this post may suggest, super-sentimentality is far from my natural frame of mind. I could, and will now attempt to, keep this post crossing the line to nostalgia by noting all of the recent developments that have kept me engaged, excited, looking forward to the future while reveling in the present: moving into my first apartment (small but cozy, with fluffy carpet, at least twice as much counter space than my cramped dorm kitchens ever had, and a price that’s right for D.C.), assembling my small set of furniture (received piece by piece in the mail), getting reacquainted with the Metro (that is, paying steep fares, Kindle-ing it up, and being sandwiched between sweaty strangers), getting to know the locals (almost jarringly genuinely friendly, opening doors, holding elevators, and beaming smiles without fail), and starting my first full-time salaried job (I have already learned a lot from colleagues generous with their knowledge and their time). I have loved the past few weeks and cannot wait to see what the next, and yet more after, will bring.

But when the inevitable desire to reminisce about college, Europe, and the time spent in those places with people whom I love dearly arrives, I’ll gather some Gorgonzola, greens, and grains, and recreate my last supper with A-, itself inspired by one of our last meals in Venice. We made a few modifications, in part to use up pantry ingredients, in part on a whim. We threw in several handfuls of baby spinach, substituted pepitas for pistachios, and added a good glug of heavy cream nearing expiration. What we did make sure to include was Gorgonzola, rich and robust, our tried-and-true cheese that we had bought in blue-marbled blocks and smeared over crusty €1 baguettes wherever we picnicked in Europe and, most memorably, that we had devoured in that tagliatelle dish. One of my mottos for the trip (and in my life, really) was “the dairier, the merrier,” as a healthy appetite for adventure and cheese – nutty Comté, buttery Brie, and milky mozzarella still warm in its pillowy and pliant bundle – sustained us through scaling seemingly endless stairways, navigating labyrinths of alleyways, and crossing borders via overnight bus. Anointed with velvety and pleasantly pungent sauce, streaked with spinach, and freckled with pepitas and black pepper, this dish is the epitome of comfort food, reminding me of good times that were had and manifold good times to come, much sooner than later.

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Berry Basil Panna Cotta + Venetian Reflection

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The City of Water lived up to its name. As if to counterbalance the surfeit of sunshine that my travel companions and I had enjoyed in other European cities, Venice gave us days during which it rarely stopped raining. Water maintained a permanent presence, churning in the canals, running in rivulets between pavement stones, and flooding the Piazza San Marco, summoning street vendors peddling ponchos and umbrellas to drenched tourists. When tiptoeing around ever-expanding puddles proved futile, my comrades and I lugged our waterlogged selves, sodden shoes and all, through the city.

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Brief interludes of sunshine bookended storms and brightened our moods, permitting us to wander down winding roads and to take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal, during which our gondolier peppered us with Venetian trivia while we soaked in the sights, before seeking shelter from torrential downpour once more.IMG_4970

Restaurants were our favourite refuge. We filled up on flavourful Venetian fare, sometimes to to the point of feeling like overstuffed ravioli: heaping platefuls of pasta in myriad shapes, sizes, and sauces; pillowy pieces of still-warm mozzarella sandwiched between tomato slices and basil leaves; and piping-hot pizzas topped with molten ricotta, all washed down with glasses of wine as cheap as water.

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In the midst of gorging on great food and wringing water out of hair, I encountered one of the best desserts of the entire trip, which was high praise considering that I had already eaten my weight in gelato by the time we had reached Venice. A shot glass of panna cotta, studded with just with enough pieces of strawberry to stain my lips pink and to make me crave more, serves as the inspiration for this recipe.

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My version of panna cotta – or “pan”-na cotta, as I like to pun – embraces more unabashedly the flavour of fragola, a fruit as curvaceous and delicious as the softly rounded Italian word sounds. Sweet strawberries, hand-picked by me at a Michigan farm back here in America and macerated with fresh basil and mint, complement the tartness of the lemon juice and the yogurt incorporated into the panna cotta. Easy to make and even easier to enjoy, this panna cotta is the perfect summer dessert.

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Flashback: Roman Holiday (with a Genovese Twist) (08/10/13)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I have been regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is the final post in this particular series, an excerpt of a blog post about gallivanting through Genoa and roaming in Rome.

Right away, it struck me. 

The colours. After weeks of passing buildings of marble and slate and brick commuting to and from work in London, there was something enchanting about these Italian buildings tinted delicate pastels, transformed into jewel tones by the sunset. Arrayed in the colours of gelato – pale peach, pistachio green, roasted chestnut, burnt orange, persimmon red, saffron yellow – they formed scenes that could have come straight from a Giotto fresco.

Then, there was the colour of the sea. The languid Ligurian Sea, lazy and azure, is framed by rows of boats rocking gently to and fro, cradled by the sea, against a backdrop of the verdant Apennine Mountains. Famous for its historic role as a key port city, the bygone home of dukes and birthplace of such notable explorers as Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, Genoa has since lost much of its commercial significance, with the advent of airplanes and the wave of globalization driving Italian-based waterborne travel closer to desuetude.

And it shows. However ornate, the Genovese architecture is not entirely well-preserved. Just a few streets away from the row of august palazzi where dukes once lived is the intersection of dingy alleyways that comprise the red light district. But for the most part, the city appears unaltered since its Renaissance days. I stayed somewhere in between the two aforementioned areas, in a charming building with butter yellow walls and a staff with sunny dispositions. There, I met an American taking a roundabout detour on the way back from Morocco, an Australian couple honeymooning far from their Melbourne home, and a Spaniard with a knack for storytelling late into the night. United by our varying degrees of fluency in English and our wanderlust, we traded travel stories and marvelled at this beautiful city that, at least for the time being, was ours to share.

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Flashback: Le 14 juillet à la Ville Lumière (07/18/13)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I have been regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is an excerpt of a blog post about a whirlwind 14 juillet weekend in Paris.

 On my way home, I ducked into the air-conditioned refuge known as Tesco. While picking up some nectarines, I spotted a prepackaged Salad Niçoise on a nearby shelf. There was nothing particularly eye-catching about it. The tuna was in unappetizing clumps. The limp green beans looked more grey than green. It was the label “Salad Niçoise” itself that had drawn me in. In my mind, I conjured up an image of my last meal in Paris the previous weekend. It had been a simple dinner of Salad Niçoise, washed down with a toothachingly sweet chocolat froid à l’ancienne. Best of all, the garçon indulged my French without a whiff of condescension, unlike the somewhat supercilious garçon at Le Café de la Paix two nights ago. But to get to that, I have to start from the beginning.

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As an inveterate Europhile, I came to Europe this summer with romanticized notions of the cities that I was to inhabit. I was fully aware of the fact that my vision of London was a glamorized one and, with that in mind, London in many ways met and even surpassed my expectations. But much as I consider myself to be an Anglophile – blame it on all those British history books and classes and nights of watching Sherlock and Downton Abbey – my romanticization of Paris was beyond compare.

My love affair with France began at an early age. While I had never visited France before last weekend, I had been fortunate enough to have grown up in a world infused with French culture, thanks to my parents’ time in France and my own childhood years in Quebec. Elementary school French language classes were exhaustingly repetitive and heavily reliant on mind-numbing, albeit entertaining, videos (Téléfrançais, anyone?). However, luckily, I had some fantastic French teachers later on, and by high school, I had fallen in love with the French language.

Adding to that, central to American romantic comedies is the Parisian romance that is falling in love with Paris itself: that promise that once you step onto the streets of Paris, the historic architecture will enrapture you, the impossibly flaky pastries will entice you, and the chatter of locals sipping wine al fresco late into the night will enchant you as you amble down a sun-drenched side street leading to the Seine. The sunset will be reflected and refracted off the river in a thousand shimmering planes of crimson and gold, setting the entire city ablaze, lighting the flames of romance between couples and stoking the fire of inspiration for aspiring artists.

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Flashback: Alohomora (06/17/2013)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I will be regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is an excerpt of a blog post about the magic of London.

est magicae.

It only seemed fitting that after visiting the enchanted studio where the Harry Potter books were transfigured into films, I would dedicate my next blog post to magic.

But the magic to which I am referring is not, as some might expect from me, the magic of hexes and jinxes, of Quidditch and Quodpot (the most popular wizarding game in the United States. See Kennilworthy Whisp, Quidditch Through the Ages, Chapter 8).

This magic does not come with flying sparks and exploding leather balls. Granted, it does come with the occasional ability to defy gravity, as these levitating Covent Garden-dwellers demonstrate.

It is the magic infused in acrid pipe exhaust belched out of double-decker buses and the curried notes of fragrant Indian street fare; the same magic that rings with the pounding of feet on pavement, that stings and smarts with the chilly blast of air channelled along the river. It is the magic embedded in and intertwined with all things tangible and intangible in this sublime city.

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Flashback: Fortuna Major (06/07/13)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I will be regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is an excerpt of my first blog post about interning and exploring in London. 


Hearts, stars and horse-shoes, clovers and blue-moons,

We drove to the airport by alabaster moonlight.

In the preceding twenty-four hours, I had shed my dusty dorm spring cleaning garments, crossed the forty-ninth parallel, embraced family members long unseen, run to the ravine bathed in sunshine, and repacked my suitcase (just over fifty pounds!) for a flight that would take me even farther than had the last.

It was twilight when I boarded the plane and, in a sense, I felt as though I were occupying a sort of twilight zone, as if by stepping onto the plane and taking my seat, I was leaping off the precipice into a realm of great incertitude, but also of great adventure. Perhaps I was conflating the mild psychosis induced by sleep deprivation with unprecedented nerves over travelling. Or perhaps it was just the gravity of this event – my first voyage across, or rather over, the Atlantic – weighing down upon me.

Ironically, a flight involving as little English as possible was precisely what reawakened my excitement for England. My seatmate was an elderly woman who did not speak a smattering of English. She sat in a permanently forward posture, as though she were clinging to every word uttered by the cartoon characters dancing across her screen, affording Tarzan and his jungle companions her undivided attention. That is, until the child in the seat diagonally across the aisle from hers began wailing, at which point she affixed upon him a withering glare of which I was grateful not to be on the receiving end.

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