24 November 2011

Thanksgiving and Fennel Parmesan Salad

Thanksgiving, like many holidays, is a mixed bag of emotions. Every year my huge extended family gets together in New York to celebrate and marvel at how much the little ones have grown and how many new little ones are under foot and who the heck do they all belong to anyway?? As children, this was one of the best moments of the year. Ok, we were dressed to the nines, but when the parents were busy talking, my sisters and cousins and I slipped off those two-tight new dress shoes and ran up the back stairs in stocking feet to play. Or else, we snuck into the coat room, with all its long black coats and fancy fur coats, and slipped pieces of paper, candy or other found treasures into the pockets.

In France, there's no such holiday, no time off, and so I miss all the hullabaloo of a the big family get-together. Of course, there are upsides: I don't have to worry about what to wear, or be polite to people who's faces are vaguely familiar (they look like me?) but whose names I can't for the life of me remember, and no one asks me who my grandfather is and spends twenty minutes trying to figure out how we're related.

But I also really miss my family. Now that we've grown up and are all in different places, it's hard to get to see everyone and Thanksgiving is usually when everyone manages to come together. I miss hearing the latest cousin gossip, the smell of New York at this time of year, the Broadway shows, the lights as the holiday season starts, the shop windows, and the upper class Jewish ladies in pearls.

However, even with that nostalgia, I have to admit I'm pretty lucky because here in Paris I get to have Thanksgiving with the extremely talented Camille. The food is much better than it ever was in my childhood, and I get to cook some of it! There's definitely something very Thanksgiving-y about spending the day cooking up yummy things to eat in the evening in very good company!

Of course, the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pecan pie and all that will be on the table. But it's nice to have some vegetables and I'd been meaning to test this Fennel Parmesan Salad for quite some time. I never know what to do with fennel from my CSA, but after a taste-run of this recipe, I won't hesitate to make this absolutely delicious salad again. A perfect flavor combination! It comes from the wonderful blog 30 Minute Dinner Party, which you should definitely check out if you don't already read it!

2 bulbs fennel
100g (about 3/4 cup) fresh Parmesan, shaved into thin slices
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
juice of 1 lime
sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Cut the leaves off the fennel and wash well. Peel off the leaves and slice thinly. (When you get down to the core, the leaves won't peel well but just slice the core into thin slices as well.) Put in a salad bowl with the Parmesan. In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, vinegar, lime, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the salad and serve!

15 November 2011

Fall in Paris: a Study in Yellow and Brown (with Roast Chicken and Squash)

At a party a couple weeks ago, our hosts, who had invited a group of people who didn't all know each other, made us play a getting-to-know-you game, which involved writing answers to questions like "If you were a planet (adjective, famous person, book, etc), which one would you be?" A person's answers were read out anonymously and everyone had to guess who it was. To the question "If you were a season, which one would you be?" I was the only person who answered "autumn". When the host read it out, he said "oooh, this person is depressed!" Wide of the mark. I'm not depressed. Where I come from, autumn is a season of abundance, of bright colors, of beautiful light and crisp air.

But having lived in Paris for five years now, I can see why the French find fall depressing. The days get short so quickly, and gray and rainy. Even on the few sunny days, the fall colors are somewhat limited: yellow and brown pretty much cover it. For the past couple of years, I've tried to take myself out of my apartment to enjoy what fall has to offer here.

Montmartre with its colorful climbing vines is actually one of the prettiest places around. Last year at the jardins de Luxembourg, my sister and I appreciated the yellow and brown there, followed by warming homemade Chai. This year, I headed down the the Canal St. Martin to see the yellows reflected in the water.

As the weather gets colder and the leaves (whatever their colors) fall off the trees for the winter, it's important to have warming food to come home to. This roast chicken with squash is simple to make and perfect for the season. You can make it with chicken breasts or thighs or a whole chicken. Whatever fits your tastes and budget. And to top it all off, it matches the colors of fall in Paris - which are not depressing at all if you only you look at them the right way.

(serves 4)
1 whole chicken (or 4 chicken breasts, or 4 chicken thighs)
1 squash (i used a potimarron, but butternut squash or pumpkin would work well too)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp dried sage (or 2 Tbsps fresh)
large pinch of sea salt
punch of black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC.

Mix together the olive oil with the sage, salt, pepper and cayenne. Rub this mixture into the chicken on all sides and place chicken in the center of a baking pan. Add the brown sugar to the remaining oil mixture.

Peel and cut the squash into cubes. (Ok, this is the evil part of the recipe. Squash is hard to cut and peel. I suggest cutting it in half, scooping out the seeds - you can save them and roast them - putting the squash half cut side down so it is stable and using a sharp knife to peel it, cutting down towards the cutting board so as not to slice your fingers. Then cut it into cubes.) Place the squash around the chicken in the baking pan and drizzle the rest of the olive oil mixture evenly on top of it.

Bake for about 1 hour (or until the chicken is cooked), mixing the squash once or twice to keep it coated with the juices. Serve hot and enjoy!