Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Crème Fraîche: A Love Story


I fell in love with Andrew over crème fraîche.

When I moved to Albuquerque nine years ago from a small town in France, I was not a happy camper. I was coming to New Mexico for graduate school, but I was not pleased about leaving France and moving to Albuquerque.

My year in France was defined by my time in the kitchen. I was there to teach English, yes, but with the light teaching schedule asked of English language assistants and my isolation in a tiny town, I focused on food. It helped that my oldest friend Rosie, an amazing cook with a love for food as deep as mine, was stationed about an hour away. When I look back on that year, I remember a lot of time spent leaning over her tiny kitchen table chopping, dicing and mincing while she manned the stove. Kirs in our hands and smiles on our faces. Bright pink, rosy cheeks flushed by the heat from the stove that quickly filled the tiny kitchen. I spent a good part of that year cold to the bone thanks to my chilly, drafty apartment, and nights in Rosie’s cozy and warm kitchen were one of the few times my body actually relaxed its muscles. The kirs helped too I’m sure.

That year was the first time I had much interest in cooking for myself. I was amazed at the meals we could whip up. Rosie had been cooking for a while, and she has a great intuitive way about her cooking. She is always calm in the kitchen and has this natural way about her cooking. It’s such a pleasure to cook with her. It seems to me that for all great cooks and lovers of food, there are people in their lives who have opened the doors. People who introduced them to new flavors, ingredients, textures, techniques. People who are able to transfer their own love of good food and eating and pass on the joy. Rosie is one of those people for me.

Our setting helped certainly. Being surrounded by a whole country of folks who take food very seriously and who appreciate a delicious meal was good inspiration. I had more memorable meals during that single year of my life than I had had leading up to it. It was a wonderful year of cooking and eating.

When I showed up in New Mexico a couple of months later, I was overwhelmed. I was living alone in a new town where I knew no one. I found comfort in making the French dishes that Rosie and I had enjoyed the year before, many of which featured crème fraîche as an integral ingredient. Having never purchased crème fraîche in the U.S. before, it didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t be readily available at the grocery store. I was already feeling lonely and homesick, and after trying four different stores with no luck, I thought I might need to up and move back to Minnesota immediately. I remember calling my sister, crying and complaining about being all alone in a new city. A city that felt pretty foreign. I remember exclaiming, “they don’t even have crème fraîche here!” I was distraught to think I had to spend the next two years living without crème fraîche.

Shortly after the crème fraîche realization, I invited two of my new classmates over for dinner. I had resigned myself to substituting sour cream, and when Andrew asked what he could bring, I told him (I remember this conversation so clearly), “Well, I need crème fraîche, but they don’t have it here so I guess you can bring sour cream.” Le sigh…

When Andrew and our other friend showed up for dinner, I shoved the beer and sour cream he had brought into the fridge and focused on being a good hostess. We had a nice little apéritif, and then I began preparing dinner. When it came time to add the sour cream, I pulled the container out of the fridge and (you can see where this is going…) it was crème fraîche! Andrew had found it!!

I realized what I was holding, and I screamed with delight. The emotional stress of living someplace new and making new friends and wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into was cut in that moment. At least they have crème fraîche here, I thought. I wanted to throw my arms around Andrew’s neck while he twirled me around the kitchen. We were not dating yet so I restrained myself and thanked him properly. That’s the night I first fell in love with my husband.

A few weeks later, I was sitting at his desk and I picked up a book. Out fell a little slip of paper with the words:

friday 7
meghan’s house
creme fraiche?

I melted. I wish so badly I had put that slip into my pocket, but I placed it back in the book and smiled to myself. He told me later that he had never heard of crème fraîche before, but he could tell how much it meant to me. He set out on a mission to find me crème fraîche. I think that’s the day he knew he was falling in love with me too.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Don't Let the Moguls Control You

For the first time since I lived at my parents’ house, we have a television with reception. That means we can watch tv in real time these days, which I find to be kind of annoying with all of the commercials and inability to pause, but it also means that we can watch the Olympics! We watched some ladies freestyle moguls on Saturday night, and while discussing the various athletes’ performances, the announcer lauded that you can’t let the moguls control you.

I reminded myself of this lesson yesterday as we skied after several weeks of no snow. It felt like starting the season all over again, but I repeated this phrase to myself over and over again as I practiced.

Normally we would ski no matter the conditions because I like to get my money’s worth out of our season passes. This January, however, facing week after week of no snow and worse and worse conditions, we’ve stayed home. We have two kinds of practical at our house. My practical approach is to ski every weekend no matter the conditions so that we can maximize the value of our passes. This is what Andrew calls “Midwestern practical.” Andrew’s practical approach is to only ski when the conditions are good because we’ve already spent the money anyway and there’s no use forcing ourselves to do something that is supposed to be fun. If we don’t want to go, he always says, let’s stay home! And so, that’s what we’ve been doing for the past month.

It felt good to be back in the swing of things this weekend. Mostly good. I felt out of practice and rusty. That’s why I had to keep reminding myself.

Don’t let the moguls control you. Pick your own route. Maintain your control. 
Don’t let them control you.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Bowl Sunday & Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip

One of my goals for this year is to complete unfinished projects. I've cleared out our paper files, donated clothes, organized my recipes and I'm slowly working my way through my folder of half written blog posts. This recipe for spinach artichoke has been in my draft folder for at least two years, and it's the perfect super bowl snack. Next up is the big box of wedding photos that I printed and STILL haven't put into an album. 2014 will be a year of clearings.

Also, I've been waiting for a good opportunity to use this cute photo of Lola, taken last year on the drive home from Christmas. She longs for the salt air too.

This is an easy and quick appetizer that is sure to please your guests. I keep a couple of cans of artichoke hearts in the pantry so I can whip this up on short notice.

Serve with toasted baguette slices or olive oil crackers.

Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip

2 cans (14 ounces each) of artichoke hearts packed in water, well drained, chopped
5+ handfuls of spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons grated onion
3/4 cup white cheddar or romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer to a baking dish and bake 20-25 minutes until bubbling. I like to finish it for a couple of minutes in the broiler to brown the top. Serve fresh out of the oven with toasted baguette slices or crackers.
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