Dordogne France and Anniversary Waffles

To think that Dordogne almost didn’t make it on our itinerary is a shame. Protected by its relative inaccessibility, the region of Dordogne is full of unspoiled beauty and sites unlike anywhere else in France.  Filled with prehistoric caves, rock-sculpted villages, and the best foie gras in Europe, Dordogne was an easy area to fall in love with, and the perfect place to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary.

A near five hour drive from Amboise, we took our time getting to Dordogne, enjoying the views and stopping for a roadside picnic lunch of baguette sandwiches with pork rillettes, whole grain mustard, and cornichons, and the best market strawberries on earth for dessert.

Arriving in the region in the late afternoon, we started our Dordogne adventure with a scenic drive through the eastern part of of the area, wandering through the sleepy towns of Carennac, Loubressac, and Autoire, and pausing for a Belgian pint in the well-preserved medieval town of Martel. After our drive, we made it to our bed and breakfast nestled near the river in Castelnaud, and it was there where the true magic of our Dordogne adventure began. IMG_0224IMG_0280IMG_0227

IMG_0260IMG_0303IMG_0339Our stay at La Tour de Cause was nothing short of perfect, and it’s partially because of this inn that Dordogne will forever have a spot on our itinerary each time we visit France. Our room and the grounds were lovely, the food was impeccable, and the inn owners had a gift for making us feel right at home.

After forcing ourselves from the too comfortable beds, we’d start each day with freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe cheeses, buttery croissants, homemade jams, creamy yogurt, decadent hot chocolate, and some other French or Belgian delight perfectly prepared and served by Igor and Nico, our hosts and new friends.

We’d sit around in their stunning  kitchen long after we’d finished eating, sipping our coffee and chocolate, chatting, and finalizing plans for our day. After breakfast, we’d slowly get ready and enjoy some time on the patio, before venturing out into the countryside to explore the best sites this part of France had to offer. IMG_0717IMG_0706.jpg

IMG_0795IMG_0772On our first full day we explored the nearby town of Sarlat-la-Canéda where we shopped the stalls at the bustling Wednesday market. As one of the most important market towns since the Middle Ages, not only did the Sarlat market offer us a wonderful culinary tour of the area, but it also offered a downtown rich in architecture and history, a great introduction to this historic region.

At the market we bought cheese and cured meats, tasted walnut liqueur, and spoke to the merchants in broken French. We stocked up on foie gras and terrines, and purchased fruit, wine, and baguettes for lunch. When it started to rain, we ducked into the church to sit and pray, before heading on to the more adventurous part of our day.

Once the rain passed, we headed down the road to start our nine-mile, lazy canoe ride down the scenic Dordogne river. Paddling at a relaxed pace, we took in views of lush forests and towering limestone bluffs, and then of castles and cliff-dwelling villages.

IMG_0389churchIMG_0445IMG_0420IMG_0466IMG_0541IMG_0594Docking our boat at the foot of the first village, we stepped onto dry land to explore the beautiful town of La Roque-Gageac, a quaint little place where we later returned for our anniversary dinner. From there, we paddled on past Castelnaud, where our bed and breakfast was located, before ending our excursion with a tour of one of my favorite castles, the mighty 12th century fortress of Beynac.

Hiking to the tip top of town, we enjoyed our walk up the narrow cobblestone roads, surrounded by historic homes and rose covered buildings, before being rewarded with sweeping views of the river valley area below.

Nestled 500 feet above the Dordogne River, Château de Beynac was used as a defense fortress by the French during the Hundred Years’ War, and having been recently restored,  gave us a great glimpse into what life might have looked like in this area during that time. Much different than the newer, more luxurious palaces we saw in the Loire, the fortress of Beynac was one of the coolest châteaux we visited in France, and is perhaps one of my favorite châteaux  I’ve seen in all of Europe thus far. IMG_0671

IMG_0621IMG_0617IMG_0645IMG_0659IMG_0656IMG_0629Winding down from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to our bed and breakfast where we had one of the best meals we had during our entire stay in France. Starting with aperitifs and hors d’oeuvres on the patio, I knew right away that our decision to stay in for dinner was the right choice. Igor and Nico serve up a lovely breakfast, but it’s dinner where their talent is truly able to shine.

Gathered around the kitchen table with Igor and Nico and two other guests, we enjoyed herring crostinis with creme fraiche and fresh dill, duck pâté croquettes topped with fried parsley and lemon, sausage stuffed quail with a wine and fruit reduction, sauteed zucchini, and a melt in your mouth polenta. The wine flowed freely, the conversation never stalled, and before we knew it, we were no longer a table of strangers, but instead, a table of friends.

After dessert, more wine, and then a pot of tea, we collapsed into bed, happy and full, and never wanting to leave. france wafflescave

tree.jpgDay two of our Dordogne adventure was another special one as it was also the day of our 5th wedding anniversary. As if dinner the night before hadn’t already been perfect enough, we were greeted at breakfast that morning with cheers and music and special, anniversary waffles. With Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage playing in the background, we celebrated with our new friends, feeling loved, and so happy to be in France.

Though maybe not the most romantic way to celebrate an anniversary, we continued our day and our Dordogne adventure by exploring the region’s biggest attraction and touring two of the hundreds of prehistoric caves that are scattered around the area.

The first cave we visited, Lascaux II, is an exact replica of the area’s most famous cave, Lascaux. Just feet away, the original cave was closed to the public in 1963 to help preserve the art. After being discovered in 1940, changes in the environment caused by human visitors did more damage  to the art in the 15 years it was open to the public than in the estimated 17,000-20,000 prior. This cave is most famous for The Great Hall of the Bulls, a section of the cave which depicts colorful paintings of bulls, equines, and stags, as well as the largest painted animal discovered so far in cave art, a 17 foot long bull. Next we saw original and newer (though certainly not new! est. 13,000 years old…) cave art at Rouffignac, which is well known for its engravings and drawings of mammoths, bison, horses, and other large animals. Our visit to these caves was a highlight of our trip, and though maybe not romantic, was a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary. 

After our cave excursion we enjoyed a late picnic on a quiet riverbank next to an 11th century Romanesque church, before heading back to our bed and breakfast for a nap, and then on to another memorable French meal.

While I would be happy celebrating marriage anywhere on earth with my dear hubs, our 5th wedding anniversary is definitely a day I will never forget, and it’ll take a lot to top this year’s memorable celebration. IMG_0864IMG_0844IMG_0817IMG_0849On our third and last day in Dordogne, we cracked open a bottle of Chimay before noon, and enjoyed one more chat with Igor and Nico gathered around their kitchen table. We talked politics and about our work, and most importantly, about food. I shared with them some of my favorite recipes, and walked away with some of theirs. Too quickly the bottle was empty and the hour was late, and we still had one last castle to visit before leaving for our next town. Sadly saying our goodbyes, we packed the car and went down the road to visit Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle before heading on our way.

I cried a bit when leaving, sad to move along so soon, but also excited for what was next to come. I read the paper Igor had given me,  a recipe for the waffles we enjoyed on our anniversary, and smiled knowing we’d forever be able to have a bit of Dordogne in our lives, wherever we may go.

My new go to waffle recipe, these are great for breakfast, dessert, or a late night snack. Though I call them anniversary waffles, they’re really just a great Belgian waffle recipe that came from some amazing Belgians in France, perfect for anniversaries, or any weekday or weekend meal. We like them best warm and very crisp, served with a smear of apricot jam, and washed down with a chilled glass of champagne.

Anniversary Waffles 

Makes 9-10 Waffles 

2 cups flour

1 cup milk

3/4 cup water

3 eggs

10.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1.5 teaspoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

dash of vanilla (optional)

dash of salt

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, water, and yeast, then mix in all other ingredients, except for the salt. Loosely cover batter and rest in the fridge for 12 hours.

After your batter has rested, mix in a dash of salt, and cook waffles according to your waffle maker instructions. I like to cook mine on the hottest setting, allowing them to become extra crisp. Serve with powdered sugar, syrup, or my favorite, a high quality jam.

 

Shrove Tuesday, Pancakes, and a Very Special Birthday

Today is a special day for a couple of different reasons. For one, it’s Shrove Tuesday, meaning it’s a day for self-reflection, examination, and confession. Secondly, it’s my dear hub’s birthday, and boy, is he worth celebrating.

This morning we enjoyed banana pancakes together because they’re his favorite, and because it’s Fat Tuesday, and I will take any excuse to eat pancakes. After breakfast, I wrapped his gift and got an early start prepping for dinner. Tonight, we won’t be out for a crazy Mardi Gras/birthday celebration, but instead, we will enjoy a nice dinner together at home, relaxing, finding rest and peace, because during this lenten season, that’s just what we need.

The last six months have consisted of many changes. It was a season of transition and of adaptation. It was an exhilarating, emotional, exciting, and exhausting season. This year, for me, lent is serving as a fresh start. A beginning to the next season, a start to something new. Life finally feels a bit settled here in Austin, a little more routine, and not quite so exhausting.

I’m not sure exactly what I will be giving up this year, or if I will actually be giving up anything at all. I am still trying to figure out what I expect from this season, and am still working on my desires and goals. I long for rest, both physically and mentally, and I desire to be really intentional with my actions. I do know that much. So today, instead of of exhausting myself with worry about how I will go about that, I am choosing to find peace and rest and celebrate the man that I love. Happy birthday, my dear hubs, I am so very glad that you were born!

The-Daily-Doss---Banana-Pancakes
Banana-Walnut, Sour Cream Pancakes

yields eight 4-inch pancakes

1 large egg

1 cup sour cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of ground nutmeg

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

butter, for pan

1 large, ripe banana, chopped

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, sour cream, vanilla, and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Melt a pat of butter in the bottom of a large, heavy pan over medium-low heat. Ladle in 1/4 cup batter at a time, leaving 2 inches between each pancake. Sprinkle each pancake with a heaping tablespoon of chopped banana, and a heaping tablespoon of walnuts.

When the pancakes are dry around the edges and you can see bubbles forming on the top, flip each pancake and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes on the second side. Once cooked through, remove from pan, add another pat of butter, and cook remaining batter.

Serve with powdered sugar, additional walnuts, and pure maple syrup, if desired.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Peach and Sour Cream Pancakes

Back to the Basics: Homemade Whipped Cream and Pie Dough

There is no dessert more classic at Thanksgiving than a pie, and no better topping for a pie than whipped cream. As many of us will soon be indulging in our favorite holiday desserts, I thought I would share a couple of recipes to help put your pies over the top.

It never fails to surprise me how many people can’t (or don’t…or won’t) make their own whipped cream. It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made and only requires ONE ingredient. It tastes much better than store bought whipped cream, and though I haven’t compared the prices, a container of heavy whipping cream is pretty cheap. If you can make a pie, I promise you, you can make homemade whipped cream.

While really, all that’s necessary is heavy whipping cream, it’s common to sprinkle in a little sugar to sweeten up the taste. Sometimes, I switch it up a bit and use maple syrup instead of sugar, or maybe add some vanilla or a splash of bourbon, but really, a classic sugar/cream whipped cream is hard to beat.

If you have a stand mixer, this is seriously the easiest recipe in the world. Just put your cream and sugar in your mixing bowl, turn your mixer on high, and in about two to three minutes, you’ll have yourself a glorious bowl of whipped cream. If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer works great as well. It might take a few minutes longer, and it’ll help if you freeze your bowl and beaters for about 15 minutes before you start, but that is still a pretty simple recipe if you ask me.

If you are whipping by hand, you rock! You deserve a big spoonful of cream (and maybe a shot of bourbon) once you are done. If you choose this route, you’ll certainly want to stick your bowl and beaters in the freezer for a few minutes before you start. It’ll help you out and cool you down while you work.

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Homemade Whipped Cream

yields 1 1/2 – 2 cups whipped cream

Ingredients 

2 tbsp sugar

1 c heavy whipping cream

Directions

Whisk together cream and sugar in a mixing bowl until soft peaks form.


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Though slightly harder and a little more work, homemade pie dough is another simple recipe that every cook should know how to make. You have to plan a bit ahead on this one as your dough needs time to chill, but if truly in a hurry, a freezer usually helps to do the trick. Most recipes will ask you to chill your dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour (I recommend this as well), but I’ve been in a cinch a time or two where chilling my dough in the freezer for 30 minutes worked.

Unlike whipped cream, there’s a bit of a deeper science to creating a great pie dough, so I will let the professionals walk you through this one. For galettes and tarts, I enjoy Bon Appétit’s Basic Tart Dough, and for flaky pies, I favor Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough all the way. If you are into graham cracker crusts, ole Deb Perelman also has a great recipe for that. It’s my favorite for cheesecakes and pumpkin pies!

As you prepare your desserts this holiday season, I encourage you to give your own whipped cream and pie crust a try. Intimated by the dough? Start small with the cream. It’ll put your dish over the top and leave your guests hungry for more. If you feel a bit nervous about making your own pie dough, Christmas is still a month away. That leaves you plenty of time to practice!

Bon appétit and happy Thanksgiving!

Mexican Meatball Soup

When we lived in Boston, good Mexican food was hard to come by. It took over a year for us to find anywhere worth driving to (it was a ways out from the city center) and it wasn’t until the night before we left town that we finally found an authentic taco joint. We craved it often and were so rarely satisfied. We missed pitchers of beer and spicy salsa with bottomless baskets of chips. We longed for Mexican white cheese dip and I always failed miserably at making my own. Each time we would head home to Arkansas, barbecue and Mexican food were always on the top of our list. We’d eat until we were miserable, but it was worth it every time.

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Now that we are in Texas, we have access to more Mexican restaurants than we could ever try in a lifetime. There are probably at least 10 trucks and restaurants just on our block, and a thousand more scattered about the city. The grocery store located just down the street greets you with colorful aguas frescas, and there are peppers there that I dare not try to identify. I love the Mexican culture that’s prominent across Texas and the delicious culinary inspiration that it brings.

This recipe comes from a new friend of mine who can cook Mexican food with the best of them. As we chatted about the weather turning cooler she made mention of one of her favorite Mexican soups. “I’d love for you to teach me how to make it,” I told her, and that is just what she did.

soup

Silvia, who was born in Mexico, has been eating this soup for her entire life. Her grandmother would make it when she would visit her in Tijuana, and she grew up eating her mother’s rendition in her home in Los Angeles where she grew up. Now that she’s in Texas, she cooks it for her fiancé and for lucky friends like me.

It’s a simple soup, and really, the ingredients are rather basic. Feeling a bit surprised by this, I had to ask what exactly made it Mexican. “It’s just a soup that we eat in Mexican homes,” I was told. At first, I was a little let down by this answer. I was secretly waiting for that “special ingredient,” the exotic flavor that made it truly Mexican, but as we sat down for dinner, I realized that her answer couldn’t have been anymore perfect. It’s not just the ingredients in a recipe that make it regionally authentic, it’s how you eat it and how you share it that’s important. Happy for the reminder, I finished off my last meatball, feeling glad for new friendships, and full and comforted from this tasty soup.

Like any good cook preparing a family recipe, Silvia did not measure anything out. I jotted notes as we went along, but really, they are only guesstimates. Take these notes for what they’re worth, and have fun using your imagination along the way!

¡Buen provecho!

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Mexican Meatball Soup

Serves 4

5 cups water

4 Roma tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1 lb ground beef

2 tbsp rice

1 egg

2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

1 tsp cumin

1 quarter of a large white or yellow onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 zucchinis, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tbsp olive oil

s&p

lime

tapatío hot sauce

In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil until soft. Meanwhile, blend tomatoes, garlic, water, and a good pinch of salt until smooth. Poor broth into pot, add carrots, zucchini, and potatoes, and bring to a low simmer.

While your broth simmers, mix together ground beef, cumin, mint, egg, rice and salt and pepper in a large bowl. With your hands,  pack meat into 1-inch balls. Gently place into your broth.

Cover pot and simmer soup until vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked through, about 25-35 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and more cumin if desired. Serve with lime wedges, Tapatío hot sauce, and a side of charred tortillas.

 

Blueberry-Lemon Drop Biscuits

Though the first day of autumn falls on Tuesday of next week, here in Texas the air is still warm and wet. I see pictures from friends scattered around the country, sipping warm beverages and baking pumpkin treats. My friends in Boston are pulling out their sweaters, while I am here in Austin wearing shorts and a tank.

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Early last week the temps reached 100, but to my great surprise, Saturday was a chilly, 66 degrees. Imagine the joy for this girl who loves fall, as I got to wear pants AND long sleeves, and snuggle on the couch with open windows, and a cool, crisp breeze. I baked pumpkin-pecan muffins and simmered a pot of French onion soup, and though it was grey and dreary outdoors, I declared the weather to be perfect, a tease of fall and a break from the heat. Though Sunday wasn’t as cool, it only reached a humid 78. It wasn’t perfect, but still a welcome change from the high temps we had experienced all week.

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While I am longing for the weather to consistently be a little more reminiscent of fall, I am accepting it for what it is and learning to make due. Instead of baking with squashes and spices and whipping up hearty comfort foods, I am celebrating a few more weeks of summer with berries, and citrus and light, refreshing bites.

These biscuits were the perfect treat earlier this week, when I longed to bake, but needed something light to eat. Though I was craving roasted squash and a creamy hot chocolate, it was 87 degrees outside, and slightly warm in our apartment. The cold flour and butter smashed between my fingertips was soothing and therapeutic. The sweet smell of lemon lingered in the air refreshing my senses, while the butter in the oven sizzled, oozing from the biscuits.

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This recipe is very similar to that of a scone, just minus the egg and a little less butter. While I love a good scone, sometimes it’s hard to get them just right. If the shape isn’t funky, the texture is all off. I like my scones to be crumbly, but some recipes make them way too dry, and then there are those recipes where you wonder if you accidentally made muffins, as your final product is much too moist. Biscuits, in my opinion, are usually much easier, and while I love a good flaky, perfectly rounded, buttery disc of dough, drop biscuits are a cinch and take very little work. They are incredibly versatile and are great both savory and sweet. I make buttered biscuits for dinner often, but sometimes like to add fruit and enjoy them as a breakfast treat. The hubs enjoys them with coffee, I like them with tea. Either way, eat them warm out of the oven, for breakfast, or in my case, as a tasty afternoon snack.

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Blueberry-Lemon Drop Biscuits 

yields 8 biscuits 

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tbsp sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold butter

3/4 – 1 cup milk

1 cup blueberries

zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. I like to use my fingers so that I can make sure the butter is well blended. If your butter isn’t blended well, the consistency of the biscuits will fall flat.

Mix in your lemon zest before slowly mixing in your milk. Use only 3/4 a cup for a dryer biscuit, or a full cup if you prefer a slightly moister biscuit. Gently fold in your blueberries.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons into 8 mounds on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until set and lightly brown. Sprinkle each mound with a pinch of sugar (preferably coarse or raw), and cool on a wire rack.

A Taco Recipe + A Fun Announcement

A little more than a year ago a dear friend of mine told me about a blog that she thought I might like. Always eager for new blogs to read, I clicked the link and starting navigating through the site. I read a few posts and clicked around through the archives–post after post, it was like they were all written for me. By the time I was done, I had happily clicked “follow.” I was delighted to have found a new blog to love, and grateful for the find. 

Doss, Coconut-Lime Chicken Tacos 1

The Graduate Wife is the name of that blog, and it is a wonderful resource for women (and sometimes men!) like myself who are supporting a husband or significant other during their academic career.  It’s full of great stories, recipes, and tips to help women through the journey. It has provided me with encouragement on some of my hardest days, and with joy on the happier ones. 

If you haven’t guessed my announcement just yet, here it is: I’ll be making an appearance on this wonderful site from time to time, offering a bit of advice that I have picked up along the way, and sharing stories from my journey thus far.  

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If you are a graduate wife, I encourage you to follow the blog, and even if you’re not, I suggest following it anyway, because really, who doesn’t love a good story? 

For the recipe and to learn more about the blog, please visit http://www.thegraduatewife.com

Cider is one of those things that I can drink during any time of the year. I love it on a brisk, autumn day when the sun is shining but the air is cold. Some of my sweetest memories  drinking cider take place bundled around a campfire surrounded by those that I love. Jacob and I tried many local ciders during our time in Boston as we traveled and explored the quaint and picturesque New England countryside. We tried dry ones, sweet ones, and ones somewhere in between. We tried making our own once with a gallon of juice that we picked up at Whole Foods, and while it tasted more like champagne than cider, it was equally as delicious and perfect on those cold Boston nights.

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While drinking cider during the fall might just be my favorite, I really can’t complain about a cold and tart brew in the middle of a warm summer. I like them dry, and not overly sweet, just the right blend to cool me down on a hot summer day.

Several weeks ago when the farmer’s market had just opened for the season, I found hundreds of pounds of beautiful local apples- all marked down to half price. They weren’t really good for eating, but were begging to be used in some way or another. I thought about buying some for pies or some other form of dessert, or maybe to make batches of juice or applesauce. I purchased 25, 25 pounds that is, and awkwardly made my way home. With a large bundle of lemongrass crammed in purse, and 25 pounds of apples filling my market bag, my half mile walk home was much more difficult than my leisurely walk there.

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The hubs came home from fishing and could only laugh at my haul. “What will you do with all of those apples?,” he asked, “Maybe I will make some cider,” I replied. One week later on a cold and dreary Sunday afternoon, we juiced every one of those suckers and threw them in a jug with some yeast. On went the plug and there went our cider, hidden away in a cupboard, alone to do its magic.

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Though we should have bottled over a week ago, it wasn’t until this week that we finally had the chance. Though flat and warm, we tasted our blend, and were pleasantly surprised by the results. Sour and sharp, just the way I like my summer ciders to taste. It’ll only improve with carbonation, and served up cold can only help its case. Now we sit, for two more weeks, waiting for a second taste.

About the time our cider finishes brewing, it’ll be time for us to start packing our bags. We have just over one month left in our sweet little home, and maybe only two left in this great little town. We will head to Austin in a few weeks to search for jobs and a new building to call home. I’m constantly surprised how quickly this journery has been. It feels just like last month that I was talking about visits to the market and the concoctions I was coming up with back then.There are still boxes in our apartment that have yet to be unpacked, but I can’t complain about that now as that’s one last thing to worry about when it’s time for our move. While our days have been incredibly busy, we are taking the time to enjoy the things in Arkansas that we both love to do. Fishing, canoeing, hiking and rock climbing; cookouts, camping, and in just two more weeks…cider with friends.