Friday, November 25, 2011

Praline-Apple Pie

Some years back I ripped a page from Southern Living magazine with a recipe for Praline-Apple pie. You bake a frozen apple pie like it says on the package, pour homemade caramel over the top, and then sprinkle on roasted pecans. The caramel topping is the real thing – sugar, cream and butter – but it’s the consistency of brown sugar candy. The first time I served it, one guest expressed his first bite by slapping the dinner table several times, unable to speak. Ditto on his second and third bites. Yes, the pie is that good, and two were my contribution to Thanksgiving, yesterday.

Caramel in France is superb, particularly when sprinkled with fleur de sel. My friend and travel-companion’s cousin gifted him with two jars of fleur de sel, from Ile de Re. Southern Living’s pie didn’t call for salt, but it received that French touch, thrown on with pleasure. You can see the specks of white.

- PJ

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Every morning as I leave for work, I'm thankful, first to get up and walk, and second for having a job to go to. No work today, I haven't even left my house yet, but I'm thankful for those things, once again.

Are little by little and PERSEVERING paying off? My cousin has asked an agent friend to take a look at Half Italian.

I'm thankful.

- PJ

Monday, November 21, 2011


Three from the recent Paris group came to dinner last night. A larger reunion is planned for mid-December, but those last night were treated to Jambon-a-la-crème, Giada’s Peas with prosciutto (with just a splash of sweet Marsala, my touch) and Tarte au citron. The ham with cream sauce is a specialty of my friend and travel-companion’s family, who lived in Burgundy. The peas go with almost anything (Giada, I wish I’d known that you too loved Italian cooking, back in fall 1993, at SMC!) and the lemon tart is my ongoing endeavor to achieve a delicious, marmalade-y dessert.

At the evening’s end, I placed a copy of Half Italian into my one of the guest’s hands, as planned.

- PJ

Thursday, November 17, 2011

PERSEVERE, she said

I work, once again, on The Other Half. Good stories, but waning enthusiasm interrupts my typing. I have no pending queries with agents; I assume those I made to travel magazines some months back will remain unanswered. Travelers’ Tales I won’t know about until sometime next year.

But I continue. I still believe these stories have general reading appeal. A newly-retired friend, my earliest friend in Los Angeles, was a member of the group on the recent France trip. Over dinner one evening in Paris, he asked to read Half Italian. This Sunday, I’ll put a copy of the manuscript in his hands.

PERSEVERE, she said.

- PJ

Friday, November 11, 2011

Home, once again

The dry air inside aircrafts burns my throat and dehydrates my skin to oil, coated with dust. What relief to step out of the cab in front of my building; how welcome a hot shower. After two and a half weeks away and twenty hours of return travel, home is quiet and familiar. The beds in France were comfortable but returning home to my own is a sleeping pill in itself. I succumb.

My friend and travel companion deemed his underarm shields' performance a success, except he missed one that the laundry chewed up and spat out during the dry cycle.

Answering-machine messages were upbeat; new friends want to catch up, an invitation to Thanksgiving, and happy tones. The last message, unfortunately, was confirmation that the family member from the blowup will remain righteous, probably until the end, wearing a victim’s mask and hiding behind doors of religion at its worst.

- PJ

Friday, November 4, 2011

Four…five…six…scared us sick

Last night in La Rochelle, we left our rented car at the old port’s edge where parking is free after 6:30 p.m. During a nice dinner of duck confit, lamb confit, red wine, chocolate mousse and French toast for dessert, our server took time to explain how to make duck confit, as she knows the process. As we left, the young chef came out and laughed when my friend declared he’d call them both if his first confit attempt turned out less than perfect. A pleasant walk back to our car in gentle rain seemed a perfect conclusion. And then, walking into the parking lot, I pointed and said, “Wasn’t our car parked there?” The space was now empty.
A brasserie employee at the lot’s rear confirmed parking was free after 6:30 p.m. and suggested either our car was towed, or stolen. Calling the number he provided, a woman said she had no record of a towing with our license plate. Another call, to emergency, sent a message to the police, who placed an APB for our car. Emergency advised us to get to the police department at once and fill out a report. Back in the brasserie, the same employee called a cab. Outside, the rain, like the evening, turned from gentle to rough, now with lightning. I felt as if I’d eaten live butterflies for dinner, now tingling inside. Would we be in a police station most of the night, my friend speaking French, me giving idiot looks to all?

The cab arrived and sensed our emergency. He quickly circled the parking lot (how many facets were there, to that lot, four…five…six?) and headed toward its exit, in direction of the police station. On his last turn of the lot, I looked to my left. A car’s wheels looked familiar. A few days earlier I’d stood outside our car, appreciating its assistance, and speed. Those wheels, I’d thought, had taken us from Bordeaux to La Rochelle, at speeds up to one hundred miles per hour. Never mind which of us was driving. “Wait! Can you ask him to go back? I thought I saw something.” This I said to my friend, who translated. Yes, our car was there, in one of the circular facets of the lot we’d parked in earlier, but missed later. (Only one glass of wine, each of us.)

In Half Italian, I mention feeling too relieved (over an incident on my first trip to France) to feel embarrassed. Last night, that was again true -- no matter how many times we apologized to the cab driver, the brasserie employee, the police (who kindly and quickly called off the APB), and our car rental agency – I only felt relief.

Fifteen euros later, here’s our lesson learned: European parking lots can have many facets (both of us have known that for years, but…) if this happens to you, find and check all facets of the parking pentagon, hexagon, heptagon before you panic. It only cost us fifteen euros (6.20 rounded to ten for the cab to circle the lot twice, and 5.00 for the brasserie employee’s kindness) but this would’ve cost much more if we’d not seen our car at the last moment and called off the search.

Back home to Los Angeles tomorrow. I think I’ll add this story to The Other Half.

- PJ

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Saints Day II

The group returned home last Saturday; we headed for Bordeaux.

Beautiful buildings in Bordeaux, good window-shopping, walking, restaurants, and a needy woman at every church entrance I saw, with a cup extended. There are few trees and flowers in the area known as the triangle.

Yesterday, we visited the village of St.-Emilion. Forecasts called fifty percent chance rain and when we set off the sky was half blue/half black, with light rain in the black. Was that the fifty percent? But the sun prevailed and St.-Emilion was beautiful. However, it was also November 1. Remembering last year’s All Saints Day (11/5/2010 post) experience in Menton, we hit a grocery store that was open until noon and armed ourselves for dinner in our hotel, just in case.
Two pates, bread, butter, camembert, olives, salad, vinaigrette, wine, and butter cookies. With all this, we abandoned any thoughts to search for an open restaurant, and feasted in our room.

- PJ