In Menton & Ventimiglia


Crazy Italian Zucchini

Crazy Italian Zucchini in Ventimiglia's Market

Fresh Capers

I've never seen fresh capers before...

Zucchini Flowers

Bundles of Zucchini Flowers for Just a Euro


Orata, Stuffed with Lemons, and Roasted with Salt and Olive Oil for Dinner

Today was all about shopping.  But not like in Nice, where I was hitting the summer sales at my favorite French high street shops.

We drove across the border to Italy–not far away.  And immediately, the world changed.  Everything, the buildings, the people, even the shore, became more abundant, and more run down.  It was still in the midst of the morning chill when we pulled up to a shady piazza in a town called Ventimiglia, near the sea.  Before us stood the huge square of an indoor market, about which we had heard great things.

The market did not disappoint.  Everywhere were those darling little sweet white peaches that are flattened out as if God had accidentally sat on the first one, and they had never recovered.  I love those peaches.  Huge, thin zucchini that twirled this way and that like overgrown fingernails.  Heirloom tomatoes in large teardrop shapes, ridged as if swelling with pride.  There were cheese stalls, where my parents haggled to taste every tomme in the place in search of some mythical cheese that had bought and couldn’t find again.  We tasted shards of sheep’s cheeses, and cow’s cheeses, and goat’s cheeses.  That wasn’t such a bad activity.  Butchers with whole rabbits and chickens.  A fishmonger with langoustines and enough mussels to make my previous attempts at all-you-can-eat mussels seem pretty feeble.  I bought an orata, which I’ve been noticing on a lot of New York menus.  Scaled, gutted, and gilled before my very eyes.  And then, my most precious find: zucchini flowers.  I love them, probably most, frankly, for their rarity.  They are only in season in the States for a second, blooming off the ends of the summer squashes and zucchinis.  I sometimes find them at the Union Square Farmers Market, or at Whole Foods, but they are exorbitant–sometimes a dollar per flower.  In Nice, I mentioned yesterday, they fry them up in beignet batter, and serve them with lemon wedges as street food.  There’s something about getting a diamond for the price of a lump of coal.

Bright gold and frilly, they were beautifully bound in bridal bouquets.  I bought two.  Because I could.  They were only a Euro for ten.

Italy Old Typewriter

A Beautiful Old Typewriter, like the inspiration for the "blog" illustration

Italy Flight Mask

Italy War Helmets

World War Helmets

Italy Pocket Watches

World War Pocket Watches

On the way back to the car, we ran into what I suppose you would call a flea market.  Not like the flea markets I see in Florida–new things that are bad and cheap.  But a real flea market, full of old things excavated from someone’s attic.  Where you might really find buried treasure.  Each stall promised something different.  My mother bought a beautiful real old necklace for Mémé.  I saw a mesmerizing old typewriter, much like the one that inspired the illustration for this “blog” page.  I love that clackety-clack sound they make as you write away.  There was all kinds of junk, too.  Old dolls, which terrify me.  Heavy marble boxes.  And gorgeous relics.  Real ivory daggers, and leather-sheathed sabres.  Imagine the romantic histories those must have had.  And somewhere amidst it all–a vintage Arizona license plate.

Soon, I came upon a stall that I still can’t make sense of.  Since moving to the UK for school a few years ago, I have come to see that Europe still has not let go of the World Wars.  Much as we still are haunted by our Civil War.  It is part of our everyday conscious.  Except, the World Wars were much more recent.  Sometimes, I think Mr. English himself considers what our food would cost in terms of wartime rations.  And he’s 27.  But it wasn’t until this flea market stall that I felt how heavy the weight of the wars still hang here.  The table was covered with helmets.  I don’t know if they were WWI or WWII–maybe even a mix of both.  A pilot’s mask that looked too near a gas mask to make me comfortable.  Helmets that had clearly encased the heads of boys younger than me, and that could have found there way to this table mostly by one twist of fate: they had died.  One was so badly rusted, that I thought maybe, just maybe, he had got away without it, for a farmer to dig up in his muddy field 50 years later.

The helmets were eerie, but that wasn’t what frightened me.  On the table, next to them, were pins, insignia, all the things that soldiers wear on their uniform to signal whose side they play for.  And then I remembered what side Italy was on in the war.  All the insignia were Nazi.  A few USSR, but other than that all Nazi.  And in my life, I have never seen a real German swastika.  In movies, of course.  Even carved into a park bench.  But somehow it was different.  And what struck me was that while the USSR also represented something sinister, their insignia was bright and imperial, almost cheerful in red and gold.  The Nazi insignia were dark, almost gunmetal in color.  And there were even skull pins to go along with them.  Sculls and crossbones etched into belt buckles.  It was consciously, knowingly dark.  It frightened me, and captivated me.  Because on one side, I had the helmets of innocent young boys, on whatever side they had fought, that filled me with a protective love and empathy, and then the purposefully sinister and nearly terrifying face of the Nazi party.  It put things into a perspective that I never really fully registered before.  So much so that I swore to publish the photos I took on this blog, and to even buy one of the paraphernalia, to lock in a safe, and to use as proof and a reminder of what can happen when we let horrors run amok.  I thought carefully about both, and decided to leave both where they were–unpublished and unpurchased.  There were just so many of them–it reminded me of the piles of dog tags you can find in Vietnam.  And next to them, a pocketwatch emblazoned with the Star of David.  What stories you could find it those relics.  Among all the colored artifacts you got the sense that this was some video game come to life, or some large-scale football tournament.  Except it wasn’t a game, and it didn’t “come to life.”  I was life.  The only comfort I found was a Red Cross bag, and this being Italy, I wondered if it could have been Ernest Hemingway’s.

Menton Bruschetta

Bruschetta in Menton

Menton Crêpe au Sucre

Crêpe au Sucre in Menton

Leaving the flea market, and crowds, and run down buildings behind us, we raced across the border to France.  We had a quick, light, but delicious lunch in Menton of bruschetta and crêpes.  Later that day, I decided to use my Ventimiglia purchases to write the recipes for this week’s columns.  I made zucchini flower beignets, fried in olive oil, just like in Nice.  And a zucchini flower pistou with the best walnuts of my life, tossed on fresh Italian tagliatelle.  I stuffed the orata with lemon and olive oil, and charred it under the broiler.  It had the whitest, sweetest meat.  And a carrot salad, with that spicy French Dijon mustard (why is it never that spicy back home?) and walnut oil.  It was a feast, because after a day like that, you have to stop and celebrate life!  La vita e bella.  La vie est belle. And from the terrace, in the cool of the evening, overlooking the bay of Monaco, life was very beautiful–and delicious–indeed.

You’re definitely going to want those recipes, so as the columns go up, I will republish them here, so check back!  As for the fish, this is my recipe for roasting a whole fish: buy it gutted, gilled, and scaled.  Preheat the broiler.  Rub a good amount of olive oil all over the inside and outside of the fish.  Season the inside and outside with salt and pepper.  Stuff the inside either with sliced lemons or a big bouquet of fresh thyme.  Put the fish on a baking tray lined with some aluminum foil, and it sit it close, but not directly under, the broiler.  Cook 6 to 10 minutes on the first side, then flip the fish for another 6 to 10 minutes on the other side.  You will know it’s done when the flesh is opaque and flaky.  I make whole fish at least once a week–it’s cheap, and so much more delicious than any other way of eating fish.  Don’t be intimidated!  So what if you make a mess while eating it?  Just watch out for the bones…

For more travels through France, explore here:

Paris Provence Côte d’Azur


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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Voyages

In Nice

Nice Salts

Flavored Salts of Every Imaginable Variety at Lou Pantai

I’ve only been twice, and just for a day each time, but culinarily speaking, Nice is my mini-Mecca.  It’s an enclave unto itself, with its own food that no one else makes, and its hectic vielle ville, the old part of the city with crooked streets and little shops.  I plan to go hungry, so I can fill up on all the things I can only find there: socca, beignets, petits farcis.  Soccas are giant chickpea flour crêpes, but they are made with olive oil, and are savory, and crisp around the edges and crumbly inside.  I adore socca, and have never found it anywhere else.  Beignets are, like in New Orleans, little fried puffy fritters, but in Nice, they are stuffed with zucchini flowers and, again, are savory.  And petits farcis are vegetables, like zucchini, stuffed with meat and spices.  There is also pissaladière, that fantastic Provençal pizza covered in soft, sweet onions instead of sauce, and topped with anchovies and olives instead of cheese.  And, the best ice cream at Fenocchio, which has three cases of flavors (only one is pictured below) with classic flavors, and out-of-this-world flavors, like spekuloos, after those insanely cinnamon Belgian cookies, and riz au lait, or rice pudding.  And then, there are the absurd flavors, which are my favorite, made with the produce of the region: black olive, tomato and basil, rosemary, thyme, poppy, lavender, orange flower, verbena.  They’re not just novelty; they are actually really truly excellent, and it’s such an adventure going there.

For my day in Nice, I did what any sensible girl would do: I hit the soldes (sales) at Petit Bateau and Princesse Tam-Tam.  And when that was successfully completed, I found my way to Lou Pilha Leva, a street food vendor for all the foods I listed before.  That’s the best part of Nice–all the best delicacies are so casual.  You just sit at one of the broad benched tables, and share.  I bought two soccas for the three of us, and we had them with frothy, cold Kronenbourg.  They were salty, crisp, perfect–just enough to take the edge off.  One the way to dinner, I stopped in at a little bakery and bought a lavender navette, a little crisp tea cookies shaped like a boat, with dried lavender blossoms baked in.  And then, to dinner at La Tapenade, a little corner café where I had a fantastic ratatouille, and tagliatelle pistou (not an authentic version–but it wasn’t bad).  After a bottle of rosé, we broken heartedly watched the other tables with their crème caramel and chocolate mousse, but we were steadfast.  We got up, and marched to Fenocchio.  There’s no tasting, so I had to choose very wisely.  My mom and M. Français shared vanilla, coffee, and spekuloos.  But for me, I restrict myself to the local corner.  Orange flower ice cream and thyme sorbet.  The thyme sorbet was genius–cold, fresh, different but somehow not unfamiliar.  And the orange flower ice cream was just slightly fragrant, and much less sweet than the more “normal” flavors.  I loved them.  After that, I shared my lavender navette among the three of us as we hopped the automated trolley to our car.  I was honestly devastated at the thought I might not have another socca for years.

Fenocchio Flavors

The "absurd" corner of flavors at Fenocchio--as in, absurdly delicious.


Socca, the most amazing chickpea crêpe, is only available in Nice

Socca Zoom

Because I want you to see how crispy the edges of socca are...

Socca Inside

...and how wonderfully dry and crumbly the interior is.

Lavender Navette

A little lavender navette...

Nice Ratatouille

Ratatouille at Tapenade in Nice

Fenocchio Vanilla Spekuloos Café

My parents' flavors: vanilla, coffee, and spekuloos (the best little Belgian cookies in the world that taste like Christmas)

Fenocchio Thyme Sorbet Orange Flower Ice Cream

Mine, all mine: fresh thyme sorbet, and orange flower ice cream

Lou Pantai – spice, sugar, tea, salt shop – 5 rue de la Poissonerie 06300 Nice – 04 93 62 12 25

Lou Pilha Leva – cuisine niçoise traditionelle – 10 rue du Collet 06300 Nice

Fenocchio – provençal ice creams – 6 rue de la Poissonerie 06300 Nice – 04 93 62 88 80

La Tapenade – restaurant – 6 rue Ste Réparate – 06300 Nice – 04 93 80 65 63

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Provence, Voyages

The Secret Ingredient (Mango Chutney) Part II: Sweet-Hot Chutney-Grilled Chicken

RECIPE: Sweet-Hot Chutney-Grilled Chicken
Chutney Chicken

Chutney Chicken

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

One cooking technique I’ve really fallen hard for these days is using jams (including spreads and chutneys) and cooking them, so that they caramelize and bubble up.  I did it with last month’s Ginger Jam, and I’m doing it here, again, with Mango Chutney.  What I love about these ingredients is they add the requisite sweetness and stickiness, but they also come, as free-standing jarred products, pretty well balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity.  So they add this phenomenal tang, and deep flavor, while providing the perfect already-sweet vehicle for caramelization.

Because the summer is all about grilling, I decided to grill my chutney.  I made a spice rub of chili powder, smoky cumin, cinnamon, and salt, and let a few whole chicken legs sit and absorb all of those flavors.  Slightly hot, slightly smoky, slightly exotic and almost sweet from the cinnamon.  I grilled the chicken until the spicy skin was charred, and then I painted the skin with mango chutney.  Another couple of minutes on the hottest part of the grill, and the chutney had melded together inseparably from the skin, bubbled up and caramelized almost like a barbecue sauce, and added all that sweetness and tartness to contrast with and balance the hot, salty skin.  It’s so unusual, it just works.

Sweet-Hot Chutney-Grilled Chicken
serves 4

Chutney ChickenINGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 4 chicken legs (organic/free range if you can swing it)
  • 1/2 cup good mango chutney
  • Torn cilantro for garnish


In a large plastic food storage bag, mix together the chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and salt until well combined.  Place the chicken legs in the bag, seal, and toss until the chicken is coated in the spice rub.  Put the chicken in the fridge to absorb all those flavors for about 2 hours.

Take the chicken out of the fridge to take the chill off.  Light your grill—wood burning, charcoal, or gas.  Place the chicken on the grill, slightly away from the hottest part.  Cook the chicken about 8 to 10 minutes on each side until cooked through.  Then, brush both sides of the chicken with mango chutney, and sear an additional 1 minute per side on the hottest part of the grill.  Arrange the chicken legs on a platter, and top with torn cilantro.  Serve.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Eat, Main Courses, Poultry, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient

On the Riviera: Here We Go in Monaco

Monaco Palmier

My giant palmier...

I landed in Nice last Thursday to spend some time with my mom and stepdad, who are staying in France for the next couple of months.  Thank goodness for spare bedrooms and EasyJet flights!  Thursday was spent in a short, hot trip down the mountain to Monte Carlo, where I haven’t been since I was fifteen.  A giant palmier later, I finally was admitted to the Monte Carlo casino (fifteen year olds are barred at the gates).  Only to find you have to pay to get in and gamble, so my plan to make like Lucy Ricardo and “accidentally” win several hundred thousand francs at roulette was foiled.

Monaco Casino

The Casino at Monte Carlo

But I did pass by the Café de Paris, where my mom and I had lunch after I was barred from the casino thirteen years ago.  It wasn’t a total loss, because I had the best ratatouille of my life, cut into a miniscule and perfectly cubed dice (a brunoise if you’ve been to cooking school).  I never forgot it in thirteen years.  But that’s when we were on the franc!  Now, it’s 14 Euros!  Maybe you get what you pay for.

Cafe de Paris Monaco Ratatouille

14 Euros for Ratatouille!

Later on, a train of open army jeeps drove by our apartment, filled to the brim with men dressed as révolutionnaires and women dressed as Madame Lafarge.  Edith Piaf blared from the cars, and they shouted the time and place of the fireworks for Bastille Day.  So dutifully, at 10:30, we sat by the sea in Menton, eating ice cream, while the sparks flew.

Tomorrow, Nice!

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Voyages

French in a Flash: Beets Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint

RECIPE: Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint
Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

My grandmother never made a dinner party without a cooked beet salad. She still doesn’t. It is a prerequisite. Do we have wine? Napkins? And the cooked beet salad? It’s always small, sitting in a white bowl with sliced boiled beets tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and raw garlic. It’s the raw garlic that really undoes the whole thing.

I thought I hated beets based on that salad. Turns out I just hate large chunks of raw garlic.

Some supermarkets sell vacuum-packed cooked beets in the produce section, which is such a convenient way to make a salad a bit more gourmet and interesting. I toss grated beets with olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar, and a touch of lemon juice (like my grandmother used to), then topped it off with crumbled goat cheese and chopped mint.

I love a lettuce-less salad as a change of pace, and this one can be served as a salad or as a side. In the summer, when it’s hot, I think building up an arsenal of light, no-cook foods is very important. This salad is sweet, juicy, and crunchy, and the tang of the goat cheese and zeal of the mint livens it up, making it fresh and summery.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint
serves 4

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and MintINGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces beets, cooked and drained
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • 6 leaves mint
  • Salt
  • Pepper


Grate the beets in a food processor or on a box grater. Drain away most of the excess water that comes off the beets.

In a large bowl, stir together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Toss the beets in the dressing, and move to a serving bowl. Top with the crumbled goat cheese, and sliced mint. Serve on the side of grilled fish or vegetables.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian

Franglais: Boursin Smashed Potatoes

RECIPE: Boursin Smashed Potatoes
Boursin Smashed Potatoes

Boursin Smashed Potatoes

This is one of those recipes I love–effortless, but addictive.

Get the whole story at The Huffington Post.

This is a back pocket recipe.  Think of all the things that live in your back pocket.  You wallet.  Your iPhone.  Maybe a comb, if you’re the Fonz.  Back pocket items are the bare bones of necessity.  When you need to pay, when you need to communicate, when you need to comb your incredibly slick hair, you reach for the back pocket.  This recipe is like that.  When you need to eat, it’s there, ready, willing and able.

If you’ve never had Boursin, know two things about it: you can find it any supermarket, and it tastes amazing.  It’s a soft, crumbly Gournay cheese, spiked most commonly with garlic and fines herbes, which are the soft herbs like chives, parsley, chervil, and tarragon.  Its savoriness is its greatest quality—it is so overwhelmingly and delightfully flavorful, tempered by a slight tang, almost of a chèvre.  Normally, I stuff it messily into a crusty baguette (which I highly recommend you do as well), but this week it plays an Oscar-winning role in creating the world’s best smashed potatoes. Continue reading

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Franglais, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian

The Secret Ingredient (Mango Chutney): Cheddar and Chutney Toasties

RECIPE: Cheddar and Chutney Toasties
Cheddar and Chutney Toasties

Cheddar and Chutney Toasties

I proudly declare this month’s Secret Ingredient over in my column on Serious Eats to be Mango Chutney.  It used to be something I despised, but after all my time in the UK with Mr. English, I have found, and I think you’ll agree, that the sweet jammy vinegariness of this gorgeous, chunky condiment makes it like nothing else.

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I don’t feel so bad about being a copy-cat. Around the corner from where my English boyfriend grew up is a recently reinvigorated gastropub. The beers and ciders are to be expected; but the foie gras toastie, less so.

If you’re wondering what a “toastie” could be, it’s just a cutesy English name for a grilled cheese sandwich. At this gastropub, the toasties are all stuffed with melting, oozing English cheddar, and a variety of accents: foie gras, for example; spring onions; or, my favorite, mango chutney.

Mango chutney, a chunky condiment from India and Pakistan that is found everywhere in the UK, is made from raw, green mangoes, which explains some of that tart, almost citrusy flavor. Mango chutney is sweet, but also quite savory, with whole spices, and tart, with vinegar. The combination is perfect with melting cheese. The sweetness of the fruit works in that same way of cheese plates with grapes, and the tartness cuts through the fattiness of the cheese. The chutney and the cheddar, squeezed together between two crusty toasted slices of bread, is the perfect snack. And I don’t have to walk around the corner to the pub.

Cheddar and Chutney Toasties
makes 1 sandwich (multiply at will)

Cheddar and Chutney ToastiesINGREDIENTS

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread
  • 2 teaspoons mango chutney*
  • 1/4 cup shredded mature white cheddar cheese


Lightly butter one side of the bread. Smear the unbuttered side of each slice of bread with 1 teaspoon mango chutney. Pile the cheese in the center of one slice of bread, with the butter on the outside of the sandwich, and top with the other slice of bread, also butter side out.

Heat a wide saute pan over medium-low heat. Toast the sandwich for 4 minutes on the first side, or until the bread is golden and crisp and the cheese begins to melt. Use a spatula to flip the sandwich over, and toast another 4 minutes. The cheese should be totally melted. Cut the sandwich in half on the diagonal, and serve immediately.


Buy good chutney.  Cheap chutney can be very vinegary, and not nice.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Sandwiches, Series, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetarian