Carolina Bed & Breakfast
Lemon Swiss Roll: A Celebration of All Things British 15 May 2016, 7:04 am
I am making a Lemon Swiss Roll today for our guests at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. It’s a light sponge cake spread with jam (or in this case, lemon curd ) and rolled up tightly then cut into slices so a spiral of lovely yellow filling shows.
It’s because I am obsessed with the Great British Baking Show. Have you seen it? It’s the kinder, gentler, British version of an American cooking show. It takes place in a large tent on the beautiful green lawn of an old English Manor House in Berkshire (where it always seems to be raining). Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are the judges. She is the warm and knowledgeable grandmother of British baking. She always finds something kind to say but her air of slight disappointment lets the contestant know when they have not hit the mark. Paul Hollywood is the English gentleman in his country estate blue jeans and plaid shirt who is also one of the great artisan bakers of the UK. They are joined by two classic examples of BBC TV hosts and a cast of wonderfully British people, all of whom are familiar to me from my years living outside London.
But it is the food that I love the most. It’s all about baking and it’s all about food that I once lived with and remember with affection (and longing for!). Scones, Chelsea buns, Picnic basket pie, and suet pastry puddings are mixed with more familiar foods like sponge cake, bread pudding and apple pie. In one recent episode the contestants had to make a Charlotte Royale which involved making a Swiss roll and using slices of it to line a pan before filling it with a thick mousse. Well, I am not prepared to go that far but something about the making of a Swiss roll sounded like a challenge I could rise to and have fun with.
So today I am making a sweet sponge cake, rolling it around a lemon filling and creating my own British Bake!
LEMON SWISS ROLL
For the Cake:
4 eggs, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp milk mixed with 1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
For the Filling:
½ cup Lemon Curd
¼ cup Mascarpone
Making the Cake:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 15” x 10” rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray, line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
Using the whisk attackment, whisk together the four eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale yellow (3 minutes or more). Change to the beater attachment and slowly beat in the sugar. Add liquid ingredients and beat for at least one more minute. Add the dry ingredients and beat to combine.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 12-15 minutes until it springs back when touched.
Take a piece of parchment paper which is larger than your cake pan and sprinkle it with sugar. You can use either cane sugar or powdered sugar, whichever you prefer. Turn out the still hot cake
Roll the sponge cake up in the parchment paper while the cake is still warm
onto the parchment paper and carefully remove the greased paper off the bottom.
Using a sharp knife carefully score a line across the bottom of the cake about three inches in. Be careful not to cut through the cake all the way. Starting at the scored end, roll the cake up tightly in the parchment paper and then leave to cool completely.
Assembling the Cake:
Mix together the lemon curd and the mascarpone until it is smooth.
Carefully unroll the cake and spread the filling on about ¾ of the cake. Go to the edges on the sides but stop ¼ of the way before the end of the cake. The filling will spread as you roll the cake and cover this portion.
Starting at the scored end again, roll the cake carefully and tightly.
Dust with powdered sugar if you wish. Slice into ½ inch slices to serve.
Once filled and rolled, trim the ends and slice into 1/2 ” pieces
I wrapped my roll in plastic wrap and chilled it in the fridge to set the filling before cutting but this is not necessary.
While you are waiting for your cake to cool, here is a lovely little poem from a book called “Please Mrs. Butler” about going to school in England which was a favorite of mine and my children when they went to grammar school there.
Last night my mum
Got really mad
And threw a jam tart
At my dad.
Dad lost his temper
Then with mother,
Threw one at her
And hit my brother.
My brother thought
It was my sister,
Threw two at her
But somehow missed her.
She is only three,
Hurled four at him
And one at me!
I said I wouldn’t
Stand for that,
Aimed one at her
And hit the cat.
The cat jumped up
Like he’d been shot,
In the baby’s cot.
The baby –
Quietly sucking his thumb –
Then started howling
For my mum.
At which my mum
Got really mad,
And threw a Swiss roll
At my dad.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake–What’s Not to Love? 2 May 2016, 3:05 pm
Yesterday was James’ Birthday so I took the opportunity to try out a new cake I have been thinking of offering as a “Birthday” add-on to guests at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast: a triple layer chocolate cake with peanut butter filling and chocolate ganache icing. Just saying it makes my mouth water. And it was that good! So here’s the recipe for my take on a peanut butter cup in a cake.
A few quick notes:
This recipe is for a triple layer cake because I wanted to go long on the peanut butter filling. If this is too much cake for you, you can make a two layer cake. Use the extra batter for cupcakes which you can freeze and serve later.
Chill the cake in the refrigerator before serving. This will firm up the peanut butter filling and make more elegant layers when you cut it. In this picture I topped it with crushed salted peanuts because that was what I had. But going forward I will top it with chopped peanut butter cups. Sometimes more is more!
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CAKE
Makes three 6” layers or two 9” inch layers
For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease and flour your cake pans
In a large bowl stir together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in 2 cups of boiling water.
Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 30-35 minutes until the cake is shrinking away from the sides and springs back when touched. Cool for 10-15 minutes then turn out and cool completely on racks before finishing.
For the peanut butter filling:
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ tsp salt
3-4 tsp cream
Put the butter, peanut butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a mixer and beat until just combined. Add the cream and beat at medium speed for three minutes.
For the chocolate ganache:
1 cup good quality chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
Finely chop the chocolate and place it in the bowl of your food processor. Heat the cream until almost boiling then pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for 2 minutes then pulse two or three times to mix it together. (if you don’t have a food processor you can do this in a heat proof bowl).
Pour the ganache into a small bowl. Fill a slightly larger bowl with ice and place the bowl with the chocolate over it. Whisk the ganache over the ice until it has thickened. This can take ten minutes or more.
1 cup coarsely chopped peanut butter cups
To assemble the cake
Spread the peanut butter filling in equal amount on two of the layers and stack them on top of each other with the plain layer on top.
Spread the ganache over the sides and top of the cake.
Pile the chopped peanut butter cups on top.
Store cake in the refrigerator.
Meet Otis: Backstage Cat at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast 22 Apr 2016, 6:30 am
Meet Otis, the newest member of the staff and family at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast.
Both James and I grew up in cat and dog families and we had always had pets of own until we bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, NC. We felt at the time (and continue to feel) that an inn which claims to be “pet-free” should not make that claim if the owners’ pets have full run of the property. Guests may have pet allergies or phobias and should feel confident that a “pet-free” Bed & Breakfast will accommodate these needs. How then to explain Otis?
Last year our eldest daughter moved to Asheville and for a time she and her cat, Milo, lived with us at the inn. Milo quickly learned that he was never allowed into the inn itself and was happy in our living quarters and garden. Few of our guests ever saw him and his presence had no more impact on them than that of the cat next door. I loved having a kitty to talk to while I was working and got used to his presence by the fireplace. And I missed him when he left.
So we went to Brother Wolf Animal Rescue and came home with Otis who stole our hearts away. He was six months old when we got him having only been at the shelter for four days. He has a non-stop purring motor and is softer than soft. He is endlessly curious and loves to be where the action is.
He likes to sit and watch us work at the computer although he has not yet figured out the best place from which to do this.
Otis will sit almost anywhere nearby
And he loves to climb up on James’ shoulders. He has even been known to try and sleep there.
Otis watches me work
Otis is one of the most socialized cats I have ever known. He has no fear of people and likes nothing more than to be where the action is. This is in one way perfect for a Bed & Breakfast cat but in other ways less so. He has learned not to go into the inn from the kitchen (although this does not stop him from wishing he could) and he keeps well away from the kitchen counter tops and island (his hatred of being squirted with water is much stronger than his desire to get up there). But he is, above all else, a people loving cat and we haven’t yet figured out how to keep him from running to greet our guests or wanting to join the group on the front porch.
It has become clear to us that he is a secret that will not be kept and we needed to come clean to our guests and our future guests.
So, yes, there is a cat on the property and, while we make every effort to keep him away from all of the guest areas so that our inn can continue to be considered “pet-free”, there is a chance that you may find a little ginger and white cat running up to you on the walk or brushing by you on the porch. We hope you won’t mind. And please don’t let him into the inn!
Hitching a ride downstairs in the morning
Ten of the Best Hikes Near Asheville, North Carolina 17 Apr 2016, 5:03 am
I say “ten of the best hikes” instead of “the ten best hikes” for two reasons: there are so many great hiking trails near Asheville that even if James and I closed our Asheville Bed & Breakfast for a month we couldn’t complete them all, and what makes a hike the best? Scenery, diversity, waterfalls, seclusion, berry-picking, difficulty (or ease), location, history, there are hikes with all of these aspects and what makes one good for today might make it not right for tomorrow. Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains or Western North Carolina provides a menu of choices to fit to your desires and skill.
Therefore in no particular order, James and I have put together this list of Ten of the Best Hikes Near Asheville, North Carolina, with the rider that these are all hikes which we have done and we invite you to send us the particulars of hikes you have loved so we can try them too!
- John Rock (5 mile loop, moderate to somewhat
difficult) James and I have hiked to John Rock more than
once, which says a lot because we like to try new hikes before
repeating old ones. The hike itself is just a short 30 minute
drive from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. It’s a varied
hike with some nice mountain streams, a detour to a waterfall, and
forest glades which ends up on a large pluton monolith which
overlooks another, better known, pluton monolith, Looking
Glass Rock. But we like to think our monolith is the better
one! John Rock is larger and has a gentler incline than
Looking Glass Rock with the result that your picnic on the rock
will at least feel safer. In addition, it is less well-known
than Looking Glass which means you get to sit in relative seculsion
and look over at the crowds on the other side. You can read
about our hike here or get a map and more
View from John Rock
- Rattlesnake Lodge (2.6 mile out and back, moderate) The hike to Rattlesnake Lodge is perfect if you don’t have a lot of time or aren’t really interested in a long hike. At the top of the hike you will find the remains of what was once Rattlesnake Lodge, a private hunting lodge which was built in the early 1900’s and burned down in 1926. All of the materials to build the lodge were brought up by hand, there was never a road, but the lodge was large and comfortable. You can learn more about it from informational plaques at the top. Read about the Rattlesnake Lodge hike here
- Max Patch (1.4 mile short loop, 2.4 mile
long loop, easy) Max Patch combines a spectacular drive through the
mountains and valleys of Western North Carolina with a short hike
across an open “bald” which is covered with wild flowers in spring
and summer, and provides excellent views of the fall foliage in
Autumn. If you like you can continue on to Cataloochee and
watch the elk! You can read about our hike to Max Patch here and get hike information here.
You can see for miles from Max Patch bald
- Dupont Forest (0.6 to 6 miles,
easy to moderate). If you are looking for waterfalls in
Western North Carolina this is the hike for you. Three
of the most spectacular hikes in the area, Hooker Falls, Triple
Falls and High Falls, are all within an easy 2 mile hike of the car
park. If you want to continue on up the trail to Grassy Creek
and Bridal Veil Falls you can. This is where the first Hunger
Games was filmed so you may recognize the falls. There is swimming
and wading at the base of the falls if you are so inclined and, if
you do go on to the end of the hike, Lake Dense is a crystal clear
swimming hole with some picnic spots beside it.
Here are the hiking directions to the
It’s all about the waterfalls in Dupont Forest!
- Graveyard Fields (3.2 mile loop, easy to moderate) I am including this on the list because it is a great hike, encompassing waterfalls, views and blueberries to pick (in season). But Graveyard Fields is also one of the most popular hikes off the Blue Ridge Parkway. So popular that in 2014 the parking lot was expanded and rest rooms added. On weekends and especially in October you will share this hike with many others. If you are okay with that then definitely consider doing this hike. A short 30 minute drive from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast on the Blue Ridge Parkway (worth doing anyway) brings you to the previously mentioned parking lot. You will go through tunnels formed by Rhododendrons, through grassy fields with great views and see three separate waterfalls. Instructions are here and you can read some history about Graveyard Fields here
- Old Mt. Mitchell and Camp Alice Hike (4
mile loop, moderate to difficult) You could do what most
people do and drive to the summit of Mt. Mitchell or you could take
the Old Mitchell Trail which will pop you out at the top (where you
can feel superior to those who drove) and then loop you back down
by way of an old logging trail with beautiful unobstructed views
and few people. The hike is varied and includes some big
steps up so it is definitely not for those looking for an pleasant
stroll. Don’t miss the spur to Camp Alice, it is well worth
it. And for those who don’t feel up to the summit hike, it is
possible to just do the Camp Alice spur which is short and pretty
easy. You can read about our experience and some of the history
of Mt. Mitchell as well as Camp Alice here and
hiking directions are here.
Looking down from Mt Mitchell to the Camp Alice trail
- Shortoff Mountain (4.5 mile out and back,
moderate to difficult). Shortoff Mountain overlooks the
Linville Gorge and Lake James which would be reason enough to do
this hike. But to make it even better two large natural
forest fires in 2000 and 2007 have opened up most of the hike so
that you have unobstructed views all the way up and back
down. After a somewhat strenous ascent in the first mile you
will proceed along the ridge soaking in the views (and sunlight)
all the way. Because of the lack of shade, I would not
recommend doing this hike on a hot summer day but in spring and
fall it is glorious. History and instructions for the Shortoff Mountain Hike
Lake James as seen from Shortoff Mountain
- Hot Springs and The Appalachian Trail (various, moderate to difficult). James and I originally did this hike as what was supposed to be a ten mile loop along parts of the Appalachian Trail. You can read about our hike here. And if you do read about it, you will also read about our difficulties following the trail. I revisited the site we used for the trail information and found that it has been changed and the site no longer includes a trail map or good directions. So why am I including it on this list? Because there are a lot of hikes around Hot Springs, with lots of variety and different degrees of difficulty so it is worth going to, especially if you can end up in one of the hot springs at the end. So here is a link to a good site with lots of suggested hikes and perhaps we will see you there!
- Greybeard Trail (9.5 mile loop, difficult) The base of Greybeard Trail is located in Montreat, home of Billy Graham and Montreat College, and just a short distance from Black Mountain. Even if you don’t take a hike, either of these locations are worth a visit. This hike is a serious and lengthy climb which should only be attempted if you are in good shape and have enough time to make it up and down before dark. As a reward, you will have spectacular views especially as you hike along the Seven Sisters Ridge. Enjoy a picnic near the summit and reward yourself with pizza and beer in the town of Black Mountain before heading home again! Here are some good directions for the Greybeard Trail Hike and here is the story of our hike from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast to Greybeard Mountain
- Okay, I admit it, I am cheating! There are so many
wonderful hikes around Asheville, in the Blue Ridge Mountains and
in the wilderness areas near here, that I know the tenth best one
is still waiting to be discovered. So we will keep hiking and
keep sharing the stories of our hikes and we look forward to you
visiting us at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, our Asheville Inn,
and sharing your knowledge with us!
Panoramic view from Shortoff Mountain
Mica and the Carolina Bed & Breakfast 31 Mar 2016, 9:48 am
Admit it, you are intrigued! What does mica have to do with an Asheville Bed and Breakfast? Well, it all goes back to the original owner of the house at 177 Cumberland Avenue.
Recently we were visited by the great-grandson of Vance Brown who owned the house from 1901 to the Mid-1940’s . Brown was a successful businessman and an involved citizen of Asheville and North Carolina in the early 1900’s. What I know about him is limited, so I was glad his great-grandson was able to give me some more information about the Asheville Mica Company, Vance Brown’s successful business.
When we bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast I found a chunk of mica in a drawer in the dining room. The departing innkeeper said she kept it there to show guests when they asked about the history of the house. The first owner, Vance Brown, was President of the Asheville Mica Company and some of her guests did not know what mica is. Having grown up in rocky New England where I spent my childhood playing outdoors in the woods around my house, I didn’t realize that this fascinating multilayered mineral was not something familiar to people, so I did a little more research to explain what Mica is and how it is used. Don’t worry–I’ll keep this short and easy!
Mica is a multi-layered mineral with many uses
Mica has a number of properties which makes it useful in both industrial applications as well as in home products. It flakes easily into thin transparent sheets. The mineral has a super high kindling point which made (and makes) it very useful for furnace and oven windows. It is used in the electric industry because it can stand high voltages, transporting electricity safely with little power loss. Mica is believed to be the source of “Eisenglass Curtains” (made memorable in the song, “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top” from Oklahoma). Because of its light-reflective quality Mica also finds its way into your home in mineral based make-up and as an abrasive in toothpaste. This is just a small list of some of the many uses of mica but you get the idea!
Sometime in the 1940’s Brown’s son, J. Fuller Brown, moved his family and company to Newport News, Virginia, in order to be closer to shipping for his mineral. The company merged with Schoonmaker Mica and the Asheville-Schoonmaker Mica Company continues to sell mica and mica products today (including mica lampshades!) The factory where the Asheville Mica Company employed more than 40 workers still exists as The Lofts at Mica Village, 10 beautifully developed condominiums.
The Asheville Mica Company Factory exists here on Thompson Street
And of course, the house on 177 Cumberland Avenue where Vance Brown lived with his wife and children is still going strong too. This is one of the things I enjoy the most about our historic house: its roots are still strong in the town and its history is alive in the families who return to see where their family came from!
Mica is a multi-layered mineral with many uses
Talking About Food and Wine In Asheville 22 Mar 2016, 10:21 am
Last night we were fortunate enough to attend “Mouton Noir Makes, The Junction Takes…A Wine Evening with Andre Hueston Mack” at the Junction Restaurant in The River Arts District of Asheville. Readers of this blog know that everyone at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast is a big fan of the Junction. Last night’s dinner was an shining example of why.
James enjoys the O.P.P. Pinot Noir
At the Junction they don’t just serve interesting and delicious food. They approach the development of their dishes with intelligence and purpose. This was most clear at last night’s dinner. Now usually when someone starts out talking about wine as being “transparent and honest” my baloney meter goes off. But last night the speaker was Andre Hueston Mack, winner of the Best Young Sommelier Award from Chaine des Rotisseurs and sommelier for Thomas Keller at both the French Laundry and Keller’s New York Restaurant, Per Se. He now produces his own line of wines, largely from Oregon under the Mouton Noir Label. It would be hard to find someone with better credentials to create a wine pairing dinner than Andre Mack.
This is how someone who knows food talks about food and wine. Andre Mack calls the wines at last night’s dinner “food friendly”. They all have an acid component to them because, as good cooks know, acid gives pop to flavor. It’s an amplifier so a wine with acid notes will complement the food. They are low alcohol wines. Alcohol in wine is what gives it body. High alcohol wines will overpower the food. Mack talked about wines with a philosophy that is developed and sustainable. He talked about food and wine together as two parts of a whole. The menu was collaborative: the wine was not chosen and then the food paired to it, and the menu was not developed and the wine picked to go with it. The meal came together organically, as a whole.
Not every chef could do this. But David Van Tassel, Executive Chef at the Junction, can (and did!). David is an Asheville native who knows food intimately from farm to table. His career path moved from farmer to seller of produce at a natural foods store, and from food purveyor to chef. But David’s palate and imagination is not limited to the produce of North Carolina. His dishes include sophisticated elements from the most elevated of cuisines: foie gras, game, and truffles are among the ingredients that find their way into his food next to root vegetables, local cheese, grains and greens. We asked him about his cold smoked oyster with red pepper spread on a sourdough cracker and he told us that he had some sourdough starter that had died and he was looking for something to do with it when he thought of making the cracker. Once he had the cracker he said, “early this afternoon I shucked those oysters, gave them a half hour brine and put them in the smoker”. We asked him about the elk and the white truffle and he went to the kitchen and brought out a bowl of black truffles as well as a bowl of white truffles. His enthusiasm and passion is reflected in his statement that he would never put a regular menu item on the menu for this dinner as this is an opportunity to grow.
A whole white truffle
This is what we had for dinner:
A salad of warm pear cider glazed roots, served over lettuce with Carolina Moon Camembert style cheese pressed with sunflowers and Poppy-Pedro Xi vinaigrette. Wine: O.P.P Pinot Gris
Cold Smoked Oyster with Red Pepper Spread on a Sourdough Cracker and a Jarret bay Raw Oyster with Melon Mignonette. Wine: Knock on Wood Stainless Chardonnay
Cornflake Crisped Veal Sweet Breads and Red Onion Marmalade served on a bed of Arugula. Wine: O.P.P. Pinot Noir
Marinated Elk, Farro Wheat Berry Pilaf, White Truffle, Mustard Greens and Demi Glace. Wine: Horseshoes and Handgrenades Red Blend
A “Twinkie”: sponge cake filled with Mascarpone and Sugar Cured Foie Gras, Strawberry Syrup, Freeze-dried Strawberries and Kiwi wedge. Wine: Love Drunk Rose.
I consider myself lucky to live in Asheville and lucky to have found the Junction!
Chess Pie: A Springtime Treat 11 Mar 2016, 7:07 am
I don’t know if it’s the sunshine, the daffodils or forsythia, but Spring at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, North Carolina calls for the sparkly, sour sweet taste of lemon when I bake and nothing says springtime in the South like Chess Pie! There are lots of stories about why it’s call “Chess Pie” with recipes stretching back to Martha Washington. My favorite story (although probably the least likely) is that it was named by a Southern cook when someone asked what it was that smelled so good and she answered “Just pie, child! J’ess pie!”
Chess Pie is the most simple of pies, consisting of sugar, eggs, butter and a tiny bit of flour baked in a pie crust. And as with most simple things, the quality of the ingredients are what makes or breaks it. In this recipe I have paired it with a buttery tart pastry and added lemon and a touch of almond to the filling. It’s good just as it is or you can dust it with a little powdered sugar for a better presentation. I am topping mine with a fresh raspberry for our guests.
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks) cut in 8 pieces each
¼ to ½ cup ice water
¼ cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar
pinch of salt
Zest from one large lemon
¼ tsp almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup milk
1 tbsp flour
For the pastry:
Place the flour, salt, sugar and butter in the bowl of a food
Pulse 3 or 4 times until the butter is cut in and it has the appearance of rough sand.
With the motor running, slowly pour in the ice water until the dough just starts to come together.
Remove the dough from the processor and knead it together into a ball. Flatten the ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
For the pies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray a mini-muffin or mini-pie tin with cooking spray.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll to ¼” thickness. Using a round cookie cutter, cut circles to fit your tins.
Melt the butter and put it together with the sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Whisk together until light and fluffy.
Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended.
Fill the Tart Shells with about 1 Tablespoon of Batter
Add the salt, almond extract, vanilla, lemon juice and milk and
whisk together until it is smooth. Sprinkle the flour and
lemon zest over the mixture and mix well.
Pour the filling into the prepared tins.
Bake for 17-20 minutes until set and pastry is starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cool ten minutes before removing them from the tins and cooling completely on a rack.
Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar to serve or top with a fresh raspberry or strawberry.
Makes 48 mini pies.
Pies can be garnished with a little fruit if desired
From Breakfast in Bed to Bed & Breakfast: How It All Began 6 Mar 2016, 6:00 am
A Wintry View from our Apartment in Paris
As I have recently discovered, I can’t create a cookbook without some serious thought about what kind of cook I am. What were the influences that went into creating my recipes? What is my style of cooking and who is my audience? What was my path from a life overseas to a small bed and breakfast in Asheville, NC? My editor has been putting me through a series of exercises to help me gain clarity on these questions. I recently wrote the following essay for her and I thought I would share it with you.
I was 26 years old in 1981 when we moved to Paris. I brought with me a good basic knowledge of cooking (gifted from my mother), Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, and seven years of school girl French. My world was about to be transformed. My education started in the markets on the streets of Paris.
I grew up in what was then a small town in Connecticut outside of New York City. With six children to feed, my mother did most of her cooking from scratch. While the rest of the United States was moving towards the age of fast food, we were growing herbs in the garden and buying produce by the bushel from a nearby farm stand. I think I was 18 before I ever had a Big Mac! I thought I knew a lot about food but nothing prepared me for the richness and variety available to the Parisienne.
With the exception of a few exotic fruits (pineapples, bananas) almost all of the produce available was seasonal and from the nearby Loire Valley. And while it was familiar, it was also so different. Asparagus was thick and white and needed to be peeled, pumpkins were small and mostly green with a thick pulp, sweet corn did not exist. Belgian endives, Mache lettuce, wild mushrooms of every sort
All of these cheeses and produce came from this woman’s farm!
were abundant. And it wasn’t just the produce that was different. The meat market was a mystery. Beef was cut along the bone, resulting in leaner cuts than I was used to, and ribs, both beef and pork, were pretty much non-existent. Chicken came in three forms: pullet, (small young chicken), poulet (a larger roasting chicken) and poule (stewing fowl). At the fish counter, scallops came on the half-shell with the lovely pink coral still attached. “Lotte” (Monkfish) was a new fish to me; tiny langouste took the place of North American lobster. After a number of attempts using my American style of cooking on these new foods it became clear to me that rather than adapting the foods to my cooking style, I needed to change my cooking style to fit the foods.
So as many have done before me, I turned to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. A trip to Shakespeare and Co, the only English language bookstore in Paris, gifted me with Volumes I and II. While I did not attempt to cook everything in the books, I did read both of them cover to cover. And then I started to experiment.
I bought a scale and learned to cook by weight using the metric system. The oven in our apartment was a convection oven, something entirely new to me, so that I had not only to adjust temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius, but also to adjust cooking times. I tried new foods in restaurants then looked for them in the markets and brought them home. My school-girl French was getting a rapid upgrade as I questioned the thickly accented and rapidly speaking Paysan (countrymen) about the goods they were selling and struggled to understand the response.
Bread from the Poilane Bakery was delivered daily to restaurants and shops throughout Paris
I read recipes. On Sunday we would buy both Le Monde and Le Figaro, two of the more popular newspapers. While James would look to see what movies might be playing in the English language, I would check the living section and see what recipes were available. Cooking from a French recipe was not without its challenges as they assumed a certainly level of knowledge which I might or might not have.
And I made mistakes. Remember those three types of chicken? I had no idea that a poulet and a poule were not the same thing so I bought four poule (stewing hens) and prepared them for a dinner party not realizing that these tough old birds would be inedible. Fortunately for me, I also came down with the flu the day of the dinner. The dinner was cancelled and James discovered my mistake when he attempted to eat the chicken dish himself that night.
Window Shopping for Dessert. Was I really that young?
We ate at restaurants, dined with friends from many different countries, and snacked on delicious pastries and breads from shops where the display was as delicious to the eye as the food was to the mouth. Every day was a discovery and every season a new education. In Spring, tiny sweet strawberries were piled high on counters outside the shops. In Autumn chestnuts arrived to be
roasted over a fire or made into a thick puree for cakes and desserts. Holidays had their own special foods. Christmas Eve featured Boudin Blanc, a kind of fish sausage. New Year’s Eve required oysters, and everyone had to have a slice of Galette Des Rois (King’s Cake) on 12th night. April Fool’s Day is known as Les Poisson d’Avril in France and confectioners would create amazing quantities of chocolate fish (poisson) to sell in their shops.
The French are obsessed with food. And for four years I lived and breathed that obsession. When we left, I took that love with me and ever since I have used food as a way to explore the culture and history of the countries I visit.
The French are obsessed with food. Window shopping at Fauchon in the Place de la Madelaine
What’s New in Asheville and at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, February 2016 21 Feb 2016, 9:30 am
Soft slate-grey walls are accented with red trim and a new quilt in the re-decorated Cardinal Room
An innkeeper’s life is never slow. Even when it’s winter and our guests are few and far between, we find things to do and ways to make our Asheville Bed and Breakfast better.
All of the rooms have been taken apart and cleaned, supplies have been inventoried and repairs made, including our big project for the year: redecorating the Cardinal Room. As is the case at many B&B’s, all of the rooms at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast are different. Some have been kept deliberately old fashion in style (I call it “romantic”) and some are more “country-contemporary” (I just made that up) but none are “modern” (except in comfort and amenities!). Each of the rooms has something special to recommend it: a king-sized bed, a huge bathroom, jacuzzi tub or claw foot tub are among the choices for our guests.
As a medium size room with a queen bed and a medium size bathroom with a whirlpool tub/shower, the Cardinal Room has had a tendency to be overlooked. It is a lovely sunny room overlooking
Even the bathroom is improved!
The Cardinal Room as it was before re-decorating
the herb garden with a big arm chair and a gas fireplace. But the decor was dark and the deep red of the walls felt dated to me. So we decided it was time to give it a face-lift.
The first issue was how to create a “cardinal” room while changing the walls from red to something else. As you can see, we kept touches of red with a new red and white quilt as well as a red baseboard. And the new walls really make the bathroom , which we re-did last year, pop.
But we don’t only work during the winter months, sometimes we get to play a little too. The quiet winter months are often a good time to revisit favorite restaurants and try some new ones. And this past month we did a little of both.
First we went back to Limones, which continues to hold its spot as one of Asheville’s best restaurants. No disappointment there! Then we tried two “new” restaurants. I put the “new” in quotes because while one of the restaurants is new to Asheville, the other has been around for a while. I’m not going to tell you about the new “new” one because they deserve the chance to iron out their issues and get their feet under them before we really rate them. Suffice it to say, the food was good but not amazing and way over priced. And the decor is cold and stark. I should mention that the service was excellent. Asheville has so many great restaurants that this one just doesn’t have enough to recommend it.
The second not-so-new “new” restaurant was The Bull and Beggar in the River Arts District. The Chef, Matt Dawes, came to the Bull and Beggar from stints at both Table and The Admiral, two of Asheville’s most consistently excellent restaurants. As you might expect from that pedigree, the restaurant is unpretentious in style but delivers big on flavor and creativity. The charred octopus here made up for the lackluster charred octopus we tried at the other, nameless, restaurant, and James loved the cassoulet which really means something since I spend 3 days every year at Christmas making a kick-ass cassoulet of my own. My salad was delightful as was the lobster roll and our shared charcuterie platter was traditional and adventuresome at the same time (headcheese!?). My only complaint is to wish it were downtown so we could walk to it!
And lastly, for those of you who have been asking me how my cookbook is coming: I have an editor and a designer and I sent them 108 recipes yesterday! I really think I may make my self-imposed deadline of this Fall!
Pineapple Tarts: A Traditional Chinese New Year Treat 8 Feb 2016, 11:52 am
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Happy Chinese New Year! Before James and I bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, our Asheville Inn, we lived in Singapore for eleven years. And every year, right after Christmas, the shops and markets would explode with sweets, cookies, fruits, flowers, paper goods and more, all in celebration of the Lunar New Year. And my favorite of all were the Pineapple tarts.
The country of Singapore is a true melting pot. They celebrate more than 30 religious holidays, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and more. But at its core, Singapore is Chinese and the Lunar New Year (or “Chinese” New Year as we call it) is the biggest holiday of all. The celebrations stretch out over two weeks and for the first two days all government offices and businesses are closed so that families can get together for the Reunion Dinner of the first night and to make the required visits to close relatives over the next day.
The holiday is highly ritualized. Symbols of good luck abound and food is a central part of this. Over the first two weeks of the New Year, there will be multiple parties and open houses held. A guest should always offer two Mandarian Oranges to the host on arrival: the oranges symbolize prosperity, good luck and long life. The host will also have a bowl of oranges to offer to those who visit. (The oranges do get passed around but I always seemed to end up with a lot left over. This leads to a glut of Orange Marmalade in my house after the New Year!) Children and unmarried young adults will also receive red envelopes containing money–always an even amount and never four, forty or four hundred. Four is a highly unlucky number for the Chinese. After the family meal on the eve of the New Year and the required visits to close relatives on the second day, visits will be made to friends and co-workers. Often employers will hold an open house for their staff and customers. And it is important to share a meal or some offering of food at all of these events!
Cookies and other treats abound on Chinese New Year!
As an American living in Asia it was wonderful to explore the markets and try all of the delicacies. Row after row of red-topped plastic jars held an enormous variety of cookies: Love Letters (a type of tuile), Almond Butter Cookies, and Sesame Ball Cookies were just a few of our favorites. Trays of sweets and nuts were displayed, ready to bring as a gift to a party or gathering. Street vendors set up grills and barbecued slabs of Char Siu pork, suckling pigs and ducks hung from the ceilings of their shops. Florists offered orange trees, bamboo plants twisted into Chinese Characters and symbols, and beautiful flowers and orchids. The bang of the drum was everywhere, as those who could afford it held lion dances at their homes and apartment blocks, and neighbourhood community centers performed the traditional dance for those who could not.
While I love Asheville and its many restaurants, in late January and February I often find myself missing the foods of the Lunar New Year. I don’t remember exactly how I found this shop but Brown Cookie (online) seems to have an amazing amount of cookie molds and “exotic food recipes” (note to self: they have Mooncake molds!!) and once I saw the Pineapple Tart Cookie press I knew I had to try recreating this favorite of all Lunar new Year treats!
My pineapple tart mold straight from Malaysia!
When the cookie press arrived, it was authentic right down to the rather esoteric recipe on the back. It used metric weights, oddly named ingredients and had very little in the way of instruction. Knowing what the end product should be helped and Google did the rest. But before I put down my final recipe, I have some notes for you!
The recipe calls for “custard flour” which is a slightly incorrect translation of “custard powder”. ( And you probably still don’t know what that is!) There is a strong British influence throughout Asia leftover from the days of the British Empire. The ships that brought tea and spices to England returned to Asia filled with products for the British ex-pats. Among these were Bird’s Custard Powder: an egg-free instant custard powder which my children learned to love at their small English Grammer School outside London. If you live in a major metropolitan area it’s not hard to find. Any store stocking British foods will certainly stock it. I believe some Walmart Stores have it. Worse comes to worst, you can get it on Amazon.
Not strictly a “jam”, the pineapple will be more candy-like.
Pineapple is a low pectin fruit. That means it is hard to turn it into jam without added pectin so what you are making here is not a “jam” so much as a candied fruit paste. Watch it carefully the last five to ten minutes. It should really dry out and thicken. You will need to bring it up to room temperature in order to spoon it onto
You don’t have to have a tart press for delicious cookies!
your tarts. But the good things is it doesn’t act like jam in the oven. It will hold its shape and not bubble over and out of the cookie making a sticky mess.
Lastly, you don’t have to have a pineapple tart mold. The tarts are visually lovely but you can also cut a 2-3″ circle out of the dough, spread some of the jam inside, fold it over (like an omelet) and fold in the ends. Pinch it shut and place it seam side down on the cookie sheet. Score the “finger” in diamond shapes with a sharp knife and brush with an egg wash before baking.
1 medium pineapple
1 ¾ to 2 cups sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks (reserve the egg whites)
1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ cups Bird’s Custard powder
FOR THE PINEAPPLE JAM
Peel and core the pineapple. Chop into large pieces and process or blend the pineapple until it’s mushy. Place the pineapple in a large saucepan with the sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook at a low boil until it is very thick and golden. This will take about 25-30 minutes. In the beginning you can stir occasionally but for the last 5-10 minutes you will need to stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the lemon juice and salt at the end of cooking.
Cool until ready to use. If you make this the day before, store it in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before using.
FOR THE COOKIES
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your cookie sheets with parchment paper
Beat together the butter, powdered sugar, egg yolks and vanilla until light and fluffy (about two minutes). Add the flour and custard powder and mix well until it comes together.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board to not less than ½” thick. If you have a pineapple tart press, cut out the cookies and fill the centers with about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of pineapple jam.
If you do not have a press, cut out circles (2.5” diameter). Place a line of jam down the middle of each circle and fold the dough over the filling, folding in the ends as well. Use your hands to shape it into a roll. Place the rolls, seam-side down, on the prepared sheet. With a sharp knife score the top into diamond shapes. Brush with reserved eggs whites which have been beaten with a little water.
Bake until just turning golden. 10 minutes for the tarts and 15 minutes for the rolls.
Pineapple Tarts Two Ways!