Dried Fruit Cookies

         I already know before I make this that it will be the last one left on the cookie tray.  It sounds suspiciously like fruitcake and implies more character development than celebration.  Why persist?  Well, I like dried fruit when it’s real (not that candied cherry stuff) and we have a great selection of dried fruit in Tunis year-around.  But it was the markets in Nice (France) that really inspired me.  There, I saw authentically dried and candied fruit of every variety and stall after stall had them arrayed in their jewel-like glory.  It made me really want to work with them in some way.  So can we please consider these cookies to be French and “oh so Provence” and not just another attempt by me to slip 70s hippie food into unsuspecting lives?

I also really liked that this is a log cookie that you cut and bake.  This way, you can bake them up hot and fresh for the moment and who can resist warm cookies?
            Joking aside, these cookies have none of the disjointed texture and flavors, not to mention the unfoods, of annoying fruitcakes.  These cookies are buttery and the fruits each have delicious flavors which are enhanced by the dough.  These might actually get snatched off the tray first thing.
Dried Fruit Cookies, adapted fromIna Garten
Ingredients 1/2 pound dried pears  
1/4 pound raisins  
2 ounces dried Montmorency cherries, coarsely chopped  
2 ounces dried apricots, coarsely chopped  
1 tablespoon honey  
2 tablespoons dry sherry  
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice  
6 ounces chopped pecans  
Kosher salt  
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature  
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves  
1/2 cup superfine sugar  
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed  
1 extra-large egg  
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
Directions
Snip off the hard stems of the figs with scissors or a small knife and coarsely chop the figs. In a medium bowl, combine the figs, raisins, cherries, apricots, honey, sherry, lemon juice, pecans, and a pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cloves, superfine sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg and mix until incorporated. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt just until combined. Don’t overmix! Add the fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl. Divide the dough in half and place each half on the long edge of a 12 by 18-inch piece of parchment or waxed paper. Roll each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inch thick, making an 18-inch-long roll. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices 1/2-inch apart on ungreased sheet pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden. 
          Brown paper packages tied up with string.  A favorite thing, indeed.

Henri Matisse and the Olive Forest

We’ve had tastes of Nice urban life, and the seaside.  Today, we had some blissful time to marinate in Provence which means olives, oranges, lavender and country life.  We went to the Matisse museum which is a renovated country French chateau that is now very much in the heart of suburbia.  So many of his sketches and paintings focus on simple subjects:  the form of a common woman, a still life of fruit.  I love the colors he pulls in to his paintings as they are the colors I find naturally work their way into the beige background of my life on the Mediterranean.

The spire you see in some of the photos is a Franciscan chapel on the property.

I forget how inspiring and energizing it can be to walk through beautifully designed and manicured urban parks.  This 19th century structure is surrounded on one side by an olive forest and the other side by rustically designed French kitchen gardens.  That means that most of what is growing on this property is edible.  I want to remember to mix pansies and calendulas with chard and kale.

This enclosed herb garden is a perfect place to come and sit in the sun on a Saturday morning with preschoolers.
Next time I come to Provence, I hope to go straight to the country to soak in the sun, earth, Mediterranean plant life and the colors.

Thanksgiving on the French Riviera

Can you imagine writing those five words?  I never could either.  I did not grow up thinking I would travel anywhere in my life, didn’t really even think about it.  Funny reality now is that the French Riviera is a whole lot closer than going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, though not necessarily sweeter.

            Thursday morning, we caught a 9:00 AM flight and were in Nice for lunch.
I really did not have any preconceived expectation of what Nice would be.  As I trolled the Internet for an affordable boutique hotel, I became more and more concerned that Nice was a typical beachfront resort town, completely overused by northern Europeans.  The hotel rooms looked a little sweaty, faded, and expensive.
            What I’ve encountered in Nice so far is a crisp, clean, underpopulated city.  The city clearly values its natural beauty, preserving miles and miles of beachfront promenade, framed by the snow-capped French Alps in the background.  The air is chilly enough to wear leather coats and boots, but when you sit in the sun at a café for lunch, you can shed your coat and sit comfortably in your sleeveless dress.  And there are many, many fit, suntanned retirees (almost all walking French Bulldogs) who generally keep the prices down in a town.  I really like it here; I can feel myself already falling in love.  By the way, after hours and hours of Internet searching, it turns out I chose a wonderful boutique hotel:  It is La Villa Nice Promenade (11 Rue Saint Philippe).   Perfectly located near the Promenade, but quietly tucked away off the busy street, it is clean and simple, but has a decorative flair.  Best yet, it is under $100. 00 US per night.
            This is the only turkey we saw today.
            The best gelato in Nice, according to Kaye Syrah.  I’ll have to go back when it’s not siesta time.
            An old carousel in the central park.
            A couple having lunch under a laden, rectangular orange tree.  I know it’s anal, but I love French gardening.