Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Heaven on Earth...Chateau du Sureau !

I have a secret retreat that I call my place of Ahhhh, or my  little Heaven on Earth, which is located in the California Sierra Mountains, in a petite town called Oakhurst. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone where I go or what I do there ! This would be Chateau du Sureau, a ten room castle, and also on the property is Erna's Elderberry House, a fine dining restaurant, owned by Erna Kubin-Clanin and her husband Rene. A beautiful ochre colored villa and a luxurious spa can also be found amongst the pine trees and elderberry bushes. Sureau means elderberries in French.
   Do you ever find that perhaps once a year or more, you long for a haven of peace and quiet, somewhere where you can unruffle your feathers, where stress is a forgotten state of being ? Well, I have those times too, and those are the moments when I dream of staying at Chateau du Sureau and dining at the Elderberry House...Trust me, this inviting, homey, elegant, little castle is well worth  putting on your bucket list and saving your pennies for....a taste of European elegance in California !
   When I arrive at the green iron gate, I am greeted by a sweet, friendly voice saying,"Welcome home !" A darling chambermaid and a charming bellman escort me to my favorite room called the Safran, which means saffron in French. All of the rooms have herbal names. As I enter, I see my oh, so soft bed with the fluffy down comforter, a warm fire burning in the fireplace (if it's chilly), a little gateau (cake) wrapped prettily, on an antique plate with a pearl handle knife. I see the beautiful antique armoire in which to hang my clothes, a tall tapestry of the lady and the unicorn on the wall, fresh flowers, some sweet surprises in a cookie tin, lovely toiletries by the sink,  a cuddly soft white robe, and on it goes ! Soft classical music is playing. My darling chambermaid even brings me a  beautiful plate of refreshment, such as a salad, or fruit and some tartines (open-faced sandwiches),with a glass of their special spiced tea or wine. Like I said, ahhhhhh......
   One of my favorite pleasures for unwinding is to take a good book or two, go down to the pool, lay on one of the terry covered chaises, and just bask there, reading for hours !  I like to read  books like "God on a Harley" by Joan Brady and "French Women Don't get Fat" by Mireille Guiliano. Usually no one is swimming in the pool, because I go up there in less touristy times, Spring or Fall. A wonderful young lady or gentleman always comes down the steps to check on me, to offer tea or a delicious snack, which I never refuse ! Por quois pas ! When the sun starts setting and I am feeling the fresh mountain air start to chill, I reluctantly pack up my books and go into the Chateau to get ready for dinner. I am consoled with the fact that I have one more day to lie out by the pool and that I  will have a fabulous meal in the gorgeous restaurant  tonight !
   It's fun to dress up and walk down the lane, past the beautifully lit fountain, to the candles flickering and the fire blazing in the restaurant.You may receive a special greeting by the Sommalier or one of the excellent waiters. Dinner is always divine, around six courses, with wine pairing if you would like. Even if you are dining solo, the experience is so lovely. When I am alone, I really am not, because I believe that my Lord Yeshua is with me on a special date ! I usually invite friends to join me on one of the other nights. After a beautiful dessert, you may be given some special, sweet bon bons to top off your perfect evening !
   After dinner, knowing that your warm,inviting chambre is only a short walk away gives one a sense of delight. There are logs to burn in the fireplace, soft classical music to play, candles to light  and place around the spa tub, that you can luxuriate in under clouds of bubbles ! Then dry off with a fluffy, cotton towel, slip into one of the ultra-soft robes, and melt into the silky sheets and  down-filled pillows on your antique bed. Ahhhhh.....again ! There may also be a sweet little edible surprise left on the bed for you, in case you haven't indulged enough !

      Waking up in the morning is another sensory delight (They just keep coming !), when I smell the aroma of freshly baked croissants wafting under my door, and a charming miss or gent knocks, carrying a darling tray with just brewed coffee, cream, a tiny honey pot, and a little vase holding fresh flowers. Ohhhhh.....Can I stay here forever !!!?  I have time to sip my coffee, gazing at the fire, listening to soft music, and reading my Bible, before going down to the Provencal patio and herb garden for breakfast !
   I eagerly anticipate what breakfast delights await me, as they are always a welcome surprise. Fresh squeezed orange juice, flakey croissants with homemade strawberry and apricot jam, a chicken vegetable quiche, ginger apple cake, fresh fruit,  homemade granola, and on and on it goes. Speaking of granola, I'm following this story with a homemade granola recipe !
   Then I'm off to my quiet place by the pool to read my second book. Others may choose to walk around Oakhurst or take a day trip to Yosemite National Park, to see the grandeur and beauty of God's creation.
   On my last wistful day, I like to walk down a winding path through the graceful  pine trees, to the koi fish pond. Large, gorgeous koi fish slowly swish themselves around, peeking their lips out of the water, hoping you've brought them a treat to nibble on.  There are graceful statues of two cranes nearby, as well as a giant chess game, and a delightful wooden swing which I love to sail high on ! One time one of the gentlemen working there gave me a big push !
   Lastly, after packing up my things, the sweet hostess discreetly gives me my bill (Tipping is included for the Chateau.), a gift of roasted California almonds, and a bottle of water for the  winding drive  down the mountains towards home. Ahhhh.....Erna, and Rene, you think of everything, you and your wonderful, kind staff , having given me a calm, restful, rejuvenating stay.....my little secret place of heaven on earth !
   Merci, merci beaucoup !!! Que Dieu vous benise !!

                                                    My Toasted and Raw Granola

   In my college days, I was a super health nut and a vegetarian. I loved making my own granola often, after a friend gave me her recipe that I went berserk over !! Well, I lost the recipe, but this recipe is pretty yummy. I decided to combine raw and baked granola to make the recipe healthier and I use organic ingredients !

4-6 cups oats, old fashioned
1 cup shredded coconut (I like to use the large flakes.)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts,pecans,or almonds)
1-2 freshly ground cinnamon sticks
1-2 freshly ground whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup molasses,organic,unsulfured
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried cherries (if desired)

 Pre- heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a coffee grinder, grind 1-2 cinnamon sticks and 1-2 whole nutmegs. (If you don't  have a coffee grinder, you can use powdered cinnamon and nutmeg, but freshly ground spices are so much more flavorful and aromatic !) In a large bowl, put in all of the ingredients, except the dried fruit. Mix these ingredients together. I use my hands, as this helps me feel when all is thoroughly blended together.  Taste the ooey-gooey granola on you sticky hands to see if it needs more salt, spices, honey, molasses, or oil. Divide the mixture onto two baking sheets. Bake one baking sheet for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Half way through baking, you can stir the granola with a spatula. Then remove from the oven to cool. Break the mixture up with your hands and then toss with half of the fruit.
   Add the rest of the  fruit to the mixture on the other baking sheet, and let it air dry in a sunny spot in your kitchen, or outside, covered with a tea towel or a few layers of cheesecloth, until it is  dry and somewhat crunchy. Then combine the two mixtures together and store in a covered container, or fill cellophane bags and tie with raffia or ribbon to give as gifts. (The granola comes out a bit soft. If you don't want your granola on the softer side, bake ALL of the grain mixture, before adding the dried fruit.) You can even find sticker companies online where you can create your own cute granola labels !
   Soooo.....Remember to take time during the year to go on a relaxing vacation, and rest one day a week as God tells us to in the Bible.....That's the healthy way to live !

Monday, October 12, 2015

Autumn Apple Tart !


   Autumn has arrived in Fresno California ! Halleluia !!! The air is so perfect and refreshing after a hot summer, and the smoke that we have been periodically breathing from forest fires in our local mountains ! As sad as I am, when our bounty of summer fruits and vegetables goes away, it's nice to see the variety of apples,grapes,squash,and pumpkins,pomegranates,etc.,filling the wooden boxes at our farmer's markets.
   Recently for the joyful Rosh Hashanah (New Year) celebration with my Messianic Congregation, people brought apples,honey,and apple cakes to eat, to symbolize a sweet new year. I made and brought a French apple tart. I found a delicious Apricot Honey Almond Tart recipe in Patricia Wells ' cookbook called "Patricia Wells at Home in Provence", in which I substituted apples for the apricots and brushed warmed apricot-lavender jam on top. (I purchased this jam at a beautiful French shop in Carmel,California called Jean de Luz...a place that I looove to visit !!)  This tart is so easy and fairly quick to make. You don't have to roll out the crust ! Just press the dough into the pan ! Make it for your guests the day before your gathering. They will be AMAZED at your beautiful French creation, hardly believing that YOU actually made it !!

                                         Apricot (Or Apple) Honey Almond Tart

                         Equipment: One 9-inch (23-cm) fluted tart pan with removable bottom

The Crust

   Unsalted butter for preparing the tart pan
   8 tablespoons (4 ounces; 120 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
   1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
   1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
   1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use Mexican vanilla,which is so delicious, that you can purchase online !)
   A pinch of sea salt
   1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon (180 g) unbleached all-purpose flour

   2 tablespoons finely ground unblanched almonds

The Cream

   1/2 cup (12.5 cl) heavy cream
   1 large egg, lightly beaten
   1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
   1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
   2 tablespoons raw full-flavored honey, such as lavender
   1 tablespoon superfine or all-purpose flour
   About 1 1/2 pounds (750 g) fresh apricots, pitted and halved (do not peel) (or apples,cored and sliced thin)
   Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
   Apricot jam

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C; gas mark 5).
2. Butter the the bottom and sides of the tart pan and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar and,with a wooden spoon, stir to form a soft,cookie like dough.Do not it let it form into a ball. Transfer the dough to the center of the buttered pan. Using the tips of your fingers, evenly press the pastry onto the bottom of the buttered pan. The dough will be quite thin.
4. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the dough is slightly puffy and set, about 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle the almond flour flour on the crust. (This will prevent the crust from becoming soggy.)
5.  Meanwhile, prepare the cream: In a medium-size bowl, combine the cream, egg, almond and vanilla extracts, and honey and whisk to blend. Whisk in the flour.
6.  Starting just inside the edge of the prebaked pastry pan, neatly overlap the halved apricots, (or sliced apples), cut side up, at a slight angle. Make 2 or 3 concentric circles, working toward the center. Fill the center with the remaining apricots (or apples).
7.  Pour the cream evenly over the fruit. Place in the center of the oven and bake until the filling is firm and the pastry is a deep golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes.The apricots will shrivel slightly. Remove to a rack to cool. (I brushed warmed apricot/lavender jam on top of the apples. I heated about 1/3 cup jam in a small pan on low heat.) Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar just before serving.

Eight Servings

Variation: When apricots are out of season,you can use figs,plums,or a combination of fruits such as peaches,apricots,and nectarines. To prepare this tart with fresh raspberries, prebake the dough as directed. Add the cream and bake until the filling is firm and the pastry is a deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. At serving time, arrange a single layer of raspberries (about 12 ounces; 375 g) on top of the filling. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar just before serving.

    P.S.  I always pray to Yeshua before I cook meals for friends and family, asking Him to help me prepare a delicious creation......Soooo.....Go for it Frenchie....Make this tart SOON ! Love ya !!!