Lentil Salad and an Ode to Maille Mustard

I found this recipe in my Fall 2012 Entertaining from Cook’s Illustrated magazine and  knew right away I would like it. I am a huge fan of lentil soup, so lentil salad with a mustard vinaigrette seemed like an obvious win.

You may have noticed a jar of Maille mustard on my masthead. It looks like this:

I warmed up to mustard later in life. I think I was about twenty-two before I could eat it at all, and then each year my love for mustard grew exponentially. I am embarrassed that I was a big fan of what passes for Dijon mustard in this country; I always keep a jar of Grey Poupon in the refrigerator. When I was in Paris, I was drawn to the colorful display of the Maille Mustard Boutique, at 6 place de la Madeleine. It really is a mustard boutique. Think about that for a second and tell me the French aren’t magnifique.

After sampling a few varieties, I purchased a ceramic jar of Moutarde Fine au Vin blanc, or white wine mustard. The mustard comes right out of a tap and is sealed with a cork. Blessedly, it survived the transatlantic trip, and if I was smart, I would have stocked up some more. I am down to the last precious little bit, and I devoted it to this recipe. Unfortunately, this is NOT the same Maille mustard we can get in North America. I don’t know what silly trade rules or FDA regulations are responsible for this travesty, but I do know that the mustard from France is much stronger and fuller bodied than any Maille Dijon that can be purchased here or in Canada.

But back to this recipe! It’s a great little salad that can become a full meal if you add chicken or sausage, but it is substantial enough to stand alone, too.

Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Scallions, adapted from Entertaining, Fall 2012

1 1/2 cups lentilles du Poy, but I just used regular old lentils, rinsed

1 small onion, halved

3 bay leaves

1 sprig of fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3/4 cup roasted red peppers, patted dry and finely chopped

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (I used 1/2 c)

3 scallions, sliced thin

1. Combine 6 cups water, lentils, onion, bay leaves and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil in large pot. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

2. While cooking lentils, whisk together vinegar, oil, mustard and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in small bowl and set aside.

3. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid and drain lentils, removing and discarding onion, thyme and bay leaves. Transfer to medium bowl and toss with dressing. Let cool to room temperature. Stir in red peppers, walnuts and scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Postcard from Paris #1

I have found that it is the little things about Paris which have charmed me the most. We arrived and walked right to the massively overwhelming Louvre, where we saw countless Parisians and their little dogs on the beautiful grounds. Even the dogs have a delightful joie de vivre, frolicking in the shadow of the world’s greatest art collection with reckless abandon. I tend to keep a short leash on both my pets and my children, so I watched with wonder while a little Jack Russell terrier ran freely across acres of hundreds of people and their dogs, owner nowhere in sight and yet no doubt well cared for. He wound up at a fancy outdoor cafe near the pyramids, where a formidable older woman was dining with her dog, complete with a silver bowl of water on the ground. The Jack Russell waltzed right up and helped himself to the other dog’s water, and I shot the picture below. I don’t know why it made me so happy, but it did. It also made me question why I am so uptight. I would never allow my dog to do that, and yet is was such a joyful thing to watch. Maybe these Parisians are on to something.

We also witnessed a police chase. On rollerblades. We saw three African street vendors with their massive displays of Eiffel tower key chains jingling behind them, followed by three rollerblade-clad police officers chasing them into traffic where the vendors deftly jumped the concrete barriers the police could not pass with their rollerblades. Maybe you had to be there, but it was one of those funny, “Did we just see that?” moments. When your life is very predictable and orderly, the colorful characters of a city are a pleasant treat.

I could dedicate a whole blog to French children’s fashion alone. I have never seen such well dressed children in my life. Hats, scarves, wee little hipster glasses — I can hardly stand the cuteness. It almost made me want to have another child so I could dress him properly this time around. If it was socially acceptable to take pictures of strangers’ children, I would have many examples to show you. This little girl walked past Ed while I was taking his picture, so I don’t feel so bad sharing it:

My sense of direction is very poor, but I am at least able to follow a simple grid-like map for dummies in cities like New York and Philadelphia — the the kind of map you get in third grade when you learn basic map reading skills. While these cities have tall buildings, they also have a lot of unique landmarks among their gridlike plan, so I can usually bumble my way through. Paris, on the other hand, has street after street of beautiful but similar style limestone buildings, plus the occasional palatial museum, peppered with restaurants, cafes and brasseries. In addition, optical stores are everywhere — eyeglasses are a huge accessory in Paris, and I quickly learned using an optical shop as a landmark was a very bad idea. The glorious maze of quaint side streets caused me to walk in circles for 45 minutes all the while being a mere two minutes from my intended destination. Embarrassing and sad. On the plus side, it’s also a bit magical. If you’re going to get lost anywhere, I highly suggest getting lost in Paris. Nestled between the alleys, I would stumble upon the classy French version of a strip mall (picture below) and it reminded me a bit of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe — a totally unexpected world.

Based on yesterday’s “adventure,” I was hesitant to set out on my own for Palais Garnier, but I had no choice. I didn’t come to Paris to sit in a hotel room. I realized my modern life is filled with very few challenges. And even though finding a giant opera house less than half a mile from my hotel is not exactly Amazing Race material, I felt proud of myself. I met up with a group from the highly recommended Paris Walks, and I was able to enjoy the rich history of THE opera house which inspired Phantom of the Opera even more.

One of the highlights of my trip (and probably my life) was attending a reception at the US Embassy and meeting Ambassador Charles Rivkin and his wife Susan Tolson. The embassy feels like a country estate right in the middle of busy Paris. The interior was opulent (what isn’t opulent in France?) but the grounds and the gardens surprised me the most. The wine ranked up there with the best I ever drank, and the appetizers were innovative and — of course — beautiful and très petite. More on the food and wine in later posts, I promise.

I don’t usually share too much about Ed’s work, as it’s his story to tell and not mine, but I will say that I am so proud of the work he and his colleagues do, and so humbled by the sacrifice made by our military. I was honored to be mingling with such a fine group of people and didn’t expect the evening to inspire feelings of patriotism. I was truly impressed with every person I met at the embassy and walked away feeling like our country is in very capable hands. I realize I don’t get out much, but one thing living in Chester County, Pennsylvania has taught me is the ability to tell the difference between genuinely impressive people and people who just try to impress you. I was in a room full of genuinely impressive people, and not one show-off in the bunch. Très refreshing!

I have blathered on long enough for one post. If you are still reading this, merci! I will probably file two more trip reports (more for my own decrepit memory than for any other reason, but I will try hard not to bore you).

See also: Postcard #2, Postcard#3, The Food Groups of Paris

She Went to Paris, Looking for Answers to Questions That Bothered Her So

With apologies to Mr. Jimmy Buffett.

Tomorrow I am leaving for Paris for ten days with Ed. We have both been to Paris separately, but never together. This trip is part business for Ed, all pleasure for me. Our hotel is walking distance to the Louvre, a stone’s throw from Opéra Garnier, and not too far from the Mothership. A thousand thank yous to my part-time boss, full-time friend who has outfitted me with a king’s ransom worth of Hermès from her private collection. It is not every day that a friend insist you borrow scarves, shawls and handbags which retail for more than your first car. Of all the things I will remember about this trip, I am sure my friend’s generosity will rank right up there.

I was fifteen the first time I went to Europe. My single mother believed so strongly in the benefit of travel that she dipped into her hard-earned savings so that I could participate with my classmates. It was an amazing trip — Paris, Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, no drinking age, and minimal supervision. We flew over on Pan-Am, back when people still smoked on airplanes and wandered the aisles with full shampoo bottles in their oversized carry-ons large enough to fit a five year old child. I loved every single second of it, and I’m so grateful for the sacrifice my mother made to send me there.

Now once again, I could not be going without Mom. She will be staying in my house and watching my three kids and crazy dog for ten days, which is no small feat. Thanks, Mom! I wish you strength and a sense of humor, and please know that we realize this trip would be impossible without you. Thanks, too, for my wonderful Dad and his girlfriend, who are my designated relief pitchers as well as emergency back-up. I will sleep well knowing my kids are in such great hands.

When I was younger, there was no place I didn’t want to go. I had such a drive to connect with the rest of the world and so firmly believed the shift in perspective achieved through travel contributes to an understanding of what’s really important, what really threads together humanity. And then the years passed and I got more and more insulated in my safe little world. International travel — especially without my whole family in tow — seemed more scary, more of a hassle, more stress, less fun. There is still a part of me remaining who knows it’s a good thing to get away, but she’s buried deep.

And all of the answers and all of the questions
Locked in his attic one day
’cause he liked the quiet clean country livin’
And twenty more years slipped away

Jimmy Buffett, He Went to Paris

As I’ve told my friends, complaining about going to Paris is like complaining you’re too skinny to find a good pair of jeans. Not a lot of people are very sympathetic. And I’m not complaining, really. But I’m slightly worried and anxious about this trip, and I hate that I am. Travel is a leap of faith, especially for control freaks. However, I am determined to push through the fear and not let it stop me from doing something I really want to do. It’s what I would tell my children to do, and it’s what I need to do myself.

There are definitely two different people inhabiting me, and they frequently battle for dominance. Adventurous Me wants to travel the world and Safe Me wants to stay right where she is. Safe Me has been mostly winning the past twenty years and has developed into a bit of a hothouse orchid. She’s not that keen on leaving her perfectly controlled pristine environment and setting out for where Thar Be Dragons. But I realize that hothouse orchid is just a hop, skip and a jump away from agoraphobia, and I will not go there. I refuse. I am choosing Paris instead.

I can’t wait to share all of my adventures with you, culinary and otherwise. I am excited to stretch outside my comfort zone and return home to my loving family and friends with a fresh new perspective. And maybe a new scarf or two. Au revoir, mes amis. Je vous adore.

Never go on trips with someone you do not love. — Ernest Hemingway, A Movable Feast