Savor the Flavor of Herbes de Provence

Years ago, my husband returned from a business trip to southern France bearing one of the finest gifts of all: a generously sized burlap bag of herbes de Provence. When the bag was finally empty, I shed a tear—not so much because the herbs were gone, but because I couldn’t hop on a plane to sunny Provence and replenish them.

Ever since,  herbes de Provence has ranked as my favorite herb blend. The French combination of dried thyme and other herbs brings out the best in so many dishes. Besides thyme (the one essential ingredient), herbes de Provence typically contains lavender, fennel, savory, basil, and rosemary, and may contain tarragon, basil, oregano, chervil, sage, mint, and/or marjoram.

Along with the other sweet herbs such as fennel and basil, sweetly perfumed lavender  helps offset the sharp flavor of the thyme.

All of these herbs thrive in sunny Provence, though cooks traditionally used them individually. In the 1970s, spice companies created herbes de Provence as a blend of favorite southern French herbs.

Use herbes de Provence to season roast chicken, potatoes, cheese omelets, vegetable soup, fish, and just about any other dish that would taste good with thyme or rosemary.

I especially like it on roast chicken. Loosen the skin on the chicken breast and drumsticks and use your fingers to smear a blend of olive oil (or olive oil and melted butter), smashed garlic and herbes de Provence under the skin. Rub some of the olive oil mixture on the outside of the skin as well, and roast. Yum!

Honeycrisp Is the Perfect Name for This Apple

I’m not a big apple eater. One of the reasons is that I rarely encounter an eating apple that has just the right flavor and texture.

First, apples should actually taste like something besides vaguely flavored cardboard. I like my apples on the tart side, but not too tart (Jonathan apples, for example, are great for pies, but sometimes a bit too tart to eat plain). They have to be really crisp. The slightest touch of softness or mealiness turns me off. (McIntosh apples taste great, but lack the crispness I crave.)

Granny Smith, Gala and Fuji apples come very close—when you get a good one. Increasingly, too many of them are not that good.

That is why I’m always on the lookout for “new” apples. I was in Michigan a couple of weekends ago and saw a sign for Honeycrisp apples, a variety that was new to me. I bit into one, and suddenly I love apples again.

The Honeycrisp, a pretty red and green freckled apple, is fairly tart, but still with a good amount of sweetness. And it is one of the crispest apples I’ve tried.

A cross between the Macoun and the Honeygold, the Honeycrisp was developed in 1960, but has been commercially grown in the Midwest only in the past decade. It’s still hard to find outside of orchards and farm markets in season (September-October), though you can order it online at

If you’re anywhere where this tasty apple is being sold, grab it while you can. It’s a keeper.

Update, fall 2013: The Honeycrisp has since struck it big. The good news is that it’s readily available; even Costco carries it.  The bad news is that mass production means there are way too many good-but-not-great Honeycrisp apples out there.  I recommend buying Honeycrisps−or any apple, for that matter−at farmers markets and orchards.

The Vanilla Legacy

Many people leave their kids money and property. While I plan to leave both of those things to my children in the hopefully far-distant future when I depart this earth, one of the legacies I hope my daughter will treasure most is the bottle of Endless Vanilla.homemade vanilla extract

Nearly 20 years ago, my husband was trying to figure out what to do with some bottles of Crown Royal gathering dust in our basement. He had received the Canadian whiskey as holiday gifts when he was an auto racing writer. He didn’t drink the stuff, and none of our friends did.

“Hmm,” I said. “I bet it would make great vanilla.”

And thus the vanilla tradition was born. I sliced open some vanilla beans, dumped them in a bottle of the whiskey, shook up the bottle and waited a couple of weeks. The resulting vanilla extract was mellow and lovely.

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