Just a couple of Francophiles, in an Italian Trattoria

I eat so well.  I was lucky enough to have two of the most delicious meals of this February two nights in a row.  Last night’s meal was so wonderful, it has earned its own entry (next time).  So for the time being, I will talk about tonight.

There’s something very inviting about ducking into a cozy, warm, candlelit trattoria with wood-fired oven pizzas on a bitter cold February evening.  I arrived at Pop’s, in Durham, about 15 minutes early – a delightful and unusual contradiction since I am pretty sure tardiness is in my genetic makeup – I am never on time, let alone early!  I scouted out the menu with plenty of time for decision making, but apparently Pop’s knows what I want (I just didn’t)!  I wanted everything on the menu.  Ok maybe not everything, but I found myself torn between a risotto with braised beef short ribs, mushrooms, porcini butter and reggiano, a pizza with house-made meatballs, toasted garlic, broccoli rabe and parmesan, and the grilled salmon with spaetzele, swiss chard, turnips and honey and whole grain mustard jus.  (Had I not eaten braised beef short ribs last night, I wouldn’t have given any other entree the time of day).  Don’t fret risotto, I’ll be back.

My good friend Donna made her way over and we decided to share a marinated beet salad over butter lettuce, with chevre and baby roasted, sweet pecans, tossed in some sort of vinaigrette.  We were each given a fluffy chunk of fresh focaccia and fruity extra virgin olive oil for sopping and drank some red wine.  Now I’m not a huge fan of beets, I’ve only eaten them a couple of times, but I am open.  The combination was perfect.  I love the texture of the butter lettuce and “butter” describes it fittingly.  I’m also not one to eat a lot of goat cheese, but the few times (recently) that I’ve let myself welcome it, have been in salads and it has been exquisite.  Chevre, I’m beginning to change my mind about you…  It’s a mighty good thing our taste buds evolve.

We both decided (smartly) on the salmon and were rewarded for our choices.  Tonight was the first time I’ve ever tried turnips and I can happily say I pretty much love all root vegetables.  It seemed like a first cousin to the parsnip (which I love) and they were sweet and tender and could have almost been mistaken for tiny potatoes.  I also loved the swiss chard and the homemade spaetzele they were mixed in with.  This was a really great autumn dish and it looked like one too, but hey, it also works for winter.  I think it just works for cold in general.

Donna and I are chatterboxes.  Every time we get together, we rarely come up for air, we speak so much.  We could talk you into a corner.  We’ll both get on ten million tangents and forget what we were talking about originally but then dive into something else.  I think we both feed off of each other’s fervent zest for life and I like that.   And travel.  We always talk about travel, and tonight, we talked about France.  I love how we conjure up future vacations to dream about.  I’ll always remember our California trip, the summer after I graduated from high school.  We flew to L.A and rented a car (a champagne colored convertible actually), and drove down to San Diego and Coronado and spent a few days there, passed through some great beaches on the way back up to L.A and then spent the remainder of our trip there.  We had a blast, shopping, eating, sightseeing and peeing in fancy hotel bathrooms.

Donna and I found out we both want to learn French and she says she’s going to get the rosetta stone.  Hopefully I can borrow it when she’s finished!  It makes since, we agreed, to learn French since we both seem to be enamored with all things French, and that I do believe, makes us Francophiles.  We talked about coq au vin and beef bourguignon and vacationing in Provence.  I told Donna how I’d love to spend a couple months living in Paris too, maybe teaching ESL for awhile and just taking in the city.  I just started reading goddess – Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life the other night and have been devouring it as if it were a piece of chocolate cake.  It’s beautiful and nostalgic and addicting.  She writes in such a brilliant, honest way, that really does read a lot like fiction and surprisingly makes me want to try making dishes I normally wouldn’t give much consideration to.  She makes me want to live in Paris and read cookbooks on park benches and stuff French baguettes with batons of dark chocolate.

It was a fun night, and after just writing to the music of the heartbreakingly lovely Jill Andrews (if you haven’t heard of her, I strongly recommend you check her out, she used to be half of one of my favorite bands, The Everybodyfields but has recently gone solo), I’m starting to fade.  Maybe if I am lucky, I will dream about France and baguettes filled with chocolate and a villa in Provence.

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