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A Lavender Moment

Fall has finally arrived. The leaves are turning color and dropping to the ground like yellow and red confetti. It appears our weeks and weeks of l'été indien (Indian summer) here in Texas are coming to an end. While I am looking forward to fires in the fireplace, drinking cups of hot Mariage Frères tea to keep warm as well as to enjoy the taste, and cooking hearty French bistrot dishes for dinner, I must confess I fell victim this week to a lavender moment.

Lavender FieldsIn the course of searching for some garden photos from Provence, I was arrested by all the images of lavender in full bloom. For me, la lavande sings the height of summer. Its purple ribbons stretch confidently across the sunny landscape of the midi (another name for the south of France). The scent of the royal purple flowers mingles with other aromates (aromatic herbs) such as le thym (thyme) and le romarin (rosemary) and floats gently on the warm breeze.

It's not necessary to stand out in the middle of a lavender field, however, to appreciate the visual, olfactory and mystical qualities of this precious plant. At the many open air markets in Provençal towns and villages, lavender and lavender products are a staple. From fresh bouquets to dried stems tied with ribbons, lavender is à emporter, or available for 'take out.' Lavender lovers take note: Though a hardy plant when in the ground, lavender blossoms are fragile on the cut stems, whether fresh or dried. In other words, handle them with care or the flowers will fall off!

Lavender Bouquet Fresh Lavender

As I wander the markets, I like to look at all the lavender savons (soaps) and essential oils. I remind myself that the scent is powerful so a little goes a long way. And then I come upon a vendor selling honeys of all kinds. In Provence, le miel (honey) is a work of art. There is rosemary, thyme honey, acacia honey and chestnut honey among others, but of course, la star des miels de Provence (the star of Provence honeys) is lavender honey. You can spread it on toast, stir it into une infusion (herbal tea) or use it in cooking.

Lavender Honey

One of my favorite ways to enjoy le miel de lavande is in this recipe with chèvre (goat cheese). I was inspired by warm goat cheese and honey I once had in Amsterdam. My recipe calls for lavender honey with a little fresh thyme. As there is still thyme in my garden, I may make it this weekend-and keep winter at bay a little longer.

Warm goat cheese with lavender honey

1 slice bucheron goat cheese (about 1 to 1.5 inches thick)
1 to 2 tablespoons lavender honey
Fresh thyme leaves

French baguette slices

Place the slice of bucheron in a small gratin dish. Drizzle the lavender honey over the cheese. If the honey is crystallized, place the jar with the lid removed in a small pan of warm water over low heat until liquefied. Sprinkle the cheese and honey with fresh thyme leaves. Warm in a 400 degree oven until bubbly around the edges. Serve with fresh baguette slices and a sprig of thyme on the side. Bon appétit!

November 5, 2008

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