Posted tagged ‘French food’

To Market, To Market

February 2, 2015

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Just a little photo essay for you today, and fairly random, at that. I walked out my front door and into the Saturday market, in all its crowded, bustling glory, and wherever I could get a clear shot of some of its offerings, I did. Here’s just a part of what you can get at my local market, everything from discount boots to wine sold by a nun. Have a look.

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And just think, I’m leaving this behind to do my shopping in a grocery store.

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Bénie Soit La Truffe

January 18, 2015

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Today was the day of the 30th annual Truffle Festival in Uzès. It wasn’t perhaps as grand as in years past, when a huge scramble of 3000 eggs and 3 kilos of truffles was cooked over a fire and served to the eager participants. In fact that was really the best part of it all, and I’m not sure why they decided to stop doing it. I’d hate to think that it had anything to do with health department restrictions; after all, what could go wrong with 3000 raw eggs and a pan moved about by forklift?

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So, not being able to dive into a gigantic mess of truffled eggs, we went to church instead, where the Compagnie Bachique, normally devoted to promoting and enjoying the local wine, brought a heap of truffles to be blessed before they were sold.

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It’s a funny thing they do here, blessing the most worldly of things. I’ve seen piments d’Espelette blessed, wine grapes blessed, and before the Pastorale just before Christmas even the animals were taken to the Cathedral to be blessed.This wasn’t nearly as picturesque, in the event, and the mass was long and not much of it was about truffles. But I was struck by the emphasis on how much truffles contribute to the economic life of the region, and when the collection baskets were passed, there were a few truffles in them, along with the Euros.

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At the end of the mass the truffles went off to be auctioned for the benefit of cancer patients. I saw a truffle of 110 grams go for 410 Euros, which was quite a good deal for cancer patients, considering that the same truffle, sold on the truffle market that was taking place all around the auction, would have sold for about 100 Euros.

Eric and Jessica are off hoping to catch sight of a demonstration of pigs and dogs rooting for truffles, which is always fun, and then tonight we’ll go for truffle pizza, another traditional highlight of the day. Tomorrow they’ll head back to the US, and I’ll have a month here on my own before spending a few days in the Netherlands on my way back to the island. Time is flying, the sun is shining, it was a good year for truffles, and there’s been virtually no winter so far.

Noël Encore Une Fois

December 26, 2014

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I was wondering how I’d survive a Christmas without Shel, especially in Uzès, where we spent so many Christmases together. Although, I have to admit, we never had sheep for Christmas. Eric and Jessica came to join me here for the holidays, and a couple of days before Christmas Jess looked out the kitchen window, where we normally see this,

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and saw a procession of animals making their way up the street. After a while we heard singing, and went down to the Place aux Herbes, which is the center of town. I didn’t have the wit to take my camera, but Eric did, and there he captured these images

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of what turned out to be a sort of mini-Pastorale, with scenes all around the Place, and singing in Provençale. The best part, for us, was the way the sheep and goats stood up on two feet to eat absolutely all of the holiday greenery that had been wrapped around the huge plane trees that shade the Place in summer. That, and the camels, because really, you never see camels around here.

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That helped us get in the holiday spirit, and we made a little attempt at decorating the new house, a house Shel never lived in (and a good thing too, because it’s spread over four floors, and the number of stairs is pant-inducing and thigh-numbing). We also wrapped a few presents, because, as Jessica said, “It’s nice looking at presents.”

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Christmas Eve is when the French celebrate Christmas, so we made an effort too, eating oysters like everyone else in France on that night. Alas, our conclusion, since we raise our own, is that our oysters are far better, pulled out of the water and consumed within the hour, than the ones I bought here. Spoiled, we are, and we freely admit it.

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We’re also being spoiled this year by Cannelle, a little  kitten-cat who belongs to our friend Maryse. She’s gone up north to spend the holiday with her parents, and we’re cat-sitting, to our great joy, because we’re all missing our own cats, and a loaner cat is oh so much better than no cat at all.

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And then it was Christmas day, and we set a table for seven, including four old friends with whom we’ve spent many a holiday here. In the rush of things like making a complicated dinner in a totally unfamiliar kitchen I didn’t take any pictures except this one

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of cabbage leaves stuffed with a traditional French farce.  But there was an entrée of foie gras, mini-ballotine de pintade, and mâche, with a very nice Monbazillac, then a plate of coquelet au four froid, whose recipe you can find here, with sides of the little stuffed cabbage leaves, Romanesco broccoli with beure noisette, a purée of celery root, a little écrasée of Jerusalem artichokes lightly spiced with ras el hanout, carrots tossed with marmalade made by Chef Nathalie from the oranges at l’Institut de Français, and a sauté of morels and trompettes de la mort in Monbazillac and butter. Followling a trou Gascon  of Armagnac, we had a beautifully runny Mont d’Or cheese, with a vintage Port, and a Dutch apple pie made by Katherine, without which is just wouldn’t be Christmas in Uzès. I think that’s my record, to put six different vegetable preparations on one plate (see what you missed, Xavier, by not joining us?).

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And now, looking out the office window, I see Uzès returned to its normal post-holiday beauty. Tomorrow Eric and Jessica will leave for ten days, and I’ll begin to learn what my single life in Uzès will be like. Like all the other firsts since Shel died, I both dread it, and look forward to making it through. See you on the other side.

The Pleasures Of Lyon

November 1, 2013

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We went up to Lyon, our favorite city in France, perhaps because it’s the one we know the best, to see our friends Lucy and Loïc (whose lovely nude this is), and to do what we always do in Lyon: eat fabulously, shop, and walk around admiring the city. In the past we’ve always come for Shel’s visits at the cancer center, but this time the trip was just, as the French say “pour le fun.” That’s right, there’s actually no word for fun in French, so they’ve adopted the English word. The French have a lot of fun, but there’s no one word that carries the same meaning, which I find peculiar.

IMG_8258When we arrived at the Avignon train station we discovered a fun new toy – a station where three people can sit and pedal. At first I thought it was part of some national exercise campaign, but actually it’s even cleverer than that: it’s a place to plug in your phone and recharge its batteries by pedaling. Now there’s an idea that we ought to import.

IMG_8274Lucy introduced us to a charming café on the Croix Rousse hill called Le Canut et les Gones, where I had one of the best soups of my life, a velouté of trompettes de la mort and pied de mouton mushrooms with a chantilly of foie gras drifting on top of the soup.  After lunch we went to Lucy’s teaching kitchen Plum Lyon where she and I spent several hours cooking up a complicated and interesting supper of oeufs en meurette and little ballotines of rabbit and veal stuffed with more of the same excellent mushrooms that had been in my lunchtime soup.

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We spent the next day wandering around the area of the lovely Place des Terreaux

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with its stunning Fontaine Bartholdi, which, according to the All-Knowing Wikipedia, depicts France as a woman seated in a chariot controlling the four great rivers of France, represented by wildly uncontrolled, nostril-dilated, and truly ferocious-looking horses.

But to tell the truth, we were in that neighborhood for the shopping, since Lyon is one of the few places in France where I can easily get shoes and clothes in my size. A new pair of boots, a dress, and a vest later, I was as happy as I’ve been in ages, and we were off to Vieux Lyon for lunch.

IMG_8302Vieux Lyon is a pretty area of steep cobbled streets

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and picturesque old buildings, but this time we were there for the food. Because really, when you’re in Lyon, you have to eat as much as possible because you can eat better there, for less strain on your credit card, that anywhere else in France, so far as I can tell.

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We love the cozy little Restaurant du Soleil, where Shel always has their giant quenelle, a specialty of Lyon, and not like anything I’ve ever had elsewhere. This time I had their tripes à la Lyonnaise, which was un vrai délice, something astonishingly delicious, and quite different from other tripe dishes I’ve eaten in France. When I quizzed our charming server he explained that it was made with bonnet de boeuf, a round part that’s one of a cow’s three stomachs, called the reticulum in English, as opposed to the usual tripe in France which is made from pig.

He gave me a hasty description of the recipe and so I made a flying run through the Halles Paul Bocuse, in search of a bonnet de boeuf that I could grab quickly before we missed our train. I succeeded in finding one, as well as some beautiful cheeses from La Mère Richard, all of which I stuffed into the overhead compartment of the train. I did notice some delicate sniffing and curious glances cast in my direction, and so I had to explain that no, it was not any part of my personal stomach that was producing those slightly indelicate aromas, but my purchases from Les Halles, which made our fellow passengers nod and smile indulgently.

So now the bonnet is reposing in my freezer, and on Sunday I’ll be making my best attempt at tripes à la Lyonnaise. I’ll keep you posted, if only to show you the bonnet in its original state, since cow reticulum isn’t a common ingredient, however lovely, however Lyonnais.

Miam! Miam!

December 15, 2011

I love the word miam, which corresponds to our word yum. It’s a kid’s word, but adults can say it when we’re tired of trying to find yet another synonym for delicious. And in this case, the Miam! in question was the name of a food salon in nearby Alès, where dozens of sorts of deliciousness were on display and for sale in advance of the holidays.

I confess that the first time we went to one of these salons I didn’t quite know what to do. There was an overwhelming profusion of food and drink, to be tasted and purchased, and I ended up buying almost nothing. But later I realized that this is how French people prepare for the holidays, by stocking up on lots of good things, like a case of this 2005 Champagne that was made by the fourth generation in the family business and found its way home with us because it is truly miam, and all of the other foods that make a holiday here special.

Miles of charcuterie,

including the tantalizing little fribbles and frabbles of fried duck that I love to warm up and scatter on salad,

and mountains of mushrooms, notably these cèpes, which we call porcini, and most especially the cèpes du chataignier, those that grow at the feet of chestnut trees and are incredibly aromatic.

On the sweet side there were jewel-like candied fruits,

an unimaginable selection of macarons,

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and beautiful chocolates made with olive oil.

For before-dinner drinking there were guys selling cartagène, the local apéritif made from wine and grape juice,

for a main course you could buy the most beautifully decorated beef roast I’ve ever seen (too pretty to cook, I thought),

and for before-dessert nibbling, cheeses of every description.

Should anyone feel peckish at the sight of all that food, there was hope: escargot sandwiches,

freshly-made pizza,

the famously stretchy potato and cheese concoction called aligot,

and if you were a young baker who had been working hard all morning making tarte aux pommes, you could sit down to a nice glass of…..Coke. Yes, they hid the bottle under the table while I took their photo, but Coke it is in those glasses, proving that all in France is not foie gras and finesse. At a place like Miam! a lot of it is about people making things by hand, and selling to other people who want fingerprints on their food. And yes, it’s also about Coke-drinking teenagers who are in the midst of preparing themselves to become bakers, the true backbone of French society.

When we crack that Champagne we’ll raise a glass to those kids, and to all the people who spend their lives creating wonderful things for us to eat. Miam!

Good Intentions Gone Astray

November 14, 2009

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Vaison La Romaine.  They call it that because it was a Roman town, now the site of some of the most important Roman ruins in the area.  We went there with every intention of visiting them, learning abut the history of the place, steeping in the ancient atmosphere.  Instead, food and wine captured our attention and, ruins be damned, we were forced, forced I say, to leave them for another day.

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Driving there we were surrounded by brilliant vines that reached to every horizon.  Unfortunately, when there are vines as far as the eye can see

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there’s likely to be huge wine production.  And huge wine production is, let us say, usually not the best.  Here in Suze-La-Rousse wine is being made in 80,000 litre tanks that dwarf our car.  I actually didn’t have the nerve to taste the wine here, but I think I’m safe is assuming that it’s not something you’d normally want to drink.  Even in France there’s plenty of wine that’s cheap and nasty, and this is sure to be in that category.

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But as a saving grace, the moment we arrived in Vaison we happened to park in front of this phenomenal cheese shop.  Madame Déal, whose shop it is, is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, one of the best workers in her field in France. The Meilleur Ouvrier designation is very prestigious, and those awarded it wear a special collar with their work clothes, every day for life.  If you get a product or service from a Meilleur Ouvrier, it’s sure to be excellent.

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And indeed, the cheeses I bought from her were among the best I’ve ever had, good enough to have me thinking about making that 80 kilometer drive again just to stock up on cheese.

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But the thing that really derailed our good intentions was the fact that, unbeknownst to us, Vaison had chosen that very day to have a huge food and wine expo, with tastes and samples of almost everything.

I felt kind of guilty about it, since I knew I wouldn’t be buying, but I took the opportunity to taste some very nice Châteauneuf-du-Pape, something that’s normally outside my budget.  The foie gras folks weren’t giving out samples, but we bought a bit anyway, for the holidays.

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Shel didn’t feel at all guilty tasting from this stand, a small coffee roaster, because he fully intended to buy several bags of coffee.  For some reason there’s no good coffee in our town, and we got quite hooked during our time in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val on having a coffee roaster in the weekly market.  These guys did very nice coffee, and invited us to visit their shop in Avignon, which we might just do the next time we feel like driving for 45 minutes to stock up on coffee.

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There was all sorts of charcuterie and sausages

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and the knives to cut them with.

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There was a chocolate sculpting contest going on, and this carniverous-looking plant was made entirely of chocolate.

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There was beautiful dried fruit that looked like it had come straight from the orchard,

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and smoked black cod that had come from Alaska, although it must have been by some very circuitous route, because do you see that price?  At today’s exchange rate, that 109 Euros per kilo is $74 per pound!   The lady at the stand asked me if I were taking a picture because of the price, and when I admitted that was really my motivtion, she said “well, I can certainly understand that!”  Needless to say, they weren’t giving out any free samples either.

I do still feel a bit guilty about having missed those ruins though., and I’m sure we’ll be going back to see them in the near future.  The fact that we’re fresh out of cheese has nothing to do with it!

Got (Raw) Milk!

October 1, 2009

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Last night, on the way home from Bordeaux, we stopped for milk.  Raw milk, from a mooing machine.  As they say in French “Je vous explique.” Let me explain.

Not long ago we were in the florist shop getting a little gift for the pharmacist, who has proven herself to be the most diligent pharmacist in France and possibly in the world.  None of which would seem to lead us down the primrose dairy path, except that the the florist had a sign saying that one could buy raw milk direct from the farm 24/7,  in  the nearby town of Caussade.  I asked her for details, she went upstairs to consult her husband (who was evidently the shopper in the family), and returned with the information that there was indeed a machine that dispensed raw milk in front of the supermarket.  Wow.

I couldn’t help but remember a time when we were on Orcas Island, in Washington, in an artsy sort of little head shop.  A tall gangly guy came in and went furtively towards the back of the store.  I even entertained the notion that he might have been a shop lifter, so I turned in his direction in time to hear him say, sotto voce,  to the shopkeeper “I hear that you can get….milk.”

It turned out that the San Juan Islands are home to a raw milk underground, wherein trustworthy people take the ferry from one island to another collecting raw milk and distributing it, quite illegally and in utter secrecy, to raw milk afficionados of their acquaintance.

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And yet here, in a French supermarket parking lot, was a little hut with a raw milk distribution system that was even more ingenious.  The machine will sell you a sterilized plastic bottle for 20 centimes, or a glass bottle for 3 Euros.  The milk is 1 Euro a liter, but you can get smaller amounts if you wish.  You buy a bottle, or bring your own, insert it into the machine, and immediately ice cold milk issues, accompanied by loud mooing sounds.  They might even be described as bellowing sounds, loud enough that every person in the parking lot, and possibly some shoppers in the store who are busy buying milk in small cardboard cubes that keep forever, know that someone somewhere is buying raw milk.  It couldn’t be less secret.

The sign on the machine instructs you to use a perfectly clean bottle, to refrigerate the contents immediately, and to drink your milk within three days of purchase.  In other words, the machine treats you like the adult you are, except that it moos at you, in a most delightful way.

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I, of course, got a glass bottle, which happens to say MILK MILK MILK all over it, instead of LAIT LAIT LAIT.  That’s extra ironic, given the fact that if there’s one thing you’re practically sure never to see in the US it’s an automatic 24/7 mooing raw milk dispenser.

To which I can only say tant pis, too bad, way too bad.