A French Collection

Annette Charlton is a francophile and self-confessed cheese lover who splits her time between Australia and France.  She has a wonderful and informative website called A French Collection (www.afrenchcollection.com) that I encourage you to check out.

Annette recently wrote a great review of my book that you can find here.  Thanks Annette!

Going to the Butcher in France

A French town without a baker – can you imagine such a thing? Everyone would move away!

A butcher is almost as important to French village life. The butcher will sell the usual roasts and chops and chickens, as well as a variety of prepared foods. These really help when you are hosting a dinner party or are too busy to cook.

My wife Val and I live part of the year in St.-Rémy-de-Provence, a charming town between Arles and Avignon. We love going to our favorite butcher shop, a place that has been serving the good people of St.-Rémy for decades.

It is run by a husband and wife who take great care in the quality of their products and service. When you order a piece of meat, the butcher will ask you how you plan to prepare it. Then he will slice off any extra fat, trim around the bone and cut it into the size you want.

If you want hamburger, he will take a piece of beef, run it through his grinder and form it for you. Burger by burger.

Our butcher offers many things fait maison (home made) like patés, ratatouille, stuffed vegetables, salamis, and at least four kinds of sausage. The butcher’s wife dishes out the prepared items and runs the register while the butcher handles all the cutting.

Photo by Jusben at Morguefile.com

We love shopping there because the butcher takes the time to chat with every customer – waiting in line is kind of a free French lesson. How is the family? Are your bunions bothering you? How will you prepare the stew? For how many people? Do you salt your food? Here’s what my doctor says about salting food. Let me tell you, your husband puts too much salt on his food (then the butcher’s wife adds in that all husbands salt their food too much.)

It’s like watching a French sitcom.

Sometimes the phone rings and the butcher answers it – it’s usually an order for a big meal. This leads to a long discussion between the person on the phone and the butcher and his wife. How many people do they need to feed? What spices will they use? Should they pick it up at 11:00? No, maybe 12:00. No, 11:00 would be better. Okay, they’ll come at 12:00.

Once we went to the butcher to get a gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb.) We were having some friends over and figured a gigot would be easy to make in advance and would feed a large group.

We explained what we wanted. For how many people, the butcher asked. Ah, the gigot in my case is not large enough for your dinner for ten, he said.

So off he went to the back to get a larger one. He appeared two minutes later, not with a larger leg but carrying the entire back half of a lamb. Oh, my. But at least the wool had been removed.

This doesn’t happen where we live in California.

The butcher turned on his electric saw and in a couple of minutes the lamb was cut in half, feet removed, trimmed of excess fat, deboned, and tied with string.

Then came the cooking discussion. How were we preparing it? Our marinade and roasting met with his approval, but under no circumstances were we to use a temperature higher than 180 degrees Celsius. The butcher looked at us gravely to make sure we understood this important point.

And did we want the bones he had just removed? We should place them next to the lamb, cover them with some olive oil and butter, and add a full head of garlic, herbes de Provence, and salt. It would make a nice jus for the meat. This kind of advice is common in France.

If you are in a hurry, don’t go to a French butcher because you’ll be there for at least a half an hour. But if you do, the food will be delicious and the floorshow can’t be beat.

Gluten-Free meets Gastronomy

How many great gluten-free restaurants are there?  I mean, really great?

The answer is…not very many.

And how many have won a coveted Michelin star?

That’s easy – just one.  L’Auberge la Fenière in Provence is not only one of the world’s great restaurants, it recently became totally gluten free.  And, oh my, is the food delicious.

You can read more about it here.

 

Secrets of St.-Rémy: Best Fruits and Vegetables

One of the glories of Provence is the fresh produce. And in St.-Rémy, the best place to get it is at the Wednesday market. Every week, dozens of vendors set up shop throughout the charming town center, selling fruits, vegetables, olives, cheeses, lavender – you name it. It is one of the best markets in Provence and a lot of fun.

But what about the other six days of the week? Where do the St.-Rémois shop?

Here’s their secret – Le Jardin des Alpilles at 8 Avenue Frédéric Mistral. It’s an unassuming place but the produce can’t be beat, with much of it coming from local farmers. And it’s open seven days a week!

We went there today and here’s some of what we found.

If you are staying in a place where you can cook, or if you just want some succulent fruit to enjoy during the day, it’s a great place to stock up.

And what’s better than a picnic in Provence? You can get everything you need here – breads, cheeses, olives, snacks and a nice selection of local wines.

For those of you on the other side of the Alpillles, there is a sister store in Maussane-les-Alpilles with an equally great selection.

Bon appetit!

For more information: http://tinyurl.com/m6bdech

Meet Provence Artist Christian Detaux

Christian Detaux always wanted to be an artist. For as long as he can remember, he’s been drawing and painting and shaping forms.

At the age of 16, Detaux applied to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, ready to embark on a career as an artist. But then he read a biography of the great Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, who lived a life of poverty.

It made Detaux realize that most artists, and even some famous ones, have a hard time making a living. So, wanting to someday support a family, he reluctantly set aside his brushes and pens and embarked on a new path.

Read the rest of the article here

Classic French Dinner Party – The Easy French Way

Before I moved to France, I thought that French dinner parties were formal affairs with too many forks.  I imagined elegantly dressed people sipping Champagne and discussing Molière.  And with all those complicated courses, I figured it must take days to prepare the food. Then I met actual French people and learned that it’s not like that at all.  In fact, it’s easy to put on a dinner party the French way.

Let’s see how it’s done.

The Ritual

A typical French dinner party follows a standard formula:

Aperitif
Entrée (starter)
Plat principal (main course)
Cheese and salad
Dessert
Coffee

Let’s take these one at a time.

Aperitif

This is where everyone relaxes and starts the evening, usually in the living room or on the patio. Wine is served – often a simple white or rosé – along with some munchies. These can be something like a bowl of olives, some peanuts, maybe tapenade spread on little toasts. It’s nothing complicated – the focus is on conviviality, not haute cuisine.

Find some fabulous French aperitif recipes here.

Entrée

This is usually a simple dish like soup, a quiche, or a shrimp cocktail. And many hosts make their lives easier by buying it at the store. There are so many delicious prepared foods in France, why not take advantage of them?  And in the US, lots of stores have deli sections with tasty dishes that will do the trick. Recipe for a delicious French onion soup here.

Plat Principal

This might be roast lamb with potatoes (great recipe in the spring issue of The Good Life France magazine – it’s free to read online/download/subscribe), a baked fish, or a stew of some kind. Plus a vegetable.  Ok, it takes some work.  But it may be the only course that is cooked by the hosts.

And don’t forget the bread. A few crispy French baguettes and everyone is happy.

Cheese and Salad

This could hardly be easier – go to your local cheese shop or deli, pick out a few favorites and put them on a plate. Make a green salad with vinaigrette, cut up a baguette and voilà.

Dessert

This is usually bought from the local baker. French bakeries are so wonderful, how can you resist? Fruit tarts are especially good in summer and fall. Also popular is getting a selection of individually-sized desserts and letting everyone pick their own. If you’re not in France, you’re bound to have a favourite cake shop where you can get something to delight your guests. Let the baker do the work!

Coffee

This is the time to get up, stretch your legs and move to the living room.  And all you have to do is put on a pot of coffee or tea.  If you want to fancy it up a bit you can open a box of chocolates, but it’s not necessary.

And Don’t Forget the Wine

No French dinner party would be complete without wine, and France has an incredible selection of delicious, moderately priced bottles.  So get a few of those.  If you are in the US, go to your favorite wine shop and get something good and reasonably priced.  Sure, you can serve a grand cru on a special occasion, but there’s no need to break the bank.  As the French say, the best bottle of wine is one that you enjoy with friends.

So there you have it – a classic, six-course French meal with only one course that takes much work.  If you have plenty of time and like to cook, you can prepare everything yourself.  But take it from the French, buy most of the courses, keep it simple and spend more time with your friends.

Book Review: My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh

On a cold, wet day about ten years ago, Londoner Janine Marsh went with her husband and father on a day trip to France. They didn’t have big plans – it was just a quick jaunt to have lunch and buy some wine.

But sometimes life has other plans, and she ended up not only buying wine but also…a house. How that happened is the beginning of Marsh’s charming and funny memoir.

Nestled in a tiny town in France’s Seven Valleys area, near Calais, the house was a bit of a fixer-upper. No, it was more than that – it was a total wreck. And as you can imagine. everything went wrong, including an overflowing septic tank that earned Marsh the nickname Madame Merde. As she says, you have to be “a bit mad” to buy a house like this.

For the next few years, Marsh and her husband visited the house on weekends, beginning the monumental task of making it livable. But this split life proved unsatisfactory and eventually the big question had to be faced: do we move to France? Marsh, who had worked for years to rise from secretary to bank vice president – with another promotion imminent – agonized over the decision.

The couple decided to seize the day, and off to France they went. The more they repaired the house, the more they discovered problems, but their energy and optimism eventually carried them through.

Not only do they build a comfortable home, they build a wonderful new life for themselves in France. Marsh does a brilliant job of sharing with us what makes life in the Seven Valleys so charming. This isn’t Paris or Provence, but la France profonde, an area that tourists seldom visit.

We learn how neighbors help one another, like the time the Marshes nearly ran out of firewood in the middle of winter. With disaster looming, a neighbor showed up with his tractor, carrying several tons of firewood – and no payment expected.

We learn about the nearby town that is normally silent as a tomb, but that comes to life when Madame Magniez decides to bake some of her famous bread to sell. People see smoke coming out of her chimney, word spreads, and soon there is a traffic jam in the tiny downtown.

Marsh shares with us the local legends and the local celebrations. She describes the ins and outs of the French bureaucracy, French driving customs, and the proper way to kiss a person in greeting.   And she tells us about the food, one of the glories of France.

My favorite line in the book is when Marsh writes about the huge meals to celebrate Christmas and New Years. As she says, “At this time of year in France, you can quite easily eat yourself to a standstill.”

If you’ve ever dreamed of discovering “the real France,” you won’t want to miss this delightful book.

Janine Marsh is the creator of The Good Life France, an excellent website with information on all things French.

You can buy the book at Amazon:

Women of the French Resistance

Simone Segouin

There was a very interesting talk in St.-Rémy-de-Provence the other night, about women in the French Resistance. It focused particular attention on St.-Rémy, where I live part of the year.

The talk was organized by the local historical society and featured two historians who specialize in the subject. The event was held at the town’s movie theater and was surprisingly full.

Interest may be strong here because the great Resistance leader Jean Moulin had a home in nearby St.-Andiol.   He was a member of Charles de Gaulle’s government-in-exile in London. In 1942 he parachuted into the nearby Alpilles mountains, in the dead of night, to organize competing factions into what we now call the Resistance.

Read the rest of this article on Perfectly Provence, a great site with information on all things Provençal:  http://tinyurl.com/lzlsjf5