Saturday, March 24, 2012

French kisses

I always fall right back into the habit of the French bises.  It's tricky to know how many kisses to give each cheek, though.  Parisian guide par excellence, M. T, pictured above with moi at the Marché d'Aligre in Paris, preferred only 2 and let me know that up front.  Non, no action shots.  In Provence, with Mme P, it is always three.  Once again, no action shots.  Just this one taken of us fondling merchandise at the Saturday morning market in Uzès.
It is always my goal to visit as many markets as possible while I am in France.
Arles Lucy loved the kissing thing and said she could definitely get used to it.  Not all cheeks are created equally, of course, so you must take the good with the bad.  But that's pretty much life anyway, isn't it?
I just received quatre bises, yes, four kisses, from Laura Florand for my last blog post.  I am feeling the love!  She especially like my almond blossom post.  I guess she has been there, seen them, and smelled them, too.
Mme P will arrive in DC tomorrow with Mme Boop, M. PA, and their 24 charges.  One darling had to drop out because of an emergency appendectomy.  La pauvre.  I anxiously await their arrival here on Tuesday and more bises!  Since the almond trees were in bloom for me while I was there, I hope the cherry blossoms are in bloom for her.
Mme P gave me this lovely book, a Provençal calendar-agenda book, one she says is very traditional.
I love it.  I get the saint's days information from it for my students' homework sheets, I get to read about Provençal customs, and best of all, perhaps, I find new recipes. 
(I am snapping photos this morning with my iPhone.)
The most commonly used word in French, in my humble opinion, is truc.  It is the multi-purpose word for thing/stuff in English.  So, finding the "Words of wisdom and other stuff from Grandma" is a treasure.
I had leftover almonds from the recent macaron-making session, so I decided to put them to good use last night and bake a cake from this week's page.  It thrills me to no end when I find a recipe and actually have all the ingredients on hand.  Vanilla sugar comes in little packets in France and is commonly used in baking.  Baking powder comes in packets, too.  I found some a little while back at Harris Teeter and bought them, well, just because they reminded me of my brioche-baking adventures in Arles.  They came in handy last night.

Gâteau flamand - Flemish Cake

from  Almanach 2012 des Provençaux de du Comté de Nice, Véronique Herman and Hervé Berteaux, Editions CPE, 2012.

4 eggs
250 g flour- 2 cups
250 g sugar- 1 1/3 cups
125 grammes butter- 9 tablespoons, softened
80 g almonds- (I forgot to measure them before I threw them in the batter), I toasted slivers and then ground them in my spice / coffee grinder
1 c. milk
1 envelope baking powder- .5 oz. 1 teaspoon?
2 envelopes vanilla sugar- (each one is .28 ounces- just use liquid vanilla extract- it will work- maybe 1-2 tsp.)

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the sugars, and stir until the sugars melt.
Add the milk, then the flour, the ground almonds, the baking powder and the softened/melted butter.  Stir well.
Pour the mixture into a buttered baking pan.  (I used my springform pan.)
Let it rest for 15 minutes, while the oven preheats.
There are no temperature or times given in the recipe.  (Just like my Mama Mildred bakes!) I baked it at 350˚F for about 40 minutes.

The Ex-Ex just had a slice for breakfast and pronounced it very good.

Bon appétit, les bises!  Et bon voyage, my Frenchies!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

All's Fair in Love and Chocolate

I won a copy of this juicy book.  Oui, moi!  Laura Florand had a contest on her Facebook page and I won.  Trust me, this is big news.  I never win stuff even though I enter every contest that comes my way.  I have been a huge fan of Laura's since I found an autographed copy of her first book Blame It On Paris.  Then I found out that she is a French professor at Duke.  Then I sort of started stalking her by email.  Then I actually got to meet her at a foreign language teachers' conference last fall (where I got the brilliant idea of having my 7th graders blog, merci, Laura,  because of her presentation on blogging with students).  Hopefully, she realized that I am normal and not really a stalker.  I signed up for her Facebook page and entered the contest.  Et voilà.  I received my book yesterday and devoured her story.  All in one sitting, I must admit.  It is juicy, spicy, delicious, and right up my alley.  An American food blogger moves to Paris and stalks a HOT French chocolatier, an MOF, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, chocolate-maker even. 
Here is the only hot chocolate maker I've ever met--
Joël Durand in his shop in St. Rémy de Provence.  Just a photo.  Nothing juicy happened.  He did pick out some of his chocolats for me to taste, though.  It was my birthday in 2007...
Back to Laura.  She has a new book coming out this summer, too--
I plan to pre-order it at Amazon.
And last but certainly not least.  Laura's email to me today...

"I just spotted your blog at the end of your email.  What fun you've been having in Provence!  I love the post about the almond trees.  I need to find out more about this chef's assistant sabbatical you had.  It sounds like good material for a story. :)"

I have an outline.  And a beginning.  Thank you, Laura, for the encouragement!

Bon appétit, handsome chocolatiers and the women who write about them!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Temptation can come in many forms, mes amis.  Having been raised a good Southern Baptist, I consider myself something of an expert on the subject.  With just a few months until summer vacation and my July trip to France, I wake up each morning (now that I am back from the spring break trip) vowing to exercise my best self-control and willpower in order to take off some pounds (although I'd rather think of it in kilos since 1 pound = 2.2 kilos-- it sounds easier, doesn't it?).  I could never stop eating or starve myself in order to do this, but I promise myself to be more sensible, eat fewer carbs, and watch the sweets.  Arizona Tammy, who is going to France with me this summer, even wants a friendly competition (culminating in the winner buying the macarons- she is a smart one, isn't she?).
I was doing really well today.  Lime-flavored Greek yogurt for breakfast, some lowfat string cheese for morning snack, a hard-boiled egg and slices of roasted chicken for lunch.  And then along came Arles Lucy.  She limped up to my room in order to present me with this gorgeous pain au chocolat.  (She messed up her leg in Paris and really needs to get it seen by a doctor.  Are you reading this, Lucy?)  This lovely pâtisserie is the real deal, made at La Farm, an authentic French bakery in nearby Cary, NC.  Lionel Vatinet is a real Frenchie and Maître Boulanger, a Master Baker.  He opened La Farm in 1999.  I've sampled his bread before and it is truly délicieux.  Arles Lucy and I tried to sign up for his April French bread-making class, but hélas, it is already full, with two others on the waiting list ahead of us.  Maybe in May.
Anyway, I digress.  Just one bite of the pain au chocolat, I told myself.
Yeah, right.
And then, temptress that she is, Arles Lucy came to visit me again, this time bringing these little pink delights.
Haribo Tagada Pink candy.  I have never in my life turned down anything pink and this cute.  And refusing her offer would have been just plain rude.  While in Provence with the students, we visited the Haribo Candy Museum in Uzès.  Evidently, some of the candy made it home in her suitcase.  Merci, Lucy!  Tomorrow's another day, right?

Bon appétit, temptation!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tavel rosé

While in France, I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Mme P's good friend and colleague, Mme Boop.
I am sure we were having a deep conversation here just as Mme P caught us with her camera--

Mme P and Mme Boop are both English teachers and will be on their way to chez moi with their students in just a few days.  Je les attends avec impatience!   No, I never wait patiently.
Mme Boop and her sister gave us a tour of the Tavel vineyards.  Yes, that lovely dry rosé that I am so fond of.  That Tavel.  Seems Mme Boop's granddad had a major hand in acquiring the Tavel AOC.  The mistral wind was blowing mightily, but we braved the weather and took off with Sister Maguy to get a firsthand tour of the vineyards and the winery.

Vines are far as the eye can see--

Growing in three different types of soil.
Producing this rosé
Producing this one (I brought home a bottle)
And sandy soil
Producing this bottle.
The displays in the visitors' center / tasting room are very cleverly done, n'est-ce pas?
The vines are goblet shaped
or held on wires.
A vigneron's work is never done.  See the pile of sticks to the side of the tractor?  They were hand cut from the vines.  This must be done every year so that the vines will keep their shape and not grow out of control (the way vines will do when left to their own devices).  It must be done between November and March.  After the harvest and before the new growth begins.
Maguy most definitely knows her stuff and has devoted her life to Tavel wine.
She has the tattoo to prove it, too!
After our tour of the vineyards, we went to the winery, Les Vignerons de Tavel, for a tour of the facility.
Maguy and her key to the vat--
The key to the kingdom??
Boxes and boxes just waiting to be shipped to all you rosé lovers out there.
Then on to lunch at Mme Boop's house.  Hubby made lunch and poured the wine.  Well-trained, non?
Dessert was equally delicious... crumble with crème anglaise.
Or Mme Boop's fondant au chocolat-

It was a lovely day and I hated to see it end.  I didn't want to leave.
But I plan to return in July!!  Save a few bottles for me, s'il vous plaît!

Berry crumble or crisp is one of my favorite desserts.  Crumbles are the rage in France, too.
I found this at

Berry Crumble

Use just one type of berries or a combination of any of the ones listed below.

1 1/2 c. fresh blackberries
1 1/2 c. fresh raspberries
1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries
4 Tbsp. granulated white sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 c. butter

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
In a large bowl, gently toss together berries and white sugar.  Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Cut in butter until crumbly.  Press half of mixture in the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan.  Cover with berries.  Sprinkle remaining crumble mixture over the berries.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and topping is golden brown.
Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, crème anglaise, or all by itself!

Bon appétit, Tavel et les vignerons!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Notre Dame de Paris et la soupe à l'oignon

Just a few days ago, Arles Lucy and I browsed Shakespeare and Company for an hour or so (her first time!).

I found a book of D.H. Lawrence poems for Mme P.  We talked to a couple of the current residents as they read in the upstairs reading room.  I didn't take photos because, well, you aren't supposed to.  Arles Lucy didn't see the sign and was snapping away...  I did add my own Sabbatical Chef carte de visite to the bulletin board.  I just couldn't help myself and then I took a quick photo.  (It's on the very bottom-- not a clear photo, but I was in a hurry. I didn't want the ghost of George Whitman to catch me in the act.)
After we finished our shopping, we walked across the street, searching for a lunch spot.  You just can't ask for a better view...
 Notre Dame de Paris.   That morning, we had had a great explanation of cathedrals, thanks to the Amazing Amale, our ACIS guide.
 I wish all teachers could be as interesting as she is.
The Crown of Thorns was going to be on display later in the afternoon.  We couldn't stay.  I've never seen it and would really love to.  It was supposedly given to (or bought by?) Louis IX, Saint Louis, during the Crusades.  He built Sainte Chapelle, a jewel of Gothic architecture on the Ile de la Cité, to hold it.

Across the street from the cathedral, Arles Lucy and I found this little café/restaurant-
Fresh flowers on the table, a beautiful menu--

La soupe à l'oignon...
It was very, very good.  Worthy of a close-up photo of the bread and melted fromage.
My lunch today was good, a nice salad and tabouli, but the view wasn't quite the same...  Oh well.
I'll always have Paris, my memories, and my photos.

I've posted an onion soup recipe before, but I am always looking for new ones and I found this one on-line.   Elle est vraiment délicieuse, cette soupe!

French Onion Soup 2- La soupe à l'oignon
4-6 servings

6 large red or yellow onions, peeled, cut in half, and thinly sliced
Olive oil
1/4 tsp. sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 c. beef stock, chicken stock or a combination of the two (traditionally the soup is made with beef stock)
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dry thyme or a few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sliced toasted French bread
1 1/2 c. grated Swiss Gruyère cheese
Grated Parmesan

In a large saucepan, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium high heat until well-browned, but not burned, about 30-40 minutes or longer.  Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help with the caramelization.

Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the stock, wine, bay leaf, and thyme.  Cover partially and simmer until the flavors are blended, about 30 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Discard the bay leaf.

There are two ways to serve:

Use oven-proof individual soup bowls.  Ladle the soup into the bowls.  Cover with the toast and sprinkle with cheese.  Put under the broiler for 10 minutes at 350˚F or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned.

If you don't have oven-proof bowls, put the cheese on the toast and place it on a baking sheet and in the oven as listed above.  Ladle the soup into bowls and place the cheese toast on top of the soup.

Bon appétit, Notre Dame!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Almond blossoms

I've written about almond trees once, but I had no idea what I was writing about.  Not really.  Now I do.  Les amandiers were in full bloom last week in Provence.  Pink ones and white ones.  The smell is heavenly.  I had no idea what they even smelled like.  We don't have almond trees in North Carolina.  Or if we do, I don't know where they are and have never seen them.  The only thing I could possibly compare them to are the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.

When is someone going to invent a camera that records a photo and a smell?  Hurry up, smart people!
I went to L'Occitane En Provence at Southpoint Mall yesterday in search of almond scented lotions and potions.
They give out beautiful little shopping bags with your purchase--
And these shops really are found in Provence.  I've seen them all over- Arles, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, Avignon, Uzès...
I found two almond products, shower oil-

which I plan to use this morning--
and Savon Gourmand (yes, they had me right there with the name)- Delicious Soap- exfoliant et stimulant aux eclats d'amande - exfoliating and stimulating with flaked almonds.  It does smell delicious.  They got that right.

It's even in a beautiful little ceramic soap dish.

I also searched for a candle but didn't have any luck in that department.
Somewhere around my house I have some Burt's Bees almond milk beeswax hand creme.  I just need to find it.  And then sniff it and see if it really smells the way it should.
All the sniffing made me hungry, bien sûr.  And instead of making something relatively easy with almonds, I tackled macarons once again.  For really only the third time.  But these little gems are not easy to make.  I can almost see why Pierre Hermé charges a small fortune for his lovely little delights. (Arles Lucy bought me a box of them at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.  I tried not to wince when I saw the price.  I did keep the box.  And I did eat all but one of them.  I gave one to Mme P's adorable daughter.)

My photos do not do them justice.
I pulled out one of my books on macaron-making, made a shopping list, and off I went in search of almond flour.

I didn't find any, but I didn't look very hard.  I hate driving around all over town.  I just bought almond slivers, toasted them, and ground them in my coffee grinder (that I do not use for coffee, only spices and almonds).
(Note:  This almond soap sitting right next me smells really good! Merci, L'Occitane and sales associate Avanti!)
I decided to make my macarons green in honor of St. Patrick's Day.  And I like mint and chocolate together.  They are not as pretty as I would like, but I am not very good with a piping bag and goopy stuff.  I guess I just need more practice.
Almonds, of course-
Macaron batter-
 Macaron on the cookie sheet "drying"-
Book photo-

My finished product-
I think I will have one with my morning coffee!

Mint Chocolate Macaroons
from Macaroons:  30 Recipes for perfect bite-size treats, Love Food, Parragon Books Ltd, Bath, UK, 2011
Makes 16 small cookies

3/4 c. ground almonds
1 c. confectioners' sugar
2 extra large egg whites (should be at room temperature; if possible, separate them and let them sit out, covered loosely by a paper towel, for a few hours to allow some of the moisture to evaporate from the whites)
1/4 c. superfine sugar
1 tsp. peppermint extract
Green food coloring paste or liquid
Chocolate sprinkles

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
2 oz / 55 g milk chocolate, melted and cooled for 15 minutes

Place the ground almonds and confectioners' sugar in a food processor and process for 15 seconds.  Sift the mixture into a bowl.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the eggs whites in a large bowl and whip until holding soft peaks.  Gradually beat in the superfine sugar to make a firm, glossy meringue.  Beat in the peppermint extract and enough green food coloring to give a bright green color.

Using a spatula, fold the almond mixture into the meringue one-third at a time.  When all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, continue to cut and fold the mixture until it forms a shiny batter with a thick, ribbonlike consistency.

Pour the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch / 1-cm plain tip.  Pipe 32 small circles onto the prepared baking sheets.  Tap the baking sheets firmly onto a work surface to remove air bubbles.  Top with chocolate sprinkles.  Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 325˚F / 160˚C. (You can, of course, make them any size you wish.  Just try to be consistent so you can match them up.)

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Carefully peel the macaroons off the parchment paper and let cool completely.

To make the filling, beat the butter until pale and fluffy.  Sift in the confectioners' sugar and beat thoroughly until smooth and creamy, then fold in the melted chocolate.  Use to sandwich pairs of macaroons together.

They go quite well with café au lait, just in case you are interested.
 (my breakfast café au lait at the Hôtel Princesse Caroline in Paris)
I will have to seek further opinions on them.  Volunteers?

Bon appétit, les amandiers, Provence, et les macarons!