Friday, March 27, 2009

The Boucherie and the Supermarche in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

Our favorite Boucherie in Saint-Remy was Chez Marc & Maryse. They were a butcher shop as well as a Charcuterie, a pork butcher. We had peeked in the front window of Boucheries on our previous visits to France but had never actually ventured inside because we weren’t staying where we could cook. On this trip we rented a house for two months because our top priority was to have our own kitchen so we could experiment with the wonderful foods in the market and shops. 

We bravely entered their shop armed with a handwritten note of what we wished to purchase, written in French. We wanted to make our own steak tartare, a raw beef mixture seasoned with parsley, onions, mustard, capers, anchovies and a raw egg yolk, and serve it for dinner on the crusty French baguettes we had purchased earlier in the day. Inside we found a tiny shop with showcases filled with all sorts of beautiful meats, cheeses, pates, and daily specials of already prepared meals to take out. 

Marc was busy behind the counter rolling and tying a gorgeous crown roast for a customer. There were two other patrons in the shop so our turn would come after theirs. It was a surprisingly long wait because Marc was alone in the store and he pays his full attention to the current customer and everything is cut and prepared to order. The wait was far from unpleasant because it gave us time to ooh and ah over the gorgeous variety of pates, meats and cheeses in the case. We admired the beautifully larded and decorated prepared roasts, the filets of lamb and the brochettes of beef with tomatoes. In the poultry case there were the famous Bresse chickens. Bresse is a breed of chicken highly valued for their rich gamey flavor yet tender flesh. World gourmet experts consider the Bresse chicken the best tasting in the world. Demand is so high that few make it outside France. There was lapin, French rabbit and canette, female ducklings.

When our turn came my husband said, “Bonjour monsieur. Parlez-vous anglais?”  hoping Marc spoke some English.  In some of the other shops in town we usually got the answer, “Oui, un peu, a little.” No such luck here. “Non, monsieur,” Marc said.

My husband said no problem. He then bravely proceeded in his very best French, “Je voudrais un demi kilo boeuf hache, s’il vous plait,” and crossed his fingers that Marc would understand that we wanted a pound of ground beef and at the same time not ask us a question in return that we wouldn’t understand. Marc carefully patted the ground beef into a beautifully formed patty, placed it on a piece of white butcher paper and proceeded to weigh it. My husband reached over and took a pinch of the meat and ate it, hoping to indicate to Marc that we planned to eat it raw. Marc understood, then said something in French which we didn’t understand, reached in the counter and handed my husband a pinch of another ground meat for us to try. He called it “keffte” and it was his special house blend of steak tartare. It was nicely seasoned and very similar to how my husband makes his. We made a mental note to buy Marc’s house blend on our return visit.

We tried all of the different pates Maryse made. She had a gorgeous assortment of traditional French pates. Some were whipped smooth and contained the finest of goose and duck foie gras with other luxurious ingredients such as wine, port, or smoked salmon. Others were pork-based country style pates flavored with piquant black pepper. They were so beautiful that one day we asked her if she had studied at The Cordon Bleu, the prestigious culinary school in Paris. “Non monsieur,” she said as if everyone in France made fancy pates such as these. By the same token I could tell she was flattered by our comment. 

She also prepared daily take-out specials which were quickly gone by noon. A couple of times we were lucky enough to find ris de veau, sweetbreads, as the special. They were out of this world in her light cream sauce. Lasagna was also a frequent special, which surprised us until we remembered how close to Italy that Provence actually is. In fact, from Provence you can easily drive to Nice and back in one day. Nice was once part of the Italian Riviera and didn’t join France until 1860.

We went to Marc and Maryse’s shop at least three times a week during our two month stay. Often, but not always, another customer in the store spoke a little English and could help Marc understand what we were trying to say. Our French continued to improve and we felt more comfortable ordering in French. We learned that the wait could be long because Marc devoted his entire attention to one customer at a time and we planned accordingly. One day Marc put stemmed wine glasses on the counter, popped the cork of a local Cote du Rhone wine, poured three glasses and we toasted to our new friendship. When we returned home at Christmas we sent them a card with a handwritten note in French wishing them Joyeux Noel and saying how much we enjoyed getting to know them. Much to our surprise, a card from them appeared in our mailbox in North Carolina, written somehow in English, wishing us a Merry Christmas along with a short note thanking us for our friendship - a touching and very special moment for us. Whoever says the French aren’t nice to Americans doesn’t know what they are talking about.

The Supermarche in Saint-Remy was the equivalent of our supermarket. Compared to most of the charming shops in Provence, it’s not much to look at from the outside. One of the first things you notice is that the shopping carts are outside and chained to each other. Puzzled, we paused and watched as the lady in front of us inserted a euro in the slot and her cart came free. We proceeded to do the same and followed her inside of the store with our cart. 

Once inside we passed through a selection of clothing, books and music on our way to the food section. Many of the aisles looked similar to a US supermarket with cereals, coffee, canned goods, bottled waters, laundry detergents, paper products and the like. On one aisle we saw a huge selection of Nutella, a creamy, chocolaty hazelnut spread, in every size imaginable. We learned later that Nutella spread on a slice of baguette is the snack of choice of many French children when they return home from school in the afternoon.

The produce section was large and offered a nice selection, but the fruits and vegetables paled in comparison to the beauty of the fresh produce brought by local farmers to the weekly outdoor market downtown in the square. However, it was fun to use the tongs to select your baby lettuces from the basket as opposed to buying it in a prepackaged plastic bag like we do in the US. Everything was priced in kilos, which at first glance seemed high until we remembered that a kilo is two pounds.

The fish market was our favorite spot in the Supermarche. As you can see from the picture, a lot of the things were out in the open, iced down for display. All very enticing with exotic offerings from the nearby Mediterranean Sea.

When we finished shopping we headed for the check-out line which was a real learning experience. For one thing French checkers are tres vite, very fast, and voila, before you know it, your purchases have been pushed to the end and it’s time to bag and pay. Here you must bring your own bags and bag your own. I purchased a large, sturdy straw market bag with leather handles so I would feel French just for the purpose, but unfortunately I wasn’t a tres vite bag person, which could tend to be embarrassing at times as a foreigner. But, with a good attitude, I didn’t let that stop me from shopping at the Supermarche. After all, we came to France to enjoy the food. 

Afterwards, you take your shopping cart back out to the parking lot and return it to the cart line. As soon as you push the cart in, out pops your euro. Tres cool. It was a very clever way the French controlled the shopping carts and kept their parking lot tidy. US supermarkets could take a lesson from the French when it comes to shopping carts. 

There were many funny things as well as some embarrassing moments that happened to us on this trip, but the one in the Supermarche probably takes first prize. 

One day our shopping list was short so we decided to skip picking up the cart in the parking lot and instead use one of the hand held plastic baskets inside the store. Everything worked perfectly fine until it was time to check out. I didn’t know that I should have placed the plastic basket down in the bin provided at the beginning of the check-out counter. Instead I took the basket to where our groceries were accumulating from being checked. All of a sudden a very loud alarm went off and everyone started looking at me, including customers. The checker said something fast in French that sounded very much like a scolding and wagged her finger at me. That’s when I realized I’d done something terribly wrong and the alarm was going off because of me. As quickly as I could say, “Je suis desole,” she snatched the plastic basket, stomped around the counter and deposited it at the beginning of the check out line where I should have put it in the first place. I continued to say desole over and over again to no avail. Apparently the basket set off the alarm. Believe me, it’s important to know how to say “I’m sorry” in a foreign language and, I might add, have a good attitude . In fact I rank knowing how to say I’m sorry right up there with knowing how to ask where the bathroom is.   

I hope you can join us next time as we visit a winery as we reminisce about our 2007 culinary adventure to Provence. Until then, a bientot.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sisterhood Award

I have been honored by Kaye Barley, a fellow writer from North Carolina, with the Sisterhood Award. The Sisterhood Award is an award from bloggers to bloggers in recognition of a blog spot which shows attitude and/or gratitude. Kaye’s blog, Meanderings and Muses, is a place for friends to share thoughts and conversations about anything and everything. I encourage you to stop by Kaye’s delightful blog and pay her a visit as we say in the south. 

I wish to pass this Sisterhood Award on to some of my friends who share my passion for writing: Lynn, Kudzu Kottage, Brenda Kaye Ledford, Blue Ridge Poet, Shirley, Dogs, Puppies & Prose and Judy, It is what it is. 

If this wasn’t the Sisterhood Award I would also pass it on to two members of my wonderful prose critique group who patiently listen and share their comments on my writing of my memoir twice a month, Jerry, Jerry the Writer Guy and Richard, A Piece of my Mind. They both have great witty and intellectual blogs, but far be it from me to give men girly stuff.

I also would like to pass this to some of my new friends from around the world who share my passion for food. Two North Carolina foodies, Penny, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen and Judy, Judy’s Kitchen in New Bern. Tennessee neighbor Katherine, Smoky Mountain Cafe who blew up from New Orleans after Katrina. Dar, Girlichef from her tiny kitchen in Indiana to Mary at One Perfect Bite. Culinary Wannabe in the big apple, Sophie, Sophies Foodie Files in Brussels and Selby, Selby’s Food Corner in Jakarta. 

In keeping with the tradition of passing this award forward, here are the rules. The Sisterhood Award is an award from bloggers to bloggers in recognition of a blog spot which shows attitude and/or gratitude. 
1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate up to 10 blogs which show great attitude and/or gratitude
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog, or sending them an email.
5. Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.

This is my gift to you for taking the time to visit my kitchen and leave your comments. Enjoy the Sisterhood Award, post it on your blog and pass it on to your blogger friends. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Blogger Aid Cookbook

Hunger is an ever growing problem around the world. Fortunately a group of international food bloggers, Val from More Than Burnt Toast, Ivy from Kopiaste, and Giz from Equal Opportunity Kitchen, formed Bloggeraid with the express purpose of fighting world famine. 

This gorgeous cookbook is a fundraising event and 100% of the profits from the sale will be directed to School Meals, a program of The World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations frontline agency. Bloggers from around the world are invited to submit a recipe for the cookbook. Click on this link to Bloggeraid to learn more. Time is of the essence as the deadline for the cookbook is March 31. Here is my submission to this worthy program.

Red Snapper with Ginger Soy Drizzle

This is only a preview. For the recipe you’ll have to buy the book.

Friendship Award

I have been doubly blessed today. Selby of Selby’s Food Corner and Dar of Girlichef have both given me the Friendship Award. Thank you both. I am honored by your friendship.

I belong to the North Carolina Writers' Network Netwest and in the fall of last year I encouraged Glenda Beall, our program coordinator, to put together a class on how to start a blog. She did and I am so grateful to her. Ten of us sat in a small library room and, with the help of Glenda and instructor Kay Lake, started our very own blog. I jumped in with both feet. Before I knew it, I had two blogs, My Carolina Kitchen and Island Time in Abaco, which is a companion to a memoir I'm writing about following a dream and living on a tiny private island in the northern Bahamas. Thank you Glenda – this award is for you.

Glenda is a published poet and writer as well as an instructor on writing life stories and memoirs at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. Her personal blog, Writing Life Stories, is filled with interesting people, places and poetry.

Along with the Friendship Award comes this message: "These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated." It also says: "Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

I would have never believed six months ago that I would have two blogs that have given me the opportunity to meet such a wonderful group of friends throughout the world. Thank each of you that visit my kitchen. I wish to pass the Friendship Award along from Selby and Dar. Thank you both. Without blogging I would have never had the opportunity to meet you.

Kathryn of Here, Where I Am

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Patisserie and Boulangerie in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France

Two of our favorite shops in France were the Patisserie, the pastry shop, and the Boulangerie, the bakery. In some Patisseries, but not all, you can purchase the one essential thing you must buy every single day – the French baguette. In the Patisserie shown above they only sell pastries. When we asked for a baguette one day, the beautiful mademoiselle pointed her finger to herself and said, “Patisserie.” Then she took her delightfully long finger and pointed out the door and said, “Boulangerie.” Meaning, for those who she thought didn't speak French, we don’t sell baguettes here. Although we continued to purchase beautiful desserts in this shop, you can be sure we never asked for a baguette there again.

Here are some of the pastries we purchased from various Patisseries. Notice how beautifully a Patisserie packages your purchase. Tarte Citron was my favorite and I enjoyed how different shops decorated the tart.

A French baguette is essential but they turn hard and stale quickly, so going to get one becomes part of your daily routine. We had heard stories about French people rising early, going to the Boulangerie and walking home with a baguette tucked under their arm. Well, it’s true and we found out why they go early - because by noon most bakeries have sold out of bread.

At first we weren’t particular about where we bought our baguette but quickly learned some were superior to others. But how should we decide where to go? Easy. We got up early and followed the locals to see where they go to get their baguette. We found the Boulangerie pictured below. Early in the morning the lines snaked out the tiny shop into the street, but the wait was worth it. They had the very best baguette in town. They also sold some pastries so we didn’t have to make an extra stop for dessert. Notice the savory tomato tarts in their case. They were wonderful and we had them several times for lunch with a salad. So, just as we learned with the bistros, follow the locals and you won’t be disappointed.

I hope you can join us next time as we go to the Boucherie, our favorite butcher shop, and the big supermarket, the Supermarche. Neither place spoke English and it was a very interesting experience. A bientot.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fabulous Food Blog Award

I just received a “Fabulous Blog Award” for My Carolina Kitchen from fellow North Carolina writer Kathryn Stripling Byer of Here, Where I Am. Kathryn, a published poet, writer and teacher, is North Carolina’s current Poet Laureate, appointed by the Governor in 2005 to serve as an ambassador of North Carolina literature, past and present. Kathryn and I are members of the North Carolina Writers Network, Netwest.

Vicki Lane, mystery writer and author of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries, passed the “Fabulous Blog Award” to Kathryn. I am honored to be in the presence of such wonderful writers.

I really appreciate this award from Kathryn. There are many wonderful blogs that I enjoy and they aren’t necessarily all about food, but after all it is my first passion. The following blogs are representative of interesting food throughout the world, including South Africa and France. I am passing the "Fabulous Blog Award" along to:

These five blogs are invited to pass along the “Fabulous Blog Award.” The rules aren’t mine, they came with the award. You must pass it on to five other Fabulous Bloggers in a post. You may find their email addresses on their Profile page or, if not available, post as a "Comment" to their latest post.

You must include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them. You must list five of your “Fabulous Addictions” in the post.
You must copy and paste these rules in the post.
Right click the award icon and save to your computer; then post with your own awards. To my way of thinking, this is a nice tribute and it widens the reading audience.

Along with passing the award along, the rules say you must list five of your “Fabulous Addictions.”  

These are my passions for seeking the good life or, as the French say, La Bonne Vie.

1. I love books, but I’m a Foodie and can’t have enough cookbooks.
2. The south of France is a Foodie’s heaven and I wish we could spend more time there.
3. The Abaco Islands. I miss our friends and the good times we shared when we lived there.
4. Shoes, what woman can have enough shoes.
5. For good measure, throw in a few baubles, say a little Louie Vuitton bag, a couple of pieces of nice jewelry and a passport. 

Thanks again Kathryn for the “Fabulous Blog Award.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bistros of Provence, Part 2. Le Petite France, The Grand Hôtel Nord-Pinus, Le Café La Nuit & Bistrot Decouverte

Le Petite France is a bistro located between the small villages of Paradou and Maussane, just south of Saint-Remy-de-Provence. We dined al fresco style under white market umbrella shaded tables. The menu consisted of four courses.

Tart of warm garlicky puree of salt cod tart with potatoes or cheese and garnished with fava beans, a Provence specialty.

Roasted pigeon with potatoes and stuffed tomatoes was followed by a cheese course (not pictured).

The menu called this dessert assiette gourmande. It was the best dessert of our entire trip.

Maitres Cuisiners de France signifies that the chef of Le Petite France is a member of the prestigious Master Chefs of France.

We now travel to a larger city nearby, Arles, an old Roman town. The Place de Forum is steeped in history but now is the heart of modern life in Arles and a good place to start exploring. An outdoor café is the perfect place to sit and observe life in the city. 

Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus in the Place de Forum, Arles.

The Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus is a gorgeous old hotel built around two surviving columns from a second century temple. We had dined here on a previous trip several years ago and enjoyed an elegant three course gourmet meal on their terrace, soaking up the atmosphere of this lovely city. For dessert that day we sampled a memorable Clafouti Framboise that we’d seen featured in Bon Appetit magazine’s Provence issue and drank an excellent local wine from the nearby city of Orange with our meal.

Today we decided to dine across the street at Le Café La Nuit.

Le Café La Nuit looked just like one of Vincent van Gogh’s painting and we succumbed to its feeling of walking into an old haunt of the artist’s to have lunch. Van Gogh painted over 300 canvases in the fifteen months he lived in Arles. This café is renovated to look as it did in his painting Cafe du Soir. We each ordered an appetizer and an entrée.

I think it’s fun to glance back and compare the meals. To me the portions at Le Café La Nuit were larger and more Americanized compared to Le Petite France or the dessert at the Hotel Nord-Pinus.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the next time we visit Arles, we’ll dine at the Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus and leave the table at La Café La Nuit for the tourists.

Bistrot Decouverte in Saint-Remy was our favorite local bistro.

Bistrot Decouverte quickly became our favorite local bistro in Saint-Remy and we dined there often over our two month stay. We got to know the owners, Claude and his wife Dana, and frequently stopped by mid-morning for a tiny cup of French espresso and to visit with them. Claude had been a wine buyer in London for a number of years and his bistro had an excellent wine cave. Throughout our stay Claude made many great suggestions of local wines for us to try.

Gorgeous dessert that my husband couldn’t help but sample before photographing.

One day we asked Claude and Dana if they ever served Lapin – rabbit. Not often they said, because it’s difficult to prepare. We went on to explain that we had made it at home but hadn’t been happy with our results and were anxious to try the true French Lapin. We asked them to call us if it was ever the plat du jour. About a week later I was walking along the boulevard when I heard someone call my name. Surprised that I might know someone in France, I looked around. It was Dana. We’re having Lapin this Sunday she said. Would you like to make a reservation? Needless to say I said Oui Madame, s’il vous plait. The  Lapin was delicious and was prepared a la moutarde – with mustard sauce. Claude quickly sold out of it and, much to our good fortune, featured it several more times during our visit.

Sunday entertainment on the boulevard near Bistrot Decouverte makes dining all that more special.

Patricia Wells said that she was never disappointed with Le Bistrot du Paradou as I mentioned in my last post. We felt the same way about Bistrot Decouverte. It didn’t take us long to learn it’s smart to get to know the owners. Claude, Dana and Bistrot Decouverte were some of our best memories of the trip.

Please note: Since this post was written, Bistrot Decouverte has changed hands. Owners Claude and Dana owned and operated the bistro for 7 years and sold it 2011. They've opened a fabulous new Italian and pizza restaurant across the street at La Cantina at 19 Boulevard Victor Hugo in Saint-Remy. Be sure to read my post on La Cantina here- by far the best pizza in town and in our opinion, in the world.  

Thank you for joining us on our 2007 trip to bistros of Provence. I hope you will join us again next time as we visit the boucherie –butcher shop, the boulangerie – bakery, and the patisserie - pastry shop in Saint-Remy.

This will be linked to Oh the Places I've Been at the Tablescaper.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bistros of Provence, Part 1. Lunch at one of Patricia Well's favorite bistros - Le Bistrot du Paradou

Le Bistrot du Paradou is one of Patricia Wells’ favorite bistros in Provence. Located in the tiny village of Paradou, it is a short fifteen minute drive from Saint Remy. We had stopped by earlier in the week to reserve a table for the Thursday lunch as that was the day they were serving the wonderful local lamb, l'agneau du Pays. 

We had planned this two month culinary adventure to Provence many months in advance. Since we would have our own kitchen at our disposal and planned on cooking, I brought along three Patricia Wells cookbooks: Bistro Cooking, Patricia Wells at Home in Provence and The Provence Cookbook, which ended up being the most useful of the three. Not only did it have fabulous recipes, it included all of Patricia’s tips on her favorite restaurants, where to shop for olive oil, wines, breads, cheeses, where the best markets were – essentially an excellent tour guide of the region.

When we arrived at Le Bistrot du Paradou, owner Jean-Louis Pons greeted us. He is the perfect French host and carefully protects his bistro’s reputation by never allowing more people in than he can comfortably seat. Reservations are advisable as this popular bistro has been discovered and is frequented by locals as well as tourists.

I had taken The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells with us to lunch.  My husband Meakin, in his best French, asked Jean-Louis if he and his wife Mireille would autograph their pictures featured in the book. “J’adore Patricia Wells,” he said as he smiled broadly, poured us both a generous glass of wine and took our cookbook to the kitchen for Mireille to sign.

During the cheese course, Jean-Claude returned to our table and asked to borrow the Patricia Wells cookbook. Confused, we watched as he took the book to another table where a woman was dining. He sat and visited with her for a few minutes, looked through our cookbook, and then rose to greet more customers at the door. We continued to wonder what was going on as our cheese tray arrived. 

Later the lady who had been visiting with Jean-Claude came over to our table to return our cookbook and introduced herself as Fran Warde. Fran, a cookbook writer and co-author of My French Kitchen with Joanne Harris, was visiting bistros such as this one throughout Provence and writing a new book.

On our drive back to Saint Remy we stopped in the nearby tiny village of Maussane-les-Alphilles and visited the Moulin “Jean Marie Cornille,” a mill dating back to the early 1600's, to purchase a couple of bottles of Patricia Wells favorite olive oil. This is the oil that Patricia calls “the Chateauneuf-du-Pape of olive oil.” We purchased two bottles, a red label, Fruite Noir, and their gold label, Vierge A.O.C.  

Fountain in the charming Village of Maussane-les-Alphilles

We noticed another bistro to try on our next visit to this beautiful area, Le Petite France. Outside was proudly displayed Maitres Cuisiners de France, meaning their chef was a member of the prestigious Master Chefs of France. 

While we were here, we made a reservation at this charming restaurant. I hope you’ll join us there for another dejeuner as we continue on our 2007 culinary tour of Provence.

This will be linked to Oh the places I've been at the Tablescaper.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Market Day 3 in the south of France. Discovering Tellines, the tiny baby clams from the Camargue region.

A French specialty in Provence, tellines are tiny baby clams no bigger than your fingernail. They are harvested by fisherman in the nearby Camargue region south of Arles. The lady selling the tellines in the market gave us her special recipe. The only problem was she spoke no English. Understanding a few French words along with hand gestures, we understood that the clams were sandy and should be rinsed well and prepared with olive oil, garlic and parsley. We purchased a demi kilo (one pound) and headed home to give them a try. There's Italian parsley growing in the tiny herb garden at our house so we'll snip a little and proceed with the recipe.

The owners converted an old well into an herb garden.

French Tellines

Wash, rinse and soak tellines in salt water for several hours to remove the sand. Drain well. Toss in a skillet over medium heat with a small splash each of extra virgin olive oil and white wine (our addition). Cook for about 1 – 2 minutes until they open, taking care not to overcook.

Toss some chopped fresh parsley and garlic in the skillet and stir to incorporate with clams. Serve immediately in bowls with plenty of napkins.

Let's go to the terrace and try the Tellines.

Bon Appetit

Join us next time on our tour of Provence as we visit one of Patricia Wells’ favorite bistros – Le Bistrot du Paradou. While we were dining there we met Fran Warde, author of numerous cookbooks, including My French Kitchen, coauthored with Joanna Harris. Until then, bonne chance - have a good day.