Sunday, November 30, 2014

Something Regional, Potluck Cartoon

An American Potluck in Paris
"I think maybe the invitation said to bring something regional."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pot Luck in Paris

We are pulling our anchor out of the Dordogne mud and heading up to Paris this week. The big occasion is sharing Thanksgiving with a gang of jet-setting American friends. Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner is planned for a little fish stew and scallops in a Provencal restaurant.  There will be no turkey on the menu and certainly not any of my favorite holiday treats-- cranberry sauce, Pepperidge Farm stuffing, and sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. The upside is that the comfort of old friends will bring the spirit of Thanksgiving to our table. 

However, I am more excited about the pot luck meal that we will be having on Friday. First because it will be held in an apartment in the elegant neighborhood Henry IV built--the Place des Voges, the type of apartment that I never thought I’d set foot in. Second because this is a chance to show off some of the wonderful delicacies of “our” far-from-the-maddening crowd region-- the duck and goose capital of the world. A region of long held food traditions. They are mostly peasant traditions.  Which means that one has to expand one’s notion of edibility. 

The first contribution that came to mind was duck confit. There’s a farm over the bridge, up the road, and across the ridge that makes the best. Their confit is served in the best restaurants in the region. No need to pay Parisian shop prices. I’ll have to head up to the farm boutique to place a special order. Nothing like trying to figure out the best way to transport 15 greasy duck legs when traveling by train. 

Next sprang to mind all the really “disgusting” things that we like to eat here. Pate made with pig snouts, blood sausage, and all sorts of flavors of dry sausages.  I decided to leave these delicacies off the list. A little bit too French. Well, then there is the train ride, I am afraid the pungent odors of these wonderful foods might seep out of their packaging and cause a stampede, either to throw me off of the train or to steal my goodies. The same goes for the creamy, just so salty, goat cheese made by Louise. And what about the walnut oil that is being milled and pressed as I write. That’s a bit too heavy. Hmm, maybe I’ll tuck in a little bottle to sprinkle that unforgettable earthy taste onto a salad and steamed vegetables.

 I will go to a different farm to pick up some foie gras. Creamy, rich, foie gras. Not from the confit farm because each farm has it’s particular specialty. The decision to take foie gras leads to thinking if I should take raisin bread from here or try my chances at finding it in Paris. Because nothing is better than a slice of foie gras on a thin slice of toasted raisin bread washed down by a small, golden, glass of sweet Monbazillac wine. 
Our final contribution to this pot luck will be chocolate. Chocolates created by a MOF, Meilleur Ouvrier de France. This designation is given to only the most extraordinary artisans in France. We have the good fortune to have an exquisite chocolate shop down the road in Perigueux. This is another purchase that has to wait until the last minute. The very dainty shop keeper will fill up a box of fresh assorted chocolates, tie the box with a ribbon and I will wait with anticipation to watch the delight in my friend’s eyes as they taste these small gourmet treats. Good things come in small packages!
It will have taken a while to collect my offerings for our communal dinner, but that is half the fun. Spending a moment visiting with these local artisans, watching the flocks of birds run around the free range farms, catching a glimpse into times gone by. These farmers and artisans are a major part of the region's economy, folks keeping family recipes and techniques alive, hard workers that preserve our rural landscape.

Here at home, on many nights most everything on our plates comes from within 15 miles of Bourdeilles. It will be a great pleasure to share these same items a bit further on up the tracks in the City of Lights. Our friends will not be in the heart of our beloved region, but they sure will get a taste of the flavor of our lives. The foods that are the heart of French tradition for all celebrations. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all - especially our families that we are missing. Think of me when you open that can of whole cranberry sauce (And, please, leave the marshmallows off my side of the sweet potatoes!)

links to some of our adventures:
La Bastide d’Opio    
Vins des Pyrenees
Musee Carnavalet
Musee Gustave Moreau
Boulangerie Poilane
Chateau de Monbazillac

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Summer's End - a repeat.....

Monday, November 10, 2014

Autumn Arrives in Bourdeilles

Bourdeilles, a small village in France.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Friday's Petite Aquarelle

12" x 16" framed size

$120 including shipping 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Even for the French.....

Why are cemeteries in France surrounded by great stone walls?

Because, even for the French, there is a time when accordion music is inappropriate.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Blanket of Chrysanthemums

November 1st is big holiday in France. It is Toussaint, All Saints Day. Well it’s actually a mixture  of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, but those are details for the church to quibble over. It’s a day when people head to the cemetery.  

There are two common architectural aspects of all French cemeteries:  great grey walls surround a great grey army of tombstones.  Even the smallest cemetery has a formidable presence of stone; even the grandest is a place of earthbound drear. Until Toussaint!  Big and little, threatening or dreary, all the cemeteries of France are gloriously filled with flowers on this day. To honor their ancestors, no one goes to the cemetery empty handed. Some folks will arrive with plastic flowers that will last until next year’s visit, but most will arrive with an overflowing pot of brightly blooming chrysanthemums. The crosses and tombstones of the cemetery will soon glow from the reflected color of this expansive autumnal bouquet.

Chrysanthemums are probably the flower of choice because they are colorful, bloom late, and do not mind a little frost. Because just like Halloween in Vermont, Toussaint is always cold and dreary. The real signal of winter’s approach. There is an expression in French “faire un temps de Toussaint” which refers to cold, damp, dreary days at any time of year. It seems sort of ironic that, with it’s pageant of glowing flowers, the cemetery is the “sunniest” place in the village. 

In France chrysanthemums are rarely used as garden decoration and taking one as a hostess gift is a quick way to loose a friend. That friend will either be upset because you foresee their imminent death or may take it that you are implying that they’re just as good dead as alive. 

During the summer it’s sweet to notice a row of chrysanthemums tucked away in the back corner of a garden. Spring cuttings are tucked in from last year’s plants and tended all summer with the hope of a strong plant with perfect blooms for the 1st week of November. Loved ones are thought of each time the plant is tended, replanted, and finally carried to the cemetery.  A touch of sadness mingled with a simple labor of love.

This past Saturday I tried to discreetly tuck into the cemetery to capture this parade of villagers, but the sense of respectfulness and the intimacy of the families prevented me from being a photographic voyeur. Instead I wandered from grave to grave. I peeked at couples that had arrived after other family members, too late to place their flowers front and center, and working discreetly to rearrange things.  Parents whispering little stories to their children about Meme or TonTon.  A husband filled a watering can to bring to his misty-eyed wife. 

The prescribed days and rituals of Toussaint have changed over the years, but I think if I was a ghostly spirit watching over the French landscape this past week, I would appreciate the gaiety of the chrysanthemums and take this blanket of color and warm sentiments as a good sign that it’s time to tuck my soul into a peaceful rest. 

For insights into french traditions and a great site for learning french I encourage you to check out Laura K. Lawless -