Shopping, Eating and Exploring

Come along with me and discover some off-the beaten paths in Southwest France

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

T'was the night before the night before.....

I am listening to the weather reports and thinking California isn't such a bad place to be. It is a little chilly today, maybe 55, but brilliant sun and blue skies. Lot's of rain in my part of France, and with the short, dark days, they need the holidays just to brighten this time of year. England and most of Europe seem to be under an early cloak of winter. Staying by the fire with a good book, a ball of yarn, and nice glass of Bordeaux sounds like just the ticket.

Except for some food shopping tonight, gifts are purchased, and most are even wrapped. Tree and house are decorated, and the kid is home from Lexington. The things I like to do the best, baking, knitting and some jewelry making are each pulling me with projects to finish.

I haven't written a card yet, but really enjoy the ones I received. I used to write cards on the plane as we left New York each year for a December trip. But I am not going anywhere this week.

So for all of us who havn't finished the shopping, card writing, decorating, wrapping, etc.....I invite you to sit down, pull the blanket around you, reach for that cup of tea, or glass of wine. The holiday's are over in the wink of an eye, if something isn't finished, the world doesn't end, and really, no one will notice. Take a little time and enjoy what you have finished, and that we have all made it through another year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Cookie by Any Other Name

December and the holiday season is well under way, everywhere. My friends in France have emailed about the Marche' du Noel's in their villages, the lights have gone up, turkeys ordered, and travel plans made. Most of my friends stay home, and friends and relatives come to them. Dinners are planned and each village seems to have a party on New Year's Eve. Everyone; young and old attends, and they can be quite lively.

This week was the annual cookie party, and the competition was fierce. This years cookies were really the best, overall. I don't know who made what, that was all kind of a blur, but I loved the peppermint, chocolate meringues , the peanut butter, the pretzel shaped ones, the coconut bar, the gingerbread snowflake...did I miss one? I haven't tasted them all yet. Well done ladies. To me it isn't really Christmas until I have gotten into the kitchen and made a few different cookies. It takes me back to the baking of my grandmother, and great-grandmother. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Sunday my daughter comes home, and we will finish all the Christmas knitting, and I will get a little jewelry making done, and of course, bake some more cookies. Here is an old recipe, super easy, and always well received.
Peanut Butter Kisses
18 ounces smooth peanut butter (not a fancy brand)
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 bag Hershy Kisses
Some flour
Preheat oven to 350
Stir peanut butter, sugar and eggs together until combined. Dust hand with flour, and shape dough into a ball, a bit smaller than a ping pong ball. Place on a cookie sheet about 2-inches apart. I use parchment paper, but it is a personal preference. Bake for 12 minutes, or until cookies look a little dry on the surface and have a few cracks in them. Take out and push an unwrapped kiss into each one. Let cool completely.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shopping Opportunities!

Along with the anticipation that leads up to the holidays, I have been waiting for the call that tells me "the goods are here". The call came just after Thanksgiving, and I picked up my shipment yesterday, just in time for Alameda Point Antique Market tomorrow. That meant today was unloading, unpacking, repacking, and figuring out just what to take.

There are lot's of plates: Majolica, Quimper, Comedie, and purple, blue, green, red, blue, and mulberry transferware. I think it looks terrific when all the colors are mixed. I also have linens: whites, sheets, window panels, ticking, and toile. Giant tian bowls, confit pots, and a garde fromage were also on board. I have some terrific large wooden rosary beads (one with a Stanhope), hotel silver, French doll furniture, infant chairs, and some blue cafe chairs. I can't leave out the Souvenir du Marriage and a charming set ready for a creche.

Ok, time to go back to work. Please come out to Alameda Point, tomorrow, Sunday December 6th, booth G-8.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Ah, Thanksgiving. For cooks, (like me) and non-cooks alike it's a great holiday. The menu is set, there are very few surprises. Everyone coming together and pitching in one way or another. One of my favorite holidays, because it is just about the food.

Yesterday, while wandering a little aimlessly around Target, I was approached by a reporter who was querying shoppers about what they were looking to purchase for holiday gifts. I was caught untypically speechless. It isn't that I don't love shopping (I do) or that I am not planning on buying gifts, (I am). My focus has been on what I can MAKE this year for gifts.

In the last couple of years, I have learned to make jewelry, and started knitting again. The photo today is of a couple of elves that I made the other night, needle felting. I use a lot of vintage and antique pieces when I make jewelry, so each piece is unique. I will be posting some of these items for sale in the coming days.

One of the best holidays I spent was up in New Hamphsire. We had just returned from successfully buying our house in France. We were feeling that giddiness from starting a new adventure. The rules for Christmas was, handmade, reused, or recycled. Everyone was busy sewing, painting, knitting, and going through cupboards looking for perfect gifts. I didn't realize what a talented group this was. That Christmas was 10 years ago, this year.

This Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for my husband, my daughter, my friends and extended family and all the trimmings life has brought me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beau Temps!!!

The little icon on my phone and lap top keeps me informed of the weather in France on a daily basis. While I lived in New York, we watched the weather channel . My friends in California don't understand why anyone would need to do that. Certainly, in California, we don't need to watch the weather channel. Each day seems to be pretty much like the next, sunny, maybe a little morning fog, cooler in the winter, perhaps an occasional shower or storm might roll in during the winter.

My French friends don't understand my fascination with the weather, either. There isn't a thing you can do about it, so why waste the time endlessly discussing it? Now, their health, that is something worth talking about. The last two weeks, in France, I know they have had buckets of rain. The days are shorter, leaves have fallen, and it is a different place than what I left just a couple of weeks ago. I wonder how all the clothes get dry, most people don't have a dryer.

For a country that doesn't generally like to discuss the weather, they sell a lot of thermometers and barometers. The photograph today is a barometer I bought at a brocante several years ago. I loved the graphics, the size and the fact it had seen it's fair share of "tempetes". I just assumed it wouldn't work. I hung it over my bed in France and didn't give it another thought. That is until a large spring storm was brewing....and viola! The arms moved. It has hung above my bed for at least six years, and continues to inform me of "beau temps" and "pluie".

Tempete: Storm
Beau temps: Good weather
Pluie: Rain

Friday, October 30, 2009

Someone pointed out to me that when people travel, there is a certain "transition" time. You are plucked out of your familiar surroundings. Then, deposited on unfamiliar territory. Who hasn't woken in the dark of night and had to take a minute to figure out where they were? It can make some people cranky. You can't understand the language, food is different; in fact nothing is really the same. Don't you just love it? If you have been away from home for a long time, you might also experience transition time coming home.

The French are different. They drive cars the size of Altoid tins, they hang their clothes on laundry lines after the 60 minute wash cycle, they garden and compost, they don't shop on Sundays, or after 7pm on any day, they still take a two hour lunch on weekdays, they turn off lights when no one is in the shop, they burn big piles of garden waste, they hunt, fish, and forage in the woods. They also have smaller beds, homes, and Christmas lists. Breakfast is only cafe, croissant or bread, and maybe juice.

Here in California, I am nearly mowed down by a neighbors car the size of a moving van, my laundry is done in forty minutes; start to finish. The gardens in my neighborhood are beautiful, but don't produce a thing to eat, I can shop 24/7, drive through a restaurant to pick up lunch, and wolf it down while I am driving. Lights in all the office buildings are on all night, you are fined $400 for a second offense if you use your fireplace on a spare-the-air night, my friends husbands fly to Montana to go hunting, I have a king sized bed....well, you get the idea.

So, when people ask me what I do with my time in France, besides shopping for antiques, I don't really have to search for an answer. I am making jam, knitting, visiting with friends, and enjoying the time to do the things we never have time to do at home. And I think this is where the French have gotten it right. Sunday lunch, the most important meal of the week, is a family/friends affair that lasts all afternoon. Imagine, just sitting and enjoying a wonderful meal with people you care about.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Packing up and Getting Ready to Go

I hate packing up. I hate having to say good bye to friends, and I really hate the thought of the brocantes and vide greniers that I will be missing. Also, I'll miss the cepes that are just coming in, the truffles next month. So, I pack as much as I can into the last few days.

As this trip draws to a close, I stop and savor every view. When I am home in California, on one of our perfect sunny days, I can close my eyes and see the stone buildings, the endless rows of vines, and almost feel a little part of France.

Besides the things I buy to bring home, I always seem to pick-up something a little more intangible to carry home. Last spring, I came home and started a compost pile. All my neighbors and friends in France do this; not because it's trendy, but because it would be silly and wasteful not to have one. All of our French neighbors hang clothes on the line. My neigborhood in California, sadly, doesn't allow clothes lines. Now that is silly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Life of the Brocantuer

There are a lot of reasons that I have made part of my life in France, but a big one is brocanting. Brocante, literally used household goods, but for many people it means seeking out the treasurers of everyday life that someone has discarded or left behind. The French have an historically high standard of design for decorative arts that carries over into almost every product manufactured or hand made since Napoleon legislated it. And let's face it, there is just something about French stuff that sings to a lot of people.

So, cut to 6am, it's dark, drizzly and my friend, Lisa and I are getting up in some small village in the Sarthe to find our way to the Parc Expositions for the monthly market in Le Mans. We give a bit of thanks to Joan, a neighbor who lent us her TomTom GPS finder. How did we find these markets without them?

At 8am (still dark) The men at the gate are checking business cards or other ID, as this show is only for professionals. The set up starts about the same time, so people are unpacking and setting out as" le monde" push in. The show shuts down at noon, there are between 800 and 1,000 dealers, so a lot to see, in a short time. The pace is a bit frantic.

As the sky starts to lighten, the drizzle continues. Not a really downpour, so no one is too worried about covering up their stuff. There is an inside section, but a lot of dealers are outside, exposed to the elements. The market draws a lot of buyers/sellers from Paris and the prices reflect that. A lot of art, furniture, decorative smalls, industrial, nautical and wonderful things. Some prices were over the moon, some much more reasonable. After slogging through for four hours, we meet up for a lunch of steak frites with friends, to compare notes. Everyone saw the adorable child sized mannequin. The seller was firm at 300euros. That is $450, before shipping. William pointed out that yesterday, at the show in Chartres, there wasn't a stain on the mannequin, but it hadn't stayed out of the rain. We all passed on that one. Katie scored a couple of old handpainted tamborines, I bought a tall, stacked wire bin, painted green, William did find a great adult sized mannequin at a more reasonable price.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Well, it did warm up today, but the morning started off at a frosty 29 degrees. Brrrrrr! Since we were siting outside last Sunday in the blazing sun in Bordeaux, this is quite a change. The unexpected frost has turned some of the vines brown, by passing the fall colors. Oh well.

I drove down to the Lot yesterday to have a knitting session with my Ravelry friends. Rowena's husband, (who really should get husband of the year award) cooked Sunday lunch for us. A roast, brussel sprouts, corn, roasted carrots and potatoes, mashed potatoes, and, be still my heart, Yorkshire pudding!!!! Fabulous! Also, congratulations on Mabel, the newest member of the family, born a few days late.

Debbie and Rowena are both inspiring knitters, turning out one dazzling project after another. They inspire me, as well as translate French patterns, pick-up my drop stitches, and otherwise enhance the time I spend over here. We missed Karen yesterday.

The drive down into the Lot takes me through vines, into prune and orchard country. Towns are small, rustic, and largely unspoiled. Rowena's and her neighbors raise chickens, organic beef, one makes goats cheese, another sandals. It is really a place to discover what is important.

Today, I have been packing up to go to Le Mans and meet William who will take everything back to California for me. (and for only $5,000) We will get a chance to make some purchases at the huge show in Le Mans on Wednesday. Saturday is the Nouveau Vin et Brocante Foire in Bordeaux.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fruits of the Harvest

On Monday, the warm weather seemed to disappear and we welcomed a cool evening and brisk morning. Today it just felt chilly. As I headed to the market for some supplies, I could really see the changes in the vines. The harvest has just concluded, and already the vineyards are turning the yellows, reds and golds.

A few days ago, my friend Lisa made some suggestions for the surplus figs and pomegranates. "Pomegranate jam is just the taste of Fall". She sent me her recipe, which I will put at the end of this post. I've made a lot of different kinds of jams and jellies, but never pomegranate. Lisa starts with 31/2 cups of pomegranate juice. Have you ever opened a pomegranate? How do you juice those little seeds? After a little experimentation, I came up with something that doesn't require a juicer, or pectin, which I couldn't find here in the market.

Three or four pomegranates, seeded. Here is a trick from my friend Imeileen; seed them in a bowl full of water. No pink spots on white shirts, and the white bits float to the top. Drain most, but not all of the water.

Measure how much water and seeds you have. Now here is the tricky part, French markets sell a zillon different kinds of sugar, including one that says "Special pour Gelees et Confitures". I used not quite 2/3's of the volume of seeds to sugar. Add some lemon juice. Bring to a boil and wait till it thickens a bit. Strain and pour into properly prepared jars. Viola!

The color is brillant, I controlled the sweetness, and used up the pomegranates!
Here is Lisa's recipe, which I will try on my pomegranates in California.

3 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin (2 oz)
4 1/2 cups sugar

Prepare 3 pint-sized jars. In a large kettle, combine the pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and pectin. Over high heat, bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and stir to blend. Bring to a second rolling boil, then boil for exactly 2 minutes. Remove jelly for heat immediately when the time is up. Let stand a minute to allow foam to form, then carefully remove the foam. Pour hot jelly quickly into hot jars, filling the jars within about 1/8 inch of the tops. Carefully wipe off the rim of the jar. Put lid on each jar as it is filled, screwing band on as tightly as you comfortably can. Cool jars away from drafts on a towel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Early Flights Out

Michael is headed home this morning. Flight leaves Bordeaux at 6am, so counting backwards; he needed to check-in at 5am, the drive is an hour, so leave the house at 4am. In other words, 3:15am wake up call for us.

The last day, whether it is for Michael, a house guest, or me is always flavored with a little bittersweet taste. We all look forward to getting back home, but there are always one or two things left undone on any great trip. For Michael and I, it is often the "find" left undiscovered, or the meal we missed. After lunch yesterday in a nearby village, we wandered around, admiring the views and architecture, decided to take a drive. Since it was his last day, direction was all up to him.

We headed south, going through St Foy, stopping at the factory outside of Duras that sells prunes dipped in chocolate. From Duras, it was due south towards Marmande, hanging a right at the river, and following it west. The weather has turned cooler the last couple of days and the air was crisp.

A vintner had told me that as soon as the grapes are harvested, the leaves on the vines give up, and start turning gold and red. The change of colors in the vineyards is almost over night.

I have a little over a week left, and a lot to finish up. Tomorrow: adventures with Pommegrante Jam.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Brocante, Brocante, Brocante!

If it's Sunday, it's must be flea market day. While most of France sleeps in after a late Saturday night, antique dealers and collectors are on the hunt at an early hour. The market in Bordeaux takes place every Sunday morning, starting before it's light, with vendors packing up when the noon church bells start ringing.

While Bordeaux is a lovely city, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Place Meyard, where the market takes place is a rather seedy area. An ethnic melting pot that attracts upscale and homeless alike. Every visit I have made in the last ten years has been marked by the crazy guy who tells his tale of woe from the top of his lungs to the taunts of nearby vendors. He is obviously a fixture.

The nuts and bolts of the market are the vendors and their inventories. Today there was more junk than usual, but a nearby, three day fair may have pulled some dealers who would normally be at the show. I did score four wicker cafe chairs, a wonderful crown, transferware plates, and a shell frame to list just a few items.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Back Home in France

After a week on the road visiting Normandy, Loire, and Paris, it's nice to be home. It was raining when we left Paris and quite cool. After driving two hours south, the sun broke through and it was much warmer.

It was really nice to be back at the house. Jim and Sally, my partners here, are here for the first time in a couple of years so we are spending some time catching up. Weather has been warm and we have had dinners out in the garden with our neighbors up the lane. Unusual for October. The vendage is well under way. The narrow roads are clogged with trucks filled with grapes, or with the the waste left after the grapes are crushed. They dump the waste back in the vineyards to be turned in for mulch. The air is filled with the smell of fermenting grapes.

We are looking forward to some serious antique shopping this weekend. The Grand Brocante in Rauzan is this weekend and that is always a great show. Let's hope the weather holds!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jambon et Brocate

Ok, Fall in Paris can mean many things; Fashion Week, the running of the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, the International Auto Show, or the Jambon et Brocate. Jambon is ham, in all it's wonderful guises, and brocante is literally; used household goods (ANTIQUES!!!!) When you put the two together, you have a two week show (twice a year) in a Parisian suburb. You can walk the aisles searching for the perfect champagne bucket to the smell of roasting pork. Only the French would think of putting these two together.

I love this show because the variety and quality of goods is fabulous, but the prices, oh la la! I did find some country hand-loomed linen corn sacks, and Patti scored a table cloth out of the same material that is 30 feet long. There were three of us, and we were loaded down as the got on the train to return to Paris.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Honfleur, Normandy and now Paris

We stayed two nights in lovely Honfleur. Tall, narrow buildings line the waterfront. People were taxed on the width, not the height of the buildings so they went up quite high. The town is at least 1,000 years old, and somehow escaped the bombing during World War II.

We all drove down the coast to the American Cemetery across from Omaha Beach. The scope of the landing expedition is hard to take in. Walking up the cliffs to the old German embankments, you realize a life was lost every foot. If isn't an easy hike and hard to imagine doing it under enemy fire.

On the drive to Paris, we made a stop at Giverny, to take another look at Monet's garden. Lovely even on the first of October. Nice lunch in a small cafe, and no one mentioned the dead mouse under the next table.

Getting into to Paris wasn't too eventful. Just imagine, Louis in the front seat, not able to see the map; my two friends, husband and the dog in the back. It's nice when you are merging into traffic, that is coming at you from all directions, and everyone has an opinion on which way to go. The good news is we found the hotel, and I am still married.

Today we did a small vide grenier and the Jambon et Brocante....more on those later.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chinon and the Loire

We are experiencing beautiful, sunny, warm weather. Very unfrench-like. It's great to return to the Loire Valley and show it to my husband and friends who have never been there under ideal weather conditions. We ate lunch outside in the square today, and last nights dinner as well.

Chinon is a lovely town, tucked in the shadow of an towering chateau fortress. When I was here two years ago, other than the best tartare du boeuf I've ever had, I remember walking through the ruins of the chateau. No roof, crumbling walls, exposed fireplaces. This is the place that the young Joan of Arc met the French King Henry II, to implore him to take back France from the British. Today, there is much activity in Chinon. There is a roof, walls are being rebuilt, and they have added an elevator to get people from the village to the chateau. When we walked up to the elevator, the sign asked us to please understand, but it was not operating due to work. My friends husband pushed the button, the door opened, and up we went. Pas probleme.

The best part of the 16th Century hotel we are staying in? I can see the tower and ramparts of the chateau as I lie in bed. My least favorite part? Fourth floor, no elevator here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On the Road....

We decided with the weather so nice, a road trip was in order. Heading south to St Jean de Luz is a pretty quick trip, only 2.5 hours from home. Lovely and mild, sunny with a gentle breeze made the choice perfect.

Our first stop was in Espelette the town famous for the pimments. They start harvesting in August, and finish sometime in November. Many of the homes in the village are hung with long strings of peppers. When they were allowed to add the AOC to the peppers, the town's prominence shot up, as well as the economic well being.

St Jean de Luz sits on the French side of the Spanish border. All the signs are in French and Basque, shops are filled with espadrilles (which I can never pass up), berets, fabulous striped fabrics, and chocolates. Our hotel was directly on the beach, with views of the whole bay.

We had a great meal in a local find near the covered market. I had grilled squid, and we all split an interesting assortment of tapas.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Most Prolific Fig Tree in France

Autumn is always a favorite time to return to France. The apple trees are heavy with fruit, grapes are ripe, pomegranates weigh down the branches in our garden. Then there is the fig tree. We used to have two fig trees, but they so shaded the garden we took one out. The remaining tree gets pruned back every winter, but grows so large, and bears so many figs that it is almost a nuisance. I can't share them with friends or neighbors, because they all have fig trees. I loved making cherry jam in the spring, but the thought of spending hours making fig jam doesn't thrill me. With each breath of wind and or rain shower, figs rain down on the terrace, the stones, causing fig "poop" to stick to the bottom of our shoes.

Then there is Sally, who mooches about looking for the perfect fig to eat. I have no idea how figs affect dogs, but she seems none the worse for wear.

This is Monday, a quiet day for antiques but we had a great weekend shopping. A big yellow tian bowl, and the largest confit pot I've ever had were among the finds.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ok, We are finally here

We have all landed safely in Villefranche. It is certainly fall here, but more Indian Summer. The Vendage has certainly commenced. (the grape harvest) Machines are busy night and day to get the harvest in on time. Signs are up declaring "Borreau est Ici!" Borreau is the "new" wine made from the first crush. It looks a little like unfiltered apple cider, but has a little bit of effervescence and the alcohol content of beer. Borreau and chestnuts are a classic Fall combination in the Dordogne.

We went to Riberac for the Friday market yesterday and are heading to Bordeaux for a brocante market this morning.

This is Heritage weekend all over France. We will go to St Emilion tonight for the Nuit du Patramoine. More about that tomorrow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ice, Ace Bandages, Duct Tape and Expedited Passports

Traveling allows for all those new experiences, sights, food, shopping...but you are always missing something at home. I have spent a good chunk of the Spring and Fall for the last ten years in France. I wouldn't change that. This week, as I was racing around with last minute details (like expedited passport), and five days of tennis, there was a little twinge of what I would miss here in California over the next six weeks.

I play a little tennis here in California. Great group of women, and being part of a team with all the comradeship and competition was really unexpected at this point in my life. This week I had two matches, with different partners. We pulled out a win both times. The small price is my foot encased in an Ace bandage, and my right hand wrapped as well. Ice is something I look to put on the aching hand and foot, not in my margarita. Out on the court, with adrenaline pumping, the pain fades, and I concentrate on not letting my partner and team down. I will miss the rest of the matches in September and October, but look forward to some Anglo-American-Franco competition in France. You can't do everything. Stepping away and into an ancient village life puts a different perspective on tennis and life.

Almost every village seems to have tennis courts in France. My friends in the next village send their two little boys for tennis lessons on Saturdays. When they come out to play against me, it's with a wooden racket and knee braces. Ah ha! you might think. But no, it is all a ruse, they are lovely players who clean my clock. We adjourn to the bar for aperitifs to celebrate their win!

Next week the Nuit du Patromonie in St Emilion on Saturday, dinner at L'Envers du Decor and fireworks. I will keep you posted on what is happening on the otherside of the pond!
A beintot.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Healdsburg, Alameda Point, and on to France!!!

Here are some photos of my booth at the antiques show in Healdsburg held last Sunday. While Saturday was incredibly hot, Sunday was pleasant, and my booth was under the giant trees. Great crowd, and really nice variety of antiques. What was really great was staying with Glen and Beth, who rented a home for the summer a block off the square. Great dinner the night before at Dry Creek Kitchen.

This Sunday, I'll be at Alameda Point, booth G-8; show opens 6am, closes at 3pm. If you have never gone, this is a great show, and weather should be perfect for the weekend.

We are off to France on September 16th. It really creeps up quickly, and there seems to be so much to do to prepare for the trip. I am trying to line up show schedules, and what areas we will be visiting.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

End of Summer Antique Shows

August is winding down, and there are two antique shows I will be showing at before heading to France for Fall buying. The first one is this Sunday in Healdsburg, California. My booth is right on Healdsburg Ave, space A. No admission charge, and Healdsburg is a great town to wander around. Set-up starts at 5:30 am. Nice thing about Healdsburg is the dog gets to come. Sally is very friendly and always ready to say hello to shoppers. She loved attending the Nippomo Antique Show in April.

First Sunday in September is the 6th, and that means Alameda Point. Booth G-8. I get there at 5am, admission is at 6am, closes at 3pm.

We spent last weekend in Columbus, Ohio for a family wedding. Bride just opened her fourth restaurant. Her mom, (my cousin) did the decorating in all four spots with a combination of Ohio memorabilia, chalk ware, vintage lighting and textiles. Each place is unique. When you are in Columbus, make sure you try Betty's, Surly Girl Saloon, Tip Top, and Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace. Food is fresh, comforting, and innovative.

There is still some time to come along with me to France this Fall. I will be there through the end of October. Weather is great, cepes, foie gras, chestnuts and borreau are all in season. Anyone know what borreau is?

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Julia Childs Taught Me How to Cook

I was 9 years old when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published, and I wasn't even born when work start on the book. On my first job out of college, I was exposed to a blinding assortment of cheeses, wines, and gourmet foods. Everyone I worked with had done a semester in France, and were part of what was the new "food" thing that was starting in California. I was bitten by the bug and told my boss I wanted to take some cooking lessons.

"Do you know who Julia Childs is?" I didn't. She told me to get the book, work my way through it, and come back when I was done and we would talk. Sound familiar? I went over to the used book store in Walnut Creek and paid $11 for a copy.

I didn't just work through it, I learned how to cook. I had never even seen a souffle before I attempted the chocolate souffle. Julia, through painstaking detail, took me through it, step by step. She even anticipated difficulties before they happened. I learned technique, how to shop, plan a menu, make a sauce and keep a sense of humor from this amazing woman and her book.

Twenty years later, and fully ensconced in the specialty food business, I was able to meet Julia on several occasions. One time, she handed me her keys to get something out of the car...the key chain was a lucite one that said JOOOOLIA.

Today I say the new movie Julie&Julia. I was glad to see the tenderness portrayed between Julia and her husband, Paul. She was certainly the butter on his bread. Without his support and love, that masterpiece of a book wouldn't have been written.

The book she wrote with her nephew, My Life in France, is such a wonderful read, not only for foodies, but anyone who has connected with another place in the world, far from home, that also becomes home.

So, tonight, I raise my glass, once again, to Julia Child, who taught me how to cook and inspires me every day. Salut!!!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fruits of My Labors

My first excuse for buying a home in France was that I loved to cook and it was so frustrating to go to markets, see all the wonderful food and then be forced to leave empty handed. Hard to cook in a hotel room. I needed a French kitchen!

While I still spend a lot of time in the kitchen in France, the majority of my time is combing the flea markets, vide greniers, and brocantes for things to bring home to sell. I have good trips, and occasional trips where I felt prices were too high, dealers inflexible (when the going gets tough, the French dealers tend to raise prices) weather was too challenging. This last Spring, the stars were all in was reasonable, a weak dollar had made some kind of comeback, and dealers were relived to see any buyers.

The Southwest doesn't have the dearth of markets like Provence and Paris, but we have much lower prices. I can never count on finding something specific, but I can count on finding something interesting. This last trip I found a huge lot of NOS (that would be new, old, stock) of frames for cameos, all different, all a lovely yellow gold material. These are from the 1800's, in perfect condition, waiting for the creative jewelry artisan to turn them into something special.

I also have a nice collection of old transferware plates in lots of different colors; green, red, blue and lavendar. Transferware became popluar in the 19th century as the middle class grew. The new middle class couldn't afford handpainted china, so this method was devised to "transfer" the decoration on to pieces to stimulate a handpainted look. I love it when all the colors are mixed, but a lot of people seek out just one color.

Linens, did anyone ask about linens? I sometimes wish that my sewing machine didn't intimidate me so much. The handloomed textiles, the toile, the charming vintage prints! Ah the things I wish I could make with those! I buy them anyway, so I have a ever changing stock for shows.

Speaking of shows....this weekend is Alameda Point Antiques Fair. I am in Booth G8. Fair runs from 6am till 3pm. Come by and say hello. I will also be doing the antique show in beautiful Healdsburg, California on August 30th.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why We Travel

There are lot's of reasons people travel; view historic sites, the food, shopping, visiting friends and relatives, just to list a few. One of my friends likes to say she travels so she knows she can still do it. Even though this friend can travel anywhere in the world, first class, she has come with me and slogged through muddy fields at the crack of dawn, looked for hotel rooms in towns where none existed, and countless other misadventures. For her, it is the thrill of the hunt, and of course the "hunt" is for antiques.

One fall, three of us decided to meet up in Villeneuve les Avignon and make that a base while we shopped the three large shows in that take place on a Friday, Saturday and Monday. We love Villeneuve, and the hotel that we always stay at. There had been a lot of rain, and a lot more was expected, but we were not really aware of that. We walked to dinner, up a cobblestoned street just as it started to rain. By the time we were leaving the resturant, the little street was at least a half foot deep with water, rushing downhill. Every woman for herself! The three of us; Sandi, her daughter, Densie and I made a dash. Sandi fell behind, as I stopped to wait for her, Densie yelled, "keep going, she can take care of herself." When we got to the bottom of the street, no sight of Sandi, only a large brown cloud floating downstream. Sandi was somehow enveloped in her raincoat, and came to rest at our feet.

The whole weekend was a mix of brillant Provencale sun, and record rainfall. Roads closed, and villages were evacated as the water rose. 24-inches of rain in a 48 hour period. People were drowned in the town of Orange and other nearby villages.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Antiques, Brocante, Bibelots, Bric-a-brac.....

One of the major reasons I was drawn to make France my home, at least part time, is the antiques, brocante, bibelots and bric-a-brac. Not to mention the vide greniers. Let me explain....I think everyone knows what an antique is, but brocante translates to "used household goods", bibelot is a trinket or curio, bric-a-brac is, well bric-a-brac, bits and pieces. Vide grenier is the French equivalent of a garage sale, literally, "empty the attic". I shop all of these venues, and occasionally the vente aux encheres, or auctions. Where is the best place to shop? That depends on your stamina, and time.

France has magizines that can be purchased at any "presse" that will list all of the sales taking place over the next 30 days. They also list those sales that occur every week, and monthly. Is it necessary to get to the show at the crack of dawn? My husband thinks so, and we have arrived BEFORE the vendors on many occasions. My advice, if you go when it is still dark, bring a flashlight. Bring a bag, wear comfortable shoes, a hat (for rain or sun) hand wipes, measuring tape. If your French isn't good, a pencil and paper is helpful for writing prices when you are bargining. Don't insult vendors. Admire a piece, but you can say "tres cher pour moi", if it's too expensive. Or offer what you think it is worth. I have found, when I ask for their best price, they often come up with a price below what I was willing to pay.

Other, obvious pieces of advice. Save the nice clothes and jewlry for the Ritz. Try a little French, people always appreciate the effort, and you might make a new friend. Over the years we have developed some nice friendships with brocanters. They love "client habitul" just like I do, here at home.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What do I do all day?

One question people always ask me when I have been in France for five or six weeks is, "what do you do all day?" We don't have a TV, and the radio can be a challenge for anything but music. In the Spring, the days are long, with the sun not setting till 10:30pm.

Many days are spent deciding where to go to lunch, then lounging in the garden with a book. There is usually a market to visit (so you can shop for things for dinner). Many evenings I have people over for aperitifs or dinner, or someone invites me. Often, the conversation turns to the garden. What are you growing? What is ripe? What isn't working and what is? Cherries turn ripe in late May and early June and all of Southwest France seems to be awash in red cherry stains. Cherry jam, chutney, ice cream, cherries in eau d'vie, and cherry clafloutis. Clafloutis is a simple desert that can be made with a variety of fruit. Cherry is the classic. A recipe follows at the end of this post.

I helped Gill harvest her cherrys, with a little help from the dog. When Sally (the dog) first started eating the cherrys, they went down whole. By the end of the week, she was spitting out the pits. Beware the pits!!!! In France, a clafloutis, or an olive pizza for that matter probably has unpitted fruit/olives.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 pound cherries, rinsed and dried. Pitting is optional
1 1/2 tablesponns butter

Preheat the oven to 450F (or 230C) Butter a 9 1/2 -inch round tart or cake pan without a removable bottom.
Mix the flour and salt into a large bowl. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, whisking. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla, then the remaining milk.
Place the cherries in the pan. Pour the batter over them, and dot the batter with the butter. Bake until puffed and golden (about 25 minutes) Serve lukewarm.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

French Sense of Humor

I think the French have a very subtle sense of humor. I have often been on the receiving end of a good natured joke. Along with a sense of humor, the French love signs. Mostly to be ignored, but posted, nonetheless. When the love of signs and humor come together, well, it's a priceless moment. A local restaurant that we've always enjoyed in a nearby village had new proprietors. When we had occasion to try lunch there last week, I was amused by the sign over the sink in the WC. For those of you who can't get the visual, or don't want to, it translates to: Please do not vomit in the sink. Thanks for your understanding. I am not sure I understand, but I thought it was pretty funny.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

So How's Your French?

So how's your French? That's a phrase I hear a lot between visitors and the ex-pat community. Replies will vary from "awful", "coming along", or "not bad". This later is the group that needs watching. Take one neighbor who has lived here about six years and feels her French is very good, doesn't need any help with anything. The visit to the plastic surgeon for a few adjustments would be a simple matter.

When she visited the doctor, she was missing a tooth, that would be replaced soon, but she didn't understand when he was asking her about that. Her lip on that side was filled in to accommodate a "dent perdu". Good thing it was only a bit too much collagen.

Help translating tax and financial issues is another area where I would also bring along someone who can really speak the language. I love le avocat, but not so crazy about les avocats. The first I make guacamole with, the second might accompany one into court.

So, how is my French? After taking up the language well into middle age, it is difficult at best. In a resturant, a shop or the antique market I can be understood, and generally understand what is being said. Last week I spent three delightful hours at the dinner table with elderly neighbors, who only speak French. There were few lapses in conversation, and they were very helpful and ready with a dictiornary. Marc spent two years as a prisoner of war for crossing the Line of Demarcation during WWII. Listening to Marc and Lousie recount how they met after the war was priceless. That is the kind of evening that makes my struggle with French worthwhile. My photo is Marc and Lousies' garden. They are both 87, and are out there every day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beau Temps

Hard to know just what to show someone on their first trip to France. Doubly hard when it's your only child, and you want her to love it, and afraid that she won't....

Food is so different is the Southwest. Not the sushi, pizza, and things she is used to from California, or Kentucky where she lives now. I am proud to report that she enthusiastically tried everything, even finishing the tartare du bouef in Bordeaux. The comment she made upon returning to Lexington was "how am I supposed to eat the food here after France?"

We also spent time in Brantome, St Emilion, Pre-historic caves, Chateau Hautefort, and the Lot. My daughter loves to knit, and my knitting group over here had a "knitting sleepover", hosted by Debbie. She and her husband have built a new home, high above one of my favorite villages, with a stunning view over-looking the Lot River. Her home has several "bories" on the property. Indeed, they seem to dot the hill her home is built on. I couldn't remember what these sort of stone igloos were called, so I googled it, and up came a photo of a borie that was restored.

The photo on the left is Hautefort, and you can look closely and see Mary entering, the photo on the right is one of the bories at Debbie's.