December 6, 2009

Sainte Barbe Day, A Provence Tradition

In Provence, the Christmas season begins on 4 December, Saint Barbara's Day, with a tradition dating to Greek and Roman times. You begin by choosing a saucer or other small container. Cover the bottom of the container with soft cotton. You can use a sheet of cotton or simply pull apart cotton balls. Then lightly sprinkle the cotton with water. It needs to be wet but don't drown it. I like to drip the water off the tips of my fingers. Now, scatter grains of hard wheat over the damp cotton. I purchased my hard wheat from the bins at Earth Fare. Water lightly daily. The grains should germinate in a few days and soon you will have wheat grass. The germinated wheat represents prosperity and a good harvest for the following year. Be careful not to overwater as it will rot the grains.

You can see that I got a little carried away with the number of containers. I even used empty tealight containers, and my friend, Lin, used an olive boat. Use the sprouted wheat on the table at Christmas as well as in and around the creche (nativity).

November 24, 2009

Wine Appreciation

I listen to Riviera Radio from Monaco via my computer almost every day. I like the music. It is English speaking and their features interest me. Which brings me to something I heard today that I thought was worth sharing. They have a wine appreciation course sponsored by Each segment is just 2 minutes, which you can listen to immediately or download....your choice. I was particularly grabbed by #10....'How to Tell if Wine is Corked'.....It is information that every person who drinks wine should understand. AND, it is the #1 reason for sending a wine back or taking wine back to a store. This podcast affirms the information I have been trying to share for years... So if you are ever at a table that the person tasting the wine says it is corked......PLEASE, take a sniff or a small taste so that you will know what all the fuss is about.

November 15, 2009

Moules et Frites....Mussels and Fries

Moules et Frites have to be one of my very favorite dishes. In France, we always wait for the bouchots to come in...usually we see them the beginning of June. Well, we don't have those here in the USA but all is not lost. I was shopping Costco last week and found beautiful mussels from Canada. They weren't too big and were very fresh.....always check the date. There is a tag that tells you when they came out of the water but retailers repackage things and it is impossible to see this tag most of the time. SO....I always make sure that there are at least 5-6 days before they hit the expiration date. One of the bags from Costco will feed 5-6 reasonable people. I say that because I know that myself and many of my friends don't understand reasonable when it comes to mussels......Here is the recipe......




1 BA



Rinse mussels quickly in 2 changes of water. Do NOT leave in water. Trim off barnacles and beards. Discard those that are open and won't close when squeezed.

In a large wok with lid, saute shallots in butter. Add pressed garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. When shallots are translucent, sprinkle on flour. Stir to combine. Add white wine, cream and parsley. Whisk. Cover. You do not want the liquid to evaporate. Cook gently for 5 minutes or so...add another 2-3 Tablespoons white wine. Cook again, covered, for 5 minutes or so. Add a small squeeze of lemon juice. Stir.

Add mussels to sauce. Cover and steam just until open. The sauce is somewhat thick when the mussels are added but the juice from the mussels thins it to the right consistency.

Remove from heat and serve! Discard those that did not open. Don't leave on the heat ....they will overcook. Reheat to serve a second round.

So now you ask about the 'frites'. Well, many of you know of our quest for the right potato for French fries here in the States. Xavier and I have searched and searched but they are just not the same. In France, we buy Mona Lisas and Xavier likes to be sure that they have never been refrigerated....and prefers to see the dirt still clinging to the potato. We have yet to find any like them here.....So with that said I will tell you how we cook them.....

The oil we use is a non-hydrogenated palm oil. The closest thing that we have to this fat in the US is the organic all vegetable shortening from Spectrum. It is available everywhere.


Wash, peel and cut potatoes. Now to explain blanch frying....heat oil to 325 degrees. Add potatoes and fry at this low temperature just until they are cooked....they won't be brown or crisp at this point. Remove and drain. Set aside until ready to serve. When ready to serve, increase heat to 375. Add fries and cook until brown and crisp.

L to R: Cut potatoes, Blanching, After blanching, Finished product!

September 5, 2009

Giant of Provence and Mistral

Arrived in the Vaucluse on Thursday...beautiful clear evening with slow Mistral blowing. Not the case now with the wind kicking up yesterday afternoon and through the night at 90km/h. This makes for some exceptional photo ops. Took this photo of the 'giant of Provence' on top of the plateau between Isle sur la Sorgue and Saint Didier. Looks like Fall has begun.

June 12, 2009

Fresh Anchovies!

At the market yesterday, the fresh anchovies looked fabulous and perfect for preserving ourselves. Xavier layered them in sea salt, finished them with a few twists of fresh pepper and transferred them to the fridge. In about a month, we can use as needed i.e. take from the fridge, rinse them, filet them, and enjoy them. I can't wait. Of course, I will share the experience.

They will last in salt about a year, but if you want to keep longer, remove, rinse, clean, filet and pack in oil. Voila, you have your own salted anchovies.

Love these food experiences...last year, we cured our own olives.....this year, anchovies.
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May 29, 2009

Garden Wonders

This spider takes on the color of its it has taken up residence on a wild garlic blossom. Isn't it magnificent? And that is coming from a person who screams when she sees a spider. I took dozens of pics!

On this particular day, the butterflies were all over the wild lilac in the garden. Captured this one with its wings opened and it appears that she has not shed all her cocoon.....

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May 1, 2009

FRENCH ROSE....An Endangered Species???

I was in the grocery store yesterday and took this photo. Oh, what choices of rose (sorry I cannot make the accent happen on Blogger with my American keyboard) we have here in Provence and particularly, the Var! LOOK! This is ALL rose!!!....A whole aisle!!!!

So, those who know me know that I am a strong proponent of FRENCH rose. OMG, I cannot believe what is happening here in Europe.....blend red with white to create a rose....preposterous...ludicrous......

Below is an article from that fully explains what is happening. I am not sure what one can do on their own to stop this but I can tell you that the French and particularly those here in the Var (the oldest wine producing region in France) are in disbelief that this could happen. I hear the word 'politics' alot.

For centuries, French winemakers – particularly those in Provence, the world’s leading rosé region and the site of France’s oldest vineyards – have created the “gold standard” for dry rosé by briefly macerating red grapes and removing the juice before it becomes heavily colored. This production technique provides the wine with complexity, balance and a unique flavor profile.

“It has taken many years of patience, professionalism and exacting attention to quality control to persuade consumers that rosé is a distinctive, refreshing selection for wine lovers throughout the world,” stated Francois Millo, directorof CIVP–Wines of Provence. “Simply mixing up a solution of five percent red wine and 95 percent white wine creates a product that, while pink in color, is by its very nature different from true rosé, which is made from red grapes.
“This proposal will destroy the true wine’s hard-earned image and undermine a time-honored tradition of production excellence.”
According to CIVP/Provence Wine Council, the EU’s recommended compromise of labeling the red and white mixed wine as “blended” rosé is not an acceptable solution, as the designation will mislead consumers into believing that this unharmonious mix of “white with a dash of red” is a true rosé. Polls indicate that 87 percent of French consumers also oppose the EU plan.

The EU has stated that allowing the creation of a new, blended rosé will open additional export markets for Italian and Spanish wine producers who may have an oversupply of red and white wines.
The global market for rosé is booming, with rosé making up a fifth of the wine bought in France, where it has overtaken white wine, and one-tenth of wine sold worldwide. In the United States, rosé wine sales grew 53 percent by value in 2007, according to a Nielsen Company survey. France is the leading producer of rosé in the world, and Provence is the leading producer in France, with the world’s only research center specializing in rosé.

The EU will vote in a referendum on the new blending technique on June 19th. If the ruling is approved, the blending technique could begin by August 1, 2009. A delegation of wine producers representing CIVP/Provence Wine Council will be in New York from April 22-25 to introduce their 2008 wines, primarily rosés. During this time, they will be meeting with consumers, members of the trade and the media. The Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP), known in the United States as the Provence Wine Council, is an organization representing all Provence wine producers and trade companies. Its' mission is to promote and advance the wines of the Provence region of France. Founded in 1956, the organization today represents more than 750 producers that together produce 95 percent of Provence’s Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) wines, or 6 percent of all French AOC wines.

La Premiere Salade

Oh my goodness, and I do mean goodness! At this time of the year, the garden is delivering the yummiest fresh greens....big rounds of tender lettuces, baby spinach, radishes galore, and, my favorite, the rocket (arugula). Toss this up and serve with Xavier's vinaigrette. I promise you will never get tired of it. The vinaigrette is in my cookbook but Xavier is always changing it up. The one pictured here includes some broken pecans (hand delivered from Georgia!) and onion tops. Of course, there is nothing better than a French baguette (a little mouse got into this one) for cleaning your plate. I love this stuff......In fact, I have just imposed a personal restriction on more baguette with has been out of control.

Want another treat with this vinaigrette? Grate fresh raw beets...3 or so....and add a grated apple, toss with vinaigrette and lots of fresh parsley....For this recipe add a bit more salt.....and you might want a little more red wine vinegar. (that's Xavier talking on the other side of the kitchen!)

Spring has sprung in Provence.....and I am lovin' it.

April 27, 2009

Photo Play


Mary James is playing with photos again.....these are the same photos as in the slideshow but presented as a collage. Finally, building a collage is available for the Mac. But, it has its problems....for instance, I cannot arrange these photos within the collage as I want just has a shuffle feature. I want to drag and place! If any of you know how to get around this, I would love to hear from you.
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April 26, 2009

Jambon en Croute

This ham hails from a 'petit village' in the Duchy of Luxembourg and was offered to us by a friend who really knows the specialties of the area.....

What a great way to do your Easter ham!  This was delicious! In the bottom of this beautiful pastry were onions, carrots,; celery and  'la couenne' .  Yep! I know you don't  know what that last thing is.  It is the skin around the ham.  So, here are the basics......cook a whole ham, remove the skin (la couenne du porc) and place a large piece on the pastry  (i am not going into that here....remember, I am giving you a rough idea of how it is done) with vegetables.  Arrange ham slices overall.  Enclose with pastry.....decorate and bake before serving. I made that sound easy, didn't I????

It was served steaming hot with a piece of the pastry, a vegetable or two from the bottom and some of 'la couenne'. Very very good.

By the way, in this part of the world, the cows here say...."lesst mei Schwain!" eat more pork....not eat more chicken!

Note:  This was previously posted in 2009.....just made some corrections to my spelling !!!

April 23, 2009

Could this be the beginning????

I have always admired how the French hold on to their regionalism, the integrity of their provinces.....whether it is food, or wine or the number of 'les bises' (kisses) when one is greeting a friend.  In Provence, we do not cook with butter but in Normandy, they do. We have olive trees so we cook with olive Normandy, they have cows so their cuisine uses butter.  In Provence, we drink wines from the Var and the Rhone, not Burgundy or Bordeaux.  But things are changing....maybe not with food yet, but, hopefully, this is not the beginning of the end of each areas individuality...

From now on, new license plates will only reflect the region where the car resides in a small square on the right of the tag.  Always, if you saw a car with a plate ending in 06, you knew these people were from the area of Nice.....83 from the Var......84 Vaucluse.......69 Lyon......33 Bordeaux, etc.  Slowly new plates will replace the old and when one purchases a car, the plate will not reflect the region and that plate will stay with that car for the life of the car....even if the owner changes.....changes departements, etc  Well, I guess my little game of 'where are they from' might not  last forever....a little square today...gone tomorrow??

More Good Eats......

in an unexpected spot.

We came off the A7 to hit the backroads to Grignan. Hungry again but arriving late for the traditional midi repas. Not to worry. After a quick walk around the castle and through the village, we saw a spot that was more like a bar than a restaurant but they were serving. Didn't expect much but were we surprised. I ordered the cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs) and they were magnificent served 'picata' style.....lemon, fresh herbs.......whoda thot it? I thought we would end up with a sandwich in cellophane! Only in France. The proprietor came out and wanted to make sure all was well....I think he was probably the cook as well......and so proud of his preparation......excellent fresh food...unexpected.

April 21, 2009


What a great way to begin my sojourn in France! In LYON....the city known for its traboules, the Guignol puppet character and many culinary specialties. I was in heaven!
The visit began where Lyon began as a Gallo-Roman settlement known as Lugdunum. It sits at the top of Lyon and looks out over the Rhone and Saone Rivers......yes, you can see there was a reason for the Romans to settle here at the time of Augustus..all this water that comes together ... But this is just one of the many Roman sites in France....there are sites from Aix to Arles to Glanum to Nimes to Orange to Vaison up to Lyon and actually all the way to Paris and beyond.

Also here at the top is the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere.....not old by European standards...built with private funds between 1870 and 1896, it is perched atop the Fourvière hill, and looms impressively over the city of Lyon, where it can be seen from many vantage points.

And now, we head down the hill to Vieux Lyon, the medieval and Renaissance quarter that extends along the west bank of the Saone River at the foot of Fourviere hill.  And, by the way, if you are ever traveling the autoroute through Lyon, the long tunnel is cut under this colline and yet I saw no evidence of it while walking the streets.

This little fellow probably looks familiar.....he is Guignol, the famous Lyon marionnette.  When hard times fell on the silk trade during the French Revolution, a local silk maker became a peddler, and then later started to practice dentistry (yep, from peddler to dentist!) which in those days was simply the pulling of teeth. The service was free; the money was made from the medicines sold afterward to ease the pain. To attract patients, he started setting up a puppet show in front of his dentist’s chair.  Dentistry is not part of the theaters today but several of these marionnette theaters are tucked into the streets of Le Vieux Lyon and are enjoyed by young and old alike.  And, of course, there are artisan shops where one can purchase a puppet to take home.n

NOW....let's talk about dinner in Lyon.  Outside of Paris, but perhaps even more so than Paris, Lyon is known for its gastronomy.  Yes, it has its Michelin starred restaurants but Xavier and I wanted to enjoy a bouchon Lyonnaiss.  And no, I am not talking about a cork for a wine bottle or a traffic jam.  In Lyon, a bouchon is a small restaurant, actually certified to be a bouchon,  serving food typical of Lyon.

Decisions, decisons....which one?  We looked like lost tourists as we circled the streets and alleyways, reading menus, observing the various establishments and seeing who went where.  At last, we settled on Aux Trois Maries and we were greatly rewarded with our choice...It WAS FABULOUS.  What did we have?  First things first! We began by ordering  the wine ....'un pot du beaujolais'  which happened to be a Chiroubles. (center photo)  It arrives in a thick bottomed bottle  (un pot) that dates back to 1850 when the furniture makers of Lyon had trouble making a level table.  Thus they created a heavy, stable bottle out of necessity. (Me thinks the furniture makers might have had too much of  what was in these bottles ) Oh well, this beaujolais from Chiroubles was delicious.  Note the bread in the photo.....larger than the usual French baguette, this is a Lyonnaiss baguette......larger!  Great traditions....bottles and baguettes.....

MAIN COURSES!....Xavier's choice was Tablier de Sapeur....which told me nothing.  Once I found out that it was cow stomach (tripe which I usually do not care for), I decided not to say "I'll have what you are having"!..BUT  once it arrived, of course,  I had to taste and it was absolutely delicious.  To prepare this ( I know you need to know, just in case you want to fix it at home!), you take a rectangle of the prepared honeycombed tripe, bread it with panko-like bread crumbs (they actually make their own from leftover bread), and pan saute til crisp...serve with a  sauce gribiche and gratinneed potatoes and you are in heaven.  I would order this the next time!

Now for my choice..  I had ordered the quenelles which are a classic Lyonnais dish but, alas, it would take 45" to an hour to prepare....we did not want to wait, so I settled for  a Cassolette de Fruits de Mer avec Sauce Homard.  It was great...the sauce was sublime.  Now just when we did not think it could get any better, we decided to order dessert....something I never do, but the Iles Flottante were talking to me.  It is a favorite for me because it is so light, but often I am disappointed when it shows up in a parfait glass.  Not in Lyon!  As you can see, it arrived standing tall on a sea of Creme Anglaise..PERFECT!

So what made us choose this bouchon?  Well, when we had been circling, looking at menus, we immediately dismissed those that had menus so large that they must not be prepping and preparing all the food on premise.  We also peeked in a few doorways.  But when we checked out Aux Trois Maries, the menu was small, compared to others, but seemed to be geared to the classics.  And, then we noticed an older couple arriving and they appeared to be regulars.  Finally, when we stepped inside, it was spotless.   Decision made, and it was a good one!
 Aux Trois Maries.......dining outside.....highly recommended

For more photos from Geneva and Lyon.........