November 12, 2011


There is nothing like a French Road Trip.....especially when you don't know where you are going to end up......having absolutely no plans. Well, this is where we were. We started out on very familiar road where we have taken many a group but quickly after a couple of hours, we were in the back country of southern France. We traveled on our whims....saw a sign....interested...ok.....wanna go there....yeh.......and we were off. First? I saw the sign for Salin de Giraud and immediately knew that I needed to see SALT! OK. Quick exit and we were on our way.

THERE!  Looming in front of us was salt, salt, salt.
Trucks moving in all directions.....

and then there is a conveyer belt moving the salt from one side of the road to the other ......What happens when it rains?????  X says the salt is very coarse and it just washes/cleans it.....looks like to me that it would melt!

Seems a bit is a huge operation so I don't think I call it artisanal.....This operation would never fly in the US of A!

But thank goodness, I have my salt....the Fleur de Sel AND the Sel de Gris......I guess you could call me a salt snob.....
NEXT??? We passed field after field (should it be paddy after paddy) of rice. Harvest had already taken place so we saw the 'rice straw' and then lots of smoke where they were burning the field of rice straw.

Yes, we were in the Camargue.......

 Home of the 'Original Cowboy'

and where 'les taureaux' rule....the bulls are raised for meat as well as for the bull fights. Then there are also flamingos, wild horses, and, in some seasons, lots of mosquitoes.

You can't come to the Camargue without going to.....

...the story is that the three biblical Marys (Maries) arrived here from Palestine along with Sara, who became the patron saint of the gypsies.  And since medieval times, Saintes Maries de la Mer is the site of an annual  Roma (gypsy) pilgrimage.

Houses of the Camargue use a local resource.....the canes that are everywhere are the roofing material for their homes. Note the leaning cross at the peak of the roof. It is on all the houses.

Then it is a quick stop in ...

Aigues Mortes....

a walled village dating to 10th century AD and also a safe haven for Protestants in the 16th century.

The day is winding down and we make our way along the coast to

'the little Venice of the Languedoc"

Canals and fishing boats abound.....though it is one of the major fishing ports of France, it has kept its local character and quaintness.

Sun is setting...time for an aperitif.....

Picturesque spot! boats coming in with their catch.....

Now time to make a restaurant choice....we do our usual walk...peeking in and out of places...looking at posted menus....then we narrow it down.....not surprisingly, we both thought there were 2 choices.  One seemed to be a husband and wife team...not too big a menu.  But, the other, had lots of fresh seafood for sale (which had obviously just come off the boats) plus the restaurant..........a crowd was also gathering for dinner.... Chez Francois it will be...

I started with 'jols', a tiny fish done 'friture' style.  It is one of my favorite things.  Xavier had the 'couteux' (razor clams).  Both outstanding!

  As if that was not enough, we move on to the entree....
whole fish for X, and a combo of gambas (large shrimp), seche (kinda like calamari) and lotte (monkfish) for MJ.

Could not begin to finish.....would kill for it perfectly grilled.

Up early the next morning......stay tuned for Part 2.....the Aubrac!

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CHEESE STRAWS......a Southern Delicacy!

I am amazed how people in other parts of the country have no idea what a cheese straw is.  Ask around and see what you find out. Ya'll, it IS a 'Southern Thing'.....especially making your own!

I had planned to blog about cheese straws at some point but am hastened along by my friend, Nathalie Dupree.  Today she posted her cheese straw making video on Facebook and I shared with her my method.  Instead of a cookie press, I use my Simac Pasta Machine....It was a must have piece of equipment for me years ago and I did indeed use it to make pasta....but not any more.  This machine is now most valuable to me for making cheese straws.  You can generate hundreds in no time. Don't have a pasta machine....check out EBay.

Here is my great in the machine.


1 1/3 CUPS BUTTER, room temperature

1 1/2 TSP. SALT
1/2 TSP. CAYENNE or to taste

Using an electric mixer, combine cheese, butter and Tabasco.  Combine dry ingredients and then add to cheese mixture.  Mix until well blended.  Do NOT refrigerate.

Transfer to cookie press fitted with star pattern.  OR to Simac Pasta Machine (in batches) fitted with disk that has 2 straight ridged openings (see photo).  Extrude and cut into desired lengths.  Place on parchment lined baking sheets.  Straws can be placed close together since they do not spread. .

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  They should have a slight color change.  Cool completely before storing.  Store in tins.  

TIPS and VARIATIONS:  You should grate your own cheese because grated cheese has an anti-caking agent on it.  Also, I like to use Kraft Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp cheddar in the red foil package.  

Add 1-2 tsp. Dijon mustard (like Nathalie)   OR leave out the paprika and add 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder.  

September 1, 2011


So what is it about figs that has everybody atwitter....Before I left the United States this month, I had a phone call from my son in Atlanta....his fig crop was exceptional....exceptionally prolific!  And then, I was facebooking with my friend, Dorette Snover of C'est si Bon in Chapel Hill.  She, too, was covered up with figs.  Now I am in Provence and I am greeted by tubs of figs.  Nous crulons sous les figues! Perhaps the excitement is because it is one of the few truly seasonal fruits.  We know we won't have them any other time of the year plus we really don't see that many in the grocery stores.....they are a farmer's market purchase or a tree in your back yard. 

So Dorette and I decided to both blog about our figs this week. See her at


The plump, purple variety shown here is Soliès-Pont, named for a village here in the Departement du Var.  Sollies Pont is also home of the Fete de la Figue, an August festival that celebrates this ancient fruit.  This is the fig that I have come to know and love.  In the American South, it is mostly the small brown turkey me, a different fruit that is good in its own way, but nothing like the purple fig of Provence. 

So what is a girl to do with so many figs.....Well, you might see me sneaking out the back door where just steps away I can feast to my heart's content.  But Xavier might have other ideas....there are jars of fig confiture dancing in his head.....and I mean lots of jars.  So far this year, the count is 220!  Read on for recipes and lots of uses for everything fig......Then don't miss the end......where there is No Fig Leaf for Apollo!

So here is Xavier's recipe for the most popular confiture we put on the table for our groups.  It is divine on a croissant or in your breakfast yogurt.

But not just for breakfast, we make a Shallot Fig  Confit to use with Pan Seared Magrets (duck breasts) or MJ will use it as a topping for the Duck Rillettes on Crostinis at cocktail hour.  To make the confit: carmelize shallots, deglaze with a light red wine vinegar and add some fig confiture. Reduce. Season with salt. Taste for sweet/sour balance & adjust. If you have no duck rillettes, then use shredded barbecue.


1 KILO (2.2 lbs) FRESH PURPLE FIGS,  QUARTERED (or halved in small)
700 GRAMS RAW SUGAR (1 1/2 lbs)*
  (Photo is 7-8 kilos)
In a large pot, combine figs, citron confit, and 1/2 cup water and 2 pinches salt.  Bring to a simmer.  Slowly cook down the figs. Stir often. They will melt down and skins will soften. This takes about 15-20 minutes.  Add sugar.  Increase heat to fast boil. Cook 15-20 minutes stirring constantly. About 5 minutes before end, add juice of ½ lemon. Reduce heat.  

Remove from heat.  Continue to stir to dissipate heat….about 3-4 minutes. Fill jars to top.  If reusing old jars, invert jars while cooling.  Lids will reseal.

NOTES: When going from sweet and more pulpy fruit such as pears, figs, apricots to more acidic watery fruits such as strawberry, raspberry, you add more sugar to the latter (750-800 gms per kilo) 
Short fast cooking time after sugar is added will give you the best flavor.  Long cooking time destroys the color and flavor.

*Raw sugar is the free flowing sugar that is less processed than white sugar.  I buy the Florida Crystals that comes in a plastic jug.  It is not turbinado sugar....too coarse.

Now for the 'piece de resistance' of the Fig Confiture. ....

10 LEMONS (to yield 1 ½ cups zest weighing .140 kg [5 oz])

Peel lemons and julienne into ‘needle’ size pieces …tiny width and about ½ inch long. In 2-quart saucepan, cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, Blanch, strain and rinse.  Return to pan and just cover with water  (there should be enough so that the zest floats).  Add the juice of 1 ½ lemons and pinch of salt.  Simmer very slowly for 20 minutes.  Water will be almost gone. Add juice from other half of lemon then level with 1 1/2 cups raw sugar.  Cook very SLOWLY for 15-20 minutes.  Add about 2 tablespoons more water if zest is not tender at this time*.  Do this several times…..the color becomes somewhat brownish.  The syrup is obviously thicker and the zest is very transparent and crystalline-like.  It is done when color of zest is correct…..cooked, tender and transparent.

If the lemon peel is tough, it is because it was not cooked enough with the water.

*TIP: If you cook the zest with the sugar too long, the sugar could caramelize, therefore you need to add more water to prevent caramelization.

NOTE:  You can collect your zest over a period of time (freeze it).  As fig season approaches, every time a lemon is used, the zest is removed first, julienned, and put in a small jar in the freezer until there is enough to make the confit.  Did someone say this is labor intensive?  Great for honing your knife skills too.  

I might also call it 'heaven on a spoon'....

For the gardener....

Xavier is very much the gardener and has the patience of a saint (for some things!).  So at the end of last summer, I saw him collecting soil on a plastic bag.  What's up?  He walked over to the tree and wrapped the bag around the limb surrounding a joint with the soil....winter came, spring came, summer came. Then I am in the States for 4 weeks only and he goes to the next step without me.  Cut the branch, removed the plastic....Voila, lots of roots.....potted it for his brother.  And not one damn photo!! I WILL take a picture the next time we go to his brother's!

This just speaks to the fact that fig trees are hardy, fairly easy to propagate. We see so many in the villages growing from tiny cracks in stone walls and fortifications ...seeds left there by a petite oiseaux (bird)....

If you are indeed interested in all the different varieties of figs, check out this website.  It is an excellent source of information about all things fig!

Fig Leaves are very helpful when building a simple food tray

and finally, from Nice Matin, we unravel why there is

No Fig Leaf for Apollo!
 This larger than life statue in Nice has generated much controversy. It was banned in the 70's from its prominent position on Place Massena because some people were offended by his endowment.  In June of this year, it was re-erected on Place Massena sans fig leaf in the location where it was originally intended.

Don't forget to visit Dorette's blog


August 24, 2011

My French Grocery - the Hyper U

Everytime I go back to the States, I am asked the question.....What is it you miss from France when you come home to the States?  You might be surprised, or maybe not, but I miss my Hyper U, the grocery store.  No matter where I am, hardly a day goes by that I am not in a grocery store   And the U stores are the best.... they make grocery shopping a pleasure....WHY???   
In a nutshell, they are clean, very well organized, and the U brands are exceptional....
(Remember, if you want to see the photos larger, just double click on them.)
Let's go inside....
You only see it this empty during lunch time when most French people are home having lunch.  Great time to crowds.  Yep, you can buy your dog house there too.

Produce is seasonal. You won't see strawberries in September or grapes in much more flavor.  Notice the price of the leeks...and that is per kilo (2.2 lbs)  Why do they have to be so expensive in the US.

Well, it goes without saying that the cheese, make that plural...aisles are over the top. Cow, goat, ewe.....fresh, (organic).  What did DeGaulle say?  "Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?" (How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?)  And, I am sure there are many more than that now.  This is just 2 of the 6 photos of the cheese areas.

 It's BIO!
Bio (organic) products are integrated into all areas of the store.  But this particular week, they brought them to the front of the store into what I call the 'special features' area that gets changed every 3-4 days.....This area is one of the first things you see when you walk in the store and it is always changing. 

Another special feature....Products of the World...

OK.....maybe this would be my favorite many little time....

There are also my favorite things to accompany the rosé...and all of these go home in my suitcase.  Great hazelnuts that are so so fresh.  The U brand fois gras is to die for.  The duck rillettes are really just duck BBQ...quick spread for a crostini. And sometimes the cheese palmiers find their way into my carry-on for a petite snack on the way back. Notice these are all the store brand....the best!