Tag Archives: French

Frenchie and le Marché

14 Jul

In honor of le 14 juillet – Bastille Day in English – a post about France and something very French would be in order for today.

Markets! French markets that is. And not all markets either. Food markets. They’re my favorite. Not that I don’t like the other markets – flowers, flea, antiques, rare books. Au contraire! But the important tradition of the French food markets is anchored very deep in the culture and they are such a unique experience.

Seen from the U.S., they make France… well, so French!

If you missed the market on Wednesday mornings, or Fridays, there is always one somewhere in town on Sunday mornings.

Sunday mornings don’t all start with a trip to the market. No, they start with a grasse matinée – yes, sleeping in is a “fat morning”! Another idiom. To this day, I am still unsure if it’s supposed to mean that after 8:00 am you’ll magically gain weight from staying in bed, salivating about 2 or 3 crispy butter croissants.

In any case, once the nutritious coffee-baguette-jam-butter-croissant breakfast is over, with 3 wicker baskets around the arm, the call for the marché is heard loud and clear like a first crusade. And all roads lead to the market.

Just follow the French – they know where to go. And they all walk in the same direction too.

The discreet hubbub of le marché already surrounds me even though I am still walking towards it. Entangled voices of shoppers are intertwined with louder voices promoting a cheaper kilo of shiny red tomatoes and a dozen fresh farm eggs.

The melodic church bells are ringing – it’s 10:00 am. It’s always better to go earlier rather than later. By noon, markets become overly crowded and not as enjoyable to navigate through.

The place smells of everything and anything. Floating scents of garlic, curly parsley, ripe peaches, moldy Roquefort and greasy spit-roasted chicken as I walk past the different farmers. My nostrils are filled with appetizing flavors – it feels like having a fancy 4-course meal by just walking aimlessly and smelling the air.

I want to look at the prices first, let’s walk around. I never buy right on the spot. I want to see what each farmer has to offer and the quality of the food.

Le fromager is whistling as he cuts through a colossal round wheel of holey Gruyère cheese. Et avec ceci, Madame? This lady is not having anything else but I already eyed a big chunk of yellow cantal, which I think would royally pair with this light fruity red wine I still have at home.

The rustle of the thin plastic bags carrying food whispers throughout the market. It’s a sign people are buying. Baskets are full.

Oh, des fraises des bois! It’s not often that you see wild strawberries on the market – strawberries of the forest as we call them. So small, sweet, brightly red and deliciously strong. They’ll be perfect for strawberry tartlets with a lemony cream in the center. They’re expensive though. C’est une folie!

The French always “complain” about splurging and love to say out loud that it’s “crazy”. But they secretly love it nonetheless.

It’s a whole process for them – first, acknowledge the price, then announce the word “une folie” out loud, and finally, appear to find some comfort: ok, just for once – yes, pour une fois. Let’s get the strawberries! <shoulder shrug>

Le boucher has a great rôtisserie oven next to his booth-truck. Un poulet, s’il vous plaît, Monsieur. The skin of this slow turning chicken looks so crispy, I will make a meal out of it. Eggs, we need eggs! I know where to get them.

I prefer not to give my money away to the big farmers in their fancy food trucks. No, I buy from my favorite adorable 78 year-old grandpa in the corner there… next to La Poste and the Café Bar Tabac. He does not have much with him – eggs, some tomatoes, cherries, plums and green beans. I always buy a dozen from him. His wife Léonne is not here today, I hope everything is ok.

She’s taking care of Jolie, my best egg-layer. Something happened. I think the fox scared her last night. You’re not buying Jolie’s eggs today. These were laid by Picorette.

As he’s searching inside his rusty metal coin box to break my 20 €, the noises of loose change hitting the box with other coins echo sounds of empty cardboard fruit crates being tossed on the side.

The church bells are ringing again. This time it’s noon! Where did 11:00 go? And I did not have time to make it to the fish and seafood booths. They’re my favorite too.

Do we buy something to eat here or just go home? In all honesty, I want my crispy chicken now. The green beans with parsley and a bit of butter will be just enough. We’ll cook them in the pressure cooker – so much faster and they’ll be crisp, just how I like them. We’ll make a plum tart too.

The wild strawberry tartlets will be for tonight then. For dessert. Une folie!

Farmers already actively packed up and left.

Some abandoned wooden and cardboard crates stayed behind.

Hissing water sprays are cleaning the market ground.

Lively homes now sparkle with colorful fresh veggies and fruits.

We’ll go back next Sunday, c’est sûr!

Joyeux 14 juillet!

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Frenchie and the May Lilies

1 May

May 1 will always be a Holiday to me even though it’s not celebrated in the U.S.

And what comes to mind are my all-time favorite Holiday-related questions, which are without a doubt: “Do you have Labor Day in France?” and “Do you have 4th of July in France?”

When faced with the challenge of answering these questions, one can only hope for a glimmer of wit to magically appear from somewhere – hopefully somewhere not too far! Depending on who is asking these types of questions, the answers will obviously need to be customized and will vary greatly going from a degree of sweet yet informative explanation – aka Foreign Cultural Experiences 101 – to a degree of scathing remark – aka Sarcasm-Advanced Level.

It’d look something like this:

“Actually, Labor Day in France is celebrated on May 1 and not on the first Monday in September. May 1 only became the official day to celebrate Labor Day because of an American event – how about that?!?! – called the Haymarket Affair which started on May 1, 1886 when workers demonstrated and fought for an 8-hour work day. In 1889, the French decided that May 1 would be the day to demonstrate and protest for reducing work days to 8 hours. And in 1947-1948, May 1 was officially known as Fête du travail (Work Holiday), understand Labor Day.”

Nice and sweet.

But then, this happens:

“Do you have 4th of July in France?”

I’ve heard this one at least 50 times! What this truly means is “Do you celebrate 4th of July in France like we do here?” The best possible answer about whether “we have July 4th in France” can only and truly be: “No, in France, the calendar strangely skips July 4th, we don’t have that day. We go from July 3 directly to July 5.” [smirk]

So with May 1st also comes another sensory celebratory landmark: le muguet – lily of the valley.

Labor Day is not only fun because it’s a day off; offering and giving out lilies of the valley to friends and family is part of the French tradition. They are a symbol of Spring and are thought to be a lucky charm since King Charles IX of France supposedly gave the ladies of the Court a sprig of lily of the valley on May 1, 1561 to bring them good luck throughout the year and celebrate the joys of Spring.

Every year shortly before May 1, the May lilies pop out of nowhere in all flower shops and supermarkets. Even on street corners, it is not unusual to see independent street-hawker-florists trying to make some money by selling sprigs and planted pots of lilies. And seriously, isn’t there anything better than to get up early on a beautiful May Day morning in Paris, walk down the streets before anyone is out and about when the sun is still light and soft, breathe the air, hear the quietness around and spot the lilies at each street corner shinning in the sun with their tiny blinding white bells?

Special guest photographer: Roger Noiseau for the photo of the lily of the valley (above)

As the French saying goes: “in May, do as you please”.

So wear your lilies proudly and however you feel like.

Look, this young lady placed sprigs of lilies on her bike’s handlebars! I wonder if she is going to meet some friends for a picnic by the Seine. And this guy here is wearing a sprig as a boutonnière on his coat. He must be going to a Labor Day lunch with family.

As Parisians walk by with sprigs in their hands, the crisp, light and distinctive sweet smell of the lilies fill the streets of Paris wherever you walk. It’s a once-a-year treat allowing everyone to bask in their floating aroma and enjoy some well-deserved time out from the world.

Frenchie and the Easter Brunch

24 Apr

There is this thing in the U.S. called brunch. You might have heard about it! A twilight zone between breakfast and lunch taking you straight from 8 a.m. to noon on an express train via a Champagne glass. Unfortunately for them, the French aren’t much into the brunch fad and it’s hard enough to find a place open for breakfast on a week day at 8 a.m. in Paris, you might as well just give up and eat your sugar brioche at home. It’s true! The French just don’t go and eat outside for breakfast or brunch. Actually, let me rephrase that: the French have tried to bring the concept of brunch in the country and for the past 5 years now restaurants advertise brunch menus on weekends – but let’s just face it, it’s slowly picking up in Paris only and it can’t compare to a good, fun, loud and opulent American brunch.

Here’s what I love about brunch and especially about Easter brunch. The casualness of brunch is easy and relaxing. It can be as simple as elegant and sophisticated as you want. It can be hosted at home or outside with family or friends. And it is by far the best opportunity to drink before 2:00 p.m. without judgement. There is this little something about brunch that I can’t quite explain. A fun day when everyone is just happy it’s Sunday – no worries nor troubles. A time when you can just kick back and appreciate what you’ve been working towards all week-long. And let’s be frank, Americans have this tremendous and fantastic ability to give up and/or surrender – you choose! – all moderation when it comes to food and drinks. There is enough to eat for 35 and trust me, it’s just that good to sip Champagne amongst friends mid-day for as long as you pleasurely want. As any Parisians would testify – or only testify under torture for fear to actually admit it’s true – Sundays are the dreaded day. It’s the worst day of the week. [Great post explaining why here] And I am so relieved to live somewhere where Sundays are simply considered “fundays”.

Easter brunch is a great tradition here in the U.S. Throw together some painted eggs, some coffee, oj, a little champagne, some pastel colored clothes, a jacquard sweater and you’ve got yourself an Easter brunch party. Americans love to dress up for Easter brunch – they bring out Spring colors and welcome the season with a warm hug one can only find on this side of the pond. Forget the boring rainy French Easter lunches at grandma’s house where aunt Monique is telling you again for the hundredth times not to put your elbows on the table.

Today, with a 70 degree F (21 degrees C) weather shinning beyond the beautiful yellow daffodils in bloom in the neighborhood, the Spring game of peek-a-boo was more than taunting and tantalizing. Easter brunch started with tangerine Champagne cocktails, Mimosas and Bellinis with a home-made peach granita. Today’s menu and appetizers included a prosciutto plate paired with Asian pear wedges and mint, a blue cheese wild mushroom spinach quiche and a salad of shrimp and roasted peppers (aka Insalata di scampi e peperoni arrosti).

As the afternoon went on, the Moroccan leg of lamb with mint sauce accompanied with a vegetable sauté with orange and balsamic was ready to be consumed. I don’t know if it was the harissa, the ras el hanout, or the strong mint flavored sauce, or perhaps even the overindulgence of Champagne, but the light was shinier, the flowers more fragrant, the guests and the birds happier carrying noises of Spring and a new season about to bloom through the open windows.

As expected for brunch, desserts were plentiful and varied. Mini tarts for all! Lime and ginger, chocolate raspberry with cayenne pepper, rhubarb and almond with a St Germain syrup – and to continue the celebration of citrusy fruits and fresh flavors, a pomelo-pistachio tart.

The afternoon went by and the bottles got empty. Everyone left with a sense of fulfillment that only a brunch can bring. This feeling of togetherness and of a delightful happiness that Sunday night is going to be a slow and enjoyable night with fun memories rushing through to be treasured forever. Oh and this old fear of Monday morning looming over your shoulder? Disappeared in a puff of smoke. Happy brunch!

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