Thursday, July 23, 2009

Á bientôt

Earlier this week a post on the FC group linked to Laure Joliet's "8 Things I Learned on Vacation in France," posted on Apartment Therapy. I want to thank rougechatvelo of the FC group for providing the link, and thank Laure Joliet for writing the post. It's a great post to read as I depart for France.

Joliet's lessons are the same lessons I learn--and learn again--when I spend time in France. Savor the moment, simple is beautiful, embrace the seasons are mantras that I try to live by, but they can easily slip away if I'm not reminded. I found humor in Joliet's observations "keep things clean" and "don't be afraid to make a mess"--and her reminder to "set the table!"

I will miss blogging when I'm in France, but as Joliet reminds me, it is important to savor the moment. So, I will savor the time with my family who I see only once a year--my sister, her husband, and my nephews--and the friends I have made over the years. I look forward to many delightful al fresco dinners, drinking many bottles of wine, eating lots of bread, and, practicing my French.

I loved Joliet's post and will keep it in mind as I make my own list over the next few weeks of things I learned on vacation in France.

Á bientôt!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The French Laundry Cookbook

The blogosphere is an amazing place. When I started this blog I had no idea that there was a world out there where people connect, have conversations, give things to each other, become friends. It really is amazing.

Just yesterday I connected with an artist whose work and blog I discovered on Etsy. Then, this morning while doing a search on “french laundry” (don’t ask), I discovered yet another blog I wanted to share.

Currently on the Yahoo French Chic/FC group there is a thread about the soon-to-be-released movie, "Julie & Julia." As you may know, the story is about a young woman who cooks her way through each of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and blogs about the experience.

What does this have to do with french laundry and the blogosphere? Well, I discovered another blog, French Laundry at Home, written by a woman who has cooked her way through chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook. A timely discovery, bien sûr!

You're probably familiar with The French Laundry restaurant, located in Napa, but I just recently learned about the restaurant, and have never seen the cookbook, so the blog caught my interest. Have you visited the restaurant or used the cookbook? Share, svp! I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Artist Shann Spishak on Etsy

I love to browse Etsy, especially for original art. On Etsy, original art is very affordable and over the years I've been able to purchase several small paintings. This morning I was browsing and discovered an artist new to me, Shann Spishak.

Inspired by European art and interiors, this artist has created beautiful paintings. I love her still lifes, but she also paints interiors which I know will appeal to some of my readers. This painting titled "Sweet Lavender" depicts a rustic French country interior and is from her European Interiors series.

Spishak's paintings on Etsy range in price from $48 for smaller pieces, to larger pieces which are priced appropriately. Her painting, "Moment with Monet" is featured in the August 2009 issue of Romantic Homes magazine and she writes about it on her blog.

I know some of you do collect original art and are fans of Etsy. If you visit Shann's site, I'd love to hear what you think about her work and if you enjoy it as much as I do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dîner sur le balcon

I almost forgot to post this photo of our dinner yesterday evening. My photos usually don't turn out, but this one is not so bad! I wanted to share because I think you would appreciate it.

Just off the living room, it's a narrow balcony with a low overhang, which makes for an intimate setting. And, being high off the water, with the lake in the background, it feels a little like being in a tree house. You can click on the photo for a better view.

I thought the table setting looked tres française, non?

The Tour de France in Annecy

Today is a rest day for cyclists in the Tour before resuming battle in the Alps and arriving in Annecy on Thursday for the 40K loop around the lake. Click on the map for a closer look.

Lac d'Annecy is framed by mountains, most notably Mont Veyrier, which is a haven for paragliders. The lake covers 10.5 square miles, with an average depth of 135 ft. and is one of the cleanest lakes in the world. The villages that encircle the lake are beautiful--Veyrier, Menthon-Saint-Bernard, Talloires--each with its own unique personality and offerings.

I am sorry I will miss the Tour as I don't arrive in Annecy until early Friday morning, but I'm sure I'll experience the remnants of this exciting event.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How to make a bed a la française

Who would have guessed that cultural differences extend to the way we make a bed? In Bringing France Home, Cheryl MacLachlan details how to make a bed a la française and I thought you might find it interesting.

  • The French are not accustomed to fitted sheets; they use a flat sheet in place of a fitted one
  • A long pillow, a traversin, is used at the head of the bed and often the sheet is pulled up, over and around the traversin
  • A traversin may also be covered in its own case, as pictured here
  • The couette, or down comforter is one of the bed coverings of choice; the couette has its own covering which is washed weekly with the sheets
  • The bedskirt, or dust ruffle, is an indispensable part of the bed's ensemble; it is not only a decorative touch but is used to conceal what is stored under the bed
  • The turnback of the top sheet is very deep, as shown in the picture, often to showcase lovely hem or trim
  • The oversized pillows that are seen adorning a bed are called "European squares" and are 26" x 26" square
  • These pillows are often in cases that are embellished or monogrammed
  • Because the French like to display their pillows, their shams, and their top sheet, the bedcover is often folded back upon itself

Bonne nuit!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

French fabrics

“Like the sirens calling to Ulysses, the French are drawn by the lure of fabric,” writes Cheryl MacLachlan. “No single element defines the character of the French home more than the abundance and variety of its fabrics.” In Bringing France Home, MacLachlan identifies the the “four quintessentially French fabrics"--toile, jacquard, petit point, and the provençales.

The French girl in me adores toile. Properly identified as toile de jouy, this fabric originated in the village Jouy-en-Josas in 1759 when a new process for printing on cotton was invented. Traditionally printed in red or blue, toile is now printed in all colors—green, violet, yellow—and is not limited to fabrics. While I have a beautiful blue and white toile boutis on my bed, I also have a yellow and blue toile Thibaut wallpaper in my powder room.

Even more colorful than toile, are the indiennes provençale fabrics we associate with Provence. Originally block printed in India and imported to France, these fabrics were once banned because of the impact of their popularity. After the Revolution this fabric fell out of favor, until the 1930s when it was manufactured again by the Deméry family in what is now the world famous company, Souleiado.

Jacquard, named for its inventor Joseph-Marie Jacquard, refers to the woven designs created on a special loom. Jacquard weaves are appreciated for their intricate and complex designs, which often result in rich, heavy, elegant fabric used in draperies, upholstery, and bedspreads. However, one of my favorite jacquard textiles are lovely cotton tea towels, woven by Tissage Moutet.

Once a craft practiced by only men, petit point later came to be associated with noblewomen and a proper upbringing. Following the Industrial Revolution, more women had time on their hands and petit point grew in popularity and was most often used to fashion pillow covers or cushions for a chair.

Fascinating histories, lovely fabrics, and another way to add a touch of France to your home, n’est-ce pas?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Table manners a la française

One of the most interesting parts of Cheryl MacLachlan's Bringing France Home is the section on table etiquette. MacLachlan argues that while western cultures may share the same traditional etiquette, the French continue to observe these traditions, even in contemporary life.

When it comes to seating and serving, it appears that the French and Americans do not differ so much; important guests are seated near the hosts, and women are always served before men. But that is where the similarities seem to end.

Did you know that in France, the guest never touches the wine bottle, and the wine glass is never filled to the top (maybe that's why the guest shouldn't touch the wine bottle)? C'est vrai! It is the role of the host to make sure all the wine glasses remain half full.

When the French dine, both hands are visible--never in the lap--with the wrists resting lightly on the edge of the table. MacLachlan points out that this custom dates back to earlier times when the fear of a concealed weapon was a reality.

As we know, bread is served at all French meals, but instead of slathering a slice with butter and eating it whole, the French prefer to break off a small piece of bread, sometimes using it to push food onto their fork. Much more civilized, n'est-ce pas?

Speaking of forks, in France the fork is held in the left hand, tines down, and it is never transferred to the right hand. The knife, which is held in the right hand, is used for cutting and for coaxing bits of food onto the renegade fork. Anyone who has tried this continental style of eating knows it takes some practice, but when mastered, one feels a great sense of accomplishment!

The knife and fork are also used to cut fruit into quarters, then each piece is peeled separately. I have often watched French brother-in-law expertly eat fruit this way and am always impressed with his ease and tidiness in the task.

And what do you do at the end of the meal? When the meal concludes, the fork and knife are placed on the plate, parallel to the table edge, with their handles resting at three o'clock, and the napkin is placed on the table, but not refolded.

MacLachlan continues with observations on table conversation, the art of inviting and receiving guests, and insistence that dinner guests experience only pleasure. The formula? Etiquette aside, pour a good wine, serve good food, and keep things simple.

Thoughts, svp?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bringing France Home

There are several books about French living that have become our favorites, among them Vicki Archer's My French Life and Robert Arbor's Joie de Vivre. But there is one book that I rarely see mentioned: Bringing France Home, by Cheryl Maclachlan.

This book was part of the Bringing it Home series published in the 1990s and includes Bringing Italy Home and Bringing England Home, as well as the book on French living. The series is designed to show how to “incorporate the very best of another country's decorating, entertaining, and kitchen secrets into American homes.”

As I prepare to leave for France, I thought it might be fun to revisit this book and share some of MacLachlan’s observations with you. Over the next week or so I'll write about some of my favorite parts which include "How to Make a Bed," and "How to Set the Table" a la Française, her writing on French textiles, and the simple pleasures of French living.

I'd also love to hear from anyone who is familiar with the book, or knows of others like it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Capucine

I'm leaving town for a few days so I won't be posting, but I wanted to leave you with something that will make you smile.

As some of you know, I am a teacher. Yesterday, while researching books for my students, I discovered this video of Capucine, an adorable five year old French girl who could clearly write a book of her own.

Apparently Capucine has quite a following--one writer referred to her as a "pint size Audrey Tatou"-- so you may have already viewed this video of Capucine weaving her fantastic story about monkeys, crocodiles, Tigger and Winnie, and a witch with an orange ring.

And I never knew that the hippopatamus était allergique a la magie . . .

Bonne weekend!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Medaglia D'Oro

On Monday I wrote about the French citron pressé, but reading a recent post on La Bella Figura reminded me of another favorite summer drink, iced coffee. As I've said before, when it comes to coffee, I turn to the Italians, and iced coffee is no exception.

My Moka Express makes one cup of espresso, so unless I want to brew another pot, there's none left if I want an iced coffee later in the day. But it doesn't matter because I have instant espresso.

I first bought Medaglia D'oro Instant Espresso Coffee for baking, but then discovered it's true raison d'etre: iced coffee. Put a teaspoon of this fine, dark powder in a tall glass, add enough boiling water to dissolve, and a few ice cubes. Then, add cold water--and milk or sugar, if you choose--and stir for a delicious iced coffee drink.

If you're a coffee person, you've probably seen Medaglia D'Oro products on your grocer's shelf. The familiar red, white, and green can with the bright yellow lettering that reads "caffe espresso" sets itself apart from the American brands.

But being the coffee person that you are, you might never see the tiny jar of instant espresso because it's probably tucked in behind the instant coffee. Actually, I buy mine at Target; they always have it on the shelf, and priced at $3.99 it's less expensive than at the grocer or specialty stores.

So even if you are a coffee aficionado, consider giving this instant espresso a try--you might be surprised. And if not, you can use it to make some great mocha brownies.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Citron pressé

I've incorporated a lot of France into my life, but there are just a few things that really put me at a sidewalk café, mid-afternoon, for a pause and some people-watching. One of them is citron pressé.

Some say citron pressé is just a fancy French name for lemonade, but, I disagree. Citron pressé is made to order, by the glass rather than the pitcher. Order this drink at any café in France, and the waiter will bring you a tall glass filled with ice and the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon. Alongside your glass you'll receive a carafe of cold water, and one--maybe two--sugars. You adjust the water and sugar to taste.

The first time I had citron pressé was in Annecy. We had spent the afternoon walking around the old city and it was time for a pause. I don't remember what I ordered, but my sister ordered a citron pressé and I was immediately intrigued (especially by her expert pronunciation!) She let me taste it and everyone was amused by my reaction to this tart drink!

Because it is so tart, you have to sip a citron pressé, which makes the taste, and the pause, last that much longer. Try the recipe below and see if you don't agree.

Ingredients:
Ice
4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Pitcher of chilled water
Granulated sugar


Preparation:
Put a small amount of ice into 2 glasses
Pour 2 oz lemon juice into each glass
Add water and stir in sugar to taste

Makes 2 servings.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tour de France

I almost forgot--the Tour de France begins today!

For the next few weeks you can bring France into your home by following the 96th tour. The tour begins today in Monaco and will finish 21 days from now with the ride down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

You can click on the pic to see this year's route, and you can listen to the story on this clip from National Public Radio.

Wishing all the cyclists bonne chance!

The Swan, by Camille Saint-Saëns

Please forgive me, but this post has nothing to do with tartes, galettes, crème fraîche, French market baskets, baguettes, croissants, or Monoprix. It's a tiny post about one of my other passions: the cello.

I began learning cello as an adult; I'm not accomplised, but playing brings great joy to my life. One of the blogs I follow is written by a woman, Emily Wright. Emily is a professional cellist, teacher, writer. Emily actually enjoys teaching adults, which is unusual. On Wednesday, she posted this link on her blog, Stark Raving Cello.

Even if you're not a fan of classical music, you will be enchanted by this short video clip. The piece, Le Cygne, is by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, so there is a French connection.

If you check it out, let me know what you think.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Leçon d'histoire

As we prepare to celebrate our independence, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the historical relationship between our country and France.

Relations between the two countries have been discordant and harmonious; in recent history, the ties between France and the United States have been strained, though there are signs that the relationship is mending. During both the worlds wars, these two countries formed an alliance, though during the postwar years, both political and cultural friction existed.

During the early and mid-1800s, strained relations can be attributed to Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, and Napoleon III, but de Tocqueville, as well as the gift of the Statue of Liberty, emphasized what the two countries shared: a love of freedom and democracy.

In the 1700s, both America and France fought revolutions; though conception, principles--and outcomes--were quite different, both revolutions battled tyranny and oppression. And while it should not be said that the American Revolution influenced the French, perhaps the American ideal of Liberty galvanized the French people in their pursuit of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

As lovers of France and all-things-French, it's important to understand, historically, what we share, and what makes us different, non?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nectarine and blackberry tarte

When it comes to combining fruits, nectarines and berries are a perfect match. Nectarines complement all the local berries—blueberries, blackberries, raspberries—and combine well together in a tarte.

I prefer nectarines to peaches for tartes, galettes, and crisps simply because they don’t need to be peeled. The nectarines I bought at the farmers market on Saturday are at their peak of ripeness and will combine well with tart blackberries to make a galette.

This recipe is identical to Sunday’s raspberry galette, although today I will be making two galettes, because we have guests for dinner; you can simply halve this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Pastry dough for two 9” galettes
1 pint of fresh blackberries
3-5 nectarines sliced, not thin but not thick
3 tablepoons of white sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

Sheet of baking parchment, enough to cover a medium rimmed cookie sheet
Take the prepared pâte brisée from the refrigerator
Roll out the dough on floured surface then place it on the parchment
Lift the parchment with the rolled dough and place it on the cookie sheet

In a bowl, gently toss the nectarine slices and blackberries with the sugar and cornstarch. If you prefer a sweet juice, add more sugar. If you prefer a thicker juice, add more cornstarch.

Divide the nectarine and berry mixture and spoon on to the pastry dough leaving a 2” border
Gently fold the border up over the fruit filling

Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is brown and the juice has formed

Cut and serve once the tart has cooled and set

With its lovely combination of colors, this is a perfect dessert for the holiday. Bon appétit!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Durance products on sale

I just returned home, checked my day's email, and discovered that French Soaps is offering 50% off all Durance products.

It appears to be an unadvertised sale, but if you would like to purchase, you only need to enter the word Provence as the promotion code when you checkout. This is a 3-day only sale.

I know some of you enjoy Durance and this may be a chance to save on your favorite products!

Bonsoir!

Je regrette

I'm unexpectedly out of town for a fun day trip, so I won't be baking any tarts today! But check back tomorrow for a nectarine blackberry delight.