Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pommes de terre

Recently I watched Michael Pollan's documentary The Botany of Desire and was reminded how important this food is to cultures all over the world.

I love potatoes; for me they are the ultimate comfort food. I prepare them more often in the colder months, when root vegetables are plentiful and I'm likely to make sauces that marry well with starches.

The French also love potatoes and prepare them many ways. Even in the summer months you can walk into any bistro in Annecy and order the apres ski favorite tartiflette, a regional dish from Haute Savoie made with potatoes, bacon, onion, creme fraiche, and Reblochon cheese.

I know for sure I will make potatoes several times this week, although I don't yet know how I will prepare them. But I thought it might be fun do a mini-series on the humble pomme de terre and share some of my favorite French recipes.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Attention IKEA shoppers

I promise you, I do not spend my weekends at IKEA, even though this is the second post in a week I mention it. But I know some readers will love this, so I want to pass it along.

It's the UNG DRILL frame, pictured here in all its $24.99 IKEA glory. When I spied it I thought it looked very French with its Baroque curls. I imagined it painted taupe or grey, and distressed for a French country look and hanging in Bonour Madame Stephanie's newly renovated dining room.

I did a little research and it turns out this item has already made its rounds on many of the online design blogs. Here's what I found:
Back in 2007, Apartment Therapy posted about IKEA's ornate frame, and just last Septmeber it showed up again!

On IKEA Hacker, Kathleen painted the frame white and used chalk board spray paint on the glass to create a beautiful chalkboard, while over at the blog A Brooklyn Limestone in Progress, Mrs. Limestone left the UNG DRILL frame black, but added a bit of screening to create an earring holder.

DIY Network Cathy Fillian used this frame to make a tricked out corkboard, while {in the tweeds} actually used it as a frame in their newborn nursery.

And moi? Well, if I were to buy this frame, I might paint it that taupey grey color and get my friend Leigh to help me distress it. Anyway, with so many possibilities, it's fun to think about.

Do you have a creative idea how to make this look more French? How would you use it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

And the winners are . . .

The winners of The Secret of Scent Giveaway are Parisienne Farmgirl, and Cara Rawls. Please email your mailing info, and I will get the books in the mail this weekend.

Thanks to everyone for sharing stories about your first perfume experience; they were lovely to read. Like many of you, I have worn several fragrances over the years (including the Van Cleef & Arpels that my sister Darcy now wears), and I associate each one with a certain time in my life.

Merci beaucoup!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

$5 French Market

I have a confession: I'm addicted to Etsy. It's not that I buy, but I love to browse; it's virtual window shopping. And when I find something, I think it's only fair to pass it along to you, n'est-ce pas?

That's why I'm sharing the link to the $5 French Market. True to its name, everything on this Etsy shop sells for only five dollars. I shopped here a few months ago, and come back every so often to see what's new.

My current favorite are these ivory candles hand stamped with French ecriture; the pair are tied with a simple bias tape knot. Click on the pic for a close-up view. I bought these candles for a hostess gift but they are so unusual, I think I'll have to buy another set for myself.

The customer service is great: the items were shipped quickly, arrived in perfect condition, and Jenny and Lauren even tucked in a few surprises.

Do you have a favorite Etsy site? Leave a comment and give your favorite Etsy site a little shout out!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Que pensez-vous?

You may remember a few weeks ago when I posted about the bundle of brocante ephemera I received from Corey Amaro at Tongue in Cheek?

In my bundle were these wonderful letters from wine proprietors dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. I decided that I would frame these letters and hang them as a set in my dining room.

But before sinking too much money into having the pieces professionally framed, I framed one myself. You'll laugh (or think it's sacrilege) when I tell you this is a very inexpensive frame from IKEA, but the result is almost exactly what I want.

Instead of placing the letter under the precut mat (which would obscure the beautiful ecriture in the margin), I floated the letter on top of the mat. By placing small knots of cotton string under the corners of the letter, I raised it slightly, so it appears to float. The tiny cotton knots lift the letter with no damage to the fragile paper, and help create a lovely shadow that frames the paper. If you click on the photo you'll get a better idea of what it looks like.

While it's not the perfect frame, nor the perfect shade of mat, it does give me a sense of what the letters will look like once they are all framed.

What do you think?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Secret of Scent Giveaway

For readers living in the Washington, D.C. area, there's a fascinating program coming up at La Maison Francaise, the cultural arm of the French Embassy.

The weekend of of February 5 and 6 there will be two presentations: "The Art of Fragrance" with Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, authors of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, and "Perfumes: An Exquisite Exploration" with master perfumer Patricia de Nicolai, creator of the Nicolai line of fragrances and director of the Osmotheque Versailles.

To celebrate this fun event I'm having a giveaway! I love giveaways and this time I'm offering two copies of Luca Turin's The Secret of Scent (don't you just love the Chanel-esque cover?)
To enter all you have to do is post a comment about your first perfume experience (mine was sneaking a few drops of my mother's Shalimar) and I will put your name in the virtual hat. The winners will be selected on Wednesday, January 27. I can't wait to read your entries.
Bonne chance!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Les chaises

One of the most difficult parts about splitting a household is that possessions that were once shared must now be divided. So, I no longer have my dining room table and chairs. They were beautiful, but were more to my husband's taste than mine, and now they belong to him.

Replacing something cherished isn't easy; nothing looks the same, nothing seems quite right. But searching for a replacement, I found these chairs--eight of them!--at my favorite local antique and furniture shop, Random Harvest. These are vintage harp back chairs from the early 30s and are in excellent condition. They are sturdy, comfortable, and petite, and at a little more than $100 a piece, they were a real find.

When I bought the chairs, the seats were covered in a dingy white vinyl, probably done some time in the 60s. The seats need new padding, but it will be weeks before the reupholsterer can take them. So, as a temporary measure I've recovered them in a linen-type fabric, reminiscent of French dish towels or grain sacks. You can click on the photo for a closer look.

They aren't perfect, but look tres French, and are beautiful with my new, vintage dining table. But that, mes amis, is another story.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Making galettes with Maxime et Jules

This afternoon I was going through some photos from last summer's trip to France, and discovered these photos of my nephews.

The photos brought back vivid memories and I was immediately back in that kitchen showing my nephews how to make tarts. I remember them being so excited: what kind shall we make? pommes? framboise? We finally decided on both.

Here is Max making his apple tarts . . .
while Jules chose the framboise.

, , , and papa loved them all!

And here are the finished tarts, waiting for papa when he returned from his trip to Geneva.

The boys were so proud and couldn't wait to show papa what they had baked. Of course, papa made a proper production about eating the tarts but he just couldn't decide which he like more, the apple or the raspberry.

In the end, I think he loved them both.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A week of French wines, c'est fini

It's been a great week of wine tasting and writing. I enjoyed browsing the wine section of the local grocery stores looking for different wines to try. I confess to being lured by some of the labels, but who could resist a lanky frog wearing a beret?

I also enjoyed figuring out which wine to pair with this week's meals, then sharing my discoveries. I only wish I had the vocabulary to describe the qualities of each wine I tasted.

And while it has no practical value, it was interesting to learn a few things about French wine. I now know the difference between a blend and a varietal, and understand the meaning of AOC and vin de pays. I stumbled on this webpage, "Introduction to French Wine Labels 101" which I found helpful.

Now, I just have to figure out what do to with so many open bottles of wine . . .

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mouton Cadet Bordeaux

Friday evening is a time for letting down and relaxing after the busy week, and I like to keep dinner very simple.

And for the first time in weeks we've had a break in the cold weather, so I couldn't resist using the grill to prepare a variety of sausages for this evening's dinner. Savory and spicy, saucisses need to be paired with a bold wine and this Mouton Cadet Bordeaux was a good match.

Unlike several of the wines I tasted this week, I was familiar with the Mouton Cadet label, but its $8.98 price tag reminded me that it should be included in this week's series. Besides, it would be a huge faux pas to do a series on French wine and not include a bordeaux, n'est-ce pas?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wild Pig Viognier

What pairs well with lobster ravioli in a delicate tomato cream sauce? Wild Pig Viognier, of course.

Actually, I'd never heard of Viognier, but like several other wines I've tried this week, the label--and the name--caught my eye. At $9.98 the bottle of Wild Pig just squeaked in under my $10 limit. The flavor is similar to chardonnay, but different (this is where a wine vocabulary would be helpful).

But even without a wine vocabulary to describe it, I could imagine serving Wild Pig Viognier with any number of seafood or pork dishes, or anytime you want a bit of a change from your usual chardonnay.

I read that Wild Pig wines are one of many "old wines being made in a new way," though I'm not sure what this means. Do you have any idea?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Arrogant Frog Ribet White

Do the French even make bad wine or have I just been lucky?

This evening's dinner, from Deborah Madison's The Greens Cookbook, was a pappardelle pasta tossed with pine nuts, shallots, zucchini, herbs, capers, chopped sun dried tomatoes, and lemon. Not strong flavors, but this dish needed to be paired with a wine that could stand up to the bite of the capers and the richness of the sun dried tomatoes without overwhelming.

I wanted a white, so I opened the bottle of Arrogant Frog Ribet White that I received as a hostess gift over the holidays. Technically, this wine probably doesn't qualify for this week's challenge; I'm not sure the price would meet my $10 limit.

But it didn't matter; I would gladly pay more for this great wine. Not fruity, not too dry, a perfect complement to a light pasta dish.

Besides, who could resist that arrogant frog?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

René Junot

A simple meal calls for a simple wine, n'est-ce pas? So the wine pairing for this evening's potato gratin was a bottle of Rene Junot Dry Red Table Wine. It's that simple.

Unlike the other French reds I've tried this week, Rene Junot is not a newcomer to the wine section. While I didn't enjoy it as much as the Cote-du-Ventoux or the B&G, I drank my share with dinner. But even though the price is nice at $8.98 a bottle, I'm not sure I will choose it again.

If you've tried this Rene Junot, what did you think?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet

I had never heard of Picpoul de Pinet, but there it was in Whole Foods: $6.98 a bottle and "one of our all time best selling wines" the sign claimed. How could I not try it?

I did a little research on Picpoul de Pinet and found this post on Tales from Languedoc Wine Country written by wine master Juliet Bruce Jones. After reading Juliet's post I decided that seafood would be the best pairing for this wine, so this evening I prepared an easy salmon en papilotte.

And the wine? Fantastique! If I had to compare it, I would say the taste reminds me of a pinot grigio--clean, fresh, and light--and paired perfectly with the fish. Again, the price of $6.98 a bottle makes it an affordable, everyday table wine. Between the taste and the price, I understand why it is one of the best selling wines at Whole Foods. If you can buy it, you have to try it!

This will also be a perfect warm weather wine, so I'll be going back to stock up for spring.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

La Vieille Ferme Côtes-du-Ventoux

I had picked a white wine to pair with this evening's roasted chicken, but at the last minute decided to try another red.

I know that white is the usual partner for chicken, but during the summers in France, we don't stand on ceremony when it comes to wine. Besides, a red seemed like the right choice for a cold winter evening and a chicken roasted with potatoes and root vegetables.

This evening I tried La Vieille Ferme Cote du Ventoux, and loved it! It's a perfect table wine, and I would pair it with beef and certain chicken dishes. In fact, that's what I think the rooster and the hen on the label are really talking about.

This bottle was a 2008 vintage; if I understand it correctly, the grapes for this wine were picked in 2008, kept in vats or oak barrels for ten months, then bottled in July 2009. This might explain why this bottle of La Vieille Ferme Cote du Ventoux wasn't as full-bodied as some reds, which makes me think I would like to try one of the earlier vintages.

I picked-up this bottle at my local Safeway for $6.98, which was well within my $10 limit. Now I'm wishing I had picked up two.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

B&G's Bistro Wine

I never realized how much I was missing in the wine section; there are all kinds of wonderful things there, like Barton & Guestier's Bistro Wine.

For this evening's dinner I needed a pinot noir; I was preparing a sauce that called for pinot, so I wanted a wine I could use for both cooking and drinking.

In the red wine section this colorful label caught my eye, and priced at $8.98 it fell within my $10 budget. B&G is a trusted French vintner (and the Frenchmen on the label look happy enough), so I decided to give it a try.

I prepared one of my favorite meals--petite filet of beef on a bed of garlic sauteed spinach and a potato galette--and this wine held its own. Though not as full-bodied as some pinots, it worked well for the sauce and for the table.

That said, Bistro Wine Pinot Noir is not a wine that I would drink on its own, without food; while a nice complement to a meal it's a bit peppery to stand alone.

Would I recommend it? Hmmm, not sure. Let's see what the rest of the week brings.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A week of French wines

Yesterday at the grocers, I had a little extra time and spent it browsing the wine section. When it comes to buying wine I'm a creature of habit, meaning I always buy the same thing. I buy what I like, what tastes good to me, and what I can afford.

I don't know a thing about wine, and terms such as "angular," "bouquet," and "cloying" are for the experts. But I do know that there are a number of great wines that aren't expensive and would easily fit within my weekly budget.

It's a new year, and time to try new things, n'est-ce pas? So I'm going to go out of my enological comfort zone and taste a few new wines. And because this is My French Corner, the wines will be French, bien sur. For the next few days, I'm going to be trying out some new wines but the rules are that the wine must be available at the grocer, it must be priced under $10, and, it must be French. Are you with me on this little adventure?


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A gift for you!

When I returned to school yesterday, my friend Leigh handed me a package: "It's not a Christmas gift. It's an I-saw-this-and-thought-of-you gift!"

Leigh is one of my closest friends, and one of the most thoughtful people I know. She's also a blogger, and those of you who enjoy crafts can visit her blog, Popcorn Ideas.

The gift? A lovely little French calendar, each petite page measuring about 5 x 7 inches. Instead of being bound, the pages are loose, and the calendar is now sitting on a small easel on my desk at school.

Leigh found the calendar, a free download, at Vert Cerise, a delightful French blog with a bit of something for everyone. If you would like a calendar, you can visit Vert Cerise and download one of your very own!

Merci Leigh, and merci Vert Cerise for this lovely cadeau de bonne année.

Monday, January 4, 2010

31 Rue Cambon

Recently, it seems my posts have just been about discoveries made while reading other blogs. I apologize for that, but when I discover something, I want to share.

Today's post links you to Apartment Therapy and to National Public Radio with a feature story on Coco Chanel's Paris flat at 31 Rue Cambon.

If you listen to NPR, you may have heard the broadcast that aired this morning on Morning Edition. Even if you're not an NPR fan, but you are a Chanel fan, I think you'll enjoy listening to the story reading the commentary, and looking at the photos.

If you listen, I'd love to hear what you think.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fleur de sel caramels at Whole Foods

Whole Foods shoppers be on the lookout for French Fleur de Sel caramels, currently on sale for $5.00.

I had never heard of fleur de sel caramels until Marsi, one of my readers, said that she had always wanted to make them from scratch.

I finally tasted these buttery sweet and salty treats last summer in France, and loved them! Then today I spied them on sale at Whole Foods and scooped a box to savor at home.

A sweet beginning to the new year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Café au lait avec foam?

In reading through my favorite daily blogs, I found this tip on The Kitchn on how to make milk foam without a frother or a steamer. Of course, not believing it, I had to give it a try . . . and it works!

Try that in your cafe au lait for happy new year!