Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Le quatre heure

Last Saturday, author and photographer Lucy Vanel did a guest post for The Kitchn. Vanel, who is based in Lyon, France, blogs about food on Lucy's Kitchen Notebook. Her guest post on The Kitchn, a tribute piece, is both touching and informative.

The quatre heure, literally "the four o'clock," is snack time for children in France. Le quatre heure, also known as le heure goûter, or simply le goûter, is a French tradition; when children come home from school they may have some cheese, a pain au chocolat or a yogurt. And during summers in Annecy with my sister and my nephews, we always pause in the afternoon for a little snack. It reminds me of my own snack time growing up; we would come home to cookies and milk every afternoon.

Even as a grown-up, I still enjoy this time, a pause in the day. For me, it's a chance to be still, gather my thoughts, and relax before the busyness of the evening begins.

Do you enjoy"le quatre heure?"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jambon, buerre, et fromage

Walk down any street in Annecy's Centre Ville and tucked in between the larger merchants you'll find small prêt à emporter places where you can grab a sandwich or a small quiche, maybe an espresso. It's perfect for a quick bite when you're out exploring (or shopping!)

It was in one of those places where I tasted my first jambon- beurre. Served on a smaller-than-usual baguette, these sandwiches come wrapped in their own little bag which makes them easy to hold and eat on the go.

The combination of the creamy butter, the salty thinly sliced ham and cheese, and the crusty baguette makes these simple sandwiches irresistible. Here at home I've tried (oh how I've tried) to recreate the jambon-beurre, but with no success. You wonder "How hard can it be to make this? It's just a ham sandwich, after all!" But those of you who've had one of the sandwiches know what I'm talking about, n'est-ce pas?

So tell me, who among you has discovered the secret to the jambon-beurre?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Week-end Simple: Handwash your dishes

There is something meditative and sensual about washing dishes by hand. The silky warm water, the squeek and gleam, the pleasure of caring for dishes that you've had for years. I don't use a dish drainer, so I place my dishes on a soft, linen towel for a few minutes before drying and putting them away.

I appreciate my dishwasher, but use it only once or twice a week; handwashing a few dishes is easier than the rinsing, loading, and the dreaded unloading. And if you've spent time in a French home you know that a dishwasher is a luxury; precious undercounter space is more likely to be used for storage, or a washing machine.

Even if you can't live without your dishwasher, this weekend, keep it simple: wash a few dishes by hand. And if I can't convince you, this beautiful post by Corey Amaro from Tongue in Cheek will certainly do it.

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

little brown pen

For light entertainment, some people enjoy television, others prefer paging through a magazine. Moi? I love exploring the web looking for blogs, sites, and shops that might interest my readers. My most recent discovery? little brown pen.

little brown pen
is the blog of writer and photographer Nichole Robertson, and I fell in love the minute I opened the link: the layout, the colors, the text and the images combine in way that is so pleasing and inviting.

As if the blog isn't enough, there's an Etsy shop by the same name, and that's where you'll really fall in love. Those stunning photos on Nichole's blog are available at her Etsy shop! If you're like me, you'll have a hard time deciding on a color for one of her Paris photo sets. You'll want to find a wall for her colorful perpetual calendar, and buy all 26 of her amusing Paris letters.

What's best is that the photos are authentic Parisien, taken when Nichole and her family lived in Paris, and on her many return trips. For beauty, authenticity, and affordability you will love little brown pen.

Let me know if you visit; I'd love to hear your impression. Better yet, if you visit let Nichole know by leaving a comment on her blog.

Je t'aime little brown pen!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Which way to go?

Currently at my house, we're all trying to figure out which direction to go.

Since being accepted at several schools, my son is now deciding where he wants to go to college. My sister is trying to decide whether to come to the US this summer; it would be the first visit for Maxime and Jules, and we would all get to spend time together before my son heads off to college.

And moi? In addition to making decisions about buying and selling a house, I am trying to imagine what life will be like without my son's math homework spread across the dining room table, without pizza boxes on his bedroom floor, and without his Chopin piano concertos filling the house.

Perhaps it's time to think about an extended stay in France . . .

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Week-end Simple: Eat a baguette with jam

Oh, the joy of the weekend. There's time to catch up on all those tasks we weren't able to get to during la semaine.

And hopefully, you also take time to do something that you enjoy. Maybe you'll visit the farmers market, or the flea market. Perhaps you'll spend an afternoon in the park, or spend an evening with friends. What do you enjoy doing on le week-end that you can't do during the week?

One thing I enjoy is my French breakfast--a fresh baguette with butter and jam. Yes, I buy a baguette every day for dinner, but I during the week I never get to enjoy fresh bread at breakfast. So on the weekend, it's a treat to make a bakery run in the early morning, and come home to enjoy a fresh baguette with butter and jam.

What do you enjoy doing on le week-end?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ricard Pastis de Marseille

When I returned from France last summer, tucked into my suitcase was a small bottle of Ricard Pastis de Marseille.

While every French and francophile in the world knows about pastis, until last summer I had never tasted it. It took a more than a few sips to get used to the anise flavor, but by the end of my stay in France, I could say that I enjoyed it.

The clear, amber liquid turns a milky white when mixed with water, and is referred to as the milk of Provence. Pastis has an interesting history, and the story of Ricard Pastis, annointed "le vrai pastis de Marseille,” is worthy of a novel.

I bought a bottle and brought it home with me, put it my pantry. There it waits for that first warm weather evening when I'll bring out the pastis, serve up an apéro, and immediately be transported back to those wonderful late afternoons and evenings in Annecy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Joie de Vivre

I know many of you are familiar with Robert Arbor's Joie de Vivre, so you don't need an introduction. But a recent email reminded me that there are some readers who aren't familiar with it.

More than any other book, Joie de Vivre captures everything I appreciate about the French. Described as a "sort of a self-help book for people who admire the French lifestyle," this book is filled with suggestions to help you move toward a simpler, French-inspired way of life. I have to say that Joie de Vivre was an inspiration for My French Corner, and Arbor's advice continues to inspire many of my posts.

So, if you haven't read Joie de Vivre, you're in for a treat, and, if you have read the book, perhaps you'll want to read it again, to be reminded and renewed.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Week-end Simple: Sit in a café

I had planned on something outdoors for my weekend post, but the weather isn't cooperating. Instead, I decided to post about something I enjoy on a rainy day: sitting in a café.

This weekend I'll put on my French trench, toss a scarf around my neck, put a book or newspaper in my handbag, and wander over to my favorite neigborhood place, Café Parisien. Seriously, I am not kidding. Café Parisien. It's a wonderful little place in my neighborhood that has an authentic French menu, all the current French magazines, and ambience.

I'll order a coffee, find a table by the window, and settle in for a hour or so, sipping my coffee, reading my book, and pretending I'm sitting in a Paris café on a rainy day. I'll delight in the time I've carved out for myself, doing something I enjoy.

This weekend, wherever you are, whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling, take time to do something that gives you pleasure, something that you enjoy. It could be as simple as sitting in a café.

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Steak au poivre

As the weather changes, so does my cooking. Winter braises, roasted meats, and root vegetables are replaced by lighter fare.

A great transitional dish is steak au poivre. This steak, crusted in peppercorns and served with a simple reduction sauce, is a perfect complement for spring vegetables. Asparagus, spinach and greens, peas, and tender spring potatoes are all a great match for a tasty steak au poivre.

There are many variations of steak au poivre; in this recipe from Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, the sauce is prepared with a dark stock and red wine (or cognac or bourbon). But this classic recipe from Gourmet adds heavy cream to the sauce, while another one uses a balsamic reduction for extra bite.

Of course, you may have your own recipe for this classic French dish. Perhaps you'll share?

Monday, April 5, 2010

French Stripes Fabric Collection

It seems we all love vintage French linens, grain sacks, and dish towels, but those textiles are rare finds and often come with a hefty price tag.

When I wanted to recover my vintage dining room chairs in grain sack fabric, I just couldn't bring myself to cut into vintage whole cloth pieces I had collected; they are too precious. So it was true serendipity that I discovered the French Stripes Fabric Collection at Calico Corners.

These beautiful fabrics have a true homespun look, and a natural background with stripes available in four different colors --beige, black, blue, and the familiar French red. These fabrics are sturdy 100% cotton and are ideal for chairs, sofas or pillows. The price per yard won't break the bank, so you can get the French laundry look for a fraction of what you'd pay for vintage piece goods.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Le poisson d'avril

In France, April 1 is known as le poisson d'avril, and like Americans, the French play jokes on one another. One tradition is sticking a cut out paper fish on someone's back without them knowing it!

This morning my sister wrote me and said that yesterday when she picked up Jules at school, he had a fish on his back. Here's a pic of Jules modeling his poisson--too funny. But funnier still is once they got home, Jules and Maxime did it to my sister!

Poisson d'avril Jules et Darcy!

Week-end Simple: Buy a bar of soap

Soap. We use it everyday--in the kitchen, in the bath, at home and work. So, why not make it a fragrant experience?

J'adore lavender soap. L'Occitane's Savon de Bonne Mere comes in a lavender fragrance, but $6 a bar makes it a little pricey. French soap maker Durance also makes a lavender soap, but their products are hard to find in the US.

A brand of lavender soap that is affordable and available almost everywhere is Yardley's English Lavender. I can pick up a bar at my local grocery or drugstore for $1.25, so I never have to be without. If you scout your own grocery store, I can bet you'll find your own bar of Yardley lavender soap.

Week-end simple is all about finding one way to make life a little lovelier, and I can think of nothing simpler than a bar of sweet smelling soap.

Bon weekend!

And the winner is . . .

B, from Girl on a Bicycle! B, if you email me your mailing info, I'll send the book your way.

Thank you everyone for sharing your flea market stories; I loved reading all of them. And some of you are so creative, you should consider writing a book of your own!

The weekend is upon us, and for many of you the weather will be glorious. So maybe this weekend you'll just happen to find yourself browsing your local marche aux puces . . .