Happy New Year…Bonne Année à tous!

January 7th, 2013

Whether you are in a sunny clime or skiing in the mountains, the vagabond wishes all a hearty, happy and healthy New Year.   May your days be bright, with moments to savor and memories in the making.  Yesterday, on a long walk along the steely-surfaced gloss of the Dordogne river, I was musing on what the confusing, challenging year 2012 brought in terms of good.  Hopefully the positive forces will prevail in the new year.  Wishing you all the very best!

Santé!

A Moving Experience

July 28th, 2011

Well, after much huffing and puffing, much sorting and tossing, and some serious decision-making, the vagabond has moved.  Downsized is the operative term here.  One of the hardest categories in that wrenching process of decision-making was dealing with kitchen tools, favorite dishes:   which glassware? which stew pots and casseroles to bring to the apartment?  Trying to keep the ….” less is more” motto in mind helped.  But what about the wonderful, shiny old meat grinder that clamped onto my grandmother’s counter, or the nesting set of fluted mousse/gâteaux molds in triplicate that won’t find a place on my new,  limited shelving?  Oh, all of those loose-based cake pans cannot come along either! Then there are odd “sets” of glasses, the 5 green-stemmed Riesling glasses I fell for in Alsace; the 3 huge-balloon numbers for Burgundy (when did I last buy a good Burgundy -not that it wasn’t a dream to try one?) or my large, eclectic collection of tiny aquavit/schnapps-sippers.  After I distributed the fish-smoker box, the cast-iron popover pans, and other heavies, there were more lightweight items to ponder.  Vases of all sizes and earthenware tea bowls…where would these fit into my re-adjusted life?  My heart said:  I want them all.  Space-available said:  Choose!

The deep drawers of table linens also have been pulled into the spotlight during these days of judgement.  Not only do I suffer from a great affection for vintage tabletop – from ’40′s family heirlooms to ’50′s and ’60′s Merimekko, but the napkins that are vital to setting an interesting table literally weigh in as well. With a little close inspection, some have slight tears to be mended or spots to be dipped…how much time and attention do these old table-top dearies deserve?

I’d be interested in reading about your experiences, and any advice!

More musings to follow soon…after the box is packed for the collectibles-brocante dealer!

Viva i Grissini !

January 28th, 2010

I fell for grissini in Turin one winter weekend, and although it was a few years ago, it was a memorable gastronomic crush.  Bakers’ windows,  steamed up from the warmth inside, all displayed individual styles – some straight, some knobby – of these long, crisp fingers of bread.  To call them “bread sticks” doesn’t seem quite fair, for they ran from delicate wands to thicker, shorter sticks studded with herbs or seeds. All variations are very crisp, wonderful for nibbling with a bowl of thick, hearty soup. Every winter I indulge in a nostalgic trip back to Turin via a batch of homemade grissini.

Savory wands, Grissini banish the winter "blahs"

If you can’t find frozen pizza dough, or if your favorite bakery doesn’t take orders for unbaked baguette dough, simply make your own. This can be made the day before, kept to cool-rise overnight and rolled out, shaped to bake for the next day’s lunch. If you do this, let it rest at room temperature before working the dough. It also can be rolled into a long log, sliced into rounds and patted flat to make pitas.  Simple, economical grissini can be on the table in under two hours. Begin by proofing (sprinkle yeast over the water, cover and let it rest for 10 minutes in a warm place) until the surface begins to show some tiny bubble activity :

1 teaspoon dried yeast sprinkled over 1 + 2/3 cup/14 oz/400ml warm water

4 1/2 cups to 5 cups/1 lb.4 oz. unbleached white flour – this will vary with the flour you use; allow more for dusting the work surface)  + 1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons each mixed herbs and seeds for rolling each wand: oregano, thyme, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, Hungarian sweet paprika, celery salt, crushed black pepper – choose 2 or 3, as you like – mixed on a plate.

olive oil for your hands and to brush over grissini before baking

Put the flour in a warm bowl, gradually pour the water + yeast in along the inside of the bowl, stirring to incorporate it without becoming lumpy – pinch any lumps with your fingertips and keep working it into a ball. Cover and let this rest for about 30 minutes. Prepare 2 large baking sheets by lining each with a piece of baking paper, preheat the oven to hot:  450° f./230°c. When the dough has almost doubled, oil your hands and knead, slapping the dough and turning it over until it feels elastic. Slice it into 6 parts, roll one by one into a long rectangle 1 1/2 inches/3 to 4 mm thick, and cut evenly into 6 parts. Pick each one up, roll and begin to twist – the dough will stretch – so cut each strand in half, roll in the mixed herbs and place on the baking sheet. Brush each with a little olive oil. Let rest while shaping all the grissini, then bake for 10 minutes - just as you put them in, spray the oven interior with a water mist (to crisp edges) – until lightly golden. Then turn off the oven, open the door slightly and watch closely that they are not too brown, but leave to crisp for about 10 minutes before taking them out to cool on a rack.  Depending on how thin you shape them, this should make 2 to 3 dozen grissini. In metal tins lined with aluminum foil, they will keep at least a week in a cool place.  Serve short ones with apéros to dip into a tapenade, brousse or soft cheese dip – save the long grissini to enjoy with  salads and soups… to chase away any winter blues or blahs.

Every recipe has its source, an inspiration to try a new angle. I must thank Alba Pezone for clarifying steps in making grissini, as found in Elle à Table, December 2009.

Physalis?

October 8th, 2009

DSC_0012

We called it a ground cherry, and grew it in the  sandy Minnesota soil of our vegetable garden when I was about ten.  Much more fun to pick than the green beans, the little paper husks could be pinched open to let the glow-in-the-dark orange fruit pop into my mouth.  Mom would make a light syrup and preserve them to perk up winter meals, as a simple sauce for dessert (sometimes over butter-pecan ice cream), or as a special Sunday jam. The ping of jar caps sealing was a sound of the season.  Now, every time the decorative physalis, as festive as a Chinese lantern, is plated on a restaurant dessert tray of chocolate cake or apricot mousse, I recall our harvests just before frost.  Recently I was tickled to find a tray of this globe-trotting native of Peru (Physalis peruviana in botanic terms) on a vendor’s stall in the Rouffignac Sunday market.  Our local Périgord markets seem to offer more interesting ingredients every year, and the physalis’ long season – one hundred days to maturity – is well suited to this temperate growing zone. The sprawling, handsome plant in the Solanaceae family is related to a tomatillo.  So, why not make a sweet physalis salsa to pair with a smooth panna cotta?  Or, why not stir them into an apple crumble for both color and a sweet-sharp edge? Maybe a few will find their way onto a cheese platter, but to be honest….they are so good just popped out of the husk, savored on the spot. Maybe it’s time to think about a physalis row in next year’s potager.

Planning a potager for 2010? See www.realseeds.co-uk/physalis.html for more on planting them at home – as local as your own back yard.

Stunned…

October 6th, 2009

Gourmet, the standard-setter for all good things culinary/travel/hot ingredients and inside dining tips, will publish a final issue in November.  It hurts to think about the great team packing up this week, just as the glowing candy-apple red October issue slides through mail slots around the world.  Mine came today.  Sad, stunned, and angry – as many readers are, I am sure – to lose this magazine that we have come to depend on for food and travel insights. Ruth Reichl and her competent team have innovated and kept my old favorite (read: twenty years of issues to devour each month) up to date in both content and style. In the New York Times article today about three Conde Nast magazines closing, it appeared to be a clinical, not emotional decision: all about the bottom line. That’s it now, no mercy.  Let me cool down before tapping another word.

How to eat a magazine

April 30th, 2009

When the mailman’s vespa pulled up to our library window this morning, I swung open the shutters with a hearty Bonjour! No time to chat about the weather – I spotted a  familiar packet,  immediately recognized as something “edible”.  On the spine, I read… Travel Issue: The World on a plate…. Bonanza!  Opening to “Last Touch”, the way I’ve always approached a fresh-out-of-the-packet issue of Gourmet magazine,  I began to nibble.  Tasting the last page first may seem an odd habit – but this creature of habit’s ways are well jelled.  So, savory and sweet dumplings were today’s page 134, first taste.  Flipping forward for just a procrastinatory glance, like putting the Previews of Coming Attrations on fast forward  – past Chinese dining in East L.A., I  paused in the centerfold recipes for a Tuscany al fresco feast to mark Basil-lime Granita with a post-it sticker.  This simple gesture has marked decades of Gourmet issues, bringing me back to sample later. A few more pages flashed past, but rich colors, gorgeous platters of hot and sweet Peruvian food brought me to a full stop. A feast for the eye, but rather shopper-challenging to find ingredients such as aji amarillo or naranjilla fruit in (still) provincial France.

Southern Turkey’s pepper fields, the subject of a fascinating visit to Yaylak for – new words for this pepper lover  – Urfa and Maras, inspire chewing on  a good article, and another post-it tag on the Turkish lamb stew recipe.  Then, closing in on a first glimpse of the cover, I was waylaid by the monthly book review, with a recipe for Finnish meatballs…and cloudberries.  Having just returned from cloudberry land, it struck a resonant chord of northern flavors.  Even an occasional ad in this issue piqued my interest, such as an ice cream maker’s campaign to help the bees, suggesting…”plant your own bee-friendly wildflower garden” – we’re on the same wave length, to be sure.  When I turned to wine advice, comforted to find Gerald Asher’s savvy and polished critiques still at hand, it almost felt like these decades of nipping on Gourmet’s informative wine columns was coming full circle. The Contents listing  alerted me to a page – how could I miss it – about night markets in the Dordogne, In the Night Kitchen. Uncanny, I admitted, perfect timing for using graisse de canard from last week’s confit to stir up Pommes de Terre Sarladais…something to really sink our teeth into.  Oh, and the frites on the cover tempt me  to open the May issue and come at it from another angle, à chacun son goût, à chacun ses habitudes.

Sunny days in the Charente

August 21st, 2008



Summer has an odd way of building up a stock of fleeting moments, and by mid-August I have a mountain of memory-bites. In spite of azur skies overhead and al fresco lunches, between indoor and outdoor projects, part of me is racing against time toward cool September mornings. “Hint, hint”, the garden signals with asters peeping out in starry clusters, blushing sedum is about to burst, and a round knob of a pomegranate bulges on the bush. It’s time to pause in the race and collect a few highlights from my memory mountain, to revel in sunny days spent in western France, more specifically in the southern Charente. Landscapes? Think Tuscany viewed through a wide-angle lens, tile-roofed farms tucked into woodlands and undulating fields of shimmering wheat. I close my eyes and recall the heat as we hiked along patches of nodding sunflowers, turning their droopy heads to follow the sun’s path. This is the Charente, south of the majestic city of Angoulême, near Aubeterre and the edges of the dark Double forest: farm land, vineyards, nut groves.

On the way to Cognac for a day’s outing, we zipped past a sign nearly covered with vines. “Wait! A nut oil shop, Huilerie du Bernous“, I exclaimed. “Later”, I was told. On our return trip, after a tour and tasting in the historic Cognac château, now headquarters for Otard Cognac, we stopped at the huilerie and rang the bell. As Madame Petit managed their enthusiastic laborador, we walked to the huilerie, where they press walnut and hazelnut oils, and to the adjacent shop. The tanned woman seemed preoccupied as we talked about their work, about the upcoming harvest and those past. I selected some hazelnut oil, one of my favorite “drizzlers” to top hot carrots or beet and apple salads. Her remarks on the hazelnut yield this year were stark: “Zero”, she said, “…frost two nights running – just at the peak of blossoming – clipped the crop, so there will be no hazelnut oil this year”. But the walnuts seem to be promising, with their anticipated average harvest to weigh in at 60 tons. Last year was abysmal, she noted, with only 40 tons, a bad year. The Franquette variety is their favorite walnut with an average of nine kilograms of nuts to yield three kilograms of kernels, to give one liter of flavorful oil. Their harvest in October lasts ten days, with ten helpers and the use of a tree-vibrator, similar to those used in almond harvesting. The Petites, who run the business started by her father-in-law, have planted a new variety, Farnor, which will help replace over 1,400 trees lost in the violent 1999 winter wind storms. “Gradually, we are recovering”, she smiled and added a hopeful…”almost all of our groves will again be bearing next year”. No wonder she seemed preoccupied, I mused and vowed to return for another supply of nut oil and local honey.

The summer wheat seemed ripe for harvesting one late afternoon as I paused to survey rolling fields. At just that moment, a white van pulled up, stopped short of crushing the golden grain; a man hopped out. He waded through the wheat, bent and rubbed heads of wheat between the palms of his hands, blew the chaff away, and studied the kernels remaining: a gesture as old as agriculture. We had nodded bonsoir, so I ventured a question: “How does the crop look?” He glanced up at approaching clouds, waved an arm and said, “Come see this wheat – we have had too much cloud cover when it needs to be sunny for ripening the kernels, drying them”. I looked at the bearded summer wheat in his calloused palm and saw some kernels withered, some with a pink tinge at the base. “At this point, the kernels should be plump and slightly nacré, a little pearly. The pink you see is a disease “…trop des maladies cette année!” too many diseases this year, and too overcast.” His estimate, a harvest of normal volume but half the quality, anticipated the work of upcoming weeks, but as I turned to go, he added: “We’ll hope for a better crop next year”. This wheat farmer sums up the inherent spirit that keeps the wheels turning, the age-old plant and harvest cycle…. and hope for better weather.

A Sunday morning market draws shoppers to Aubeterre, but not all are here for peaches and new potatoes. This is a craft market as well, a mix of pottery, jewelry, paintings and artisanal foods. In this sense, it is unique in the region, with over half of the vendors showing their work in a side-walk café ambiance. After soap shopping (boutiques are open, too) and wine tasting, we went looking for lunch. A few steps off of the central boulevard market, we were rewarded at the Le Passé Simple. Inside the purple-toned dining room or outside in the garden, the restaurant is attracting Sunday crowds with a simple menu. Appealing entrées, such as hot scallops on a bed of rich, creamy leeks or a pyramid of spicy shrimp, are followed by old favorites prepared with originality. Magret de canard (duck breast) and roast lamb are done perfectly, and a layer of roasted, crushed tomatoes under daurade (sea bream) from the Gulf of Gascony sings of the season. Any room left for a gooey white chocolate and coconut mousse? Or how about a mousse au chocolat, so dense it is more like scooping into ganache - dipping into thick frosting with a spoon? Just how good was it? We returned at nine for dinner…..c’était dimanche!

Notes:

Huilerie du Bernou, Les Vergers du Marquis, sell their single-pressed walnut and hazelnut oils to visitors, call tel.: 06 80 83 11 29 (to make sure someone is there). Located near the village of Pillac, they are west of Aubeterre, north east of Chalais.

Le Passé Simple, 1 rue du Minage in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, is closed Wednesday night and Thursday. Call to reserve (Sundays are especially busy) tel.: 05 45 98 50 64.

Next up: A French heirloom in season, baking with Charente butter – the Cognac will wait until autumn – and almond butter for the rentrée/back to school.

Eating like a local in the Luberon

July 5th, 2008



Plunge into Provence, absorb the aromas and moods of each season with a stroll through the local market. For the vagabondgourmand, Apt is the market of choice, and summer is the season to catch the region at its aromatic best. I have made regular pilgrimages to this market for over a dozen years, always finding a few new twists on classic Provençal specialties. Apt, a crossroads since Roman times, lies in a valley at the foot of the Luberon mountain range, an hour east of Avignon. Midway between Cavaillon’s melon fields and the goat-dappled hills of Banon, this corner of the Vaucluse département has been a center of fruit production for centuries.

Saturday is the major market day, and a good starting point is the shady square facing Apt’s city hall. I stopped to buy a few cherries and a bottle of apple-quince juice when I noticed two flats of green almonds on the same stall. The shorter of two brothers, whose products caught my attention, quickly engaged me in conversation. As I paid the vendor, I ventured a few questions about the fresh almonds. The answers were supplied up by a large man, a regular customer who arrived with greetings to all around, eased himself behind the stall, plucked a few cherries to nibble on and purchased four kilos of the pale green nuts. The brothers deferred to “the chef” and left us to the questions and answers. In response to my query about how he would use these almonds, he chuckled and reached for another cherry: “…in a compote of fresh fruit, for instance”. His large sacks of both green almonds and glistening cherries piqued my curiosity, and I wondered how these ingredients would turn up on today’s menu. Sensing that he was ready to rush back to the Auberge du Luberon kitchen, I asked if we could book a table for dinner. “Bien sûr” Serge Peuzin replied, “à ce soir!

That evening, we were seated on the Auberge terrace and studied our menus. I could see how this Maitre Cuisinier de France is true to his terroir : an entire, elaborate menu is devoted to his interpretations of local ingredients using the fruit confit (glazed, preserved fruits), an industry that has put Apt on many a gastronome’s map. My focus returned to the subject at hand, almonds. I was pleased to discover Peuzin’s inspired touch of almond milk with a tender duck filet. Long story short: it was succulent, a contrast to the garnish of a savory polenta cake studded with plump cherries from this morning’s market. Later, when he rolled the dessert cart up to our table, I noted fresh green almonds in a compote of apricots, but my choice was an almond tart – Peuzin’s interpretation of a Savoy walnut tart, using caramelized almonds on a shortbread crust. As a garnish, I chose a small cup of brousse (sheep’s milk soft cheese) topped with a layer of pear compote. No doubt about it, this chef knows his terroir, and interprets each season’s market bounty with a flair. Reserve a table at Restaurant Serge Peuzin, l’Auberge du Luberon (a Logis de France hotel), 8 place Faubourg du Ballet, tel: 04 90 741 250 (to call from outside France, dial 33, and drop the first 0).

La Manade, a cozy restaurant deep in the heart of old Apt, is set on a narrow street leading from the rue des Marchands to the old Roman forum ruins on Place Jean Jaurès. Since it was opened by a young couple from Arles in 2004, I have enjoyed a lunch or dinner at La Manade during each visit to the area. The chef, Jean-François Christin, never ceases to surprise me with his interpretations of Provençal cuisine. Specialties of the Camargue region are featured: both le taureau – the black bull native to the Bouche du Rhône delta – and fresh fish are on the menu. The chef’s take on the traditional fish stew, cotriade, is a wonder of textures as firm strips of lotte (monkfish) form a pyramid over bulb fennel cooked al dente (perhaps with a splash of Pernod?). Call to reserve a table, tel: 04 90 04 79 06, at La Manade, 36 rue Rene Cassin. Katy Christin will welcome you warmly.

Another inventive chef in the center of Apt is Cyrille Petit, who explores seasonal themes for the tables at Le Platane on rue Jules Ferry. Their vegetarian menu always intrigues me, and on this visit it included a delicious lasagne aux épinards (spinach) et aux brousse. His touch with spice is a revelation, poaching fish with badiane (star anise) – but I would opt for the squid and shrimp, écornets et gambas aux legumes, any day. This summer, red fruit reigns on the dessert menu, which includes a creamy, perfect panna cotta coulis fruits rouge. Dine on the shady terrace or in the dining room, where Edith Petit’s whimsical, contemporary touch and selection of jazz brightens a sunny or rainy day. La Platane is a popular lunch spot after the Saturday market, so be sure to reserve, tel: 04 90 04 74 36.

** Let us know your favorite markets, contribute your own tips on market-fresh ingredients discovered during summer travel…..’tis the season!

Next up: Meet a wheat farmer and nut producer in the Charente…. anticipating a slim harvest.

Amazed in the Meuse, from dragées to dragons

June 23rd, 2008

A week in Lorraine – the Meuse and Moselle region of northeastern France – isn’t enough. What I had planned as a jaunt to visit Verdun, to taste and learn more about fine, artisanal sugared almonds turned out to be a revelation beyond candy-making. Wedged between Alsace and Champagne-Ardennes on the northern route to Luxembourg, the Lorraine region doesn’t get much ink in travelogues – or even in foodologues. The fact that Jeanne d’Arc lived here is an item tossed into guides and tourist pamphlets, as an aside to the glories of the Isle de France and the Loire valley. Since pre-Roman times, this cross roads has carried its history well, surviving invasions and changing rulers. In fact, it is amazing that so much remains after centuries of warfare.

After a day in Verdun, where Dragées Braquier have made sugared almonds since the eighteenth century (this is another, sweeter story!), we took a regional bus back to Metz, rolling through tranquil landscapes of pastures and river valleys from the Meuse to the Moselle. The city’s enormous central train station has a hulking stone presence, reflecting the neo-roman style popular in early twentieth century Germanic architcture (Metz was at the time under German rule).  I looked up at the modern fingers of light ringing the station plaza, and thought: these look like talons – or claws of a beast. We would meet the monster later, in the crypt of Cathedral St-Etienne.

We ambled up and down walking streets lined with shops on the way to the city’s central market. The best of Metz’ shopping streets is Rue Tête d’Or, where pastries and confections decorate windows, enticing me inside to inspect and to catch a whiff of raspberries and vanilla. I stopped to admire fanciful pastries as we passed Claude Bourguinon’s chocolate shop and tea room, just as a case of artisanal ice creams was temptingly rolled onto the street. We found the U-shaped Metz market hall facing the grand cathedral, which is still the hub of this vibrant city. Longer than the cathedrals of Bourges or Strasbourg, and nicknamed “God’s Lantern”, Metz’ cathedral is illuminated by 6,500 square meters of stained glass. Like many buildings in this historic center, St-Etienne is built of a luminous golden stone, pierre de Jaumont. With or without exterior illumination, these plazas and surrounding façades seem to glow from within. After a pause to study the cathedral looming over a café on the plaza, I was ready to scout for regional specialties in the market hall. June brings the melon season, berries and rhubarb for tartes, along with early green cabbage and flats of chantarelle mushrooms. Jars of Mirabelle plums are everywhere, but fresh Mirabelles will not be in the market until August. Then, the sweet, golden plum is cause for celebration in Metz, attracting thousands to its annual Mirabelle Fest.

Well past noon, a mounting hunger sent us in search of lunch à la Lorraine. The Restaurant du Pont St-Marcel is a short walk, across two bridges, from the cathedral. We luckily found a table on their shaded terrace, an ideal spot to watch swans dipping into the river. I sipped a fruity white Moselle wine and awaited the arrival of a Tarte aux poireaux (Leek tart), then a Pintade au choux (Guinea fowl braised with cabbage) before tackling a Tarte aux groseilles à la crème d’amandes. The waitress, dressed in peasant skirt, cap and bodice, smiled when I rolled my eyes and took the last bite of the dark berry (currants and raspberries) tart with almond cream. My husband, Michel, didn’t look surprised and asked: More cream, eh? Well, a two-tart lunch doesn’t happen every day – only in Lorraine.

The crypt below St-Etienne cathedral holds artifacts of the city as well as religious documents and sculpture. And that is where I encountered a replica of the city’s legendary monster, the Graoully, suspended from the ceiling. St-Clement, the first bishop of Metz, was credited with destroying the menacing beast who was said to live in the old Roman arenas. It is a story reminiscent of St-George and the dragon, a familiar metaphor of Christian force crushing pagan beasts. In the third century, St-Clement founded the first chapel on the site of the Roman forum’s ruins. But tales of the Graoully are still told, in fact a literary award for science fiction writing, Le Graoully d’or (The golden Graoully) is awarded annually in Metz.

The famous Dragées de Verdun drew me to the Moselle, but there are many other reasons to return. The Mirabelle Festival in August, the huge monthly flea market – perhaps to find Madeleine molds or oval earthenware terrines – a gathering of brocante dealers second only in size to Paris’ noteworthy Marché St-Ouen, and the Marché de Noël would all be fun. Imagine stepping out of the monumental railway station into a frosty plaza filled with cabin-stalls chuck full of jams, pâtés, wines, novelties and preserved Mirabelles – all well lit by designer Philippe Starck’s narrow, pointed street lights. In any season, Metz is well worth the detour.

To view more images of Metz, tap the photo above. Then tap category “Bites of History” to return to the story.

Note: Take the TGV Est from Paris’ Gare de l’Est, about one hour’s train ride to Metz, via Nancy.

Restaurant du Pont St-Marcel is at 1, rue du Pont St-Marcel in Metz. Open year round, reserving a table for dinner is advised : tel. 03 87 30 1229. Claude Bourguignon’s chocolate and pastry shop at 31, rue Tête d’Or, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:15 to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 8:30 to 12:30.

A roast goose or bonbons on St. Martin’s Day

November 11th, 2007

As usual, the light of Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day is pale, grey.  A little mist in the air is typical, as I recall previous Veteran’s Days at other latitudes.  The trumpets and drums of Mouleydier’s musical fanfare play the brisk, concluding bars of the national anthem, the Marseilles.   Ceremonies at the village memorial for the fallen in twentieth century wars have come to a close.  Allons enfants, time for Sunday lunch. The November chill stirs appetites, and in homes throughout France relatives will gather round the table, together, having again paid respects to those absent.  The village remembers well, and the ceremonies always bring a lump to my throat, thinking about the sinistre, the day the village was burned in June 1944.   When I return home to scan the valley from my kitchen door, the fields called the champs des martyrs for those who died there, are quiet in the day’s dim light.  One does not forget.

But it is also a day to honor St.Martin, the patron saint of France, who shared his cloak with a freezing beggar in the fourth century. And this day is marked in many corners of Europe with more festive traditions. In northern Europe, a plump goose is roasted for dinner after a parade and bonfire.  Children in Flanders, western Belgium go ’round to neighbor’s doors with paper lanterns, singing special songs. The reward is something sweet and they return home with enough bonbons to last until St. Nicolas (December sixth). This seems to be a tradition in parts of Holland and Austria as well, with processions and songs. For Sao Martinho in Portugal, the day is marked with magustos – gatherings at the fireside to roast chestnuts and drink new wine.  An earlier custom in parts of Europe, in the days when the eleventh of November marked the end of the agricultural and financial year, involved the preparation of a roast goose feast before the six weeks of fasting prior to Noël. Fowl and any cattle that would not be taken through the winter were ready for slaughter, to be salted or preserved.  As times change and traditions evolve further beyond the rural calendar, such observances have been forgotten in most regions. But if you are with friends in Bruges on St. Maarten and hear the doorbell ring at twilight, be sure to have the candy dish filled to overflowing.

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