Where have all the flowers gone ?

January 30th, 2014

Long time passing……in fact, it seems a couple of light years ago that I first heard these plaintive lyrics.   Still, the message holds true, as does his legacy of music -  ever-inspiring:

R.I.P.      Pete Seeger


Adieu 2013…..

December 31st, 2013

Open the festive bubbly – brut!  Have a fresh blini or six (another story about making heaps of blini is in order) and say farewell to the old year, with a new and more promising line-up of twelve months just around the corner…

                        Happy New Year from the Vagabond!

…the Vagabond hits the road!

October 1st, 2013

At the end of a “spin cycle” month of September, the Vagabond is on the road, exploring the Vosges and points north…..discoveries to follow on berries, plums and mountain pleasures.

Gone fishin’? nope….gone picklin’

August 31st, 2013

The glut of cucumbers, pears and melons (a combo to watch), even the courgettes and apples take their turn in the pickling pot!  Watch this space for the vagabond’s chutneys, pickles and inspired condiments.

May markets reflect a delayed, chilly season

May 30th, 2013

“What if we had an entire week of sunny days?”  My neighbor grumbled today as we selected new potatoes from a market stall….”everything is late this year!”   By now, the first crisp, green asparagus have come and gone, followed by delicate white ones, and new carrots are bright with their tops still on.  But the veg family that evolves most rapidly, with new developments each week – worth following every step of the way – is  garlic!

bulging with garlic juice

bulging with garlic juice

The pencil thin sprouts in late April could easily be mistaken for young green onions, before their gradual bulbing as the days pass to yield stiff, elongated stems and bulging heads this week.  It is a more nuanced and juicy seasoner than the dried heads with their bitter inner sprouts,  still left from 2012′s harvest.  A few ways to use this mild and juicy stage of the ancient seasoner run from simply peeling off the outer layer and mincing the buds (soon to become cloves) and mashing them with a pinch of sea salt and lemon juice as a base for vinaigrettes, to smear on or inside fish before it is sautéed or baked, and to enhance the earliest steamed broad beans.  How easy is that?  And there will be more on fresh garlic as the season progresses!

An April visit….Marin Market

April 26th, 2013

The rambling vagabond is in California, more specifically visiting family in Marin county – across the bay from San Francisco.   First morning after arrival this week, the first stop was – guess what- the weekly Marin farmers’ market.  Of course, new fuzzy almonds caught my eye as well as snappy sorrel and a vast variety of fresh greens.  Producers in the Central Valley lined up succulent strawberries along with perfectly ripe Haas avacadoes -  oranges, lemons and even some delicate little kumquats. The on-going salad season will be more fun as we mix it all up! More along the way…

Spring…..at last!

March 31st, 2013

With March slipping past, days growing lighter and longer…and primroses sprinkled across the Dordogne’s river banks, it might be safe to say that spring has come to southwest France.  More signs of the long-awaited season found in the market on Thursday morning included the first asparagus and new garlic, the shoots thinned from rows cultivated for the summer harvest.  Hungry for a touch of green on this Easter Sunday, the vagabond wondered:  why not try a non-traditional pairing with tender green asparagus?  Usually the partners are  hollandaise sauce, or a light lemony vinaigrette, but for a heftier treat:  chop up a couple of garlic shoots, mix with salt and chopped parsley and lemon as for a gremolata. With this ready ahead of time, it is a meal-in-minutes.

So, heat up the skillet, melt a little butter and pop in the asparagus, pushing them around as they brown a bit and squeeze a lemons to hear it sizzle…and take a whiff of spring!

Photos and more market notes up next….


Quail eggs, a delicate touch of spring….

February 28th, 2013


When a basket of tiny speckled quail eggs is set before me, I first marvel at their random spots and freckles – then wonder:  what can we do with these little gems?  This season of frequent omelettes and meatless meals is ready for a bit of variety, so bring on the quail eggs!  Their delicacy and subtle flavor is to be taken into account, too….not for omelettes, but to be appreciated as a garnish for salads and soups.  This morning at the Thursday market, I spoke with Jacqueline, the vender of eggs and poultry.  When I suggested topping a hearty salad of warm potatoes or a velouté of pumpkin soup with them, she added:  “Oh, and I’ve had them on top of a tartiflette!”  Well, why not? I mused.  But considering that tartiflette, a classic and filling specialty of eastern France, is a favorite of hikers and loggers in the  mountains, I’m wondering how quail eggs are enjoyed in other regions.  In Provence, the vagabond has seen them on appetizer platters paired with cherry tomatoes and anchovies.  And in other regions…?

And let’s welcome springtime!


Out and about in Paris region markets

November 25th, 2012

Sunday morning’s market in Antony, on the RER metro line just south of Paris, is a hubub of a hundred vendors selling everything from foods to flowers, tablecloths to corsets and sewing items, and a good range of cooking tools….a one-stop shopping op!  Changes noted in the passing (can it be twenty?!) years since the vagabond first rambled through this busy market include the new, swooping rooftops and enclosed sides to shield all from winds.  It took four years to construct the enclosure with scooped roofs, designed by Nantes’ architects ARS/Rocheteau & Saillard.  Other changes include more ethnic food vendors, giving shoppers a broad choice of flavors for their Sunday repas.  Amidst a great array of greens, the vagabond noted chard and bok choy for a quick stir-fry, radishes, onions and salads of all sorts, and of course, cheese from all over the map.

Greens for all…

Think about a starter of girolles, mushrooms with herbs, a squeeze of lemon, a touch of butter…and succulent pork to roast or braise, as well as beans to shell while waiting for autumn’s morning fog to lift.

Inspired to roast a shoulder of milk-fed pork with apples and onions – and de-glaze the pan with a splash of Calvados?

Onions galore caught my eye along with herbs wrapped and ready for a stew.

Scallions and onions to add color to a braise

And then, think about dessert while chatting with the amiable vendors of Lebanese pastries.  Oooo, so tempting….pistachio-honey cakes, as well as variations on the almond theme.

This calls for a palate-cleansing bunch of sweet-tart grapes…. from Italy or southern France.

Then it’s time to trot home with my sister-in-law to stir up a rich, autumn Sunday lunch and catch up on family news.

Food vendors inside, tabletop textiles and clothing outside.. one-stop shopping in Antony!

Getting there:  Antony lies on the RER line south of Paris, a short walk to the city center down Rue du Marché. Market days are Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings, from 7:30 to 13:30.  An early round of the stalls is suggested on Sunday to avoid heavy stroller traffic.

To market, to market on the Basque coast

October 14th, 2012

Enter the St.Jean-de-Luz Market Hall: aromas galore

Bilingual markets are always fun….following signage in both French and Basque, the puzzling, ancient language, adds spice to shopping in the St.Jean de Luz market hall.  And if it’s spice that you are after, this is the place to be.  Amid the aromas of fresh peppers, firm mountain cheeses and hams on a recent Tuesday, the town market hall was bustling.  I can’t imagine trying to shop on Friday when it is even busier.

Tuesday & Friday, the market is in full swing

At one end of the hall, the fish market is clearly the popular spot to buy fresh fish – silvery and pink – and specialties such as little calmary (chipirons) from Atlantic waters.

Chipirons – small cuttlefish, to be sauced or sizzled in a fry-up

Just out of the water, ready to appear on your plate for lunch

Loads of the season’s carrots, onions, cabbages, strings of red peppers and so many cheeses it makes the vagabond’s head spin!

By  mid-morning, a quick coffee stop is routine for the vendors in between surges of customers.

Stop for a coffee or a snack inside the hall, as do the vendors…Or wander back outside to survey the market scene from a sidewalk café…and book a table for lunch at the bistrot:  Kako.

If the afternoon skies clear, consider a trip to La Rhune, the Basque mystical mountain, where a small-gauge railway runs to the top.  Panoramas of the Pyrénées to the east, the Atlantic coast looking west and north, are worth the trip in the little open-sided train.

To the east, a hazy stretch of Pyrénées running south to Spain

Buses run to the village at the base of the Rhune on a rather sketchy schedule across from the train station, where you can also catch buses to Hendaye and other coastal towns.

But the fascinating town of Ciboure is a short walk  across the bridge, so why not take in the bay from a bistrot terrace for supper?

Ciboure’s historic church rises above the busy harbor – both fishermen and pleasure craft dock here

So, when the sirens of the sea air call – the vagabond heads for St.Jean-de-Luz, two hours south of Bordeaux by train, to take in both mountain and seaside ambiance. Thinking – fast forward – when lamb, spring greens and sardines will be on menus, I’m already dreaming of exploring these harbor scenes  when spring breezes blow in from the sea.

Apple Fair alert:  Saturday, 21 October, the Hendaye Fête de la Pomme will draw Basque producers of fruit, cider, and all sorts of regional artisanal products, so if you will be on the Basque coast…put it on your list, and get there early!  This is an especially interesting fair for serious cider enthusiasts – some of the best ciders in France will be available.

Coming up:  Paris market notes, peppers, and more fish!

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