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!

Ripe and saucy tomatoes

September 30th, 2012

….. essence of sunshine

 When it comes to sauces, Alain Ducasse knows what he is up to.   So, when September’s tomatoes are at their flavor peak,  he tweaks the classic French vinaigrette  to create a rosy tomato variation.  This version leaves out his roquette and sage flowers, which don’t grow in my window sill garden….but snipped, fresh thyme, rosemary – or of course (!) basil – add zip.

Tomato Vinaigrette

1 ripe,  medium tomato, skinned and chopped, then  pressed through a small sieve into a bowl:  to yield 6 or 7  Tablespoons.

2 t./10 ml sherry vinegar

1 T. + 1 t./20ml  best olive oil

pinch of sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

7 basil leaves

Whisk the vinegar and oil – adding it in a fine stream – together and add s. & p.  Gradually stir/whisk in the pulpy tomato juice, just enough (may take 5 or 7 Tablespoons ) until it emulsifies into a thick dressing.  Mince 3 of the basil leaves and stir them into the vinaigrette, and use the rest for garnishing the salad or fish or ……….whatever you wish: this is such a versatile, saucy dressing!  Slices of yellow, orange and green tomatoes, poached or grilled salmon, whole or sliced new potatoes alongside – all are perked up with this savory vinaigrette.

This  Tomato Vinaigrette  was inspired by an article on Ducasse in the Sunday SudOuest magazine, to be served with sliced tomato salad and fresh (brebis) sheep’s milk cheese.

Summertime veg: rolling in thick and fast

August 31st, 2012

When the onions, courgettes and tomatoes all roll in at the same time as new garlic, eggplant and sharp little peppers…. we’re spoiled for choice.  The Mediterranean and new world beauties fit into  such a long culinary tradition, but does the world need another recipe for Gazpacho, Ratatouille or Piperade?  (Of course we do!)  But just for a change of pace to cool us off and to brighten palates, this Mousse aux Tomates serves as an apéro verrine -  a supper starter.  August and September’s flavorful tomatoes are the key:  slice up a tomato and taste it before taking the time (one day in advance, or an early morning start on the day it will be served) to whip up this delicate mousse.

The recipe caught my eye earlier this summer in the July- August 2012 issue of the French  SAVEURS magazine. It has any number of herbal variations, and  could also be made with golden (or green zebra?!) tomatoes and layered in the glasses.  A simple Cigare au Parmesan was suggested to add a crunchy textural contrast – or one could use apératif-size sesame or emmenthal bread sticks.  Allow about 3 hours to chill before serving 4 .

                            Mousse de tomate/Tomato Mousse

1 leaf of gelatin, soaked in cold water while prepping the tomatoes:

3 medium-large ripe and fragrant tomatoes, plunged into boiling water for 20 seconds, then refresh in cold water and remove the skin & stems. Cut them in 3, remove seeds and crush the tomatoes roughly.

2 plump shallots, peeled, trimmed and finely chopped…”melt” them in a saucepan  over medium heat in 2 T. olive oil for 3 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes, a pinch each of sugar & salt, a twist of pepper. Let this all cook over  moderate heat for 12 to 15 minutes.

Take it off the heat and stir in the softened (squeeze the water out)  gelatine,  blending all with a wand mixer til it is a purée consistency (or more roughly if you want some chunks in your mousse). When this is cool…

Whip 15 cl/2/3 cup medium-thick cream into peaks, then gently fold in the well-cooled tomato pulp mixture.  Pour it into 4 simple glasses and place in the fridge to chill for about 3 hours.

To serve, decorate with 6 to 8 cherry tomatoes, halved, and pop a little, crisp sesame or cheese bread stick into each glass.  If you have some in the garden, snipped fresh basil is a fragrant touch, too.  Now all you need are teaspoons – to enjoy this tomato mousse on the porch, deck or patio before a Labor Day grilled supper! And take a deep breath, savoring these late  summer moments…

Beach time dreams

July 31st, 2012

As a confirmed beachcomber, the vagabond has a mania for shells, sea glass and bits of sea-sculpted driftwood, whenever and wherever the water tickles her toes.  Long black stones smoothed by waves on the Ligurian coast, cockle and mussel shells collected on Atlantic beaches, all wind up in an Aalto dish (with Baltic waters in mind).   Whatever the season, this small shell collection refreshes me, pulls me back to  beaches many miles away.  And with those memories of moments wading at low tide, tumble in the aromas and flavors of the land, the season.  So, with a nod to Ligurian beach strolls and the month of August, watch for a trio of tomato tips and recipes…bonnes vacances!

Albi in the Tarn, the perfect June getaway

June 29th, 2012

Wildflowers are in the frame:  a June jaunt through the heart-stopping panoramas of the Tarn rends me (nearly) speechless !  Roll down the windows: wild honeysuckle scents the air from roadside nests among white roses, while lavender scabiosas nod in poppy-dotted pastures.  This sweeping land of grain fields, orchards and wooded hills lies north of the Toulouse basin  and south of the mountainous Aveyron region.  My head was on a swivel all the way  from Montauban to Albi.  Roads follow ridges overlooking hazily lit landscapes edged in wild poppies:  Renoir might feel right at home.

On a distant hillside, an entire field of poppies

Seen from a distance, Albi rises above a bend in the Tarn river, its towers,  rooftops and steeples of rose brick glowing in the mid-day sun.  Inhabited since the Bronze Age, this strategic point gave early dwellers an over-view of herds as animals migrated.  Later, it was the site of a modest Roman encampment called Albiga.  But by the early Middle Ages, as Albi’s commerce and trade grew in importance, a toll bridge was built across the Tarn in 1040.  This Vieux Pont is still in use, having survived more than a millenia!  One arrives in the center of Albi, where most of the old streets lead to the imposing fortified church of Sainte-Cécile.  Complex tracerie of stone carvings on the elaborate entry of the brick church, dedicated to the patron saint of music, just begins to prepare the visitor for the explosion of pattern and décor in the southen gothic style interior.

Palais de Berbie parterre, from a bird’s eye view

Near its formidable brick walls, the fortified bishops’ château, the Palais de Berbie was built in 1282 – pre-dating the Palais des Papes in Avignon.  Looking out across the parterre gardens from one of this museum’s windows, one marvels at the longevity of Albi’s architectural wonders.   Today, the Palais is devoted to the works of native son, Toulouse Lautrec, housing  France’s largest publicly held collection:  1000 of the artist’s works.

For over a century, from 1450 to 1560, economic expansion grew with the region’s cultivation and commercial activity in blue dyes -  an era referred to as the “woad boom”.  One plant, Isalia Tinctoria was the key ingredient in indelibleblue dyes called “pastels”.  This time of prosperity enriched the city with fine Renaissance residences – evident today in the quarter around the market hall.

Renovated, triangular plan market hall

Albi’s covered market has recently undergone an extensive renovation.  Although this halle is similar in style to many built in the early twentieth century Ballard fashion, it is unique in its triangular plan.  The renovation involved excavation under the structure to construct two levels for vendors and services, and a 250 place parking area.  Saturday morning is the time to see this marché tarnaise in action, when in addition to interior stalls,  vendors fill the surrounding street with regional products and the season’s freshest produce.  From local sausages, cheeses, apricots and apples to sweet round loaves of fouace or dunk-in-your-wine échaudés, there is something for every taste…..salty or sugary.

Taking a last stroll around the back streets near the covered market, one finds not only some enticing restaurants – but a little jewel of a museum, recently opened in a fine old house.

Entry walk….Musée de la Mode

La Musée de la Mode  reveals a private collection of mint-condition costumes from the 19th through the 20th century, all set off in a dramatic,  well designed installation.  This discovery, as well as more gastronomic enticements,  leads the vagabond to plan an autumn visit to lively Albi, the Tarn’s pink brick capitol.

Behind closed doors: many historic buildings in and around Albi are open during September’s  annual “Open Doors”,  Jours de Patrimoine

Refreshing season…more white!

April 25th, 2012

Rain and more rain, an unusual April in the Périgord, has slowed the blooming seaon down a little, but the mid-season beauties are nodding in the borders – glossy as a Dutch master’s freshly painted canvas.  In the potager, herbs have responded with a flush of buds on the chives and healthy spears of tarragon.  These so easily add green goodness to the simplest omelettes and tossed pasta suppers.  Keep it simple, when cooking for one, is the vagabond’s theme.

Fix it quick: a chervil omelette

So, since the vagabond knows that You know how to make an omelette….is a recipe necessary?  Or should I say:  Just whisk 3 eggs with a tablespoon of water in a deep bowl , heat a pat of butter or duck fat in a small skillet, turn up the heat and pour in the eggs – pulling quickly in from the sizzling sides with a wooden spatula until it begins to set around the edges.  Sprinkle with chopped chervil or other herbs + some shavings of parmesan or cubed goat cheese, a sprinkling of pink sea salt- then fold one side over and let it set on moderate heat for about 2 or 3 minutes (if you like the middle set). Turn out onto a hot plate and serve with a salad of mixed greens or mâche – seems so obvious, tastes so fresh!

Then, before a walk in the rain, sip a steaming cup of coffee – another obvious but simple pleasure….                          

A wake-up call for color in winter salads

February 14th, 2012

Coming out of hibernation….

In the middle of a snowy day – our week of slick and thick wet snow now turning to slush – the vagabond weighs the options for a bright Valentine’s day lunch.  Maybe you have the same instincts if  your February is one of icy winds, snow flurries or driving sleet…oh, I remember those Midwest winters so well.  Checking out the seasonal side of color, what is on hand in my pantry or available in the local shops now?

The first dish out of the fridge holds a glowing red pomegranate half, then a Portuguese orange, a sweet clementine and a local shallot.   A protein component could be jambonneau – my favorite form of ham – or cold salmon, shrimp, slivers of last night’s wine-poached turkey, chicken or even julienne strips of firmMontbéliard sausage.  For this mix-up of textures, my only cheese suggestion would be snowy white cubes of Greek fetaWhat about the basic salad itself, the diagonally sliced Belgian endive, sucrine lettuce or romaine?  If you have a penchant for slaw-style salads, shave some firm red cabbage and shred a chiffonade of garnet leaves of Italian trevise for an edgy wake-up call to any jaded winter taste buds.  Color-wise, this tips the palette towards the deep jewel reds.  Another obvious winter-red option would be some juliènne slices of cooked beet root, especially good with endives and feta.  Last night’s florets of steamed cauliflower are naturals in this salad combo, as well as steamed paper-thin slices of turnip.  Depending of course on how many are lunching chez toi on this wintry day, toss your choice of the above elements – whatever strikes your fancy and is available – with a citrus-based dressing to pull the flavors together.  For a more French attitude, a salade composée (and the dressing will give it Attitude), rather than tossing the chosen ingredients, spread the lettuces and arrange the protein and vegetables on each plate, topped with the glowing pomegranate seeds.  Drizzle a little dressing over all, and diners (or The diner) can ladle out  more from a pitcher at the table.

Now, a basic vinaigrette (moutarde de préfèrence) will dress your salade – with a few suggested twists depending on ingredients on hand. The following will cover 2 or 3 salads, is best made an hour or more in advance; it works well for marinating cooked vegetables, shrimp or salmon chunks.

Whisk in a small bowl:  1 T. Dijon mustard (Maille is available in most regions) with 2 Tablespoons lemon juice  + 1 teaspoon sea salt (hold the grated black pepper for the table, to be grated individually)

gradually whisk in:            3 or 4 Tablespoons best olive oil

Variations:  If using beets & oranges, add 1 T. orange juice+ 1t. orange zest, plus a grating of nutmeg + more grated black pepper. Trimmed and thinly sliced shallots add dimension to this version.

If using Trevise lettuce, whisk 1 or 2 t. sugar or light honey into the dressing.

Add a teaspoon or two of toasted cumin (does wonders for beets) OR fennel seeds to the endive salad.

Dry toast (2 to 4 minutes in a hot skillet) freshly shelled walnut halves or natural (skins on) almonds for texture and a nutritional boost to any of the above ….Enjoy!

Up Next:  Piggy hams it up, and a hungry reader’s notes on A Homemade Life.

Winter goodness

December 31st, 2011

While a simple court-bouillon simmers to poach a pink supper trout, it’s time to count my blessings after a tumultuous year.  I made it – sometimes wondering how – but here we are at the tail end of 2011.  December’s days are slipping into a grey nothing.  January’s stage is curtained, though with some positive events lined up, it promises both continuity and new scenarios.  Certainly I will find (with apologies for recent silence in this space) more time to post these little tidbits on travel, wine and seasonal arrivals in local markets.  So, dear friends and family, the vagabond thanks you for patience, for support through a difficult year and wishes you great health, happiness and promising new horizons.

The Larkspur ferry heads for San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Market

Keep an eye on this space for new winter veg ideas, some savory as well as sweet!

The simplicity of braised game birds

November 14th, 2011

Our mild “arrière saison” continues to allow more leaf-raking time and longer walks along the river.   But the chill, thick fog shrouding the Dordogne’s banks is a sure sign that winter lies just around the corner.  Clues to the shopper in the market stalls include curly savoy cabbage, a few boxes of just-dug parsnips, flats of blette/chard and mounds of pink, white or yellow onions.  On my rounds in a recent Thursday morning market, it was the tiny game bird in the poultry vendor’s cooler that caught my eye – too dark to be a coquelet/little rooster, too small to be a pintade/guinea hen.  So I asked Jacqueline as she popped six fresh eggs into my egg box,…” what is this single, dark little bird?” Her answer fueled my imagination : a palomb….a wild dove.  What luck:  game in the market!  So, with visions of a simple dinner of game with rosy onions and tart apples, I headed back to the kitchen for a cup of after-market coffee and planning session.  Not much effort was involved, in fact a basic braise is best when not sure whether it is tough or tender.

One bird, one of each:  a carrot, an apple, onion, garlic, bay leaf, herbs of choice, all lined up.  If it is to be “casseroled”, use an oven-proof pan.  My choice is the range (getting used to using the electric panels in my apartment), so a heavy-bottomed sa ucepan is the pot of choice.  Allowing about an hour from start to finish; this can be done early in the day and simply warmed through before dinner.  I started with a little duck fat (or use a combo of butter and olive oil) to cook the sliced vegetables until firm but almost transparent, then slid them off into a side dish.  Add more fat and increase heat to sear the bird (having emptied the liver and gizzard from the cavity and filled it with bay leaf and thyme), turning to brown it evenly.  Then lower heat, add a cup of red wine, stir and heap the onions and apples over the bird, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.  The liver and heart lend more flavor, so add with the vegetables.  Test with a fork at the joints – if it is running red, the palomb would be done to please a diner in southewest France.  Scoop the veg onto the bird and let it simmer on low for another ten minutes if you prefer it done a little more.  A few of this season’s prunes tossed in at this point make it a sweeter  dish.  While it simmers (add wine so that it is never dry), cook a little brown rice and chop up a cupful of parsley mixed with crushed garlic and lemon zest to sprinkle over it all before serving….and Bon Appétit!

Stir as it braises...wonderful aromas when the lid is lifted!

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