French culture and food. Is this a frog ?

Two things happened today which prompted me to look at my french upbringing and how it affects my relation to food and the social graces that goes on around it.

In the past week I have been invited to 3 different parties, some during the day and other at night but in all cases I was told, “it’s a potluck, bring a dish”. Now I have been living in the States long enough to know about potlucks but it still goes completely against my upbringing and the sense of hospitality around food I have been raised with.  At my grandparents farm in the southwest of France anybody dropping by would have been invited to come and share the meal and very often the village old priest would show on Sunday lunch after mass and others might drop in for dessert. My grandmother was renowned for her ratatouille, duck confit, foie gras, ile flottante and flan. All dishes were made from fresh produce right there at the farm and I realize now how lucky I have been to be raised with such fantastic fresh food.

coeur de boeuf tomatoes from my uncle's garden

coeur de boeuf tomatoes from my uncle’s garden

 

Check my post about famous french desserts  where I show you step by step how to make my grandmother’s flan, very easy and super good. Buy or get the best eggs you can and of course use whole milk ( skim should not even be in the picture ). Lucky you if you live next to a farm, your flan will be most delicious. Always start with the best ingredients and your dish will be unforgettable. For instance between vanilla extract and vanilla beans guess what is the best choice ?

I am going to try explaining the french point of view and warn you of a few “faux pas” you can avoid next time you are in France, if you are ever invited to share a meal with french people.

Do not and I repeat do not bring a dish with you, not even dessert.  The only exception would be if you went to a renown patisserie to get a very special dessert and even then it’s risky business. Your french host could get quite offended if you show up with food. Translation “What ? my food is not good enough”. A good bottle of wine is always welcome or a bouquet of flowers or maybe some great chocolate from the best “chocolatier”in town.

Food is very often tied with memories of places and people, food is tied to a place. The fig trees at my grandparents, melons growing in the fields, tomatoes, aubergines, zucchinis and garlic from the garden. The best peaches of my life picked up in an orchard in Ardeche. The “cadillac” of cherries  as I was told by the farmer who sold them to me at a road stand in Provence. He was very proud of his cherries and he was right, they were the best and as soon as I polished them up I regretted not having bought more.

Aix en Provence market

Aix en Provence market

You all know the french are proud of their culinary traditions and when you are in France accept graciously the invitation and really try to not refuse a dish under the pretext that you are on a special diet. And I am not talking about people being vegan or vegetarian but more about the low fat or low carb or low whatever… When you are in France relax your grip on all the rigid ideas about what you “should not” be eating and just enjoy the bounty of food this country has to offer. Let your taste buds travel with you too.

More to come on food and cultural differences very soon…

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French markets in Provence

Who has’nt dreamed of visiting the french markets of Provence… ?

Next best thing to being there is following me in the videos while I walk through, listen to the music, talk to people, have lunch, drink a coffee. In brief, while I do what people do in French markets.

  • Friday market in Pertuis which brings a big crowd from villages around and vendors as far as the Alps.
  • Saturday market in Lourmarin with unexpected music and a great lunch.
  • The morning market in Aix en Provence where you can sit and have breakfast, watching the brouhaha (love this word).
  • Aix flower market in front of city hall- Place de la Mairie- Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, one of my favorites. When I was living in the Alps and spring was too late in my opinion, I would drive south to Aix just to be in the flower market and sit at a terrace again.
  • In the Gulf of St Tropez, the small village and market of Ramatuelle, early morning with coffee- a bit of lesson in ordering coffee- and a visit of the charming village. So many flowers and the scent is incredible, lots of jasmine.
  • Saturday market in Aix en Provence, the old town is blocked for car circulation and streets are full of people and vendors. Starting at city hall with flowers, all the way to the Cours Mirabeau. Everything from food of course- we are in France after all- clothes, antiques, soap…. and my favorite vendor with all his colorful handmade goods from Essaouira in Morocco.
French Markets. Aix en Provence

French Markets. Aix en Provence

Breaking French literary news (to know more click on link below)

Camus letter to Sartre reveals their early friendship

Albert Camus Nobel Prize, bought an old Magnanerie (silk farming place) in Lourmarin with his check from Sweden. In part because the area reminded him of his native Algeria. He died there in a car accident in 1960 but still reside in the village cemetery.

French Rosé Wine and a Calanque near Bandol.

Nothing better than a glass of cold rosé sitting at a small restaurant, watching the Mediterranee. If you go to Calanque de Port d’Alon ,by the road from Bandol or by a walk along the rocky coast, you will enjoy the same fate. One of the best rewarding walk and very romantic too, that we enjoyed with my husband on the Mediterranean coast. The next best thing to being there is Google Earth, have fun with it click on view larger map and zoom in… explore the area and click on the little guy to place him exactly where you want to go , magic.

Coastal walk to Port d'Alon

Coastal walk to Port d’Alon

A true rosé is dry with fresh fruit flavors and sometimes citrus, in Provence it is a blend of Syrah and Grenache and also Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan… The wonderful pink color comes from the skin of red grapes left in contact with macerating juices long enough to give it a color more or less intense.

To know more about the art of making rosé, listen to Alan Wilson, owner of Saint Estève de Néri at the foot of the Luberon. (Due to a strong Mistral that day and a poor quality microphone, the sound outside is not good:)

More fun with the soundtrack “Mediterranée” by Tino Rossi -very famous 50’s crooner from Corsica images from the movie “Marius” by Marcel Pagnol a very dear son of Provence, born in Aubagne and lived his life writing and filming about his region.

Very soon a page with recommended books and movies about Provence…

Famous French Desserts, easy flan recipe.

Going through my videos on my YouTube channel, my mouth started watering when I watched the flan recipe.

It was a dessert my grandmother used to make and the fact that the eggs and milk were from her farm, certainly made it even better.There will be another post about the farm in the southwest of France, with videos of course, so stay tuned.

Try it, it’s very easy to make, refreshing summer dessert. You can add raspberries or strawberries on top or even a bit of shaved chocolate, mmmmm.