Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Morning Meteo*

Bonjour à tous!

This week's soup is still simmering so you can look for it to be served up in the next day or so.  In the meantime, a peek at these little dewy faces from the marché, kissed by raindrops...

...or snugly protected against the elements.

Either way, they brighten another soggy day in these parts.  And you?  How's the weather in your corner of the world?

I have a work project going that is putting La Fourchette on the back burner at the moment...not to mention that little 'déménagement**' keep an eye on that pot simmering on the back burner for me, would you?

Check in again tomorrow - if the soup isn't ready, I'll show up with something!


* weather report
** move (as in relocation)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Postcard from Paris - Sunday edition

Oh, it was so hard to leave Paris, just about my favorite city in the world.

                                                                    Tony Visconti


...and as promised, a much-needed touch of spring!

How is it that even messy petals scattered beneath a table look perfect in Paris?

Bon dimanche à tous!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Postcard from Paris

All I wanted was to connect my moods with those of Paris. Beauty paints and when it painted most, I shot.                          
                                                Ernst Haas, photographer


Tomorrow, a hint of springtime promised.
Bon weekend à tous,

Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Musings (Okay, I whine sometimes...)

I've heard winter wears on the heartiest of souls.  If that's the case, imagine what it does to a California girl!

After the wonder of snowy scenes in my little ville began to fade, I had to come to terms with the fact that I had relocated to a place that has this thing called 'seasons'.  

During my first winter in Aix (the coldest in many years, according to statistics at that time - though we've had colder last year when the fountains froze!), I called a friend of mine complaining sharing about the amazingly low temperatures and the sense of being frozen from the inside.  "I actually sit with a portable heater stuck up my bum in an attempt to stay warm," I whined.  (This was true, by the way...well, practically true.)

"Didn't you take your winter clothes?!" he queried, his incredulous tone smacking away the shot of support I was hoping for. 

"Yes, P.W., I did.  All of them.  But 'winter clothes' in California and 'winter clothes' here in Aix are two.very.different.things., thankyouverymuch," I said spat back defensively.

Looking back, ski clothes might just have done the trick that first winter, but I was still adjusting to the glares looks I was getting on the street from the French women I passed.  I was certainly not ready to hit these stylish streets looking like the Michelin Man for the sake of personal comfort.  (I tried to "stay curious" about this behavioral pattern of being given the once-over from head to toe with the accompanying look a cranky principal might give a 7th grader who is wearing a T-shirt that says, "The dog shit on my homework" or something like get what I mean.  It's a curious look and made me squirm a bit at the beginning.  I've since surmised that perhaps some of these women actually *like* my style and are loathe to admit it...but I digress...)

More than simply figuring out how to recognize snowflakes as they fell from the sky and adding a few woolen items to my beach-y wardrobe, my learning curve included things like:

•  purchasing a humidifier to make life less crackly and parchment-like
•  drinking way more water than I thought was humanly possible
•  making sure there is always a handkerchief in my coat pocket when I go out the door. 

To that last point, you see, you never know when you're going to run into someone on the street and have to exchange bisous.  I try to make sure my bisous are offered sans* a runny nose.  Seems only reasonable and perhaps a part of that French politesse that somehow got overlooked when the Académie Française was hammering out the Rules to Live By.  (I've been known to cringe a bit when a well-intentioned runny nose is heading in toward my cheek at a rapid speed. I'm funny that way.)

Honestly, I'm pretty good with winter these days...err.... right through to the middle of January, that is.  After that point, I'm pretty much done.  D.O.N.E.  I begin looking for signs of Spring - well, that and winter deals for a trip to Paris for a change of scenery.  Which is what I'm going to do as soon as this post is up. 

That's right.  Winter is the time of great deals on the train.  Paris - up and back - for 50€?  I'm sooooo there.  A little excursion will do me good.  And probably all of you, too.  I'll be able to tone my whining down a bit.  Keep your fingers crossed.   I'm ready to be sprawled out in the warm window of an art shop, dreaming of birds and bunnies like this Parisian cat rather than bundling myself up in wool scarves and mittens to head out into another wintery day in my little 'hood.   Sooooo ready.

Let's take a little virtual field trip to Paris this weekend, shall we?

Stop in when you can over the weekend for more Postcards from Paris - especially those readers from the snowier corners of the world.  I promise a peek at Spring.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Little World Views

The lights came down yesterday in my little ville.

This can only mean one thing:  the holidays are officially over ...

...and the only thing left to do is ... 

...head to a café on the sunny side of the street and wait for Spring to arrive.   Sigh...


ps: Is she back to playing with that 'toy' lens of hers?
Why, yes.  Yes, I am.  Thanks for asking...and playing along.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday Window on Provence

Gotta yen for pizza?

You might not automatically think of France for a pie, but we're so close to Italy that great pizza is easy to come by.  

I know a great place here in Aix en Provence:  La Pizza on rue Aude.

Here's the friendly fellow who'll toss your pizza in the air...and into the oven.

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Little World Views - Photo Shoot

What better way to take advantage of the soft light at the end of a winter day in Provence than a photo shoot?  I had the distinct pleasure of a little photo play with these three munchkins (and their lovely mom and dad) on Sunday afternoon.

I can only hope these three had half the fun that I had!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Soup's On!

I'm a garlic girl.  Roasted, smashed and spread on a slice of bread or gently sautéed in olive oil and tossed with spinach or kale, garlic is a regular addition to my little French diet.

In fact, it was a regular addition to my little California diet as well.  My original chili recipe calls for 3 cloves of garlic but my recipe - the one you would get if you happened to dine chez moi - calls for at least 6  (if they're suitably stout, that is.  More if they're on the puny side.)  That's the garlic standard chez La Fourchette.

In addition to being a good source of vitamin C, raw garlic has been touted more recently as a natural antibiotic, a stimulus to the immune system, and a possible treatment for lowering high blood pressure. So add a little fresh and finely chopped garlic to your evening meals and give hypertension the boot.

If it's an immune system boost you're after, then have I got the soup for you!

The lovely soleil of the south of France has been punctuated by days of soft light and cold temperatures when the sun decides to hide under a soft, grey cloud-blanket.  Good soup weather.

If you're looking to ward off winter bugs (and vampires, while you're at it) have a bowlful of this belly-warming soup of garlic topped with a poached egg and drizzled with olive oil - approved by Provençal shepherds as a sure-cure to winter's ills.   Even with the crouton in the bottom of the bowl, slices of baguette smeared with tapenade will be a tasty addition to serve alongside. 

And take a peek at the color of this egg yolk when it gets cracked into - fresh from the day's marché.  Brilliant, non?  Everyone deserves to eat eggs like this!  

I try to be mindful when I share recipes with others that not everyone appreciates the aroma of garlic swirling in the air upon waking.  If it doesn't bug you, then kick this recipe up in the garlic department.

Bon appétit!

Aïgo Bouido
(Adapted from Savoring Provence by Diane Holuigue)

8 cups water
20 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole*
10 fresh sage leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 eggs
12 croutons, made from a baguette, brushed with a slosh of olive oil and grilled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil

*  Depending on your garlic, if there are substantial sprouts in the clove, slice the clove in half and pull out the sprout to avoid bitterness.

In a soup pot over high heat, bring the water to a boil and add the garlic and sage.  Boil until the garlic is soft, about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, scoop out the sage and garlic. Discard the sage and mash the garlic with a fork. Return the garlic to the pot of water and season with sea salt and pepper.

Return the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid gently simmers. One at a time, break the eggs into a small bowl and slip into the simmering liquid.  Cook until the whites are opaque and the yolks are soft and still liquid, about 2 minutes.

Place 2 croutons in the bottom of each of 6 wide soup bowls. Using a slotted spoon, quickly and carefully remove 1 egg at a time from the simmering soup and transfer to the bowls, placing 1 egg on the bread in each bowl.  Pour 2 ladles-full of the soup over each egg.  Top with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve immediately before the eggs cook any further.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pilgrimage to the Sea, Part Deux

When we left our parade yesterday, les gardians had just hit the beach.  There, at the first soft swath of sand, they wait for the procession to catch up so they can lead the saints' march to the sea.

It doesn't take long before the Marys show up for their final sprint to the water's edge.

Faithful followers (and curious photographers alike) join in to accompany the duo to the shore.

The Camargue Cross, seen in the image below, is the emblem of the church of Saintes Maries de la Mer. It is is composed of three emblems: an anchor, a cross, and a heart. The upper cross is said to represent the trident-shaped tool used by gardians. The anchor symbolizes the fishermen of the region. And the heart?  A universal symbol that is easily translated in any language, n'est-ce pas*? 

The gardians are the first to arrive to their Mediterranean goal.  In an impressive show of horsemanship, they maneuver this way and that, steering their steeds to face the arriving saints.

As the Marys are carried into the water, a few individuals from the procession wade into the knee-deep waves to touch the statues' base, perhaps to be in direct connection to the blessings that are about to be bestowed, as the gathering crowd... led in a round of Provençal songs. (Nope, this is not the music I promised you.  Wait for it...)

  The next to arrive at the scene is the bishop to offer blessings to all in attendance. 

When the water blessing is complete, the procession heads back up the beach...

...through the streets of the town...

...and back to the church.

Below, you can see a view of the back of church of Stes. Maries de la Mer down one of the little rues. 

The Marys are the first to arrive.  They are carried into the church and placed at the front where they wait for everyone else to return from the sea.  As the participants file in, their voices join in verses of Provençal chansons and the old stone church reverberates with song as row after row of people fill the space. (Nope, this isn't the music I promised either...)

After a brief closing word to the day's ritual is said to the crowd, the invitation is made to anyone wishing to offer up a prayer or receive a blessing to now approach the front.

A line forms in the center of the church and one by one, people advance slowly for their moment with the Saints, touching their heads, faces or hands for a blessing.

Some continue down into the cave of the church to make a visit to the relics of St. Sara - another opportunity to receive blessings or to ...

...offer prayers on small slips of paper to be left with the Saint for consideration.

And what better way to finish off a day in this region than with a ride on horseback!

We arrived at the stables right in the middle of a lively game of pétanque. 

Fortunately, there were other hands available to help our group get saddled up and out on the trail.  (Don't let the familiar tone fool you, dear readers.  I hadn't ridden a horse since I was 10 years old.  I'm surprised I wasn't thrown in the first few minutes - by the horse or the hosts!)

Camargue horses form a distinct breed - one of the oldest in the world - and are closely related to prehistoric horses, whose remains have been found elsewhere in southern France.

Like the Camargue bulls, Camargue horses are smaller than their modern cousins.  At around thirteen or fourteen hands they are technically ponies. They are used in rounding up the region's bulls.  They are never stabled, but well-able to survive the humid summer heat and the biting winter cold. (Not to mention the summer mosquitoes of this region!)

When we got back to the D'accord* Corral (just kidding - I didn't really catch the name), my horse headed directly to the trough for a well-deserved drink. (Actually, in this image, he was stomping against the trough because I had left the reins caught on his he couldn't reach the trough.  Oooops!  See what I mean?!)

And what, you may ask, could possibly top such a wonderful day?  

For a little frosting on the Stes. Maries de la Mer cake, kick off your boots, put 'em up to dry...

...and take a listen to some local talent.

Yes, that's right. The Gipsy Kings are local boys from Stes. Maries de la Mer!   Hit 'play' and enjoy.  Go ahead - dance!  How can you help it?!

What's that you say? A tad shy?  Then just give yourself permission to do a little shoulder dance right there in your seat. Because if you listen to this, you're gonna have to move something!  I guarantee it!

Bon dimanche à tous!

* isn't it?
** okay

Note of acknowledgment:  Merci mille fois to Vivienne Hamill, director of the CEA (Cultural Experiences Abroad) study abroad program and the Aix Connection excursions for students of all ages here in Aix en Provence.  Her treasure trove of details about Stes. Maries de la Mer filled the picture in quite nicely.   

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