Thursday, June 23, 2011

Paris Report

What's not to love about Paris?

The view from my little studio is charming...

Why, yes!  Yes, I *did* use my sexy little lens to make this a moody shot...thank you for noticing. 
...and although yesterday was the National Fête de la Musique - a day set aside annually all through France where people fill the streets with music of all kinds - and my first one spent in Paris, so needless to say I was filled with anticipation for what this might be like here in the mother of all cities...but...there was a rail strike yesterday, which made getting to the Charles de Gaulle airport an amazing challenge to meet my friends arriving from California and shepherd them back into town in time to share in the amazing music festival...but they ended up arriving an hour later than anticipated...and it was also the opening day of the huge and hugely popular Paris Air Show so traffic back into the center of Paris was, and this will always be unforgettable:  the only 'musical group' I ended up shooting (and this was early in the evening as I made my way to the train to get to airport for the big people collection project) was this octogenarian wearing his hat rapper-style and dancing to Britney Spears tunes blaring from his boombox.

But once back in town, we managed to find our way to a brasserie for a late night bite of lovely duck confit...

No, silly.  These are the waiters - not the duck confit!
...and topped it off with a lovely walk along the Seine...

I mean really, what's not to love about Paris?!


ps:  I've got a wonky connection (or is it my ancient laptop?) so will save response to comments 'til tomorrow...but so lovely to see you all there! à bien tôt...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mardi Meteo

I'm on my way to Paris, where the temps are likely cooler and there may even be a bit of rain - but then, Paris is most beautiful in the rain...(did you see Midnight in Paris?  If no, do!)

The weather in Aix will be perfect...for artists!

Artist in front of Les Deux Garçons painting...Les Deux Garçcons!

Aix will be reaching 27ºC (80ºF) today.  Whew!  I begin to wilt at this temp...glad to be catching a little Paris cool...expected temps:  21ºC (69ºF) with...that's right: rain...and beautiful.


Monday, June 20, 2011

It's the Little Things

I'm thankful to have been present in the little moments of my former life. Those moments are all the more precious now at a distance in time and space.

Another late work night.  I'm too tired to cook and it's too easy to hop in the car to make the 5-minute drive to grab a bite alongside the Pacific.  As I stroll across the open terrace with a full view of the sea, only the occasional white caps of waves are visible on the dark expanse.  The air is sweet and damp as I enter the restaurant but once I'm in, the warm and savory aromas from the open grill and sizzling pans atop the massive stove tops.

I take my regular seat at the dining bar and receive a warm welcome from familiar faces - one of them, the tall and handsome server, sets a glass of perfectly chilled pinot grigio in front of me with a smile and asks how I'm doing.  "Great.  Hungry!" I reply.

No menu.  I know exactly what I want - and so do they.  And it's not on the menu. 

A few minutes later, I see a toque and a white apron moving towards me.  The chef himself is headed in my direction - a sure sign that dinner is near.  He's the one who turned me on to this comfort food and it is he who delivers it to me each time I'm in his place.  "Bella," he says,  "Buon appetito!"  as he sets the oval gratin dish in front of me.

"Grazi," I say (when in rome...), "but you say that to everybody," I tease. Always one to deflect a compliment.

"Ah, no," he says, pursing his lips and wagging a finger to demonstrate a false disapproval.  He continues, "The men are 'bello'!"  A smile and a wink - as always.

He leans an elbow on the edge of the bar for a moment and chats with me, the server and another patron a few seats down from me.  With a wave of his hand, he encourages me to eat while it's hot.  I follow his invitation - and his strict instruction from the first time he brought this dish to me: hit it with a drizzle of fresh lemon. 

This combination is inspired.  Perfectly crisped roasted potatoes, a bed of steamed spinach and a mound of tooth-tender white beans, slowly cooked in an herb-y stock.  I giggle to myself remembering how I loved my father's pan-fried potatoes served with pillow-soft white bread.  All things evolve. 

I'm grateful for those evenings of warm welcome and comfort food.  Even now, in the south of France, I can close my eyes and smell the Pacific Ocean, feel the cool air, hear the mellow chatter going on around me as I dine in my own sphere of quiet.  Life really is lived in little moments.

The white beans have just come into the marché recently and I invite them in as often as I can while they are in town.

Once popped out of their shells, they get a quick rinse and are then added to the chopped garlic - already softened in olive oil and mingling with a toss of herbs de provence - that is awaiting their arrival in the pan.   An introduction, then a bit of mixing it up followed by a bath of warm chicken stock (preferably home-made).  Heat it up to a boil to get things cooking then turn the heat down to a simmer for as long as it takes to soften the beans as they absorb the stock.

Served with steamed spinach and roasted potatoes, this is my kind of comfort food - when I'm not craving meatloaf, that is. 

(These beans are also delicious served with roasted chicken and a dollop of fresh pesto...see what I mean?  'As often as I can' - all summer long!)

Don't forget the drizzle of lemon.  The chef would not be pleased.

Hope your week includes a multitude of precious moments.

Ciao...bellas...(et bellos),

ps:  I'll be in Paris this week and depending on my internet connection, I'll post at least a photo or two through the week to stay in touch.  Check back.  If no posts, you can be assured, there was a little "French hiccup" that got in the way.  I'll be back on the weekend to catch up.  a+

Saturday, June 18, 2011

And the winner is...(drum roll, s'il vous plaît...)

Felicitations to Ann Knickerbocker, the winner of the second Fork It Over give-away! 


Ann, if you'll send me your address tout de suite, I'll get these out to you on Monday. They are ready to go just waiting for the destination details.  Fire off an email with the info to la.fourchette06[at]

Merci à tous for joining in the fun once again.  I think I'm getting the hang of this and I kinda like it!  Let's do it again, shall we?  Stay tuned for the next Fork It Over give-away in the weeks ahead.  In the meantime, look for the cards to go up for sale ASAP - the response has been wonderful! 

Bon weekend à tous!


Little World Views

Bon weekend à tous!  (Check back tomorrow for the winner of the second Fork It Over give-away!)


Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Fork It Over" Give-Away

Yipppeee!  It's the second Fork It Over Give-Away at La Fourchette.  Enter now to win a set of lovely note cards!

When you have a dream, you have to keep breathing softly on its embers.  I did just that with my dream of a little French life by traveling here on a regular basis in the years preceding my leap.  Since that kind of lifestyle is mostly for the rich and famous - I am neither - I had to find another way.  As usual, the universe was listening in on my musings and gave a swift kick in my desired direction.

That 'kick' led to being contacted by Façonnable to shoot the quintessential Provençal environmental shots for marketing their brand in their US boutiques.  The opportunity allowed me to be in this lovely place twice a year for several years as I gunned my motor to make a run for it.

A happy result of that shooting was a line of note cards that I marketed and sold in the US before I left and here in France when I arrived.  Postal complications and basic survival issues forced the cards to take a back seat in the veritable 2CV* of my life to things like a carte de sejour, working papers and replacing lost passports but I am very pleased to say:

The cards are back in town!  (I know several of you will be very happy to hear this!  Thank you for the gentle encouragement along the way to bring them back.)

This Fork It Over Give-Away is a set of 5 lovely note cards with different color images of Provence.   (Actually one of the images is a flower shop in Paris, but I just knew you'd like it.  See above for the images included in this Fork It Over set.)

The printed cards with envelopes measure 19.5 cm by 14 cm  (approximately 7.5 inches by 5.5 inches). 

A caption below each image notes the location of the shot and...

(Candles not included in this set.) was the added touch in the previous version of cards,  each card is individually signed in the lower right-hand corner.

The set arrives tied up in a ribbon and will make a lovely hostess gift or perhaps delight another Franco-phile when birthday time rolls around.

You have three ways to enter the second Fork It Over Give Away to win this set of 5 note cards (Hurry!  All entries must be in by midnight Friday, 17 June):

1)  If you haven't yet, hit Follow in the "Some Of My Favorite Peeps" section over there to the right and add your sweet mug shot to the crowd - then leave a lovely comment in this post...


2)  ...scroll down a bit further and hit Like if you are a Facebook follower - then leave a lovely comment in this post.  (I know. I know.  We've been through this whole "Like" drill, right?  I had not installed the correct code so all of my lovely followers who showed up in that spot previously were not actually "liking" La Fourchette...errr...they all ended up "liking" FACEBOOK!  Mark Zuckerberg, you sneaky bug.  I think I've got it down now and your "like" should actually show up on La Fourchette's page from here on out. )


3)  ...Simply leave a lovely comment in this post.  I realize not everyone wants to sign up to Google or Facebook and I'm just really pleased your here.

As usual, all names will go into the hat...

...and the winner will be announced on SATURDAY, 18 June.

Bon chance à tous!


* deux chevaux - the lovely old automobile that represents all things French in one gorgeous heap of metal and leather

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

À propos de...

...wuouw!  (which is how the French say it kind of sounds like woo-ahh-ouuuh.)

La Fourchette is enjoying the honor of being the featured blogger on BlogHer!  A petite curtsy to food editor, Genie Gratto, and all the other kind peeps at BlogHer for the lovely compliment.  And a warm bien venue to all the readers from the site that are pulling chairs up to the table and nibbling on petite tranches of this little French life.

The plan for today was to bump the Mardi Meteo and offer up something tasty in place of it - and now it seems perfect timing for welcoming guests to the kitchen.

I made a decision years ago to stay away from English-speakers here in Aix.  I arrived with no French and fell in with a crowd of ex-pats with whom I spoke only English.  What's more, they spoke very little French.  Though I had been warned before leaving California to not hang out with other Anglophones (English speakers) "and no matter how painful" to immerse myself with only French speakers, I did not heed that word of caution and realized a year or two into my stay that my language skills were going absolutely nowhere.  "This was not my plan," I remember saying to myself.  "There is something wrong with this picture."

"So integrate, damn it!" (That little voice within sometimes sounds like a drill sergeant - or a mean nun with a potty mouth.)

Thus started a seismic shift in my little French life.  I enrolled in a university course here...

...and plopped myself into 22 hours a week of intensive language courses to bring my speaking skills up to speed.  I even dated a French man (which never progressed far enough for my French to improve in ways that people keep telling me will happen if I get involved with a French man ... but I digress...) The shift in my associations and priorities was deliberate.

I'm pleased to say that a few years later, it was absolutely the right decision for me.  But of course, there are always exceptions to any rule, and so it is for me and my "no anglophones allowed" limit.

This deliciously spicy recipe is from the Provençal kitchen of an Australian friend.  She was here when I first arrived.  We met in a wine-tasting group - so already we had the food and wine thing in common.  Then she and her family left the country when her husband was called back to Australia.  A few years later and - as we say in these parts: voilà!  They are back - which pleases me tremendously.  I break my rule when these folks are in the 'hood.  (Actually, I break my rule a bit more often these days as I'm much more comfortable gliding around in two tongues than I was when the second tongue was still babbling like a two-year old.)

I sat down at their dinner table one night (she is a fabulous cook and enjoys sticking with the local cuisine while she's here) to a lovely souris d'agneau (braised lamb) and begged for the recipe as I licked my plate.  No, really!  I believe I actually licked my plate in a shameless manner...okay, perhaps I used my finger as a mop...same-o, was simply that good.  I think we even had a good-natured tussle over who was going to have the last of the mashed potatoes to sop up the final drops of this sauce.  Needless to say, I'm glad they're back...and not just for the great food and the fact that she generously shares her recipes.

As I went in search for the necessary ingredients for this dish I ran into a wall that I've hit before: chilli peppers are not so easy to come by in these parts.  Perhaps in the Basque region and the rest of the southwest of France one might find the chillies that I'm used to as a California Girl, but here....errr...not so much.  A visit to my favorite spice vendor at the marché had me toting away the closest thing I could find:  some little bird's eye chilli peppers - like the kind I use when I make piri piri.  (You can see them in bottom of the mortar - the long colorful peppers laying in wait to'll see...)

I tossed them into the mortar with the coriander seeds and a pinch of regular red pepper flakes and hit the pestle against these puppies to grind them into the rub for the lamb.  My throat closed immediately and my eyes filled with water as if my inner fire department had been called to service with and endless water supply for a three alarm fire.  No worries, though!  That passes...but you may want to make a note here to adjust the type of chilli you use to your taste and tolerance for heat. 

The sauce cooks down to a luscious gravy consistency and the meat is fork tender when all is said and done.  I served it with mashed potatoes but it would be just as lovely with a lighter couscous as an accompaniment.

If you're not already beating the heat in your region with salad fare, slip this into your menu before temperatures rise.  If you have to wait until fall, make sure you keep it handy to remember it - it will be worth the wait!

Bon appetit!

Provence meets California meets Australia Spicy Braised Lamb Shanks

4 lamb shanks
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon whole coriander
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh red chillies - to your taste and tolerance of heat
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, quartered and finely chopped
1 stalks celery finely chopped
2 large onions finely chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
170ml dry white wine
6 anchovy fillets
2 x 400g tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon or to taste of fresh basil, torn or cut in a chiffonade

Season the lamb with salt and pepper.  Pound coriander seeds and chillis in a mortar and pestle.  Add the chopped rosemary and oregano and mix with a couple of tablespoons of flour - or at least enough to roll lamb in this mixture,  pressing herbs and peppers in well and shaking off excess flour.

Heat a large casserole, add oil and brown meat on all sides and remove.

Add garlic, carrot, celery, onions and a pinch of salt and sweat until softened.

Add balsamic vinegar, white wine and simmer for 2 minutes.

Add anchovies and then tomatoes. (I used the organic tomatoes in a jar rather than whole for this, but either works well.)

Stir and return lamb to the pot.

Bring to the boil, put on the lid and simmer in a 180 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove lid and cook for another 30 minutes.

Sprinkle basil over the top and serve with garlic smashed potatoes, couscous or crusty bread.

Serves 4
Recipe can easily be doubled to serve more.

Monday, June 13, 2011

L'Art de Vivre

Each year, Coté Sud - a French lifestyle magazine - transforms one of Bodhi's favorite parks (without his permission, mind you! This event freaks him out a bit because apparently the place sniffs out as familiar territory but whoa! -  this is not our regular romping ground when Coté Sud is in town...but I digress...) for a weekend of inspiration all dedicated to the art of living.

Though temperatures are mild for us this year, artful-livers wandering through the place will want to make sure they have one of these...

...or be lucky enough to be carried around like this.  Lucky dog!

The Parc Jourdan becomes a wonderland for people like myself:  characters with a strong dose of Libra in their astrological charts and appreciate beauty and fine living in equal measure.  I make it a point to pay the price of admission and take a wander through each year's offering.


...and beasts alike...

...are added to the mix of artisans...

...and brocanteurs who are there to show off and sell their wares.

I happen to love feasting on the lovely table settings that are put together like theater settings.  From the sublime...

( inviting, isn't it?  Let's just sneak in here and sip glasses of rosé and catch up on our respective weekends, shall we?) the ridiculous...

(Dinner with a mer-man anyone?)

The color palette offers something for everyone.  A splash of brights for summer fun...

...or do you find yourself, like me, drawn to the more neutral tones?

Did you happen to notice that last image?  Smack in the middle of the pond Bodhi likes to run along - when it's not being used as a fantasy island setting, that is!  Several tables are decked out as if waiting for a boat (or a plane - if we're keeping to the Fantasy Island theme) to drift over and drop off some lucky diners with a gentle splash.

Need some inspiration for some garden or patio lighting for your summers en plein air?  I've got just the fixtures for you!  How about wine bottles?

Now here's a little something that's just perfect for La Fourchette!  Don't you agree?

My favorite this year was an Alexia Carmona, an artist from Narbonne, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  She works with the wire used to tie up lanky vines in the local vineyards...and transforms this...

...into charming little pieces like these garden fireflies...

...and these adorable hanging lanterns.

Is it just me or are these just the thing for a summer evening in the garden?  Imagine laughing with friends over dinner as candlelight flickers from vineyard baskets...made from the wire that may well have tended the vines of the wine you are sharing?

I know, I know.  I'm such a romantic.  It's one of the reasons I'm here so I may as well call it like I live it!  Ms. Carmona does much, much more so if you'd like to see additional designs of recycled vineyard wire, check out her site here.

Well, dear readers, thanks for sharing this year's Coté Sud with me!  Hope you enjoyed it - and how lucky you were not to have to suffer too much from le soleil?

Don't forget to check back through the week for the second Fork It Over give-away at La Fourchette and a delicious - and spicy! - souris d'agneau recipe.  It just came out of the oven and my mouth is watering even as I type as the aroma wafts through the warm spring air chez moi. 

À bientôt!

ps: I was feeling in a particularly artistic mood so I used my artsy-fartsy lens for all of these shots. You'll find the edges all softened...which I love.  It was fun.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Little World Views

It's a holiday weekend here with the fête - ing continuing through Monday. 

These fellows have been working around the corner from me for the last couple of weeks.  I imagine they'll be making the most of their Monday off.  But I'll see them again bright and early Tuesday morning.  I mean really, how charming is this?  Hoisting materials from street side to rooftop in a market basket?  I love this place!

Watch this space for the next Fork It Over give away!  I'll roll it out this week and you'll have to be quick - you'll only have three days to enter to win.

There's a new recipe in the oven, too.  That's right - in the oven!  It's been a cool couple of weeks here and I'm squeezing one more souris d'agneau (braised lamb) out before we head into lighter fare.  (Unless, of course, you're my brother-in-law and you save your oven roasted menus for the sweltering heat of mid-summer!  He'd be more likely to tuck this upcoming recipe away for mid-August!)

Now wave 'bonjour' to the nice workmen and wish them a good holiday...

...then plan to check back to see what's next in the Fork It Over series!

À bientôt,

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Mardi Meteo

24ºC (75º) and cloudy...with the threat of rain...again.  We've had buckets and buckets of rain in the past week with more on the way.  Thunder claps and lightening to make the heartiest of souls shudder - and shutter (the windows!)  I love it!  (I've always thought I must be part duck.)

Temps are mild and the air has a lovely humidity as opposed to the bone-dry stuff that is our usual.  I don't mind this one little bit.  And neither does our thirsty terre.  Let it pluie!

Hope you are having a lovely day - under whatever the skies may be bringing your way.



Monday, June 06, 2011

À propos de...

...lost and found...

You never know what you'll find dans les rues*!   Someone propped this little guy up to wait for a reunion with his tot. 

Wishing you a bonne semaine!


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