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September 2020 Newsletter

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The second most important topic on the news in France this spring, after Covid, was les vacances (vacations). Already in March people were fretting if they would happen or not. While it's a common perception for people think the French have always enjoyed a life of leisure, and ample vacation time, it wasn't until 1936 when vacations were sanctioned and people got time off to travel. And travel, they did.

Of course, many headed south where it's sunny and warm. And why not? So that's what we did....

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Romain is mostly in the camp of going to Brittany for vacation. His mother is from there so he has an affinity for it. That region in France is ruggedly beautiful, with magnificent oceans and lovely countryside, but if you want to dive in the sea, the water is very (very) cold. The locals and some others don't have a problem diving in, but those of us who are more level-headed ; ) find it more of a punishment, rather than a pleasure.

To me, summer vacation means going to a place where you can wear shorts, t-shirts, and sandals, drink rosé, walk in the sand, and not worry about having heart failure if you decide to dive into the ocean. When a friend who lives in the U.S. offered us her house (with a pool!) in the Languedoc, although it was sad that she couldn't be there due to travel restrictions, it was kind of her to let us have it for a few weeks.

We made it a road trip, rather than going by train or plane. A big plus to driving is that you can pack as much as you want. Another is that you can hit the flea markets most small towns have in the summer in France, and stock it full of stuff, an activity which I'm trying to curtail. But it's easy to just throw everything in the back of the car rather than carefully pack a suitcase, wondering if it'll be too heavy or if you've got too much stuff or if you'll have to check it because you want to bring your favorite sunscreen.

(I burn easily so I bring hyper-protective waterproof sunscreen over from the U.S., that hasn't seemed to have caught on in Europe. I am always surprised at how many people can sit out under the full sun on the beach all day long here, without wearing sunscreen, and not get burned. I am red after 15 minutes...)

In addition to vowing to protect myself from the sun, this year I also swore to be more prudent at the brocantes (flea markets) along with route, unlike trips in the past where I filled up every square centimeter in the back of the car. This year I spent a whopping €40 (about $45) at various shops buying a few cocktail glasses, plates, and a giant coupe glass that was only €5. (How could I not buy it?) But the purpose of our trip wasn't to amass stuff, but to relax and enjoy our vacation.

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The Languedoc is a region of France that's close to Spain, which I've seen referred to as "French Catalonia." It's not as, um...notable (i.e.; popular) as Provence, which tends to be overrun in the summer. But this year was quite different as there were few, if any, foreign travelers, anywhere. However the French were traveling and many were staying in their own country.

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The pool got put to very good use, as did the nearby beaches. We both got to sit in lounge chairs, read, drink local wine, and eat.

Restaurants we enjoyed in the region were Biquet Plage (which I guess is quite a scene at night, so we only went during the day - if you go, try to reserve lounge chairs and beach umbrellas for the day, as well as a table for lunch), Buvette de Cabezac (a routier, or truck stop, with food, including charcuterie, shown below, eaten cafeteria style), La Nautique, Grand Café Occitain, and La Cambuse du Saunier, which looks out over the salt marshes of Gruissan.

It was there I had my first taste of violets, which were difficult to enjoy (to be kind to them...), but I gave them a try. I did need to wash my hands after eating them since the smell lingered on them and I couldn't enjoy the rest of my meal. But if you want to see what they're like, check out my video at that link...if you dare.

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The market at Olonzac (which takes place every Tuesday morning) was stupendous, and where we bought most of our produce. If you marveled at the pic at the top of the newsletter, you'll see why we also stocked up on produce to bring back to Paris.

Unfortunately the blueberry grower who we got amazing those blueberries from the first week, had left for his own vacances vacation so pas de blueberries for us. Also the guy with the amazing sheep-milk yogurt I bought the first week didn't make an appearance the second week, as the weather led the sheep not to produce enough milk. And those dreamy little super-sweet strawberries were gone by the time I got in line to buy them the second week, too. But no matter - the best produce, of course, isn't always available when you want it. No matter how bad you want it!

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We did stop at another producteur (farm) stand and brought back to Paris two cases of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, melon, and lettuce because the quality was so high, as well as fresh goat and sheep's milk cheeses that were so perfect, it was hard to leave them behind. (Although at €2 to 3, around $3/each, I felt like I was underpaying for them.) I collected as many figs that were ripe from the tree in my friend's yard as I could, which I ate my fill of as they ripened, fighting off the yellowjackets who obviously enjoy fresh figs as much as I do, to bring home to make jam, using the recipe in my book, Ready for Dessert. I think the bees followed me because as soon as I started cutting them up and cooking them in pots, my kitchen was swarmed with yellowjackets, which I'd never had a problem with, in Paris.

So now that I'm back, I'm doing my best to get back into the saddle. I am taking a look at my blog to see what direction I want to take it in. The blog wasn't originally intended to be a recipe blog, although I like sharing my own recipes as well as those from cookbooks that I enjoy. But I've had so many questions and comments about changing the recipes (and ingredients) that I'm not sure if I should continue in that direction.

Dealing with the technology also isn't as much fun as making jam or cocktails or cake, so I put together a survey that many people answered to see what's working and to help me decide - after 20 years (!) - where to take it next. I'll be posting more about that on my blog*, once I get through all these figs (if the yellowjackets will let me near them.) Stay tuned!


*Yesterday I posted the results of that survey. Over 6000 people responded and I was surprised that there were a huge amount of commenters, so some of what I wrote definitely struck a chord. You can check out the post and comments here.


Little Africa in Paris Project

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A lesser-known side of Paris, and France, is that it's home to a very large African community. It's easy to associate Paris with pâtisseries and pretty walks along the Seine, but there are also vibrant neighborhoods with African restaurants and food markets that I sometimes frequent.

Couscous is wildly popular in France, and a new restaurant that serves mafé opened up near me, which is always crowded as Parisians discover the joys of peanut sauce.

Jacqueline Ngo Mpii of Little Africa Paris (who joined me recently on Instagram Live) has launched a Little Africa Indiegogo campaign to raise create for a cultural and arts center to highlight and promote African culture and arts (and food!) in Paris. She is closing in on her goal and to bring the project to fruition, I'll be teaming up with her to do a live Zoom cooking class along with our friends at La Cuisine cooking school in Paris, which you'll be able to sign up for soon. It will come with other benefits, which will help fund this important project. Details are being finalized and I'll be announcing them soon!

Follow La Cuisine and Little Africa Paris on Instagram to stay connected to them, and to get updated there, too.


Recent Recipe(s) on My Blog

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I was off for most of last month but before I left, I posted this Summer Fruit Moelleux, which you can make with any summer fruit, such as plums, peaches, or nectarines, which tend to linger through September. In fact...I just bought nectarines and plums this morning at the market!

Here are a few favorite recipes from my blog for late summer/early fall desserts that you might want to also give a go...

Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze: You'll be thanking your neighbors for handing off all those zucchinis. Several readers told me this was the best zucchini cake they ever had. I'll have to admit, the crackly lemon glaze really takes...or makes, the cake.

German Apple-Almond Cake: Extra moist and a great way to use apples, which I've already spotted at the markets.

Chocolate Persimmon Muffins: What to do with persimmons? This is a great recipe for using those hard-to-figure-out-what-to-do-with fruits. This Persimmon Cake from James Beard is also a winner, and worth bookmarking for holiday gift-giving.

Plum Sorbet and Spiced Plum Toffee Cake: Use those tangy plums to make this simple sorbet (great with a pour of sparkling wine over it, fyi...) and this crazy-good plum cake with a luxurious toffee glaze, which is another way to grace some of those lovely plums.

Apple-Blackberry Slab Pie: It's a magical time of the year when these two fruits overlap. This crowd-friendly pie is great for dessert but is so generous, it also does double-duty as breakfast the next morning.

Check here for a recent round-up of summer fruit recipes.

...and on the savory side of things...

Fresh Corn Cakes make great use of all that sweet summer corn.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Corn Salsa: A spillover of tomatoes means this can be your soupe du jour. Lucky you!

Tomato Tart: The online world has gone galette-crazy. Here's my entry for a tomato galette with a super-simple crust and an overload of seasonal goodness.

French Corn Soup: I got some disappointing corn while on vacation (France does a lot of foods well, but doesn't excel at fresh corn) but if you get your hands of some fresh corn, this corn chowder is one of my all-time favorite soups. Save some for me!

Will travel for fresh corn...maybe next year ;)


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