A French Friday in Fontainebleau Tuesday, Jun 30 2015 

This past weekend, I was in Fontainebleau for the wedding of the daughter of some very dear friends. It was a fabulous event and also a great time to reconnect with this charming French town located about an hour south of Paris. While Fontainebleau is dominated by the royal château of the same name, the town itself is well worth a visit.

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I began the day with petit déjeuner at the Grand Café on Fontainebleau’s pleasant main square…

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It sits next to the historic Fontainebleau hotel the Aigle Noir. Celebrated French poet Jacques Prévert wrote his famous poem “Presque” while staying here.

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After breakfast, I ambled over to Fontainebleau’s lively outdoor food and shopping market that takes place every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the various offerings by local vendors at the Marché St. Louis.

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Of course, I was more tempted by the antiques auction house located nearby. Osenat typically holds les ventes aux enchères in Fontainebleau every Friday and Sunday with viewings the day and morning before. I breezed through the galleries and saw lots of beautiful old French furniture, paintings and objets d’art

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Then I headed across the street to the real historic experience, the Château de Fontainebleau. Situated in the center of the former royal forest of Fontainebleau and nestled up next to the town, the castle showcases 700 years of French monarchs and their history. The various architectural styles of the château invite visitors to meet the successive French kings and queens who lived and sojourned here throughout the centuries.

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The place is so rich historically and visually, I could come here over and over and see something new every time. But the best part is that the Château de Fontainebleau usually has a reasonable amount of visitors, meaning that you can come here and really enjoy what you are seeing…

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For example, I had the stupendous Galerie François Ier (above) – King Francis I had this part of the château constructed from 1528 to 1530 – practically all to myself on Friday, high season in this part of the world. Such a feat would NEVER happen at the galerie des glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at Versailles!

French king Francis I left his mark all over Fontainebleau as did Napoleon. You can visit the French emperor’s extraordinary throne room in the château. Interestingly, it’s the only throne room in France that still retains all its original furniture.

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The Château de Fontainebleau also hosts temporary exhibitions. There was just a terrific one on Napoleon and Pope Pius VII and the pope’s two visits to France during  Napoleon’s reign. It’s the story of an epic power struggle, if there ever was one.

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While small, the exhibition was very well done. The best touch was putting the marble busts of the two ‘rulers’ facing off in the center of the show (below left).

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After visiting the château, you can stroll through the extensive grounds of the royal estate. Part of the gardens were designed by the famous French landscape artist André le Nôtre. You might also see preparations for a special event happening at the château. The day of my visit, party planners were setting up for the big gala that night for the French gendarmes – evening attire required!

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Later that afternoon, I walked up Fontainebleau’s main street la rue Grande to check out the French boutiques and restaurants. It’s a good time to shop in France as the twice-yearly big sales just started last week and run through the beginning of August.

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If shopping and town are not your thing, the area around Fontainebleau is horse country. You can find some stables and go for a ride or check out the numerous equestrian events that often take place in the neighborhood. Hiking and walks are also available due to the abundant walking trails in the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau. And rock climbers are big fans of the large granite rock formations found in the forêt de Fontainebleau.

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All in all, the town of Fontainebleau has a lot going for it and is worth a day or weekend detour from the French capital. Only 45 minutes away by train and about an hour by car, Fontainebleau is a great mix of town, country and history all in one place. Bonne visite!

The French Festival Not to Miss in Provence Sunday, Jun 14 2015 

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This past weekend, I got see one of the best festival traditions in France – the annual fête de la transhumance. If you haven’t come across this earthy term before, transhumance is the annual migration of animal herds from the plains to the mountains and vice versa. (The term itself derives from the Latin ‘trans’ meaning “across” and ‘humus’ meaning “earth.”) As temperatures start to warm up in late May and early June, animal herds in various parts of Europe are moved to higher altitudes for better grazing. Many French villages near mountains celebrate the centuries-old tradition with an animated parade and festival.

The village of Bédoin in the Vaucluse region of Provence held their fête de la transhumance last Sunday and hundreds of spectators turned out to witness the fun event. Bédoin is a picturesque town at the foot of the majestic Mont Ventoux, the 6000-foot peak of Tour de France cycling fame located about 40 minutes northeast of Avignon. Bédoin is also known for its colorful and lively open-air market on Monday mornings.

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But back to the festival. We arrived in the village about 5pm to get a place along the parade route. Of course, things were so relaxed that everyone first headed to the village cafés for a glass of rosé or a beer. Then just a few minutes before the transhumance started at 6pm, we ambled over to the village ring road to get a good view. Loads of kids were running around full of excitement, and adults everywhere were readying cameras to capture the spectacle.

About 6:20pm, a frisson of anticipation swept the crowd as the transhumance festival got underway. Shepherds leading donkeys festooned with fragrant genêt flowers (broom, in English) kicked off the procession. We noticed the shepherds were wearing decidedly casual attire.

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Then the real fun began as a sea of  sheep and goats started flowing through the town. There was plenty of jostling and jockeying for space as the animals trotted along the asphalt. And the sheepdogs weren’t about to miss out as they kept the herd in line. Also notice the shepherd’s t-shirt with the “Non aux loups” logo – he’s part of the group protesting the return of wolves to the natural environment in Europe after near extinction. Somehow I don’t blame him for not wanting his sheep to be eaten by a wild loup.

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For all the crowding, the sheep and goats were a docile bunch as they clipped along. Even the sweet little lambs kept up pretty well with the adult herd. But as you might imagine, the air did start to smell fairly quickly like a nice, well-used barn!

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My favorite moment was when the darling shepherd girl passed by gently keeping her animal friends in line with her walking stick…

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Once the several hundred sheep and goats went past, about ten or so sheepdogs brought up the rear. Their job was to make sure no strays got left behind – or perhaps scooped up by an adoring visitor…

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After the parade, the herd was shuffled off to a nearby field to await their transportation to higher pastures on Mont Ventoux or the Alps. In olden times, the herds would walk the whole way. Today, the animals are shipped by truck for a faster and safer transhumance experience.

Travelers to Provence know that the region is noteworthy for many wonderful things - sun, sea, sunflowers, lavender, perched villages, Roman ruins, markets, olive oil, garlic, rosé wine, cuisine and climate. With the charming fête de la transhumance, we could also add sheep to the Provence pleasures list?! In any case, if you’re traveling there in late May or early June next year, be sure and check local schedules for the festive happening. Especially if you’re bringing the kids!

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French Strawberry Season 2015 Thursday, May 28 2015 

It’s strawberry season in France - and it’s about time too. After the gray and cold of the French winter, strawberries mean real spring and almost summer have arrived. Yesterday, the local village market here in Provence was overflowing with the juicy red fruit. This vendor had dozens of barquettes of strawberries for sale. I couldn’t help buying two or three.

 

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Pendant la saison (during the season), I have des fraises every morning for breakfast. Ce matin, I enjoyed some with yogurt while perusing the latest edition of the French cooking magazine “Elle à table”. Of course, the main feature is all about strawberries. Entitled “Un amour de fraise: Votre fruit préféré est de retour” – ‘For the love of strawberries; Your favorite fruit is back,’ the article offered both sweet and savory (!) recipes using strawberries. I think the editor was reading my mind.

  

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You also know it’s strawberry season here in France as just about every restaurant, brasserie or bistrot is featuring a strawberry dessert du jour (dessert of the day) right about now. After church this past Sunday, my husband and I had a leisurely lunch at a restaurant on the village square. The Provence sun and blue sky were heavenly as was the featured fraisier cake for dessert. Normally, we’re not big sweet eaters but you wouldn’t know it after we ate every bite of the strawberry cream cake – and we each had our own!

 

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A week before, I was hosting a lovely group of ladies from a Texas garden club at this year’s garden festival at the Domaine de Chaumont in the Loire Valley. For our fabulous Sunday lunch, another wonderful fraisier cake made an appearance but with a creatively curvy twist…

 

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And during our garden tour week, I also managed to take care of a nice tarte aux fraises at Angelina, the ‘grande dame’ of tea salons in Paris. While the array of other desserts was oh-so-tempting including their signature Mont Blanc pâtisserie, I just had to have the strawberry tart. Accompanied by a luscious crème de pistache (pistachio cream), it was divine.

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But the pièce de résistance (showpiece) this fraise season was the wild strawberry éclair at the Michelin-starred Le Pré Catelan a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t even the real dessert – that came before. This was part of the mignardises which are the ‘little sweet things’ offered after the main dessert at upscale French restaurants. The fact that this was a strawberry éclair – normally you see chocolate or coffee versions – and then that it was made of fraises des bois (wild strawberries) was absolutely over the top. This was by far the best dessert I’ve had in ages - and an exquisite way to celebrate the French strawberry season this year!

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NB: For a previous French Affaires’ article on the French strawberry season in 2011 complete with the Le Figaro newspaper ‘best strawberry tart competition’ info, please click here. Enjoy!

Eggs in France Thursday, Apr 9 2015 

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Now that Easter season is past, it’s time to put away all those French chocolate eggs – and a good moment to focus on the real eggs that show up in so many great dishes in France.

French eggs are fabulous in my opinion – large, flavorful and with deep golden, nearly orange yolks. You can buy wonderful fresh eggs from vendors at weekly farmers’ markets all over France. This egg vendor and eleveur in Normandy raises his own chickens outdoors – “en plein air” – and is proud of his wares.

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Recently, I’ve been craving the French version of deviled eggs, les oeufs mayonnaise. A popular staple on many bistrot and café menus, this cold French starter of hard-boiled eggs comes with a side of homemade mayonnaise and a little bit of salade. Though it may not sound all that interesting, les oeufs mayonnaise is always a surprisingly tasty and satisfying French dish. Not only French eggs but also real mayonnaise make it delectable whether the mayo is served straight up or enhanced with fresh herbs, spices or something else. The other day, I ordered les oeufs mayonnaise at a neighborhood café on the Rue du Bac in Paris. It felt like spring on a plate – and their mayonnaise came flavored with a hint of salty anchovies…miam, miam!

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Also delicious were the oeufs mayonnaise served with lettuce spears I had not long ago at the cozy Left Bank bistrot La Fontaine de Mars…

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Eggs take center stage in another very French dish, les oeufs en meurette. Originally from Burgundy, this comfort food of eggs poached in rich red wine sauce with shallots or onions and bacon is a classic hot starter on French menus. La Fontaine de Mars offers its own version with a Southwestern French red wine touch. 

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But of course, there are numerous other French egg dishes that don’t require more particular ingredients such as wine or anchovies. Omelettes in France make a great lunch or an easy dinner at home and are often made with ham and cheese, herbs, mushrooms or other fillings. This nice tender one at Ladurée featured ever-so-pungent truffles. If you’ve never tried the divine egg and truffle combo in France, be sure and put it on your “Must taste” list! 

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The French also do scrambled eggs remarkably well. Very creamy and almost pudding-like, les oeufs brouillés in France make me never want to eat scrambled eggs anywhere else. The secret is cooking the eggs very slowly using a bain-marie with the water kept just below the boiling point. Of course, French cooks add a bit of cream to the mixture for that perfect taste and texture. Les oeufs brouillés make a great French brunch as shown here in Paris with smoked salmon, shrimp and salade.

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Not to be left out of any food conversation concerning eggs in France are quiche and soufflés. French quiches are rich and hearty and usually are accompanied by a side salad with vinaigrette. This one from the restaurant at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris was délicieux, although it was hard not be distracted by the exquisite decor of Tiepolo ceiling frescoes, Flemish tapestry wall-hangings and ornate red and gold lamps. And if you are a fan of soufflés in all their egg glory, you can click here for a previous French Affaires’ post on “The Best Soufflés in the Universe.”

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The French also use eggs to accent a variety of dishes in their meal repertoire including hard-boiled ones in la salade niçoise or un club sandwich… 

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There’s also the noteworthy fried egg served on top of a croque madame sandwich – or sometimes on top of certain pizzas in France…

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And this traditional bistrot in Versailles served steak tartare with a fresh egg yolk on the side to be mixed in by the diner – moi! – at the table… 

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We could go on and on about French eggs – we haven’t even mentioned the nice soft-boiled ones the French sometimes eat for breakfast with toast sticks to dip into the yolk or poached ones that show up on top of salads or with steamed asparagus and hollandaise sauce. And exotic egg offerings like duck, goose or quail eggs are pretty readily available in France. This vendor at the Aix-en-Provence market had a basket full of tiny quails’ eggs waiting to be added to a dish or slightly boiled and served with sea salt to be eaten as an appetizer!

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French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

A note on the pronunciation of ‘eggs’ in French – one egg or “un oeuf” is pronounced with the ‘f’ as in ’uhn uff’ (sounding almost like ‘enough’ in English). But in the plural “des oeufs,” the ‘f’ is no longer pronounced as in ’dayz euh.’

And to get that fresh, almost-like-eggs-in-France taste at your home, see if you can find a local producer who raises chickens and sells eggs regularly in your area. Our dear friend and Francophile Hugh in Texas has amazing ‘home-grown’ eggs and often shares his largesse with us. Below are some freshly gathered eggs from chez Hugh, including a nice goose egg resting on a newly-acquired-in-Paris piece of antique Quimper pottery (click here for a recap of the recent French Affaires’ Paris Antiques Trip). Bon egg appétit!

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Paris Antique Finds Friday, Mar 13 2015 

Last week in Paris, our Paris Antiques Trip group hit the antiquing jackpot with loads of great finds and an abundance of great weather. Wonderful sunshine was ours as we wandered the various flea markets, antique shops, consignment stores and fairs in and around la Capitale. At the end of each day, everyone was loaded down with beautiful French treasures. Decorative objects, paintings, mirrors, furniture, linens were just some of the pieces scooped up by our intrepid antiques lovers.

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Highlights of our trip were the big Paris flea market at St. Ouen/ Clignancourt and the bi-annual foire à la brocante at Chatou just west of Paris. St. Ouen is the world’s largest marché aux puces, or flea market, with everything from bric-a-brac to museum quality pieces. You could spend several days there alone as there are many different sub-markets spread out over the sprawling complex.

On the other hand, Chatou is one of my favorite Paris markets perhaps because it doesn’t happen all the time. Running for about 10 days each spring and fall, the fair showcases several hundred antiques vendors from all over France. It is a a collector’s dream - café au lait bowls, confiture jars, regular silver, hotel silver, pottery, china, pewter, paintings, portraits, chairs, tables, chests…it is all there. And bargaining is a definite must at this market. In fact, the negotiating was so good this year that dealers routinely dropped their prices almost without our having to ask!

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One great find for the portrait lover in our group was the antique oval frame to go with the lovely portrait acquisition above. It was quite a coup to come upon a frame that would actually fit an existing painting – and an oval one to boot.

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Another superb purchase was the beautiful painted chest below. One of our group had a ‘coup de coeur’ as soon as she saw it, she was so taken with the piece. We all agreed it was the prettiest chest at the fair.

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Incredible sconces and mirrors were everywhere at Chatou as well. Trip-goer and interior designer Lisa Henderson spotted the amazing pieces below. I walked away with some nice sconces myself – but the desired mirror in the right size didn’t materialize. Tant pis – too bad!

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Lisa also had a good eye for blue and white porcelain. Here are her purchases on display at the hotel later that night… 

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Blue and white is a lovely motif that shows up often in her interiors – and on her website as well:

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All in all, it was a great week of antiques and decorative arts fun in Paris, and French Affaires is on track to do our 4th annual antiques trip next March. We’re still waiting on final dates for some of the antiques fairs to set our trip plans - but for sure, it will be the first or second week in March 2016. If you’re interested in joining us for this fabulous time of antique and brocante finds, you can pre-reserve your spot by emailing us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . Of course, we’ll let you know the definitive trip info prior to signing up. Our annual “Paris Antiques Trip” is a wonderful way of seeing Paris in a whole new light!

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Provence Blooms Thursday, Feb 26 2015 

Move over lavender, poppies and sunflowers, it’s mimosa season in Provence. Walk by a bucket of mimosa flowers (pronounced ‘mee-moh-zah’) at a Provençal market right now, and you would swear it was the height of summer. The sprays of bright yellow blooms and heady, honey-like scent seem to advertise sunny days and warm nights. The sun part is a given – Provence boasts approximately 300 days of sunshine a year – but warm nights are a ways off yet. The French mimosa tree flowers in February and March, bringing a riot of jaune (yellow) and printemps (spring) to an otherwise wintry southern France landscape.

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This past week, the cheerful yellow pompoms were on display in Mandelieu-La Napoule, la capitale du mimosa – the mimosa capital of France. Situated on la Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera) just west of Cannes, Mandelieu hosts a yearly festival celebrating the mimosa tree complete with a reine du mimosa (Mimosa Queen), parades, processions, mimosa walks, dancing and a carnival.

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I am a fan of the scheduled “Walks Around Mimosa Country” which are organized as part of the festival. They take you on the trails of the Tanneron massif, home to the largest mimosa forest in Europe. Though they are guided and commented only in French, the two-hour randonnées in the Provence hills among the fragrant mimosa trees under the azure blue sky of the Mediterranean winter are not to be missed. During mimosa season, you can also drive la route du mimosa (the mimosa road), a winding route that begins in Bormes-les-Mimosas east of Toulon, wends its way through Mandelieu-la Napoule, and ends in the perfume town of Grasse.

Originally from Australia, the mimosa was brought back to Europe by Captain Cook and eventually found its way to the gardens of English aristrocrats wintering at their sumptuous villas along the French Riviera. The welcoming climate facilitated the spread of the mimosa which is part of the acacia family. Today, the Cavatore nursery near Bormes-les-Mimosas specializes in the plants. And note to plant lovers, they welcome visits to their garden center!

Just driving around anywhere in Provence right now, you can have your own route du mimosa. The brilliant sun highlights the yellow splashes of color covering the hillsides. One mimosa season, I captured the pretty flowers at the St. Paul de Mausole monastery near St. Rémy where Van Gogh spent a year before his untimely death. The blooming mimosas contrasted starkly with the solemn chapel and neighboring dormant trees.

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Fortunately for everyone in France needing a mid-winter pick-me-up, mimosa bouquets are not just available in Provence. They are also sold all around the country in season. Here is a flower vendor at a market in Normandy with the perfumed yellow flowers for sale. Also as part of the Mandelieu festival, one can order four bouquets sent directly to one’s home in France for only 26 euros, shipping included. So next time you are in France in February or March, be sure and pick up a bouquet or order some for your hotel room or apartment. It’s a breath of spring perfect for chasing away those winter blues!

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For more information on the 2015 French Mimosa festival, click here. This year’s festivities ran from February 18 to 25. Flower and garden lovers may want to make plans to attend next year’s festival that will be held about the same time!

Provence Comfort Food Monday, Feb 16 2015 

Those who have spent time out and about in France know that French food is not all super fancy. Some of the best eats in the country are rustic, home-cooked, traditional dishes – no artistic plate arrangements, mod foam concoctions or colorful sauce squiggles in sight. Every French region has its signature ‘comfort food’ such as Burgundy with its hearty boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin, Southwest France with its robust cassoulet and also Provence with its rich bouillabaisse and daube (the southern France version of beef bourguignon), to name a few.

Another favorite comfort food in Provence – and all around the Mediterranean really – is les petits farcis. Literally meaning “little stuffed things,” les petits farcis de Provence is a wonderful dish of roasted, stuffed vegetables.

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This easy and satisfying meal makes the most of the abundance of colorful vegetables that grow so well in France’s garden of Eden – tomates, courgettes, oignons, artichauts, poivrons, choux, et aubergines (tomatoes, zucchini, onions, artichokes, peppers, cabbage and eggplant). Some ground beef and/or pork sausage, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, an egg or two, garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper compose the stuffing that is placed in the hollowed out vegetables. Traditionally, this dish also allowed thrifty home cooks to maximize their larder by incorporating leftovers such as stale bread, various herbs, bits of meat and so on.

A few months ago, some of our Provence immersion trip group and I took a dinner cooking class from a local chef in Aix-en-Provence. I was happy to see the Provençal menu included les farcis so our group got to experience this robust dish up close. We scooped out the vegetables, mixed the fragrant stuffing, roasted tomatoes for the sauce and then put it all together in large casserole pans. Good tips included par-boiling the thicker vegetables prior to stuffing them. Also recommended was using medium-sized tomatoes so that the meat filling would cook all the way through without overcooking the tomato shell. And we made a point to keep the little courgette caps for a nice touch on the finished plate.

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In France, home cooks will make their own petits farcis or if short on time, they can pick up some at the local open-air market. Sometimes even the neighborhood butcher shop will have them. Here in Carpentras, this market vendor had a variety of stuffed vegetables already prepared – along with some corn on the cob, a rarity in France!

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You’ll also see les petits farcis occasionally on menus at Provence restaurants. The now-closed, very gourmet restaurant Le Clos de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence was well known for its gorgeously-presented, high-end dish of les farcis. So note to the home chef, this recipe can be dressed up or dressed down as you wish.

Which wine to have with this delicious Provence comfort food? If you’re having the meat version of the dish (alternative versions come stuffed with fish or vegetables), a spicy local red wine such as a Côte du Rhône Villages, Rasteau or Vacqueyras would make a great pairing. Or even a hearty Provençal rosé for a more summery touch.

Finally, where to find a good recette (recipe)? Whenever I make les petits farcis, I go straight to a good Provence source – a French cookbook called “Tians et petits farcis” by Andrée Maureau and published by Edisud. Sure enough, it’s an entire cookbook filled with marvelous recipes for Provence-styled gratins and stuffed dishes! She also did an English-version cookbook of Provence recipes, “Recipes from Provence,”  which has all the star southern French dishes including roasted, stuffed vegetables. I also adore another Edisud treasure I found at a French flea market called “La Tomate au Menu.” It has some great variations on the petits farcis theme.

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Despite its sometimes homely appearance, les farcis is one of my favorite French dishes winter or summer. It’s easy and reassuring from kitchen to table. And it brings a touch of Provence chez moi, wherever I am.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

In Provence kitchens, gratins and farcis are often cooked in colorful French pottery or stoneware casseroles for a festive touch. This vendor at the Aix-en-Provence outdoor market regularly has all sizes and colors for sale. The fluted, wavy edges are a signature feature of these fun earthenware pieces.

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To pick up a fluted Provence-style casserole closer to home for U.S. based French Affaires’ readers, BIA Cordon Bleu has these great red bakers on offer. The large rectangle version or the pair of smaller squares would make for good roasting and good presenting of les petits farcis. And for good gifts as well. Bon appétit!

 

Insider Paris Trip This October! Friday, Feb 6 2015 

“Paris Then & Now: An Insider Tour of the City of Light”

October 3 to 10, 2015

Join Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz of French Affaires for a stunning insider week in Paris. We’ll experience the City of Light as you’ve never done it before – taking in both old and new Paris with the help of several top experts, engaging local guides and charming Paris residents. We’ll enjoy special private tours and deeper visits to museums and cultural icons including the Louvre, the Orsay, the Marmottan, the Carnavalet, the Quai Branly, Versailles and more. We’ll see the spectacular new Fondation Louis Vuitton with its signature modern architecture by Frank Gehry. Noted Paris gardens and walks are part of our rich itinerary. And we’ll taste and dine our way around Paris with a special Marais food tour, great restaurants and expert presentation on current French culinary trends. Afternoon tea and a champagne cocktail party at private Paris homes will top off our fabulous French Affaires’ Paris sojourn. All in all, it will be an unforgettable week of French life, culture, history, art, architecture, cuisine, people and fun in Paris!

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A few highlights from our Paris Then & Now” trip…

Six nights at our beautiful Left Bank hotel including breakfast

Special guided tour of ancient and modern Paris with local expert

Deeper visits into key cultural icons including the Louvre, Orsay, Marmottan, Carnavalet & Quai Branly Museums

Versailles-Like-You’ve-Never-Seen-It with our amazing expert

Tour of the brand-new, ultra-contemporary Fondation Louis Vuitton

Afternoon tea and art talk with a current Parisian artist at her Paris home

Wonderful French lunches and dinners with wine at noted Paris restaurants

Special foodie tour of the Marais and French food trends talk by Paris culinary experts

Champagne cocktail party at the private home of Paris residents

Personal hosting and guiding by France expert Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz

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 A special note from Elizabeth: “Our wonderful week in Paris will be completely authentic and personal, as if we’re visiting French friends and family rather than making the typical tourist visit. This insider trip is so unique that it’s perfect for seasoned Paris visitors as well as first-timers to the City of Light. We have so many incredible activities lined up – and our group will be small (just 12 participants) to make the most of this marvelous opportunity to experience Paris in a whole new way!”

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Part of our trip includes a visit to the spectacular new Fondation Louis Vuitton which is the talk of Paris. We’ll see famous architect Frank Gehry’s fantastic architecture up close and get a feel for the best of very modern Paris…A big merci to French Affaires’ friend and reader Bill Carr for these fabulous Louis Vuitton Foundation photos!

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For the complete ”Paris Then & Now” itinerary and details, please email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com.  We have a few signed up for this wonderful trip already and there are a few spots remaining. Merci et à bientôt!

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French Website of the Year ~ Castle vs. Palace in France Wednesday, Jan 21 2015 

Not long ago, we featured our choice for the ‘French Coffee Table Book of the Decade.’ Click here for a refresh of that post and our interview with the book’s French photographer. Well, now we’ve got a front-runner for the French website of the year. And this is no easy feat given all the French-related content out there. Have you come across the Château de Gudanes? If not, you’re in for a BIG French treat.

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Built in the 1700’s on the site of a former fortress, the Château de Gudanes was designed by the noted French architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, known for his pure lines and neoclassical symmetry. Some of his high-profile works include the Petit Trianon at Versailles, the Ecole Militaire near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Palais de Compiègne outside Paris, the Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux and the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The château is located in a remote valley in the Midi-Pyrénées region close to the Spanish border. An Australian family purchased the property in 2013 and has begun a massive restoration project to bring the château back to life.

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Over the centuries, the Château de Gudanes had been severely neglected. While the exterior walls were still standing, the interior was une horreur, as the French would say. The roof had collapsed in four places resulting in extensive water damage, mould and decay. Most of the inside was rubble and had become completely inaccessible.

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But the building’s bones were fantastic and the property’s history fascinant, so despite the daunting challenges the family has pressed on. Their plans for the château continue to evolve but a restaurant, hotel and faciltities for weddings and events are part of the picture. Most importantly, the family’s incredible commitment and devotion are slowly bringing the château back to its former glory…

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What makes this website so fabulous is not only the fairytale rescue of the ’beautiful maiden’ but also the almost daily discovery of marvelous decorative and architectural elements everywhere. These amazing finds are recorded in the website’s blog called the Captain’s Log.”

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Readers of these pages know our love for beautiful French things and also la patine du temps – the patina of age – so it’s no surprise that the Château de Gudanes and its gorgeous, well-done website caught our eye. So take a moment to browse more photos of the property’s restoration project and see if it doesn’t get your vote for the ‘French Website of the Year.’ As for us, we’ll be following the renovations – we can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

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~ Photos courtesy of the Château de Gudanes ~

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

Closer to home – i.e. Paris – there are numerous spectacular French châteaux and palaces which have been wonderfully restored and are well worth visiting. Just a day or half day trip from the city center, these magnificent estates combine exquisite architecture, art, decor and gardens for a matchless French cultural experience.

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To make visiting these French jewels really worth your while, French Affaires and SMU Continuing Studies are partnering to offer the upcoming seminar Magnificent Châteaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile de France on January 26th and February 2nd in Dallas. This visually illustrated course will also cover the difference between a château (castle) and a palais (palace) in France as well as the architectural history of French castles through the centuries. There are still a few spots open – come join us for a fascinating class and a bit of armchair travel to France!

“Magnificent Chateaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile De France”: In this rich two-part seminar, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz will explore the history, architecture, art and gardens of gorgeous French châteaux and estates just outside Paris such as Vaux-le-Vicomte, Versailles, Fontainebleau, Chantilly, Vincennes, Compiègne and many more. You’ll also be fascinated by the famous personages who built and lived in these glorious castles and palaces. Included in this illustrated lecture series are inclusive handouts complete with details on how to visit these stars of French architecture and culture, plus a reading and film list for further exploration. After this class, you’ll want to put each of these châteaux on your France travel list! 

Date: Two Mondays – January 26 & February 2, 2015
Time: 7 to 9pm
Cost: $79 per person early registration. Advance sign-up through SMU Continuing Studies program – please click here to register.
Location: SMU main campus – Dallas, TX 75205. Classroom & parking information provided by SMU upon registration.

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~ Le Petit Trianon at Versailles ~

Vive la France ~ Your Opinion Please Wednesday, Jan 14 2015 

Our heart goes out to Paris and to the families of those whose lives were lost in last week’s terror attacks. But the City of Light will rebound. It will renew itself. And Paris’s beauty and spirit will shine through. Prayers for all involved.

A recent, very Paris photo from French Affaires’ friend and reader Kathy Boyett captures the enduring spirit of the city…

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Mindful of this tragedy but hopeful for the return of the regular rhythms of daily French life, we kick off 2015 here at French Affaires. We are excited for another year full of French events, classes, culinary offerings, insider trips, personalized travel planning, and more. We’ll also continue to share a variety of articles and insights about France and French culture via French Affaires Weekly. A propos, we’d love your input on French topics you like and what you’d like to see more of. Is it French food and wine? Is it fashion? History? Art? Museums? Films? Gardens? Antiques? People profiles? Holidays and festivals? Open-air markets? Daily life and culture? Or are you interested in travel tips? Language tips? Other?

Please take a quick moment to send us your thoughts. You can use the comment section below or feel free to email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . We have some great topics already in the works and would like to add your ideas to the mix. As always, feel free to peruse the French Affaires Weekly archive for previous postings that might interest you.

We also are working on some fun French giveaways to go along with French Affaires Weekly postings this year. Stay tuned for your chance to receive special France-related treats.

Do drop a line. We look forward to hearing from you. And vive la France!

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