French News Friday, Apr 27 2012 

This week’s posting includes a potpourri of French-related topics, from the French presidential election to May Day in France to cultural French happenings in the U.S. Take a peek at this week’s French news and then skip American reality TV in favor of a real French cultural event or two!

French May Day – Each year, the French celebrate May 1 and the full-on arrival of spring by offering lily of the valley bouquets to their loved ones. According to many sources, this charming tradition dates back to the 16th century when King Charles IX of France received some lily of the valley as a token of luck. He went on to present the lovely flower each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the French decided to continue this custom into modern times on the first of May. If you are in France on May 1, be sure and pick up some lily of the valley for your traveling companions – and yourself. You’ll see vendors on street corners selling these ‘bunches of happiness.’ You can also send a May Day card wishing friends or family a “Joyeux 1er mai” (Happy May 1st) or “Bonne fête du 1er mai – Beaucoup de bonheur” (Happy May 1 Holiday – Much happiness to you)!

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French Gourmet Events at Central Market in Texas – The food experts at Central Market are transforming their stores across Texas into French gourmet destinations from May 9 to 22. Mark your calendars now to check out “Passport France” and the new French food products, pastries, artisanal breads, cheeses, wines and more, all brought in especially to celebrate the fabulous French approach to food and dining. A variety of cultural and culinary events will also be on offer – I am pleased to be collaborating with the Central Market Dallas Cooking School chefs on the following special culinary offerings:

“Pause Déjeuner – Lunch in Paris” – Friday, May 11, from 12 to 1pm. A visual tour of all things gourmet in Paris plus the French cooking demonstration and Parisian lunch. Cost is $25; advance registration is required.

“Shop the French Market – Hands-on Cooking Class and French Grocery Shopping Tour” – Tuesday, May 15, from 6:30 to 9pm. A visual and cultural tour of French food markets and shops plus the French grocery shopping tour, hands-on cooking class using seasonal ingredients and market-fresh dinner with wine. Cost is $75; advance registration is required.

“Pause Déjeuner – Lunch in Provence” – Thursday, May 17, from 12 to 1pm. A visual tour of Provence flavors and tastes plus the Provencal cooking demonstration and lunch. Cost is $25; advance registration is required.

Click here to sign up for these French culinary and cultural celebrations!

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French Concert in Dallas – Music lovers in Dallas are in for a treat this Saturday evening, April 28. Francis Vidil of the Versailles Music Conservatory in France will be giving a ‘Concert extraordinaire’ at 7pm in the chapel of the Episcopal School of Dallas. The school is located at 4100 Merrell Road at Midway Dallas, TX 75229. The concert is free.

French Movie Preview in Dallas – Coming up next week is a free sneak preview of Les Intouchables, the dramatic comedy that was the runaway French movie hit of 2011. Les Intouchables (The Untouchables) is the true story of two French men who should have never met – a quadriplegic aristocrat who was injured in a paragliding accident and a young man from the projects. The screening will be held Tuesday, May 1, at 7pm at the Angelika Film Center on Mockingbird Lane in central Dallas. For your free ticket, please click here. Film organizers recommend arriving at least an hour ahead to secure seats. If you don’t make it to the Dallas preview, be sure to check your local movie listings for upcoming showings of this film.

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French Presidential Election – This past Sunday, the French went to the polls in the first round of France’s presidential elections. It was close – the socialist candidate François Hollande edged out the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy by about 2 percentage points. The two will face off in round two of the election on Sunday, May 6. According to the news media, the financial stability and future of the euro-zone will be greatly impacted by how the French vote. Stay tuned for the next eventful chapter in Europe’s economic story…

My France Shopping List Sunday, Apr 15 2012 

Now that this year’s travel season has begun, many French Affaires’ readers have been asking about special things to see and do while in France. They also have been keen to know the best ways to ‘bring France home,’ i.e. what to shop for while on their French travels. Even though shopping preferences vary from person to person bien sûr, there some tried-and-true tastes of France that are easy to find and transport chez vous. So keep an eye out for these items – and don’t forget to bring along some bubble wrap and ziplock bags for safely getting your treasures home!

Market baskets – I have been buying and collecting French market baskets for more than twenty years. They come in a variety of shapes and colors at outdoor markets across France. I use them for food shopping, purses, weekend trips, plant containers, gift wraps…and of course, as a way to get more French purchases back to the U.S.

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Honey – The French make an Art out of so many things in life, including honey. There is nearly always a honey vendor at food markets in France showcasing a collection of fragrant honeys and honey products. You can often find lavender honey, thyme honey, rosemary honey, chestnut tree honey, acacia tree honey, orange tree honey and many more. If you are in Paris, check out the shop La Maison du Miel for a good selection. (Traveler’s note:  Jars of honey count as liquids to airline security personnel so you’ll want to pack them in your checked luggage.)

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Sea Salt – The rugged region of Brittany has been harvesting sea salt for centuries. I never miss a chance to stock up on bags of sel fin de Guérande (finely ground salt from the Guérande salt marshes). It’s wonderful for cooking all sorts of recipes. I also buy gros sel (course salt) – its very salty character makes it perfect for pasta water or soups. And finally, there is the lovely fleur de sel de Guérande which is the delicate top layer of salt used more as a condiment, i.e. for flavoring a dish once it’s cooked.

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Chocolates – The French are huge fans of chocolate as evidenced by all the chocolateries in France. It is usually possible to taste the marvelous flavor combinations before you buy which helps narrow down the choices. And boxes, or ballotins, of milk or dark chocolates make wonderful gifts for others or for oneself. Of course, if you are bringing back chocolates in the summer months, you’ll want to carry them on the plane as they might melt down in the baggage hold.

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Still under the chocolate category is this unique sweet treat found at Da Rosa in Paris – juicy raisins soaked in Sauternes dessert wine and then cloaked in chocolate. The  gourmet boutique Da Rosa has all sorts of other culinary items worth toting home, but these raisins are the real winner. If you don’t believe me, drop by this Left Bank shop and try some for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

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Soaps – The French also have a way with making lovely soaps in various colors and scents. Open-air markets typically sport a soap vendor or two, particularly in Provence. And perfume boutiques such as Fragonard carry wonderful soaps and bath products. A dear friend just gave me a beautiful bar of Fragonard lavender soap from Provence – I love to use it every day!

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Hose – Hosiery in all manner of patterns and colors is a French forte. I have been fascinated by French stockings since my time as a student in France. Whenever I put them on, it’s a ‘Paris fashion day’ whether I am actually in la Capitale or not. French department stores have good selections as do specialized boutiques such as this one in the Rue du Bac below.

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Linens and Textiles – While marvelous linens can be found all over France, I have found myself drawn to the Left Bank Simrane in Paris since the 1980’s. They have wonderful prints for home and table – but my favorite pieces are the cotton pareos in a host of colors and patterns. It’s hard to choose just one!

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Antiques – I love anything old and since France is old as the hills, you can find incredible antique objects and pieces everywhere. Estate silver, decorative objects, paintings, prints and more are available at flea markets, second hand shops, antique dealers, and sometimes at weekly village food markets.

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Cookware – Julia Child made Dehillerin in Paris her home away from home. And it has tempted many a cook before and after her time. I always find something special and/or practical at this iconic kitchenware shop. I adore my copper moule à tarte tatin (tarte tatin pan) as well as rolling pins, pastry cutters, cooking utensils, Eiffel tower cookie cutters and more.

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Books – Beautiful art and garden books are a must-buy when in France. The photographs are delicious whether or not you read French. Museum gift shops are a good source as well as book shops along the Boulevard St. Germain on the Left Bank in Paris. And my favorite shop for books in Provence is the Maison de la presse located in St. Rémy-de-Provence. They always have something new and interesting on hand.

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Of course, there are so many more things worth picking up when in France. Other gourmet specialties include butter shortbread cookies from Brittany, cannelé cakes from Bordeaux, Flavigny Anis candies from Burgundy, piment d’Espelette spice from the Basque country, almond macarons from Ladurée, and more. French stationery shops offer lovely things for the desk and office. French clothing and scarves have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ of French style. But you might want to pass on bringing back the magnificent French cheeses and pâtés. They’ll earn you some scrutiny from U.S. customs officials even if ‘factory sealed.’ Despite that small caveat, shopping in France is always a pleasure – and there’s always something new to discover. Bon shopping!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

This May, French Affaires’ readers in Texas will have a wealth of French goodies to choose from – no overseas transport required. Central Market gourmet grocery stores are hosting “Passport France” from May 9 to 22 in Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Their stores will be transformed into French culinary and cultural extravaganzas with new food products, wines, events, cultural experiences and more. Check out the Central Market web site in the weeks to come for more information and to sign up for some of the fun French events near you!

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