Our French Valentine’s Week Cake Thursday, Feb 16 2017 

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, my husband and I decided to make a nice French dinner at home here in France. I drew the lucky straw and got to come up with dessert and the sparkling wine. On the other hand, my husband spoke up for the main dish – God bless him. He had been wanting to try a recipe from one of our vintage French cookbooks – Veal Scallops with Tarragon. So I said, “Vas-y”. “Do it!” “Go for it!” I thought, how can you miss with a recipe that includes beef broth, tarragon and brandy? Simple answer, you can’t. It was divine.

Then for the dessert. As my French Affaires’ French Cookbook club friends and guests know, my French culinary roots run deep. I would have been game to try a challenging dessert recipe. Goodness knows, the French offer quite an array of sweets choices from every region of the country. But on Tuesday, I was running errands in our neighboring village of Milly-la-Forêt… mini-market for a few staples, boulangerie for baguettes, pharmacy for aspirin. And then, I remembered THE CAKE.

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For months, I had been wanting to try the signature local dessert from the Milly pâtisserie (pastry shop) called Le Pavé de la Halle. Also named le pavé de la Halle, this gâteau (cake) is a dream – rich butter pound cake laced with candied orange peel and candied bigarreau cherries and infused with cherry liqueur… then the whole thing is enrobed in a luscious layer of marzipan. Wow. Why had I not tried this before? I think I just had gotten distracted by the various French tartes, desserts and pâtisseries from other pastry shops in town. So I thought, THE special cake for the special day – le jour de Saint Valentin.

So I marched straight over to the pastry shop and said, “Bonjour Madame, un pavé de la Halle, s’il vous plaît.” Of course. She scooped it up from the pastry display case and placed it carefully in the square box made for this ultra-special, original cake. She gently handed me the dessert box. It was nice and heavy, and it just felt delicious. Then she said in French, “Be sure and cut it into tranches fines (thin slices). It tastes better that way.”

On Tuesday evening, I served the lovely cake chez nous with a nice crémant de Bourgogne (champagne-like wine from Burgundy). It was out of this world. With marvelous flavors and not too sweet, the taste was satisfying in every way. And in true French fashion, not only was it a culinary masterpiece, but it had special cultural meaning as well. For in honor of the pastry shop’s location facing the 15th century market in town, they had named the cake a ‘pavé de la Halle’ – a paving stone from the market square . The shape of the cake itself is formed to look like a square cobblestone. In addition, they modeled the almond marzipan on top to resemble many little paving stones. You’ve got to love France – they’re always putting great cooking, culture and history together with outstanding results. Here’s a great old postcard photo of the Milly 15th century market with the signature paving stones all around it. Looks a bit like the top of the cake, no?

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Our French Valentine’s Day gâteau has stretched into the Valentine’s week cake – we’ve enjoyed a wonderful tranche fine every day. And we’ve appreciated the thought and meaning behind this local specialty tied to the local architecture and history. Whoever said history was dry and boring wasn’t thinking about France! So next time you’re in or around Paris, you might think about making a detour by the delightful town of Milly-la-Fôret for a taste of this fabulous local dessert – and there are other great sights to see here too. Bon appétit et bonne visite!

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Hello from France! and France Travel 2017 Thursday, Feb 9 2017 

Bonjour France-loving friends! Greetings from my 17th century stone house in the French countryside near Paris. Life is good here in our little village of Courances, and French Affaires had another wonderful year sharing the real France with you through our trips, classes and events. Though I must confess, our newsletter pause to finish our new website lasted a lot longer than planned! Renovations on our French house have proceeded at the proverbial snail’s pace (anyone who’s read ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle will know this side of France) and took much of our attention – we have our fingers crossed that everything will be finished this March. Whew. So we are now putting the finishing touches on the new French Affaires’ website, and it will go live very soon. Stay tuned for a whole new look with great stories and things to experience here in la belle France.

Despite the house finishing delays, my husband and I have still been able to enjoy the stunning beauty of French country life and the soul filling rhythm of the French seasons. Life is full too with saying hello to our neighbors on our walks to the boulangerie, with catching up on the latest village news from Madame la boulangère or Madame la charcutière ,and with having aperitifs or dinners with our friends here and in the villages around. And our French puppy Marcel continues to entertain us with his antics. Monsieur Marcel, as I like to call him, is growing up fast body-wise so he looks like a full-grown dog. But he still acts like a puppy through and through – puppy mind, adult body. Whenever any workmen or delivery people cross paths with Marcel, they immediately say, “Mais c’est un bébé!” (but he’s just a baby!) Here he is as a little tyke in our garden a few months ago:

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In addition to rolling out our new website for 2017, we have our 2017 France travel calendar ready to go. We’re featuring some client favorites this year including the “Paris Antiques Trip 2017″, “Provence Painting and Culture Workshop 2017″ and “Fall in Southwest France 2017″. As with all our French Affaires’ trips, these rich journeys allow our friends and guests to experience France at its finest. Our special custom trips leave behind touristy clichés and focus on personal contacts with locals, artisans and experts; the best places and sights to visit often with insider access; culinary excellence with special chefs and purveyors; and more. And best of all are the wonderful friendships and warm camaraderie that unfailingly develop amongst our travelers both on our trips and at home afterwards. Hopefully this will tempt you to come travel with us. Below are brief descriptions of this year’s trips – and come and join us for a real taste of France!

 

Paris Antiques Trip – September 25 to October 2, 2017

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Join us for a marvelous week in Paris filled with French antiques, vintage finds and heirlooms. We’ll spend a day at a special twice-a-year antiques market outside Paris featuring over 800 dealers. Also included in our trip are visits to the main antiques flea markets of Paris itself. We’ll get plenty of decorative arts, antiques and cultural inspiration during our private guided visit of an extraordinary historic mansion on the Right Bank filled with beautiful furniture, paintings, sculpture and objets d’art. As part of our special French decorative arts immersion, we’ll enjoy a fabulous gourmet dining experience at a private Paris townhouse-turned-restaurant where each salon is decorated with lovely antiques and period decor. Another great part of our trip is a visit to Paris’s principal auction house where fabulous finds and bargains abound. And so you can look for great French antique finds with confidence, we’ll share our special insider tips and strategies for navigating the markets and bargaining for your treasures. Be part of our unforgettable week of French antiques and decorative arts in and around Paris!

For the detailed Paris Antiques Trip 2017 trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited in size for a highly personalized travel experience.  

To see a recap of one of our previous antiques trips with great photos, please click here.

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Provence Painting and Culture Workshop – September 22 to October 1, 2017

Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for its charming villages, stunning countryside, warm sunshine, lively markets, fragrant gardens, flavorful cuisine, wonderful wines, and relaxed culture. And Provence’s stunning light and color have inspired artists for centuries.

  

Everything is arranged for your perfect French art and culture adventure – private apartment accommodations in the heart of lively Aix-en-Provence, painting lessons for beginning to experienced artists with celebrated painter Jill Steenhuis, superb cultural excursions in the steps of artists Cézanne and Van Gogh, wonderful lunches and dinners featuring Provence cuisine with wine, visits to colorful outdoor markets, airport transfers and land transport, and more. You’ll love soaking in the art and ambiance of Provence during this personal and unique painting trip in southern France.

 For the detailed Provence painting trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited in size for a highly personalized art and travel experience.  

 

Fall in Southwest France – October 18 to 27, 2017

Southwest France is one of the country’s best kept secrets – a remarkable region still steeped in glorious French history & tradition. From medieval villages clinging to sheer cliffs to majestic fortress castles overlooking the Dordogne River to ancient cave paintings to exquisite topiary gardens to lush vineyards to fabulous cuisine & wine, Southwest France offers amazing opportunities to travel through time & culture across the French countryside. On our itinerary: the delightful towns of Sarlat, Bergerac, Trémolat, Rocamadour, St. Emilion and Bordeaux; gourmet meals with local wines; vineyard visits and tastings – maybe we’ll even catch the grape harvest like last year!; guided visits and tours with local experts; shopping outdoor markets; special viewings of authentic prehistoric cave art; and of course, enjoying the spectacular landscapes and ambiance of Southwest France in the fall (our favorite time to be there!). Join us for this rich immersion into spectacular Southwest France!

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For the detailed Fall in Southwest France trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited in size for a highly personalized travel experience. 

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Paint in Provence this September! Wednesday, Feb 8 2017 

Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for its charming villages, picturesque countryside, warm sunshine, lively markets, fragrant gardens, flavorful cuisine, wonderful wines, and relaxed culture. And Provence’s stunning light and color have inspired artists for centuries.

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In September 2017, your can have your own French art experience with French Affaires’ upcoming “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop” featuring southern France artist and resident Jill Steenhuis and trip organization by France expert Elizabeth Seitz. During this hands-on week plus of French painting and culture, you’ll discover various motifs including Provençal landscapes, village architecture, outdoor markets, still lifes and more while working on composition, brush stroke and color mixing. Cultural visits to Cézanne’s art studio, Van Gogh’s painting sites and more will deepen your understanding of the real Provence. Jill’s artistic expertise, energy and poetic spirit plus Elizabeth’s deep cultural knowledge, warm welcome and desire to share the riches of this region make it a creative journey you won’t want to miss!

“Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”

September 22 to October 1, 2017

Everything is arranged for your perfect French art and culture adventure – private accommodations in modern apartments in the heart of lively Aix-en-Provence, painting lessons for beginning to experienced artists with celebrated painter Jill Steenhuis, superb cultural excursions in the steps of artists Cézanne and Van Gogh, wonderful lunches and dinners featuring Provence cuisine with wine, visits to colorful outdoor markets, trip organizing by French Affaires, airport transfers and land transport, and more. You’ll love soaking in the art and ambiance of Provence during this personal and unique painting trip in southern France.

Provence Painting & Culture Workshop Highlights

Eight days, eight nights in your modern, centrally located Aix apartment

Outdoor & studio painting classes with celebrated artist Jill Steenhuis

Guided cultural tours of Cézanne’s & Van Gogh’s Provence

Gourmet Provence lunches & dinners with wine

Colorful Provence outdoor markets & villages

Full day excursion to the Mediterranean coast

Your wonderful paintings & sketches as souvenirs of your trip!

Your Connection to Provence 

Jill Steenhuis, Artist - Jill Steenhuis, an Atlanta native, is a French impressionist painter living in the south of France. Jill earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sweet Briar College in 1980. Upon graduation, she studied at the celebrated Leo Marchutz School of Painting & Drawing in Aix-en-Provence, which follows in the tradition of Cézanne. Since then, she has become an acclaimed artist & has sold more than 2300 works to private collectors, museums & art enthusiasts. She regularly exhibits her work at art shows in France & the U.S. Jill has lived in Provence with her French husband for more than thirty years & has three sons.

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Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz, French AffairesA native Texan, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz is a specialist in France & French culture. She is the founder of French Affaires, a unique company celebrating French travel, culture, language & l’art de vivre. She received her B.A., M.A. & Ph.D. in French from Vanderbilt University & studied at the Sorbonne in Paris & with Vanderbilt-in-France in Aix-en-Provence. She has lived, worked & traveled extensively in France since 1983. Her specialty is making France personal & special to everyone through her trips, classes & lectures. Elizabeth lives in the French countryside near Paris & travels regularly to the U.S. to speak about French culture to groups across the U.S.

Provence Trip Overview

Day 1: Friday, Sept 22 – Depart your home city & fly to Marseille.

Day 2:  Saturday, Sept 23 – Arrival at the Marseille Airport, Transfer to your apartment, Walking tour of Aix, Welcome bistrot dinner

Day 3: Sunday, Sept 24 – Cezanne art tour, French country lunch, Jill’s art studio, Creative activities, Artist’s palette

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 Jill’s beautiful home just outside Aix-en-Provence 

Day 4:  Monday, Sept 25 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Landscape Painting en plein air

Day 5:  Tuesday, Sept 26 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Charming Port of Cassis on the Mediterranean  

Day 6: Wednesday, Sept 27 – Van Gogh’s Art in Provence: Arles & the Arles’ Countryside St. Rémy’s charming town, Bistrot lunch

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Van Gogh’s Asylum near St. Rémy with reproductions of his works in the garden

Day 7:  Thursday, Sept 28 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Aix Flower Market, Free time in Aix, Sunset painting

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Day 8:  Friday, Sept 29 – Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Still Life & Garden scene painting, Hang artworks, Free time in Aix

Day 9: Saturday, Sept 30 – Aix Market Tour & visit, Time to shop, Jill’s home for Art Exhibit & Celebration Cocktail Dinner 

Day 10: Sunday, Oct 1 – Farewells & Trip Departure

About Aix-en-Provence

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Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous, vibrant city in the heart of Provence. With a rich history & welcoming southern French culture, Aix provides a superb base for our stay in France. Aix is known for its majestic monuments & architecture, beautiful old town, centuries old fountains, fascinating museums & cultural institutions, wonderful cuisine, colorful outdoor markets, popular universities& schools, lively arts & music scene, & grand boulevard the Cours Mirabeau, noted by many to be the prettiest main street in all of Europe.

 For the detailed Provence painting trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited in size for a highly personalized art and travel experience.  

A personal invitation from Jill to the “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”:

“We look forward to welcoming you to Provence for an intensive week of painting and cultural inspiration! Our French art workshop is designed for both experienced and beginning painters alike. The focus is on experiencing nature and culture in Provence through the senses in order to engage one’s inner poetry — to see, hear, smell, taste and feel, which will lead you to create new paintings expressing these experiences.

Out in the fields of wheat, sunflowers and lavender in the Provençal landscape, at the seascapes of Cassis or in the flower and vegetable markets of Aix, we will celebrate color. Our workshop will begin with learning to mix a harmonious palette at l’Abeille, my Provence studio and home, which will be our headquarters for the week. After warming up with special drawing exercises, each participant will do a landscape or garden painting in order to get used to the colors and light of Provence. The rest of the week we will draw and paint in the landscape and see places that inspired geniuses like Cézanne and Van Gogh, always seeking to release our creative spirit. Ideas come to our fingertips. Brush strokes go on the canvas. Immediacy is a key element to being able to let go of the intellect and let the paint fly onto the canvas without thinking and calculating, allowing artistic grace to happen. The exhilarating joy of being there to paint, to create from what is visually there in front of you, the sublime fragile beauty and translucent light of Provence will make it an unforgettable experience. A bientôt!”

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