The Pleasures of French Markets Tuesday, Mar 21 2017 

If you’re like me, spending time in France’s open air markets is an endless pleasure. Pyramids of beautiful fruits and vegetables in season, fresh and aged cheeses, breads, whole fowl of every kind, rabbits and other game, charcuterie, seafood, spices, and more are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The sights, the sounds, the colors, the smells, and the people all come together to create a festive and unique experience for French and non-French alike. A centuries old tradition, food markets in France are a culinary experience as well as a social one–people from all classes and walks of life rub elbows in the common pursuit of good cooking and good meals.

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When I was a grad student in Paris nearly 30 years ago (!!), the colorful and earthy Rue Mouffetard market in the 5th arrondissement was one I returned to again and again as it was near my university and away from all the tourists. And it seemed to say on every visit, “I am a true Paris marché (market).” It was also where I acquired my first French market basket. Tall and sturdy with a tight weave, the light-colored fiber panier (basket) was my new best friend. With it at my side, I belonged to the French market landscape. No longer did I hike back to my Paris apartment loaded with bulging plastic bags, a sure giveaway of a non-resident. And it was delicious fun to fill my panier artistically with newly-acquired vegetables, fruits, flowers, and bread so it looked like a photo straight out of a gourmet magazine. Wonderfully enough, I still have this basket somewhere.

Still enamored of market baskets today, I have a hard time passing up the vendors that sell them. There is always some new version that tempts me. Staples are rows of traditional light colored baskets with leather handles. Fancier styles come in bright colors of various sizes and shapes. Some have cloth with drawstrings inside – perfect for use as a summer purse. 

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On the other hand, I can always sit at a market café and watch the market basket parade where baskets and their male or female owners walk by. It’s a great way to live various baskets vicariously. For some market shoppers, le panier (basket) or le caddy (basket or bag on wheels) is just a practical tool. For others , they seem to be a stylish accessory. And you’ve got to love the ladies who walk by in heels with their basket or caddy. It’s about being a stylish French woman no matter what you are doing. And I’ll never forget the caddy I saw on a cold February morning in Aix-en-Provence. Perfect for the cold weather, this caddy had a canvas body topped by a faux fur lid and was tugged along by an owner in a leather coat trimmed with fur! I must confess my basket tastes run on the simpler side.

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Market basket in hand, how then does one  enjoy the food pleasures and treasures of French markets? I often get asked about navigating the French market experience – what is the etiquette, what are the unspoken rules, etcetera. In preparation for your next trip to France, here is a quick overview of how French markets work:

1) When: Most French markets operate roughly from 8 or 8:30am to 1pm. You’ll want to get up and go early for the top offerings – and avoid the crowds. A good Provence market in summertime can be a madhouse! Depending on the town or city, markets run once a week – a favorite example is the terrific Sarlat market on Saturday mornings in the Dordogne – or two to three times per week all year long. For example, my other Paris neighborhood market is on the Boulevard Raspail on Paris’s Left Bank which happens every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday morning, with Sunday featuring the completely organic, or biologique, market. In Aix-en-Provence, the main market occurs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with Saturday being the biggest and most festive day of all. In some locales, markets are daily such as the Rue Cler market near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. And more cities and towns are organizing late afternoon or evening markets as well. Interestingly, the market in our nearby shopping town of Milly-la-Fôret holds its weekly Thursday market in the afternoon in the 15th century halle (photo below). Contrary to most markets in France, it’s been an afternoon market for as long as anyone can remember.

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2) Seasons: Take advantage of the intensely seasonal offerings in France. Buy strawberries in May, melons in summer, figs in late summer and early fall, apples and mushrooms in the fall and winter, lettuces in late winter and spring, you get the idea. And be sure to buy local so that the food products are super fresh. French vendors are great about noting where their food is from.

3a) Choosing your purchases: Most vendors will choose food items and bag them for you. Always assume that this is the case and you won’t have any problems when shopping in French markets. Note that many vendors have spent a considerable amount of time on their displays so you don’t want to make a lovely mountain of fruit or vegetables come tumbling down!

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3b) Part 2 of why vendors consider it their job to choose your food items: After all, this is their métier (career) and they have the expertise to pick perfect peaches or a camembert that will be ready for your lunch tomorrow, if that is what you want. In this interaction, the better the rapport you have with the vendor, the better service (and often better products) you will get. Markets are really all about the people. So how to you get a vendor to warm up to you? Compliment him on his products and his know-how—and he’ll give you the world, or almost. I love what Julia child said in her autobiography My Life in France (2004):

“Shopping for food in Paris was a life-changing experience for me. It was through daily excursions to my local marketplace on la Rue de Bourgogne, or to the bigger one on la Rue Cler, or, best of all, into the organized chaos of Les Halles—the famous marketplace in central Paris—that I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: the value of les human relations.”

3c) NOTE: A few vendors will let you choose your own food items—keep your eyes open for a sign such as the one below so you’ll know it’s ok to serve yourself!

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“Bags – please serve yourself. Merci.”

4) Prices: Market prices on food and the like are usually not negotiable. Sometimes vendors will throw something in for free, however, particularly as they wrap up for the day or occasionally you get a price break for buying multiples of something. Purchases are payable in cash so have some euros on you.

5) Tastings: The French love to offer tastes of their products. You can almost make a meal out of tastings at some markets. If you sample a product a vendor is offering, you are not obligated to buy. Say, “Merci beaucoup” and move on. But usually everything is so good that you’ll end up wanting to buy it anyway.

6) Ready-made foods: Some vendors sell prepared foods such as this paella vendor in Aix-en-Provence. If you want some paella for lunch, be sure and buy it early as he regularly sells out!

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7) Don’t always buy from the first vendor you see: When visiting markets and vendors for the first time, I like to check out the entire market and then come back to the ones that have the best quality and/or price. If in doubt, note which vendors have the longest lines—the French always know good food and good bargains.

8) Lines:  Speaking of lines, it is necessary to faire la queue (stand in line) to be served. When it’s your turn, you can make sure the vendor knows by saying “C’est à moi” (sayt ah mwa), or “It’s my turn.” When it comes to food markets, the French are pretty good about lining up in an orderly fashion. However, it can be a free for all in other venues such as the French post office, so beware!

9) Crowds: Note that weekend and summer markets are the most crowded. This means they are more festive but it can take longer to see what’s on offer and make your purchases.

10) Key phrases for use in the markets: It’s good to have a few French phrases handy to enable smooth market transactions and relations…and also to know how much to buy since the French use the metric system.

“Bonjour Madame / Monsieur!” (Always greet French vendors with a Bonjour and Ma’am or Sir. This goes a long way towards a good shopping experience.)

“Je voudrais un kilo de pommes, s’il vous plaît” (“I would like about 2 pounds of apples, please.” Since a kilo is about 2.2 pounds, you can ask for a pound of some by saying “un demi kilo,” a half kilo, or “400-500 grammes” which is about a pound.)

“Une tranche de pâté, s.v.p.” (A slice of your paté, please.)

“Encore un peu, s.v.p.” or “un peu moins, s.v.p.” (A little more, please, or a little less, please.)

“C’est combien?” (How much is it?)

“C’est parfait, merci.” (That’s great, thanks.)

“Merci beaucoup, Madame. Au revoir.” (Thank you, Madame. Good-bye. Be sure and close your shopping transaction with a nice thank-you and good-bye–it’s required French etiquette.) 

Final tip: After you’ve finished shopping, take a rest at a nearby café with the locals. You’ll overhear the latest gossip and can enjoy people-watching as the market winds up for the day. Have a coffee or do as many French do and celebrate market day with a glass of wine or pastis—even in the morning!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

To find great markets wherever you are in France, consult guidebooks for the towns or cities you’ll be visiting. Markets are always noted there. In addition, you can browse the French tourist office websites “Office du tourisme” which will post market days. For a good tour of Paris or Provence markets, check out these books below. Bonne lecture!

 

 

 

  

Be at Home in Provence This May! Tuesday, Jan 19 2016 

Dear friends - For a little winter pick-me-up, today we are spotlighting our upcoming Provence immersion trip this May. Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for stunning countryside, amazing weather, picturesque villages, flavorful cuisine, wonderful wines, colorful markets, fragrant gardens, charming locals and relaxed culture. Please join us for this extra-special France language and culture immersion experience where you will have the chance to really ‘live in Provence’ for a glorious two weeks in May of 2016. 

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We’ve arranged everything for a perfect, easy stay – private accommodations in modern, fully furnished apartments in the center of Aix-en-Provence, French lessons for your level at Aix’s premier language school, superb cultural excursions in and around Aix organized especially for our group, excellent guides and hosts, wonderful dinners and lunches featuring Provence cuisine with wine, visits to colorful outdoor markets, time on the Mediterranean coast, chances to meet and interact with Aix locals, and more. You’ll love soaking in the ambiance of Provence during this unique immersion into the best of southern France.

I will lead our Aix-en-Provence immersion experience and connect you personally with French culture, the language and the people. This trip is ideal for individuals, couples, friends, and even families traveling together. After our Provence adventure, you’ll be speaking French like never before – and you’ll have a lifetime of memories of your time in Aix! A bientôt, Elizabeth 

P.S. I also call this our ’semester abroad for busy adults’ trip – so if you ever wanted to really be at home in France, this is an ideal way to do it!

Highlights of Our Provence Immersion Trip – May 6 to 21, 2016

Fourteen nights in your bright, modern, centrally located Aix apartment

French classes according to your level at Aix’s premier language institute

Gourmet Provence dinners & lunches with wine

Aperitifs at a private Aix home

Special tastings of local wines, cheeses, calissons

Excursions to Marseille & Cassis on the Mediterranean

Avignon’s amazing Palais des Papes, the Popes’ 14th century home

Roman Aqueduct of Pont du Gard still in amazing condition

Special Tasting at the Vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Visit to the wonderful Provence town of Arles & Van Gogh sites

Guided tour of Cézanne’s Provence by artist & Aix resident Jill Steenhuis

Colorful Provence outdoor markets

Experiencing ’strawberry season’ in May in France

Meeting Aix locals & residents

Living for two fantastic weeks in Provence & so much more!

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 Arles, the lovely Provence town where Van Gogh lived & painted

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 Our private tour of the stunning Roman Aqueduct the Pont du Gard includes a walk on the aqueduct itself!

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 Provence’s outdoor markets are always a feast for the senses

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Aix’s incredible new museum – a 17th century restored mansion in the heart of Aix

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We’ll get a great private tour of the 14th century Popes’ Palace in Avignon

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 Provence’s always delicious ’salade niçoise’ – perfect with a nice glass of rosé!

Your Provence Trip Host Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz

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

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About Aix-en-Provence in southern France

Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous, vibrant city in the heart of Provence. With a rich history and a welcoming southern French culture, Aix provides a superb base for your immersion stay in France. Aix is known for its majestic monuments and architecture, beautiful old town full of winding medieval streets, centuries old fountains, fascinating museums and cultural institutions, popular universities and schools, lively arts and music scene, and impressive boulevard the Cours Mirabeau, noted by many to be the prettiest main street in all of Europe. There is nothing better than to immerse oneself in French daily life – and Aix is the perfect place to do it. So come relax, learn, enjoy and experience that magical French ‘joie de vivre’!

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The two-week Provence Language & Culture Immersion trip cost is $4950 (double occupancy) & includes 14 nights accommodation in modern apartments in the center of Aix, 10 mornings of French language & culture lessons at Aix’s premier language institute, multiple special cultural excursions, daily breakfasts, many lunches & dinners with wine, various tastings, aperitifs, transfers to & from the Marseille airport, interaction with Aix locals, a personal introduction & connection to Aix by Dr. Seitz throughout the trip, & more. For the detailed trip description & to reserve your space, please email us at french.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com. You can also reach us at 214-232-5344 – we’d be happy to discuss the trip details with you!

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One of our previous Provence groups taking in the wonders of the Pont du Gard

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!

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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French Basket Culture Sunday, Aug 26 2012 

When I was living full-time in Paris, one of my favorite pastimes was wandering through open-air markets in whatever part of the city I happened to be in. Fruits and vegetables in season, fresh and aged cheeses, breads, whole fowl of every kind, rabbits and other game, seafood, spices, and more were a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The colorful Rue Mouffetard market in the 5th arrondissement was one I returned to again and again as it was further from the touristy center of the city and seemed to say on every visit, “I am a true Paris marché (market).” It was also where I acquired my first French market basket.

Tall and sturdy with a tight weave, the light-colored fiber panier (basket) was my new best friend. With it at my side, I belonged to the market landscape. No longer did I hike back to my apartment loaded with bulging plastic bags, a sure giveaway of a non-Parisian. And it was delicious fun to fill my panier artistically with newly-acquired vegetables, fruits, flowers, and bread so it looked like a photo straight out of a gourmet magazine.

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Still enamored of market baskets today, I strolled around the Saturday morning market in Aix-en-Provence a while back and made an impromptu study of market basket culture.* Even in the high-tech 21st century, baskets of every size and shape filled the bustling aisles accompanied by their French owners. Women and men carried or pulled them with the practiced air that comes from shopping for food at the peak of freshness, season after season. What a happy sight to see baskets full to the brim leaving the marché on their way to a welcoming cuisine (kitchen) or a French outdoor pique-nique.

But truth be told, I was slightly envious of the large willow baskets on wheels and their large capacity – a harbinger of many tasty meals. Unfortunately for me, that type of basket won’t fit in the overhead bin of a transatlantic flight so I haven’t made that purchase in France.

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On the other hand, there are plenty of other baskets that travel well. When in Provence, I make a point to check out the basket vendors at the local markets. Staples are rows of traditional baskets with leather handles. Fancier styles come in bright colors of various sizes and shapes. Some have cloth drawstrings inside – perfect for use as a summer purse. I have added several of both types to my collection over the years and love how each one reminds me of a wonderful trip or of the marvelous market goods that were carried in it.

One “basket” I won’t buy, however, was a canvas one with wheels I saw one February morning in the streets of Aix. Perfect for the cold weather, this caddy had a tan canvas body topped by faux-fur lid and was tugged along by an owner in a leather coat trimmed with fur! I must confess my basket tastes run on the simpler side.

Towards the end of a recent stay in Provence, I began to realize that my purchases of Provençal treasures were outgrowing available suitcase and satchel travel space. At the Arles market, I looked around for some bag vendors hoping to pick up an inexpensive nylon sac. Hélas (alas), nothing like that could be found. And then I had an epiphany. I could buy yet another Provence market basket and transport my goods to the U.S. that way.

I finally located a traditional basket I liked with brown leather accents and long handles that could go over my shoulder. While I was unsuccessful in bargaining the price down, the vendor assured me the basket would hold some serious weight. Sure enough, my pottery rosé wine pitcher, artisan made ceramic bowls, calissons (almond candy made only in Aix), fruits confits (glacéd fruits) and French books made it home beautifully. And I have another wonderful French market basket to use and enjoy.

* The main market in Aix-en-Provence takes place Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the Place des Prêcheurs. Baskets, Provençal products and flea market dealers occupy the adjoining place in front of the Palais de la justice.

This article was originally published on July 9, 2008.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

If you’d like to purchase a French market basket stateside, then QuelObjet.com is your place. QuelObjet.com is a wonderful web site devoted to making marvelous French objets (objects) available in the U.S. 

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QuelObjet.com was started by several years ago by New York resident, Susan Sears. Susan loves traveling in France and found she wanted to start a French-related business that she could run while raising teenage daughters. She began to think about things she bought in France that she couldn’t buy here – espadrilles were first on her list. So she tracked down an artisan making espadrilles in the French Pyrénées, and, through him, tracked down the company making fabric for the espadrilles. And that was just the beginning!

So take a moment to check out Susan’s French market baskets (and other French goodies!) on her web site. The baskets are great for farmers market shopping, supermarket shopping, picnics, planters, office organizers…anything you want to have a French basket touch!

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www.QuelObjet.com

France Notes: Lavender Blooms Sunday, Jul 15 2012 

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It is lavender time in Provence. At last. Southern French fields and gardens explode with the fragrant flower beginning mid to late June. Then the vibrant violet blooms color the landscape for a few weeks – or until they are picked.

Lavender has a good history. The Romans used it to keep linens fresh and scent their baths. During the middle ages, perfumes and also healing agents were made from la lavande. It grew wild and also was a staple in monastery gardens around the Mediterranean. But it was from the nineteenth century on that lavender production really came into its own. Perfumeries around Grasse near la Côte d’azur (the Riviera) were in such need of the plant’s essential oil that systematic cultivation of le lavandin, the particularly productive variety of lavender, began.

Today, lavender and Provence are almost synonymous. You can drive around and see lavender fields especially in the Luberon, Vaucluse, Alpes of Haute Provence, and Var areas where chalky well-drained soil, a little altitude and of course, lots of sun, combine for a perfect growing environment. Much of the current lavender production is used for soaps and laundry or cleaning products. And the gorgeous purple ribbons waving across the landscape are a public relations dream. If you have an affinity for lavender, here are a few thoughts for experiencing it up close when in Provence:

Outdoor Markets:  Bouquets of lavender and sachets of lavender blooms are available for sale in season. I recently bought large bags for about 2 euros each – quelle bonne affaire (what a bargain)!

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And at the Friday market in the village of Eygalières, I came upon a local woman who has revived the old tradition of les fuseaux de lavande. These lovely objects are made from about 30 stems of lavender – the blooms are turned inward and then colorful ribbons are woven through the stems and tied at the base. Les fuseaux were typically placed in armoires and drawers to scent linens and keep away dust mites. Today, they cost about 20 to 30 euros apiece as they are labor intensive. But they are a long-lasting keepsake – the lavender flowers hold their scent for three to four years; then you can put a few drops of essential lavender oil in the top to refresh the fragrance.

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Lavender Routes:  Just as many regions of France offer special itineraries showcasing local products such as wines, foie gras or Calvados, Provence has organized les Routes de la lavande. There are six circuits that permit visitors to take in beautiful vistas, walk through lavender fields, pick the flowers, tour distilleries, attend aromatherapy workshops, and more. The Lavender Routes web site is quite comprehensive and offers lots of ideas for excursions during lavender season.

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Another highlight from Les Routes de la lavande are the summer festivals in various towns and villages along the routes…

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Lavender Museum:  The Musée de la lavande was founded in 1991 by the Lincelé family which grows and distills lavender on their nearby 80-hectare (200-acre) farm. Located near Gordes in the Luberon, the museum covers the history, culture and botany of lavender.

Special Boutiques:  The other day in Arles, I passed by a shop selling only lavender and lavender products. It turns out that Pure lavande la boutique also belongs to the Lincelé family. They sell a variety of items made from the essential oil of their fine lavender. There is a second shop located in Avignon.

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Culinary Lavender:  Lavender is also used in cooking. One can buy culinary-grade lavender and make wonderful delicacies such as lavender ice cream and lavender shortbread. Another specialty is lavender honey which has long been prized in France. I think my favorite lavender taste treat though is Joël Durand’s lavender chocolate. Monsieur Durand must-visit boutique in St. Rémy showcases his ‘alphabet chocolates’ – little squares of milk or dark chocolate featuring various flavors. The “L” version combines lavender and milk chocolate. And in season, he makes lavender caramel enrobed in chocolate – absolutely incredible!

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Being around so much lavender in Provence makes me wish I had a entire lavender field of my own. But I make do by having a few of the plants in my garden – and too, whenever and wherever I come across a lavender plant in bloom, I can’t help but gently press the tip of a blooming stem. Then the lovely lavender fragrance stays on my fingers the rest of the day…the smell of summertime in Provence.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

Lavender farms in the U.S.:  There are several farms in the U.S. that cultivate lavender including some in Texas, California, North Carolina, and Washington state. If you google ‘lavender farms,’ you’ll find specific locations and contact information.

Lavender in French gardens:  Next week, French Affaires and SMU in Dallas are partnering to feature “The Spirit of French Gardens: A Virtual Tour of Green Spaces in France.” We’ll get to see several gardens in France with a riot of lavender in bloom on July 23 from 7 to 9pm. Click here for more information and to register.

French Market Moves Saturday, Jul 16 2011 

If you’re like me, spending time in France’s open-air markets is an endless pleasure. The sights, the sounds, the colors, the smells, and the people all come together to create a festive and unique experience for French and non-French alike. Markets in France are a culinary experience as well as a social one–people from all classes and walks of life rub elbows in the common pursuit of good cooking and good meals.

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I often get asked about how to get the most out of various aspects French life, in particular the open-air markets. So today’s posting is a quick primer on the spoken and unspoken rules for participating in French market life.

1) When: Markets operate roughly from 8am to 1pm. Get up and go early for the top offerings. Depending on the town or city, markets run once or two to three times per week all year long. For example, the Boulevard Raspail market on Paris’s Left Bank happens every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, with Sunday featuring the completely organic, or biologique, market.

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2) Seasons: Take advantage of the intensely seasonal offerings in France. Buy strawberries and melons  in summer, figs in late summer and early fall, apples and mushrooms in the fall and winter, lettuces in late winter and spring, you get the idea. And be sure to buy local so that the food products are super fresh. French vendors are great about noting where their food is from.

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“Very flavorful” strawberries from Carpentras in southern France

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3a) Choosing your food: Most vendors will choose food items and bag them for you. Always assume that this is the case and you won’t have any problems when shopping in French markets.

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Note that vendors have spent a considerable amount of time on their beautiful displays so you don’t want to make a lovely mountain of artichokes come tumbling down…

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3b) Part 2 of why vendors consider it their job to choose your food items: After all, this is their métier (career) and they have the expertise to pick perfect peaches or a camembert that will be ready for your lunch tomorrow, if that is what you want. In this interaction, the better the rapport you have with the vendor, the better service (and often better products) you will get. So how to you get a vendor to warm up to you? Compliment him on his products and his know-how—and he’ll give you the world, or almost!

3c) A few vendors will let you choose your own food items—keep your eyes open for a sign such as the one below so you’ll know it’s ok to serve yourself!

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“Bags – please serve yourself. Merci.”

4) Bags and baskets: Vendors will put food items into disposable plastic bags for you to carry away, unless of course, you have your own market basket. Baskets distinguish locals from tourists…so pick up a basket from a basket vendor and blend in with the French. (Click here for a previous article on French market baskets.)

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5) Prices: Market prices on food and the like are usually not negotiable. Sometimes vendors will throw something in for free, however, particularly as they wrap up for the day or occasionally you get a price break for buying multiples of something. Purchases are payable in cash so have some euros on you.

6) Tastings: The French love to offer tastes of their products. You can almost make a meal out of tastings at some markets. If you sample a product a vendor is offering, you are not obligated to buy. Say, “Merci beaucoup” and move on. But usually everything is so good that you’ll end up wanting to buy it anyway.

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A tasting of tapenades and pistou rouge at a Provence market.

7) Ready-made foods: Some vendors sell prepared foods such as this paella vendor in Aix-en-Provence. If you want some paella for lunch, be sure and buy it early as he regularly sells out!

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8) Don’t always buy from the first vendor you see: When visiting markets and vendors for the first time, I like to check out the entire market and then come back to the ones that have the best quality and/or price. If in doubt, note which vendors have the longest lines—the French always know good food and good bargains.

9) Lines:  Speaking of lines, it is necessary to faire la queue (stand in line) to be served. When it’s your turn, you can make sure the vendor knows by saying “C’est à moi” (sayt ah mwa), or “It’s my turn.” When it comes to food markets, the French are pretty good about lining up in an orderly fashion. However, it can be a free for all in other venues such as the French post office, so beware!

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“Thank you for lining up in this direction…”

10) Crowds: Note that weekend markets are the most crowded. This means they are more festive but it can take longer to see what’s on offer and make your purchases.

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11) Key phrases for use in the markets: It’s good to have a few French phrases handy to enable smooth market transactions and relations…and also to know how much to buy since the French use the metric system!

“Bonjour Madame / Monsieur!” (Always greet French vendors with a Bonjour and Ma’am or Sir. This goes a long way towards a good shopping experience.)

“Je voudrais un kilo de pommes, s’il vous plaît” (“I would like about 2 pounds of apples, please.” Since a kilo is about 2.2 pounds, you can ask for a pound of some by saying “un demi kilo,” a half kilo, or “400-500 grammes” which is about a pound.)

“Une tranche de pâté, s.v.p.” (A slice of your paté, please.)

“Encore un peu, s.v.p.” or “un peu moins, s.v.p.” (A little more, please, or a little less, please.)

“C’est combien?” (How much is it?)

“C’est parfait, merci.” (That’s great, thanks.)

“Merci beaucoup, Madame. Au revoir.” (Thank you, Madame. Good-bye. Be sure and close your shopping transaction with a nice thank-you and good-bye–it’s required French etiquette.) 

After you’ve finished shopping, take a rest at a nearby café with the locals. You’ll overhear the latest gossip and can enjoy people-watching as the market winds up for the day. Have a coffee or do as many French do and celebrate market day with a glass of wine or pastis—even in the morning!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

To find great markets wherever you are in France, consult guidebooks for the towns or cities you’ll be visiting. Markets are always noted there. In addition, you can browse the French tourist office websites “Office du tourisme” which will post market days.

For a visual tour of Paris or Provence markets, check out these books (they are a few years old but as interesting as ever with great market resources at the back):

Paris in a Basket: Markets—The Food and the People by Nicole Meyer and Amanda Smith.

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Markets of Provence: A Culinary Tour of Southern France by Dixon and Ruthann Long.

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To Market, to Market Monday, Jan 24 2011 

One thing I love about many French cookbooks—and I mean cookbooks about French cooking in French or in English—is that they often include two things:  les menus (suites of dishes that go well together in one meal) and les produits de la saison (lists of seasonal fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meat and fish–yes, cheeses have seasons too!). They are noteworthy reminders of the French talent for balancing flavors and tastes, both within individual dishes and across the various plats (dishes) that make up one meal. These cookbooks also point to the significant culinary rewards of cooking according to the seasons.

Evidemment (obviously), to cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients, one has to shop accordingly. In Paris, every quartier (neighborhood) offers daily and weekly open-air marchés (markets). They are a culinary experience as well as a social one—people from all classes and all walks of life rub elbows in the common pursuit of good cooking and good meals.

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At these markets, you occasionally see vendors who grow their own produce, raise their own poultry, harvest their own honey, or make their own cheeses and sell these items directly to the public. My nostalgic side wishes that all the vendors would be selling goods they personally produce on their own farms. However, given modern commerce and the sheer volume of Parisian business, ce n’est pas possible (this is not possible). The majority of French market vendors obtain their products from the enormous wholesale food market outside Paris, Rungis (pronounced ruhn-jeesse in French).

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If the expression ‘wholesale food’ makes you think “bland” or “tired” food, you’re in for a whole other world in France. Rungis prides itself on being ‘le plus grand marché de produits frais du monde’ (the biggest market of fresh products in the world). And during my recent tour of the Rungis market, I would have to say that it’s pretty astonishing how fresh and beautiful all the products are given such an immense operation.

Rungis opened in 1969 after Les Halles, the main food market in Paris, was demolished. It does more than 7 milliards (billion) euros of business every year and is located south of Paris near the Orly airport, covering 232 hectares (nearly 600 acres) of land. There are multiple pavillons (buildings) that house the various food products: les produits laitiers (dairy products), les produits de la mer (seafood), les produits carnés (meat, fowl and game), les fruits et les légumes (fruits and vegetables), and les fleurs et la décoration (flowers and decor). While you will occasionally see a female or two working at the market, it is still primarily a male dominated line of work.

Touring Rungis is spectacular, though I must say it’s not an activity for the faint of heart. To supply daily the numerous food markets, supermarkets and restaurant chefs in the Paris region, the market opens at 2am and is nearly done by 8 or 9am. You have to get up in the wee hours and make the 45 minute or so trek by car from the center of Paris. Then you get to traipse through the cavernous warehouses that are kept chilled to keep products as fresh as possible. In addition, you have to put up with delayed gratification as you can’t buy anything you see. And visits to Rungis have to be specially arranged, so it takes some doing just to get in the place.

Despite the logistics, seeing Rungis is well worth the effort. It is the coming together of food growers, producers and distributors from all over France and from all over the world. And it is the heart of the daily culinary dance in Paris.

For your own visual tour of Rungis, take a look at the photos below. You’ll never think about food in Paris the same way again!

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French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

French markets are one of the most charming aspects of travel in France. In small towns or large cities, food markets, flower markets, and antique markets contribute to the social fabric of the community. There are also yearly markets or festivals that are worth planning your French trips around such as the Foire aux piments (Pepper Festival) in the Basque country, the Fête du fromage (Goat Cheese Fair) in Provence, and the Journée de la Truffe (Truffle Day) in southern France.

To find out more about specific French markets and festivals to visit all over France, join us for the French Affaires ‘Tour de France’ Lecture Series this spring. In this unique program, we’ll be ‘traveling’ to the best parts of France to discover the history, art, architecture, culture, landscapes, gardens, cuisine, wine, and of course, markets, of various French regions. The richly illustrated lectures, discussions and food tastings will make you feel like you’ve been to France. Our program also includes further reading and film lists, as well as museum, hotel, and restaurant suggestions for all over France.

Click here for complete series details and to register–there are a few seats left for this special French travel experience!

Lecture 1 – Saturday, January 29:  Welcome to the ‘Tour de France’ Lecture Series; Introduction to the Geography of France; Paris, the Ile de France & Champagne

Lecture 2: – Saturday, February 26:  Normandy, Brittany & the Loire Valley

Lecture 3 – Saturday, April 2:  Burgundy, Jura & Savoy

Lecture 4 – Saturday, April 30:  Provence, the Riviera & Corsica

Lecture 5 – Saturday, June 4:  Southwest France – Bordeaux, Médoc & the Pyrenees

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