The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade Wednesday, Aug 20 2014 

Not long ago, I promised myself no more books. As a former French professor and a book lover in general, I have way too many books and can’t seem to edit my collection. But this past spring, a fabulous new French volume appeared that I just couldn’t pass up.

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Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille celebrates the magnificent restoration of the historic Normandy château Champ de Bataille by French owner and world famous interior designer Jacques Garcia. Garcia acquired the run-down property in 1992 and slowly began to bring the 17th and 18th century gem back to life. The result is a truly stunning French architectural, decorative and garden experience which is brilliantly recorded in this oversized coffee table book. Two-inches thick and full of exquisite photos by the extraordinarily talented French photographer Eric Sander, the French book was published by Flammarion in France last winter and the English version in the U.S. this spring.

I recently had the chance to meet with Eric Sander in Paris. We had an engaging conversation about his photography for Champ de Bataille and some of his other projects. Eric began his photojournalism career in the late 70’s and since then, his work has appeared in major magazines and publications worldwide along with more than twenty books. For the past several years, he has focused more and more on capturing beautiful French estates and their gardens through photography. Here are some excerpts from our conversation about Jacques Garcia’s baroque and rococo masterpiece (translated from the French):

Elizabeth: How did it happen that you were chosen as photographer for the book?

Eric: It was a wonderful series of events. In 2008, I was working on a book of the Manoir d’Eyrignac in southwest France and had a great relationship with the owner Patrick Sermadiras. During the project, he would often say to me, ‘Tu sais, tu devrais aller voir le jardin du Champ de Bataille, c’est le plus beau jardin privé de France.’ (You know, you should go see the gardens of Champ de Bataille. It’s the most beautiful private garden in France.) One day, he called Patrick Pottier, Champ de Bataille’s landscape designer, to introduce me and to tell him that I was going to call him about taking a few photos sometime. All that led to my going there in October. 

October 10, 2008 – 8:40am: “It had frozen during the night for the first time that season. It was a good sign. When I arrived at the château, I was warmly greeted by Jacques Garcia who then said: ‘Hurry, Eric. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such beautiful light.’ He suggested that I go up to the third floor balcony. I was running behind one of his staff who showed me the way. We went through a moody corridor full of stuffed wild animals, a leopard, a lion, an insect collection – it looked like a movie set – before finally arriving upstairs out of breath. And I opened the window to the most beautiful morning ever in the world. Then, startled by the noise, a group of pigeons suddenly took flight right in front of me. Totally surprised, I changed my camera focus quickly and had enough time to grab four images. It was a gift from heaven – my camera was in the right mode to capture the birds…It was an extraordinary moment.”

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That morning, the light was so exceptional, the kind that one rarely sees in a lifetime. I ran around for two hours taking photos. I was truly amazed by the size of the property. Then I rejoined Monsieur Garcia who offered me a glass of champagne. I showed him several images and he was surprised by the incredible beauty of the light. I was asked to join him and his other guests for lunch. We had made contact.

I was so fortunate the way that first meeting turned out. A few months later, Mr. Garcia hired me to photograph the interiors of the château. I then proposed a feature on the gardens to the French magazine Point de Vue and then a piece on the château to Le Figaro. Both were published. One thing led to another and then Mr. Garcia told his editor at Flammarion that I would be the one to shoot Champ de Bataille for the big book they had in view. I was terribly honored and proud to be chosen to photograph one of the most beautiful estates in France.

Elizabeth: How many times did you go out to Champs de Bataille to photograph? Clearly, you captured it in different seasons – how did all that work? 

Eric: From the beginning of the project until the last day of shooting, I went there 18 times often for two or more days at a time. I went in all seasons to capture the gardens and the various rooms in the château as soon as they were restored or redecorated. Jacques Garcia has a massive collection of museum-quality furniture, artworks, objets d’art and more. He is always changing around the interiors of the château which makes things very lively at his place – and it kept me very busy! I also had to respect the wishes of his very talented editor Suzanne Tise, an American from North Carolina who has lived in France for 35 years.

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Elizabeth: How did you decide what to focus on inside the chateau? In the gardens?

Eric: JG made a list of the most important art objects in his collection, and I made sure to focus on these. Suzanne was also often there and she would help arrange them into marvelous “still life” poses. They really are the “pièces maitresses du château” (absolute masterworks of the château).

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Elizabeth: What was it like working with Jacques Garcia?

Eric: It is very easy to work with JG. He is so charming and always in a good mood. But you have to deliver what he wants. That said, from the moment he decides to work with you, he has total faith in you and your abilities. He is also a wonderful host who makes the most of every moment.

Elizabeth: How long did it take to do this project? Did you stay at the estate when you were photographing?

Eric: We stayed at Champ de Bataille as privileged guests. There was champagne, a full staff, a beautiful bedroom with an antique canopy bed. We had our meals in all the wonderful venues of the property – the orangerie, the Indian palace in the summer, the two dining rooms of the château. We even dined in the salon of Apollo with a gorgeously set table next to the fireplace. It was magnificent and magical to be in the middle of this remarkable setting, yet it was so livable too. Not like a museum at all.

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Elizabeth: What was your favorite shot in the château? In the gardens?

Eric: My favorite photo in the gardens was the rising sun with the pigeons in flight. For me, it signified heavenly beauty and also the auspicious beginning of an incredible project. For the interiors, that’s difficult to say. I think I liked the green salon best with the objects and portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. It’s a setting bursting with history yet it’s a extraordinary mix of emotions at the same time. You have not only the very refined taste and sensibilities of the late 18th century but also a sense of the tragic end of this king and queen.

Elizabeth: What did working on this book mean to you?

Eric: This book is the work of a master of decor, of settings and of a beauty of perhaps the best era of French style. Champ de Bataille is a property completely unique in all the world – a rare melange of Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet and Louis II of Bavaria – put together by the inimitable Jacques Garcia. I was very privileged to work with the interpreter of this exceptional place – a big merci to Jacques Garcia and to Flammarion and Suzanne Tise who had faith in me and my work.

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This sumptuous book is a treasure trove of the ultimate in French 17th and 18th century style, brought to life for the 21st century. Perusing the images and accompanying text will afford endless hours of pleasure and discovery of the French art de vivre. The quality and scope of the book, however, mean that it costs a pretty penny – the retail price is $125, although it can be purchased at amazon.com for around $78 at the moment. One gets a lot for the price – the book is about two inches thick and weighs over 8 pounds.

Given the richness of the material and the presentation, Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion gets my vote for the French coffee table book of the decade, maybe even the best coffee table book ever. Think about giving it to yourself as a gift, putting it on your Christmas or birthday wish list, giving it to a friend, offering it to an antiques loving friend (Garcia got his start roaming French flea markets with his father), sharing it with your favorite interior designer. It might even be the French gift of the decade!

* Photos courtesy of Eric Sander. Many thanks to Eric for sharing his amazing talent and photo stories with us.

Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille

 
 
By Jacques Garcia and Alain Stella (authors), Eric Sander (photographer)
Flammarion
March, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages 
 
NB: Champ de Bataille is open to the public and receives about 30,000 visitors per year. It is located 40 kilometers from Rouen in Normandy. Click here for the Château’s web site and more information. To view a short interview with Jacques Garcia about Champ de Bataille in French, please click here.
 
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The French Remember ~ Commemorating WWI and II in 2014 Friday, Apr 25 2014 

Historically speaking, 2014 is a big year in France. June 6th marks the 70th – hard to believe – anniversary of D-Day and the beginning of the liberation of Europe by the Allies in World War II. And this year also observes the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. A propos, the French are making a point to remember both the events and those who lost their lives in these conflicts with a host of special activities and commemorations.

World War I: If you’re in Paris between now and August 4th, you’ll want to check out the moving photo exhibition commemorating the ‘Grande Guerre’ at the Luxembourg Gardens on the Left Bank. British photo-journalist Michael St Maur Sheil spent six years capturing the battlefields of the Great War from the North Sea all the way to Gallipoli. His efforts have culminated in an open-air gallery show entitled “Fields of Battle – Terres de Paix 14 – 18″ which is being shown on the fences on the eastern side of the Luxembourg Gardens.

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Exhibition poster courtesy of the French Senate

The large-scale photos poignantly capture the haunting remains of the devastation and violence that occurred along the front lines as well as the interminable rows of tombs of those who fell during the war. These landscapes also reveal the healing powers of time and nature as the trees, woods, mountains and rivers resumed their peaceful existence in the aftermath of World War I.

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© 2014 westernfrontphotography.com / Mary Evans Collection

Also included in the exhibition is a massive memorial map created by the top cartographers at Michelin. Laid out on the east side of the Luxembourg Palace – home of the French Senate who sponsored the exhibition, the  giant map recalls the battlefields and front lines of France, Europe and the world, highlighting the global scale of the conflict. Included are the 50 most important battlefields, nearly 700 kilometres of front lines during the four years of war, and 80 commemorative sites that can be visited today as well as the frontier demarcated by the Armistice signed on November 11, 1918 at 11am.

And when it comes to commemorations, no detail is too small for the French. The wooden railings installed around the giant map are made of 100 year old beechwood from the forests around Epinal. The French National Forest Service helped log the wood and a local workshop created them specifically for the exhibition. It turns out that these forests supplied the wood used to build the infamous trenches of the war. Be sure to click here for a short French video (with English-subtitles) of the installation of the exhibition map and photographs at the Luxembourg Gardens.

After its run in Paris, “Fields of Battle – Terres de Paix 14 – 18″ will travel to London where it will be shown in St. James’s park. The exhibition will then move to Nottingham as part of the city’s ‘Trent to Trenches’ commemorative program. The tour will continue, visiting major cities and towns throughout the UK, until its conclusion on Armistice Day on November 11, 2018.

“Fields of Battle – Terres de Paix 14 – 18″ will be on view in Paris until August, 4, 2014. Admission is free. The Luxembourg Garden fences have been used to host a wide variety of photography exhibitions in recent years, reaching a large urgan audience that might not otherwise visit a museum or gallery. To locate the Luxembourg Gardens outdoor photo exhibition, please see the map below:

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A large number of WWI commemorative events are being held all over northern France this year. Please see the Chemins de Mémoire 14 – 18 website for activities in the Nord-Pas de Calais region. Also of note is the Musée de la Grande Guerre located in Meaux in the Ile de France. Opening there on June 28 and running through December 29, 2014 is the temporary exhibition: “Join Now! L’entrée en guerre de l’Empire britannique” (’Join now! The Entry into the War by the British Empire’). And the war memorial and museum at Belleau Wood is always worth a visit.

World War II: The inhabitants of Normandy, France are pulling out all the stops this year to observe the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings on D-Day. From June 5th to August 21st, 2014, re-enactments, memorial ceremonies, exhibitions and more will be taking place in observance of June 6th, 1944. Adding to the emotion is the fact that this will be the last decennial D-Day celebration in which actors and witnesses to the actual D-Day event will be able to take part given their age.

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Event poster courtesy of the Comité Régional de Tourisme de Normandie

A comprehensive calendar in either French or English can be found on the event’s site. If you are traveling to Normandy soon, please click here to see what’s in store. A couple of things that caught my eye were the concert for peace in the town of Sainte Mère Eglise  on June 6th in the evening and also the grand picnic on Omaha Beach the following day to honor all those who fell there. What a place to be on June 7th, 2014!

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If your WWII D-Day history is a little rusty, you can see a terrific recap of the key military events of the Normandy landings on the 70th anniversary website by clicking here. And if you’ve never seen the American film “The Longest Day,” I recommend rushing out to rent or buy a copy. Also not to be missed is the recent documentary by film maker Doug Stebleton on the “Mother of Normandy.” Stebleton stumbled across this riveting untold story while making another documentary in France. He dropped everything and then spent three years in both Normandy and the U.S. tracking down the impact Simone Renaud made on France, American and the world.

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 Book cover courtesy of Doug Stebleton

Simone Renaud, the wife of the mayor of the Norman town of Sainte Mère Eglise, was there the night that American paratroopers landed as part of the Allied offensive in June, 1944. She, her husband and three sons witnessed the violent battle between the occupying Germans and American soldiers and the deaths of some 60 of their fellow townspeople. In the weeks that followed, makeshift cementeries around the town filled up with graves of the fallen GIs. Rain or shine, Simone Renaud took it upon herself to tend to the graves. When American families heard where their sons, husbands and fathers had died, they sent letters addressed simply to the “Maire” (mayor) of Sainte Mère Eglise to inquire about their graves. Alexandre Renaud passed the letters on to his wife who began to answer them individually, often including a photo of the graveside cross, a bit of dirt or even a pressed flower from the burial service.

After a photograph of Simone Renaud laying flowers on Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.’s grave was published in Life magazine in August, 1944, even more letters came. From then on until her death in 1988 at the age of 89, Simone Renaud made it her mission to care for these soldiers who had died fighting for liberty and who were buried far from home. She wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters to American families and hosted some of them when they came to visit their loved one’s grave. As part of her efforts to make sure these heros were never forgotten and to express gratitude for the freedom they brought, she began to organize yearly D-Day memorial celebrations and re-enactments. Long story short, her immense legacy earned her the title “Mother of Normandy” and Stebleton’s compelling documentary ensures that her memory will never be forgotten.

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 Simone Renaud tending to GI graves – photo courtesy of Doug Stebleton

The “Mother of Normandy” is a must for those who love France and French history as well as WWII history buffs. To purchase the DVD version of the documentary, you can order it directly through the producer. The DVDs are $20 each, plus $4.00 for shipping, or $24.00 per DVD. Checks can be made out to Doug Stebleton and sent to:

Doug Stebleton
5506 Aurelia St
Simi Valley, CA 93063

Upon receipt of the check, the DVD(s) will be sent to the address provided. To order the accompanying book, please click here for more info.

France’s Food Scene – A Culinary Conversation with Susan Loomis Tuesday, Sep 18 2012 

This week’s article features Susan Herrmann Loomis of On Rue Tatin cooking school in France. Susan moved to France from the U.S. more than twenty years ago and currently teaches the art of French cooking in Paris and in Normandy. She has also authored multiple cookbooks and regularly writes food articles for major publications. There’s a lot happening in the culinary world around the globe at the moment so we wanted to get Susan’s thoughts on food trends and happenings in France in particular. Susan will also be leading a special cooking class for French Affaires in Dallas, Texas, in November on ‘The Art of French Cooking.’ Here are some excerpts from our foodie conversation:

When did you know you wanted to go deeper into French cooking and cuisine?

I knew it the minute I got off the train in Normandy and was welcomed by the French family I had come to stay with. What I remember was the mother and father, the kids, their beautiful Normandy home. We sat down to a simple French meal and when we got to the camembert cheese, I was in heaven. It was everything you imagine about French food and more. To this day, a real, authentic, fragrant camembert from Normandy with fresh French bread sends me over the moon.

Where did you get your culinary training?

I received my grand diplôme from La Varenne cooking school in Paris. Once I’d done that, I wanted to stay longer in France so I took a variety of jobs. Things really clicked when I landed the position as Patricia Wells’ assistant. She was in the process of writing the first edition of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris and needed help with the research for it. This was the first book in English about everything food-related in Paris. We worked all day long seven days a week – we would check out everything culinary from shops to bakeries to restaurants from morning until night. And then we’d stay up into the wee hours planning our ‘food itinerary’ for the next day. I got to see up close and personally the richness and depth of French cuisine. It was really a dream job. And just recently, Patricia has put out the iPhone version of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. I did the chocolate and pastry sections for it which were a blast.

What is the best French meal you’ve ever had?

Of course, that is so hard to say. But if I think about it, the best meal experience I had was in the Dordogne in southwest France. I was in the region doing some work at a friend’s goose farm – it was late and had been a long day. We started with fresh foie gras that had come right out of the goose. Then, they roasted goose carcasses with salt and pepper on the spit over the fire. They served these with pommes salardaises which is potatoes roasted with garlic, goose fat and parsley. To finish, we had a prune tart with the special prunes from the region. It’s pastry with prune purée and cream on top. In France, to eat a meal that is completely from the region when you’re in the region is just about the best food experience on the planet.

What would you serve for the perfect French meal?

I would serve chilled oysters to start along with a white Bordeaux Entre Deux Mers wine. Then, it would have to be something luxurious but easy like a magret de canard (duck breast) with orange syrup. Of course, a big red wine from Languedoc or Gaillac is excellent with the duck. After the main course, I would have a green salad with vinaigrette along with cheese such as roquefort. And we’d finish everything off with a fruit tart in season. For example, when apples are at their prime, it’s hard to go wrong with an apple tarte tatin.

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What are three trends you see in the French culinary world right now?

The first one is the trend toward ‘small plates.’ In some French restaurants, it’s no longer the standard first course, main course and then dessert. The tough economics out there are making people – both restauranteurs and diners – more flexible. Diners might not want the full multi-course show when they go out to eat. Simplicity is in. And then too, restaurants need to make a living so they are turning tables more often than they used to. It’s not a bad thing to go into a French restaurant nowadays at 7:30pm and then be finished around 9:30pm, and then another group will come in and take the table. A good example is the restaurant Semilla on the Left Bank – Meilleur Ouvrier de France chef Eric Trochon creates amazing small dishes for the way we live now.

The second trend I am seeing is the focus on ‘home cooking’ or ‘grandmother’s cooking’ by young up-and-coming chefs. It’s in part a reaction against the Michlelin star rating system and anything too fancy. Again, economics might be part of it – with a more casual restaurant, the overhead is lower. The restaurant Jeu de quilles in the 14th arrondissement is a great example. It is focused on meat dishes and wonderfully enough, is located right next to the best butcher in Paris.

And the third tendance, as the French say, is a movement towards going ‘local.’ Of course, the French have always demanded locally grown products and things full of their natural flavor. But this is taking that concept even further. Some people are now fanatic about the ‘terroir parisien’ and only using ingredients produced in Paris / the Ile de France (the Paris region) itself. This seems a bit gimmicky to me and will probably run its course, but it’s definitely on the foodie scene in the city.

What is your favorite cookbook from the ones you have written?

It would have to be Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin. It’s a lovely book I return to again and again. The good food, the photos and the layout are all elegant yet simple and personal. It’s also full of wonderful tips that make cooking a pleasure.

Cooking at home on rue tatin

If you weren’t running your cooking school and doing your food writing, what would you be doing?

That’s a great question. I’d probably have a little table d’hôte (a French version of a bed and breakfast) somewhere. I love people, and I love hosting them. I’ve thought about having a restaurant and this would be a wonderful way to prepare authentic French meals for guests and create a warm and convivial experience for them. At a table d’hôte, it’s a fixed menu so the chef can focus on that perfect combination of dishes and things in season. More and more, I am finding that visitors to France want this authentic and deep experience of the country, and this is a perfect way to offer it to them.

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Enjoying Susan’s hospitality after a cooking class & market visit in Paris

In conclusion, it is fascinating to see how cuisine evolves, even in the well-established culinary context of France. Susan is there on the ground in Paris and Normandy and participates in both the ‘city’ and ‘country’ food scenes every day. She will share her extensive gourmet knowledge and expertise with ‘The Art of French Cooking’ workshop in Dallas from November 14 to 16, 2012. It will be three full days of cooking, tasting, learning, techniques, dining and of course, lots of inside food stories and anecdotes from France. Not least of all, Susan’s warmth and passion make getting one’s hands on French cooking all the more fun.

The French cooking workshop is a wonderful culinary opportunity for serious as well as beginning cooks. It’s also a perfect girls’ get-together experience or mother-daughter adventure or a wonderful Christmas gift. For those who can’t get away for all three days, it is possible to ’share the class’ with friends; please contact us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com to arrange this option. And for those who live outside of Dallas and are considering making ‘The Art of French Cooking’ a destination trip, French Affaires is happy to work with you on accommodations and logistics. Click here for more information and to register.

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French Affaires has organized several cooking classes with Susan in Paris and Normandy over the years as part of our personal trips to France. Here are some photos of great cooking in progress at the Paris cooking school:

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French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For more on Susan’s culinary story and the 15th century convent she renovated in Normandy, be sure to check out her delightful memoir On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town. It is available at various booksellers and at www.amazon.com.

On Rue Tatin

 

Monet for Dessert, or ‘Ile Flottante’ Tuesday, Mar 23 2010 

In keeping with last week’s posting about dessert, it seemed fitting to continue with a variation on the sweet theme…though this time with a decidedly artistic tangent!

Recently, I was dining with friends at one of Paris’ oldest bistrots, La Fontaine de Mars, in the Rue St. Dominique and ended a classically French meal—steak frites—with an equally classic dessert…île flottante, or floating island. If you have never had it, île flottante is a fluffy mound of toasted meringue in a pool of crème anglaise (custard sauce). I like it after a heavier French dinner as it is wonderfully flavorful yet light.

When the evening’s dessert arrived, I was struck by its distinctive shape—it reminded me at once of French haystacks…the ones from Normandy that Monet painted time after time in various lights of day.

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I thought about how Monet lovingly depicted the cone top with straight sides in the morning, afternoon and early evening. Having seen an exhibition years ago in France on Monet’s “series paintings” (haystacks, Rouen cathedral, poplars, water lilies), I was transported to peaceful fields adorned with that soft and tender light that bespeaks northern France… 

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In preparing for a recent lecture on Normandy for the Dallas Museum of Art, I came across a photo of a French haystack under construction. The photo is part of the publicity for a fascinating collaboration this summer celebrating Impressionism. It’s called Normandie Impressionionniste 2010 and will take place all over Normandy, the home of this artistic movement. More than 160 towns, villages and organizations will host events and exhibitions including painting, contemporary art, music, cinema, theatre, dance, photography, video, literature, lectures, light and sound, and more. If you already have Normandy  in your summer travel plans, you are in for a rich treat…If not, it’s a reason to rush out and buy a ticket to France.

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Abbaye de Jumièges – Friday, 16th July – Tuesday, 30th November 2010

 “Cinéma en plein air” (Outdoor cinema)

But back to the real subject at hand–île flottante. The version at La Fontaine de Mars includes a sprinkling of almond praline bits on top of the ‘haystack’ which slightly turns caramel after coming in contact with the moist meringue. It is the perfect finishing touch.

I happened to be reading Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking the other day and came across her recipe for the ambrosial dessert (page 622). Sure enough, her variation adds the almond pralin for “texture and flavor” as she says. I am now curious to see if I can produce this confection in my kitchen–and if it will come close to the authentic French version I just had in Paris. Not sure if I will try the haystack shape, though. Hmmmm…What is your version of Floating Island??

Normandy on a Plate Tuesday, Mar 9 2010 

Years ago, I did the Normandy ‘grand tour.’ My mother and I had rented a car and we took in the major sights in this rich corner of northern France: le Mont St. Michel, la Tâpisserie de Bayeux (the Bayeux Tapestry), les plages de débarquement (World War II landing beaches), the beachside towns of Deauville and Trouville, the gothic spires and half-timbered houses of old Rouen, Monet’s artistic haven at Giverny, and the miles of verdant countryside in between.

It was all spectacular but my most magical memory was the short afternoon we spent near the Abbaye du Bec-Hellouin, an ancient Benedictine monastery in a small Norman valley near the Bec river. As the gates were open, we drove into the monastery grounds to visit the beautiful 17th and 18th century buildings. What we did not know was that this enchanting place where time seemed to have stopped was closed to visitors.

A very proper monk came out to greet us and kindly sent us on our way. We regretfully left the premises and headed toward the adjacent village. We ended up at a true French auberge (inn) where we consoled ourselves with nice lunch of regional cuisine. To finish up, I tasted for the first time the Normandy chef d’oeuvre (masterpiece), la tarte tatin (the upside down, caramelized apple tart).

Just recently, I attended cooking school in Normandy where cookbook author and chef Susan Herrmann Loomis taught us how to make this quintessential Norman dessert. Susan runs “On Rue Tatin”, the appropriately named cooking school in Louviers about 30 minutes from Rouen.

We first went shopping for our apple tart ingredients at the local Saturday market. Il était une fois (once upon a time), Normandy was home to more than 2000 varieties of apples. Today, there are about 400. You can see many of these varieties on any given market day. Their beautiful shapes and colors made me wish that Monet had done some “series paintings” of Normandy pommes

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Our choice for the tarte tatin was the Cox Orange Pippin variety. You need apples that are somewhat tart and hold their shape–a French tarte tatin is definitely not an ‘applesauce tart.’

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The first step in the recipe is to place the granulated sugar in the bottom of  the pan. Susan used a wonderful copper moule à tarte tatin (a pan made especially for cooking a tarte tatin). Then large slices of butter are laid over the sugar. The time-consuming part is peeling and coring all the apples…But you can leave them in halves–no slicing needed.

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Then you arrange the apples artfully around the pan like so…

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Next, the pan is placed on the stove (gas flame preferred) and the butter melts, the sugar caramelizes and then the apples begin to caramelize as well…

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Once the apples are done (it takes about an hour), the prepared pastry is placed on top of the apples and the tart goes into the oven until the pastry is golden. Finally, the moment of truth…Susan flipped the piping-hot tart onto a serving plate and voilà! You can even see the steam rising…

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After a nice lunch that we also prepared in this hands-on cooking class, we enjoyed a slice of the warm tart with a spoonful of crème fraîche. You could say that this dish is ‘Normandy on a plate.’

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In the spirit of putting ‘theory into practice,’ I made a tarte tatin at home last weekend. It turned out perfectly and tasted of France at every bite. I can’t wait to make it again…even if it means peeling all those apples!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

French Affaires Fall 2010 Trip: “Gourmet Paris” – We’ll have the chance to cook with Susan Herrmann Loomis again on our culinary trip to the French capital. Susan will take us on a special market tour where we’ll buy seasonal ingredients for our multi-course lunch. Then she’ll lead us through a hands-on cooking class of quintessential French dishes that are perfect to make at home. Finally we’ll sit down and enjoy our culinary creations paired with wine. Trip dates: November 2 to 8, 2010. Trip details coming soon on the French Affaires web site!

“The Lens of Impressionism” exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art – This spring , the Dallas Museum of Art ‘goes to Normandy’ in this fascinating exhibit on the interplay of photography and impressionist painting along the Normandy coast from 1850 to 1874. Light, sky, clouds, sea, water, mood, and atmosphere were major themes for the French artists in this time and place. The show is accompanied by a Saturday lecture series, Late Night events and even culinary experiences in partnership with Rise No 1 restaurant. For the culinary sessions, the DMA is offering the member discount to French Affaires patrons–just be sure to mention “French Affaires” when registering. More information on the exhibition and other events can be found here.