May 30, 2010

Sunday Links

A daily read that will lift your spirits, Misadventures With Andi, written by wannabe Frenchie Andi.  In honor of last Sunday's Fête du Fromage in Rocamadour, Andi asked me to write a guest post about French cheese and my Fête du Fromage, which I was happy to do!

Lucy shares some edible flower magic.

The easiest and most delicious looking recipe for happiness.

I so wish I could sew

Wendy Lyn (with the help of Susan Herrmann Loomis) tastes a seasonal tart that I am simply drooling over.

La Ferme du Vinage, who produces the cheese I tasted this week, le Carré du Vinage, did a fantastic write up about Chez Loulou and la Fête du Fromage.  I didn't have the heart to tell them that I'm not une anglaise...
(update:  they must have read this as they have corrected it - I am now une américaine)

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May 28, 2010

South of France Poppies

They've been popping up everywhere.  A single stem on the side of the road, a wide red ribbon at the edge of a vineyard, an entire field bordered by plane trees and sun faded stone buildings.

Poppies.  Coquelicots.
The flower of May.

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May 26, 2010

La Fête du Fromage - le Carré du Vinage

The various cheeses from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region have garnered mixed reviews during the course of my tastings.

The bright orange Boulette d'Avesnes was acrid, harsh and too in your face, while Bergues tasted like, well, for lack of a better description, airLe Cameau was a hit, but Le Cados was a miss.  Maroilles was a nice enough cheese and melts beautifully into a delicious sauce for pork, and smelly Vieux-Boulogne was spectacular and utterly memorable.  

Le Carré du Vinage, an unpasteurized cow's milk fromage férmier, has officially cured my ambivalence toward the cheeses of this region. It is unbelievable!

The sticky, washed rind of le Carré du Vinage releases a heady aroma that doesn't try to hide the fact that this is a very strong, intense cheese.  Its flavors are multidimensional;  mushroom and nuts, yeast and salt, fruit and spirits.  I love it and hope that one day I have the opportunity to meet Thérèse Marie, the fromagère at the farm, and congratulate her on a job well done.

This cheese would pair will with either beer or a white wine from Alsace, such as Riesling

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May 22, 2010

Toute Seule

In the last seven years I've only had to spend a few nights alone in this house.  Until last week.

Wednesday began a 4-5 week stretch of solitary meals, upset and confused cats and dogs (where is he???) and staring at his empty chair in the living room.  (though if I want to look on the bright side, it also means I get to watch whatever I want on TV!)

Last Wednesday my husband checked into the hospital to get a much needed new hip and will subsequently spend several weeks in a clinique de rééducation, where he will devote his days to recovering, going to physical therapy appointments and enjoying the local red.

So far the surgeons, the anesthesiologists, the hospital staff and the nurses have all been kind, funny and have gone out of their way to make his stay comfortable.
Unfortunately though, even in France, hospital food sucks.  Even with the red wine.

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May 19, 2010

La Fête du Fromage - Tomme de Chèvre

Every so often I come across a cheese that I think I've already tasted, when actually it is a completely different cheese, from a completely different region, but with the same name.  It can get confusing, I tell you!  I've learned to keep a little notebook of the cheeses I've tasted, so I can keep from getting them mixed up.

Since I'm on a mission to taste every cheese produced in France, if there are two or even three that share a name yet come from different areas, then they must be different cheeses.  It all goes back to that term terroir, which I believe applies to cheese as well as wine. 
A tomme style goat cheese produced in the Alps or in the Pyrénées, like the Tomme de Chèvre I tasted three years ago, cannot be the same as a Tomme de Chèvre from the Corrèze, like this one.
The goats graze on different grasses and flowers, the climate is different, the water is different, thus each cheese will have unique characteristics.

This Tomme de Chèvre is one of those perfect, luscious cheeses that I could happily nibble on day after day.
It has a well balanced flavor that is rich, slightly sweet, grassy and nutty and a bit tangy.  Its texture is silky smooth, creamy and very dense, and there is no evidence of goatiness, so no need to be wary if you're not a fan of goat cheese.

Chardonnay or a red such as Touraine would pair well with this chèvre.

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May 16, 2010

The Cost of Living in France - Two Years Later

The cost of living in France is a subject that continues to be of interest to my readers, so I thought it was time to update my Cost of Living in France post and show you how we do it.

Living here is possible, even on a limited budget. We've been living in France full time for seven years and though we've had some difficult times with the $/€ exchange rate and almost packed it in and moved back to the States at one point, we managed to hang on by selling our garden and cutting back as much as we could.
We don't live extravagantly, never go out to the theater or to the movies, rarely eat out, and when our friends and family come to visit they offer to help with the added expense.  So it works.
Food prices have gone up in the last couple of years, as they have everywhere, and our income went up for several months when I worked last summer, but what we have to depend on every month is my husband's pension and my advertising income from Chez Loulou (a small part of the total), which equals about $1600, or €1290 at today's conversion rate.

As I stated before, we live in a village in the south, not in a big city, so the prices might be totally different to those living in cities like Paris, Lyon or Marseille.  Also, we own our little house outright so have no mortgage, nor do we have car payments or credit card debt.

EDF (electricity) €122
Phone and Internet €50
Heath Insurance (to cover the 30% that isn't covered by the state) €130
Car and Home Insurances €63
Taxes (habitation and foncières and TV) €50
Water €25
Fuel (to fill up the car twice) €90
Groceries (approx.) €350

Total €880
It leaves enough to live on.  Simply.
The good news is that the US dollar has been slowly gaining strength against the Euro.  Let's hope it continues!

We still do the majority of our fresh food shopping at the local markets.  The prices aren't any higher than what it would cost in fuel to drive to Narbonne or Carcassonne (a little over an hour round trip) and shop at the enormous grocery stores such as Géant Casino or Intermarché.  Those places drive me crazy and I would much rather support the small shops, local honey, wine and cheese producers, butchers, and fruit and vegetable growers in the area.

The one problem with living in rural France is finding a job.  Two years ago I didn't have the right to work, so it wasn't an issue.  Now it is an issue. The jobs are few and far between and are most commonly agricultural.  If only I knew how to drive a tractor, or had training as a shepherd.
So I continue to look for work and we continue to enjoy life to its fullest.  Proving that even with very little money, it can be done.

Related Link:
Jennie in France

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May 14, 2010

Barcelona and a Recipe For Ajo Blanco

A city the size of Barcelona cannot be experienced in a day. Not even close.

After four previous trips, Barcelona and I have gotten to know each other pretty well, so a whirlwind, less-that-ten-waking-hours trip to spend the last day with our New Orleans friend before his flight from BCN seemed a bit rushed, but it was a great way to end his visit.

The ten waking hours consisted of casual strolling through the streets of the atmospheric Barri Gotic, a fair amount of lounging in cafés and a lot of nibbling.  Lunch in the sun with a view of the port and the Mediterranean sea, dinner at 10pm in a crammed neighborhood tapas bar and breakfast at a grab-and go-place on the Autopista on our way home to France in a torrential rainstorm.
We savored every delicious moment.

Jamón ibérico, queso manchego, pan con tomate, patatas bravas, albondigas, mejillones a la marinera, pimientos de padrón (quite possibly one of the best things to eat. ever.), croquetas de jamón and tortilla española, all washed down with some heady, dark purple Rioja.

Where was the Paella you might wonder  And what about the sangria?
Paella is a traditional Valencian dish and I've never had a good version in Barcelona.  I think it's a bit like ordering Bouillabasse in must know where to go.  Besides, our neighbor makes the best version I've ever tasted.
And sangria?  Unless the bar makes it themselves, it usually comes from a bottle or a box and is suspiciously sweet and cloying stuff.

Barcelona is an incredibly unique, charismatic European city, and one of my favorites.
It is a decadent, colorful, sometimes demanding place, the kind of city that will thoroughly seduce you with her charms. And you'll be happy that she did.

Now on to the recipe.
I love this refreshing and tangy soup. It is so delicious, yet consists of such simple ingredients.  When the temperatures start to climb and our oven is off limits for the remainder of the summer, this is the kind of recipe that I turn to.

Cold Almond and Garlic Soup - Ajo Blanco
serves 8
From Spain and the World Table by The Culinary Institute of America
  • 2 cups loosely packed day-old country-style bread or fresh bread, torn into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 6 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
  • 2 cups blanched almonds
  • 2 ½ teaspoons salt - divided use
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 16 medium green grapes, halved and seeded, for garnish
  • 2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

  1. Soak the day-old bread in 1 1/3 cups of water in a medium bowl for 10 minutes. If using fresh bread, there is no need to soak it.
  2. Process the garlic and almonds in a food processor fitted with the steel blade for 1 minute, or until finely ground. Stop halfway through the process to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the soaked bread and any soaking water (or the fresh bread), 2 teaspoons of salt, vinegar, and oil, and blend for 2 minutes, or until a smooth paste forms. Add 2 cups of the water and blend for 2 minutes longer, or until smooth.
  3. Transfer to a medium nonreactive bowl and stir in the remaining 3 1/3 cups of water (use 4 1/3 cups if using fresh bread). Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or until well chilled.
  4. Stir the soup well, reaching to the bottom of the bowl, just before serving. Taste and adjust seasoning with ½ teaspoon of salt, or more if desired. Ladle 1 cup of the soup into each chilled soup bowl, garnish with the grapes and toasted sliced almonds, and serve.
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May 12, 2010

La Fête du Fromage - Clacbitou

I managed to visit six cheese shops in six days while in Paris, a personal best.
I was in cheese heaven.  My friends were in cheese hell.

We would walk into a Fromagerie and within one minute of breathing in the aroma of ripening cheese their faces would kind of twist up and this look of dismay would appear, then they would make their apologies and quickly retreat.  There was always a café nearby where they could sit and have a coffee, so they were pretty patient with me.
(Funny, because I find the aroma of ripening cheese a wonderful thing.  Go figure.)

Last year I was told about a little Fromagerie in the 11th called Autour du Fromage, which happened to be just down the road from where we were staying.  On our first day I casually led the group in its direction under the assurance that we were heading toward the Marais - which we were, I just had a couple of stops to make along the way.  I did a lot of our navigating around the city, so figured that working my cheese hunting agenda into our outings every so often wasn't too unreasonable.

Inside I found Clacbitou, a férmier goat cheese from Burgundy.  I took it back to the apartment and did a solo tasting as none of my cheeseophobe friends would get near it.  Oh well, more for me!
Clacbitou has a slight aroma of hay and earth, a very fine, chalky texture and a dense, chewy mouthfeel.  The flavors are mildly goaty, salty and mushroomy, with hints of nuts and slightly tangy.
All around a good cheese, just not the best fromage de chèvre I've ever had.  I prefer its Bourgogne cousin, Charolais, which has a similar texture but a more balanced, sweeter flavor.  It was also reminiscent of Chabichou du Poitou, which I also prefer.

White wines such as Sancerre or a Bourgogne aligoté are good pairings.

The woman at Autour du Fromage was chatty and very helpful, so if you're in Paris and are looking for a great little Fromagerie, please check this place out.

Autour du Fromage
120 Rue de Charonne
75011 Paris
01 43 71 58 48
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May 9, 2010

Shurpa Lagman

How I stumbled on to this dish is a mystery. I must have seen it mentioned on a website or in an article somewhere and immediately knew that I had to try it.

Basically, Shurpa Lagman is a soupy stew with chunks of meltingly tender boneless lamb, diced vegetables and chickpeas swimming around in it.
That alone should be enough to tantalize, but then you gild the lily by adding fresh, thick cut egg noodles, some minced garlic and cilantro, and a splash of white vinegar to round out the flavors. It is absolutely delicious, rich and hearty. The kind of one dish meal that we subsist on during the winter.

I took a chance and made it for some friends who take their food very seriously. At the end of the meal there wasn't a drop left their bowls and the satisfied sighs and smiles around the table were proof that this is indeed a very special dish.

This intensely flavored mélange is now considered one of the national dishes of Uzbekistan, even though Shurpa and Lagman are actually two different dishes.
, a thin meat and vegetable broth, is Kazakh and Lagman, a lamb and vegetable soup with fresh noodles, is Uzbek.

Shurpa Lagman
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

From the New York Times
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1½ pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 10 cups beef stock
  • 2 large turnips, peeled, cut into ½-inch dice
  • 2 carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into strips
  • 1 28-ounce can diced plum tomatoes, with juice
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ¾ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • White or rice vinegar (optional)
  • 8 ounces thick Chinese noodles (or fresh fettuccine), freshly boiled, for serving
1. In large heavy pot, heat oil over high heat, and brown meat, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add onions and stir often, until softened and slightly colored.

2. Pour off fat, add stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1½ hours. Add turnips, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, hot pepper flakes, coriander, chickpeas and ¼ cup cilantro, and salt to taste. Simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes more. If flavors seem flat, stir in vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time, until bright and tasty. (I added 1 minced clove of garlic as well). Cover and let stand 15 minutes.

3. Ladle into bowls, top with noodles, and sprinkle with remaining cilantro.

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May 7, 2010

Six Days in Paris and Some Time With the Sapeurs-Pompiers

My recent trip to Paris was fabuleux.

Though it almost didn't happen. And there was a bit of drama, but more on that in a moment.

The evil ash cloud that caused chaos for travelers all over Europe that week meant that our friend's flights were canceled, re-booked, canceled again and finally - success! Instead of flying to Paris, two of the three joined us here in the south for a couple of days after being rerouted to Toulouse, and we picked the other one up in Barcelona before hopping on the TGV for Paris.

The apartment, a comfortable four bedroom place in the 11th that was exchanged for our friend's gorgeous Creole home in New Orleans, exceeded all of our expectations. A whopping 150 m2, it took up the entire 6th floor of the building and was located on a bustling street that was lined with shops, cafés, restaurants and a twice weekly market.

There are so many advantages to staying in an apartment vs. a hotel - we could make our own coffee in the morning, cook together, enjoy picnics from from the market and hang out in the privacy of our home away from home. Much better thank being crammed into a tiny hotel room if you ask me.

Highlights of the neighborhood included a typical Parisian bistro, Le Sot l'Y Laisse, located just around the corner. I could have eaten here every day! Delicious, perfectly seasoned and seriously amazing food. Their weekday €13-17 lunch menu is a bargain.

Le Sot-l'Y-Laisse
70, rue Alexandre Dumas
75011 Paris
Tél. 01 40 09 79 20

The café on the next block, Café Lino, serves a hearty, simple lunchtime menu for €11. Homemade pastry, fresh salads and the richest 3-cheese quiche I've ever tasted. It was also a fun place to go for un p'tit verre in the evenings.

Café Lino
81 boulevard de Charonne
75011 paris
Tél. : 01 43 56 75 50

The Marché Charonne started a few feet from the building's front door. It was undoubtedly the noisiest market I've ever been to in France, with the stall owners barking out their daily specials and enthusiastically trying to lure you to buy their merchandise.

Marché Charonne
Between 129, bd de Charonne and rue Alexandre Dumas
Wednesday 7:00 - 2:30 and Saturday 7:00 - 3:00

We really lucked out with the weather. Warm and sunny every single day which meant hours and hours sitting in cafés watching the world go by, one of my favorite things to do in Paris. Other than wandering aimlessly around the city. I can't even guess how many kilometers and arrondissements we covered.

I was happy to see an old friend and finally met a new friend, who I am forever indebted to for introducing us to the best little place for Chinese dumplings. She's promised to take me to her favorite Indian restaurant next time, and I'm holding her to it.

Now on to that drama I mentioned earlier...
One morning, bright and early and before my required cup of coffee, I got a crash course in how to use the services of SOS Médecins and the SAMU (Service d'Aide Médicale d'Urgence). I also picked up a few French medical terms, got to experience just how enormous the Hôpital Pitié Salpêtrière complex is, and learned how cute the Parisian pompiers can be.

Our friend's brother-in-law, Brian, had woken up early that morning with chest and arm pain, strong enough to make him think that is wasn't merely indigestion from their meal at La Tour D'Argent the day before.
I was the only French speaker in the group so quickly called up SOS Médecins who very efficiently got the doctor to us 15 minutes later. He did some exams then brought in the SAMU, who did some more exams then brought in the pompiers to carry Brian down 6 flights of stairs in an inflatable stretcher to the ambulance because they didn't want him to move. It was all very impressive!

It turned out that he had one blocked artery and another one was 50% blocked so they performed surgery that evening and he's now back home in the States, feeling a lot better.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The health care in France is excellent.

Eventually it was time to bid Paris adieu. I was sad to leave, but have many, many plans for my next visit.

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May 5, 2010

La Fête du Fromage - Tarentais

Cheese can sometimes be a challenge.

After three years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new cheeses to taste for la Fête du Fromage. A trip to les Halles in Béziers a couple of weeks ago was an exercise in futility as I have tasted every single cheese on offer at both Fromageries. And last week in Paris I walked out empty handed from three different cheese shops. Seriously.

So you can imagine how excited I was to finally stumble across a wine and cheese shop in Béziers that I knew existed but had never been able to find. It's tucked into a funny, nondescript warehouse space on the way out of town and getting in and out of their parking lot without being run down by oncoming traffic was definitely a triumph.

My delight in finding a new cheese source meant that I ignored the fact that most of the fromages in the case looked a bit tired and dried out. I had tasted their entire selection except this one, Tarentais, a fromage de chèvre from Savoie, so couldn't resist bringing it home.

Now I'm not sure how long they've had this piece sitting in their shop, but I can tell you that it is undoubtedly eligible to win the title of the World's Oldest Cheese.

The flavor was so strong, so heady, so overly-nutty and piquant that we decided it was not to nibble on. It would however, be delicious crumbled up and baked on top of a gratin with some white beans, tomatoes and fresh thyme or even added to macaroni and cheese for an extra kick.

I plan on trying to find another piece of Tarentais (hopefully soon!) and tasting in its prime, anywhere from 2 weeks old to 3 months old. With a glass of wine from the Savoie. Pin It