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Archive for March, 2016

Paris Awakening – Spring

March 30, 2016 @ 9:20 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Decorating the lawns of Le Tour Eiffel

Decorating the lawns of Le Tour Eiffel

Unlike in Paris, Spring arrives in Florida with a bit of modesty. If you look carefully, azaleas bloom in a variety of colors – though, frankly, they’re quite confused these days with so few cool-to-cold days. Oaks take on a brilliant green. In our little porch garden, bold red geraniums join yellow pansies and deep purple petunias. Jasmine shoots up our little iron trellis – topped with a lovely fleur-de-lis – gaining so many inches each day. I appreciate all of these little signs of Spring, BUT……

 

Memories of Spring in Paris abound. Bold tulips along the paths surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Clusters of brightly-colored little bouquets around the Trocadero. Flower stalls filled to the brim, and the delight of children sailing their boats in the fountains of the Tuileries.

Paris sailboats

Sailing into Spring at the Tuileries – Paris

It’s the season of renewal, and … here in Florida or there in Paris … I appreciate and embrace the world’s ‘new coat of paint’. I wish for the same renewal in the hearts of the people, who have suffered at the hands of those who don’t understand the beauty of a flower or the blessing of peace.
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Julia’s Lasting Love of France

March 19, 2016 @ 1:47 pm
posted by Sandra Sheridan

La Couronne Restaurant, Rouen

I always seem to be on the lookout for something new to create in the kitchen, and there’s one natural choice that always inspires.

Her raison d’être emerged in Rouen over a memorable meal at France’s oldest restaurant, La Couronne.  It was 1948, and Julia Child had never been to Europe and had little knowledge of French cuisine.  Her husband Paul was far more cosmopolitan, fluent in French and apparently had exceptional taste in restaurants.  He was en route to take up his position with the American Embassy in Paris, when he and Julia stopped for that life-changing lunch.  Later, Julia would recall that meal with precision, ultimately concluding, “It was the most exciting meal of my life.”

In reading about her memoir, My Life in France, I realize how much I have in common with Julia Child.  Well, there are a few disparities.  I’m five feet tall, have only mastered a rather grand cheese soufflé and quiche Lorraine and first visited France far later than Julia.

She was a rather awkward looking 6-foot-2-inch woman of 36 who wrote in her diary, “I am sadly an ordinary person . . . with talents I do not use.”  Her husband Paul and France changed all of that, and as we all know, she would become America’s grande dame of French cooking and reach such iconic fame, that she would leave her entire Cambridge kitchen to the Smithsonian.

Written with her husband’s great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, Julia’s memoir sheds particular light on her all-encompassing love of France; in fact one reviewer describes her book as “an affectionate merci for all that France gave her.”

Julia’s kitchen in Provence

Through her experiences in France, she evolved from that “ordinary” woman with unused talents to one who embraced life, who loved France, who relished French cuisine.  “Oh, how I adored sweet and natural France, with its human warmth, wonderful smells, graciousness, coziness and freedom of spirit.”  And that is precisely what I have in common with Madame Child.

From her Left Bank apartment, Paul guided her to grocers, butchers and markets; so she could begin to explore French cooking.  We have gathered our colorful vegetables in the Mouffetard market, purchased cheese and flowers in Amboise, gathered our rôti chicken and potatoes for a delightful meal “at home” in France. Of course, Julia would go on to graduate from the École du Cordon Bleu, while I would dabble at my first Soupe à L’oignon Gratinée in our vacation rental kitchen in the Loire Valley.

The Childs built a stone house, “La Pitchoune” (The Little Thing) in the quiet Provençal hamlet of Plascassier, a typical village with a school, post office, bakery and a church – the 17th-century Church of Saint-Pancrace and Saint-Donat.  It held other surprises, though, with a great collection of wine at the local garage and succulent roast chickens sold out of a tiny “broom cupboard”.

Just as we have walked among the sweet scents of Provence, have picked up our morning croissants at a village patisserie about the size of our guest room; I can imagine Julia enjoying the smell of jasmine, produced locally for the perfume industry in Grasse.  I can imagine her chatting with the postmaster and travelling to local markets to find all of the fresh ingredients for her next repast.

Julia referred to France as her spiritual homeland, and about the memory of that first special lunch, she said, “And thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite — toujours bon appétit!”

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Pagnol’s Canal du Midi

March 18, 2016 @ 9:12 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Languedoc Chateau, France

The Château Ventenac overlooks the Canal du Midi

The first filmmaker to be elected to the Académie Française, Marcel Pagnol wrote a series of four autobiographical books. The second, Le Château de ma mère (My Mother’s Castle) was made into an entrancing movie. If you haven’t seen it, by all means take the opportunity to search out this cinematic treat, as well as the other three!

I most remember scenes of Pagnol’s family threading their way along the Canal du Midi with the assistance of groundskeepers and caretakers, who unlocked their property’s gates. Throughout the world there are more and more “green spaces”, trails and bicycle paths that entice the nature lover and exercise devotee. I would choose to linger along the Canal du Midi, to trace Pagnol’s path and see the chateaus poised above the canal.

As fortune would have it, there is an elegant castle, where groups and families can steal away for a retreat. The Château Ventenac borders the Canal and is right next door to the 13th-century church of Ventenac-en-Minervois in the Languedoc region of southern France.

Drive along the narrow D26 past miles and miles of carefully-tended vineyards, and suddenly you round a corner and – voila! The canal, the village, the Château and the little ancient bridge come into view. The six-bedroom gîte is beautifully appointed, with gardens and terraces overlooking the canal, an ideal setting for a self-catered getaway for you and your friends or family.

The little village has the necessities of life … like croissants from the boulangerie and wine from the Château de Ventenac Wine Cave, now a co-opérative that makes and sells wines using grapes from the same vineyards you pass on your way into the village. A couple of times a week, mobile market vans visit the village to sell fresh local produce. There’s even a chicken van, and the Mairie announces the van arrivals over a loudspeaker system –village culture at its best!

Chateau, CAnal du Midi, France

Breakfast on the terrace?

But, here is my favorite part. On the Château grounds, there is a lower gateway that provides access to the Canal du Midi. The gate is locked with a padlock – a la the Pagnol story – but the code is kept in the kitchen. You can slip through the gate and meander for miles along the tree-lined Canal.   Merveilleux!

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Alain Vagh – Salernes Potter

March 11, 2016 @ 10:30 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Swirling designs and vibrant color

Thinking today of our journies into the appealing clay country north of the Cote d’Azur, so I share an older post about a very talented French ceramiste.

We introduce the talent and whimsy of a renowned Salernes potter, Alain Vagh.  I had the pleasure of meeting Monsieur Vagh and his engaging wife, Jacotte, during my first trip to France, and that was 15 years ago!

My friend and I had happened into Mr. Vagh’s boutique on rue des Fossés St Bernard in Paris, where a blaze of rainbow colors splashed over ceramic tiles, vases and pots.  We were planning a trip to the South of France, so the manager suggested we stop in Salernes to meet the potter and tour his atelier.

It was a memorable trip and meeting.  Jacotte offered a warm welcome and personally guided us through the show and production rooms, even inviting us to see their home above the workshop.  Their home is spacious and warmly-decorated, very traditional…except, perhaps, for the over-sized turquoise ceramic “A” on the living room wall – certainly, a nice touch for a potter’s abode.

A “garden” of Alain Vagh pots

Alain Vagh is one of 15 or so potters in Salernes, who takes advantage of the exceptional red clay deposits of the region.  He weaves enticing forms and fanciful humor to produce stunning tiled floors and baths … as well as a tiled grand piano, a car and a fully-tiled refrigerator.

Presumably his creativity knows no bounds, and he has no fear of unconventional designs.  Beneath each and every creation, you recognize his mastery of the techniques of terracotta and enameling and the quality of his production.  Each tile is sun dried, and then carefully wood fired in the kiln.  Alain also works with lava stone from France’s ancient Massif Central volcanic region.

Vibrant tiles in the showroom

His showroom is like a color palette gone wild, with les petits pavés (the small paving stones) in every imaginable hue and shape, from little trapezoids that lock together “just so” to traditional squares in relief, allowing designs that flow freely.  I have a few treasured pieces of those tiles; and should I somehow win the lottery, I would invest in an Alain Vagh kitchen or bath for days and days of sunlit enjoyment.

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Copyright © 2005-2016, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Please take a moment to browse through … and order … my book:

Autographed copies with notecard gift