Sunday, June 15, 2014

Farmers markets

Marchés (Markets)

“Still savoring?” asked our B&B host to determine if he could clear our breakfast dishes or not. I liked his pleasure-oriented way of saying, “Can I take your plate?” This memory springs to mind, as I am still savoring France’s tastes and sights. See previous post, Tasty Terroir Treats, for food gourmandises (delicacies). For a visual feast, you can’t beat France’s marchés (markets)—and Monet’s Garden and the Petit Palais, but they deserve blog posts of their own.

If I go to a grocery store at home, I’m task-focused. I have a list of what I need; I gather the items, check out, go home—as quickly as possible. If I go to a farmers market at home or in France, I want to linger to enjoy the vibrant colors and artistic presentations of food and flowers. Even if I’m on a quest for something, like the best looking haricots verts (green beans) for the best price, or a foulard (scarf), or chèvre (goat cheese), I don’t like to hurry at a market. Being there is a pleasurable passe-temps (pastime). This includes many smiles at people’s cute dogs trotting by or peeking out of ladies’ purses.

We went to three farmers markets on this France trip. Here are some miscellaneous market photos from Fontenay-le-Comte, St. Martin-de-Re, and Paris’ Marché Bastille.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tasty Terroir Treats

I’ve already mentioned French food’s freshness during my recent time in France. From gourmet chefs to home cooks, the French seem to emphasize flavor. French people I’ve known are also infused with the concept of terroir, or a sense of the land. My friend Françoise paid close attention to where veggies and fruits were grown and what was in season. When is aubergine (eggplant) in
season? Eggplant’s purplish-gray flesh was visible in most vegetable mixtures I was served. If produce was from too far away, or from certain countries, Françoise wouldn’t buy it. When her friend Monique, whose home we had lunch in, served three kinds of cheese, she brought out a map of France to point out each cheese’s region. She of course also told what kind of animal (cow, goat, ewe) produced the milk each cheese was made from. The brebis (ewe’s) cheese was slightly tangy, and the gray ash-covered chèvre (goat cheese) took creamy to a whole new level of smoothness.

Vibrant taste is not limited to strawberries, broccoli, cheese, and eggs, however. Plain old grocery-store canned thon (tuna), sardine (sardine), and saumon (salmon) also tantalize taste buds. Some were lemon-flavored, but other than that, ingredients are similar to cans in the U.S.: tuna, salmon, or sardines, water or oil, salt. I’m not sure where their fish is caught; I seem to remember Norway on one can. The fish tasted purer. Wish I knew why. I remember this purer taste when eating canned salmon in Canada, too; it was from British Columbia. (Just checked the canned tuna and salmon in my pantry. Whole Foods’ 365 brand is from Vietnam; Trader Joe’s brand is a product of the U.S.A. For whatever that’s worth.)

Also at Monique’s house, I got to try Pineau des Charentes, a regional apéritif (pre-meal alcoholic drink) made from grape must and cognac. For fun, she served it to me in a cognac pipe. The Pineau was strong, but the way it trickled warm down my throat awakened my taste buds for the meal.

I liked that in a meal, the salad that generally came first could be any vegetable. Sometimes it was just ruffly lettuce, lightly dressed in olive oil. Sometimes just shredded carrots. Sometimes “salad” was green beans and gold potatoes.

One area in which European food manufacturers lag behind the U.S. is gluten-free offerings. E. Leclerc supermarché’s (supermarket) house brand, Marque Repere, makes
a light and lovely baguette, but all gluten-free breads, cakes, and pastas I saw, all brands—in all types of grocery stores, from grand-surface (big-box) to tiny Bio-Coops—on this trip use corn as the main alternative flour. Savvy celiacs tend to avoid corn. Stores in the U.S. carry hundreds of corn-free products that mix nut flours, bean flours, flax, rice and potato flours to jazz up texture, fiber, and flavor. Still, on this trip, I did enjoy having baguettes, as well as a dark, dark chocolate-covered cookie wasn’t too sweet. The French don’t seem to overly sweeten everything, which I found refreshing.
Although we cooked most of our own meals, we did eat out a few times. Our restaurant meals were outstanding. One, salade niçoise, is a favorite from previous France trips, and this one was artfully presented. Another dish was new to me: brandade de morue, or gratin of whipped salt-cod, garlic, and potato. That’s true comfort food!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Review of Lynn Austin's Novel, Hidden Places

What an engaging story! I wanted to root for Eliza and Gabe, but then they each carried so many secrets and so much lifelong anger, I wasn’t so sure they belonged together—or with anyone. But as I read, mysteries unraveled and hidden places became exposed. It became easier to see how they became the people they were and how they might change.

I liked a number of aspects of this book. Aunt Batty, for one. What a memorable, eccentric, funny, saving-grace character! The novel’s exploration of people’s varying relationships with God and interpretations of scripture, for another. How many lives are miserable because people see difficult circumstances as God’s punishment, or because they don’t deal directly with God about their shame and guilt? How many lives transcend this world’s sorrows because people trust God's goodness? The discussion of scripture in this novel felt organic to me, too. Yet another thing I liked was the historical detail—hobos lives during the Depression, daily farm life, how an orchard was run back then, how people dressed, how the gender gap played out in the early 1900s, and so forth. I also liked that the novel contained beautifully told stories of multiple generations. It’s in learning Eliza’s and Gabe’s family backgrounds that I could see the hidden places they weren’t showing each other.

Normally, I consider a novel’s jumping back and forth in time a pet peeve. When the first flashback happened, I thought, “Oh no.” But previous subplots had so piqued my curiosity that I just had to learn what went before. The multigenerational stories were interesting and revelatory of the characters. And somehow, I never really got lost in time. The novel contained a few too many mentions of angels for my taste, but that didn't keep me from enjoying the story.

I look forward to reading other Lynn Austin novels.