Weekend Out of Paris

Citroen DS car

May is the month of holidays in France. There are eleven public holidays a year, called jours fériés, which we might call “bank holidays” in the United States. They’re official holidays/dates when government offices, schools, banks, and most stores are closed, except for a few supermarkets, convenience stores, and bakeries, which need to follow certain rules as to when they can close in the summer, so they’re not all closed at the same time and no one is without bread. Like October, May is also known as “strike season” – since so many people are traveling, strikers know they can make the biggest impact this month, so they often happen during this period. And if planned right, they can be scheduled next to holidays, so you can have a few days off in a row.

We’re not on strike around here, and no one would miss me if I was gone a few days. (Although I do dream about a strike, and will check my calendar after I finish writing this post.) But we needed a break right now and felt like it was a good weekend to take off, so take off we did, and headed out to our friend’s place out of town for a little r & r.

Weekend out of Paris

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Strawberry Jam

Strawberry Jam recipe

I was bequeathed an overload of strawberries from the Périgord – short answer: I bought four baskets and the vendor, whose booth I shop at often, threw in two extra for free, an unspoken equivalent of a carte de fidelité in Paris – so I’ve spent the past few days washing, hulling, cutting and cooking my unexpected bounty.

I’ve been making a number of things with them. And while I was chopping and thinking (which are probably the only two activities that I’m able to do at the same time), I realized that while I have a Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam recipe on the site, I didn’t have a strawberry jam. So here it is.

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Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Cranberry Upside Down Cake recipe

I have to eat fruit every day. If I don’t, I wither away psychologically. When I was in New York for a while this winter, it was tough because there weren’t a lot of fruits available. I like apples and pears very much, but local pears had finished and while an apple a day may keep the doctor away, I needed something a little more exciting to keep myself as fit as a fiddle.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake recipe

True, there’s usually citrus bagged up in the grocery stores. But being from California, I hate to be a snob (well, sort of…) but I missed all the lovely oranges, Meyer lemons, and tangerines that burst onto the scene each winter at the markets in San Francisco. And in Paris, we have plenty of clementines, oranges, and occasionally, Sicilian or Menton lemons, to tide us over until spring.

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Midleton Farmers’ Market, Ireland

Midleton Farmers market greens

How excited was I to get an invitation to be a speaker at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest festival at the Ballymaloe Cookery School? It popped into my mailbox a few months ago and although I had been to Ballymaloe a few years back, I remembered the exceptional food of Cork, Ireland, and the lovely people – which meant there was no way in heck I was going to refuse.

Irish bread

Yesterday, which was the first full day of the event, I took 350+ pictures; as I said to someone here, “You can’t take a bad picture in Cork.” The intense green fields and trees, the low-lying landscape, and the pristine fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats, remind me in many ways of Northern California, with a chill passing through the air every once in a while alternating with moments of sunlight and brightness before the sun retreats again.

Ballymaloe lunch salads

But it’s mainly the food that I come back for – fresh goat cheeses, a strong commitment to sustainable meats and fish, liberal use of fresh vegetables, and a pride of ingredients that shines through every plate of every meal that’s set down before us.

Ballymaloe house bread and butter-4

Even breakfast at Ballymaloe House, their restaurant, is made with free-range eggs laid by chickens just around the corner, bacon from rare-breed pigs that tastes better than anything you can imagine, and sausage that you don’t feel guilty biting in to, because you know that everything in there isn’t a mysterious blend of dubious meat scraps from who-knows-where. But skillfully blended and seasoned, making it the perfect accompaniment, and a hearty start to the day, along with the eggs and freshly baked whole grain bread that I’ve become addicted to.

Irish breakfast

While every moment of the weekend is jam-packed with talks, tastings, and socializing with old friends and new, Friday night we’d decided to get up early and hit the nearby farmers’ market in Midleton on Saturday morning, which I’ve visited once before. With a jam-packed schedule, we didn’t have much time to spare before the festivities started and we figured arriving at 8am would give us enough time to get a good look at everything.

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Liddabit Sweets

S'Mores bars from Liddabit Sweets New York City

I was trying to explain to my French other-half what an incubator was. In America, we don’t use the term just for babies, but we use it to describe groups that exist in places like San Francisco, where new ideas are born from creative minds which are often the result of thinking “outside the box.” There are the tech giants, like Apple, Facebook, and Google, that started that way, but it also extends to the food community and you can now find thriving businesses producing everything from bean-to-bar chocolates to organic tofu noodles, and reviving heirloom breeds of tomatoes and long-lost strains of wheat, milling them into loaves of exceptional breads and other treats.

One of my unrealized dreams, that I’ve been incubating – and perhaps I was ahead of my time (or I’ve missed the boat…), has been to open up an ice cream shop. But even before I got the silly notion of my own ice cream shop into my head (overworked friends who have bakeries always warned me not to get into the business – sometimes offering to unload theirs on me…for free!), I wanted to have a store specializing in homemade candies.

Liddabit Sweets - sea salt caramels

Sure, making candy isn’t anything new; in the relatively small town I grew up in, we had a candy shop in the center where you could watch the candy makers working through the white-paned windows inside the store, which separated the customers from the workers, who were pouring sugar syrups and dipping chocolates in the back. It had opened in 1931 and lasted until 1997. Some of the candies and chocolates were stacked up nicely on shelves, and others were lined up on tables around the store. My grandmother was never without at least one box of their buttercrunch in her house. Proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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Broccolini, Blue Cheese and Bacon Frittata

Broccoli frittata recipe with bacon and blue cheese
People see the outdoor markets in Paris and think that everyone does their shopping there. But if you work a 9-to-5 jobs, or whatever hours normal people work (ie: not me), it’s hard to take a few hours off to go leisurely pick out your fruits and vegetables – not including the time waiting in line behind madame, selecting the two figs she is buying as if they were royal bijoux, trying to muster a chuckle at the same joke you’ve heard a gazillion times, when you ask to buy “Five lemons,” and they respond – “5 kilos, monsieur?” – which was mildly amusing – perhaps once, but I’m pretty sure no one buys 11 pounds of lemons at the market. And catching up and chatting with my favorite vendors, as I like I do. Especially the sausage dude. #schwing

Broccolini frittata recipe with bacon and blue cheese

In spite of the time it takes to do your shopping, going to the outdoor market in Paris is something that’s very pleasurable for me. I take a good stroll around first, looking at everything before I make my decision. But I do have certain stallholders that I favor for certain things (including sausages), and I often tell visitors: Shop at the same vendors and places over and over again, because once they recognize you, you’ll be treated better. Ditto for going to restaurants and cafés.

One thing isn’t well-represented in Parisian markets are leafy cooking greens. Spinach and giant leaves of Swiss chard tend to be the predominate choices. When I was recently in the states, even in nondescript supermarkets, I saw bunches of kale, mustard, turnip and beet greens, collards, chard, and spinach piled up high in the produce department.

And in Brooklyn, due to the large Italian-American population, there’s broccolini, too, a broccoli hybrid with less bulky stems, and lots more texture and flavor. I love it and even the dumpiest pizza joint in Brooklyn would often have a pizza with wilted broccolini on it. It was tempting to order, instead of my usual pepperoni slice. But I managed to find ways to get broccolini into my diet without sacrificing a single wedge of pie with those crisp disks of spicy sausage baked on top.

Brocolli Frittata with blue cheese and baconBrocolli Frittata with bacon recipe

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The Martini


Martini Cocktail recipe
A number of decades ago, I was lured away from gin by other liquors; namely whiskey, bourbon, and other non-clear libations. There were no martinis and no gin and tonics in my cocktail repertoire. Back in the day, I used to go out and have 3 or 4 martinis, and have a good time. Sometimes, someone at work would bring a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and we’d sit around the kitchen after our shifts ended, drinking cold martinis and eating leftover food from the evening service. (Actually, the line cooks only drank. After being around sugar, eggs, and butter all day, we pastry people gorged on anything that had vinegar, meat, or salt in it with our drinks.)

Martini Cocktail recipe

Other nights we’d go to places like the wacky Persian Aub Zam Zam where the owner would kick anybody out who: 1) Ordered anything other than a gin martini, and 2) Wanted to sit at a table. He thought, rightly, that you should only drink at the bar – and seated. To this day, I refuse to drink a cocktail standing up, and do whatever I can to sit at a bar when enjoying a cocktail. There was also a place in San Francisco called Bix, where martini glasses were upturned on a big silver tub of crushed ice, ready and waiting to be filled with ice-cold martinis that we liked as well.

Martini Cocktail recipe

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped drinking martinis but I do remember someone telling me that you shouldn’t drink gin if you ever plan on having plastic surgery because it does something to your skin. I know it sounds crazy, (that gin affects your skin, not that I would want to have plastic surgery…although I reserve the right to change my mind in the future) but that may have been a factor all the same. Another was that I started feeling not-so-great, and completely dehydrated, in the middle of the night after a couple of martinis – which is why I don’t drink much red wine anymore, because it has the same effect.

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Asian Ginger-Soy Sauce Chicken

Asian Ginger-Soy Sauce Chicken Recipe-7

Whenever I visit a foreign country, I go to the supermarket. I’ve found myself pushing carts through supermarkets in countries, from Mexico and Lebanon, to Italy and Portugal. Not only does it help with my vocabulary, and provide a little glimpse of how the locals actually eat, but I invariably find a number of things to stash in my suitcase which are better souvenirs than t-shirts and refrigerator magnets. (Although someone once gave me a set of wooden refrigerator magnets depicting French foods, like tubes of Dijon mustard and canisters of grey salt, that I kinda love.)

Even though America isn’t really a foreign country to me, it’s interesting to see what’s available in the grocery stores when I visit. Sure, there’s no shortage of cookies, snacks, and soft drinks, but it’s also nice to see things like goat milk from nearby farms, tomatillos and plantains, raw honey, live seafood in tanks, bundles of stewing greens, and locally roasted coffee. On my current trip, I found it interesting to also scan the meat aisle because every once in a while, when I’m writing up a recipe for something – like cassoulet or beef bourguignon, I need to know what’s available elsewhere so that readers outside of France can actually make it.

Asian Ginger-Soy Sauce Chicken Recipe-3

Although there still are butchers in some places in America, they’re not as common as they are in France. (There are three within a 2-block radius of my apartment in Paris, not including the ones that are at my outdoor market.) If you don’t know what you want, or don’t speak French, it can be intimidating to have to stand there and make a decision when people are lined up behind you.

No matter. I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions and engage with butchers, since it’s the only way to learn. And most people who are good at what they do are proud to help customers make the best selection, so I take my time and don’t worry about it. And I often compare waiting in line in France to the lines for the restrooms on airplanes: You wait and wait and wait. But your turn comes around, suddenly you have all the time in the world. And I take it.

Asian Ginger-Soy Sauce Chicken Recipe

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