Vacation, French-Style

I was talking to my agent in the US the other day (which sounds far more pretentious than it really it….usually our ‘talking’ is me listening while he tells me what I should and shouldn’t be doing with my life.)
Obviously I have a need for stern, authoritarian figures.

I was telling him that I would be going on vacation for a few weeks.

“A vacation?” he bellowed,”…a vacation from what?”

A recent article in the New York Times compared the quality-of-life between Americans and the French, specifically taking on the issue of the copious amounts of vacations most Europeans have (although everyone likes to pick specifically on the French)…

“…Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four.

So which society has made the better choice?”

-Paul Krugman, The New York Times

Much of the editorial talked about ‘living smaller’ and ‘buying less’, which allows Europeans to work less and relax more. As politicians in the US preach “Family Values” (can anyone explain what that is?), in France they put that into practice by spending the month of August with their families on vacation (although the idea of spending a month with my family sounds more like, er, le prison than vacation!)

When I moved to Paris, all year long, I was surprised to find that everything was closed on Sunday: departments stores, supermarkets, and yes, even le Office Max. Soon, however, I appreciated Sundays more and more. There was nothing to do but relax and enjoy a nice supper or a stroll to the park. It’s something that always surprises visitors to Paris who come expecting to be able to “do something” on Sunday. I usually suggest a stroll up the Canal St. Martin or perhaps sitting by the Seine watching the boats go by, but more visitors need to find something that’s “Open For Business”.

So this weekend, the car was packed up with all the ingredients for a perfect getaway in the countryside!


There’s really not much to do in the country.
No internet access (help!) and nowhere to go but outdoors. So most of the weekend was spent cooking, picking fruit, playing Scrabble in French, and taking leisurely walks through wheatfields and lush forests. And catching up on badly-neglected sleep.
Oh yes, and there were a few highly-competitive Pastis-fueled games of pétanque.


The first glowing apples of the season. They’ll be ready soon for making les Tarte aux pomes and for le Crumble.


Delicate bunches of sureau, or elderberries, clinging onto the trees. The tiny purple berries are used to make sparkling jams and the blossoms are deep-fried into fritters.


One night I made a sorbet from rosy-skinned nectarines which I bought at a local market. I had made a well-seasoned Tagine of Chicken, Saffron, and Almonds and afterwards, this was our dessert. It was refreshing and pure, then (never content), I poured some fruity red wine over it, which elevated it to something even better!
Everyone loved the anise-scented biscotti alongside since the flavors reminded them of their beloved Pastis.


One day we all took a walk through the forest and came across bushes of these violet orbs clustered on branches. I’m almost sure they were wild plums, which make amazing jam, but I was too scared to try one and see so I left them for the next lucky (and more knowledgeable…or braver…or stuipider) forager.
But aren’t they beautiful…


Late-in-the-season juicy apricots found their way into an Apricot and Marzipan Tart, the perfect ending to a summer dinner of local cheeses, a big green salad, and lovely, crackly baguettes from the local boulangerie in Betons-Bazoches. I adore apricots, which are one of the few fruits that’s even more wonderful cooked than fresh; cooking highlights their tangy nature. When baked between layers of aromatic almond marzipan, I can’t imagine a better summertime dessert.

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  • August 8, 2005 9:42am

    Some people are luckiy in the USA to get a full weeks vacation!

    Also, can you post the recipe for that apricot marzipan tart? I don’t wanna buy another cookbook! I have some marzipan that is aching to be used.

  • August 8, 2005 10:45am

    I read (and appreciated) Krugman’s article too, and you’ve done a beautiful job of illustrating the principle! That apricot-marzipan tart, among other things, looks outstanding. Your cookbook may find its way to my kitchen very, very soon…

  • Taina
    August 8, 2005 3:43pm

    Baking question: does something happen to fresh apricots during the cooking process that intensifies their acidity? I bought some gorgeous apricots at an open air market (in Paris) that were sweet when eaten out of hand, unpeeled. I then used them in an apricot tart (unpeeled, as the recipe did not say to peel them), and they turned incredibly sour. I followed the recipe re adding sugar but was so disappointed, as the tart really was inedible.
    Any insight is appreciated!

  • Alisa
    August 8, 2005 4:19pm

    …..I can’t imagine a nicer sounding getaway!

  • August 8, 2005 7:53pm

    I am tres jealous! Wanna switch lives for a week? My New York apartment is nice and my cat is good company. Think about it!

  • August 9, 2005 2:24am

    I’m not sure why apricots get so tangy once baked (I looked it up in On Food and Cooking, but there was no info…), but in my recipes, I always advise skeptics not to cut back on the amount of sugar called for, since people always freak out when dumping it in with seemingly reckless abandon. If anyone knows, please post! (In apricots, like plums, the tartness is in the skins. Next time you buy a plum, try tasting a sliver of just the flesh without the skin…it’s sweet!)
    The recipe for the tart is from my friend Dede Wilson, who made it on the Today Show with plums and brought me back a mangled, foil-wrapped sliver in her purse that she carried on the train just for me! (Her site is It was delicious.

    Adam: I’ll switch, but only if Lisa will take over my blog during the Days of Our (Switching) Lives…but I’m not sharing any beverages with a fur-bearing creature…lord knows where her mouth has been…

  • August 9, 2005 6:08am

    definitely voting for the european lifestyle of taking things easy!

  • faustianbargain
    August 9, 2005 10:55pm

    i thought the ‘wild plums’ looked like huckleberries/wild blueberries. i remember picking them in milk gallon jars in grayson mtn, va. the ones in the pacific northwest are much smaller and bears love them! something to remember before setting up a campsite cause they’ll be picking berries even before you wake up.

    definitely edible and sweeter than blueberries too. they WILL stain your fingers tho’..

  • August 10, 2005 1:25am

    They were pretty big to be huckleberries or blueberries. The ‘orbs’ were about the size of a marble (although I’d love to find wild blueberries that big!)

  • faustianbargain
    August 10, 2005 6:47am

    err..sorry. the link didnt go through

    here it is..hopefully it wont be broken >

  • Kate Hill
    August 17, 2005 5:01am

    David, down here in Gascony, we call those little plums ‘les Prunes des Cochons’- pig’s plums or ‘prunelle’. They always seem too tart to eat but are harvested instead to make a home made liquor. Nothing goes to waste here!