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.