Le week-end à la campagne

Meaux - Paris

The first true weekend of spring just happened here. Well, there may have been some nice days when I was gone, but the weather was fairly glorious the last few days. And being a holiday weekend in France, off we went to the countryside (campagne), enjoying the clear blue skies.

painting

Drive just about an hour from Paris, the air clears and you just want to roll down the car windows and take a deep breath. (Well, it’s a little more refreshing once you’ve exited the autoroute.) There are trees, wild grasses, fields of wheat, oats, rows of barley, sugar beets and colza growing, and flowers, wild and otherwise.

rose

We did the trip not just to clear out our heads, but to help clean out an old country house, rifling through what remained, before toasting a few glasses for the final farewell. It was wistful and bittersweet. But changes are often unavoidable, and each is un passage.

French magnet

flower pots

I poked through paintings covered with sticky cobwebs, damaged by time. Shelves of sturdy tools, and old tin candy boxes were among other items left behind, which I sadly left behind, too, as my apartment is bursting at the seams – and I will need to make un passage to a psychiatrist if I add anything else to my collection(s).

picnic

Sheep's milk cheese

From the gardens, bunches of roses were in bloom…

rose

French weekend

…so we rolled out a blanket, surrounded by lush greenery, and unpacked a picnic.

cornichons

It was nothing fancy. A few nubbins of cheese, some herbed ham, hard-boiled eggs, and an attempt to reproduce my mother’s potato salad.

potato salad

I also had my handy little wooden box of fleur de sel, French sea salt, that the harvesters gave me when I visited the salt marshes, which I pack for picnics. I used to bring my salière de poche to restaurants, too, in spite of the fact that I invariably got chided about it. However after the ribbings I got, I noticed everyone else starting reaching into it for a pinch themselves, so I’d leave it on the table. But I stopped – because I was afraid that I would forget it on the table, and lose it for good.

(And in case you want one, you can go to the shop right next to the salt marshes, or find one online in France. Come to think of it, I should probably get an extra one, too.)

fleur de sel

I also made sure we had a mini bottle of rosé, to wash it all down, of course.

rosé

While walking around after lunch, I noticed sprays of white elderflowers.

elderflowers

So pulled out a bag and picked as many as I could reach, to bring home.

elderflower cordial

Curiously, for a country that makes a dynamite elderflower liqueur, no one makes elderflower syrup. So I thought I’d step up to the plate.

The Germans and Swedes seem to like it as much as I do, and after picking through the flowers, I turned to Luisa’s recipe, and started a batch of elderflower cordial.

I know it’s more scenic to use an old crock, but I didn’t have one. So I used my all-new BPA-free plastic containers, which sealed better, too. (I’m sure there are probably problems with them, too. But c’est comme ça…) And in just a few days, I’ll have a few months’ worth of elderflower cordial to mix with sparkling water, and perhaps try out a few cocktails.

VW bus graveyard

I made Romain slam on the brakes (with a scream that may have punctured his eardrums) when we passed a rest home for old VW buses in the town of Amiliss.

VW bus graveyard

VW bus graveyard

VW bus graveyard

I don’t need a Volkswagen bus, which, remembering their safety record, it is probably good that I didn’t get behind the wire fence protecting these vintage treasures. However, I would spring for a Thing, one of my favorite cars of all time.

VW "Thing" ad

Also once back home (in a Citroën), after I shooed all the ants away from the leftovers in my picnic bag, I (along with the advice of my imaginary therapist), decided to do some spring cleaning and get rid of some stuff.

Cornichons

Fortunately, it was that time of the year for my neighborhood vide grenier, or rummage sale. However, in order to participate, I have to: 1) Appear in person with proof that I will not participate in more than two vide greniers this year; 2) Present an identity card, and a photocopy – of the front and the back; 3) Bring a photo; 4) Show proof that I live in the neighborhood; 5) Give them a self-addressed stamped envelope for the response – (I am already losing sleep that I won’t make the cut!); 6) Have a check to pay for the stand; and 7) Have a pen. (Not sure what color, but just to be safe, I’ll bring both.)

elderflower cordial

I think they left off the urine sample in a paper cup, but I’m already collecting boxes, in hopes that I pass the application process (and medical test) to participate in the neighborhood sale.

Which brings up another dilemma: Do I sell my old, BPA-laden plastic containers to someone else (and maybe my new ones, that are probably contaminated with something else), or toss them in the trash, creating another environmental hazard?

Plastic container

But, of course, just after we filled out all the forms and finished the dossier to take part in the rummage sale, we found out the inscription form that you download from the Internet isn’t printable. So I am left holding the bag. And a little paper cup.

One thing I’m not getting rid of is the jackpot of bean-to-bar chocolate, and chocolates, that I was gifted on my U.S. book tour. I had so many boxes and bars that I had to send not one, but two packages ahead of me, to my last stop, where an extra suitcase was procured to haul everything back to Paris.

La Forêt chocolaté

We’ve barely made a dent in them, but so far, kudos to La Forêt (above) in Napa Valley for an outstanding collection of chocolates, filled with everything from nocino emulsion and miso-cocoa nib, to black pepper-cashew and coffee & donuts – (yes!) And Gâtés Commes des Filles for wowing me with their collection of chocolates, whose availability depends on the season. Fortunately, I hit them in season.

American bean-to-bar chocolate

And fortunately, I have enough chocolate to last me, well, for quite some time. And, fortunately, we also brought some spring souvenirs back with us.

roses

63 comments

  • Miso cocoa nib sounds sounds like an amazing chocolate filling. A jackpot indeed! :) Beautiful pictures, as always.

  • What a beautiful read on this Sunday morning… Thanks Dave. I’m going to get one of those salt boxes !!!

  • it’s “un passage”. it’s masculine.

    words with the suffix -age are always masculine.

    in the apparent exceptions, la cage, l’image, la nage, la page, la plage, la rage, which are feminine, -age in not a suffix. so they’re not really exceptions.

    if it ends in -age, and you’re in doubt, make it masculine. you’ll make fewer errors.

  • Sounds like such a lovely time in the country side! Love all your photos as usual.

  • Hi David, I live in Germany and love making elderflower cordial every spring (just finished a 2-liter batch. Here in Germany it is popular to add it to a bit of Sekt (sparkling wine) or in a “Hugo” cocktail.

  • I loved this post. Mercifully I don’t know enough French to pick it apart. I am also undoubtedly using dreadfully contaminated plastic containers and living (a long time) to tell about it.

    Do keep on with these vignettes of your life in France. They are a wonderful treat for those of us who no longer travel there and have to live vicariously.

    And please give us your Mother’s potato salad recipe – even your rendition of it – as it looks terrific.

    Happy Sunday from one who loves your blog, errors (seldom) and all….

  • an idyllic weekend journey thanks for sharing

  • I make elderflower cordial every year. It’s the only cordial I make. There’s a huge tree in a municipal park a stone throw from where I live. For anyone to loot, and enough to make cordial to keep a village hydrated for a year.

  • So jealous. I am dying to make elderflower cordial/syrup/jelly and every single springtime, I scour the woods around here and out in the countryside for evidence of the plant. It’s supposed to be so pervasive, yet, I haven’t once come upon a single branch. Do the flowers last only a minute?

  • People think I’m mad carrying Breton Fleur de Sel (nothing fancy though, just from Super U) around with me as well as using it in all my cooking. Thanks for making it so I’m not the only one!

  • I second the request for the potato salad recipe! radishes, obviously, and – green olives? Mustard seed in the dressing – are there sesame seeds, too? fresh tarragon? My husband has gone on a potato salad kick in recent weeks, making all different kinds. This one looks great.

  • Why not use those nasty PBA-laden containers for non-food storage? Strings and ribbons, safety pins and scissors, socks and handkerchiefs– or whatever your needs may be. That way no food is harmed, and the PBA doesn’t get put in a land flll. (Is my inner storage freak showing?)

  • MrsWheelbarrow: They seem to start turning brown a few hours after picking so I think it’s best to get ‘em as soon as you can use ‘em!

    Rachel: In France, you can get very good salt in supermarkets. No shame in that : )

    Bebe & Karen: I don’t know if there ever was a recipe. It’s boiled potatoes, cubed, that I tossed in a shallot vinaigrette (made with red wine vinegar, which I think my mother used). Then you toss in sliced radishes, chopped hard-boiled eggs (I forgot to add mine – so we ate them on the side), and chopped green olives, with the pimentos, although I only had green loves sans pimentos. I think she added chopped parsley, but I used some tarragon that I had on hand.

  • Having been intrigued by reading about elderflower drinks in English writing, I spent years looking for a tree…..only to have one self-seed in our compost heap! For the past couple of decades I have been happily making Elderflower Champagne, the only hassle being trying to find good lemons at that time of year. I wonder whoever first thought of using such flimsy little flowers?

  • Elderflower cordial is very popular in the UK. It’s also good to use when you make granola, do try it!

  • What wonderful pictures and a real treat for a Sunday afternoon read.

  • Those are the most stunningly vibrant orange-yellow hard boiled egg yolks ever!

  • Thanks for letting us know about your weekend, inspiring a picnic and the prospects of hearing about a new weekend place. Also glad it sounds like you have recovered from un passage America.

  • oh yes, a lovely post – and looks like, a lovely picnic. a favorite pictures/inspiration-for-living-in-France were cartier bresson’s photos of french families picnicking. sadly, unless it’s at some kind of performance, americans seem to consider picnicking a bit lo-rent these days. thanks for the potato salad recipe. will definitely be making it.

  • I was wondering if you know if one can use the pink elderflowers with the black/purple leaves for cordial? I have asked my relatives in Sweden, and people at the local garden center here in Washington and nobody feels confident in their answer…Homemade elderflower cordial is a wonderful thing.

  • Never thought of just making elderflower yourself with the flowers but that is pretty handy. The process of getting into your local neighborhood yard sale sounds exactly like the step-by-step of applying for an American visa from a foreign country. One of these is not like the other :/

  • Really enjoy your blog and Instagram acct – we have a VW Thing (which is deteriorating due to lack of time and extra money) that we love and a bus and bug, fun seeing that in your post today! Please keep writing and sharing, thank you for this.

  • Sarah: I’ve not seen pink elderflowers but I know the leaves and stems of certain plants are not meant for consumption. If you live in an area where there is a cooperative extension, they can probably ID your plants for you and let you know about their suitability for cooking and other culinary projects.

    Stephanie: Years ago, back when I lived in San Francisco, I wanted a Pacer. I even joined the Pacer Club of America to find one. But most people said, “Gee, the last one I saw was on fire, on the side of the road…” So I never got one, sadly. However a few years back, I saw one parked in the Place des Vosges in Paris. Not sure what it was doing there!

  • Looks like a heavenly weekend. Thanks for sharing the photos and thoughts with us.

  • I adore the trompe l’oeil (hope my rusty French passe la moutarde ;) in the first photo. I hope you tucked that away in the car when you left the farm!

    And the potato salad looks scrumptious. Perfect for a road trip picnic — whiling away a beautiful spring day

    Great post David. I so enjoy your descriptions of expat life in France, good or bad, frustrating or blissful. Thank you!

  • quite a lovely respite – as for the chocolate – heavenly!

  • Went searching re pink elderflowers and found this (including photos of them on the tree and picked. And a recipe for cordial using them:

    http://eggsontheroof.com/tag/pink-elderflower/

    And there is more on edible flowers – including pink elderflowers – here:

    http://www.pinterest.com/maddocksfarmorg/elderflower-maddocks-farm-organics-growing-using-o/

    The only thing I recall (after having worked parttime for an upscale florist) was that only flowers grown without pesticides or other chemicals were to be used as decorations on food or as ingredients.

  • The elderflowers reminded me of making May-wine, flavored with dried sweet woodruff blossoms.

  • Dear David,
    your potato salad looks so tempting. Please share the recipe:) Thank you in advance! And thank you for your articles, they are always inspiring.

  • Every bit of this read is delicious…well, with the exception of the BPA items. I’d ask if you have a recycler that would take them, but I fear you’d have to submit a form, take an oath and give that urine sample. And, then sadly, they would arrest you for owning them in the first place, enter your premises to rifle thru your personal belongings, happen upon the chocolates, AND the cordial, and Hell be Damned!!!!

    Honey Bunches, just put them in the sale, offering them as FREE, and POSTED with a note, “Contains BPA, not for food use”. ….

    (I’m so glad your chocolates arrived home safely. This year the chocolate bunnies I mailed to Lake County, California, didn’t fare so well. We had a streak of warm temps, as did Northern CA. … And I mailed the good stuff! Evidently they resembled prehistoric Dino’s after transit :(

  • David, the pictures of picnic food are lovely, but I cann’t move beyond all the old things that you needed to leave behind. Someone would have needed to restrain my hands (or heavily medicate me) to leave all those old treasures behind! Happy Spring.

  • For all the recent discussion of elderflower everything, I never see anything about a pie that my grandmother made that is still my favorite – elderberry pie.
    Basically substitute elderberries for blueberries in a good blueberry pie recipe. Yes, its a bit seedy – but the light crunch is part of the pleasure. When picking the elderberries, don’t worry about separating the berries from all of the stems. Put them in a paper bag and freeze them, and then pull them out of the freezer and shake them loose. Some of the tiny stems will remain attached – again, that’s part of the old school charm of this pie. Fabulous flavor!!

  • Great story and your pictures are awesome!! The one that stood out — and I pointed out to my hubby – was the one of the eggs. You cannot get beautiful yolks like that in the States. When we were in Italy and buying our groceries we would find eggs just like that. Just think how beautiful our pasta would be :-) I’ve just discovered your blog and I think it is wonderful — your book on Paris is on my amazon wish list.

  • About that little wooden disc on which the cheese is placed for cutting: This would solve so many of my picnic problems. Do these go by a particular name? (Googling “wooden cheese disc” is getting me nowhere…)

    Loving My Paris Kitchen, too. My daughter–who joined me in getting it during your visit to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market–now refers to it as *The* Market Book. High praise indeed!

    • I don’t think there is a name. The cheese comes on the wooden disk; because it’s rather thin, I think that when ripe, that’s the only way to handle it. It’s a sheeps’ milk cheese, called Pérail.

  • I love a picnic in the countryside… for us it is in the middle of the Muscadet vines yet also surrounded by tupperware (French accent, please). Those VW buses are fabulous and worth a slam of the brakes!

  • Um, where’s the recipe for that potato salad? I love potato salads. I have one that I die for with warm balsamic vinegar and like 87 different fresh herbs (ok I exaggerate) but I really can’t stop eating it when I make it. I’m always trying new potato salads. Would love this recipe!

    As for BPA plastics: why not label them as “not for food storage” and instead as “useful for pens, trinkets, etc”. I mean, it can’t hurt us if we’re not storing food in it, right?

  • I would love to buy a mini salt box! Any chance you’ll add them to the items in “your store”?

    • Unfortunately I don’t have a way to sell things and could only find a link to them via that website. (Which took a while to locate…) So you could order directly from them.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us, truly enjoyed it. Also, thank you for sharing your picnic “vacation” – love your blog!

  • I made elderflower cordial last year, too (and rhubarb, and Santa Rosa plum… there was a New Year’s resolution involved…), and it made for a heavenly summer of twinkly drinks. Champagne, elderflower, and blood orange is a lovely combination.

    And thanks for the tip about La Forêt — I live nearby, and will have to pay them a visit!

  • i’m so jealous of your elderflowers..elderberry trees are supposed to be prolific bearers of umbels..not the one i planted in anticipation of being overwhelmed with flowers..oh well..i’ll just have to live vicariously through those who can forage for them..

    ps love your writing!

  • While a recipe for this deletable-looking, undoubtedly-prized, mayo-less (!!!), potato salad is not necessary…..can we merely have a listing of the ingredients? ;)

  • Felt like I vicariously enjoyed the weekend in the country, so relaxing to imagine!
    and always a grin to boot!
    Merci, Mssr. David!

  • oh lordy your description of the garage sale rigmarole sounds exactly like Germany!

  • Hi David
    I just wondered if you used citric acid or tartaric acid in your elderflower cordial recipe and does it make any difference? My own recipe calls for tartaric acid (acide tartrique) but I’ve always found it hard to get hold of in small quantities here in Brittany – I can order a 2kg bag at the pharmacy but I don’t need anywhere near that much. Perhaps citric acid is easier to get hold of in smaller quantities..? Someone gave me a tip to try winemaker suppliers for the tartaric acid.
    thanks in advance and thanks for the lovely pictures, Abi
    I agree with your comments about the garage sale paperwork – that is such a French thing – kill what could be a fun and lets be honest very innocuous event with a ton of pointless paperwork……WHY?

    • Luisa’s recipe uses citric acid (I linked to it in the post, if you want to check it out). I have found citric acid in Arab épiceries in Paris, but also pharmacies carry it, or will order it for you, in France, in small quantities.

      Am not sure why the paperwork for the rummage sales is so complicated. You’re right that it would be fun, and neighborly, and if they just said for one day every year, a neighborhood could have a sidewalk sale open to all. It would be quite convivial and since the city is promotes things like fête des voisins (a “meet and mingle with your neighbors” party) to promote people getting along and bringing them together. I think it’d be terrific. (And I’d bring the cocktails!)

  • Mon Cher ! I found you quite by accident yesterday while searching for a simple gastrique… unexpectedly… up you popped.. and i was CHARMED…. never before a blogger, me… but I have found in your words and photos, a thread of common love.. of good food, adventure, beauty and love of place…. I’m in … carry on.. fearless leader !

  • Those VWs look so touching – slightly melancholy and shabby, like they need someone to adopt them and take care of them. Is it just me or are they very easy to anthropomorphize?

    Maybe I need to make un passage to a psychiatrist too… ;)

  • I don’t know how good a job the Europeans have done with testing BPA free plastics but here in the US it didn’t instill much confidence. I learned about this via NPR a couple of months ago. The woman I heard wrote this about the process: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/4/are_any_plastics_safe_industry_tries . So don’t worry too much, the new stuff may not be any more healthy to use than the old. My dad lived to 100 eating things that had been stored in plastic.

  • About the eggs–yolks of that color are obtainable in the U.S., from pasture-raised chickens. The ones we get (in Central New York) are a beautiful orange. The color changes depending on what the hens eat.

    David, love your posts, love your Paris book (birthday gift from my sister), love your chocolate book (bought many years ago), but may I be a bit schoolmarmish for a moment? I don’t know why people have begun using “gift” (a noun) as a verb when we already have a perfectly good verb that has been doing the job for many centuries. A gift can be given to someone, but it is never “gifted” to someone. This error is extremely widespread and you would do your part of the world a favor if you used trusty old “give, gave, given” instead. Thanks!

  • Amazing! I cannot believe that you rummaged through that treasure-trove, and convinced yourself not to load up the car with new treasures to bring back to your apartment. You do have will power!

    Thanks for another wonderful adventure.

  • Thank you for sharing your adventure. Your photos were like a breath of fresh air while sitting at my work desk on a Monday feeling grumpy. Now I am smiling. :-)

  • David, I’m a fan of your pics! They are pretty nice! I have to tell you of my next trip, it will be in July. I will be in Villeneuve-sur-lot, it’s a fantastic place to enjoy the region specialities (foie gras, prouneaux, excellent wine of course, and much more).

    I just want to congratulate your passion of eating all around the world and, particulary your Frenches trips.

    I’m a cook from Argentina, and I follow your blog every week.
    If you have any tip to tell, I will apreciate it very much.

    My best wishes from Buenos Aires,
    Matias

  • David, thank you so much for making my recent trip to Paris (after 45 years) a great one to remember. Reading your many blogs helped me to spend the one week doing what I wanted to do best, food and art. The visit to G. Detou was wonderful, I hated to leave. I now know why you chose to live in Paris, it is indeed a magical city. Again, my deepest gratitude.

  • Daniel, ate at Spring Garage when you had the online camera in the kitchen. Miss that live chaos. Mmm lobster rolls with fries from GOD mmm.
    Are there any openings this week?
    Anyways good fortune to you . Tonight I had dinner at Vergus. You had raves so we went, naive Canadians that we are.Food good to ok. We have been lucky to have elated everywhere in the world at the best. This is the situation, waitress spills a full glass of red wine on my trousers and my suit jacket. Very large stains pursue, but it was not at our table but the one next to us. They get another glass of unspilled wine, I have no acknowledgement of my demise. Just a laugh from the “waitress”.
    Not until I complained to another waitress 2 courses later was she made aware of the situation and did she offer to “wash”my stain in white wine. Later I got my white wine jacket back , pants not considered, stains remains,
    2 glasses of wine offered, and please take both to a cleaners and let us know.
    I leave Paris tomorrow.
    Is this normal here in Paris or just a lack of decent considerate service?
    All the best,
    James

  • Thank you for sharing le weekend. Your photos and prose are wonderful. That egg and the epoisses (?) and the cornichons–yum! Wonderful that you made it Dupont Circle. I’m happy that the turnout was great and that the weather cooperated during your visit.

    You mentioned wanting a Pacer. Well, that brought back memories of my childhood! We had one in the late 1970s. Such an adorable hatchback. But of course I had no concept of cars at the tender age of eight. (I am dating myself here!) I do remember that it was white with that cute-as-a-bug shape and the burgundy leather (?) interior. I have a old yellowing photo of my dad digging out the Pacer from inches of snow in Missouri. RIP AMC.

  • Hi David! I really enjoy reading your blogs especially now I’ve been living in France for almost 9 months. It helps me to learn new French words too :) Wish I have seen your blogs about les pâtisseries à Paris earlier so that I could check them out…Tant pis. Anyway I’m a stagiaire at restaurant Hervé Busset close to the village Conques. Looking forward to your next blog. The strawberry miso ice cream sounds delish by the way!