Our Tour de France

Goat cheeses

The French often say, “There’s no need to leave France – we have everything here!” While it’s easy to brush it off as chauvinism, it’s true — for a country that could fit inside of Texas, there is a huge diversity of climates and terrains in one, single country. You can find everything in l’hexagone, from the windy shores of Brittany (where we’ve huddled around the fireplace, wearing sweaters in Augusts of yore), to the sunny south, where beaches are clogged with tourists and the few locals that choose to stay in town, to bask in the abundant sun of the Mediterranean.

The Lot

After living in France for a while, I sometimes get the feeling that the country never gets a break on the summer weather. While it can be gorgeous, we were told that the day after we left Paris, the weather turned grey and cool. And while we had some nice days during our two weeks of travel, we hit quite a bit of uncooperative weather ourselves, that always seemed to be creeping up on us.

France

Being from San Francisco, I never look at forecasts and simply plan for everything. And anything. (And you’ll see that in spite of my best efforts with photo editing software, I was unable to add in sunshine to the shots.)

gazpacho

Since we were mostly éponging (sponging) off friends, by staying with them as we traveled, I had to brush up on my morning small-talk skills. I’m hopelessly terrible at responding to enthusiastic greetings of “Good morning!!” or “Hi! How did you sleep?” first thing in the morning.

Boucherie

It doesn’t help that Romain is so talkative first thing in the morning that I often check his back, to see if I can take the batteries out. I need at least thirty minutes, minimum, to adjust to the new day – preferably without any commentary.

I also realized that I had to adjust to multiple systems of making coffee: staying with five different people meant five different coffee-making systems over the span of fifteen days – from contraptions that would confound Rube Goldberg, to jars of dark, water-soluble powders, probably best left uncapped. (And although I like to make my own coffee, whenever I made coffee, my French friends kept watering it down, saying it was too strong. So I eventually left it up to others.) If there wasn’t the blowback about bringing my own kitchen tools when I travel, in the comments, I’d bring my own coffee pot as well. It’s a little too simple, I suppose; you put water in the bottom, coffee in the top, then put it on the stovetop until done. No dials, no valves; only three parts to fit together. Voilà.

Our departure coincided with the first Saturday of the French vacation period, when there is a mass exodus from Paris (and elsewhere) outta town. It’s one of the busiest days of the year at airports and train stations, and on the autoroutes. Of course, it was the day that Air France had a ground crew strike (good planning!… what ever happened to fraternité?) so we left at 5am, to get a start on our trip.

In addition to overly complicated coffee-making devices, another challenge is finding a good place to eat along the autoroutes. I try to avoid fast-food restaurants and chains serving pre-prepared foods. Since we weren’t really in any hurry, at lunchtime, we decided to forge out on our own, going rogue from usual fast-food and chain restaurants on the highway, to find a bite to eat.

French goat cheese

Even away from the highways, you really need to be poke around towns and villages, because small restaurants just might be serving cuisine Metro, named for a chain of superstores that sells ready-made food to restaurants and cafés. My strategy is to ask at a (good) bakery or fish market, where to eat.

At a bakery that looked good, we picked up a few Kouign Amann’s to tide us over. And when I saw they were selling sacks of locally milled flour that they used for their “Breton” bread – with the symbol of Brittany embedded on top with, we asked for a local restaurant recommendation. And the woman pointed us to a nearby crêperie.

Unlike the other crêperie that we’d passed, one that was triste, as they say, or “sad”, which was empty (and dingy), this one had a Fait Maison sign out front and was full.

creperie la Violette

After sitting down at a table at Crêperie la Violette (6, place Henri IV, Bain de Bretagne, 02 99 43 90 92) when we were handed menus, on page one – front and center – was a list of all the producers where they got their ingredients – everything from local goat cheeses and free-range chickens, to buckwheat flour and ice cream churned up by a local artisan. Then the owner came by to recite, proudly, where everything else was from. When I ordered a bottle of the local cider, which proved to be outstanding, the owner nodded in approval.

Fait maison

So in spite of the ruckus the new Fait Maison symbol (above) is causing, and a few people stretching the definition of fait maison (like the guy at an outdoor market we went to, who was, indeed, baking his tarts on premises…but using store-bought tart dough), and contrasting messages from a stop on the autoroute, with the mixed promise of homemade sandwiches (on the door), with the reality of a big, red machine (just inside) that spews out hot sandwiches…

Sandwich fait maison

…(someone on social media astutely noted the convenience of the garbage can next to the machine, which happened to be out-of-order)…the new symbol is giving restaurant owners who are using fresh products, and making things on the premises, a platform to be associated with.

Fait maison

The modestly priced hotel that we stayed at the first night, Le Relais des Îles, had a restaurant on the top floor, which proudly displayed the logo as well. And sure enough, at breakfast the next morning, instead of the individual plastic packets of jam and coffee so bad that you wanted to head back to bed, our hotel had locally made confitures, in flavors ranging from blueberry and elderflower, to tayberry, a hybrid between raspberries and blackberries, a berry that I hadn’t seen since I’d left the San Francisco area.

The French woman at the desk told me that a local farmer was growing them. (Who was British.) And she told me when they first starting getting the jam, she had to look up the name online to find out what they were. They also had not one, but two easy-to-understand espresso machines for guests to use, rather than the usual thermal pots of jus de chausettes (sock juice), as the French say.

Angouleme

After visiting some family, it was onward to the Poitou-Charentes, where we stayed with friends who are farmers and have an organic farm, so we knew we’d eat well there, too. At our first dinner, we had sliced tomatoes with basil from their garden, homemade bread, and a giant bowl of arugula, undressed, which sat in the center of the table. Since they’re pretty casual, it’s not unusual to dip into salads (and anything else on the table) with your hands to munch on greens.

Romain and I were momentarily stunned at how delicious and fresh the greens were. Living in a city, it’s easy to forget how much better lettuce and salad greens taste when they’re pulled right from the garden. Heck, you don’t even need dressing. Every day after that, I’d sneak away to the garden and pluck little leaves of peppery roquette (arugula) and snack on them. I didn’t even miss my usual chocolate treats that I’ve conveniently scattered around my apartment.

french antiques

Fortunately we were driving on this trip, so that we could stop at all the dépôt-ventes and brocantes (antique stores) along the way. And having a station wagon made it easier to stock up! Although we almost had a few accidents when I screamed at my patient other-half to stop, when I spotted a brocante sign off in the distance.

brocante

I got scolded at a flea market for taking the picture of a few red-capped condiment bottles, on a wooden table near a fence (shown above), which I guess was because I was stealing their soul or something. So I only took a few random snaps, because I’ve been getting reprimanded a little too much lately. And it’s no fun getting reprimanded. (If I want to do that, I go on social media.) Although I kind of wanted to bring it home, the owner persuaded me not to ; )

antique shop

The first was the massive La Brocalou, a giant hangar of kitchenware, which was so full of great stuff that I told Romain that I needed a wide berth, and that he wasn’t allowed to talk to me for the next twenty minutes while I took it all in. Everything was organized by type, from cutting boards to whisks, pots and pans, casseroles, and plates. It wasn’t a bargain-basement, and you had to inspect items for chips, dings, and cracks. But I got away with a stack of vintage white coffee bowls, a 1950’s book on French housekeeping, a few baking dishes, and some kitchen tools that I know I could live without. But life would be more enjoyable with them in my kitchen. So I got ‘em.

Because many people asked where we shopped, not including the place where I got yelled at, here are the very good places we went to: La Brocalou, Emmaüs de la Couronne, La Caverne d’Ali Baba, Guy Delestage, Le Tri-Cycle Enchanté. And good sites to find flea markets across France, of which there are many of in the summer, are Vide-Greniers and Brocabrac.

potatoes sarladaise

Speaking of Instagram, there was a kerfuffle on my Instagram stream when I showed a picture of someone eating foie gras, which is what the Lot and Gers are known for. And those regions were our next stop.

Southwest of France salad

While even in France, foie gras has its detractors, it’s still a part of life, and the culture, in the southwest of France. A local friend bought me an ancient gavage (feeding) gizmo, which I’m not sure what I’m going to do with. Perhaps use it for people that are cheating on the fait maison deal?

Lunch in the Lot

We had lunch at the beautifully situated Restaurant du Centre in Bassoues, whose limited menu featured chicken and steak. And judging from the looks of the place, and the prices – the fixed menu, which we didn’t order, was around €12, including wine), we were going more for fun, than the food. The salads were loaded with duck confit, gizzards, duck tenders, and slabs of foie gras.

Speaking of getting reprimanded, if you don’t liked boxed wine, this probably isn’t the place for you because they had 20 liter (about 5 gallons) of boxes of wine, going at full-tilt with spigots, which they continuously filled the pottery pitchers with.

Rosé

(Interestingly, the place just across the place sold pottery. And had a few pieces on display outside with a big sign of a camera with a photo interdit logo. I thought it was pretty funny and was going to take a picture of that because honestly, it was a table of pitchers and bowls. But even though I bought a few pieces, when the guy upbraided someone taking a picture, my apologies to you, but I thought better of it.)

Lunch table in France

Because it was vacation, I was concentrating on relaxing and enjoying the shopping, meals, and beverages served, which were part of the comedy of the restaurant. When we asked for mustard, one of the very friendly, hard-working young servers said that we needed to wait until the other table was through with it. (There were about fifty tables located around the square, which is an arguably pretty big task for one pot of mustard to manage.) We also had to wait for coffee, since they didn’t have enough cups. So if you go, and want mustard (and salt), you might want to bring your own. Or buy some cups across the street. Just don’t take any pictures of them until you do.

The Lot

We had a lovely time in the Lot, a region that doesn’t get as much attention at other parts of France, most notably, Provence. But I love the trees and greenery, as well as the magnificent stone buildings with pigeonniers (towers where pigeons lived, and their droppings were collected for fertilizer) and ancient chateaux.

Chateau

Our friend pointed to a tangle of roads on a map of the Lot, waved his hand around, and said , “Just get lost in this area” which we kind of did. (No GPS, phone, or 3G service — quelle horreur! However, fortunately, I seem to have a built-in GPS for honing in on antique stores and brocantes.) But the area is small and although I’m an expert at getting lost, we found it. Mostly because when you pass something as magnificent as the Château de Bonaguil in Fumel, it’s better than a GPS because there is nothing that can keep you from getting to it.

duck foie gras

Since it was lunchtime, after parking the car, as we were considering going to one on the restaurants near the foot of the castle, a party of four was getting up to leave (before being served), and said to us “C’est pas très agreeable.” (“It’s not very nice.”) So we opted from a place down the hill, which was just as touristed at the other places, but we had a decent meal and the servers were very agreeable.

duck confit

The confit of duck had a lovely, extra-crispy skin, which made me glad I insisted that Romain order the same thing, so I wouldn’t have to give him any bites of mine. The desserts, unfortunately, were not fait maison and when I asked Romain how his Île flottante was, he replied, “Pas mangeable.” (“Inedible.”) I left 9/10ths of my Gâteau basque behind as well. Which was fine, because we figured dinner with our friends, with vegetables from their potager (garden), would be a treat to make up for it.

Tomatoes from the garden

I hate when people complain about having too many tomatoes in their garden, because to me, there’s just no such thing. I think Americans are hard-wired to eat tomatoes in the summer, and corn. And that’s all I want for lunch and dinner in July and August. Seriously, nothing makes me happier than a big plate of tomatoes, except maybe some crisp duck skin, although once they had a big bowl of duck cracklings left over at Chez Panisse at the end of the meal, which the line cooks gave me to polish off after my shift. Later that night, I learned that yes, you can overdose on duck skin.

gazpacho

The ripest specimens made it into a big, chilly bowl of gazpacho (using the recipe from My Paris Kitchen), along with a trio of Cabécous – little cottony-soft local cheeses made from goat’s milk, that are often sold in groups of three – that, interestingly, were bought at the local convenience store. (Maybe not fait maison. But kudos to ‘em for carrying local products.)

Goat cheeses

We also indulged in some acorn-fed jamon Iberíco, aka: one of the best things in the world, that our friends brought back from a recent trip to Spain (which is driving distance away – another argument for road trips), that they served generously. And that we ate greedily.

Goat cheeses

Speaking of greedy, we had stopped at a goat cheese farm in the Gers the day before (Fromagerie du Raguet, Riguepeu), and had plenty of cheeses on hand from them.

Goat cheese

We’d been invited to a dinner the night before, and for dessert, out came an entire when of Brie de chèvre, a steering wheel-size round of cheese that was so gooey and oozing, that it had to be spooned from a big platter onto our plates.

In spite of the fact that everyone knows (or thinks) that French women don’t eat, a French woman originally from the region, who was back for a summer visit from her home in New York City, had three generous portions of the cheese. I had two, and wanted more. So I asked our hostess to take us to the cheesemaker the next day, to get more.

After an hour’s drive, of course, he didn’t have any. (He also told me, “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it comes out just okay.”) Fortunately I’ve learned while traveling to just enjoy something when you’re there, and don’t worry about getting any more, or taking it home. So eat up when you can!

(And fortunately, our hostess was kind enough to give us a big wedge to bring home. Which by the next day, was a big, goopy – and delicious – puddle of goaty goodness.)

Brie de chèvre

She also gave us a few bottles of a leftover rosé from a tasting we did the night before. #9 was pretty awful, a new hybrid of rosé and port, meant to capitalize on the trend of drinking rosé. Since the French drink sweet white port as an apéritif, I guess someone thought combining the two was a good idea. (And no, I didn’t dial-up that color in Photoshop.) Judging from how much was left over, I think they need to go back to the drawing board. Or better yet, just leave well enough alone.

Rosé port

We did make good use of the others, though…

Lunch

I did, however, want to be a good houseguest…

Goats

So after visiting the biquettes (slang for goats), I stocked up on little rounds of goat cheese, which we had with our gazpacho dinner.

Dining under the walnut tree

Our only concern was that apparently, there are a host of maladies that will befall you if you sit under a noyer, or walnut tree. I was told that walnut trees emit humidity, therefore making them completely unsuitable for sitting under. We decided to risk it anyway, and nothing serious happened. But I’m letting you know, just in case someone invites you to dine under one.

Chef Dany Chouet

In spite of the nut tree emissions, people in the southwest reportedly are in good forme because they eat duck fat. I always keep a jar in the freezer for sautéing potatoes, but chef Dany Chouet came by to make us dinner (she had a French restaurant in Australia, then came back to the Lot in 2000, to live, and cook – which she wrote about in So French), she didn’t skimp on the duck fat. Like, at all.

She poured a melted a few cups of fat into skillets and got to work on pommes sarladaises and frying up a few magrets of duck, which are the breasts from the ducks that produce foie gras.

duck breasts

As the potatoes cooked, and sizzled, we chopped a generous bowlful of fresh garlic for her to add at the end, along with a handful of parsley. She called me over at their neared completion, to listen closely to the potatoes “talking,” after she had drained off most of the fat. During that critical period when the fried potatoes reach their final stage of crispness.

potatoes sarladaise

Once they were done, we headed outside – yes, under that hazardous tree – for a copious dinner of foods from le sud-ouest.

potatoes sarladaise

After polishing off all the potatoes, platters of duck breasts, a multitude of cheeses, a big leafy salad, and the rest of the wine, we hit our beds, ready for the following day, when we’d drive on to our next adventure.


Continued here…

101 comments

  • Have you seen Dan Barber’s Ted talk about a genius Spanish foie producer? It is AMAZING. What a wonderful roadtrip!

  • Thanks, as always, for the wonderful writing and photography. It’s a treat to travel, even if only vicariously.

  • What a great trip. I just had to comment I understand completely about the morning. Let’s just say that I have been known to bark, “Stop being cheery” more than once in my life. Always in the morning. And always before caffeine.

  • Hilarious! Love your account of food and travel!
    The spuds and duck look to die for! Come out to Asia, we want to know what you think of the food here.

  • Oh mon dieu! Those potatoes! (And the duck breast…and those tomatoes…and, scrolling back up, just about all your photos!)

    I hate when people are grouchy about photos. Someone was very rude to me once in a shop at the Ferry Market in SF and I am still annoyed when I think about it! I wasn’t in anyone’s way, and I certainly didn’t buy anything after being spoken to like that. How does it hurt?

    • I understand if you’re in a shop, but outside is different. The fellow with the pottery shop is in a town with a lot of visitors, and if you’re going to put a table of pottery outside, in a very scenic area, people are going to want to take a picture of it. It looked so funny to see a “No photos” sign among a table of pottery. For goodness sakes, you can take pictures of the Mona Lisa, but not a clay pitcher? Just put everything inside your shop, then. I did buy some pieces, but would have been happy to have taken some pictures to share on the blog, along with a link to their address, so other folks could buy something.

      There a well-known pastry shop in Paris that forbids photos. Which is fine, but I think they’d be better served putting a nice sign near the door, along the lines of, “While we appreciate that you want to preserve your memories of the shop, we kindly ask that you refrain from taking pictures in order to preserve the ambience of the store” – rather than scolding people for taking photos. Patrick Roger, the famed chocolatier, once told me he liked when people took photos in his shop because it was their way of “interacting” with him, and his chocolates.

  • I love this post. I live in the east part of France and it is also a beautiful region too. Whenever I want a break and want to experience something new, my family and I take our car and head wherever we want to. I find that there’s always something to discover in France and that we don’t need to go far after all.

  • This post makes me homesick (by the way, Bonaguil is not in the Lot, but in the Lot-et-Garonne, although, it is not impossible that you were indeed in the Lot when you took the picture – the limit is a few hundred meters away).

  • David I followed your Instagrams this summer (we were *this* close at one point – we spent some time in the Lot-et-Garonne) and love the diversity of the things you showed. Indeed, I can see the appeal of staying in France for a vacation – so much to see, do, eat and drink! Fingers crossed you get the rest of your photos back!

  • I really, really enjoyed this post, and it was great hearing all the stories.

    a) Thanks for letting me know what is growing in the hedgerow outside my Brittany home. I always throughout they were Loganberries. They’re killer in a crumble. However, I’m now seriously worried about the effects of sitting under my walnut tree with my baguette at lunchtime.

    b) I actually kind of like that pink port… It is a favourite in our household, and my Father’s aperitif of choice. However, thanks to you I’m rather more partial to Lillet Blanc.

    c) Good luck with the hard drive!

  • What a treat to “travel” with you! The photos are stunning, as always, and the commentary amusing as well as informative. I agree that pictures of things displayed outside seems fair game to me. It’s part of the experience and if you don’t want someone to take a picture, take it inside. Although, as a “clumsy American in Paris”, I’ve never been refused when I request (beforehand) in my halting French if I might take a picture for a personal memory.

    Is the potatoes sarladaise recipe in your newest book? If not, can we have a recipe for it sometime in the future?

    • Yes, there is a recipe for potatoes cooked crisp in duck fat in My Paris Kitchen. They’re not sliced, but cubed (because I like mine extra-crunchy!), so they aren’t officially potatoes sarladaise. But close.

  • Emmaüs La Couronne? 25 minutes from our house in Jarnac.
    Dang.

  • Gosh that cheese looks divine. I’m seriously underwhelmed by the cheese (käse) here in Germany. I’m coming to France next month so will have to smuggle some home!

  • While I’m away from home (in le Cher) in Chile…I am suffering through not having all my foodie expextations met! 10 years ago I would have been happy with my current regime…but after having lived in France for the better part of the last decade, I expect all food (and coffee) to be gourmet. Le sigh.

  • Those potatoes! THOSE potatoes!!

    I am, too, not a chirpy person in the morning. One could quite possibly characterise my morning mood as openly hostile. Fortunately, my partner hates mornings as well. We tinker around in our own little corner, and after 45 minutes conversation can commence.

  • And it looks like it was a lovely trip!

  • Glad to hear that one can still purchase and eat foie gras in France. Here in California it’s verboten. (the ‘do-gooders’ never stop)

    Just a word of caution…I sat under a walnut tree once…and have never been the same. I’m not sure if it’s legal anymore here in the States.

  • Oh my gosh, that “rosé port” is an abomination! But the pommes de terre sarladaises …. mmm!

    I wonder what the “no photos” guy could do to you if you did take photos? How can he stop you, if you’re in a public place (the street)? I once had an altercation with a stallholder in a market in Lot et Garonne because I was taking photos of his keyrings. “You might put photos of them on the Internet”, he blustered, “and then what would happen?” I was unable to answer this. He seemed to think someone would see them and make copies of his cheap Chinese tat, thus putting him out of business.

    • I once had bought a new camera and wanted to take it for a spin, so I took it to my local market. I saw a bunch of carrots and asked the stallholder if I could take a picture (I usually ask, or at least make a motion to get a nod that it’s okay) – curiously, it took three of them to have a discussion about whether I could take a picture of the carrots or not. I never take pictures of people without asking, but I think that almost anything on public streets is considered fair to take a picture of. (Although I’ve been scolded twice for taking pictures of pastries in store windows!)

  • Jesus! The duck leg, the magrets, everything!

  • Thank you for letting me travel with you. I all of your posts, comments and pictures.

  • I would imagine the only hazard of sitting under a walnut tree would be walnuts falling on your head. Great post, as always, and thank goodness you listed the antique shops so everyone on Instagram can calm down! :)

  • Hi, Read every blog! Going to Uzes (have an apt.) for three weeks in Sept/Oct. any recommendations for restaurants in and around. . . have car! Many thanks.

  • Sounds like a great holiday and its great to live vicariously.
    What is it with people and cameras in France. Frequently I see the no photos sign and wonder if they believe the camera captures the soul of the product? I have never forgotten a vendor in a large Paris market threatening to take my camera after I shot a picture of his goat cheese. It was quite the experience having someone try to grab my camera and insist on having the memory card!

    • When I worked in a shop in Paris, often people would come in (and sometimes, not even say hi), then snap some pictures, and leave. We didn’t say anything, but when I lead guests around Paris, I tell them it’s important to take time to appreciate something first, then take a picture. My guess is that some people feel like they are on display. (Although a French friend said he thinks it’s because people don’t like the fact that you’re getting something for free from them.) But I know shopkeepers that are happy to let people take pictures. Someone reacting the way that cheese merchant did is rather extreme.

      • There’s a place in Copenhagen that’s very well renowned. The shop is an experience in itself. The owner has taken to charging a small entry fee since the chaos of people crowding in for a photo and then leaving without buying anything, got to be too much.

  • Oh, the foibles of trying to get a good cup of coffee when not in one’s own kitchen. But is the French press misnamed, just like French toast and French fries — not really French? Say it isn’t so.

  • So love your trips! I’ve always wanted a coffee pot like your’s but have been intimidated lest it explodes. Perhaps you might give a mini tutorial? Seriously, I would pack that gem and my favorite coffee.

  • Great post today! I would eat that whole platter of potatoes if I could, and don’t even get me started on that cheese! But what is wrong with pictures! I live in a tourist area and people are always taking pictures of my shop (it is a Balinese import shop, I am in Portland Or) who cares? All over SE Asia signs say no photos or a camera with a slash through it, I don’t get it! Lighten up people! Good job David just keep those pictures coming. Need to go make some ice cream because your book just arrived from Amazon, it looks fabulous!

  • Ever since I was reprimanded for taking a photo of the entrance (yes, the outside) of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, I ask before taking pictures in Europe. Most people are nice (& rather surprised that I, the tourist, would ask) and I’m allowed with the quick note to not use any flash. I agree, anything displayed outdoors is fair game but inside, you should really respect the photo ban. You start to understand it when you witness a swarm of tourists coming through a small shop, snapping photos of every stupid little thing, even the garbage can.

  • As a child I would make a nest in the long green grass under our black walnut tree and spend happy hours there. Are black walnuts as dangerous as regular walnut trees? Which we had as well, but spent our time under them collecting the walnuts.

  • Such a lovely way to start my day. How I would love to go to France. You are a great storyteller.

  • Ah David, I go into a small trance when reading great posts of yours such as this one; the humor, the beautiful photos. As someone who has yet to visit France, you really put the extra yearning in my soul. Thanks for sharing in your own unique, special way!

  • The sd card in my camera failed on the second day of our recent 5 week boat trip. My husband simply wiped it off with a microfiber cloth and, voila, it worked! Try that.

    Thanks for a nice romp through France. We are in Provence for 10 days in October. I can hardly wait.

    Karen

  • Ooooh, I wanna see a pic of you on a horse, David. Love your photos as always, and the accompanying stories. Speaking of photos, I have a horse, and people take our pic all the time when riding in the park. Wouldn’t be able to easily stop them even if I wanted to!

  • Thank you for sharing and keeping my dream alive.

  • Where does one acquire duck fat?

  • Nice tour! Love your photos, as usual…looking forward to your next excursion!

  • … yum!!!

    … “scolded” twice in Paris – crêperie and hand-cranked carousel

  • David, each time i read your blog many good things happen. I laugh from your dry humor, I dine very well from your recipes, travel to places I’ve never seen but only dreamt about and see beautiful things thru your eyes and lovely pictures….
    Thank you

  • Bonjour David– Great minds think alike. I, too, went back to “le Sud-Ouest” this summer and spent a few days in my hometown, Toulouse. The beautiful Gers region is where I spent all my summers as a child. My grand-parents owned a small store in L’Isle Jourdain (you may remember seeing this town on a Michelin map or your GPS…) Thank you for a wonderful “Tour de France.” I will be sharing it with French Girl in Seattle readers this morning. — Veronique

  • Thank you!!
    Thank you!!
    Thank you!!
    This is the French Vacation Blog I’ve been waiting this entire summer to read!!
    Je suis tellement jaloux…

  • Hi David. I agree — there is no such thing as too many tomatoes. I recently read a recipe for “seven hour tomatoes.” I’ll bet you are familiar with the dish. In your opinion, are they special enough to take the time and effort? What would you serve them with? Thanks.

  • What a lovely post David. A road trip through France sounds a bit scary considering how I’ve seen folks drive, especially in Provence, but clearly it has some stunning rewards!
    Terrible that you lost your photos, I hate it when it happens. If the drive is still powering on and if your shots were in JPEG, PhotoRec is a very good bet. Its a bit complicated to run the first time and it takes a while, but its great at what it does. Hope you get them back!

  • Question: Typically do you have your leafy green salad at the beginning or at the end of your meal? I’d get your book off my shelf to see if you talk about that, but I have a broken arm that I’ve been ordered to keep elevated :)

  • Hah – the pottery guy in Bassoues is a bit of a prima donna! In the spring/summer months I live in a small village about 6kms away from Bassoues and he definitely has reputation around here, as does the Restaurant du Centre, but it is in such a pretty setting…

  • You’ve got lots of comments about the incredible food marvels you encountered on your trip so I won’t add to them. But I will address your coffee-making frustrations and add to your traveling with cooking tools by suggesting a nifty coffee maker I will be taking to my Spanish apartment. It’s also perfect for travel. The Aeropress espresso maker which costs about $28 through US amazon. I will couple this gadget with a hand burr grinder. this will resolve the problem of only one choice of grind in my local grocery store and go for coffee in the bean.

  • It’s not particularly early morning here in the Bay Area but I’ve only just awakened and am just emerging, coffee in hand, from the morning stare stage. Responding to a blog post is okay as I get to control the amount of engagement! It’s as perfect as those potatoes sarladaise.

  • David – as usual, your post and photos are splendid.

    Just a suggestion on camera and memory cards…when I travel, I bring my tablet along and backup my photos each evening to the tablet. It generally doesn’t take very long, and there’s the added safety of having the images in two places. Even better, if you have cloud storage, to store them there, too. I know a photographer who uses the cards once, then saves them as another backup.

    I had to chuckle about being chastised for taking pictures. For the first time, on my trip in June, I got admonished for taking pictures of hams in Brantome. I went to a great brocante/vide grenier in Eymet and didn’t take one picture, for fear of being yelled at. But then again, there was so much stuff to take in, I was totally absorbed by the goodies.

  • David, please, even if you can’t get the memory card to work again, please do post the rest of the trip. Your posts are great even without the pictures

  • susan: I’ve never had them so can’t say. But I would imagine the long roasting would concentrate their flavor nicely. (And use a lot of energy!)

    Chris and Amrita: I tried different retrieval softwares (free and paid) plus talked to a professional photographer, and since my computer isn’t even recognizing the disk at all, it seems they are gone. I did talk to Sony and they said to send them the disk, in the US, which I’ll do, to see if they can retrieve them.

    I often download photos to my laptop when I’m traveling, which is why you see some pictures here (and a few were taken with my iPhone), but Michael Lamotte, the photographer who helped me, said most people carry along a portable hard drive (or two, for professionals) to back up daily. I don’t like lugging all sorts of stuff along and this has never happened to me, but apparently it can happen with new disks as well as older ones. So I’m going to start.

    Josie: Ha! Yes, he’s rather, um, interesting. I was curious if he actually makes all that pottery there. I wanted a pitcher but settled for smaller dishes and bowls. The restaurant is pretty hilarious. The food isn’t great, but the young fellows waiting on tables were funny and working hard. And those huge boxes of rosé and vin rouge are amusing as well.

  • omg What fabulous food!!
    Fortunately Parisians and everyone else in mid-September you can taste all the products of the Sud-Ouest for 3 solid days along the quai Montebello by Notre Dame. Out of this world.
    http://www.marchesflottants.fr/

  • What an amazing Trip!! I enjoyed so much reading about it. You really took me on Memory lane.

  • Great trip! I felt like I was right there with all the awesome pictures and vivid descriptions! Great writing, as always!

  • I lived in Cahors for over six months. Your pictures of the magrets and the potatoes (and the cabecou!) are making me “homesick.” My word, I miss the Lot!

  • Its nice not to feel guilty about the complete lack of interest in communicating, with anyone, except perhaps a kitty, first thing in the AM. Patient spouse has learned that and teaches visitors how to behave too… Fruit and tea at bedside every AM and no eye contact. David your blog is simply superb, you have a gift for writing and also for knowing what people are interested in about France and how to convey it. A great gift for you, and for us too. Thanks.
    PS- most WF markets have duck fat for those who are asking.

  • Great post! The snarly ones who forbid photos should lighten up!

  • vive la france!

  • What a fabulous trip – I really do envy you!

    Some years ago now, my husband was had to go to Poland on business, and asked if I’d like to go too, as i was between jobs at the time. So I said yes please (whereupon he said we’d have to balance work and sightseeing, so of course I said he could do the work and I’d do the sightseeing, problem solved), and one of the things I went to see was a large Carrefour, which might sound odd but I wanted to see how it compared with the French variety (also their Tesco’s). Anyway, I wandered insouciantly in there with my camera round my neck, not even planning to take any pictures, but was jumped on by the security guard who made it quite clear that I must put my camera RIGHT AWAY and not even THINK of taking pictures of his supermarket!

  • Just got back from a month in France. Loved your post. I am a real francophile. You capture the country very well.

  • Thank you, David. Thank You!

  • Daveeed,

    Having just spent 7 weeks in France, six of it in Pau (Bearn, Aquitaine, Pyrennees – Atlantique)… my intestines are lined with foie gras. Haters be damned. It’s like religion – you keep to yours, I’ll keep to mine. I’d hate to put all of those farmers out of work because some people take issue with foie gras. This is the farthest sud-ouest you can get. And next time… keep driving and go all the way to the Pays Basque. I like St. Jean de Luz more than Biarritz, which I thought all the Parisiens were visiting, mais non. The local gateau Basque has a cherry option, but you may as well pick up an original for comparison. Basque food is… well, when I asked and the French couldn’t tell me exactly what was in it, all I could say is, “Je sais. C’est ‘magic.’ Basque magic!” Frenglish works well when extolling the virtues of the local cuisine.

  • Wonderful post….has left me dreaming and salivating!
    Trying desperately to settle back in Australia, but with a post like this, it is quite impossible. Decision made, I will do my usual French stint next year.
    Share your coffee thoughts too. Stove top just so simple and the best.

  • I could live off toms all summer and your splendid shot of fresh, garden-grown tomatoes of such diversity made my mouth water…… give me toms every day and I’ll never get tired of them
    I also got beatings for taking photos – BUT I also was kindly invited into the most beautiful tea shop in Paris and welcomed to take as many photos as I wanted. Yes, I did ask and I would have accepted to be refused as I didn’t intend to buy anything. This person made me & Hero Husband feel as valued guests and if ever I should invite somebody to tea in Paris, I’ll know where to go
    Love those cheeses too… but then I love all and everything you offer us and the only downside is that I shouldn’t eat at this hour (nearly midnight) and how can I not after all those goodies? Sharing a glass of wine with lovely cheeses, great bread & market-bought tomatoes and drinking to your health!

  • Just to show you how caring I am, I always take my espresso machine with me when travelling by car…. done so to England, Switzerland and within France, but not to Italy…. And the best souvenir were two beautiful hand-pottered and -painted mugs – not for coffee, but tea. They now tie us over the morning moodiness :)

  • Oh, I want to go! Looks and sounds like a wonderful time.

    I work in a pottery shop, and we allow photos. I will say, friends at other shops and grocery stores have told me of competitors taking pictures for prices and to copy. I’ve had some friends have their work copied in China and elsewhere. (My favorite: decades ago a friend’s brother came up with video poker. An asian company copied it and he won in world court when he pointed out they’d copied the dot matrix of his name on the inside.) I think if one is charging a fair amount, and is talented, the item cannot be copied, at least at a comparable price.

  • Oh this is so funny — you getting reprimanded for taking photos. I did a blog on Maiolica pottery. Anyway I had a picture from Montepulciano and I put it on the blog. Somehow someone from the states mentioned to the owner there – he wrote to me and was so pleased. He said I could use any picture I wanted and he’d send me some more. It was great. Small world isn’t it??

  • Those potatoes are making me want to get on a plane now. Love all the food in Southwestern France, especially when it uses duck.

  • Duck fat rules!!

  • What a wonderful post.

    I have a copy of So French – it’s a fabulous cookbook/memoir.

  • I haven’t read your blog for quite awhile. I just love your adventures and the food. And, yes, it is not possible to eat too many tomatoes, especially if they are farm fresh.

  • I wish we had duck fat readily available in the US as there is nothing better in which to cook potatoes.

    Ah the foie gras controversy. I say, why waste all that lovely deliciousness. The goose is already dead! Until it’s totally outlawed I say eat up:)

    I’ve tried so many Rosés and well can’t stand them:/

    Your vacances looked like fun.

  • I enjoyed reading about your culinary travels and discoveries. I absolutely adore foie gras. It is a large part of the culinary tradition and cultural treasure of the patrimoine of the sud-ouest.

  • Yes, what is it about not taking photos in France? I was picked up a few times for that. Here in England People take it as a compliment if their shop or stall is photographed, tsss, still I love France!

    • I actually got a smack-down a few years back in London at a coffee shop. I had asked the nice woman at the counter if I could take some pictures, and she said, “Sure. Thanks for asking. Not many people do!” So I took a few shots, when suddenly, another woman behind the counter (who wasn’t really even visible in the photo) flipped out on me and started screaming at me for taking pictures. I was so uncomfortable, and the other woman even told her that I had politely asked, and she said it was okay. I offered to delete the photos, and she just stormed off. They gave me my coffee on the house, but it was uncomfortable!

  • What an interesting tour de France, a place where you can taste so many different foods. Magrets of duck and kouign-amman are great to eat once in a while but I wonder if you’d care to make a little room for Mediterranean food in your blog.

  • David, we are goat cheese makers in Michigan, and for the longest time I resisted getting into the bloomy rinded varieties. We stuck to chèvre and hard cheeses. But the bloomies are insidious, and they wormed their way into our hearts and appetites. Now we make Bucheron (sorry, no circumflex available), crottin, a form of morbier and a bloomy chipotle. Such fun, so delicious….French cheeses are THE best! Thanks for the reminder!

    • Jill Budzynski
      Do you ship your goat cheeses to other parts in the US. If so send me your website. I’ll order some from you :)

  • David –
    Loving “My Paris Kitchen”. This post, however, is killing me!
    I want to recommend this device –

    http://www.hypershop.com/HyperDrive/HDU2-120.html

    They come in different capacities, can be purchased at below list price on Amazon and other locations, are rugged and reliable. Because they can store and display pictures directly w/out a computer you have every reason to keep it in a bag or pocket separately from your computer, which is a basic safety measure for backup while traveling.
    Good luck, I am a huge fan.

  • Enjoyed this post on brocantes worth looking at – I love fossicking – you never know what you can turn up!.

    Your hints on eating in France were a great help during my recent (first) visit to France – I ate well (despite being that dreaded thing, vegetarian) and had good experiences everywhere I went. Thanks so much!

  • So, why are people upset about the ‘Fait Maison’ logo?

    • Some feel that it gives too much leeway for people to say something is fait maison, cooked “in house,” without actually making things in-house. (Like the fellow selling tarts that he “made” at the market, but with obvious store-bought, pre-made dough.) Some items are allowed, like frozen French fries can be considered fait maison, if they are cooked in the premises. Others feel that there are other factors that need to be addressed to deal with the issue.

      Salon.com and The Guardian did some in-depth pieces about it. I also linked to a New York Times article in the post as well.

      • Thanks for the info on where to buy duck fat. I love Amazon, sorry know it’s not politically correct, but they have a lot of international food. I’ll go get some for my potatoes!

        LOL, yes I could roast a duck and make my own, but what does one do with the roasted duck? I hate duck meat. I guess I could feed it to my dogs and keep the rendered fat! Nah, Amazon’s easier :)

        Thanks for the hint.

  • My favorite no pictures scolding was in Taos, when I stopped to look at a corral of horses, and a Navajo (or whoever) dashed out, screaming “no pictures! no pictures” I didnt have a camera and didnt want a picture of his horses. Guess he didnt want me to steal their souls.

  • I very much enjoyed this post and although France is not on my list…this made me want to rethink!

    I am the chatty morning person who is often told to “Please be quiet” …

    re Duck Fat…a commenter way back asked where to acquire. I just ordered some on Amazon.

    It seemed to have the best reviews. Duck is available to me and I like duck but have never made it myself. Growing up, my grandfather and uncles often went duck hunting…with the requisite black labs…but I have no recollection of ever eating any duck so have a suspicion that duck hunting was an excuse to putter about on a boat drinking beer.

  • ….lovely pictures, and reminded me of a lovely lunch I had in St. Malo….wonderful crepes and the salted caramels I had there remain forever in my dreams. I’ve been lucky enough to travel through a good portion of France, and yet I still cannot (and will not) turn down any opportunity to go back there. Paris calls me almost daily.

    • Donna K – you really expressed my feelings except Paris definately calls me daily.

  • I love offal salad and le sud-ouest . Keep on eating duck fat & writing! Love it.

  • Sounds like such a lovely road trip and enjoyable posting/pictures! I am fortunate to have some garden area, and having greens straight from the garden from late spring to fall is really a luxury (but if I could only plant one thing, it would be a tie between greens and garlic – glad I don’t have to choose). Buying greens from the market in late winter puts me in the same mood as morning conversation before coffee. Off on my own road trip soon (Michigan to Oregon), and bringing the moka along is a fabulous idea.

    P.S. Made your tiramisu the other night which received rave reviews. Thanks for the inspirations.

  • Where does one acquire duck fat? Just acquire a duck, cook it, look underneath – duck fat!

  • David, your new book got a nice recommendation in the Saturday section in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times.

    ‘Okra,’ ‘Italian Kitchen,’ ‘My Paris Kitchen’ are tasty summer reads

    http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-calcook-cookbooks-20140823-story.html

  • How do I get your newsletter, or get regular news from you ? This article is so entertaining !
    Thank you !

  • I love reading about and getting a feel for the different regions of France. Thank you for taking us along on your travels!

  • Bonjour from Seattle ~ This show-n-tell tour is magnifique! Merci! I have been to France only twice. The first time I set foot in France, I was fresh off a train in Paris. I was soooooo excited and I was just 21 years old. I sat down at a café for coffee and a croissant, and asked the waiter if he wouldn’t mind me taking his picture with said items in hand, ready to serve. (This was accomplished by pointing to my camera and saying “Oui?”) He launched into a mini-tantrum in French, yelling at me and then storming off while still muttering profusely under his breath. My mother-in-law said, “What did he say to you?!” I told her he must have said “Welcome to France”. Ha. Didn’t phase me. I loved my time there and really want to go back soon. :-)

  • I was smiling and salivating from beginning to end of this post. My wife and I have always dreamed of the grand tour of France without a Garmin and an antique map from the 1940s as a guide. Someday!!! My wife, a rider, really hopes you can retrieve the horse pictures. Wonderful reading your writing and pictures as always.

  • Dear David Lebovitz,
    For the second year we have just had a few days at the Auberge de Chassignolles, up in the beautiful hills, not far from Clermont- Ferrand. Very simple, no fuss, but everything that is necessary, beautifully presented, warm friendly atmosphere, only open May-October but such GOOD SIMPLE FOOD, everything fresh, home made using what is available locally, at an extremely reasonable price (a 25 euro menu) + a very interesting wine list. I am afraid, yet again, it is an excellent example of young foreigners managing to outdo the French as what they once did so well. Just thought you might make a week-end visit before they close this year. I think you would appreciate it. (they have a young American chef who did some training at Chez Panisse – Matthew Robertson) We live in the Gers, I so wish we had a restaurant like this here!
    Very best wishes,
    Jane

  • As always, I just love the way you talk about my country and frenchmen. In the good but also in the bad way…