Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pâtés and Duck Confit

Vancouver's public market on Granville Island is the city's equivalent of les halles. Like French indoor markets, it has its permanent people selling lettuces, squash, oranges, pork, mussels and Brie and its day tables where farmers bring their spanking fresh asparagus or cherries as red as arterial blood as they come into season. 

Oyama Sausage is one of the standouts here with its abundance of sausages, hams and pâtés. Stout pink hams hang above heaped counters of cheese, sausages and pâtés. You just want to buy and buy and buy--a hundred grams of this, a slice or two of that--till you slowly keel over from the weight of your shopping bags. Oyama is also the only city source that I know of for duck confit. 

The sausage selection is something I'd like to import to France. The folk here do an outstanding job of translating just about anything, even butter chicken (get your head around that, butter chicken) into saucisses. Galantines, terrines...they sell those too, and, be still my fluttering heart, the annual cassoulet festival is coming up at the end of the month.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Keeping in Touch via Internet.

       Thanks to technology, we can stay in touch with what's happening in Léran in our absence. Our friends Doug and Nancy who also have a house in the village are now back in their U.S. home. In the meantime, their blog features "guest" bloggers. Check it out at www.northofandorra.blogspot.com

Good to read about the Mirepoix apple festival, and always an eye-opener to see how these intricate, hand-assembled displays change from one year to the next. Cars, boats (including submarines) and planes--including the Concorde-- have all starred at previous fêtes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Little Bit of the Left Bank.

Like any large North American city, Vancouver has its share of French restaurants. One of the most authentic is the little Salade de Fruits at the Vancouver Francophone Centre. Invariably crowded, tables squashed slightly too closely together, the menu on a chalkboard, bits of Gallic ephemera scattered around, it feels like the real thing. You can speak French or English, whichever you want. 

Yesterday, two of us had big omelettes stuffed with tomatoes and Brie, cooked baveuse. Little pots of mayonnaise came with the huge mounds of frites served on the side. Salade was the other option but not one we seriously considered. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sunday Night Paella

Even before we moved to France, I used to make paella regularly. Vivid colours, good flavours, feeds lots. What more can you ask of a dish? 

The chicken, pork, mussels, clams and prawns all came from our favourite Asian food store. The fresh chorizo from a run-of-the-mill supermarket. The rice was inauthentic Basmati when it should be Spanish. The method was much easier than the one I generally use. As with most paella recipes, you can do al lot of the prep ahead of the time in terms of cooking the chicken, pork, chorizo and vegetables. The difference with this version is that you cook the paella in the oven instead of on top of the stove, then bring it out and cover it with cooking foil for ten minutes. 

Four of us were eating it so I made enough for six to eight which meant leftovers. As happens with paella, all the good stuff--prawns, clams and the like--got fished out so what was left was basically rice with a few errant chunks of sausage. 

A definite meat deficiency. So, the next evening, I fried a handful of lardons (here known as bacon bits), added big scoops of paella rice, threw in four chopped green onions, and added two beaten eggs. God knows what kind of fusion dish you'd call that but it tasted fine with pleasurable marine backnotes of all the seafood that had briefly lived there. 

Vive La Chine!

While we do have a good Thai restaurant five kilometres from our village, we definitely lack the abundance of Asian food available here in Vancouver. That's one thing we miss so, we're been eating our weight in noodles, stir fries, General Tso's chicken and--this past Sunday--congee.

It may only be rice gruel but damn, it's good with its golden hair-thin threads of fresh ginger. Our former favourite source was closed, permanently closed from the looks of things, so we headed over to Hon's Wonton House in the heart of Chinatown.

The menu here lists 343 different dishes, not counting chef's specials. About ten of these are congees and the choice narrows once you discount the versions with organ meats. Wussy westerners that we are, we went for the seafood kind with prawns, some kind of white fish and squid cut pine cone style. It was good, even better when we dripped in some vivid red chili oil. 
Crispy-skinned and succulent, the roasted ducks and pork sold here remind me of the rotisserie trucks in the markets at Mirepoix and Lavelanet. 

Breakfast over, we ambled around the streets. Peter wanted to stock up on wolfberries, bright crimson and said to be good for your eyes. I love the smells from the open bins outside the shops, a funky mix of dried shrimp, dried mushrooms and dried who-knows-what. The mushroom by the way, hard and so shiny it looked lacquered is called a "wish" mushroom. Sliced and steeped in hot water, it's said to improve your strength. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to Make the Simplest Soup Imaginable

Here's a soup I make often in France. Doesn't look very impressive, does it? Just roughly chopped vegetables, a sprig of thyme and water. But give it 30 or 40 minutes, and a buzz with a hand-held blender and you have delicious, home-made soup. 

I start by melting a knob of butter in a medium-sized saucepan. An onion and a clove of garlic, both chopped, go in next. Toss them around so they take on a buttery sheen. Then add cubed, unpeeled potatoes, one of medium size per person and one for the pot should do it. Using a wooden spoon, toss those around too. Next, into the mix goes the featured vegetable (courgettes in this case; carrots are good and leeks are excellent). Finally, throw in the thyme. Add water to cover, bring to a simmer, put the lid on the pot, the timer on for a half-hour and go sit somewhere and read.

When the timer pings, return to the kitchen and stick a sharp knife down through the vegetables to check that everything's cooked. Then whizz with a hand-held blender until the mixture is smooth. 

Here's where you start tinkering. Salt and pepper of course. Maybe more water to thin the mixture. A little cream never hurts. 

If you have stock on hand, you can of course use that. But, quite honestly, plain tap water is fine. Water, vegetables, herbs, salt and pepper. A lovely, comforting soup that warms you down to your toes is really no more complicated than that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meanwhile, back in the Land of the Pumpkin Pie Latte

Being back in Vancouver makes me look at life here with new eyes. Why do bakeries insist on inserting baguettes in plastic or paper bags? Why, apart from Asian shops, is the choice of fish so limited? And above all, why do so many people walk around with cardboard coffee cups in their hands? Isn't a coffee something you take a sociable 15 minutes or so to sit and enjoy? Also I don't care if it is Thanksgiving weekend, the notion of a pumpkin pie latte makes my eyes cross. Right, mini-rant over.

But even though we're a long, long way from France, we're surprisingly close to things French. Within ten minutes' walk, are these two authentic bistros (with the prix fixe at Bistrot Bistro displaying a hint of Asian influence). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Farewell to Paris (for a few weeks)

We've met at least three North Americans in Paris who came here to study, couldn't bear to go home and are now here several years later. What helped the anguish of leaving this time was the knowledge that we'll be back here, if only briefly, in early November. 

Some images taken over the last few days. The Eiffel Tower on a day when the weather changed every five minutes. Notre Dame at night...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Simple Left Bank Supper

As in any city, a personal recommendation is the best way to find those off-beat places popular with locals that guide books don't always list. Friday night was bitingly cold, the wind really whipping along the quais. When we finally arrived at Le Fourmi Ailée--the winged ant--(which someone we'd met had told us about) it looked enticingly warm, golden and inviting. This former Latin Quarter bookstore still has books as its main decoration. 

The plat du jour, roast chicken with linguine, sounded just the thing for a bitter night--and was--especially with a bottle of sturdy Languedoc wine. I can never resist lemon tarte. This version was new to me, a bed of puréed prunes spread on the pastry before the citric filling went on. A fresh take on a classic with its sweet-sharp flavours.

Recommended. If you're off to Paris any time soon. The address is 6, rue de Fourre. 

Friday, October 3, 2008

Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Architectural Details

The Parisiennes still aren't quite as careful about cleaning up after their dogs as they could be. Still, despite the risks inherent in not keeping our eyes constantly on the pavement, we do seem to spend a lot of time stopping to look up at the buildings of Paris. 

I'm not talking about the "if there's a horizontal surface, let's stick a statue on it" school of architecture but the ordinary (well, in Paris, ordinary) carvings that anywhere else would have a postcard all to themselves.

The elegant carved lettering of the Syndicat de l'Épicerie Française caught my eye. This handsome building, art nouveau, in style dates back to around 1900. 

The third photo here is the absolute pinnacle of the Opéra (as in Phantom of the...) Technically it's called the Palais Garnier. According to the Internet, there's still a small lake underneath it.

Last but not least, a genial stone face. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

France's Oldest Restaurant

At night, we can look out from the window of the apartment and across the Seine to the Tour d'Argent. That's it on the top floor of the building to the left, and it's the oldest restaurant in Paris.

But even though lunch was just within the bounds of financial possiblity, the jacket-and-tie dress code was a bit off-putting. Besides, we've done a great deal of duck already over the past few months and that's the speciality here, albeit squashed in a very posh duck press. The bloody juices squeeze out make the sauce. 

So the nearest we got to the "Tour" was this shot from the apartment and a look at the very glamorous web site.

Notre Dame de Paris

Even if it hadn't been a chilly damp day, being inside Notre Dame cathedral would still give me goose bumps. Take a look at those soaring arches and wonder what it must have been like to build them. Although as the various guides were pointing out, if it weren't for those spider-leg flying buttresses outside, the whole thing would come crashing down. 

Some of the windows were restored in the 19th century. Like most cathedrals, this one was built over a long period of time and has been repaired as time has eroded it. 

Even though it's now late September, Notre Dame was still packed, a steady stream of visitors, cel phones held high to take photos, cameras flashing, shuffling along, up one side aisle and down another.

Still, there were pockets of absolute calm as in the side chapel where this old lady was lighting a candle.

On another small-scale "human" note, the pews have seats woven of rushes like the simple chair in Van Gogh's painting of his bedroom. 

Back outside, we stood back and looked up at the facade. Each time we come, we pay our respects to a certain saint who we call "Saint Gormless" because of his dim-witted expression and the fact that he seemed to ignore the fact that his hat had fallen over his eyes. It was only when we looked at a close up shot of him that we realized that the hat brim is actually a snake. Divine apologies are in order.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Au Nom de la Rose

We came upon this ravishingly pretty flower shop on the way home tonight. It's called Au Nom de la Rose (www.aunomdelarose.fr). Isn't that gorgeous "ball" of roses insanely romantic? Just outside and inside the door of the little shop (it was a little breezy this afternoon) the floor was littered with rose petals in all the colours you see here.
If you had to live the rest of your life on this one block of Rue de Rivoli, you could be happy. After you'd chosen a bouquet of utterly gorgeous roses, you could then shop next door at the boulangerie and patisserie. Steps away are a wine store and a cheese store. A butcher's too, I think. Definitely a little area to go back and check. 

A Long Lunch in the Third.

Third arrondissement that is. Coming here on the train, I read my way through Pudlo Paris, a book of reviews by Gilles Pudloski, restaurant critic for Le Point. I jotted down names of places that were close, interesting and affordable which is how we came to have lunch today at Au Fil des Saisons. Pudlowski describes it as "snug" and "rustic," seductive adjectives on a rainy day. 

Eventually we found it, or rather we assumed we must be in the right place even though this particular restaurant had no sign or street number. 

Inside were 36 seats. A couple of elderly ladies sat at one. A couple at another around the corner of a huge circular brick column which contained a staircase belonging to another building. At the table next to us was a solitary businessman. Another came later, obviously a regular--he's the one in the shot at the top of this post. 

The menu was written on a large blackboard carried from table to table. Dishes looked simple but inventive and that's how they turned out. Peter began with artichoke flan served with ham from the Vendée and a mesclun salad. I had confited gésiers (gizzards)--chicken rather than the usual duck ones we get in the south. They were mixed in with Puy lentils and lardons with--the unusual element--shavings of Parmesan cheese on the top. It sounded weird but worked. 

Main courses. Peter's was chicken breast with a sauce of ceps and cream, and a little potato flan. My slices of pork fillet were interspersed with smoked ham; the sauce had a whiff of truffle in it. The potatoes, sliced and cooked with cream, were in a small side dish but too rich to finish. As I write this, it's after 8 p.m. and I very much doubt we'll want anything for dinner beyond the baguette, cheese, grapes and wine we bought on the way back to the apartment.