Sunday, May 31, 2009

Paris--Day 3: Sunday Morning Flea Market

The only marché des puces we've been to in Paris is the humungous one at Clignancourt. To be honest, we didn't like it very much. Size isn't everything. 
   I'd read about another, less tourist-y market, in the southwest of the city so, after coffee and tartines, off we set on the Metro, a 45 minute trip to Porte de Vanves which promised 350 dealers. Enormous. Reeeeally, reeeeeally, REEEEEEEEEEEALLY big. It started off unpromisingly (for bargain hunters) with 40 euro café au lait bowls but, as we made our way along under the plane trees, prices dropped. 
   Everything was for sale. Paris had tipped its grandmothers' attics on to the pavement. Paintings galore, stuffed animal heads, china, lots and lots of silver and silverplate. "Oh, those knives are two hundred and eighty euros? Sorry, I thought they were twenty-eight." He would have dropped the price to 250 but a little out of our range. 
   Still we did leave with a decent haul: three books (art, food and fiction), a sparkly parrot-shaped brooch (thanks, Peter) and an enormous lace curtain which will find a home somewhere in our new house. We bought it from a woman as she was packing up her stock. Ten euros, she said. A little less, I asked? Eight euros, she snapped. Done. It needs a good wash and a few stitches but is otherwise quite impressive. The lower section is a creamy-coffee colour, the top part is white. With the aid of a tea bath or sunshine, it'll end up being one shade or the other. 
   The sun blazed down. Everyone (apart from the lace lady) seemed in a holiday mood, the stalls went on and on till they reached a bridge that spanned the periphérique (the ring road that, for Parisians, defines the limits of Paris). A man played jazz classics on a piano that was just that bit out of tune enough to sound poignant. We had the time of our lives. 
   We sat outside for a very late lunch--a south-west salad for Peter with confited gésiers (duck gizzards) while the street cleaners in their neon-green vests hosed and swept and made everything clean and tidy, and then went home on the metro.

Paris--Day 2: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Saturday was changeover day when we checked out of our hotel and towed our luggage over to Ile St. Louis to move into an apartment for a week. I love the secret Paris that's hidden behind the double-height doors once used for horses and carriages. Our courtyard is cobbled and filled with plants. Our studio looks down on it. 
  This afternoon we took in a magnificent exhibit of photographs by Cartier-Bresson. More than 300 shots of the people of Paris and elsewhere. Ever since I've been tempted to switch the camera over to black and white--or at least convert normal shots on the laptop. Left to right, nuns buying a lawn mower in BHV, the massive department store with arguably the biggest hardware/electrical/plumbing/you-name-it selection in its basement. The middle pic is in the Place des Vosges where we spent some time this morning. At right, although it's hard to make out, is a queue in a boulangerie including a man with huge bouquet. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Paris--Day 1: Flowers and Balconies

Ambling through the Latin Quarter after lunch at--obviously--a sidewalk café, I was dazzled by one particular flower shop. People here seem to buy bouquets every chance they get--and then there are the narrow balconies dripping with scarlet geraniums and greenery.

Paris--Day 1: Window Shopping

What didn't we see as walked around today? In no particular order, we gazed at Gothic gargoyles, holographic portraits,a beautiful pot--I'm not sure of the era-- and a saucy window display in the Taschen book shop to promote their new Big Book of Legs. A shop that sold manuscripts and autographs had "signed" the back of the model in the window. 

Along beside the Seine, you could stare at a custom-made wedding dress called "Las Vegas" on account of its glitzy trim: yours for only 7500 euros. In the Marais, I lucked into a terrific vintage clothing store and am wearing the five-euro skirt I snapped up as we speak. Long, Indian print, what else. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Paris--Day 1: Food Notes

Let's start with another chicken Ferris wheel, this time on Rue St. Antoine near the hotel where we're staying for a couple of nights. Not far away is this patisserie, source of pastries to go with coffee at a nearby café. Both are far more expensive in Paris than in our area. Sigh. But the passing parade is worth it. This must be the best city in the world for people-watching. 
   Sitting on the train most of yesterday must mean we had energy to burn. We ambled all day, along Rue de Rivoli, through the Louvre, across to the Left Bank, back along to Notre Dame, over to Ile St. Louis, up to the Marais district, a quick look at Place des Vosges and then, well after 8 p.m., we fell into a little café and had a planche Auvergnat each (assorted charcuterie from the Auvergne, frites and salad) and a couple of glasses of rouge.
   Sometime today, we passed one of the branches of Ladurée, famed for its double-decker macaroons in flavours like blackcurrant-violet, and caramel with salt. Inside is like a jeweller's. A trio of smartly dressed women carefully lifted small perfect pastries into the kind of delicately pretty boxes you could imagine Marie Antoinette using. Photos of the store's interior are forbidden but I did snap the exterior and a couple of the store windows. Binge on the details at It's a very--suitably--sweet site.  The raspberry-dotted gateau comes from another patisserie. Aren't those fat powdery berries irresistible with their individual cushions of spring green icing? 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Chicken Ferris Wheel

Pity I can't write a scratch 'n sniff post. You'll just have to imagine the unbelievably tantalizing smell of these fat farm chickens as they slowly rotate on this rotisserie outside a butcher's in Pamiers. 
   And off go a couple in paper bags for somebody's Sunday lunch.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chicken and garlic

This dish doesn't have a name. It's too simple. All you do is put a whole chicken breast on the bone into a casserole and spritz lemon juice over it. It has to be on the bone and it has to still have its skin on it. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are an abomination that remind me of things sold in packets of ten at the drugstore.
    So, around your skin-covered, bone-supported chicken breast go unpeeled garlic cloves--as many as you like. Be lavish with these-- I used about ten for two of us and it wasn't enough. In with those go a couple of onions, chopped into large chunks and one and a half red peppers also chunked. Then all you do is drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and stick the dish in the oven at 350 degrees. Half an hour later, stir the veggies around and return the dish to the oven. Half an hour later, pull it out and bring to the table. Meanwhile, I'd also washed a large amount of spinach, and wilted it in olive oil (the olive oil consumption in this household is shameful). That and a baguette was supper and if you think that chunks of baguette wiped around the serving dish to sop up the chicken-y, onion-y  garlic-infused olive oil were absolute bliss, you're right. Also very good (food Nazis has better not read this) is a slice of crisp golden chicken skin carefully removed and wrapped around a chunk of soft unctuous red pepper. You can also pop the garlic cloves out of their "shells" and smear the paste all over the chicken. 
   This was enough for two but seems to me it would be easy to double or triple.

Finds at the vide grenier

Today is Ascension Day which means another public holiday in France. The month of May seems to have the most and because this is also a Thursday, most shops, banks and government offices will be closed tomorrow as well as people take le pont--the Friday bridge--that takes them neatly into the weekend. 
   After breakfast, we drove to Nalzen, a village on the road between Lavelanet and Foix. It's under a half hour away but the scenery by then has changed from our rolling local hills to definite foothills. 
    We'd been to a vide-grenier here last year so, based on previous experience, we anticipated leaving laden down with bargains. To be honest, this wasn't stellar although we did pick up a large white teapot, five glass footed bowls that seem ideal for strawberries and cream or vichysoisse, and a DVD, for a total of seven euros. We ate lunch there too at the buvette where a man cooked sausages, merguez and slices of pork belly on a barbecue. We lined up to pay for a length of baguette, sliced open and topped with mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise. The BBQ man added fried onions too if you wanted them which of course we did.
   As we sat on a stone wall eating lunch, we talked about the items you can almost always guarantee seeing at these village flea markets. Steven Seagal movies on DVD for one thing. Also ornate dolls (although we'd never before seen an entire carload). Also pastis jugs and glasses. Ashtrays galore and loads of demitasse sets. Old linen sheets and old faded books. Barbie dolls and children's clothes. Women's work in the form of embroidery, crochet. and especially needlepoint. If you've ever done this you know how long it takes. It's sad to see how hundreds of hours of work are disposed of for a few euros. Naked ladies were a popular subject today. I snapped these two (two of several) one snuggled into a hedge, the other leaning nonchalantly against a vehicle.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More About Pasta Primavera

Scooting around the Internet reveals many recipes for this pasta-and-vegetables dish but no agreement on what to include. So I'll tell you what went into my version tonight. First, I peeled and julienned a couple of carrots. Then I cut about a dozen asparagus stalks into 5 cm lengths.
These got cooked for about five minutes in boiling water. 
    Half a red pepper got julienned too. The broad beans (see previous post) were shelled. A couple of large spring onions, thinly sliced. A couple of garlic cloves, finely chopped. A couple of tomatoes, slung into boiling water for 30 seconds, skinned, seeded and chopped. That was it, I think. And remembering to put a large amount of water on to boil for the pasta.
   A lump of butter went into the large non-stick pan. Then onions, red pepper and garlic all went in over low heat for a couple of minutes, just enough to soften them. A big glug of vermouth--and a digression. I still can't get used to living in a country where it's financially possible to keep bottles of red, white and rosé wines open and ready for cooking. Back in North America, I used white vermouth as an all-purpose stand-in--and I still do. 
    Right, pasta into the saucepan and the timer on for 12 minutes. Tomatoes into the vegetable pan, lid back on, and everything left to cook very, very gently for a few minutes. The pre-cooked vegetables went in next and the lid went back on. Then, at the last minute, I added a meagre dollop of crème fraiche, tossed it all with the drained pasta and threw a large amount of chopped parsley over the top.  Strawberries and crème fraîche for dessert.

Greens + Purples = Spring

This morning, Mirepoix market was bustling with people--and carpeted with vegetable plants. Herbs too. Basil, chives, savory, even occasionally coriander, parsley both curly and flat-leaved, it was all there. Here's a producer who specializes in tomato plants. From her and others, I've so far collected four varieties including Green Zebra and a black-red variety whose name I've forgotten. Meanwhile, growing in a small pot on the patio, much to my delight, are tiny plants that have sprouted from seeds that I saved from last summer. Not sure what kind that are but I know I salvaged them from an heirloom tomato so you can't fault their family background. 
   The lady in red is buying asparagus and baby purply-green artichokes. Right now, stalls are heaped 40 cm high with white and green asparagus. You can buy thin, medium or thick or odds and ends to make soup or risotto with. If you love to cook, this is an inspiring time of year.
   We came home laden and I've just now taken a break from preparing the veggies for pasta primavera, a dish that'll use some of the produce we bought. Skinny purply-tipped asparagus, beautiful, beautiful young sweet purple-striped garlic, parsley...The most labour-intensive chore is shelling the broad beans. After you've podded them, you toss them in a pot of boiling water f0r 30 seconds, then pop each one out of its skin.