A French Recipe

A little market shop in Gordes

Favorite French Recipes

I’ve developed a complex in France. It has to do with cooking and the fact that I am an American. Many French assume that Americans can’t cook, or at least cook anything that they would want to eat. On a walk in our neighborhood we stopped to talk to a nice man about the progress of his swimming pool. I should say, Maurice stopped to talk to him while I stood there, mostly mute, trying to catch all they were saying. I had put some osso bucco in the oven before we left and I looked at my watch and realized that we needed to get back so it didn’t overcook. Maurice told our French neighbor this and this nice man expressed surprise that I knew how to cook this dish, even though it is Italian and not one of the famous French dishes. Too bad I didn’t have him over to taste how good it was.
This isn’t the only time something like this has happened. We had some French friends over for a quick meal before we went to our village to see a little musical entertainment. I made a salad and a quiche. They took a bite of the quiche and the lady actual had the nerve to ask me if I had help making it, like I wasn’t capable of making a quiche by myself since I was an American. I was glad I was able to surprise them.
Somehow, the French are under the impression that Americans are bad cooks. I wonder where this comes from? Maybe from years before when we used to scandalize the French in restaurants by asking for ketchup or drinking coke with our meal?
I’ve become a little paranoid when cooking for French visitors, even my husband. I never know when he is going to get that look on his face that makes me feel like I am a culinary failure. I am being weighed in those French scales of hundreds of years of tradition and famous food.
Anyway, I have been trying French dishes since coming to France and while I am far from being at the professional level, I thought I would periodically share some of my favorites. I have found that some of the best dishes I have made are the most simple and that fresh ingredients is usually the reason why. The French don’t use processed foods in their cooking. You won’t find any canned cream of mushroom or chicken soup in the recipes, nor that dried onion soup mixed on top, all of which I used to use regularly.
We’ve had a surplus of zucchini from our garden and found this recipe so we could use some of it. We like it better than the ratatouille that we usually make.

Zucchini and Tomato Bake (Tian Provencal)

1 Tbsp olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1 large onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 pound tomatoes, cut in slices
1 pound zucchini, cut in slices, diagonally
1 tsp dried herbs de Provence
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over low heat and cook the onion and garlic for about 20 munutes until soft and golden. Spread over the base of a shallow baking dish. Use a pretty one, if you;ve got one.
Cut the tomatoes and zucchini into slices.
Arrnage alternating rows of zucchini and tomatoes over the onion mixture and sprinkle with herbs, cheese and salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil then bake for about 25 mintues until the vegetable are tender. (Arrange the tomatoes in the center of the dish and surround them with the zucchini for a really pretty dish. We use more Parmesan cheese and olive oil than is called for.)

Provencal Fete in St Remy

St Remy is a very pretty little town near Avignon. It advertised a festival with a bull run. I really wanted to see how it was done. It involves horses and just a few bulls running down the street at a time, from what I’ve read. I guess there is a chance the bulls can run into the crowds lining the street and we saw big fences that were to be put up for the occasion but we never did get to see any bulls. I wan’t willing to hang around for four hours until it started. We did see a parade involving huge horses all linked together with a giant rope.

Some of the horses.

Nostradamus was born in St Remy. This statue of him is on top of a fountain. I don’t like to read of possible future happenings, so am not familiar with much of what he wrote.

I liked this tile on the outside of a shop by the same name.

A few minutes outside of St Remy, are these old Roman structures which fascinate me. Across the road is an excavation of an old Roman settlement that had been built on top of a Greek town. This is also the area where Van Gogh was in a hospital recovering from the ear cutting incident. He did many painting while here.

A House in Provence Chapter 9

I don’t have these steps in my yard, but I wish I did. These were in a Provence village named Joucas.

I am now back in Provence enjoying the warmth and blue skies.

Building A House In Provence
Part 9
The Dining Room Table

We had a really nice kitchen, but no table to eat at. Even when our furniture arrived from Texas we would’t have a table as I sold it before we moved. We don’t live near a big city, or even a large town. The nearest village has 300 people and not one shop. Aix is around 45 minutes away if the traffic is flowing, which it seldom seems to do. I kept hoping we would find a table at some sort of used furniture store somewhere in Provence but we had no luck.
We made a trek down to a huge industrial area right outside of Aix. Almost every store selling anything for homes or home repair can be found there. The traffic can be a nightmare and even the famous round abouts don’t handle the flow well. I always dread going here but we often end up at some store in the complex, such as a huge Castorama, that will usually have what we need being similar to the Home Depot in the States for home improvement projects. We had to have a dining room table as we were really tired of eating off of our coffee table, so gathered up our courage and set off on our search. We found a parking place with difficulty-this place is always packed- and walked around the area going in many stores. We found one table we liked but the price was more that we wanted to pay and the store manager wouldn’t deal with us no matter how we tried. In fact, the table had been several hundred dollars cheaper when Maurice had seen it about 6 weeks earlier. So we left without our table.
We needed book shelves really badly as well and while looking at many in several stores, I couldn’t get Maurice to pick some and buy them. He wanted to see as many as he could, think about it, and then come back and buy his selection. I am not this type of shopper. I want to get in, buy what I need, and get out. I don’t want to return if at all possible. Maurice does the same thing with paint. Instead of buying all that we need at once, he only gets one or two containers at a time. He did the same thing with the shelves and poles we needed for the closets. We need to fix four closets but had only done two because of this, I call it strange, habit. We have to spend the money anyway so why not just bite the bullet and do it? It one of those things in marriage where you look deep into the eyes of your loved one and swear you see another life form there.
When we got home, three hours later, without a table, paint, or bookshelves, Maurice decided to look at the possibility of buying a dining room table on the Internet. This is what we ended up doing. It is a little scary just looking at a photo and picking it out, but it costs a lot less than the store where we were, there is free delivery and they will even put it together for us as a promotional gimick. I’ve never bought a dining room table before that wasn’t assembled which gives me pause. It didn’t arrive for several weeks but, in the meantime, our furniture from Texas arrived, and we had an “elegant” folding card table to eat at. I was really curious to see what would arrive.
Several weeks later two men delievered our table. It wasn’t bad for something picked out via a photo on a computer screen. It has a sort of “farm table” look, can seat eight people, and 6 more or so with extensions. We only bought four chairs to begin with and will have to order some more somewhere down the road. What a pleasure to have a table and matching chairs when eating a meal. It seems like decadent luxury after holding our plates in our laps while sitting on ratty plastic chairs.

A House in Provence Chapter 8

I obviously have a thing for door and windows. This was a lovely one in the village of Goult.

A House in Provence
Chapter 8

Because of the four foot drop out our back door and back porch we realized that we had to hire a landscaper. It was going to be a huge job requiring porches and steps all over the place. Our property was actually divided into two sections with half of it a good 25 feet below our house. Someday I wanted to have some olive trees planted there as well as a vegetable garden and we would need some sort of steps to get down there. We were also going to have a swimming pool installed to help us make it through the long hot Provencal summers. Several people suggested that the pool be put down below. I admit that it might look better but I didn’t want it to be a big production to get to the pool on a safari just to go swimming. I wanted it to feel like it was part of the landscaping attached to the house.
A landscaper was recommended to us by the girlfriend of one of our new neighbors, this being a guy, an artist, who was building his house himself. I had gone in and looked around and really liked the design of it. We could see an interesting sculpture he had created from our kitchen window. He and Maurice didn’t hit it off very well, though. The first thing he said when meeting us was that they had built our house too quickly, that the foundation wasn’t going to be good. We found out he was going through a divorce so maybe that made him crabby. Eventually he wasn’t able to finish the house for whatever reason-lack of money or just a job beyond him- and he sold the house. The new owners had to completely dig out under the house to fix a drainage problem.
It turned out that the landscaper was a woman wearing ankle high work boots with socks, short shorts, a muscle t-shirt and a really great tan. She did a lot of hiking in the area and she looked like she was in incredible shape and her hand shake was one of those that had me checking for broken bones afterwards. We liked the plans she came up with and she was very affordable so we hired her. She was going to trim some of the big trees around our house, replant some old olive trees growing here and there and get some porches built.
The people who would be putting in the pool were concerned with the stability of the soil and dug several holes in several places to check it all out. If it wasn’t stable enough, some sort of support beams would have to be installed to support the pool so it wouldn’t go sliding down the mountain. This, of course, would add greatly to the cost of the pool.
Another thing that was new to me was the way the various porches would be built. I assumed they would just pour some cement and that would be it but, again, if we wanted cement immediately we would have to have support beams adding to the cost. What they do is build the walls of the porches, fill them with dirt and then top that with small pebbles. Then, a year or two later, it can all be covered with cement or some sort of paving stones.
The first time it rained we had a lake in front of the house. Because of the pile of debry and rocky conditions, we couldn’t even get in our garage so that had to be taken care of too. It was depressing to look out the window and see all that had to be done. I had to keep in mind that a year from now it would probably all look great.
We were told to go to a nursery and look at some plants. I was expecting to see all sorts of varieties that I had never seen before but they all looked like plants I was used to in the States, plants such as photinia and oleander. One tree I really like in this area is the Parasol Pine. They have such a wonderful sillhouette, especially as you are driving into the Cote d’Azure. I like the way several of them join together looking like a cumulous cloud on the horizon. I mentioned them to our landscaper but she wasn’t too happy about them. She wants the landscape to look natural with the same vegetation already growing on the surrounding hills. I think I’m going to stand my ground, though. It is going to be our yard, not hers. Cherry trees do really well in Provence and I would love to have at least one planted by our house too. Wysteria grows everywhere in France and we are going to have what they call a tunnel, a curved frame, that the wysteria can grow up and over providing shade and a lovely sweet fragrance when the purple flowers are in bloom.
I had pictured quite a few trees in our yard but trees and swimming pools don’t mix, not if you don’t want to spend most of the day skimming out leaves and blooms out of the water. We are trying to come up with creative ways to have trees, along with the relief of shade, as well as a pool. We may just have to have man-made shade for the most part, at least near the area of the yard near the pool.

Elliot (the cat) Speak Out

Here I am, sunbathing in the sun.

Elliot Speaks Out

You know, my human and I were pretty happy by ourselves. She adopted me from an animal shelter and we were a match made in heaven from then on. I have a few “issues” as they say. I just can’t get over my fear of humans making sudden movements, even my human, no matter how hard I try. She says that something traumatic must have happened to me when I was a kitten, but I don’t remember it. It didn’t help that she got me “fixed”. I think that was uncalled for, but I forgave her.
As I was saying, we were doing just fine by ourselves and then she brought this Frenchman home. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice enough guy, but I don’t think we needed another male in the house. But, she didn’t listen to me and, before long, he was a permanant fixture and I got used to him and would even get in his lap if I was feeling friendly that day.
So, then they have to go and move and not only was I in a new apartment, I was in a totally new city, Paris, and a new country, France. Everyone talks strange and, it seems to me, dogs have more privilages around here than cats. They let the darn things into restaurants and even let them sit at tables if they want. I saw this from the window of our new apartment. I’m just stuck here in the apartment unless they leave the door open which happened once. I got all of the way downstairs three flights before someone found me.
I finally get used to Paris and one day I find myself in a carrier on a train and in yet another new place, this time something called Provence. I must admit I like this place better. There are all sorts of windows to look out of and I sometimes get to go outside when they are eating dinner on the patio, but I quickly run inside if something startles me.
I will keep reporting on my progress here and will write more soon of the enemy up above our house named Spike.

Look at this ugly dog and tell me that cats are not superior!

Driving Ms. Linda

A great window in a Provence village.

Driving Ms. Linda

I’m no Miss Daisy, as in the great movie, but I get driven around alot by Maurice. Now, don’t get me wrong, Maurice is a good driver and, more than that, he is a truly wonderful, sweet man but when he is driving he becomes a different person. Naturally, there is road rage in the States and I have seen some cases of it in Paris. I am just surprised to see it in mild, sweet Maurice. It can be with people pulling in front of him, cutting him off, or inconsiderate parking on a small street in one of the villages in Provence where only one car can get by at a time. These are occasions where I have learned my small but useful collection of French curse words.
Once in Paris as we were making our way around a round-about, I got a little nervous. I don’t understand the system in France very well or who has the right of way on these things. In a small village, it isn’t too stressful, but in Paris with the heavy traffic and cars pouring into round-abouts, the whole formula changes. I expressed some of this to Maurice and how it always looked like someone was going to run into us. Cars pull into the round-about and then maneuver their way over to the left, circling around until the exit they want comes up and they ease their way over to the right to get off. He explained how the car already in the round-about had the right of way and that in Paris everyone knows the rules and it is very quite efficient. Right then, at that very moment, a car ran into ours. Luckily, it was just a mild fender bender but, really, what incredible timing. I think these traffic circles can be a good way to control the traffic but, you know, you just can’t beat a traffic light.
When we are making a road trip somewhere, Maurice is usually the driver and I used to be the navigator but after being yelled at because I couldn’t find the next city and therefore the correct exit on a round-about, I now tell Maurice to pull over and look at the map himself. The man becomes Satan. I look over at him and am amazed that this is the same man whose company I usually enjoy so much, the man who can be so fun. I guess the French maps are confusing to me. The secret seems to be that you have to know the towns and cities coming up in the direction of the point of arrival. The highway numbers aren’t that important. Sometimes they are included on top of signs listing cities coming up, but not always. After desperately trying to read a map looking for a city so we would know which exit to take with Maurice’s yelling at me, insulting my (quite wonderful) intelligence as we circled around the round-about over and over again, I then vowed to never give him directions again. Of course, this isn’t just a French/American thing. I’ve heard many stories of couples of every nationality arguing in the same way.