Saturday, November 27, 2010

French Vintage on Sale

Jill Mitchell is offering discounts of up to 50% on the French vintage items in her two online shops. (This mid-century French school poster, for example, with North America on one side and Asia on the other, is now $60 plus shipping.) To see Jill's shop on Etsy, click here and use the code word "holidaysale" to get a 30% discount through the end of the year.  To see Jill's Ebay store click here; that sale lasts until December 6th only and prices are as marked. Mention ProvencePost and Jill will put an extra little vintage gift in with your purchase. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A French Love Affair

One day in the late 1990s, Francophilia founder Pamela Poole was looking for a Bastille Day celebration in her hometown of San Diego...but found nothing. So she decided to launch a website where people like her could get their Francophile fix any time, anywhere. She started putting together a plan and three years ago, Pamela, who now lives in Paris, launched the Francophilia Community. 

Francophilia consists of three related sites. The Gazette  is  a cabinet de curiosités, an online magazine offering bite-sized tidbits of news, trivia, history, arts, pop culture, food, fashion, language and more. The Community  is a full-featured social network where Francophiles can meet people all over the world who share their passion for France. (And monthly contests too!)  The Marketplace is stocked with  hand-picked merchandise that appeals to a wide range of Francophile tastes and budgets, from French designer clothes to kitsch. "Not everybody can live in France, or even visit as often as they’d like," Pamela says. "And some never make it here at all. Now they can pop in to Francophilia and come away feeling like they’ve had a little taste of the country we all love." 

Pamela's sites look great thanks to Pamela's talented and techie husband Vincent, who handles the design. She plans, one day, to merge the three separate sites into one. Meanwhile, she's actively seeking investors and partners to help her move Francophilia forward. Interested? Email her:  admin@francophilia.com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Did I Mention I Wrote a Book?


If you and I spoke at all in 2009 and I was acting a bit mental, here's why--I was writing a book. And this week the book comes out! It's called the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook and we celebrated it last night with a big party at the very-chic Barney's in New York. We'll celebrate again at the 10th Annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival--which everyone just calls SoBe--on Miami Beach in late February. SoBe has been referred to as "the Sundance of the food and wine industry," "the biggest beach party on the planet," "spring break for chefs," a "family reunion for chefs" and "Foodstock." This year, 50,000 or so people will attend at least one of 50 SoBe festival events. It's four days of non-stop food-and-wine drenched decadence on one of the world's most gorgeous beaches. You should come!

So who's Lee Schrager and why is his name bigger than mine on the book cover? Lee is the founder and director of the SoBe Festival and, more recently, the New York Wine & Food Festival, coming up on its fourth year. Lee is one of the most energetic, most creative people I know. Not only are his festivals tons of fun, they raise millions of dollars for good causes. Lee is connected, I'm sure, to two of every  five people on the planet; at last count he had almost 7,000 people in his BlackBerry. So when he asked me to write the festival cookbook, I was thrilled.

The idea was to commemorate the big anniversary with 100 fabulous, festive recipes, all of them actually prepared at SoBe or with a SoBe feel. And we definitely wanted to display the festival's vivid multi-culti flavor.We wanted as many dishes as we could possibly fit, but only if they were do-able by home cooks working with easy-to-find ingredients. We started with who knows how many hundreds and eventually reduced it like a fine sauce. At first I was afraid there would be no more seared tuna in the sea, we received so many variations on that theme. And then it was short ribs...everyone sent short ribs. Truth is we could have easily run 200, 300 great recipes if we had had the pages...so many dishes, so little space. Many were the nights I tossed and turned--really!--struggling to choose one dish over another.

Ok, so maybe you're not going to make Ferran Adria's Carrot Air with Bitter Coconut Milk for the kids' school lunch. But seriously, with few exceptions, this isn't a book filled with complex dishes made from scary ingredients you've never heard of. Plus, the recipes were all tested in a home--rather than professional--kitchen and only the best made the cut.

One of the many things I love about this book (indulge me here) is the wide range of contributing chefs. We've got recipes from the elite swat team chefs (Adria, Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Charlie Trotter, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Nobu Matsuhisa, Pierre Herme, etc.) and the rockstar celebrity TV chefs (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, Emeril, Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio, Morimoto, etc.) and the hard-working restaurant chefs whose places we love year after year and some of the best pastry chefs ever and even a few amazing young talents you've probably never heard of but soon will.

Because the event known as the Burger Bash is an annual SoBe highlight, we've got a whole burger chapter including winners of the festival's best burger awards. Another chapter is all barbecue, with recipes pulled from the super-popular SoBe event called the BubbleQ, where 25 or so top barbecue chefs man grill stations on the beach and serve up all different kinds of amazing 'cue with rivers of fancy French Champagne.

But the 256-page book has way more than just recipes. It's got witty and insightful (!!) Q&As with chefs ("Grilled for One Minute"), great anecdotes (well, those that I could repeat), tons of photos from the last ten years and a forward by Anthony Bourdain, the well-known chef/author/raconteur/bad boy/TV star who's been a loyal festival supporter for years and who always draws standing-room-only crowds. "When it comes to SoBe, I can't find anything to complain about," Anthony told me. "And I complain about everything!"

Whether you're a hard-core foodie, a beginning or accomplished cook, a culinary student or someone who just loves to see chefs in board shorts and flip flops, I think you'll enjoy the book. Best of all, proceeds go to a great cause.

Lee Schrager is a master event planner and he really outdid himself at our party last night. Lots of the chefs in the book were there: Jamie Oliver, Emeril, Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, Mario Batali, Michelle Bernstein, Hedy Goldsmith, Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Jacques Torres, Rocco Dispirito and more. The food, catered by Barney's in-house restaurant, Fred's, was superb and the Champagne flowed nonstop. Now Lee's on a plane back to Miami, for a big "foodie theme night" promo with the Miami Heat tonight. Our book will be featured on the Jumbotron and will be looping on the huge digital billboard oustide the arena as well. Inside, VIPs in the suites will be dining on dishes from the book.

Me, I'm going to stay in New York for a few days of fun. I have a gorgeous room at an elegant new Fifth Avenue hotel called The Setai and I'm nowhere near ready to leave.

If you're at all curious what it was like pulling this book together, you can read what I wrote about that here.

If you're curious about the 2011 festival, click here

If you'd like to win a trip to the 2011 festival, enter here.

If you'd like to buy the book (and who wouldn't?), it's in bookstores nationwide and on all the usual websites including Amazon.

If you'd like to leave a comment below, do so! I'll pick one next week and send that person a copy of the book just for fun.

Friday, November 12, 2010

St. Tropez, Back in the Day

I thought I had finally had my fill of “expat in Provence” memoirs but last night I snuggled in with A Feast at the Beach and am so glad I did. It takes less than two hours to read…maybe three if you savor all the recipes…and it’s a delight. 

A Feast at the Beach (3L Publishing, Sacramento, CA) is William Widmaier’s loving narrative about the glorious vacations (summer, mostly, but also Christmas) he spent at his grandparents’ home in St. Tropez. Today William, 48, lives in the San Francisco Bay area and works in marketing. But the book is set in the 1960s, when he and his brother, Stephan, stayed with “Mémé and Pépé” in their 17th-century stone house about two kilometers from town.

Cobbled together in stages over time, the house had a large yard and vineyards out back; views of the village and the gulf in front. The house was attached to a small church, the church that appears in Henri Matisse’s 1904 painting La Chapelle St. Joseph. William remembers it smelling deliciously of furniture wax, lavender, Savon de Marseilles and, very subtly, frankincense. When the windows were open, the salty Mediterranean breeze wafted through, tinged with the smell of machine oil from Pépé’s garage. The house, William says, “dripped with history and secret lore.”

The book is filled with powerful flavors, scents, images and traditions…things you’ll recognize immediately if you’ve spent time in Provence or on the Cote d’Azur. I loved visualizing the locations William describes: the Vieux Port and the new; dense wooded pathways down to deserted beaches; late-night petanque games on the Places des Lices.

The book begins, poignantly, with a disappointment: William arrives at his grandparents’ home for the very first time, aged four, believing, for whatever reason, that his Christmas gift will be a “big magical gift…something vaguely to do with trains or cars.” He’s presented with a red scarf instead. The scarf turns out to be just one of his gifts but of course it’s the one he remembers. Ironically, the scarf becomes a treasured keepsake that he cherishes for many years, long after it’s too tattered to wear. 

A Feast at the Beach goes on to provide, through anecdotes and memories, a wonderful glimpse of life in St. Tropez before it became St. Tropez.

Of five-gallon glass wine jugs wrapped in woven straw.

Of being woken at 2 a.m. to see snow falling on the village.

Of Pépé biking 1,000 kilometers more than once, to deliver food money to his family and the families of his co-workers, all of them hiding safely from the Germans in central France.

Of Pépé eating every meal not with cutlery but with only an Opinel pocketknife.

Of baguettes packed for a day at the beach, filled with chocolate or brie or Caprice des Dieux cheese.

Of being invited by a tight group of fishermen and their wives to share a marvelous bouillabaisse feast on the beach with seafood just pulled from the nets.

Of the four-times-a-day sirens at the French naval research facility where Pépé worked as an engineer. (Locals called it simply l’usine or the factory). The sirens told workers when to start, break for lunch, get back to work and go home. Locals set their clocks by the blasts.

Of Mémé burying Pépé in his bicycling outfit.

And because food is such a huge part of French country life, every chapter of A Feast at the Beach ends with a recipe or two: all of them simple, very Provençal and delivered in a sweet, chatty style. The instructions for Lemon and Olive Chicken with French Green Beans, Uncle Jacques' Favorite Grilled Shrimp, “The Magic of Eggs and Olive Oil” and Mémé’s Sleeping Potion are almost as enjoyable as the chapters they conclude.

You know a book has grabbed you when it leaves you wanting to know more. I wondered, for example, how William came to have these charming French grandparents in the first place. He doesn’t tell us whose side they’re on, or how his parents met, or what happened to the house. So I rang him up to find out.

Mémé and Pépé are the parents of William’s mother, he told me.  She was studying in England; his father was stationed there with the U.S. Air Force. They married in the U.K. and returned to the U.S. together.

And the house? Turns out that Mémé is 94 and still living in it. She hasn’t read the book—she’s almost blind and can’t read English—but cousins have told William she’s thrilled with it nonetheless. The book is currently being translated into French.

Now when William returns to St. Tropez he’s accompanied by his wife Tiaré. If they had children, he says, he’d definitely send them off to their cousins in France. “Despite all the new developments, condos and plowed-under vineyards,” he reports, “St. Tropez is still a very beautiful place.”

To order A Feast at the Beach, click here

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Provence Tours, Tailor-Made


Cecile Beillieu is the owner of Tours in Provence, a small company offering full and half-day tours for individuals and small groups. 

Cecile was born in Aix-en-Provence near the foot of the famous Mont St. Victoire. After earning a tourism degree from the University in Aix, she took off for London and soon opened a shop selling products made in Provence. "We focused on the most authentic craft centers," she told me, "such as Ravel from Aubagne, V. Pichon from Uzes, glassware from La Verrerie de Biot, Richard Esteban from Aigues-Vives, Souleiado linens and Laguiole cutlery."

One winter, Cecile went seeking the sun in Barcelona and felt “so well welcome” that she stayed five years, working in the hotel and travel industry around Catalunya.

But then she realized that where she really wanted to be was at home in her beloved Provence.

“I decided to make tours and welcome travelers in own my country,” she says. “It was an idea that I'd always had: to share my love for landscapes bathed in that unique light...for Cassis and the Calanques…for the vineyards and olive groves… for the wildlife of the Camargue…for Les Baux and Les Alpilles…for the Gorges du Verdon and the lavender fields of the Valensole plateau. For La Provence!”

Cecile, who is fluent in English and Spanish, offers set tours, special themes and a la carte adventures. Her tours operate year round. So check her site, see what she suggests, share the link with your friends and consider signing up for a tour yourself.  

Meanwhile here’s a testimonial from Lynn Villyard, a writer and Francophile from Athens, Georgia: “I spent the month of June in Provence, basing in a small village and going far and wide from there. I went about alone most of the time, but didn’t want to take on Marseille without some help. Lucky for me, someone in the village knew Cecile and told me she had just started her guide service, so I called right away. Cecile is friendly and easy-going, and was much more interested in what I had to say than telling me how we should do things.  Once she understood my interests, I had a tailor-made tour. Oh, and for those of us still struggling with our French, she speaks fluent English! Because we could discuss things, I gained so much more from the experience. I can’t say enough positive things about Cecile.”

For more info:
Cecile Beillieu

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fanfare for Modern French Food

When famed Parisian patissier Pierre Hermé went looking for someone to write his cookbook, Desserts by Pierre Hermé, he chose Dorie Greenspan. When it came time to do his next book, Chocolate Desserts, he asked Dorie again. 

When top New York chef Daniel Boulud signed his book contract, he called on Dorie to help with the writing. 

And when the legendary Julia Child needed someone to pen the companion cookbook for her PBS series Baking with Julia

Yep. 

But even when Dorie writes her own books—filled with her own recipes and ideas—those are huge hits too. 

All told, Dorie is the author of ten cookbooks, many of them best-sellers. She’s won all the prestigious cookbook awards, she writes for Bon Appetit and the New York Times, she’s a frequent guest on National Public Radio and she produces a wonderful blog at DorieGreenspan.com

If that weren’t enough, Dorie is the periodic perpetrator of fun foodie hijinks such as the pop up CookieBar she and her son, Josh, opened in New York last year. It was a huge hit, of course. 

Oh, and did I mention that Dorie divides her time between a beautiful old home in Connecticut, a rambling apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and a charming pied a terre in Paris? 

If she weren’t so sweet and funny and amazing and talented, everyone would hate her for sure. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because Dorie’s new book is just out. And while she certainly doesn’t need me to promote it—it’s getting great reviews, flying off shelves and just debuted on the New York Times How-To Bestseller List—it’s one I’m sure you foodie Francophiles will all want to own. It’s called Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, October, 2010). Amazon just named it the best cookbook of the year. 

Here’s how Dorie describes it: “This isn’t French cooking by the rulebook,” she says. “This is more like my French kitchen journal…the food I’ve been passionately involved with for all these years…true elbows-on-the-table food that can be made and enjoyed by everyone. Some of the recipes are classic, many are surprising and new and some are what my French friends cook at home every day. 

“The French are just as busy as we are,” she continues, “and they’re masters of supremely easy—and supremely delicious food.” 

Around My French Table has been out just a few weeks now and predictably, cooks are raving. 

Here’s Alec Lobrano in the New York Times: “This book is as much fun to read as it is to cook from…If Julia Child was the first to attempt to demystify French cooking for the Stateside home chef, Greenspan succeeds in making it seem eminently doable and easy…” 

And here’s blogger/food writer Ellise Pierce, another American in Paris: “Dorie's book Baking: From My Home to Yours is probably the most batter-splattered, dog-eared cookbook on my shelf. And now I'm loving Around My French Table--it's such a great mix of what you see in France today, from salads with couscous and quinoa, to super-easy appetizers and fabulous desserts that are gobbled up as quickly as they come together.” 

In the book, serving and storage notes are listed neatly down the margin and ingredients are printed in red type for easy reference. Every recipe is accompanied by sidebar ideas on serving, storing, preparing ahead, substitutions and repurposing leftovers. Dorie tells me the dishes are easy enough to be made by a novice and that all the ingredients are available at your local market. 

“In fact,” she says, “I tested all the recipes in my Connecticut kitchen and did about 95% of my marketing at good-old Stop & Shop. It’s amazing how much great French food you can make from everyday American ingredients.”

To order Around My French Table, click HERE.

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