Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another Fine French Book Giveaway!

Mark Craft and Diane Shaskin are crazy passionate about three things: France, food and wine. They live most of the year on Vancouver Island where they pine away for France and count the minutes until they can return. Over the years, the say, they've cooked and eaten their way through a small fortune in France. And for more years than they can count, they dreamed of ways to share the France that they know and love. Finally, they launched Paris to Provence last year, offering culinary tours in France. And this year they launched Paris Insiders Guide, a free online travel guide. They also publish another site called French Things Women Love

But wait, there's more: Mark and Diane have also written three books (when do they sleep?), the latest of which is How to Cook Bouillabaisse in 37 Easy Steps. It's a 308-page travel/cookbook recapping many of their favorite French culinary escapades, with 49 easy French recipes.

"How to Cook Bouillabaisse is us reflecting on how lucky we are to be in France," Mark says. "But I think there's something fresh about it too. To some, Paris and Provence are art and architecture, monuments and breathtaking landscapes, lavender fields and vineyards. But to us it always boils down to one thing--our next meal. Of course there's also our previous meal, and the meal that got away, and what new wines to try! This book lets you spend time with us in the boucherie learning from the butcher how to roast the perfect lamb; in a cooking class at the Ritz in Paris where the chef sings Motown to us; and learning to make authentic bouillabaisse from an eccentric chef in Avignon...to name just a few."

Because they love Provence Post--clearly, this is a couple with good taste!--Mark and Diane are offering two copies of Bouillabaisse as a giveaway. Simply leave a comment below and we'll pick the winners next week. When you comment, be sure leave your email address in the body of the comment or we won't be able to reach you.

If you want to buy the book, you can order it from Amazon US or from Amazon Canada. Or you can order directly from Mark and Diane's website, in which case they'll throw in free shipping for a limited time.

If you'd like a copy of their e-book The Paris Luxury Food Guide, you can download it free if you sign up for their newsletter at Paris to Provence here.

And if you'd like to reach the couple directly, you may email them:  mark@paristoprovence.ca or diane@paristoprovence.ca. Chances are you'll find them enjoying a long lunch in some sun-dappled French vineyard....or hunched over their laptops at home finalizing details for their next trip. Either way, they'll get back to you as quickly as they can. Meanwhile, enter the giveaway tout suite and bonne chance in winning the book!

*Note: How to Cook Boullabaisse...was just named best Canadian book in the French Cuisine category in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Bravo to Mark and Diane!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rocky Top

Philippe Clairo was born in MegèveFrance and now lives in Calgary, Canada where he works as a video editor/photographer for clients such as Tourism Calgary and Nissan. Visiting his Dad in Montpellier last week, he took his stepson to see Les Baux and captured this wonderful image. "Les Baux is always peaceful in the low season and the view is breathtaking," he says. "But I had never been on the very top. So when I came across this view, I had to snap it! This shot is made from three exposures combined together to create a 'high dynamic range' image." If you want this as free wallpaper for your desktop, laptop, HDTV or mobile device,  you can download it here. You can see more of Philippe's gorgeous work on his Flickr page here and on his website here. And if you want to hire him, buy a print or just say bonjour, you can reach him at shoot@philippephotography.com.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks in France? Here's Help.

Thanksgiving is Thursday and that means Americans all over France are scurrying around trying to find cranberries, pumpkin pie filling and of course, the butcher who will order that big fresh turkey even though it's really late. (If you're a turkey, I'd lay very low the next few days.)

While I'm sad to be missing Thanksgiving with my mom and the Minkoff gang at home in Milwaukee, I'm super excited to be having it here in Provence, with a big group of friends and their friends in the beautiful village of Eygalières. We're all foodies, we're all cooking or baking...and we're all thanks-giving to Stephanie Fray, the rock star who's orchestrating this amazing feast. (*If you don't have Thanksgiving plans but want some, see the info at the end of this post.*)

If you're hosting your own Thanksgiving or bringing a dish, there are a few shops that might be able to help you locate that hard-to-find ingredient--or suggest a reasonable substitute. Whether they have what you need for the holiday or not, it's great to know about them anyway, for year-round essentials such as Graham Grackers, Marshmallow Fluff, Coffee-Mate, Peanut Butter, Triscuits and Dr. Pepper! If I were a better person, I'd call around for you and see who has what--but I'm far too busy flipping through Grama’s old recipe box trying to decide what I'm going to make. (You know how, in 1620, the Native Americans went way out of their way to help the newly arrived Pilgrims? I'm not like that.) 

My American Market is a well-established online shop, based in Toulouse, that stocks an enormous number of American products.  Their "Holiday and Thanksgiving" section shows they still have pumpkin pie filling, canned sweet potatoes, pecans, turkey stuffing, cranberry sauce, marshmallows, Crisco, corn syrup, cornbread mix and more--and they're likely to have at least of those items the rest of the year as well. If you order by tomorrow (Monday), you can still get your goodies by Thursday...and there's always express (24-hour) delivery as well.

In Antibes, Geoffrey's of London has been supplying British groceries along the French Riviera for 20 years. They also have American, South African and Australian goodies, in their store and online. They recently launched a home-delivery service, from St. Tropez to San Remo.

In Montpellier, Chuck and Judi Fowler, who hail from Oregon and California, opened the English Corner Shop in October 2010 selling products from America, England and Australia. They're sold out of pumpkin pie mix but they still have cranberry sauce and turkey stuffing. And they’ve posted a pumpkin pie recipe on their Facebook page made from real pumpkin. (Good luck with that!) The English Corner Shop does no mail order or delivery--you have to go in.

The grand-daddy of them all seems to be the shop called Thanksgiving, selling American products in Paris for the last 25 years. (Normally they sell online too but this is such a crazy week for them they've shut down mail-order until early December.) For the holiday, Thanksgiving sells fresh, farm-raised turkeys (remember that for next year), plus cranberries, yams, pumpkin and pecan pies and New York-style cheesecake. But all year round their shelves overflow with bagels and Philadelphia cream cheese, American-style bacon, Cajun breakfast sausages, Tex Mex foods, Maple Syrup, Liption Onion Soup/Dip Mix, Baked Beans, Kraft Mac & Cheese and much more. 

There are certainly other stores, in France and online, that sell American and "Anglo" foods. If you know of any, we'd love to hear so please leave a comment below. Meanwhile, I want to wish you all the happiest of holidays. I have much to be thankful for, such as you guys--my loyal readers--and my loving family and fabulous friends. I'm especially thankful, every day, to have a mom as amazing as mine. Her Thanksgivings (before she finally said basta!) were legendary, with as many as 25 of us around the table. She's a fantastic cook and I'm inspired by her every time I step into the kitchen. (She's also the smartest, funniest, most-capable and loving woman I know. ) I'm also thankful to Barbara Leto for reminding me about some of these great shops. I'd be particularly thankful if the Minkoffs sent me some of their famous Thanksgiving hot fudge. And I'm very very thankful I'm not the one hosting 12 crazy foodies for dinner on Thursday!!

*Note: Hungry for Dinde Farcie and company? I called around to see where you might go but I'm late and a few of the open-to-the-public Thanksgivings in Provence (such as the one at StarsNBars in Monaco and the Anglo American Group of Provence one in Aix), are sold out.  I did find two, one that has seats left for sure and one that might. * The American Club of the Riviera will host a traditional Thanksgiving lunch on Thursday at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, starting at 12:30Turkey and all the trimmings will be preceded by a Champagne reception. It's €80 (members and immediate family), €90 (members of affiliated clubs), or €95 (non-members). To reserve, please contact Jay by Tuesday at the latest: rjjallad@wanadoo.fr or  call 06-70-30-63-18. * The group called France Etats-Unis will hold a Thanksgiving dinner on Friday November 25, at the Yachting Club Pointe Rouge in Marseille, starting at 7 p.m. I was unable to reach them but if you're interested, all the info is here and you can contact them directly: france.usa@wanadoo.fr, 09-71-34-35-78.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Garden Grows on St. Barts

I’ve spent lots of time in the Caribbean and the French island of St. Barts remains one of my all-time favorites. So when my friend James Jondreau told me he was on his way there, I asked him to keep an eye out for juicy news. James is a chef and serious Francophile who splits his time between New York and the Hamptons. “But if I had my way,” he says, “I’d definitely add St. Barts to that list!” On his last trip, James was lucky enough to stay at the very-tony Le Toiny, where he found an interesting story right under his feet: a chef who’s growing his own produce despite some very strong odds. For more about James, visit his blog CafeJondreau.com or email him at jajondreau@gmail.com. Meanwhile, here's what he wanted to share.

Local is an oxymoron on the chic French island of St. Barts, where virtually all the food arrives by plane from Guadeloupe or France. The tiny island is known as "the St. Tropez of the Caribbean" and its grand super marche is stocked with French cheese, pâté and aisles of Champagne. Nothing grows on the rocky island and there is zero agriculture. So for Hotel Le Toiny executive chef Stéphane Mazières to have a garden, like so many other chefs these days, seemed about as likely as winning the lottery. 

But when Guy Lombard arrived at the five-star Le Toiny three years ago as the new manager, Mazières’ dream began to take shape.

Growing up in France, my parents always had a vegetable garden,” Guy explains. Later he oversaw the garden at Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s hotel in the Atlas Mountains near Marrakesh. Despite being told repeatedly that nothing would thrive on St. Barts, Guy decided to give a shot. He was determined to keep food costs under control and to improve the quality and supply of herbs and vegetables for Mazières’ exquisitely beautiful presentations.

Together they decide what to grow. Le Toiny sits high on a hill and has a little land leading to a beach where coconut palms once grew and enriched the soil. Rather than the typical glass-enclosed temperature-controlled greenhouses, the duo went with green cylindrical tents commonly known as hoop houses or hoop-style greenhouses. The temperature hovers around 80 degrees in St. Barts year round, so the tents provide protection from the intense sun--and from the ubiquitous, voracious iguanas.

Guy started with one greenhouse and today has three; one is hydroponic and all are organic. They yield a wide range of produce, including tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers and herbs such as basil, coriander and chervil. Le Toiny’s “garden” now supplies 80% of the restaurant’s herbs and about 30% of the vegetables.

“It definitely save some money,” Guy reports, “but locally we also play an education role as we have school children come over for educational projects such as biodiversity.”

Le Toiny, with 15 private bungalows, is one of the most-exclusive properties on St. Barts.  The island has nearly five dozen restaurants--most of them French--and Le Toiny’s Le Gaïac is considered among the very best.  Mazières was named a Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef in 2010, the only one in North America that year.

If you’re a foodie, you might want to know about Le Toiny’s new Bon Vivant package, good from March 1 to December 19, 2012. The promo includes a four-night stay in an ocean-view villa with private pool and terrace, two one-hour spa treatments, meals at some of the island’s premiere culinary venues and a 90-minute class at Absolutely Wine, a new wine bar and school. The Bon Vivant package also includes round trip airport transfers, a convertible SMART car and breakfast daily. For more info on Le Toiny, click here.

If you’re planning a trip to St. Barts this winter, here are some events that might appeal. There will be a traditional Christmas Village (December 19 to 23, 2011), with a European-style market and festivities at the harbor in Gustavia. The annual New Year’s Eve Regatta (December 31, 2011) is a “just-for-fun” sail around the island, open to visiting and local boats alike. The St. Sylvester New Year’s Celebration (December 31, 2011) offers live music throughout the evening and fireworks on the docks at midnight. And the St. Bart’s MusicFestival (Jan 7 to 19, 2012) features top classical, opera, ballet and jazz. For more info on the island and its events, click here

And whether you’re already a fan of St. Barts or just dreaming of visiting one day, you may want to check out this gorgeous book: In the Spirit of St. Barths by Pamela Fiori, published in April, 2011 by Assouline. You can order it from the publisher here.

Photos: Le Toiny chef Stéphane Mazières; one of Le Toiny's three hoop-style greenhouses; grilled filet of turbot, with home-grown zucchini, oyster tartar, and lemongrass sauce; all Le Toiny villas have private pools like this one; the hotel's private beach.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gorgeous Provence Rug Giveaway

One of the many joys of blogging is how it encourages connections, virtual or otherwise, with other bloggers. I "met" bloggers Delana Nelsen and Libby Wilkie online, long before I met either in person. Delana (who's from Wisconsin, like me), writes about her expat experiences in Aix-en-Provence; Libby blogs about design and decor. Delana and Libby met online as well and quickly became good pals. Now they've become business partners in ProvenceRugs.com, importing and selling these vibrantly beautiful handmade rugs from Provence. Their line also includes coordinating home accessories such as serving trays. Check out all the goodies here

A passionate Francophile living in Fearrington, North Carolina (yep, that's the place with the lovely little ads you see in the New Yorker), Libby first spied the rugs in a Provencal market a few years back--and knew immediately they were special. She suggested that Delana find the woman who makes them...and she did. Delana bought "a bucketload" of rugs and shipped them to the U.S., where the two women opened a test shop. Their supply sold out within two months so they knew the demand was there. But it was clear that an online shop was the way to go.

Delana sorted out all the e-commerce and shipping issues while Libby found a small factory to make acrylic accessories using the same French-fabricated fabrics. Now their lovely website is up and running and the orders are rolling in. More products will be added so check back often!

To celebrate the launch of Provence Rugs, Delana and Libby are offering one medium-size rug as a giveaway. To enter, simply leave a comment below and the winner will be picked next week. Be sure to leave your email address in the text box with your comment; signing in with your Google account or your website is not enough. Depending on what's available, you'll be able to choose your color.

I'm so glad the blog world brought these two cool women into my life! Meanwhile I say bravo to my sweet new friends and much success with your new adventure!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Great Big Grenache Tasting Next Thursday

If you're free on Thursday evening November 17 and you love red wines, you need to be in Avignon for "G-Night," a grand Grenache degustation. Twenty-five winemakers from France and Spain will be pouring their hearts out, serving up tastes of their best Grenache-based vintages along with small nibbles. The event is sponsored by InterRhône, the Grenache Symposium, Tavel and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It's just 10€ per person and my friend Kelly McAuliffe, an American sommelier and Rhône wine expert, tells me it's going to be a blast. It's at Le Grenier a Sel, 2 rue du Rempart Saint-Lazare, and it starts at 7:30. Tickets are limited and there may be some left at the door, but it's best to reserve your place by emailing: marlene@grenachesymposium.com. For more info, call 06-61-60-95-96. If you need a map, there's one here. See you there!

Monday, November 7, 2011

One Restaurant I Love in Arles

Looking for a light dinner on a wet and chilly October night a few years ago, a friend and I popped into Cuisine de Comptoir in Arles because it looked casual, warm, inviting—and a little hip. And, unlike all the other spots nearby, it had customers.

A long room with wood floors, bare wood tabletops, leather banquettes, a simple chrome light dangling over every table and a small open kitchen/bar in back, this all-day café specializes in the crunchy open-faced sandwiches known as tartines. The 10 choices included something for every taste: grilled foie gras with onion confit, grilled chicken breast, magret de canard with cantal, brandade (mashed saltcod and potato), Parma ham, smoked salmon and one or two appealing vegetarian options. All the tartines were served on Poîlane bread--made at the famous Parisian bakery and delivered daily--and came with a choice of homemade soup or salad. All the desserts—including a moelleux de chocolat and a baba au rhum--were homemade.

A couple weeks ago, with a few hours to kill in Arles, I went back to the restaurant for an early lunch. This time, it was a gorgeous sunny day and I made sure to arrive early to get a table. I needn’t have worried: I found just one lone customer, eating and reading the paper. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “Bad sign.” When I left just after 1 p.m., however, virtually every table was full.

The menu still offers 10 different tartines, the prices are still low and the food is still fresh and satisfying.

I had the daily special: a warm, crunchy tartine of tiny crevettes atop avocado spread, sliced into easy-to-eat pieces and served with a bowl of greens and red cabbage. Remarkably, the tartines had only inched up in price one euro. You can get a sandwich, homemade soup or salad, a glass of wine or ½ liter of mineral water and coffee for just 10.50 or 12.50, depending on which sandwich you choose. It’s a really good deal on a nice simple meal. 

I was also delighted to also see that Alexandre Perucca was still behind the counter making sandwiches and Vincent Barjolin was still serving. At one point the two partners—born and raised in Arles--had planned to expand to other cities but they’ve since decided to just sit tight. Having the owners on site keeps the quality high and makes the atmosphere far more convivial.  Alex and Vincent have hit on a perfect formula and the packed restaurant proves it. Here in Provence restaurants tend to come and go quickly so it’s nice to find one just as you left it, still doing well after a number of years, rain or shine. Here’s to Alex and Vincent’s continued success!

10, rue de la Liberté (Just off the Place du Forum)

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Canadian Artist in Love with Provence

The Quebec-born artist Claude A. Simard first discovered Provence in his early 20s, traveling around France with a friend. “There was little time for sketching since those were the days when girls were more important than the sights and the history!” he recalls.

He returned in the 1990s, but says the trip that really hooked him was a one-week stay in St. Rémy about ten years ago.  “This time, I was traveling with my wife Huguette, my daughter Roseline and Roseline’s husband to be,” he says. “I took the time to walk around and discover the beauty of the village and its surroundings, with my sketchbook and a box of watercolors. I found the place so attachante that I’ve returned several times since…for two or three weeks at a time so I have time to explore and sketch to my heart’s content.” The title of one chapter in Claude's newest book, in fact, is One Never Returns from St-Rémy. 

So what is it that draws him back again and again?

“It’s the ambience and the people,” he replies. Their love of life. The pleasure of the moment. Walking in the oliveraies where Vincent spent hours painting. The softness of the landscape. The food. The chocolates.  The olives of all kinds. The market. I love Wednesday mornings in St.-Rémy when everyone goes out to make provisions for one day or one week. The accent of the villageois. Everything inspires me in St. Rémy. I feel like a kid who fell in a box of candy when I sit on the steps of the Hotel de Ville and draw draw draw the market.

“In Provence,” Claude continues, “all places are full of beauty. The most banal road and the smallest village turn into subject matter. I like driving through the Alpilles and looking at the stones that time has created and the olive trees that tint the grey landscape a tender green…”

Professionally, Claude has an international reputation. He has had 25 solo exhibits since 1974, done eight postage stamps for Canada Post and completed a number of major mural commissions. His career and garden (called Jardin Bon Accueil) have been the subject of several major articles and TV shows. He has also published two books--Inspiration and Painting and Planting the Garden--and been the subject of a third: Claude A. Simard by André Juneau (Presses Université Laval, 1991).

Should you find yourself in Canada this month, you can catch Claude’s newest exhibit, at Galerie Walter Klinkhoff in Montreal, November 5 to 15, 2011. Claude's page on the gallery website is here. His website is here and his blog is here. Meanwhile, I’ve shared just a few of his Provence paintings and sketches above...but there are many more. 

Claude’s next voyage to Provence will be a three-week trip this Spring. While he has no plans to lead a formal workshop, he might arrange a get together with five or ten people who love the region and want to bring it back in a sketchbook—“along with a few extra inches around the waist!” Interested? Contact him at claudeasimard@sympatico.ca.

Photos: A few of Claude Simard's Provence paintings and sketches, plus a shot of artist in his element.