Monday, January 28, 2013

Another Fine French Cookbook Giveaway!

Based in Des Moines, Iowa, Wini Moranville writes the popular blog Chez Bonne Femme and covers food for The Des Moines Register, Relish, Better Homes & Gardens and others. A passionate Francophile who has spent summers in France for 20 years, Wini has just written The Bonne Femme Cookbook, to help cooks of all levels make authentic French meals without fuss, fear, or all that butter--''the way real French families eat today,'' she says.  And I have three copies of the book to giveaway, thanks to the fine folks at Wini's publisher, The Harvard Common Press.

''I’ve set up house in charming apartments from Paris to the Dordogne, from the Côte d’Azur near Italy, to the Côte Vermeille near Spain,'' Wini reports. ''Everywhere I’ve stayed, I’ve become immersed in the food of the region. I’ve dined in restaurants and in French homes, gleaning cooking tips from the bonnes femmes I’ve met. My days in France would see me heading to the markets, chatting with butchers, greengrocers, and cheesemongers, picking up French cooking magazines, and perusing the menus of the town’s mom-and-pop bistros for inspiration. Most evenings would find me in my little French kitchen, cooking simple yet gratifying dishes akin to what women all over town were serving to their own friends and families.

''The French cherish (and expect!) the pleasures of a great meal at the end of each day,'' Wini continues. ''And yet, most French women don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen any more than we do.  I approach French cooking not as a chef or leisure cook, but rather in the spirit of today’s French woman (the bonne femme of my title), who would rather spend more time at the table than in the kitchen. You can cook like the French, no matter where you live. Many of the everyday recipes I’d enjoyed in France translate beautifully to the American table.'' 

Wini’s emphasis is on simple techniques, affordable, easy-to-find ingredients and speedy prep. Among the 250-plus recipes are classics--onion soup, crisp-skinned roasted chicken, beef Bourguignon, gratin Dauphinois, crème caramel--plus scores of more-modern preparations. Dozens of dishes showcase her clever take on the sauté/deglaze method of cooking: sauté the meat, deglaze the pan with wine and then add a handful of easy-to-find ingredients to make a true-to-France pan sauce...all in 30 minutes or less. 

Wini also offers up a new take on French stews and braises, through dishes such as pomegranate pot-au-feu, tuna steaks braised with tomatoes, olives and fennel and others that call for contemporary ingredients assembled in a fix it-and-forget way. ''Believe me, there’s more to the French stewpot than boeuf Bourguignon and coq au vin, though I do include both,'' she adds.

There are also chapters devoted to appetizers, salads, soups, eggs, cheese, and desserts, as well as recipes for dishes you might not think of as French, such as sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, pastas and casseroles. 

Wini's book has gotten nice praise from some of the top food writers in the biz. For example, Amanda Hesser, author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook says: “Wini approaches French cooking with the freshness of an outsider and the wisdom of an insider. Her conviction that French home cooking is accessible plays out winningly in recipes like Any-Day Chicken Sauté and Green-on-Green Avocado and Arugula Salad. But I'll relish the book for enticing riffs like Olives with Fennel and Pernod, and for the fact that Moranville writes with such ease and intimacy, you feel you're in France with her, cooking by her side.” 
OK on to the giveaway. If you'd like to enter to win a copy of the book, simply leave a comment below, under ''COMMENTS.'' Please be sure to leave your email address so we can reach you if you win; signing in with your Google account is not enough. Tip: The more creative your comment the better! If you love French food, let's hear it! If you don't know French food, tell us why you'd like to. If you've dined around France, tell us why you loved it. We'll pick the winners in a week or two. Good luck!

And if you'd like to go ahead and just order the book, you can do that on Amazon here...and you can follow Wini on Facebook and on Twitter...

Like this story? Subscribe to Provence Post here. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wine Trips to France & Other Ways to Learn

The French Wine Society (FWS) is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, founded in 2005 and dedicated to French wine education. They offer self-paced learning online....and webinar certificate programs...and classes in various US cities...and more.  This year, they're also offering a number of splendid week-long Wine Immersion Study Trips in France. These are new trips, providing an intensive, professional-level educational program, coupled with certification through the FWS’s industry-endorsed Masters-Level programs. 

The trips are led by well-known experts who reside in the visited regions, such as Dewey Markham Jr. (Bordeaux), Matthew Stubbs (Languedoc-Roussillon), Kelly McAuliffe (Rhône Valley) and Jean-Pierre Renard (Burgundy).

The trips include extensive high-caliber tastings at some of the best estates. They're nearly all-inclusive, including the FWS Master-Level Course, ''full comfort'' hotels, gourmet meals with great wines (bien sur!), all winery tours and tastings and ground transportation. Prices range from $3,495 to $3,895 per person, double occupancy, and each trip is limited to just 18 guests. (Single rates are available or you can ask to be paired up with another single traveler.)

The 2013 schedule included seven trips, three of which have already sold out. Trips still available are: 

Languedoc-Roussillon - June 2-7, 2013 (4 spots left)
Bordeaux  - September 1-7, 2013

Rhône Valley - Oct. 13-19, 2013
Bourgogne - Oct. 20-26, 2013
To learn more about the trips, click here

And what if you can't run off to France and drink wine for a week? Then check out the wide range of local learning opportunities the FWS offers in various US cities. For more info, click here.

Then, there are self-guided learning opportunities (study at your own pace) and online webinar based classes, such as the Provence Master Level online Study and Certificate Course which begins January 28. For general info on these programs, click here. For specific info on the Provence class, click here.

FWS director Julien Camus tells me he's happy to answer any questions you might have. Contact him: or call 1-202-640-5466.

Like this story? Subscribe to Provence Post here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Coolest Campers on the Coast

OK so here’s a confession: I still have my first peace-symbol necklace; my fringed, suede purse; a very-pretty macramé-and-beaded halter maxi-dress; and more than one tie-dyed t-shirt dating to the art form’s very earliest days.  

So imagine my delight when I heard about 69 Campers, a company that rents out three gorgeously renovated 1960s and 70s VW camper vans for touring Provence and the Cote d'Azur.

By the way, I’m totally hearing the Grateful Dead in my head right now! Aren't you? 

69 Campers is a family business run by Matt and Jennie Tombs, and Matt's parents Vic and Louise, who all hail from England. They moved to France eight years ago, to Portes du Soleil in the Alps, and later made the move to the South, where they now live full time with their three kids (aka ‘’van-washers’’). The family and their company are based in Seillans, a beautiful perched medieval village in the Var, not far from the famous pottery town of Fayence. They’re 70 kilometers from Nice and 80 minutes from St. Tropez.

The business, Matt says, took about a year to set up. The moved to Seillans in September,  launched 69 Campers in November and will welcome their first renters in early spring.

They used a UK company to source, import, restore and customize the vans, which were found in Alabama, California and Arizona. ‘’All three are left hand drive,’’ Matt says, ‘’and have undergone professional bare-metal restoration and mechanical overhaul. They have new 1600cc Twin Port engines, re-conditioned gearboxes and new electrical wiring looms. They were completely done up to our specs in terms of colors, materials, interiors.’’

The vans are called Gigi, Margot and Amélie and each has a personality all her own.   

Margot and Amélie, for instance, are known as ''bay windows'' and have ¾ ‘’Rock 'n' Roll’’ beds, an additional double bed in the pop-up roof and a front-seat hammock. Margot and Amélie sleep five.  

Gigi, a ''split screen,'' has a ¾ Rock 'n' Roll bed and a front-seat hammock; she sleeps three. Drive away awnings and tents can be hired if additional sleep-space is required.

All three vans have cool, custom hand-made interiors with fitted kitchens, two gas burners, a sink, a fridge and storage.  A solar shower comes with the van and a portable toilet can be added for a small fee. Also available for rent are iPod docks, GPS units, hammocks, linens, mountain bikes, food hampers, tented awnings, baby seats, sleeping bags and more. Matt and Jennie will happily provide campground info and regional maps.

For touring, rentals are three days minimum in mid season (March, April, May, October) and seven days minimum in high season (June to September).

Or, consider renting one for a wedding or another special event. Gigi, in fact, has been styled with weddings specifically in mind: ''Dressed in Harvest Moon Beige and Alpine White, she creates the perfect look for your special day!'' the website says. The campers can be decorated to compliment your theme and can be loaded up with Champagne and treats.

Or if you want Gigi, Margot and Amélie for your movie, ad campaign, photo shoot or trade show, just drop Matt a note. 

The Tombs expect it’ll take some time for this new business to take off—please forward and share this story!!--but say they couldn't be happier.

‘’What a thrill to be able to marry this iconic vehicle with Provence and the Côte d'Azur,’’ Matt says. ‘’Just like these campers, the region is completely steeped in beauty, history and charm.’’ 

69 Campers
Le Clos St Michel
185 Route De Draguignan
Seillans, 83440, France
Twitter: 69campers
Facebook: 69 Campers
Tel: +33 (0)4 83  11 17 75
Cell: +33 (06) 75 8 5 25 76

Photos: Two of the three girls have already joined the family; the third arrives on February 15th.  The 69 Campers logo and slogan. Matt and Jennie Tombs looking totally cool sur la plage. 

Like this story? Subscribe to Provence Post here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Art of the Luggage Label

Tom Schifanella, a Florida based graphic designer and ad exec, loved buying vintage travel posters (mostly Art Nouveau to Mid Century Modern) until prices escalated in the late 1980s. Then one day at a local antique show, Tom realized he could pick up luggage labels --often miniature versions of the same travel posters he loved--for a fraction of the cost. ''They were usually considered an afterthought by dealers,'' he explains. Tom started buying up all the labels he could find locally, scouting them on frequent trips to New York and London and trading duplicates with dealers and other collectors. ''I quickly realized that you could amass a pretty significant collection on a limited budget and began to acquire as many as I could get my hands on,'' he says.

Today Tom estimates his collection numbers somewhere around 7000 labels, plus another 600 historic travel-related items.

''Luggage labels are fascinating bits of hotel history from the golden age of travel, roughly the 1900's to 1960's,'' Tom explains. ''The labels were used by hotels as advertising and eagerly applied to steamer trunks, suitcases and all sorts of luggage by hotel staff, mainly bellhops.'' 

Along with other bits of travel ephemera, Tom displays the bulk of his vast collection on his wonderful Flickr site here. ''My goal is to create an online visual resource for collectors that will educate and inform,'' he says. ''Eventually I'd like to have one of the most comprehensive collections of labels on the web. And one of the best ways to do this is by encouraging other collectors to add to the images to the site.'' So if you have labels, Tom would love to hear from you.  

Tom has his favorites, of course, such as those from the great label printers and artists of the 1930's. ''Printers such as BRÜGGER of Meiringen, Richter & Co and A. TRÜB & Cie of Aarau produced some fantastic labels during this time period using stone lithography, engraving and chromolithography,'' he said in a recent interview on the blog Ephemera. ''Artists such as Roger Broders, Jan Lavies, Erik Nitsche, Mario Borgoni, J. Pashal and Charles Kuhn worked with these printers to produce label designs of exceptional quality.'' 

On Flickr, Tom has his labels organized beautiful by theme, geography and subject. For example, you can see all the France labels here...and Paris labels here...and labels by the printer Richter & Co. here...and labels from the Belle Epoque here...and labels from North America and Canada here...

Tom also displays labels belonging to fellow collectors, such as Joao Mimoso and György Rázsó, among others.

If you're thinking luggage labels might be fun to collect, Tom's best tip is is to buy what interests you, not what you think is a good investment Meanwhile he sells a few labels on Ebay; you can see that page here. For advertising and marketing purposes, Tom makes high-res digital images of his labels available; just email him ( for more info. Tom's love affair with luggage labels is like a little vacation and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did...

Photos: A grid made from some of Tom's French labels...and a few favorites from the South of France. 

Like this story? Subscribe to Provence Post here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kit Golson's Design Tour de France

One of the many super-cool people I've met in the blogosphere over the years is Kit Golson, a California-based interior designer who's crazy passionate about Provence. (By the time Kit and I finally met face to face last year, we were already great pals.) Anyway, Kit just rang up to tell me that she still has a few spots left on her third annual Design Tour of Provence, May 4 to 11, 2013, and she's offering $300 off until January 20. Early May is a glorious time to be in the South of France and if I wasn't already living here, I'd sign up for sure. I'm totally planning to schlep along with the group one day if the charming-and-talented Kit lets me.

As in years past, Kit's week-long tour includes plenty of antiquing, with visits to design ateliers, fabric shops, markets and brocantes. There's a cooking class in a 13th-century chateau, optional yoga and massage, work with a digital photography coach, plenty of sightseeing in some of the most popular villages in Provence and, of course, fabulous meals with perfect local wines. You'll stay in an elegantly restored-farmhouse villa, with private bedrooms/bath and a private chef, in the village of L'Isle sur la Sorgue, a major European antiques center.  

Food, wine, antiques, design, markets, shopping, photography, a private there anything on that list we don't love? 

I'll let you get the rest of the info from Kit's site here. Or, you can download the brochure here. If you have any questions at all, just email or call her: or US phone 650-302-6883. Hope to see you in Provence in May!

Photos from top: On Kit's trip, you'll see beautiful buildings like this...serve yourself breakfast from here...sleep in this room or another like it...swim and lounge by this elegant pool...poke through brocante markets...and eat in charming bistros like this one. Kit's husband Chris Golson took the photos and he'll be joining the tour as well.

Like this story? Subscribe to Provence Post here.