Discovering the Basque Country in France and Spain

Sauteed Pork Tenderloin with Piperade 1 3648x2736Though we have been traveling to France for decades, my husband and I had never visited the Basque country. We’d been to Burgundy, Provence, and Brittany, but the southwestern area of France that boasts the glorious Pyrenees and an exquisite coast line on the Atlantic remained unknown to us. So we flew into Paris last week, kept our bags packed, and took off for points southwest with our friends, Harriet and Philippe.


En route we stopped by St. Emilion in the verdant wine country, and took a quick tour of Bordeaux. Then we headed for St. Jean de Luz, a charming, old coastal town near the Spanish border. The quaint white-washed houses with their traditional rust or black trim caught our eyes as did the elegant cathedral located in the heart of town, where Louis XIV of France married Marie Thérèse of Spain in 1660. Next we crossed the border to Spain, traveling to Bilbao to see the magnificent Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. We walked the cobblestoned streets of San Sebastiàn, another town nestled in a protected port. After winding through the mountainous terrain dotted with Basques farms, we had a light lunch in Biarritz, a ritzy resort town, favored by Russian nobility in the late 19th century. It is still redolent of the belle époque. Continue reading

When the Side Dish Takes Center Stage in Brittany

House in Brittany Sea View 1 1824x1368My husband and I have left Paris with our son and his family to spend a few days on the northern coast of Brittany. We’ve rented a house with an incredible view of the Atlantic, marveling each time we gaze at the ocean through its picture windows. Although the sun has been out almost every day, brisk winds have kept us from spending time on the pristine beaches.

Boucherie (the butcher's)

Boucherie (the butcher’s)

So, we’ve turned to cooking instead, taking advantage of the many marchés and food stores in the area. Huge artichokes (a specialty of Brittany), plump cherries, juicy peaches, and sweet melons are temptingly displayed, and, of course, there’s plenty of seafood—oysters, mussels, crab, lobsters, cod, and monkfish, caught fresh and sold the same day. We’re enjoying Bordier butter (one of France’s most celebrated butters and another specialty of the region) as well as local cider.

Poissonerie 1 1153x1040

Bordier Smoked Salt Butter

Bordier Smoked Salt Butter

We’ve bought chicken, sausages, and beef for grilling, and fresh white fish fillets for sautéing. And for sides we’ve made simple salads and a special curried rice scented with crème fraîche and summer herbs. In fact, this golden-hued rice has been so versatile that we’ve paired it with our entrees for the past three days. Continue reading

Hungry For France—A New Book for Foodies who Travel!

HungryForFrance_cover-1For several years now I’ve harbored a special culinary fantasy, and that is for my husband and me to dine our way around the perimeter of France, and then through its interior. In my dreams we’d start in Normandy and Brittany, then drive along the southern Atlantic coast to Provence. We’d cross through Burgundy, then into Alsace, and finally wend our way through the Loire Valley and beyond. A Francophile since forever as well as a part time resident of Paris, I knew such a trip could take hours of research and planning. But, when my husband surprised me with a copy of Alec Lobrano’s new book, Hungry For France: Adventures for the Cook & Food Lover, I found that he had done all the work for me!

Normandy Cheeses

Normandy Cheeses

Beautifully photographed and illustrated, this colossal work is organized into 13 chapters, each of which highlights a special region. Passionately and articulately, the author who has lived and eaten in France for almost thirty years, takes you on a culinary journey through every one, pointing out a well-edited selection of bistros, restaurants, cafés, food markets, and specialty ingredients. He gives you a cheese primer in Normandy so that you can move beyond its celebrated Camembert, shares his favorite crêperies in Brittany, leads you to the best boeuf bourguignon in Burgundy, and makes certain you don’t overlook out-of the way places like La Merenda, a petit restaurant serving Niçoise specialties on the Côte d’Azur (and one of my favorites). Continue reading

Dearie – The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

I’ve read many biographies of Julia Child over the years, including Appetite for Life, the first, comprehensive one by my friend, Noel Riley Fitch (published in 1997 and reprinted this year with a new intro by the author). My library also includes Alex Prud’Homme’s My Life in France (an account of Julia’s years in Paris and Marseilles in late 1940s and early 1950s), As Always, Julia, (the fascinating correspondence between Julia and her pen pal, Avis DeVoto) by Joan Reardon, and finally Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia (the story of a fledging cook, making her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking I). Now comes a new volume–Dearie-The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spritz. Continue reading

Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit 14, Antibes, France

Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit 14, rue Saint-Esprit, or 7 promenade Amiral de Grasse (two entrances), Antibes 06600, France, 33-4-93-34-50-12

An extraordinary dessert at Le Figuier

While my family was in Provence this summer, Kathie Alex, our friend and a fellow cooking teacher, suggested that we book lunch at Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit, a fairly new restaurant in the picturesque coastal town of Antibes. The chef, Christian Morisset, she explained, was exceptionally talented, and was a genius at using the freshest ingredients in the market. We called for a reservation on the spot. The “figuier” refers to a large fig tree that stands tall in the center of the restaurant’s enclosed terrace, while “Saint-Esprit” Continue reading