Thursday, March 27, 2008

Almost the end of March (and not a moment too soon)

Here are some random photos of the lush spring foliage (and fauna!) to be found at La Pilardière. It's a riot of daffodils, grape hyacinth, hellebores, apple blossoms, crocuses and tulips throughout. For a city girl like me the view of dewy wet grass, troubled grey skies and brilliant sun, cows and chickens all over amongst random blossoms is soothing, and at times almost too good to be true.

While celebrating the flowers and Easter this past weekend we also had a chance to go to market in Le Mans. One thing that I saw there and have not seen in Paris was a crémerie stall. Here you can purchase directly from the milk producer raw, unpasteurised, untreated milk. People lined up with their various used empty bottles to have them filled up. If you didn't have a bottle the vendor pulled out a used empty water bottle of their own to fill up and take away. Talk about environmentalism!

B and I did not purchase any milk but we did purchase some butter that they happened to produce. I had this notion that heaven tasted like a finely finished Stilton. Now I'm torn between that and freshly churned butter. How can I describe fresh butter if one has never had it? It's thick, rich, with a hint of fresh grass and cloves, and nutty on the sides. It's nothing like the butter I've had in North America, even the organic artisanal stuff. Perhaps it's because there's a higher ratio of water to oil, or it's been frozen during shipping. Who knows. All I know is that with the real deal my taste buds have been wrapped in buttery ecstasy. This is one butter set aside for crowning a slice of pain de campagne garnished with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

Another discovery. Chervil. Elegant, feathery, light and has a delicate anise citrus-y flavour. Apparently it had been known since Ancient Greek times (the name of the plant is derived from chaerophyllon or "herb of rejoicing") and is related to the parsley family. Chervil, or cerfeuil in french, is best used raw, in a salad for example (excellent with a salad of mâche), or at the end of cooking with fish or lamb. Or, perhaps in a chilled avocado soup?...Possibilities are endless.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

To market...

In Paris spring is slowly but surely arriving. There are fits of sun, bursts of gale force winds, and a whole lot of rain. Yes, it is often grey in Northern France, grey and wet. No wonder trench coats are "de rigeur" here. It's not just a fashion statement (which interestingly enough was invented by Burberry as part of the World War I uniforms worn by English and French troops), it's essential for surviving the relentless winter precipitation.

So, on those rare days, or hours, when the sun comes out in full force one is inclined to benefit as much as possible from the outdoors. For me that meant heading to market. Last Wednesday morning I decided to head to the nearby open air market du Président Wilson.

I hadn't a clue what I was going to purchase, I was hoping to be inspired by what I saw. The marché plein air du Président Wilson is fairly typical of most marchés volants in Paris. The setup consists of a long corridor flanked on either side by stalls including fromagers, poissoniers, bouchiers, and vergers, in addition to some stalls selling non-food items such as clothing.

There was one stall I was on a particular lookout for and that was the stall of Joël Thiébault. Apparently he is the celebrated produce supplier to the superstar chefs in Paris. He has specialized in cultivating heirloom varieties most farmers have dropped. Interestingly enough he does not grow to European organic standards, but states that he "works healthily" respecting the natural rhythm of growth and producing reasonable yields. I am hoping he is also applying the same nature driven logic to pest and insect control.

Well, his stall was easy to spot, it was the only one full of the most interesting and exquisite vegetables I had seen in a long time. There were 8 varieties of carrots, 9 varieties of lettuces, 7 varieties of exotic looking potatoes, and countless other vegetables (he doesn't do fruit). Everything was so picturesque, one couldn't help thinking of 17th century Flemish nature mortes. It also made me feel sorry for their plastic wrapped cousins at the supermarket.

I ended up purchasing 4 different types of carrots, even though I am not a carrot fan, and 2 different lettuces from the unusually smily gentleman at the stall. Of course, the produce was delicious. The carrots were simply grated and tossed up with freshly squeezed lemon juice, a little extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, cracked black pepper, gold raisins, and pine nuts. And the lettuces became a salad with a simple mustard vinaigrette. Very simple, but then again we have not stove. Yet.

On the way back I dropped by one of my favourite boulangers, Boulangerie des Invalides - Maison Jocteur. Originally from Lyon, they create tasty, light-as-air, buttery pastries and delicious breads. Even though they are well known and well celebrated, they manage to keep their prices super reasonable. A baguette tradition, like most others around town, is €1,10. Their tarts are around €2. And for €3 I bought a roast beef sandwich. We're talking about slabs of perfectly prepared velvety beef with a simple butter/dijon mustard/lettuce/tomatoe accompaniment. I cringe when I think about how much I paid for the same in San Francisco. $8 for a sandwich in the Financial District. yikes!

Next week, another market.....