When it is chilly outside and it looks so inviting inside with all the twinkling lights …
The wonderful scents of winter white , Fir or burning wood that make a home so cosy
I do not know anybody who does not love a Tarte Tatin . There is nothing better specially on a cool day ! Makes the house smell so wonderful .
For 100% success what you’ll really need is an 8″ cast iron pan . If you do not have any , you will still need a pan that can go from the stove top to the oven .
4-6 medium size Apples ~ 100 grs ( just a little less than a stick of butter ) ~ 100gr (1/2 cup ) of granulated sugar ~ 1 vanilla bean , 2 sticks of cinnamon ~ 1 pie crust ( i use Trader Joes frozen ones)
Set the oven at 375F
Spread the butter with your hands in an even layer at the bottom of the pan . Sprinkle with the sugar . Scrape the beans of vanilla evenly and put on the 2 cinnamon sticks . Peel , core and cut the apples in quarters . I use Fuji apples , they give out enough juice but not too much , get soft but do not compote when cooking , These are the most important criteria for choosing them . You do not want an apple that stay very crunchy either . Arrange the apples round side down over the butter . Make sure they are tight .
Start the cooking on the stove ( high -medium high ) Do not touch the apples , let the butter /sugar melt and bubble . You want to stay close to make sure you do not burn your caramel as it goes fast toward the end ( you can lower the setting a bit to make sure you do not over cook the caramel since it will still cook a bit after you take it off the flame ) . I rotate the pan to make sure the coloring is even , you want to avoid one side to caramelize faster than the other . This process should take about 12-15mns . When the caramel has the perfect color not too light or dark ( taste bitter ) take off the stove and let rest a few minutes before to cover with the crust .
Once you put the crust over the hot apples , you have to act fast . Using a spatula , tuck the sides of the crust into the pan and poke some holes so the steam can come out .
Bake for 18-20 mns . When the crust is golden brown , it is ready !
Carefully turn over into a plate when still hot . I like to use the juices left at the bottom of the pan . Pour some Calvados , Grand Marnier or Rhum in the pan , warm up and flambe. (Do not put the hood on or the flames will be sucked up) Pour immediately over the tart . Serve warm with creme fraiche , vanilla ice cream or whipped cream .
The sun is still high but evenings are crisp and it definitely feels like fall even in California ! And in our shop that means things are moving all the time as new inventory keep coming in every day !
Those felt ornaments are the cutest and flying out the shelves already !Entertaining season is upon us …stock up on tappers candles in rich colors for the season
Heavy linen napkins in bold colors are pairing well with all printed tablecloths for a traditional look or mix en match colors for a more contemporary feel .Paper bags from Tuscany are washable lightweight and can be used as a catch all , cache pot or bread basket ! Wears like a good pair of jeans…Clean , natural , made with essential oils …we love everything about these candles and room sprays ! New this fall are the ceramic containers . Comes in 3 organic scents
We imported their linen napkins for years now and have decided to import their throws this season . 100% wool in hip tartan or stripes , recycled cotton or mixed cashmere/wool all at a reasonable price .
New find for us : those beautifully made baskets from Ghana have finally made it in . Dominic who we met this summer is supporting woman by selling these hand crafted baskets with leather handles . More than a picnic or market bag , these simple yet elegant baskets can hold blankets near a sofa of towels in a bathroom. Think outside of the bag !If you prefer paper …here are some paper options with a vintage look . Now that days are cooler …it’s time to bake something that makes the whole house smell good ! The new updated Tartine book has again fabulous recipes for fall , Holidays or just because i really want to try out that matcha crème brûlée tart !
Felt is not only lightweight , dirt resistant , strong, durable and sustainable but this world’s best merino wool felt also does not pill ! I’ve used and abused my bags and pouches for the past 2 years and they still look impeccable . My favorite are the cross body bags to travel as well as the boat bags for week ends and carry on .Our Inouii scarves from France are also in . Known for their large prints, bold designs with animals , it is hard to resist the new collection ! But a scarf will make any woman elegant and any classic outfit chic and hip . Come check out the two dozen patterns soon ! Need a small hostess gift ? Our favorite scented wax botanical sachets are now also available in tin candles .
New line of stationary from France With fall comes dry weather . Ode scrubs are loaded with essential oils that will leave your skin soft and hydrated . I love it on my feet to keep the hills smooth . Mix some body oil with body lotion to get the perfect hydration depending on the weather ! Lavender , citrus oro or bohemian rose.
It starts to feel like fall and if you are starving for something earthy , delicious that you can make in 15mns , here it is !
Duck breast with honey and cherry vinegar reduction over a creamy polenta …
Now days you can easily find duck breasts . I buy mines at Whole Foods . They don’t always have them out but they usually always have some in the back as these come in frozen . I like to have a pack in my freezer at all time so we are ready when ever the urge comes ! Each pack has 2 breasts . ( Note the proportions are for 4 breasts even though I only show 3 in the pictures ) Thaw the day before .
Your best 15mns cooking start now :
Take the breasts out of the package , pad dry , score the skin with a sharp knife and season well with salt and pepper .
Put the breasts skin down in the cold pan without any fat at all . Put on medium heat and let the fat melt and the skin crisp about 4-5 mns .
Turn and continue to cook on medium for an other 4-5 mns
Check the meat by pressing onto the meat . It should not be hard but spring back . If not cooked enough it will be very soft . You can turn it back one more time to get that skin well crispy if you think you need an extra minute to cook .
Put the breast in a platter to rest while you finish the sauce . Remove most of the fat witch you should keep to roast potatoes …it will take your week day potatoes to the next level !
In the good drippings that are left in the pan , ad 2 tbs of cherry vinegar and 2 tbs of clover honey .
Give it a quick boil so the honey start to bubble and the sauce thicken . Do not over cook the sauce or the honey will transform into caramel and make a sticky sauce .
Cut the breasts in thick slices , display immediately on the plates and serve the creamy polenta . Pour the sauce around ( not over the skin to keep it crispy )
There are plenty of polenta to choose from . I order this organic from from Vitacost as I now cannot find it in our local stores . I cooks in 2 mns and is really delicious . I just put more liquid to keep it creamy and use soy milk instead of water or gravy .
Summers in Provence are the best ! Most people fear that it will be packed with tourists and avoid that season … And yes the coast is crowded specially in August but let me tell you why you should rethink about it :
The lavender is in bloom , the countryside is finally alive and buzzing with activities ! There are Festivals everywhere , flea markets , “vide grenier” , “Fete votive ” , the roman theater of Orange plays operas from mid July to mid August , the roman arena in Nimes has concerts , the entire town of Arles put on the largest photo exhibition of the country , my own home town host a popular ” rose wine ” celebration …there is something for everyone !
And yes it can be hot too … but it is a dry heat ( not dry as desert dry but enough to be more comfortable ) It makes finding a river to swim a fabulous excursion , floating under the roman aqueduct of the ” Pont du Gard ” a much more special visit to this site , visiting the year round cool quarries “Carrieres de Lumieres ” wonderful ….not even mentioning taking an afternoon nap ! Daylight last for ever and everybody enjoy being out late when the temperature is just perfect for that strappy summer dress I can never wear here in California ! If you are done with May gray – June gloom that linger until late August …head to Europe for a real summer time !
This year we decided to stop over in L’Isle sur la Sorgue on our way from Marseille Airport …immerse ourselves in this wonderful ” Venise Provencale ” and all its antique shops and Sunday flea market . The flea market starts at dawn along the Sorgue river…
By the time we get there , the bustle is over and the merchants are waiting for clients , playing games while their bottle of rose stays cool in the river …It’s like a Pagnol movie !
Art is everywhere !
Antique installations in every shop …
Cafe nested in a small courtyard if you need to rest before to discover some more …
We need a break too … Le Jardin du Quai is just across the road and its garden looks very inviting !
Refreshed and rested we go for more !
Some real traditional antiques from Provence are being rare these days …the owner of that booth told us closing down at the end of the season …People search for industrial or mid century not XVIII century old furniture as much Even found a Jardin public / “skate park” ??
The heat wave even made the news all the way here in the US … we hit 43C / 110F witch even I have to agree is really hot when you do not have AC anywhere ….even in your car ! So we took off at sunrise for the most beautiful drive just outside of my home town of Sainte Cecile les Vignes . Hard to believe that you just pass the exit sign and this is it … beautiful rolling hills !
The good side of driving an old beetle is that we have less chances to go over the speed limit of 49mph on highways …or this is what you could end up driving !
The Tour de France went right by these roads this year …leave vaison la Romaine and keep going on the higher hills where the lavender grows.One last turn and here it is ! White butterflies were all over the lavender in the early morning hours We grew up here but this scenery never cease to amaze us
On the way back we stopped in Nyons where the farmer’s market is going on on Thursdays …pick up some of our summer favorites : salade de museau ( cheeks in gelatine , sliced super fine ) fromage de tete ( head pate ) and maybe a slice of terrine de campagne …forget about the same ol same ol tomato mozzarella or prosciutto and melon that we can get back home ! We crave for these classic basic appetizers that are complete delicasy for us . We always wonder how come NOBODY make some in the US
Then a quick stop to say to a friend who runs his parents Citroen garage…in the back there is always a bunch of real French cars !! My favorite : Ami 6 …the perfect car for the area Pascal’s father or his brother sold that one at the time !
Probably the best option to bet the summer heat
But today is our 27th wedding anniversary and we are going out to dinner …no way I am cooking with this heat anyway ! Pascal has booked at Maison Prevot in Cavaillon the city of the famous melon . The owner and chef Jean Jacques Prevot has a seasonal menu highlighting the fruit of his town so we are going to have some melon …just not with prosciutto 😉
Warm melon filled with a bouillabaisse soup of maine lobster and melon balls …light and delicious !They have AC …in case you really missed it …and I froze in my summer strappy dress !
I don’t think I ever posted a photo of my mum’s house …here we are in front of it …aka our “chateau” because it is so big and needs a lot like most chateaux 😉
What is an other wonder to us is how good the food is EVERYWHERE and how wonderful it is to get there ! Just hop in your car and enjoy a wonderful 15mns drive on scenic roads …no traffic , no problem to park … a little stroll in the village of Seguret and we are set for an other wonderful dinner …with a view ! People cooling off at the fountain
After all this winter’s rain , cold May grey…it is June gloom ! Thankfully it does clear up and feels like summer is coming . Time to start this BBQ and grill something ! Do it French style !
Cheese etiquette : First thing first ; You do not serve cheese as an appetizer but after the entree. Discover all the secrets as well as recipes in this new great book .
Strawberries are at the pic of deliciousness right now …make it a party with this chocolate fondue kit ! So much fun to do with kids !Enough with food now ….but you will need a good knife : A Classic reinvented ; the new hip “Black Edition” Opinel in Oak with a treated blade and lock to make it even more resistant . Made in France since 1890 Thinking about DAD ? We got you covered !Having a BBQ party ? Our melamine dishes not only look real but feel like ceramic without being so heavy . Perfect for outdoor , pool , boat but will do just as well inside if you want to spare your nice china ! Choose from the many designs available .New towels from our Friend Valentine Viannay are just perfect to pair with real deal Escargots ready to put under the broiler with lots of butter , garlic and parsley ! Our kind of fast food ! We also have corn and fish …
Inouii has been the best find we did on our last trip to France …their scarves have incredible graphics , texture , quality and creativity ! They also make fun pouches …Cotton / linen mix for a great summer wrap !
Just in : 2020 planner by Rifle paper the best in stationary . 17 months …starting August 2019. Time to plan that event , party , trip …and get organized !
Perfect little gifts for this summer …Flowers or fruits scented , all natural hand creams, lip balms , and soaps to match in pretty feminine packaging .Anybody summer dream … in Provence !
We bought this book to sell at the shop even though it was about Spanish Basque recipes and not French Basque recipes …. I started reading it and then it began … We had to go !! We needed to see if it was as good as it looked !
We decided that we needed to compare both regions , so we would drive from Provence along the Pyrenees on the French side all the way to the Atlantic coast , then cross into Spain and come back on the Spanish side . One week ,1400miles , no freeways , a dozen ” Tour de France ” Mountain passes per day , bucolic picnic sites , a whole lot of scenic roads and tones of beautiful photos that I have to share to hopefully inspire you . Summer is just around the corner and it is time to plan that next trip to Europe !
Battery charged , a full tank of gas and we are on the road ! Time to give our 1962 beetle some exercise again ! Even though it doesn’t seems like the ideal car to drive …remember that the speed limit in France has gone down to 49mph on highways and even we can get tickets in a beetle !It is late June and the “genets” yellow flowers smell sweet all over Provence .
We stop near Ganges .It is warm and the perfect day to picnic by the river …first day of our meat, dairy and gluten diet ! For some reason we can eat it all in France without any issues so we enjoy it breakfast, lunch and dinner !
Le Canal du Midi . We are getting closer to our first stop in Mirepoix. Le Relais de Mirepoix was a 2 stars hotel but felt like 3 ! Wonderful stay there .
Mirepoix is a town in between Carcassonne and Foix. It is a beautiful medieval town and should not be missed if you are in this area.The highlight of this ancient bastide town is the central square – the Place des Couverts – which is surrounded by medieval houses and arcades (the covered walkways in front of the shops).
Little fashion shot to showcase our cross body paper bags ( my favorite to travel with ) and best selling scarves ideal for cool summer evenings .
We start bright and early and stock up some local specialties for the road ahead at a near by bakery .
Set deep in the outstanding scenery and lush green mountain pastures is the beautiful town of Foix dominated by its medieval castle .
From Foix we officially start our Pyrenees Mountain journey …
We keep going up and down , through some legendary Tour de France passes : Col Portet d’Aspet , Col de Peyresourde , Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet … 300kms , 2 dozen passes ( I barely exagerrate ) and 12 hours later we reach the tiny village of Viscos our base to explore the “Parc National des Pyrenees ”
We fell in love with Viscos and La Grange aux Marmottes ! Not only it is a quaint comfortable little hotel but a wonderful restaurant and after all that driving , we deserved a real meal ! (https://www.grangeauxmarmottes.com/en )
It’s been unusually warm for the season witch makes hiking in the mountains glorious. Tourists have not yet arrived as school does not stop until the 6th of July and most places have just opened up for the season . We are heading to Pont d’Espagne first to hike to the Lac de Gaube get our legs going before the main course this afternoon !
The small thermal town of Cauteret
Garvarnie is just south of Lourdes and a popular destination with tourists . It is the most popular hike in the Pyrenees and there is a reason ! The Cirque de Gavarnie is one of nature’s most unique and spectacular creation . It is described as a rocky cliff wall that forms a curved amphitheater. Numerous waterfalls tumble down the wall to create the rushing Gave River. The highest falls, la Grand Cascade de Gavarnie, has two tiers, plunges 1,385 feet and is the tallest in France. In town , you can watch the soccer world cup , catch your dinner in the river or hire a donkey if you do not feel like hiking the trail .
It is actually not such an easy hike ….not very hard but the terrain is very rough and rocky . Thanks to the French who always think about these things…there is a cafe right there where you can have a refreshing lemonade and ice cream as your reward !
An other beautiful day is ahead and time for us to hit the road again
Who needs a GPS !??
300 Kms today and again a dozen passes on the program .
Le Col du Soulor is impressive . We “compete ” with the cyclists who are definitely beating us going down hill
Cows and sheeps are free to roam. The valleys are deep and so green , we imagine Ireland or even New Zealand . It is the vallee d’Ossau , then Irrati …our favorite cheeses …
We find the most romantic picnic stop we could imagine and enjoy again some simple cheese , bread and pate … shepherd’s style lunch .
All the sudden ….we are in the Basque region and everything is different …even the sheep !
We are looking for traditional crafts , fabrics we could bring back for the shop …and stop in Espelette to check out the different products made with this prized pepper .
We arrive in Biarritz late afternoon …it is muggy .The weather looks unpredictable but we still decide to walk down to eat at our favorite table on the old port.
The hydrangeas are in full bloom and just gorgeous …this was the inspiration for us to grow them around the shop .
Casa Juan Pedro is owned by 2 brothers and serve “a la plancha” grilled prawns and sardines . But our favorite thing here is the dessert : La Mamia local sheep milk “yogurt”…it is set like a custard but light like milk with a sweet taste like whipped cream …there is nothing like it . It’s one of those thing that you can only eat there because it’s fresh for just 2 to 3 days so we order 2 each !
We barely finish dinner when a huge thunderstorm strikes, flooding the streets . Rivers are coming down and we are soaked from head to toes !
After the down pour …lots of sunshine . It is a fantastic day to go to the beach but we are not staying here . We have been to Biarritz many times and want to spend more time to explore Spain. Still , we have to walk around town before to leave .
We take the cornice road …it is picture perfect . The coastal villages are even more stunning than we expected . The typical Basque architecture of the houses , the small narrow streets are filled with cute shops and restaurants . It is charming , alive but not cheesy touristy . We are in love with St Jean de Luz and sad not to be able to spend more time here …but San Sebastian is our destination tonight .
This is espadrille paradise ! The shop is packed , nobody can help me and after waiting a while , I finally give up thinking I will find many other shops if not here , in Spain …this won’t be the case ! But I have not given my last word and am in touch with the manufacturer to hopefully import some for our shop at some point !
We arrive in San Sebastian just in time to take a walk in the old part of town and catch a beautiful sunset with green flash ! It is 10pm …
San Sebastian is a beautiful town , “La Concha” beach is very nice , the old town is typical but it is also dirty and all together we didn’t find the charm… it is too big for us . I am sure the food is spectacular if you go to one of those Michelin restaurants but we have a hard time planning so far in advance and we were not hungry enough to have a full meal either . A few tapas watching some more soccer with the locals will do it that night and we cannot wait to get away to explore the Spanish Basque area the next day !
We left San Sebastian and drove along the coast to Guetaria . Nature is beautiful but it is surrounded by big industrial areas , lots of concrete , old ugly buildings with terrible architecture …it is grey , brown and not picture worthy . Guetaria saved our day ! It is a very small port village and we would love to come here once a week just to eat !
Just above the old port are a few restaurants with nice outdoor patios . We are going to Txoco , our friend Enrique Fleischmann’s restaurant . The cuisine is simple , the best ingredients are sourced and prepared with perfection , knowledge and great technique . To us , there is something about recognizing the fish you are about to eat that makes you salivate and makes you crave it . We never experience that with nouvelle cuisine / haute cuisine / fusion or molecular cuisine …Everything is interesting , taste great , look wonderful but we have come out of those experiences short somehow . You do not know what you are actually eating anymore …
We asked Enrique to give us his chef’s selection as we could not decide … and we did not regret it .This will be a 3 hour lunch and the best meal of the trip ! I would have not chosen prawns again even though this is one of my favorite thing to eat in Europe , specially if I had seen them looking so plain …but those were THE best prawns I ever had . The flounder was exceptional , grilled to perfection , the pulpo with saffron and potatoes tender and tasty …
Enrique sent us to a small shop where they process anchovies and we discover that canned “fresh” anchovies are soft and not that salty at all …we leave with some goodies !
Driving back to San Sebastian on the back roads of the Basque region will take us by Enrique’s other fine restaurant set in an elegant four-star luxury hotel where tradition and design come together naturally. I wish we were staying here tonight even though there is no way I can eat anything at this point !
What struck us was how massive the houses were in the Spanish Basque country . No little individual home here …everything is 2 to 5 story high in the villages or its surrounding .
Biggest regret was to leave the region without having a taste of its famous beef : Txuleta or beef from old cows with a more mature and buttery taste …Instead we pack some cured meats and hard paste cheeses for tomorrow’s road .
Tucked high in the Pyrenees, San Juan de la Peña monastery is one of the most important religious sites on the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela . Just 30mns south of Jaca .
This is the new Monastery :The old monastery
A surprise encounter with a shepherd and his herd on the move …we see them coming and go around our car
We continue on along the Pyrenees for the rest of the day . The villages lack charm and the scenery is not spectacular . Worse is the urbanization of the area …you are driving in a very remote part of Spain but there are tones of unnecessary signs, posts, big bridges , tunnels ….makes you feel like you are on a freeway in the middle of town when you are indeed in the middle of nowhere ! We arrive at Seo de Urgel just south of Andorra where we found a “5* ” Relais and Chateaux for the night ! It is quiet , the view is typical of a Spanish village ( lots of social apartment buildings ) . We take a walk in town but cannot seem to find a restaurant other than pizzerias and return to our “chateau” for dinner…witch despite the very dated look of the place was really delicious !
Next day we decided that we were done with Spain and were dreaming about some serious food again ….time to cross over to France asap !
France …now it is time to plan lunch ! Stopping in Carcassonne is not even a detour so we cannot pass a cassoulet specially since it got a bit cooler ! Carcassonne …a Unesco World heritage: It is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Despite the mob of tourists witch is to be expected , it is totally worth going in the old city and wonder all the way to our best kept secret : “Le Jardin de la Tour” is tucked back and only locals know about it . We’ve had wonderful dinners here and today’s lunch in the Garden by the tower is no exception !
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the registration of the Cité as a Unesco site , the artist Felice Varini was asked to create an artwork that make a dialogue in between the heritage site and contemporary art .
Cassoulet with duck confit is a must …but I cannot resist today’s special of razor clams….these are hard to find and just delicious !
Back to the parking lot , we have to laugh at the sign with the rates ! Why make it simple when you can make it that complicated !!!We are giving in and jump on the freeway for the rest of the trip back home in Provence . But there is still one last thing we want to do : Nimes is on the map ! They host concerts in the roman arenas all summer and this is a fabulous way to enjoy this amazing historic site . Every year has different venues …2019 will see Elton John ! https://www.festivaldenimes.com/