Episode 4: The French Food Market and Food ‘tout court !’ – just simply!

Cheese and wine are reason enough to visit France; oh, and a good-tasting baguette or pain de compagne – country loaf. French stalls are so carefully laid out; they take such care with their produce. They recognise the importance of their cultural heritage – leur patrimoine culturel – and food is an integral part of that culture. They are aware of the value of what is old; they take pride in repairing and refurbishing anything from a falling-down wall or a crumbling village fountain where, once upon a time, the local women used it to wash their laundry. It’s about meaning and memories; all this material culture shapes who they are.

Haricots verts of natural and varied sizes; not those uniformly-cut! Even aesthetics has crept into our food. Here, peas-in-the-pod, mmm, the idea of shelling them and creating delightful combinations for this evening’s meal… umm with what? Let’s ramble some more…

I’m after getting side-tracked! A boulangerie – bakery – you will find all sorts of bread. Scrumptious smells wafting from the kitchen – behind the scenes. Les brioches, my favourite – full of salted butter – mouth-watering! You have, no doubt, happened upon the many chocolatiers – craft chocolate makers – or discovered one or two pâtisseries – French pastry shops – on your travels to Paris. I am always enthralled; my eyes are entranced by exquisite gâteaux of all shapes and sizes, mouth-watering, these pastries look as good as they taste!

As I step back in time to when, as a jeune fille au pair, I first set eyes on the mosaic of pastries I was mesmerised, wow, such choice, perhaps too much! Non, there is never too much! I appreciate good, bitter chocolate, and strong, but not-bitter, coffee, and so my choice of gâteau was, for quite some time, an opéra – mmm – just to think about it I can taste the delightful marriage of chocolate and coffee; all those layers… the onctueux – smooth chocolate, the rich coffee, what a mélange – a match made in heaven. So back to recalling this first time… the young shop assistant asking me to repeat, opéra, no less than three times! Of course I was not accentuating the ‘é’ of opéra, and she failed to understand my accent. It’s like the ‘fada’ in Irish; it indicates that the vowel is to be pronounced ‘long’. So in the end I just pointed to it – ce gâteau là ! – getting rather impatient, I suppose that is why I wanted to speak French without my Irish accent! Don’t worry I wasn’t traumatised or anything!

Every time my husband and I take a trip to Paris – or to France in general – the predominant theme that informs our vacances is food. We are constantly in pursuit of that original pâtisserie, bread, café, restaurant that heightens our senses.

Laurent Duchène, 238 Rue de la Convention, Paris XV, is a pâtissier with the edge. His work is colouful, creative, and bien entendu, tasty. The Club pistache griotte is a favourite of ours; L’exodus is a personal choice, go try it out, it’s worth the detour. And there’s so much more; the colourful shop front will entice you. We never leave Paris without having our box of macarons – not to be confused with macaroons. Made with almond flour (ground almond), Pierre Hermé, 72, rue Bonaparte, Paris VI is a renowned name in this speciality. But don’t forget to support small, local food businesses that produce their bread and pastry from scratch in the early hours of the morning, they are just as inviting so check them out. À suivre

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A Day Trip To Clonakilty, West Cork

A few weeks ago my sister and I were spending a long weekend at our parents’. It had been a very long while since my sister had been to Clonakilty, a quaint town in West Cork. We travelled there one very wet Saturday morning just after breakfast, at about 9 am. We had no agenda, just the idea to soak it up! As I’ve previously mentioned in another post my husband and I lived in Courtmacsherry for a number of years, a ten-minute drive from ‘Clon’ – as it is known to locals – so I acted as her personal guide for the day!

In less than two hours we arrived, found a parking space in the local Catholic Church yard. He rain has subsided. We went to the Olive Branch first; a health food shop established in 2004 and a remarkable place for healthy foodies. It also offers a great range of skin care products. The staff is only too delighted to be of service. Check out their website: https://theolivebranch.ie/.

From there we had decided to stroll though the main street, but, as we move to the door a deluge has started. So we wait… and wait… We make a dash for the car which isn’t too far; but far enough when there’s a downpour! We grab two umbrellas from the car and I decide to exchange my canvas footwear – yes I agree a rather impractical move this morning – for ankle rain boots, ah! much better, my feet are grateful for the dry comfort.

Return to the main street, people are dashing in and out of shops. Despite the rain the locals appear to be positively pleasant. By now we are feeling peckish and are enticed into the Arís Café and Wine Bar. The place is bustling with an energetic atmosphere – plenty of locals with a dash of visitors. A young waiter accompanies us to our table upstairs. We sit by the window with view on Asna square. It’s 11h30 so we opt for coffee and scones; we pile on the better and jam mmm! We delight in soaking up the atmosphere that reveals itself as friendly. They have an appealing selection of mouth-watering cakes and pastries as well as an inviting lunch menu. We both encourage you to stop by for a bite – you won’t regret it. Check out the website: https://www.ariscafe.com/.

With our stomachs satisfied we head out into the damp street. Despite the heavy showers is a vibrant feel to the town. We explore the main street; stopping and starting as we go. The Clonakilty Bookstore is a lovely place to while away a small half hour – but don’t forget to buy a book! It shelves some unusual and interesting books about West Cork and Ireland in general. There are two other book shops but we didn’t have the time to pop in there.

There are oodles of restaurants and cafes; craft shops and boutiques dotted about the town. As we are stuck for time we thought a picnic – in the car – was the best option; I wanted to bring my sister to Inchydoney Beach. We went to Lettercollum to get food-to-go with a healthy twist. They have an organic garden in Timoleague – a village located between Clonaklity and Coutmacsherry. We both decide on the roasted vegetable feta savoury tart. There is a small seating area that caters for 3/4 people, already taken! But I’d recommend you trying the food; it’s scrumptious. Visit their website: http://www.lettercollum.ie/. The place is packed so we set off to Inchydoney Beach. It’s about a ten-minute drive from the town.

We find a parking spot overlooking the beach. We indulge on our savoury tarts, ‘oohing and aahing’! The mist is rolling in over the bay from the Atlantic but that does not deter people from taking a walk, surfing or indeed swimming – without any wetsuit in tow!

It’s two o’clock; time to head home to Castletownbere. My sister is enthralled by ‘Clon’. The place is friendly, dynamic and has an altogether positive vibe. There is much more to be discovered so please do check out: https://www.clonakilty.ie/ for more information.

Storm Lorenzo has gate-crashed…

Starring as a hurricane in the Caribbean, Storm Lorenzo has arrived on Irish coasts even though he was not invited! Following the same trajectory as Storm Ophelia two years ago, he has swept its way across the north Atlantic hitting the Azores on Wednesday. Moving slowly north east, it had been downgraded to an extra-tropical storm upon arrival to Ireland’s shores early this morning.

Winds picked up during Wednesday night; status orange warning has been issued for the western and south-western counties. Our emergency services are on stand-by. The country braces itself for yet another storm. The last number of years has observed an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions worldwide. Ireland has not escaped…

As I settle myself cosily, I watch the waves surge upon the rocks and the shoreline below. The frothy splashes remind me of a cappuccino; it’s time for coffee. I switch on the espresso machine… mmm the smell of coffee brewing pulls me away from the window. Coffee in hand I settle down to writing.

There are, no doubt, many of you who have experienced tough weather conditions. However, here in Ireland we have never been used to extreme conditions; summers never too hot, winters never too cold. Yes, plenty of rain and mist in winter, but, generally we’ve been accustomed to a predominantly mild, stable climate. Due to global climate change the Atlantic is warming up; such hurricanes that previously headed into the Caribbean and eastern coastlines of the United States are now finding their way to the east of the Atlantic towards Europe. This change in trajectory is said to become a more common occurrence.

The last few years, perhaps even seven or eight, there has been a change. Of course, we’ve had the odd storm but they were far from being frequent. My husband has spent the past few Festive Seasons in France with his immediate family and I have spent it with mine. Each time, prior to going away, winds and rain would intensify “will the flight be delayed?” or “will the flight actually take-off?” I’d leave my husband at the airport, somewhat reluctantly, and head-off on my two-hour drive to my parents’. The winds were so strong that they would shake the car and rain so heavy that I’d have to use the windscreen wipers at the fastest speed position. I could feel the car being moved by the wind. It was always a sigh of relief to arrive at my destination; and once I heard from my husband, well, I could relax!

It’s supposed to get worse tonight; I do hope we don’t have a power outage! Last storm there were parts of the country, including where we live, without electricity for over a week due to fallen trees. À suivre…

Sorry I’m late with this post; wanted to post it last Thursday evening! Something unexpected came up and had to go… hope you enjoy reading it even if a little late! Thanks. P.S. The north-western part of the country was the most affected; they experienced gale-force winds and a lot of rain and many places got flooded. At least yesterday and today are dry with sunny spells.

Food Glorious Food…

Unique and quirky Siopa Gan Ainm –Shop With No Name – is located on the Coal Quay at number 3 Cornmarket St, Cork city. This farm shop and café is open from Wednesday to Saturday. It serves wholesome, honest-to-goodness local food. The shop sells fresh-farm vegetables, meats, free-range eggs, cheese, milk, jams and honey as well as being used in their dishes for breakfast, brunch, lunch and ‘high tea’. This is where I go when I need to go to the city. The chef starts the day by offering breakfast; there is something for everyone, whether you are in the mood for a hearty breakfast or a light bite of French pastries such as croissants. Drop in for your mid-morning coffee and scone. Lunchtime offers a daily dish-of-the-day alongside the usual menu. Pop in for afternoon tea with a slice homemade tart topped up with freshly whipped cream or a slice of cake; there is a great selection of ‘leaf’ teas. Here you will find all local produce, menus cater for vegetarians too. I usually enjoy the ‘veggie breakfast’ if I’m having an early lunch and I’m fortunate enough that it’s still being served at that time of the day – the best poached eggs, just as I prefer them otherwise my choice leans towards the ‘veggie toastie’.

Siopa Gan Ainm

There is a homely feel to the place. The owner and staff are friendly. Be aware that waiting times can be (but not always) a little long but please bear with them. Staff members are overseas students who want to improve their English. Once your plate is placed in front of you, you will not be sorry for the wait. Whether it’s the homemade soup or grilled sandwiches, the food is always tasty. The seating is colourful; tables are placed somewhat haphazardly as the place is small. Regulars have no problem sharing their table if needs be as it can get very busy; they enjoy a good banter. There is always someone to chat to; however, there are newspapers and books if you prefer to read. During the winter months there is a wood fire burning which brings a cosy atmosphere to the place. I enjoy having lunch there when I’m in town and usually indulge in some home baking afterwards. Drop in for a look and perhaps you’ll stop for a bite…

The shop is associated with the weekly Saturday Framers’ Market, also located on the Coal Quay. From 9 am stalls are erected; home-grown vegetables, homemade breads, goats’ milk and cheese, locally-grown apples, and plants and flowers. So much to choose from… during the summer season locals are delighted by the presence of Irish-grown summer fruits – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – scrumptious. And, to top all that, pots of homemade jams are arranged alongside the wonderful-tasting fruits. We are fortunate enough to be an island nation and, therefore, fresh fish is easily available. All these family-run businesses are an inherent part of Cork’s cityscape.   

Culture Night – Our Local Craft Makers

Culture Night started in 2006 as a rather small-scale event concentrated only in Dublin. This annual occurrence has become an important and all-encompassing public event across the island of Ireland. It celebrates culture, creativity and the arts. Special and exceptional activities are scheduled at participating locations and everything is available free of charge.

I would like to tell you about my experience of it here in Cork this year – September 20. There was a plethora of activity throughout the county and city, however, I spent time at the Cork County Hall where there was a fantastic craft fair organised by Cork Craft and Design. From 2:00 pm, craft makers from around the county were busy setting-up their stands. Table cloths of all colours and patterns embellished the stands. By 4:00 pm all makers were operational, ready and waiting. There was an astonishing amount of crafters selling their creations from ceramics, and wood to jewellery makers, from lace and knitwear to greeting cards as well as artists putting their creativity into giving new life to organic objects found in nature.

As I meandered around the foyer of the County Hall, I was drawn towards the array of crafted objects, neatly arranged, and so appealing to the eye. I paused at each one, contemplating the items that were imagined, created, and produced by resourceful and artistic individuals. I chatted with some of them; sensitive to the personal stories about what inspired them and continues to motivate them to embrace such an aspiring livelihood. It must be highlighted that creative activity is not easy and many craft makers are regularly challenged in their daily enterprise.

I would encourage anyone reading this post, no matter where you are in the world, to support local industries. These small businesses are often the heartbeat of our towns and villages and without them life in such places would dissolve. Next time you are invited to a wedding, or a birthday party, or perhaps you would like to treat yourself, think of all those craft makers and artists in your local area creating unique work that merit your support. Let’s help sustain our local communities.

If you have not yet participated in Culture Night, come along to experience it for yourself, it’s a great way to celebrate and promote culture through creativity. Check out: https://culturenight.ie/. Bring on 2020…

Les Estivales

What I appreciate about France is the mosaic of associations; the French tend to be creative when it comes to the ‘collective’. From summer estvales to Christmas markets, France has a lot to offer… Here I would like to tell you about one place in particular – Le Guilvinec – in south Finistère, Brittany.

Les Estivales – summer festivities take place every year. They are a creative expression of the local people and place. Every Friday evening, during the month of August, different associations organise their own event around food and music. One particular Friday night I helped out the Twinning committee. People queue to choose and pay for their ‘menu’; in receipt of a ticket they then head to another queue for the ‘grub’.

Large wooden benches and tables are lined up in the car park near the pier. As locals and visitors alike settle themselves they begin their tasty meal, usually seafood chowder, mussels and French fries, followed by the incontournable – not-to-be-missed – Far Breton, a traditional Breton flan habitually made with prunes. Conversations between old friends and new acquaintances start in earnest; some of whom exchange mobile numbers et voilà, new friendships blossom.

There is a great crowd. I listen to the buzzing sound generated by the multitude of conversations floating through the atmosphere. The music commences; a mix of Breton traditional and contemporary. It really gets the crowd going. Young and not-so-young gather on the ‘dance floor’ – the car park tarmac but it does the job! Fingers are linked, arms are raised and feet begin to move to the beat, a Breton beat. The novices are guided by the experienced. While I enjoy dancing I just want to watch and soak it up. It’s enchanting; I’m mesmerised.

June had been extremely hot; July and August were cooler, with a misty day here and there, thrown in for good measure! As the evening draws to a close, the crowd disperses. Tables and benches are folded and stacked and put away until the next time. My host and I arrive home after midnight. Both body and mind are ready for a good night’s sleep. We bid one another ‘goodnight’; and I awaken the following morning to the sound of the Church bells chiming, it’s 8 o’clock!

Le Guilvinec has a lot to offer in terms of quaint seafood restaurants, a delightful beach and coastal promenade, and a maritime visitor centre called ‘Haliotika’. This visitor centre is worth the trip; plenty of things to see and do – go check out the website: https://www.haliotika.com/

Episode 3: Le Café Parisian – The Ultimate Café Culture

Every time I return to Paris I get great amusement from sipping coffee at a café terrace watching the world go by. It brings me right back to those first years when I was a jeune fille au pair. There is a natural elegance about the French; perhaps particularly the Parisians. That French Flair! How they appear to ‘throw’ an outfit together that looks chic, yet, effortless – c’est instinctif

Getting back to the Parisian café… my first experience of sipping tea, à la bergamote, – rather than coffee back then – at a Parisian café is the garçon de café – waiter – with his bonnes manièresnot! My gosh, anyone who has visited Paris is well aware of these ‘can-be’ ill-mannered garçons de café. But, to be honest, that is part of the Parisian scene. I quickly grew to understand it and be amused by it. I was, no doubt, so immersed in Parisian way of life that very soon it didn’t bother me. Even now, during my multiple return trips to Paris, I continue to be amused, it’s what makes these cafés so Parisian. Having said that, I would like to highlight that there are friendly waiters; a little respect between both parties – customer and waiter – goes a long way. So next time you sit at a Parisian café, or any café at that matter, please give a smile to the waiter! By the way, your coffee will usually be accompanied by a glass of water which I tend to appreciate, merci.  

There are countless cafés to choose from. You’ll never be short of options no matter what your mood. Obviously, there are many trendy and renowned cafés dotted around the city but you needn’t stray too far as there are great local ones too. If you’re staying in Paris for a substantial length of time then get to know your local café – there will be a few to choose from; the advantage being, over time, you will build-up a rapport with the patrons and staff alike. You’ll soon be a Parisian…

On a warm sunny day, with a great book in hand, I settle myself comfortably into a seat. The odd time I’m distracted by the on-street activity. I get a great entertainment from the ‘conveyor belt’ of people going by; inventing life stories… The café begins to fill. Tourists having a glass of wine; groups of locals having an aperitif; some going solo, like myself, having an espresso and the best of the latest summer read to hand. The experience is one of fascination. I feel immersed in this Parisian scene, I feel at home. These places are packed with local vibes and culture; there is a pleasant community-feel to them where worldly philosophical debates materialise. The café is, in a sense, an extension of who we are. À suivre… Please feel free to share your experiences of the Parisian café scene.