Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Georgeanne Brennan's New Labor of Love

Georgeanne Brennan's passion for Provence is well documented, most notably in her books A Pig in Provence (Harcourt and Chronicle Books) and The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence (Chronicle Books), the latter of which won a James Beard Foundation award.  (To see all her books, click here.)

Since 1970, Georgeanne has had a home in the Upper Var region of Provence (a few kilometers from Quinson), where, over the years, she has raised goats, made cheese, run a seasonal cooking school and along the way, became something of an expert on sustainable living. When she's not in France, she lives on a small farm in Northern California.

Now Georgeanne is sharing her passion for food, gardening, history and Provence in an online store called La Vie Rustic.  It officially launched last month, selling a range of products “for the kitchen, barnyard, tool-shed, orchard and field."

La Vie Rustic, she says, is designed to appeal to  “the new wave of backyard and urban gardeners, animal husbandmen and women, home cooks, and anyone, anywhere who, like me, wishes to practice a sustainable lifestyle mindfully producing, cooking, and caring for their own food or even just a small part of it.”

The product line will grow as time goes on. So far, her seed collection includes French Heirloom Lettuce and Chicory Seeds in beautiful letterpress packages, a Chicken Scratch Patch and a field of Red Poppies. 

In the cuisine/kitchen section, she offers fresh and dried sweet bay cut from her own trees, Sel de Figues, Sel d'Abricot, a DIY Roulade (French Pancetta) kit and coming soon, a DIY for Jambon Cru.

In the verger/orchard department, you’ll find one-year-old Sultan de Marabout Fig Trees, grown from cuttings from a tree that was a gift to the United States from the Agricultural Commissioner of Algeria during the first decades of the 20th century.

Every product Georgeanne sells she created herself, often from homegrown fruits and herbs.  All of them, she says, were made “in the spirit of Provence.’’ Coming soon are a hand-crafted sickle with a black-walnut handle…and letter-press holiday cards crafted by a master printer on a Heidleberg press.

This type of business hardly new to Georgeanne.  In the 1980s, she founded the pioneering company Le Marche Seeds, which chef Joyce Goldstein wrote about in her book Inside the California Food Revolution.  She was also the designer and packager for Smith & Hawken's vegetable-and flower-seed packet and planter gift line...and she created private custom seed-and-garden products for Gardener's Eden, a now-closed division of Williams-Sonoma.

And now, Georgeanne is thrilled to be back in the world she loves so much: making and marketing high-quality products, in beautifully designed packages, for those who value the thoughtful,  loving-the-land lifestyle that she does.

"La Vie Rustic is heavily infused with my love for and knowledge of Provence and its way of life,” she says. "I want to share wonderful products for all the areas of our world that make for a sustainable life, in the French style.”

For more info about Georgeanne, you can check out her website, sign up for her newsletter, follow her on Twitter, find her on Facebook or send her an email: contact@lavierustic.com

Photos: (1)  Georgeanne's beloved Provence. (2) Apricot salt.  (3) Pretty plums, on the Vie Rustic site. (4) Goat Cheese with Olive Oil and  Georgeanne's Herbes de Provence. (5) The website is filled with photos and tales of life in Provence. "Taken just before we all sat down to eat dinner," she writes, "this photo (by Sara Remington, from the book Paris to Provence by Ethel Brennan), speaks of the essence of the French kitchen." (6)  A Pig in Provence: "In Provence, my neighbors kept rabbits, guinea hens, geese (which attacked me if I got near them), a few chickens and a pig," Georgeanne continues. "The animals were kept in the barnyard area, behind the stone houses, or adjacent to them. The animals’ shelters were built of stone and had red-tiled roofs, just like the homes..."(7) Lettuce Seed Packets: Scarole Cornet de Bordeaux, Scarole Pain de Sucre, Friée Très Fine Maraichère, Chicorée Sauvage de Verone and more. (8) A salad of frisée, haricot vert and toasted walnuts. (9) Poppies in Provence and (10) the seeds to grow your own patch. (11) French Cooking at Home is Georgeanne's video cooking class; for into on that click here.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

You're Invited: A Côte d'Azur Thanksgiving

Once again, the American Club of the Riviera will celebrate Thanksgiving in Monaco, with a gala luncheon starting at 12:30 on Thursday, November 27. The event is open to all...and members of the US Air Force will be hosted (and toasted!) as the special guests of honor. The menu is, of course, an American feast of turkey and all the trimmings...with a Champagne reception to kick things off. As the usual venue, the Hotel de Paris, is closed for renovations, the event will take place in the splendid Salon Belle Epoque of its sister hotel, the Hermitage. Somewhere between 150 to 200 people are expected.

Full details (including pricing, directions, parking and reservations) are on the group's website hereQuestions? Contact Burton Gintell: +33 (0)6 20 40 11 28, bgintell@aol.com. 

*If you know of other Thanksgiving celebrations open to the public in Provence or on the French Riviera, please leave a note under comments, below.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Winter Food + Wine Tour in Provence

For roughly 18 years, Madeleine Vedel (an American from New York and Michigan) and her husband Erick (a French chef from Arles) ran a successful company in Provence, offering culinary and wine tours, cooking classes and B&B stays.

While Erick led the cooking classes, Madeleine took clients all over the region, happily introducing them to her favorite ingredients, dishes and wines….and all the hard-working folks who produce them.

Somewhere along the way, Madeleine and Erick split up, but they continue to collaborate, helping each other and “working together to each other’s strengths.” They have two sons: Leo, 17, and Jonas, 12.

In 2012, Madeleine and the boys took a two-year hiatus from France so she could help launch a sustainable goat farm and goat cheese creamery in Northern Michigan (Idyll Farms in Northport). And now that that chapter is coming to a close, she’s returning to Provence for January and February, to lead three special winter food tours. 

Designed to take advantage of cooler temps, quieter villages and that favorite Provencal winter past-time--feasting by the fireplace--the winter trips will include truffle hunts, Châteauneuf-du-Papes wine tasting, chocolate visits, market tours and the chance to make your own fresh foie gras, duck confit and smoked duck breast (aka magret).

“It's been a glorious two years bringing Idyll Farms into being,” Madeleine explains. “The herd of goats is over 100 strong: beautiful,  healthy and producing excellent milk. We’ve won three national awards for our cheeses…and I’m so proud! I hired and trained an excellent team… I've done what I set out to do… and now it's time to look towards the future and new projects.”

In addition to the activities mentioned above, the winter getaways in Provence will include glorious meals in some of the region’s best restaurants, hikes amidst the flowering almond trees (yes,  they normally flower in late January) and much more. Along the way you’ll pop in to meet some of Madeleine’s great old pals such as the beekeeper, the baker, the cheese maker and the potter.

“Erick will join us and bring along the moulard ducks,” Madeleine continues. “I bow to his skill with the foie, the duck confit and the smoked duck breast. No doubt he'll also render the fat, fry up some amazing potatoes, and treat us all with some duck cracklings as we sip our Châteauneuf. He's been known to do things like that…”

Each trip will have just eight slots. The first is January 14-21, 2014 (Wednesday to Wednesday). The second is January 24-31 (Saturday to Saturday). The third will be February 8-15, a Sunday to a Sunday itinerary.  For skiers, Madeleine suggests starting or beginning your trip in the Alps, a short and relatively easy drive from Provence. 

For all the tour info, click here. For questions or to sign up for Madeleine’s email newsletter: madeleinevedel@gmail.com

Photos: (1) Madeleine with furry friends in Michigan and (2, 3) making goat cheese from the herd's milk. Sign up for her winter tour and you'll spend some time tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Papes (4), where the winter sunlight casts an exquisite glow. (5) You'll taste wine with Guy Bremond in his vaulted caves, which date to the 12th and 13th centuries. (6) You'll visit gorgeous Avignon, which was home to the Popes in the 14th century. (7, 8) You'll zip off to St. Remy to taste with Joël Durand, whose Alphabet des Saveurs chocolates are filled with a rich, velvety truffle-type ganache,  and come in 32 flavors including Earl Grey, rosemary, cocoa bean and jasmine. (9, 10, 11) You'll visit a truffle market like this one at Richerenches, and taste truffles in a variety of products. You might even get to enjoy a truffled omelette at the village fête. (12) You'll taste goat cheese, of course, and almost certainly meet sweet goats!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Art Workshops at the Palais des Papes

This fall and early winter at the 14th-century Palais des Papes in Avignon, the association Altera Roma is offering a series of workshops in Medieval arts and crafts. You can take a half-day intro (55€) or a full-day class (140€).  Designed for adults, they'll be taught in French but a translator is available for groups, if booked in advance.

The schedule for Les Ateliers du Palais is as follows:

October 11 & 12: Calligraphy, with Anne Demoustier

October 18 & 19: Marbling, with Zeynep Uysal Kog

October 25 & 26: Ceramics, with Stephan Leclercq (full day)

November 8 & 9: Illuminated manuscripts, with Marie-France Parronchi

November 10:  Ikebana with Georgine Duquesne

November 15 & 16: Calligraphy, with Anne Demoustier

November 22 & 23: Ceramics, with Stephan Leclercq (full day)

December 6 & 7: Illuminated manuscripts, with Marie-France Parronchi

December 11:  Ikebana, with Georgine Duquesne

December 13 & 14:  Marbling, with Zeynep Uysal Kog

December 21 & 22: Calligraphy, with Anne Demoustier

To learn more or to reserve your space, click here or here.

If you need help in English, contact Stephan Leclercq (stephanleclercq@alteraroma.com) or by phone: +33 (0)6 62 38 50 14.

You can also get info and reserve through the Avignon Tourist Office: officetourisme@avignon-tourisme.com, +33(0)4 32 74 32 74.

Photos: Examples of work by Marie-France Parronchi (Illuminated Manuscripts), Georgine Duquesne (Ikebana), Anne Demoustier (Calligraphy) and Stephan Leclercq (Ceramics).

Monday, September 29, 2014

France On Your Own...But Not Alone

My friend Delana, an American in Aix, has just launched a new business…and I think it’s a terrific idea. Travel Solo Bootcamp is a week-long crash course for women on traveling alone in France…with eight guests max per session. Delana’s partner in the venture is Marcia Mitchell.

Travel Solo Bootcamp is for you if you want to hit the road on your own but might be hesitant because you’ve never traveled abroad…or don’t speak the language…or aren’t comfortable eating alone…or want backup in case of emergency. Or, perhaps you just want some company but don’t necessarily want to spend the whole week with a friend, a partner or a group.

"By giving you knowledge and in-the-field training, you’ll find the confidence to travel solo safely and joyfully,” Delana says. “You’ll perform daily solo maneuvers on your own or with people you’ve met outside the group. We’ll give you a local cell phone so you can contact us for support. And you’ll quickly find that a well-prepared woman traveling on her own is really never alone.”

I love their motto: “We won’t hold your hand but we’ve got your back.”

Here’s how it works. After you sign up for one of the pre-set weeks (or book a custom session), you’ll receive French language info for practice, packing and wardrobe tips in the weeks leading up to your trip.

When you arrive in Provence on Saturday, you’ll be met at the airport and whisked to you own “chic and comfortable” apartment in Aix. Delana, Marcia and their team will help you get settled and you’ll rendezvous later for an aperitif.

On Sunday, you’ll get a tour of Aix and the Luberon Valley, the region made famous by Peter Mayle in his book A Year in Provence. The day ends with a group restaurant meal. Every morning thereafter,  you’ll start the day at an outdoor café or perhaps the coffee bar in a charming bookshop. Over coffee, tea  and croissants you’ll chat about getting around in France, about learning the language, the history, the etiquette,  about dining well alone, about how to meet people while traveling and how to have maximum fun.

Afternoons will be spent on assigned "maneuvers."  These might include a cooking or painting class, a wine tasting tour, a salon visit or, according to Delana,  “Look out! You might be ordered to go shopping for – ooh la la—French lingerie.”

The group will meet several times during the week for a "working apero." Over wine and nibbles, you’ll get a French lesson from a local or perhaps a session on "that special something the French women seem to have." A guest will join you for a dinner you’ve prepared together, to coach everyone on French manners and what’s expected at a dinner party or on a date.

Other topics during the week will include "How to eat lunch alone….and enjoy it!" and the best tactics for clothes shopping or market shopping: how European sizes are different, local shopping etiquette, who you can and can't bargain with. Boot-campers will each get a shopping assignment, such as buying a slightly shorter or slimmer skirt than you're accustomed to or perhaps a new scarf (no Frenchwoman is without one!).

On another day, you’ll learn the ins and outs of public transportation, with a homework assignment of taking public transportation to an outlying village to explore. 

So who are Delana and Marcia and how did they learn all this stuff? You can read their bios here.

So far, boot camps are planned for three upcoming weeks: October 18 to 25, 2014, May 9 to 16, 2015 and June 6 to 13, 2015. The fee is $2000 and you’ll see what that includes and doesn’t on the website. Custom boot camps, other dates and group rates are available. For more info, visit the website here or contact Delana at info@travel-solo-bootcamp.com. You can also find them on Facebook.  

Photos: Delana (left) and Marcia. The elegant Cours Mirabeau, the heart of Aix, as photographed by Andrea Schaffer.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Coming Soon to a City Near You...

When the weather cools in Provence and tourism starts to trail off, lots of locals in the hospitality biz head out of town: to visit family, to hit the beach somewhere and regroup for the busy season ahead…or to take winter jobs in far-flung locales like the Alps, the Far East or the Caribbean.

My friends Guy Bremond (a French wine expert) and Jon Chiri (an American chef) are among those who would rather keep working. So for the third November in a row, they’ll leave Provence to offer gourmet French wine-tasting dinner parties in private homes in the Western US. This year they plan to hit Washington, Oregon, California and possibly Texas. The program is called “My Chef and Master Sommelier at Home” and their website is here.

The format is simple:  pick a day from the calendar on their site and invite up to 14 people. Chef arrives at 3 pm, wine tasting starts at 6 pm, dinner starts at 8:30 pm. The wines will be shipped to you from Châteauneuf du Pape roughly a month ahead…and Guy will lead your guests in a 90-minute tasting.  Then Jon serves a four-course meal, inspired by traditional Provencal cuisine and designed to pair perfectly with the wines. Total price for the evening is either $3695 or $3995, which includes all food and wine for 15 people, service and cleanup.

So who are these guys? Guy is a master sommelier who owns Les Caves Saint Charles in Châteauneuf. It’s a tasting room in a vaulted cellar dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, located at the top of the village, right by the church. Open from mid April to early November, Guy pours and sells roughly 35 local labels, serving them up in a magical,  candle-lit space that once stored wines for the Popes based in Avignon. He’s a charming raconteur who speaks terrific English…and he loves to make the wines come alive with tasting tips and tales about the personalities behind each domaine.  Next summer, he’ll be unveiling a cooking school and a small food shop.

Born and raised in Châteauneuf, Guy trained at the Culinary Academy of Arles and the Lycée Hôtelier in Tain l'Hermitage. He earned the title Master Sommelier after a series of rigorous exams, then went to work in high-profile hotels in Switzerland and Hong Kong.  But his beloved Châteauneuf beckoned and in 2007, Guy began excavating these ancient wine caves, opening to the public in May, 2012. (More info on Les Caves Saint Charles appears below.) After the dinner series in the US wraps up, Guy will return to be sommelier at the five-star Hotel Lana in the French ski resort of Courchevel.

Jon was born in Davis, California and attended the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. He then went on to chef jobs in New Orleans, Santa Barbara and Seattle, followed by Berlin and Barcelona. He moved to Provence in 2001 and ran the prestigious cooking school La Marmiton at the Hotel La Mirande before hopping over to be the chef at Château de Massillan in Uchaux, not far from Avignon. His next gig was at La Verriere,  the “extreme wine school” and conference center in Crestet. These days he wears a couple different chapeaux, working as a private chef, cooking teacher and bike guide around Provence.  He and a partner have the company Gourmet Cycling Travel…and he and I have joined forces to create these Luberon Foodie Tours, offered by bike or car. But with an adorable 4-year-old son waiting for him at home in Seattle, Jon now prefers to spend his winters in the US, taking private chef jobs and doing these elegant dinners. 

“We look forward to them all year,” he tells me. “Whether the table is filled with old friends or new, we love presenting the food and wine of Provence this way. It’s such a joy to share our favorite terroir with people as enthusiastic about eating and drinking as we are. And since we do all the work, the host really gets to be a guest.”

For more info or to book a table, visit the website, email Jon (jonavandno@gmail.com) or call him on his US mobile:: +33 (0)6 46 89 85 33.

*Note: If you’d like to visit Guy in Châteaueuf, he’s open seven days a week, mid April to early November. Private 60- to 90-minute tastings  are free; groups of eight or more pay 15€ per person. You'll taste five to seven wines, including old vintages and a white Châteauneuf. Obviously Guy wants  to sell wine...and his prices are definitely higher than what you'd pay at the winery or at retail...but it’s a small premium for a unique experience  in a cool, historic setting. And, there's no heavy sales pitch: if you like it, you buy it. Another bonus to buying here is that Guy will ship wine to the US when many others won't.  Les Caves Saint Charles is at 10-12 rue des Papes in Châteauneuf. To book a tasting or for more info :  +33 (0)4 90 39 13 85,  +33 (0)6 03 46 47 37, contact@cave-saint-charles.com, cave-saint-charles.com.

Photos: Jon and Guy plating...Jon marketing...clients partying...Guy sniffing...and Guy with clients in his caves in Châteaueuf.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Two-for-One Meal Deals Sept 22 to 28

The Fourth Annual Tous au Restaurant promo is coming up September 22 to 28. That means you can get two-for-one deals on special menus in hundreds of restaurants all across France. 

Chefs prepare a special prix-fixe menu of appetizer, main course and dessert. The first guest chooses this menu...and the second guest receives the same menu at no charge.  So here's your chance to act like a big shot and invite all your friends out to eat! Sometimes the deal is at lunch, sometimes dinner...and some restaurants are offering it at both. 

Booking  begins on Wednesday, September 17 at 10 am on the Tous au Restaurant site. Reservations made any other way are disqualified. 

As of today,  there are 83 restaurants in the PACA region (Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur) participating and roughly 1.000 all over France. 

For the list of all participating restaurants, click here

For all the restaurants in the PACA region, click here.

Restaurants have until September 22nd to sign up...so be sure to check back. I did a quick scan and found lots of favorites including:

Auberge du Noves in Noves
La Cabro D'or in Les Baux de Provence
Le Pré Gourmand in Eyragues
Le Saule Pleureur in Monteux
Restaurant Prévôt in Cavaillon
L'Epuisette in Marseille
La Table du Mole Passédat at MUCEM Museum in Marseille
Mantel in Cannes
Cafe Llorca in Vallauris
Lou Cigalon in Valbonnes
L'Ecurie du Castellas in Ramatuelle
Hostellerie Berard in La Cadière-d'Azur 
L'Auberge du Choucas in Le Monêtier-les-Bains

For the main website in English, click here. And don't forget...to get the two-for-one deal you have to book through the Tous au Restaurant site. Bon App!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Journées du Patrimoine is Sept 20 + 21

It's that time again: The wonderful annual Journées du Patrimoine event takes place September 20 and 21 in cities and villages all over France; a few have activities on Friday the 19th as well. The program was started by the French Ministry of Culture in 1984 and has since spread all over Europe (where it's also called European Heritage Days). This is the 31st year. The idea is that many historic sites, monuments, buildings, estates and domaines are open for visits...along with many private sites that are normally, um, private. Most sites have a guide on hand to enhance your enjoyment of the visit and most (but not all) offer free entry. Some may require you to sign up in advance...but for the most part, you just show up. The website with all the participating venues is here but you'll do much better checking in with the Tourist Office or the tourism website of the village or city you want to visit. For example, the main Patrimoine website lists just seven participating sites in my village of St. Remy. But the village itself has published its own terrific guide and map featuring 20 participating sites...you can see it here. 

Here are some additional Patrimoine schedules, or at least the best info I could find online: AvignonAixArlesMarseille, NimesUzesCannesBeaucaire,  Cassis, Fos Sur Mer, Vaison la Romaine and the Vaucluse. Beyond that, you're on your own...but here's a list of most of the Tourist Offices in Provence and they should be able to help.

Photos: The poster and logo for the nationwide event...and a selection of local posters.


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