Market Day

It’s market day in my French town.  And that makes the day special, even if it is a weekly occurrence.

While somewhat similar to farmers’ markets found in many US and Canadian towns, the regular street markets in French towns and Paris arrondissements (administrative districts) are more like public services provided and supervised by local town councils for the benefit of a town’s or district’s residents.  They are integral to local social life, and necessary for many who do not have cars (whether by choice, or not).  Markets are also perfect for single folk and the elderly who might want to buy only one or two carrots, one or two apples, a slice of cheese, an onion, and a single steak hache (fresh ground-beef patty)–small portions that are difficult to find in the grocery stores.

In my town, about 20 minutes west of Paris, the market days are Friday and Sunday.  The Friday market is quiet and business-like.  The Sunday market is boisterous and sociable, with the sidewalk cafes over-filled in good weather and lots of neighbors chatting as they stand patiently in line for fresh fish and vegetables, oysters, small-producer cheeses, roast chicken, Greek and Middle-Eastern delicacies, seasonal fruits, bunches of herbs, shoes and socks, bed and table linens, house-ware gadgets, bouquets of flowers, and more.  Conviviality reigns and everyone fills their baskets and totes with lunch and dinner provisions.

Strollers, foot-powered scooters, wheelchairs, and dogs on leashes are all welcome along the town’s main street, where the collapse-and-store market stalls go up and down twice per week.  No one is in a hurry.  There is a surge to the crowd after mass ends at the Catholic church around the corner.  At 1:00 pm, the vendors repack their vans with the unsold goods, and a few “gleaners” pick bruised fruit from the refuse piles.  The town cleaning crew arrives to take down and store the rather ingenious market stall frames and roofs, then removes the trash and sweeps and washes the sidewalks where the bustling market stood just an hour earlier.  The hosing prevents anything from rotting and smelling on the streets.  By 4:00 pm you can walk down the street and not realize it had been market day at all–rarely even detecting the tiniest telltale odor at the spot where the fishmonger had stood.

We walk to market almost every week, whether or not we need food or intend to buy anything–just for the pleasure of it and the exercise.  I miss the days when the kids were at home and we all walked together; now it’s just me and the hubby on our strolls.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of life in France, and one that our sons remember with fondness, too.  And, the haiku to mark the day:


cold Sunday morning–

market baskets all swinging

to ringing church bells

 (P.S. There are websites that list the markets in every region of the country, giving their addresses and hours, and specialties, if any.  Here’s a good one for Paris: )


Joyeux Noël and Bonnes Fêtes!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas in France (and Hanukkah, too, this year!).  Under the Christmas tree (sapin de Noel) the crèche scene is now complete, as the baby Jesus made his appearance there at midnight last night, Christmas Eve.  Sleeping in later than usual this morning, after over-indulging on long evening dinners of smoked salmon, oysters and foie gras last night (finished with beautiful log-shaped, frosted cakes called bûche de Noël, decorated with miniatures of forest or lumberjack or North Pole scenes), my neighbors will eventually all be out strolling along the Seine this afternoon.  They will be impeccably dressed and out enjoying fresh air with their parents, grandparents, babies and dogs.

In the Paris cafes that are open to serve tourists on Christmas, you can enjoy some vin chaud and hot chocolate.  Try the various roast poultry and fowl, with chestnuts if possible, for lunch or dinner.  Buy a little sack of roasted chestnuts from the street vendors roasting them over round charcoal stoves.  Enjoy the decorated windows, and the fresh pine garlands that encircle doorways.

I do not find the “touristy” Paris Christmas markets particularly interesting, but they can provide a destination point for a nice promenade in good weather, and any young children you have in tow will find them attractive. If you’re in the Alsace-Lorraine region, however, then these Christmas markets are “must-sees,” as they are authentic in this region and stocked with higher-quality goods and food.  If you have a couple of days, take a train to Strasbourg for an authentic treat!  You’ll need a car or bus tour to explore the smaller, charming towns in the Alsace region (Colmar, Eguisheim, Riquewihr, and Kaysersberg, to name a few of my favorites), but the train to Strasbourg is easy and quick. Unlike the German Christmas markets, which all close on or before Dec. 24, the larger French ones stay open through New Year’s.  Go, if you can. And, now for the haiku to mark the season:


Signs of the season

On the hearth and on our plates

Yule logs ev’rywhere



To Market, to Market!   To Buy Some Fresh Figs!

Hurry, hurry!  Fresh fig season is almost finished for the year!  It’s early October, and if you see fresh figs in any menu item right now, order that dish—whether an entrée (appetizer), plat (main course) or dessert (or all three, if you love fresh figs as much as I do).  Especially do not pass up my favorite seasonal entrée–roasted figs and chèvre (goat cheese) with a drizzle of honey, served warm.*

I was so delighted to return to France from my summer vacation in time for mirabelle season (see my August 2016 post), that I completely overlooked the figs that were coming in, too.  Fig and mirabelle seasons overlap.  The two fruits sometimes even appear together in the same dessert.

My First Fresh Fig

I’ll tell you a little fig story.  There were no fresh figs in my childhood in Minnesota.  I loved Fig Newton cookies, sure.  And, I could identify those hard, brown, squished, leathery-looking “things” in the dried-fruit tray we gave Grandma every year for Christmas as “the figs.”  But, there were no fresh figs.  No one cooked with figs or made them into pies.  Nope.

Fresh figs first entered my life 16 years ago, when we moved to France.  I hate to admit this, but I did not know what they were when I first laid eyes on them—plump, deep purple, teardrop-shaped dollops of heaven.  I was shopping in my town’s open-air market when I spotted them.  Each was partially wrapped in a bit of paper and carefully separated from its neighbor in a tray with little cupped depressions in it, because fresh, ripe figs are soft and fragile (not hard and dry!).  My eyes wandered up to the little signs hanging overhead from the market stall awning … figues.  Figs?  “You’re kidding,” I thought to myself.  I bought half a dozen to try and the rest, as they say, is history.

My husband, who has travelled all over the world for his job, and thus has much broader culinary experience than I do (but I’m catching up), knew they were figs and knew how to eat them, of course.  A good thing, too, because I wasn’t sure if they needed to be peeled!  Well, they became a favorite and I look forward to them every year.  There are numerous varieties, but I stick to the big purple ones (la figue noire or figue violette) with their brownish-pink flesh, because they are beautiful to serve.  Delicious goes without saying.

The advice from my August mirabelles blog post holds here, too:  don’t overlook grocery stores as sources of tasty gifts and edible souvenirs.  Even if you miss fresh fig season while you’re in France, consider buying some French-made confiture de figues (fig jam) to bring home!   The figs themselves may come from several different countries, but the French-made jams are typically wonderful.  And don’t miss the “true” fig haiku down below!

* (Note:  I love fresh raw figs, but sometimes they cause my mouth and throat to itch a bit.  The dried ones don’t do this.  Cooking the fresh figs seems to break down the molecule causing the slight irritation for me, so I prefer them cooked.  This works well for other fruit, too.  Both apples and cherries are often served cooked at my house because the raw ones bother different members of my family.  We enjoyed this roasted fig recipe several times this fall: )

Clandestine harvest—

Birds in the neighbor’s fig tree

Drop figs in my yard


March 21, 2012

Macarons are everywhere in Paris, even at the McCafé in McDonald’s.  Yesterday, March 20, was the first day of spring and “Macaron Day,” too.  Started as a marketing gimmick by Pierre Hermé in 2006, macaron-makers are encouraged to celebrate “Macaron Day” by handing out free samples of their wares and giving a portion of the day’s proceeds to a charity.  Customers celebrate by, well, I think you can guess how they celebrate!

I enjoy a few macarons now and then, but I covet the rare ones that use only natural flavors and colors—no bright blue or lipstick red ones for me!  Chocolate, fruit and nut flavors are traditional, but almost every pastry chef has fun with more exotic ingredients, too, such as green tea (yes!), lavender (yes!), and liquorice (no, thank you!).  The all-natural ones have muted, earthy colors and delicate, subtle flavors and are usually less sweet.

But, what a feast for the eyes, no matter the ingredients!  The ones in the photo below (taken in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood) are good quality, but not the rarer, sought-after, all-natural ones that I love best.  Still, they draw me to the windows every time and I rarely resist the temptation to indulge.

Haiku Macarons