Poisson d’Avril – April Fools

All Fools Day is celebrated 1 April each year across much of the world. It is a day of hoaxes, practical jokes and all around good humour.  Many people believe that the holiday originated in France. Few facts are available and you will make up your own mind. Regardless, it is just a bit of silliness and fun in a world with too little silliness and fun.

French Origins of April Fools Day

Although the origins of April Fools is obscure and debated, the most widely accepted explanation actually credits the “holiday” as starting in France. The most popular theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day involves the French calendar reform of the sixteenth century.

The theory goes like this: In 1564 King Charles XIV of France reformed the calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. However, in a time without trains, a reliable post system or the internet, news often traveled slow and the uneducated, lower class people in rural France were the last to hear of and accept the new calendar. Those who failed to keep up with the change or who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools—and so the tradition was born.

Poisson d'Avril
Poisson d’Avril

Today, those who are fooled on 1 April are called the “Poisson d’Avril or April Fish. It is common especially among school-aged children to place a paper fish on the back of an unsuspecting person. That person is declared a “Poisson d’Avril.

Often you can find a large Poisson on the last page, first section of the morning newspaper or le journal.

Le journal
Le journal – L’INDEPENDANT

Most mornings I read le journal at the local café. Sometimes I buy a copy from le boulanger, Jacques.  This morning he had the lovely, fruity Poisson d’Avril made up in a flakey puff pastry with pastry cream and your choice of apricot (apricot) or fraise (strawberry). He is a lovely man who lives in the village and has several family members working along side him.

Jacques
Jacques
Jacques's son
Jacques’s son

Of course there is always croissants, pain au raisin, baguettes and much more. If other shops are closed you can pick up milk, honey, jam, coffee and more here.

La boulangerie
La boulangerie

While I have you here just outside the bakery, I want to share something that I really love. Outside some businesses are old metal signs that without words, show you exactly what kind of shop it is. Despite the wind today, I have taken a photo of the one outside the bakery. Unfortunately, it is at an angle due to the strong wind. However, I think it is charming and there are a few others still around but you do have to look up for them. Great care in design is taken to tell a story in picture.

Sign for the bakery
Sign for the bakery

I do believe if you look closely you can see the moon over the sleepy village while le boulanger is watching his oven. They are reminiscent of a quieter time and I do love each of them that I have found.

Perhaps when I have collected enough photos of such signs, there will be a blog post on those.

Poisson d’Avril or April Fools!

Bisous,

Léa

La mer, off season

From April until well into Autumn, our beaches stay filled. However, for some of us, it is still too beautiful not to go for a walk along the magnificent shore and perhaps enjoy a café, glass of wine or even a meal and stare out to sea. There are bits of obliging wood for writing messages in the sand and the sand is damp which is perfect for castles.

A quiet day at the beach
A quiet day at the beach
A willing you artist leaves his mark in damp sand
A willing young artist leaves his mark in damp sand
Tranquility!
With obliging bits of wood we draw and leave messages on the shore…
King of the hill, or at least the sand pile
King of the hill, or at least the sand pile
Enjoying the view...
Enjoying the view…
to the lighthouse...
to the lighthouse…
A few hardy souls!
A few hardy souls!
...
The sea air does increase the appetite and what could be better?
The sea air does increase the appetite and what could be better?

There is still some time before the tourists begin to arrive to enjoy filling the lungs with salt air, writing volumes in the sand,

While these photos were taken at Port-la-Nouvelle, there are numerous beaches along the Mediterranean which are happy to oblige.

Bisous,

Léa

Behind the scene

Each year, most often in the spring, our choir, Les Chants des Corbières, often combines our performances with a small repast           ( repas). While concerts are usually free, we do have a small charge for the meal and it helps to pay the choirs expenses.

In this post you will see a bit of the activity that goes into preparing an autumn repas following a performance in the nearby village of Villesèque-des-Corbières (Pop: 388).  The menu was kept simple. There was Pumpkin soup, baguettes, cheeses and a variety of desserts all made by choir members. There are always bottles of wine, juices and bottles of water on each table. However, we are also well known for our generous vat (30 plus gallons) of Sangria.

One of the first things I look for each autumn as the landscape begins to run rampant with colours are pumpkins and other squashes. When I first arrived in France they were abundant but almost unrecognisable to me. Living in California, New York and a few states in-between did not prepare me for what I would find at the local markets. No longer would I carve into a round and brightly orange vegetable. The pumpkins here are not round and smooth nor are they always orange. Many of the pumpkins are a light to medium and even a dark green.  Regardless of the colour of the outside, they are all the same vibrant orange inside and quite delicious.

Villesèque foyer's kitchen in the corner with two of the pumpkins
Villesèque foyer’s kitchen in the corner with two of the pumpkins
Andrea making the first cut
Andrea making the first cut
Part of our set-up crew
Part of our set-up crew
Front of foyer before being decorated
Front of foyer before being decorated
Never too many cooks!
Never too many cooks!
Tiny kitchen, several cooks and lots of laughter...
Tiny kitchen, several cooks and lots of laughter…
Tables begin to take on the colours of the evening
Tables begin to take on the colours of the evening
Chop and peel, peel and chop...
Chop and peel, peel and chop…
Is it soup yet?
Is it soup yet?
Nothing like a lovely bowl of soup on a nippy autumn evening
Nothing like a lovely, simmering pot of soup…
Clean-up
Clean-up
Many hands...
Many hands…
If only you could hear the laughter and the singing
If only you could hear the laughter and the singing

There is often a tombola (raffle) and prizes donated by local merchants including plants, travel, baskets filled with treats including bottles of wine.

While most of the songs we sing are French, we do have a few in our catalogue in Spanish, one or two in English and a few songs from different parts of Africa and the Caribbean. Audiences always have their favourites and they will demand encores so they can join it.

The choir has accumulated a large cache of dishes, silverware, glassware and serving pieces. It is a grand mismatched collection. Unlike typical village meals, our guests do not need to bring their tableware as everything is provided. We may be exhausted by the time clean-up is finished but smiling. Leftover food is usually shared among us with some of the cakes being frozen until our next choir practice along with some leftover sangria to wash it all down with.

Bisous,

Léa

The Galette des Rois

Modified – Originally posted 29 December 2011

“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.” – Julia Child

The Galette des Rois

Galette de Roi
Galette de Roi

Celebrating the Feast of Kings.
At this time of year you will see Galette du Roi (or La Galette des Rois) in all the boulangeries in France. The Galette, which celebrates the biblical three kings, appears in the New Year around Epiphany, or the Feast of the Kings. This is normally celebrated in France on the first Sunday (after the first Saturday) in January. Despite this fact, I did get a whiff of warm from the oven galettes in the shop just a few days ago.  Being on my own, I managed to resist temptation of being forced to eat the entire thing. I have no doubt there will be plenty on offer in the weeks to come. Besides, such a treat demands it be shared with friends.

The typical Galette du Roi of the Indre is made of flaky pastry like a pie and filled with frangipane, an almond cream paste. There are regional variations, and some enterprising bakeries offer a different filling for every day in January. However, if you purchase it in a supermarket or discount store, it will be a factory made pastry with the basic filling. Inside the cake is a very small ceramic figurine called a fève ( a bean, which is what they put in galettes long ago). The person who finds the fève is declared the king (le roi) or the queen (la reine) and gets to wear the paper crown that comes with the galette.

If there is no French pâtisserie where you are, I have included a recipe. Don’t be intimidated by its origin as you can use pre-made puff pastry/phyllo dough and have great results. The photo was taken at the pâtisserie of two delightful and slightly mischievous elves known as Valérie & Nadine.

Valirie et N
Valérie  et Nadine H

Ingredients:

1/2 cup ground almonds
1 stick butter
3 eggs
1/4 cup of sugar
2 sheets puff pastry
powdered sugar

Directions:

Grind almonds in food processor
Beat sugar and butter
add two (2) of the eggs and almonds.
You now have Frangipane!
Butter a flat baking sheet
unfold thawed puff pastries and using a pie pan as a template cut into two circles
Lay one circle on buttered sheet then spread Frangipane in the center
and if you like, place a dried fava bean or ceramic figure in the Frangipane
Using the last egg, beat and paint the edges of the dough
Place the other dough circle on top and seal the edges very tight!
Brush top with egg.
Bake ~ 25-30 min at 375

The galette is quite rich and it will serve 12 people.

Bisous,

Léa

Châtaignes

Châtaignes (Chestnuts) roasting on an open fire… Actually in the small village of Embres et Castelmaure (Population approximately 150) there were several fires last night as people from the village and a few others assembled to enjoy a meal, entertainment, socialising and of course, châtaignes.

Assembling in the small foyer was a snug fit!
Assembling in the small foyer was a snug fit!

There was a good turnout and everyone showed excellent community spirit while relocating to accommodate everyone who turned out. Pitchers of a new wine, pale yellowish color, were placed on each table and a toast to the harvest.

One of our local choirs
One of our local choirs

 

One of the local choirs (made up of members of local villages) performed several songs before the meal and a few more at the end of the event.  Of course canapes, more wine (red), juice and water quickly appeared on each table.

Smiles all around!
Smiles all around!

At most every village meal I have attended since moving to France, everyone brings their own dishes and cutlery.  Organisers who have worked so hard in planning and preparing are not stuck in the small kitchen for hours with clean-up.

As the choir finished, everyone went to the serving area and got steaming bowls of soup! Perfect for a chilly evening. I’m not sure but it was similar to a butternut squash soup that I make only also had large croutons and sprinkled with cheese. It was delicious.

The soup disappeared quickly!
The soup disappeared quickly!

As people returned to their seats some of the organisers carried large platters of freshly grilled sausages and as usual, all you can eat. I want to warn anyone thinking of joining in one of these events, come prepared with an empty stomach. La pièce de résistance – Châtaignes fresh from the fires they were roasted upon and wrapped in quantities of newspaper were passed around to each table. Once again a village comes together to enjoy nature’s bounty and celebrate there community.

Nutty, creamy and delicious!
Nutty, creamy and delicious!

Much like any family meal, everyone pitches in with clearing the tables and taking them down then stacking the chairs.

Leaves from nearby provide the perfect centerpiece
Local color!

 

Villagers
Some of the locals

 

Bon appétit!
Bon appétit!
 Jöel visiting from Avignon

Jöel visiting from Avignon

It seems as one season of celebrating and festivals ends another one begins. Life is to celebrate and we certainly do!

When planning a visit to France, check out what might be available in the areas you plan to visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

Bisous,

Léa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tarte aux Pommes / Apple Tart

Revised: originally posted 24 November, 2011

IMG_4232

Tarte aux Pommes/Apple Tart

Early autumn and the fresh apples of every variety seem to be in each market. Their bright colours and crunch are just asking to be incorporated into our menus. This delicious tart is simple and if you include the Calvados, most memorable.
The longer I live in France, the more I realize that every French woman has a different recipe for tarte aux pommes. While the variations may be slight, they are there. In the past year, I have been requested to make a number of them for choir functions and other events. Since I have a tendency to get bored easily, I like to experiment with my basic recipe so what I make one time is not the exact tarte I would serve the next. Don’t let the long list of ingredients and directions put you off. Anywhere you travel in France, Tarte aux Pommes is usually on the menu. You will quickly see how fast and easy it is. Bon appetit!

Tarte aux Pommes
Ingredients

For the crust: 175g plain flour/ 6 ounces,115g /4 ounces butter, room temperature, 25g sour cream / 1 ounce

For the filling: About 6 medium tart baking apples (I prefer Granny Smith), peeled, pitted and sliced, 3 large egg yolks 145g, sour cream/ 5 ounces (crème fraise), 150g granulated sugar / 5 and 1/3 ounces, 35g plain flour / 1 and a half ounces (about 1 heaping tablespoon)

For the glaze: 160g apricot preserves or jam / 5 ounces 1 tbsp Calvados (apple brandy) Whipped topping, for garnish.

For the crust: 1) Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5 or 375ºF. 2) Place the flour, butter, and sour cream in a food processor and pulse to combine. 3) When the dough has formed a ball, pat with lightly floured hands into the bottom and sides of an ungreased tart pan with a removable bottom and 1cm sides, or a round au gratin dish. 4) Bake for about 18 mins, until the crust is set but not browned. Let cool while preparing the filling. 5) Lower the oven temperature to 180°C/Gas 4 or 350ºF.

For the filling: 1) Peel and thickly slice the apples. Arrange the apple slices in overlapping circles on top of the crust, until completely covered. Overfill the crust, as apples will shrink during cooking. 2) Combine the egg yolks, sour cream/crème fraise, sugar, and flour and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture over the apples. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hr, until the custard sets and is pale golden in colour. Cover with an aluminium foil tent if the crust gets too dark. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. When cool, remove the side wall of the pan. 

3) To make the glaze, combine the preserves or jam and Calvados. While the Calvados is not essential, it makes an amazing difference. Spread with a pastry brush over the top of the warm tart. Serve the tart warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Variations: I like to add the zest of an orange or lime and some grated fresh ginger to the custard mixture

Encore: Palavas les Flots

A very dear friend David (former professor and “adoptive” dad) had been visiting Italy and a stop here in the south of France. As usual, his visit went by ever so quickly and I returned him to the airport in Montpellier. While I had given some thought to a day in Montpellier, it was a day made for the beach.  I had visited Palavas-les-Flots six years earlier with my best friend. Rita and I spent four nights in the village and I have some wonderful memories of swimming in the sea, dining in some wonderful restaurants and exploring a most charming village. Unfortunately, this would be a brief visit but one well worth making.

 

La rivière à gauche
La rivière à gauche

 

 

Galerie d'Art
Galerie d’Art

 One of many art galleries to visit is the  Galerie d’Art – Gustave Courbet. There are also two museums for you to enjoy. The first is the Musée d’Albert Dubout, for more on his work, check out this link:  http://dubout.fr/

The other museum is le petit train. For more information on this lovely village visit the website of the office of tourism. You can select from several languages to suit your needs.  http://ot-palavaslesflots.com/

...
Poseidon

 

Being a die-hard Sea lover, I can’t pass up an opportunity to take a photo of Poseidon!

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Something for everyone!

 

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Côté Café

Côté Cafe where Rita and I stopped for a coffee one morning. The smells coming from the kitchen beckoned us back for lunch and there were no regrets. The sauce was made with cèpes and we learned that the taste was as amazing as the aroma. The hotel we stayed in was small, nearby and reasonable. It was in walking distance of everything.

 

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Shops and Cafés

Anything you may have forgotten to pack is available not to mention the usual postcards and souvenirs. I must admit that the Cat below was tempting and would make a delightful sac for beach lovers with ample room to include your lotion and other necessities.

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Fun bag in shop window

 

 

Le Bianca Restaurant
Le Bianca Restaurant

 

Mme Christiane Siau (seated) welcomes you to her restaurant
Mme Christiane Siau (seated) welcomes you to her restaurant

 

 Rita and I stopped here more than once during our visit in 2008. I was happy to see Mme. Siau still running things and chose to stop here for my birthday luncheon. You cannot get fresher seafood and I know I shall return. This time, I won’t wait that long. It is the perfect place to really get away and is family friendly. Wherever you path leads you, I hope you do get the chance to stop by and enjoy.

Bisous,

Léa