Fête de mouton

Moutons d'Albas
Moutons d'Albas

C’est printemps! (It is spring!)

In the pockets of garrigue (scrubland) about the south of France, the land is ideal for raising sheep.

Each year when the sheep are being sheared of their thick wooly coats, villagers and others from surrounding villages

Petting Zoo 1
Petting Zoo 1

will gather for the event. One more distinction that I have noticed about France and the French is that they can take something that most would consider a chore (shearing) and turn it into a party. They have such a passion for life in all its facets.

In Albas vendors will have booths selling fromage (cheese) made from sheep’s milk, crepes, tickets for the meal that will be served later (ewe on the spit). You can purchase scarves, caps and sweaters made from the wool.

There is a Petting Zoo set up for the children, music for dancing and a local band that parades about the village.

Several Milk-fed Lambs (4-6 weeks old) are prepared and secured to spits then cooked over open fires. During cooking, they are brushed frequently with a mixture of herbs and locally produced olive oil. They will be served with pomme de terre (potatoes), vegetable, salad, cheese and a dessert which was tart aux pomme (apple tart).  Being France, there are bottles of wine (rouge and rose) on the tables along with water. After the meal is finished you are offered café.

There is dancing until late into the night and everyone is included as you can see by these photos.

Le porc - Petting Zoo 2
Le porc - Petting Zoo 2
Le petite danseur
Le petite danseur

Bisous,

Léa

Regional Food Festival

Poulet (chicken), foie gras (liver spread/pate made from specially fattened ducks or geese) and confit de canard (duck or goose legs preserved in their own fat).

 

There are many types of French Cuisine to enjoy in France, much will  depend on your budget, where you are, and what you like.

Haute Cuisine: the most elaborate style of cooking, a the grand meal of many courses served by top restaurants.

 

 

 

Bourgeoise cuisine: the hearty cuisine prepared in the home for the

family. The dishes are made from fresh local ingredients that grow in

the provinces. 

Nouvelle cuisine: a drift from heavy sauces, butter and cream to a lighter fair. There is more attention to the arrangement of food on the plate with artistic flair.
Regional Food:

Different regions of France are famous for unique and special foods that come from that area only, and for regional styles of cooking. These recipes, like many great recipes, are often passed down from one generation on family stoves and on menus of inns and restaurants around the region.

While Paris has regional specialities on offer from every region, you will pay for the privilege of sampling without the benefit of the whole experience that awaits those who explore the many regions.

The French enjoy seeking good regional cooking in the provinces where the ducks are fattened, the cheese where it is made, or the fish caught.  The varieties on offer are endless. At a recent fete, my purchases included some preserves made from locally grown saffron and red peppers and a savory biscuit made with thyme and lemon zest in the shape of a star. YUMMY!

While a number of foods may be unfamiliar to foreigners, it gives another dimension to exploring and discovering new delights that you will not find at home such as Sanglière (wild boar). In northern France butter is used in cooking while here in the south it is olive oil. Charcuterie (ham, pates, sausages, terrines ) will vary from region to region. Those regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean or the English Channel offer an amazing bounty of the freshest of seafood and prepared to make the most of each mouthful with local ingredients at their peek. The wealth of delicacies to be discovered include; mustards (Dijon), bouillabaisse, fish stew, (Marseille), cassoulet,thick stew of lamb is attributed to several areas in the southwest. The list of possibilities is endless. When you plan your visit to France, take your taste-buds into account and create some gastronomic memories.

Naturally, no event in France would be complete without wine. Each region has its own to be proud of and which will be on offer at any food festival by the glass, bottle or even the box. Bon appétit!

Bisous,

Léa

Carnaval: Part II

Carnaval
In Limoux the fête is known as Carnaval but the actual name is Fécos and is named for its feature dances.A parade of the organizing committee dressed in humerous masks, baggy white shirts and trousers, red scarves and clogs, with a whip in hand. These Meuniers receive The King of the Carnaval. His Majesty, stuffed dummy, will preside over the festivities in the coming weeks.

Every weekend during the festival there will be parades in the central square with the participants stopping to irritate and amuse the clientele at each café. On Mardi Gras-Shrove Tuesday and each weekend a band will make several excursions throughout the main square. Every band consists of musicians and a group of complementary pierrots. The musicians follow the pierrots around the square playing as they promenade in and around the ancient arcades and weaving themselves in and about the spectators.

The Pierrots costume is a predecessor of the modern day clown garment. Each band has its own distinguishing colors. Pierrots wear a curious straight-faced white mask. The rest of the uniform includes a carabéna (decorated wand) and a large cloth bag filled with confetti.

The Pierrots keep time to the music with their rhythmic yet delicate dance. the long wands seem to float above their heads. this dance is called the Fécos. In the past the dancers tossed about sweets. Now confetti is liberally tossed during Fécos to the tune of seven tons. When Rita, Jerry and I went a few years ago we were finding confetti in our purses and car for several days after. Frequently in the middle of taking photos, we were rained on with confetti. Warning, many photos resulted from this event!

Bisous,

Léa

Carnaval de Limoux Part 1

Carnaval
originated in France during the Middle Ages. It proved to be one of the most popular of France’s exports. Mardi Gras continues to be celebrated in France as well as in locations around the world. Despite the fact that the celebrations are used as an excuse for strident conduct, the festivities claim Catholic roots and the church has attempted censure throughout in  past centuries.
There is nowhere in the world where food plays a more important part of any celebration than France and Mardi Gras is no exception. Some of the traditional fare:
Gumbo: made from pork sausage, shrimp, chicken, rice, okra, celery and other vegetables and of course spices. Typical spices are Cajun and a mixture is made from onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, basil, thyme, black pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, paprika and salt. 

Muffuletta Sandwiches: salami, smoked ham garnished with an olive relish are piled onto a roll for simple fare.

A celebratory French meal would not be complete without dessert and Mardi Gras is no time to make an exception: what better way to crown your repast than with, King Cake? part of the traditional meal, the cake, is a twisted bread which has been topped with icing in the time-honored colors of purple, green and gold. traditionally a small baby doll is baked inside.

Milk Punch is the traditional alcoholic beverage associated with Mardi Gras. It is prepared with bourbon, half-and-half and enhanced with sugar, vanilla and nutmeg.
The longest running and earliest fête in the French calendar beings in January and runs into March.
While most village celebrations are held in summer this annual fête takes place for two months beginning in January. It is the longest fête in the French calendar. The festivities are held each weekend.

If it had been anyone but my dear friend Rita, I might have been surprised when she chose February to make her visit from California. But when she said that she wanted to come to France in February.and added that she wanted to experience Limoux’s Mardi Gras festivities it all made sense. Her husband Jerry was a good sport and Limoux turned out to be one of his favorites towns in France.

The earliest written documentation appears to be a decree made in the year of 1604 but it is most likely that it had been evolving since before medieval times. There was an integration with the Christian Lent carnival including the tradition of pierrot.

Bisous,

Léa

Galette des Rois

“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 des Rois

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.

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 some elves known as Valerie & Nadine. Their boulangerie is located in Carcassonne near La Cité and these dear friends are happy to welcome you when you are there.

Valerie & Nadine

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

Marché de Noël

Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Christmas Markets (Marché de Noël)  of France vary from city to town and to each village. The smaller the venue, the more you are inclined to find the real treasures made by local artisans.
Sunday was our village Marché and it is for one day only. Larger villages and towns may extend it and if you are in a city they usually begin their festivities in late November through Christmas.
I found some lovely creations from homemade wooden toys and household wares to paté, fromage, saucisses, and fois gras, to knitted sweaters and caps made from mohair supplied by the artist’s own animals. Of course, there are also tables of fresh pastries, and hot and cold foods. A café or glass of wine will wash down the delicacies. There are many of your neighbors on hand and a chance to meet someone new. There is usually a tombola (drawings for prizes) to benefit the group who sponsors the event. Our local marché was to benefit Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture (youth club and arts center). Of course the local football (soccer) team had a booth to raise funds.
The origin of the markets goes back to Alsace and Germany in the 14th century under the name of Marché de Saint Nicolas. Throughout centuries the fête has had numerous changes in its name often linked with the politics of the time. As recent as the late 20th century, cities across Europe founded their own Christmas market with cabins or country cottages in which vendors sell their merchandise. While some of the items are marketing products you could easily purchase in shops, there is still a large number of local artisans with unique and creative items you may not find elsewhere. Numerous cities include attractions such as a transitory skating rink, train or other children’s ride. Whatever you are looking for you just may discover something more.
Bisous,
Léa