Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer 2017: The more things change...

"Plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose". That's the old French aphorism: "The more things change, the more they are the same." Many years ago, I decided,"Plus ça change, plus ça change"... "The more things change, the more they change". Never felt that more strongly than this summer in Brittany, where so many things are disappearing: antiques shops, markets, simple good food in restaurants. But I had a very good sojourn, for five weeks, so I'll talk about the good parts, and some of the high spots.:

Beginning with: Les Fermes de Betty, in Combrit, where I have stayed for a number of years:

That's my bedroom, right in the middle of all those luscious hydrangeas  (I remember the summer they were planted, such a hot and dry season that there was a watering ban on, and I really didn't expect them to survive at all). They did, and so does everything there:


That's a yummy climbing rose that grows just outside the breakfast room door.

It is such a perfect country setting (anyone's dream of what Brittany should look like), and there is some constant rural company: the two little donkeys Betty gave her husband for Xmas one year.


It is always fun to go into Quimper: this year, there was an exhibit of old travel posters at the Musee départmentale breton that was just stunning - click here to see for yourself! Judy and I went in to see it, stopping to admire the plantings on the bridge as we crossed.


I have the catalogue, so I can curl up here at home among all those gorgeous places depicted by all those terrific artists. That was the Golden Age of French poster art, and this is a wonderful grouping from that time.

Another day, we had lunch in  Pont l'Abbé, at a very good restaurant, "L'Essentiel". Excellent fish preparation and a yummy dessert. This is a fairly new place, and the best thing to come to that town, food-wise, that I can remember (so sometimes, when things change, it can  be for the better.)

I wanted to visit "My Ladies" while I was there:

This stunning group was created by the artist, Francois Bazin, who also did work for the de la Hubaudiere faïencerie in the 1920s. In my book, "Collecting Quimper", on. p.10, there is a picture of the principal figure seated alone. I think I have loved these ladies from the first moment I ever saw them, and I  have never been to Brittany, in all these years, that I did not visit them twice: to say "Bonjour" and again "Adieu".


Crêpes, of course, are the region's most famous delicacy, and no one makes them better than my friend Michel. To sit at his kitchen table, while he is deftly ladling and spreading his buckwheat batter onto a piping hot griddle, slathering them with butter as he folds them onto plates (yes, he has cheese, and ham, and other toppings available, but I prefer them just as he does: butter only) is a special treat worth ditching any diet regimen for and spending a weekend's worth of calories. He is also a fine gardener, so after lunch, we took a stroll to admire his plantings.



Another festive lunch was with my friends, Daniela and Henrik,  from Berlin who were there for several weeks. We went to Benodet, to one of my old favorites, Le Transat, sitting outdoors on their terrace, facing the Odet was one of the best days, weather-wise, of the whole trip (which was mostly standard Brittany chilly, overcast and rainy).


The one-day outdoor antiques market at Locronan has always been one of my favorites: not because I have ever found very much to buy, but the assortments have always been very interesting and diverse, I see people that I have known for years, and the village itself is such a lovely old spot.

I have always gone very early in the morning, so I can at breakfast at the hotel and watch the dealers setting up right in front of me.

This year was, sadly, dismal: the weather, the dealers, and the merchandise. Here is what I bought:

What are they? Five small silk handkerchiefs that look embroidered but are actually very delicately painted! The dealer told me such an interesting story about them, as follows: they came from a man in St. Nazaire, who claimed they came from a museum started by Mme. de Gaulle after the second World War, to honor the American soldiers who took part in the liberation of Brittany. When I pressed her for more information, she shrugged, and told me to look on line for more! Well, I have done so, and so far have not come up with anything whatsoever! If anyone can shed some light on these, do please contact me! The only thing I can add is my hostess, Betty's comment, "These are not typical French ways of saying things".

Anyway, I'm afraid that Locronan is one more pleasant memory, but no longer a viable market. The very next day, at another (uneventful) market in St. Marine, I ran into

Francois Nozières, whom I had seen at Locronan; he told me that after I left, the rain became so heavy that dealers arrived and simply turned around and left. I'm afraid that speaks more to the buying climate than the weather.


And then on to Paris, (of course, it was a gorgeous day when I was spending most of it on the TGV)  and one night in my old neighborhood in the 7th arrondissement.

That's the corner of the Boulevard Latour-Maubourg and the Rue St. Dominique, looking towards the Place des Invalides. At least, here, the owners' names may change, but there is still a brasserie on every corner.


And now..home! Still sorting, photographing, writing....

New web pages in early'll get a letter from me the minute they are posted. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer...Joan



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Winter 2017

        The winter of our discontent...sorry, I have no intention of turning this into a political statement, but as I was driving to the auto train last month to return home, and thinking about my past three months I simply couldn't shake the phrase...
I'll skip over the obvious reasons I am psychologically impaled on Shakespeare... and concentrate on the bright spots of this winter's sojourn in Florida: Mostly thoughts about food.
To start: In Venice, my beloved French bakery, Croissant and Company, have added some new goodies this year. Saturdays  only, a small round chocolate loaf, crusty on the outside, soft in the middle, luscious toasted with sweet butter or cream cheese. As you can see from the pictures, everything looks (and is!) delicious

That's Jean-Pierre, le patron, and his son Ben, the head baker: everything comes out of those ovens fresh and warm, all day long and I love to sit and watch the parade of  baguettes piled up on trays...

This is my favorite spot where I can survey the whole scene, talk to people, and forever be diverted by the decor, which I call "A Frenchman's Dream of Florida".  The charming paintings are done by daughter Jess,   and Lynne, la patronne, who is English, has a marvelous strawberry-colored hairdo, to complete the decor!

Oh!  I forgot to say the most important thing of all: they are from Quimper! And if you go to their website: Croissant and Company, Venice, Florida, you can indulge in a glorious visual feast without expending any calories.


In Sarasota, I had a Thai chicken ginger soup that was super. When I can replicate it, or find a good online source, I'll  let you know. I've sampled several other places, but less appealing. I suspect this was the best due to just excellect ingredients and that indefinable pinch of TLC.

In Mt. Dora, I stayed at Farnsworth House for some weeks, and became so friendly with Kim and Soren, the innkeepers, that they let me take over their kitchen long enough to teach them how to make my bread pudding.

Recipe: Ingredients:
 Three large bags of bread scraps: crusts, baguette bits, whatever. 16 eggs, 1 1/2 quarts milk or part half-and-half...that is the basic custard. I prefer to let the trimmings add the sweetness: so, 1 bag frozen fresh cocunut, sweetened. 1 small jar apricot preserves. 1 cup lightly toasted slivered almonds. Three large deep casseroles, or souffle dishes, lightly greased, preferably with butter.
  Put all the bread (which you have been saving, so it may be right out of the freezer) on a large flat baking sheet, and toast in a 300o oven until it is dried out and pale can be toasting the almonds at the same time.  Divide the bread amongst the baking dishes. Beat eggs, milk, coconut, and pour over the bread. Put small dollops of the apricot jam here and there throughout, pushing them down into the mixture. Sprinkle the almonds over the top, but also push in slightly.  All this not only may be done 24 hours ahead, it is actually better, as it gives the custard time to soak well into the bread.  Just cover with saran wrap, and refrigerate...take out an hour or so before getting ready to bake. Bake at 350o approximately 1 hour....this will depend slightly on how deep your dishes are. They are done when risen, puffy, and slightly browned on top, and a knife inserted (like any good custard) will come out clean. Allow 15 minutes to set before serving.

A word about seasoning, flavorings: if you find not quite sweet enough, a light sprinkle of powdered sugar on top before serving, or even a sprinkle of granulated sugar while baking should be enough. If you are lucky enough to find unsweetened coconut, then you may want to add 1/2 cup sugar to the original custard mix.  I do not suggest adding vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon, nutmeg or anything else, but that is my own preference as I find the apricot/coconut/almond balance exactly right.
 And this may be reheated, gently, if there are any leftovers. Bon appetit!
As you can see, these quantities made enough for three casseroles, 6-8 servings each.  This is a very flexible recipe, I have refined it to my own particular likes and dislikes (no raisins!), but one can vary it indefinitely.


Kim loaned me a book, "A Land Remembered" by Patrick Smith, which is an incredible fictionalized account of the settling of Florida. I have already recommended  it to friends here, and I  recommend it highly to all of you.  Not only is it a wonderful story of pioneers in that part of the country, it is a sobering look at how much of our history is founded on violence, even by honest men of goodwill, who were only fighting to protect their own lands and families.
It was very odd for me to be truly idle for three months...
So shortly I'll be back in my website harness, and pictures of recently acquired Quimper purchases will be on'll be the first to know (all of you)!