August 31, 2007

Sunday Morning Market in Agen

Morning Glory!
The French week begins on Sunday in Agen.
This most important market in the Lot-et-Garonne is at the Place du Pin on Sundays--
then repeats on Wednesday and twice again on Saturdays at the Graviers and Place du Laitiers.

Every week.
All year long.

These thousand-year-old Sunday morning secular gatherings worshipping the colors, textures and tastes of the farmer's labor are the foundation of every French village, town and city life.

These markets are also the building blocks of every cooking class I teach in Gascony. Whether professional chef groups or passionate amateurs or just with friends, we, too, begin each week here in Agen...

tanking up... 1 liter=1.20 Euros

something hot for the French Kitchen

Occitanian White Peaches and their juices.

First Coco beans for a summer 'cassoulet'.

Churros and Bubbles for Breakfast

and by 1 o'clock on a gorgeous Sunday in September ends here... at the French Table at Camont.

Bonne Dimanche!

August 25, 2007

Breakfast of Champions- challenge

Inspired by Pim's yummy protein breakfast photo, I snapped this as I walked my cereal into the garden and garnished with the best ever framboises. This coolish and wet summer has yielded a bumber crop-- a large bowl full every 2-3 days. Eh, voila! Breakfast ...on the hoof. Let the weeding begin!

August 23, 2007

Pirate Queen/Cook turns Handyman

Sometimes it's the little things.

a shower pump on the forward cabin head fails to turn on (human error)

and the water overflows onto the cabin floor.

New carpet this week.

No handy man around.

Buy the carpet, a new box cutter, and the sticky velcro tape.

The rest of the tools?

Shamelessly from my galley drawer.

All in a day's work!

P.S. the foie gras knife worked best to tuck in the carpet edges under the heavy mahogany built in bed!

August 20, 2007

Summer French Kitchen Confiture

too hot to cook inside the galley

the Cooking School Kitchen too clean to mess up

so outside to my "petit robinson" kitchen by the barge

to splatter sticky red syrup of

framboise & peche de vigne

harvested from

potager & verger

and make four jeweled pots of


sweet French summers in a jar

for the Keeping Kitchen at Camont

inside & outside kitchens at Camont

August 17, 2007

French Kitchen Adventures- back to school schedule

What's in the box, Bacon?

Back to School-

1958- book bags, new ankle socks, the dreaded tartan print school uniform and six new white short sleeved blouses.
2008- a new, bright orange, softly curved, high sheen Italian refrigerator.

Fifty years later, the new September stuff is still exciting. For those interested in what the school year brings this year in the French Kitchen, the cat is out of the bag, the SMEG is out of the box, and the rumors are true*.

The Diva often encourages me to keep learning the new e-curve and reminds me that our Skype chat sessions are ‘like going to school everyday’. So, I now have an I-pod, a smart phone, and can help program my mom’s computer by long distance. Even my BAcon has a WIFI system to keep him on the towpath and off the road.

For those looking ahead a few weeks or a few months and are interested in what the French Kitchen Adventures offer for the 2007-2008 school year, I have added a calendar to keep you up to date. For those interested in a more-to-less formal commitment, I offer you an updated ‘A La Carte’ concept. Decide whether you are interested in 3 days or 3 weeks of cooking in Southwest France. Cooking in the French countryside has never been easier- un, deux, trois!

Here are three new ways to discover The French Kitchen—a la Carte!

1. Classic French Kitchen Arts—the Four Season pleasures of the French Kitchen is a classic 5-day program (Mon-Fri) that features daily cooking classes, market excursions, and lunches as well as visits to artisan producers and a special evening in one of Gascony’s hottest new restaurants. Rates: 2250€-2900€

2. Weekend in the French Country—Retreat from the real world and come to Camont for three perfect days of French food, wine and …well, quiet. Life is sweet in Gascony, where good wine flows like water, the foie gras is legal, and there is time to savor a forgotten France along the canal towpath. Includes welcome dinner Friday evening, Saturday market cooking class and plenty of free time to rest after a rustic Sunday lunch. Rates include accommodation: 400-550€

3. French Roots! One-day Country Market Cooking Classes begin at 10 am at one of Gascony’s spectacular year round farmer’s markets and finish around 4:00 after a full class focusing on seasonal products and a convivial lunch with wine. Rates: 175€; 500€ for groups of 4

Dates: From September 1, 2007 to the end of May 2008, the French Kitchen is receiving guests and visitors for any of the above programs. Custom programs are available for groups of 4-24; ask for more information.

Oh, and the box? Orange love...

And Summer 2008? Just what do you do on your summer vacation, Captain Kate? *Captain Kate goes back to barge school.

Between early June and late August we cruise the Long Village—the fabled canals of France on my magic carpet of a barge, a nautical gypsy wagon, a Huck Finn adventure, and above all a candlelit floating table. Ask for information on this special unstructured and casual canal barge vacation on board the 85 ft Dutch Tjalk the Julia Hoyt with Capt. Kate, and her first mate Bacon, and a convivial crew! Come throw a few ropes, open a few bottles of wine and make the next part of the Long Village yours…

summer evening- Lagruere 10:30 pm

August 16, 2007

A French Holiday called Vide-Grenier

In France, summer fetes crash to a close with a grand splash around August 15th. This year, the omnipresent vide-grenier or an “empty your attics” flea market took precedence over the traditional bal gratuit, exciting concours de belote or the ever popular “Geante Paella”.

Village friends from Sainte Colombe-en-Bruilhois (my hometown here) decided to make the rounds of the Garonne Valley bastides en fete so we found ourselves in Serignac, Aiguillon and Nerac agreeing that most other people’s junk is often…. just junk. However, the free aperitifs, the French le hotdog (actually a delicious veal sausage on a decent baquette), and the few retro treasures scored for my new galley kitchen made a great day out in Southwest France.

Eh Voila, the remains of this day…

And my new treasures for the French Kitchen...

in box cake mixer

Brand new 70's yogurt maker

more jelly jars

club soda anyone?

and at last, my one cup French press

Total fun factor... a twenty Euro bill. I am a cheap date.

August 12, 2007

Dear Claudine,

"Thank you so much for your e-letter of July 4th. It's not that I receive such lovely letters often. Nor would I take the task to respond lightly. Rather I was off traveling on a rather wonderful road trip through the Balkins that lead to a train journey on to Istanbul (the stuff that dreams are truly made of) and so the emails arrived, and arrived and arrived... and waited in one huge electronic pile!

And so I end this long lovely summer day to travel a bit more this way- with words. I was able to 'browse' your recent book online and look forward to receiving it soon. We do have many cross links in geography with my family still in the Boston Area (although I have never lived there!) We were raised in Hawaii and California while my Father served in the Navy in the 50's and then on to Arizona in the 60's. I suppose it was this early traveling life that marked me enough to keep my eye open and ready for the next move.

France has been a dream for me, too; reality never quite interferes enough to bother me. I wake up, hear birds singing, see the sky through a open hatch and then decide how the day will play out. This morning I started with a promise. A promise to a guest, Master Blake (a very serious 4 year old!) to pick haricots verts in the potager. We did, indeed, pick a basket full of giant ones that had been secretly growing while I was playing in Bulgaria. Joined by his big, wee brother Conrad, we discovered a few puny potatoes, "Look! A potato in the ground!" and then one long Andean tomato (the rest have been eaten by mildew) and a solitary aubergine. A sugar squash was too tempting to ignore. Overall, it was a successful harvest and enough to impress a four year old even if I won't win any awards this year.

What a nice way to start the day. I then weeded with Master Digger and we spoke of life stuff while cleaning the pergola which had completely overgrown with knee high grass. I must remove the gravel and lay down the felting material, either that or be resigned to eternal weeding. It's on The List.

The List grows long here and shifts from potager to garden to boat by whim and time of day. I clean one patch of the herb garden removing the roquette that had I let go to seed and discovering a mossy nest cradled in the seedheads. It turned out to be a closed nest with two left behind eggs the size of jellybeans. I think it belonged to a small robin we saw in June. She must have forgotten them and moved on.

Next, I wandered to scrub the cobwebs off the boat. Literally. Spiders of many variety drift across the canal from the poplar trees, float down the current on a leaf and in general decide to play stowaway in every nook and cranny of the railings. Sometime I applaud my neglect and say the lacy 'toiles' keep the mosquitoes at bay but mostly I ignore the work at hand. Three hours later one side of the boat was cleared and cleaned. Shipshape is tedious work but better than working in an office.

At last, I could walk Bacon to the wooded spring area and joined by the boys-will-be-boys again, we looked for frogs, arranged some sticks and let Bacon and Blake paddle in the icy stream.

A trip to the hardware store and few nuts and bolts later and I am ready to call it a day. Some projects get glued, screwed and sorted and I am as dirty by the end of the light at 9:30ish as I was first thing in the garden this morning. I am hungry and tired. A good day but long. "Why sit and write"

Because the energy of your words reminds me of the most wonderful dream of all—that we are never beyond dreaming. Thank you, Claudine, for writing to me. And I look forward to reading more of your words. Until then, you can find me at here.

Warm regards from Gascony,


August 07, 2007

Cook Summer Souvenirs

Galley still life on the Julia Hoyt

Between sorting vacation pictures (no easy feat on the computer btw and just as hidden away as a box of old 1980’s Kodachrome slides), I have to eat. So whilst looking at slides of Turkish delights, herring sandwiches and pickled cabbage, I neglect my own potager where the haricots are ever verts and fattening beyond the ‘fine’ stage. Instead, I turn to a gift box from my local CSA—the neighbor’s tidy-as-a-pin potager overflowing with perfect tomatoes while mine rotted on the vine as I was gallivanting around the Balkans taking pictures of the market in Veliko Tarnova ,drinking giant beers and eating fresh cabbage slaw.

The French box, passed across the garden gate that keeps two voracious ponies from the blettes or chard, had just the right ingredients for a Balkan-inspired salad. A hybrid shopska salad/ratatouille.

If I play this out right, I’ll have a chilled grilled eggplant and tomato salad with cucumber, onion and goat's milk yogurt sauce to serve to friends--the well-travelled Bosco and his master, when they come for lunch on Thursday.

Served in large bowls earthenware bowls gleaned from a bulgarian brocante, what better than a culinary souvenir to start the stories flowing. "Remember when you went to Kiev?" "Oh, Istanbul..." "I found this in a souk in Tunis..." Cooking the stuff that Summer Adventures are made of.

August 04, 2007

The Girl on the Bridge...

Dreamy. There are people who write a few simple words that inspire dreams.

Yesterday’s NY Times gave me these eight words: Down the Nile. Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff.
I haven’t even read your story yet, but Rosemary Mahoney, you make me dream!

it was titles like that have always made me want to run away toward adventure. Since those first school holiday summers when reading Kontiki in an Arizona desert, watching Audrey Hepburn in the Congo in 'The Nun’s Story' on an old B&W set, or playing French maidens, Monique & Colette, during War II in an unfinished apartment building, I always wanted to run away toward adventure. I have done well enough these last years.

So what does a barge captain/French cooking school/ Camp France counselor do that still blows my proverbial skirt up? Life here in the Gascon wilderness is a twenty-year-old adventure and still counting. I continue to invent little distractions to keep me sharp. For over 25 years have always, ALWAYS traveled with my passport in my wallet…just in case.

Last week, I came home from my own small summer adventure. With friends. The New Grand Tour of the New Europe- Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia ( I know. Not!), Bulgaria and then almost Macedonia. And Turkey, not quite EU Turkey. What began in Italy as a gastronomic, wood-oven workshop, tag team festa in Chianti with Judy ‘the Diva’ Witts, continued with Elaine Tin Nyo along the Adriatico at Clandestino beach bars between Le Marche and the Abruzzo and finished with the Brothers Corbin in Istanbul on a ferry on the Bosphorus. Along the way, there and back, we drove 7000 kilometers weaving in and out of the Balkans.

My favorite souvenirs:

Drinking Illy coffee in Trieste.
Roadside Pigs spit-roasting in Slovenia.
Truckstop lunches with pork and fresh cabbage salad in Croatia.
Walking ‘the Ramblas’ in Belgrade on a hot Saturday night.
Spying the Danube for the first time… (I’ll be back, honey.)
The Hotel Moscow’s elegant front desk manners and little bottle of well-aged wine labeled ‘Made in Yugoslavia’.
‘Domestic Prosciutto’ from Montenegro served with black olives and ‘feta’ cheese.
Bulgarian village Donkey & Cart taxis
Peace offering at the market in Veliko Tarnova of two large apricots.
Drinking Rakia before noon and perching on the ‘crone throne’ outside TC’s Mindya house.
ICONS, icons and more beautiful icons of gold-washed saints in hidden monasteries with black cloaked nuns weeding the shopska potager.
Q.P.-Bulgarian Pizza served with mayonnaise and ketchup and French fries covered with feta cheese.
Seeing my own favorites, Croc shoes, on everyone across eastern Europe.
The trashy/slut/beach clothes worn on city streets that shouts SUMMER from Nice to Sofia.
Then there was Istanbul… just Istanbul. Because that’s another list and the photographs wait sorting and posting.

Until then, I turn to my own backyard for little French Kitchen Adventures. Guests return to Camont seeking their own French Summer Dream and there is dry rosé to chill, roses to gather and beds to make up with sun-dried cotton sheets. The French Summer begins for me, too, and there are new hammocks to hook up, mint and verveine to gather for iced tisane, and hundreds of nasturtiums going begging for a recipe.

Make this summer an adventure!

Girl on the Bridge...Bosphorus Summer 2007