Le Prince D’Aquitaine À La Tour Abolie

I reread my France posts recently, and it already feels sort of like if it happened to someone else, especially the early ones (since I was so jetlagged). And there are still so many photos and so much information left to process. Since the freshness of the experience fades in inverse proportion to said processing, future posts in the “Things What I Learned In France” department are likely to be less literal and more an organic assimilation of the information I absorbed while there. This post is about an homage to Gascony that popped into my head as I unwrapped the many goodies I had stashed in my luggage, including a sampler of the Chapolards’ charcuterie–saucisson sec, saucisse sèche, and noix de jambon–which Dominique graciously gave me and which somehow ended up swaddled in plastic bags and dirty laundry and buried deep in the recesses of my suitcase for the trip home.

I kid, of course; bringing those things home would have been illegal. Also, there was the Armagnac. And the prunes, and the Tarbais bean and Espelette pepper seeds, and pistachio oil and truffle salt and other items that would be at the top of your must-have list if your plane happened to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle and leave you stranded on some desert island somewhere like in a certain TV show that actually managed to be more annoying than Twin Peaks. I’m all about the pragmatism.

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Cookblog & Son

With this crazy non-winter, besides the stirring in the garden all the wild edibles are rousing themselves bright and early. Besides the wild garlic–a perennial favorite, and every bit as good as its over-hyped and over-harvested cousin the ramp–garlic mustard is getting a vigorous start all around the house. Since it’s ubiquitous, invasive, and extremely tasty (it’s one of my absolute favorite wild greens) there is a multi-faceted pleasure in its consumption that encompasses ease, righteousness, and hedonism.

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Tree Sugar Sex Magik

Last year my friend Danny, who has 25 or so acres up the road a piece, got keen to make maple syrup from the approximately one gajillion sugar maples on his property. It turns out that far fewer than a gajillion are required to produce copious sap, even given the 40:1 reduction ratio that syrup requires. He gathered sap into many five-gallon buckets, with me helpfully bringing some of my own to catch the excess, and we both cooked it down on our respective stovetops (he used his wood stove) in our big speckleware canning tubs. The results were documented here, and we both officially caught the sap fever. This year, as promised, he took it to another level.

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Plus Ça Change

As a happy coincidence, shortly after my return our dear friend Philippe had his birthday, which occasioned an event that cushioned any culture shock I might have been feeling after ten days of immersive and hedonistic Gallic gastronomy. John ordered a hundred Wellfleet oysters from Gerard and we had a quick telephone consultation about wine. And then we partied.

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Wherever You Go, There You Are

The return trip went smoothly, though it took longer than I would have liked. It was particularly galling to fly right over my home town–I even saw my house, since we were descending into Newark and roofs were visible–since if I could have jumped out there and parachuted down it would have saved me four hours of flying, customs, and then driving back up. Notwithstanding the time, it still amazes me that one can travel so far so fast. I love it. And even though my ten days in France were full of fun and flavor, it was very nice to get home.

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Friday, Part 3: The Party

Friday night we gathered at Le Volant, a Basque restaurant in the fifteenth arrondissement not too far from the Eiffel Tower. Jack from Trufflepig arranged the fête, which began with drinks and copious charcuterie. Cathy welcomed everyone and introduced me, and I croaked out something incoherent about how happy and grateful I was for the experiences of the week. There was much chatter and merriment, and eventually we sat down to dinner.

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Friday, Part 2: The Food

This man wants you to taste his sausage.

La foire nationale à la brocante et aux jambons (the antiques and ham market) takes place every spring and fall out in the Parisian suburb of Chatou. It began in the middle ages, when during holy week vendors would gather to sell their hams right in front of Notre Dame. Over the ensuing centuries, the market was subsequently moved to various other spots in the city. Over time, other flea market-type vendors joined the market, and eventually, in 1970, it ended up in Chatou, right under the RER station (which makes getting there from Paris extremely easy).

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Friday, Part 1: Antiques

As part of my grand prize, Toma The Antiques Diva gave me and Cathy a guided tour of the old Foire de la Brocante et aux Jambons outside of Paris in Chatou. The unlikely combination of ham and antiques turned out to be a winner, and because it was a glorious day and I averaged about 200 photos per day on the trip, I’m breaking it up into two sections. First, the antiques.

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Spring Forward, Fall Back

French hotels often have a separate little room for the toilet, which makes a sort of sense, I suppose. Unfortunately, because in Parisian hotels space is at an absolute premium, sometimes there end up being rather a lot of doors and cramped little bathrooms (plural) in one’s otherwise comfortable hotel room. The first one I stayed in last week had the two rooms on opposite sides of a tiny vestibular hallway, at the end of which was a closet. With both bathroom doors closed, one could access the closet. With either open, the closet was not operable, nor was the other bathroom door. After struggling with this arrangement for a bit, knocking doors together and cursing, my solution was to leave both doors open wide so that they both pressed against the front of the closet, with one behind the other, and I left my clothes in my suitcase. I could have kept all the doors closed at all times, but by that point I was not going to let the doors win.

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Cassoulet

My high school French teacher left a comment on a recent post asking for a picture of a cassoulet if I happened to stumble across one in my travels. While it’s funny that she’s still giving me homework after over 25 years, it was also lucky; it gave me an excuse to ask Kate to make cassoulet so I could see the whole process up close. So she did. She has made it hundreds of times, and this version represents her easy three to four hour distillation of the essential process. You can read her complete recipe here.

Many recipes for cassoulet begin by saying that it takes three days to make properly, which Kate thinks is nonsense. Sure, if you need to begin by making duck confit, then that’s true, but the nature of the Gascon larder is that there are always various jars of confit in there for just such an occasion. So if you make confit as part of your regular or even occasional routine, save some to make cassoulet. The rest of the process is really not complicated at all.

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Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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