Farmer’s Market in Aix-en-Provence

And….. I’m back from France full of inspiring adventures to share with you!

Today we’re visiting the Farmers’ Market in Aix-en-Provence. Since we were there on a Monday, we toured and shopped the Marché Place Richelme: a local producers market on Place Richelme near the city hall, daily 9:00AM – 12:30PM.

5553169352_5475c24053_z

In early April, there isn’t much produce grown locally as it is early in the season. The strawberries, however, were just starting and we saw tender new asparagus.

DSC03984 DSC04001

Other produce is imported from Spain and warmer climates, but the produce is still quite fresh because it doesn’t have to be shipped very far (France is the size of Texas).

DSC03981 DSC03982 DSC03983 DSC03986 DSC03987 DSC03995 DSC03998 DSC04000 DSC04002 DSC04003 DSC04004Then there was the cheese! The Provençal locals take their cheese very seriously. Their olive oils, tapenades, sausages and pates are also palate – pleasers.

DSC03994

I gave this vendor my business card and told her to watch for her farmstand on my blog.

DSC03989 DSC03988 DSC03990 DSC03991 DSC03992 DSC03993What do you think of when you think about the south of France? Do you visualize fields of lavender?

Lavender-Field_-Abbey-of-Senanque_-Near-Gordes_-Provence_-France

We visited this abbey, but it was too early in the season for the lavender to be flowering.

Local farmers sell many types of lavender products in the markets and tourist shops. Our group bought lavender sachets and the famous Savon de Marseille soap in the market.

DSC03997

DSC03996

I found the market to be very inspirational and now that I’m home, I’m back to cooking with fresh and organically-grown ingredients. I can’t wait until our own farmers’ markets open in early June!

Bookin’ and Cookin’: The Tea House on Mulberry Street

Food and interesting stories. Each is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so when they are skillfully woven together into a book, we get twice the happiness. Today I’m reviewing The Tea House on Mulberry Street (2005), by Sharon Owens, in this episode of Bookin’ and Cookin.’

In her debut novel, Sharon Owens has woven together an ensemble cast of twisty Irish characters, set in the sometimes grim face of Belfast. Penny and Daniel Stanley own and operate Muldoon’s Tea Rooms, which Penny inherited from her parents, but they’ve both got secrets. Brenda Brown lives next door in a crumbling apartment and creates dark paintings that reflect her sad spirit — and she’s a “true fan” of Nicholas Cage. The Crawley sisters have devoted their life to helping others and basking in the reflected glory of their father’s WWII bravery. Rose is lonely and dispirited in her flower shop, and Henry is aghast at his wife Aurora’s need to impress people through her book club and enormous new conservatory. Arnold and Sadie co-exist in a loveless marriage, with Arnold’s success selling conservatories and replacement windows giving him an excuse for philandering and leaving Sadie with the care of his aging parents. Claire and Peter lost track of each other seventeen years ago and have never since been able to establish good relationships because they are still in love. In each story, which interconnect in the style of Love Actually, there are twists and turns, and some are even unexpected. I suspect you will cheer for Sadie and wonder if Penny and Daniel can ever make up for their years of hurts and secrets. Because these characters are mature people with problems that can occur in mature relationships, it’s not really chick lit for the reader looking for something light.

These stories are set on the daily plate of tempting goodies that come out of the kitchen at Muldoon’s Tea Rooms and will have you determined to find a tea room of your own to visit. Although there’s only one recipe actually at the back of the book, there’s a lot of creative inspiration here for your own tea party.

With a devastating review on amazon.com from Publishers’ Weekly and mixed reviews from both Amazon and goodreads viewers, you might find this book to be Maeve Binchy “lite.” I listened to it on audio, and found Caroline Winterson’s interpretation to be sprightly and compelling. Still, it gets four stars from both sets of reviewers, so I don’t think I’m alone in suggesting that The Tea House on Mulberry Street is worth reading.

While Nigella Lawson is apparently now sold on no-bake Cherry Cheesecake, this recipe for baked New York Cheesecake from smitten kitten is more like what Daniel and Penny served at Muldoon’s. As for me, I’m still savoring the special treat that Sandy made me several years ago and I’m generally able to satisfy my cheesecake cravings locally by shopping at Eli’s Cheesecake — and I go to the outlet whenever I need cheesecake for a large group!

On the Menu Monday: Porri Gratinata (Leeks and Onion Gratin)

I just finished reading two books by Marlena de Blasi that are set in Italy and both have recipes in the back. I don’t always try the recipes in books written by chefs, but de Blasi’s recipe for Leeks Gratin looked easy and fabulous for a cold winter’s evening. A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance and A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure tell the story of de Blasi’s love story with Italy and with an Italian. In Venice, she meets “the stranger,” as she calls him, falls in love with him, and becomes part of his life in Venice. At the end of the first book, they decide to move to Tuscany to restart their life path together, and A Thousand Days in Tuscany is an intimate look at life in a tiny Tuscan town. The Lady in the Palazzo: An Umbrian Love Story is on order from Amazon and will complete the trilogy of de Blasi’s tale for me, and then I’ll send the three books on to Virginia to some traveling friends who love Italy. Just payin’ it forward.

IMG_7020 B

The first stop in this journey to Italy was to figure out what I was going to cook this in. I’ve been craving this pot from Le Creuset, but haven’t found it at a price that I’m willing to pay. It’s really hard to justify when I have multiple baking pans that of course I could use, but it’s just so perfect. It goes from stove top to oven and instead of messing up two pans, I only have to wash one. Yeah, that’s the justification for spending this much money on a pot. In the end, I used my trusty Pyrex rectangle, as we do.

The next stop was to go grocery shopping for the ingredients. I am lucky to have a wonderful grocery just a few blocks away and I knew that they carried organic leeks. I don’t always eat organic fruits and vegetable, but considering that leeks are difficult to clean, I decided to go with the organics, just in case.

Ingredients — with a few slight alterations to lighten up de Blasi’s original recipe

  • Four large leeks, green parts trimmed off, white parts split, thoroughly rinsed, and sliced thinly into rounds
  • Four large onions, trimmed, washed, and sliced into rounds (try a mixture — I used one yellow onion and two Vidalias)
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 1 cup fat-free small curd cottage cheese
  • 1 tsp just-grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp just-cracked pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup grappa or vodka
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp butter

2013 0204 On the Menu Monday Leek Gratin

2013 0204 On the Menu Monday Leek Gratin1

Directions

  • Place the prepped leeks and onions into a large pot with a little water and sweat them just until tender — do not carmelize or brown.
  • Place tender leeks and onions into a large mixing bowl.
  • In a smaller bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients except the Parmesan the butter, and mix well. (I used my immersion blender to smooth out the cottage cheese with the rest of the ingredients.)
  • Scrape the mascarpone mixture into the bowl with the leeks and, using two forks, evenly coat the leeks and onions with the mixture.
  • Spoon the leeks and onions into a buttered oval oven dish 12 to 14 inches long, spreading the mixture evenly.
  • Scatter the Parmesan over all, and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until a deep golden crust forms.

Yield: 6 servings at approximately 351 calories

Printable Recipe

IMG_7020 B

I’m linking up with On the Menu Monday at StoneGable today. Please stop by to visit for some cooking inspiration!

If you liked what you saw here, you will probably also like what I read — a lot of books that include food, restaurants, chefs, and travel as their main components. You can see my reviews on Goodreads — my profile name is GotMyReservations. 🙂

Comments breathe life into what is sometimes a solitary life for a writer. I look forward to hearing from you!