Sunday, January 16, 2011

French Markets

I'm a sucker for tag sales, antique shows, country auctions and swap meets, but I love, love, love European village markets. I was happy to come across a few of them during my trip to France this past November. 1000's of them pop up across the country--on tables, lawns, under tents, in empty sleepy villages, big cities, on village greens, along riverbanks, on the grounds of a chateau, etc...  

Treasure hunting is in my genes. In the 70's my parents hauled lots of copper back from Turkey, cherubs that they incorporated into a fountain, and assorted antiques, inkwells, gargoyles, little signs, etc...  My Aunt Kate was a dealer at Brimfield, Mass. and the Antiques shows on the westside Piers in NYC.  Good stuff!

Antiquites-Brocante a la Bastille, Paris. Loved that tureen, but passed it by.

Marche is a market, and is usually for food--meats, produce, herbs and spices.
Foire is a clothing market.
Brocante is a flea market with junk, collectibles and antiques as well.
Vide-grenier means "empty attic" and translates to a yard sale with some dealers mixed in.
Marche aux puces is a flea market.
Troc is short for trocadero, which means place of trade.
Then there are salons de antiquites and salons de collectionneurs...which are self explanatory; shops.

I've gotten some furniture over the years...bureaus, settees, steamer trunks, copper weather vanes, etc... Dumpster Dives and sidewalk finds would be a whole 'nother blog post! My favorite things from "the flea" are little nothings that catch my attention, and that transport me a bit when I see them in the house, whether they are decoration or put to use. I got a neat set of old, wooden handled screwdrivers at a roadside swap meet in Pennsylvania (I use them frequently), small brass weights in St Barth's, Victorian watch fobs and silver napkin rings on Portobello Rd in London, a Le Creuset dutch oven for $25 on the North Fork of Long Island, tablecloths and unique prints for a few Euro each in Cortona, Italy, a Talavera pottery sink and wrought iron stand from Mexico and, and, and...

Our cooking class went to Montreuil Bellay in the Loire Valley for the Brocante that's held every month. I snapped pix the whole way in and out. The market winds along the streets and is in the shadow of a chateau that dates from 1025 A.D. That's no split level ranch with plastic toys, broken appliances and bodice-ripper novels for sale on the driveway! Talk about feeling transported! There was a tea shop, boulangerie, patisserie, and a dusty little storefront selling freshly harvested chestnuts. I could have wandered off for hours!

Due to baggage and weight restrictions and prohibitive shipping that would have exceeded price of the bargains being hunted, I picked up a few little mementos that caught my eye. My cooking class colleague and new bestie Katherine is a French teacher, so the bargaining was even better!

For 20 Euros total, or about $27 US, what was my haul from Montreuil Bellay? I chose eight 1930's postcards from a stack, for the colors and graphic elements. The coats of arms represent ancient provinces from Brittany to the Loire. Katherine bargained and I got them for 10 Euros. The paper was fragile and some of the cards were bent or ripped. I chose 8 of the nicest, and back home I stuck them in frames that had pre-cut double mats and, voila! Instant wall art.

All kinds of rusty stuff was laid out on a blanket. Amidst the jumble, a metal cow's head (about 7" across and 5" high) and a ring of old keys caught my attention. Got the cow's head for 8 Euros and the set of 16 various keys for 2 Euros.

Here's what I did with my little treasures.

With a metal brush attached to a drill, I buffed off the major rust.

Sprayed a coat of primer to inhibit future rust.

Sprayed two coats of paint. I chose 'oil rubbed bronze' to mimic well-kept metal. I like the towel around his neck.
On a side trip to Chateau Chenonceau, I saw the same cow affixed to a centuries-old butcher block. I'd bet mine is a knock off, based on an original design. It was neat to see it in use!

The kitchen at Chenonceau inspired me and I'll be putting my cow on the side of a kitchen cabinet to hold a towel.

Ok, Blogger is fighting me on adding anymore to this posting, as I've just reached the 1GB free storage limit. Au Revoir from the French Markets, for now.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I made up two words the other day! Me-hab, short for Mehabilitation. I Googled both and nada, no results. I now claim these new words. Me-hab is for Me. Defined, it's broader than meditation, and not as much of an overhaul as rehabilitation. One must self-diagnose sufficient physical and mental tiredness, to consider this track.

I'm entering Me-hab.

No press release is going out, and there's been no intervention. I'm not a danger to myself or others. I'm not coming off drugs (!) rather I'm turning off the centrifuge.

For me, New Year's resolutions are ripe for failure. There's too much pressure. I overpromise myself and I under-deliver, every single year. If I can't start myself on whatever regimen on Thursday Oct 12th, Tuesday March 2nd or Monday May 5th...what the heck is going to make January 1st a magical day? So, I don't make resolutions. I peck away at projects until they are finished.

January is a good time for renewal, though, and so I will begin me-hab tomorrow, January 15th.
I had one crazy 2010 and as you, my readers know, I moved from my native New York to North Carolina. Not a big deal, right? Well, it was for me! I have friends who are Army brats, or who's jobs or whatevers have taken them across the country and back for awhile or forever, or to live in a foreign country. In 49 years, I've only moved from Long Island to NYC back to Long Island then to Long Island City---a whopping 30 miles. I'm not very transient, having lived in my last house for 21 years, so the move was a momentous one for me! I'll continue to fling myself around on my travels, but I expect to be based in NC for quite awhile.

In the space of 9 months I took a hard look at my life, weighed my options, decided to move---in some direction, purged, painted, staged and sold my house, moved 600 miles, found a new place, moved in, got it 99% squared away, then spent almost 3 weeks in France, followed by 2 weeks in NY for the holidays, then got over a massive cold for the next 2 weeks, and here I mid-January. Spinning. I gotta be, I gotta do, I gotta see, I gotta get...

What will I do during my me-hab? Unplug! Quiet down. Work on the last 1%. Me-hab will take place at home and near to home. There's no hard "end" date, but it feels like it'll be a few months.

I'm dipping a toe into my jobhunt, doing research on 'what's next for work.' I'll be getting very introspective in that regard. I want to find a good place to land, present the best version of me, and to be rewarded for what I bring to the table. I will get my taxes compiled and mailed off, walk or ride my bike every day for at least 30 mins, breathe this gorgeous clean air, finish the little projects on my list, read the books that I've piled up, and see friends when it works, here and there--very low key. No trips for awhile.

My cousin Chris and I used to invoke "the 1 mile rule" (suburban--for her) and the "3 block rule" (urban--for me.) It was a shut-down that usually lasted a day or two, in bad weather. Cozy up, relax, keep it close, map out plans. Get caught up. Mehabilitation is an expanded version of the 1 mile/3 block rule.

Post-holiday. Pre-Spring. Recharge. Me-charge! Me-hab.

Life is good. Level & Plumb!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Plea From the Ivory Coast

The finest example, from the latest batch of internet scams that land in my junk mailbox. I'm just not going to fall for it ;-)

Dear lovely one,

Pardon me for not having the pleasure of knowing your mindset before making you this offer and it is utterly confidential and genuine by virtue of its nature. I want someone like you to help me out after i had pray ,then believes that you are a good person and that i can stay with you for the rest of my life , am 22 years old lady , My late dad is a wealthy and successful business man before he died , My mum died when i was a baby , am the only child in the family.

Before the death of my dad , he called me secretly in the private hospital where he was admitted and inform me to run away from his house because of his blood brother, who is my uncle, It was on that day, my dad revealled to me that , it was his brother who poisoned him to this level .

Inshort, he seriously warn me to keep this money secretly because he know that, it was because of all his wealth and properties, his brother decided to kill him so that he can inherit all this properties as i am a girl , My dad disclose to me that traditionally,i don't suppose to get any of his properties because i am a girl , He said soonest, i am going to marry to another family but due to his brother wickedness and greedy, he did not disclose to him about this money ( us dollars10.5 million ) in the bank and he seriously advise me to transfer this total money to oversea account for my investment, where i will start my new life and finish my education , Because of this reason, i am soliciting your assistance for the claim and transfer to your bank account for the business.

Honestly speaking , i am ready to give you 15percent of this total money for your assistance and with extra 5percent for your expenses on phone call, please u reply me now if really serious to help me out so that i can tell you more about my intention.

Anyway,you can not understand anything now because it is a long story but please and please for God sake , reply me so that i can tell you more about myself and the transfer.

Best Regards,

Angel Philip.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Lion in Winter

Baby, it's c-o-l-d outside!

Savory French Toast

Here's a nice little appetizer or a side, borrowed from Laura Calder, host of "French Cooking at Home" on the Cooking Channel.

Day old bread is best. Slice a baguette (2 slices per serving) and soak the slices briefly in milk to soften. Slightly beat 2 eggs, add Herbes de Provence, and a bit of S&P. Dip the bread in the eggs and fry in a buttered pan, til golden brown on both sides.

Ketchup is too sweet and runny. I didn't have any tomato jam, so I substituted Trader Joe's fire roasted salsa. Perfect little bites!

Sunday Dinner: Roast Pork

As I'm usually cooking for one, I haven't cooked "big meat" very often. I rely mostly on steaks, burgers, fish filets, roasting small chickens or grilling and baking parts. I've never roasted a whole turkey before! I'm the baker on holidays and I never think of making big whole game birds at other times of the year. Being around larger cuts recently through cooking classes, I'm learning to debone, pound, tie, stuff, roll, etc...  I have lots to learn about cuts and grades and what comes from where on an animal.

It's a cold Sunday and a snowstorm is on the way. Well, 3"- 6" in North Carolina is a major storm!  Memories of France--cooking class, open-air markets, spice, game, vegetable and cheese vendors at les halles---are fresh in my mind and I was inspired to cook a pork shoulder, also oddly called a Boston Butt. "Why is a shoulder a butt? Because they butt into things with it? I guess a butt is really a rump." I'll keep my musings to myself.

I felt kind of chef-y today--I didn't measure anything or use a recipe. It's a turning point! I just followed a whim and layered the flavors.

For 4 people, or a few meals for the week, buy a 2.5 to 3 lb pork shoulder

Simple ingredients: Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, fresh thyme, jarred Herbes de Provence. I also used a yellow onion and some rosemary. Honey and dijon mustard for the rub. Hard cider + water for the base of the sauce.

Thyme leaves stripped from their stems.

Sea salt that I brought back from Brittany, freshly ground black pepper, the herbs and a bay leaf.

Peel and quarter the veggies, and tie two bundles of thyme/rosemary/bay leaf for flavor.

Rub the meat with djion mustard, herbs and S&P

Brown on all sides, in canola oil on the stovetop.

Place the browned pork on the bed of veggies, pour in a cup of hard cider, half a cup of water, and roast in a preheated 300 degree oven, low and slow...for about 4 hours. Not much attention needed--baste every now and again, and turn the meat over once halfway through the cooking time.

The meat will be fork tender and the veggies will have absorbed tons of flavor from the sauce.

I preferred chunks for this presentation, but you can shred the pork more finely for "pulled pork." Side dish, dePuy lentils simmered in stock with shallot, thyme, S&P.

I invited my neighbor Marie over to thank her for keeping an eye on my place while I was in France, and to toast her birthday. She brought Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, and we dined and chatted for 3 hours. Life is good. Level & Plumb!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Out With the New, In With the Old

I'm 99% unpacked. It's been an interesting process...purging again as I find things that aren't a fit for my new space, and finding new uses for some things that were going unused, displayed on a shelf or stashed in a drawer.

I've blogged previously about Victorian watch fobs and old medals that I love to wear on necklaces.

I have a few boxes stacked up in the garage, and I have to get through them soon because I'm looking for a silver sporting trophy that I like to use as a flower vase. It was a gift from a good friend and it's meaningful.

I came across my silver baby cup. It's got a pretty curved handle and I must have been an (adorably, I hope) demanding child, because the bottom is all dented from repeated banging.

I shined it up and I'm using it to hold Q-Tips. Drinking from it would be weird. It's a piece of my history--being put back to use after nearly 50 years. Tempus fugit.

The Tiffany candy dish (above right) was a mid 80's gift from my Aunt Kate, who passed away last year. I never used it for candy, but for odds and ends, change, subway tokens, buttons and stuff, on a bedside table. Now it's a soapdish--it's the perfect shape and size.

I can't remember where I got this ashtray. I never smoked, but I love, love, love the irreverance.

This is the backside (literally) of the ashtray...

...and this is the front.


                                                 I use it as a spoonrest and it just makes me laugh.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Food Groups

Making homemade jam...

and taking glorious cooking classes in France...

...and classes here in NC,

makes me so much more aware...
that airline food is a bummer.

The carrot was a slimy marble.

I don't make resolutions, but in 2011 I'm raising my standards.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Glove Box

I just bought a new car and the "features and functions" guide is loaded with descriptions of modern doo dads on the "instrument cluster", steering wheel Bluetooth controls, CD/USB/iPOD operation and ports, satellite radio and navigation system, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, rearview backup camera, airbag indicators and powerheated outside mirrors. I don't have a sunroof, removable third row seats or rear entertainment system...but I have quite enough going on!

Then there's the "Glove Box."

It's 2011. Time for a new name, don'cha think? Maybe the Junk Drawer. I grew up calling it the Glove Compartment but either way, I've never seen nor have I personally stored gloves in that box, or compartment. What came out of the abyss that was the Glove Box when I traded in my old car? CD jewel boxes, maps, handwarmers (close, but not gloves!), flashlight, E-Z Pass, pens, napkins, insurance card, owner's manual, tire gauge, scribbled directions that pre-dated the GPS system, and a bag of change. No ketchup packets...

It seems people who have sporty cars are the ones who wear driving gloves, and that included my mother in the 70's.

I remember her long brown ponytail and big sunglasses. But mostly the caramel-colored-open-knuckle-deerskin-gloved hand holding a cigarette out the window of her Pontiac LeMans convertible. She kept the gloves in her pocketbook, not the Glove Compartment, or the Glove Box. That was for Handi-Wipes and my brothers' Matchbox cars, the owner's manual, some gum and matches.

Thankfully it was never called a Mitten Box. Can you imagine trying to keep control of the steering wheel and changing radio stations wearing mittens?

I was once paid to do an interesting errand: drive a guy's Rolls Royce from Long Island into Queens to have a remote starter installed. He wanted to start the car while he was shaving or having breakfast, so it was warmed up and ready to go. I checked the Glove Box while I was sitting in traffic and thought, if it's really a reflection of the driver, then I'm so utterly ordinary. There was an embossed leather owner's manual, with a $100 bill tucked inside. Mad money, I guess. No gloves, though. They would have come in handy, as an unexpected snowstorm stranded me in Queens overnight and I had to drive that thing through barely plowed roads the next day. Mittens would have been wonderful. But, I digress.

These days, cars have separate storage areas in the dashboard for beverage cups, between the sun visors for sun/eyeglasses, and in the center console for stashing loose change, pens, paper, CD's, the GPS and the EZ Pass out of sight. As trends and technology move us forward at a rapid pace, the old name "Glove Box" has stuck.

Break out the flipcharts and the Sharpie pens, whiteboards and iPads, car people. That space would be great for a mini fridge or a laptop...but let's do something about the name!

Christmas in New York

Turns out, it's possible to outgrow a city, even one called the "Greatest City in the World." A New Yorker probably named it that, but it wasn't me. There are many great things about New York City and many great people within it and the surrounding boroughs and towns--my friends and family among them.

I had to laugh at the sign at the base of the Verazzano Bridge, bidding travelers farewell..."Leaving Brooklyn. Fugeddaboudit!" The city does have a sense of humor about itself.

I had a wonderful time visiting with friends and family, exchanging stories and gifts over brunch, lunch, dinner or drinks. After riding crowded subways, getting jostled with no apologies, breathing other people's cigarette smoke, being delayed by a snowstorm and catching a cold, though, it felt good to return to North Carolina. I've gone soft!

North Carolina's piney byways...a relaxing drive.

Navigating Brooklyn traffic before rush hour

There are so many ways to photograph a place. A city can be romantic, gritty, surreal, etc... Here are some scenes I captured while in New York, across the board.

Park Avenue
It's a good idea to lock up your bike, so it's still standing when you return. Note the ubiquitous "Greek Diner" cawfee cup. And shredded documents.
Christmas trees in a dumpster, Dec 22nd. Harsh!

Ok, that is NOT a cute, fuzzy Christmas mouse!

Hustle and Bustle
Skaters at Rockefeller Center
Gold flags snapping in the wind, Rockefeller Plaza

"Meet me at the Information Booth at Grand Central!"
Holiday trim, Long Island City

While on Long Island, a blizzard came through and unfortunately we had to cancel some family plans. I did get to spend time with my sibs, though.

There's something magical about a quiet, fluffy snow day!

My sis shoveling out.

My new car survives it's first snowstorm.

A strong wind up-ended a manger and flung a Wise Man. "Yo, over here!"

New York, a helluva town and a nice place to visit...