March 1996, 20 years ago ...we had just emptied our warehouse in Provence and filled up a 40' container of goods to ship to San Diego...Taking a big lip of faith that changed our life !
Since our first visit in 1992, we had dreamed of opening up our own shop in California , prepared for a couple of years and we were actually doing it ! This year is a special year as we are looking back at what we have achieved .
It is hard to imagine what a 40' container load looks like ! We measured everything, made a map of our container "puzzle" , planned how to load all the palettes and boxes ; but with the rest of bulk things it was still hard to figure out if it would all fit in ...
Pascal closing up our boxes
With some help we got it ready to go just in time...
It's the big day... the container is coming this morning . We'll have only 2 hours to load !!! Pascal with his mum and childhood friend Michel who is going to give us a big hand.
Pascal and his brother looking at the last pieces being loaded . The driver of the truck thought it would never fit ... but it did . We could not have fit an other piece of cardboard !
Once our container left and only after we had the receipt that it had actually shipped out we could apply for our visas ...what a stress ! With our suitcase ready to go, we had to wait... A week later with our brand new working visas in our passports we were buying a flight ticket for San Diego leaving the next day ! Here we are in Marseille aiport with Pascal's mum and a big box containing her old bike. We have been displaying it in front of the shop everyday since !
The neighborhood as it was in 1996
Monet's Bouquet flower shop across the street with Marty and Betty .
"A la Francaise " , the French Bakery behind the flower shop...it was a small French corner !
We have about a month before we get the big delivery so we are not wasting time !
With Erick our painter and friend since
By the end of March we were ready
The second Big Day : April 5th...our container has made it across oceans.... same drill : 2 hours to unload everything ! Our new friends are all here to help us out :)
Erick our painter handling the forklift
Our neighbor Bill checking it all out . Is this the most exciting thing that happened in this corner or what !?!
The boys : Pascal , Erick , Karl , Keith and Kecho ! What an experience for all of us...
It sounded like a great idea to promote our shop at the "Spring Home and Garden Show" in Del Mar ...but we had not been to the show before so we had no idea it would be more of a home improvement show than a decorating show . Nevertheless, we rented a truck and headed to Del Mar ! We set up our booth, gave some business cards and made our very first American Dollar here !
The "Grand Opening" .... What is a Grand Opening ??? We are opening yes ...this week yes ... so this is just the "soft opening". That was one of the many cultural differences, concepts that were totally foreign to us a the time ...That Tuesday after the Del Mar show we opened our doors !
It wasn't a Grand Opening and we never actually did one... We got so busy !! First clients , neighbors ...everybody came ! Our shop was buzzing and we were exhausted but so happy :) We were struggling with our very poor English but it didn't seam to matter to people. One thing we will never forget is the warm welcome we got from the entire community. All Mission Hills came in , the neighbors brought us some French wine, Champagne, food ...we had never seen that ...that's what we liked so much about the cultural differences !
We sure are in California ! This is one of my all time favorite photo of Pascal and neighbor Bill who gave me my very first hydrangea's clippings and taught me how to grow them ...see what happened next ! Now the whole side of the shop is a giant hydrangea bush . I am sure Bill will be happy that I continued his legacy....
Christian Lacroix Designer is originally from Arles in Provence and his Stationary , journals , cards are very much inspired by the imagery from the area . Simply gorgeous !
Coloring books for adults are a huge trend right now . We've got some this spring and this is our favorite !
Valentine's Day is our favorite Holiday and the most beautiful time of the year because we celebrate LOVE ! I have to say that in France sadly only couples celebrate ...I love that here we actually celebrate LOVE with all the ones we LOVE ...this is the most precious thing we have and always nice to say it and show it again and again to all the ones we LOVE !
We are all stocked up with the cherries in Armagnac dipped in dark chocolate again !
Say it with a card or some heart shaped soaps ...
Or a lavender sachet ...
With the cutest heart shaped sugar "cubes" or some perfume...say "Je t'aime " or " I love you " but say it !
6th of january : The Epiphany ...to celebrate , the french eat a "Galette des Rois" or a king's cake .
With the French ... it's always about food ! To celebrate the Epiphany until the end of January , people host parties or dinners where they serve for desert a special cake " Galette des Rois " with a "feve" ( charm hidden inside ). It can be a coin , a bean or a tiny santon figurine . Who ever gets it , is crown the king with a gold paper crown and is hosting the next party :)
The frangipane is a very easy cake to make and here is my recipe :
Mix together with a spatula:
150grs /5.3oz Ground almonds
150grs/5.3oz sweet butter creamed not melted
3 large whole eggs
2 tsp of almond extract
Line a buttered pie mold with a puff pastry ( the frozen ones from pepperridge farm work great) . Make tiny holes with a fork . Fill with the batter and cover with a second puff pastry sheet . Close it , brush with a mix of egg yolk and milk so the pie will brown....you can decorate it with extra pieces of puff pastry or simply use a knife to make some diamond designs .
Bake at 400F for about 40mns or until golden brown . Eat still a bit warm or re- heat if are eating it later ! Toast with some apple cider or Champagne !
This must be the best kept secret by every French cook ... and there is a good reason why : Every time you serve this , you totally amaze your guests ! But it is so easy to make ...you don't want them to know how easy it was to whip this up in just about 20 mns ....
Today Pierre will unveil the recipe of THE Cheese Souffle !
For 4 ramequins :
50 grs of butter - 50 grs flour - 250 ml of milk - 150 grs of cheese ( italian mix from Trader Joe's is tasty ) - 5 eggs - nutmeg - Herbes de Provence
First you have to make a thick "Bechamel sauce " . This is a base sauce to a lot of french recipes and hopefully you have already mastered this one . It took me a while to get this right when I first started cooking ....I had just moved out of my parents home and in with Pascal into a tiny studio in Nice . I was 18 and had never cooked before as my mum was always cooking so much . Learning over the phone , without any proportions because my mum could do it in her sleep without measuring , on an old electric cook top was not easy ...I made it too thick , too thin , with a lot of lumps but I finally got it !
Us for my 18th birthday ...some 30 years ago !
In a sauce pan melt the butter . When hot ad all the flour at once and mix well to make a "roux" Let it bubble and cook until lightly colored ( a few minutes ) Then ad the warm milk and keep mixing at it will thicken right away . You want a smooth, heavy , sticky thick texture for the souffle . Take away from the heat and let cool a little.
While the batter is cooling off . Separate the whites from the yolks . Keep only 4 yolks . Ad them one by one into the batter , mixing well right away so they blend in and not cook in contact . Sprinkle some nutmeg , Herbes de Provence and finally ad the cheese mix .
Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until and nice and firm . Fold into the batter until smooth .
Butter and flour the inside of the 4 ramequins . Pour the mix into the dishes . This is the most important note and THE secret to any successful souffle : you must "clean "the inside of the ramequin by sliding a knife blade along the rim to separate the batter from the dish allowing it to rise freely and straight up . If there is some batter touching on an area , this will stick and make the souffle only rise on the other sides ...look crooked and not cook evenly . Cook for 30mns at 350F and serve immediately as the souffle will deflate as soon as you take it out of the oven .
Enjoy and amaze your guests too !
Provence in the fall can really be a beautiful time to visit . If you lock in a perfect week without the treacherous Mistral or any rain you can experience all the golden light in the trees and vines , the leaves changing color and some balmy temperatures .
Not that I am a chauvinist when it comes to our area in Provence but I will say it again : it is more untouched , not as famously touristic and so worth exploring the northern part of Provence ! There is no hip restaurants or shops but there is no tourist trap /Disneyland of Provence either ...it is the true land , its culture, produce and people ...and yes it is remote but that's what I like about it . It's real farmland , olive groves and cherry trees , vineyards , sheep or goats grazing on a hillside , a tractor going by on a Sunday afternoon and no chic Parisian with high hills and perfect manicure to be seen ! It can be a very harsh environment but this week happened to just be perfect . As I am meeting my potter and other craftsman making some real treasure soon to be in our shop , I took the tiny windy roads detours so I could share some beautiful fall scenery with you and maybe make you want to check out the Drome Provencale ...
Tulette , Pascal's home town . Nothing special about it but I love the little Cooperative where I can find all local products under one roof , specially the most delicious sheep milk "cailles" much lighter than yogurt non acidic and the only thing I'll eat for dessert all week !
Far in the back ground : The Mont Ventoux nice and clear . There is no rain in the forecast or it would wear a hat of clouds .
Plane trees growing sideways because of the Mistral
Nyons is a cute little town very well known for its olive oil . The olives are very specific and only grow here ...not very meaty , with a big pit but they make a very fruity olive oil that is our favorite !
Le Col de Valouse is the most narrow road ever ...it goes from Saint Ferreol Trente Pas to Dieulefit . I stop for lunch at the only restaurant but found it totally booked for a private party . Good thing I have plan B : a picnic emergency basket . My mum and I are back on the road looking for that perfect spot .....Below is the view from the restaurant .
We back track a little and take the Gorges de Trente Pas ...
...and found the perfect picnic spot with an incredible view !
The lavender fields have been trimmed down already but this area is so beautiful in summer too !
What else can we ask for ?? A fresh baguette , some saussison , my favorite sheep cheese and a caillette ( a specialty from Provence made with spinach , herbs and a little grounded "mystery meat " ...I'll leave it like that or I'll scare you ! )
Fresh Chouquettes that we stuffed with some chocolate pot de creme and topped with fresh raspberries . It does not get better than that !
Goats in the back ground
Down the hill : Bouviere where we stop for a coffee in the other restaurant that got fully booked today ...some other people know the good spots of the back country ! From there you could keep going north to Bourdeaux and Dieulefit or make it shorter like we did going back down to Gumiane , Arnaillon, Villeperdrix and back to Nyons .
On the hillside of Nyons is where my cousins have their Olive groves . I am stopping to pick up some goodies and say hello.
It's been so dry and hot this year again that the harvest will start mid November instead of late December /January . The olives are starting to drop so it is time ....
Beautiful view from the patio . Nyons nickname is "Le Petit Nice" referring to the mild climate of the French Riviera ...and is spared by the Mistral most of the time ...Palm trees grow in Nyons !
Not only their olives are totally organic but all the food my cousins eat is home grown in their large vegetable garden !
Every country has their own tradition when it comes to the Day of the dead . In Mexico there are big celebrations and in France even though now days kids dress up and trick or treat too , the tradition is to remember your loved ones who have passed and bring them flowers ...not any kind of flowers but Chrysanthemums . We picked some at the farmer's market to bring to my family and Pascal's family's grave.
My mum's back yard
Japanese Cosmos Flowers are in bloom right now !
My mum enjoying some nice weather in her back yard jungle ...
Today is a rainy day so I planned a special cooking class at my aunt .
I've asked my aunt to teach me how to make "Pieds Paquets" translate as "feet and Bags". It is a very old traditional recipe in Provence and one of my favorite but nobody makes them anymore and what you find at the butcher is never quiet as good as what I remember my aunt making . So today is a special day as my cousin Francoise and I will get a hand's on class ! The recipe start like that : " les pieds paquets de Meme Lucienne / the feet and paquets from grandma Lucienne ( who was my aunt's mother ) . You will need time and patience and also make some for at least 10 people ! We are on for a challenge for sure ...but we have all afternoon !
All you need is : a dozen lambs feet , grounded "farce fine " a fine grounded meat stuffing , salted pork belly , 8 lambs stomachs , garlic and parsley ...Good thing is the butcher supply us with clean , already blanched parts. We'll wash and clean them again but there's no smell :)
No gadgets , no ceramic knifes ...we use the same cooking tools as Meme Lucienne did !
Lots of garlic and parsley to mix in with the stuffing as well as some of the cuts from the lamb stomach that we ground . This is the secret that will make the stuffing smooth and not hard ...
The hardest part ! Figure out how to cut a stomach pouch into something that we can stuff, roll up , that won't come undone while cooking without using tread or picks ....we'll cheat and attached a few like tiny little "rotis" and manage to make 50 bags ...enough for 10 people ! While we are struggling with our bagging ....our home made sauce is slowly simmering : a fragrant mix of onions, pork belly cubed , tomatoes, bouquet garni , leeks and carrots . We lay some pork "couenne" or pork skin at the bottom of the pot , the 12 feet on top, our paquets and top off with our broth ....it will then cook for a good 3 hours .....and we'll have to wait until the next day to savor our work !
Our stew will cook an other 3 hours before we can taste it....but this was so worth it ! There were just like I remembered : soft , tender , melting in your mouth little bundles of flavor and the feet just falling off the bone with a sweet gelatinous texture so gooeyly delicious !
A ray of sunshine after the rain on my childhood playground
From my aunt's house you can see way far in the back ground Saint Roman de Malegarde ...a village of some 100 people where Pascal and I leaved for 10 years before we moved to San Diego
Back yard fall magic ...makes everything look beautiful !
Today , I am on the road again , an hour and a half away and a speeding ticket later ( can't go to France an not get your speeding ticket .....) I reach the famous Luberon area ! I stop for lunch in Cucuron , drive by Bonnieux, Menerbes ...
The village of Lacoste
Some of the treasures that will be in our shop soon ....the original lavender sachet is still being made here in Provence ! I grew up weaving lavender wands when the lavender is fresh and you can bend the stems to enclose the flowers . I would sell them at my parent's gas station every summers when I was not picking up melons , peaches or apricots ! It takes for ever to make one but the scent will stay inclosed for years . Gently press the wand to release the best lavender scent !