French men wear berets. They wear other headgear, too, but berets are right up there. Red or black. Some great, big ones, in the Basque style. Worn completely, whole-heartedly straight-faced, mostly by older men. They are not trying to pull off a look. They are not being ironic or kitsch or retro. They are just putting something on their heads because they always have done that when they go out, especially in winter, and the thing they have in the closet is a beret. Because they are French.
I love it.
In an era of H&M and Zara and Levis and everybody around the world wearing the same things, it is great to have a few people who wear some tradition item just because they like it, or because they’ve always done it (tradition), and not because it’s some kind of costume.
That said, the styles of hats seems to have proliferated lately. Another very popular version–even more popular than the beret–is the closely related newsboy/golfer/driving cap, which looks a lot like a beret that is pulled forward, but unlike a beret, which is shaped like a crêpe and can be pulled or puffed to different looks, the cap actually has a defined shape: it rises straight up from the back of the head, then slopes down to the forehead. It may or may not include a bill.
Other men opted for felt hats with brims. Smaller trilby styles to broader-brimmed fedoras. What I didn’t see many of? Baseball caps. At least not in winter.
French women also strutted an array of headgear.
Do you wear hats? Which style? I admit to having two berets, but I don’t wear them as much as I used to. Both black, bought in France. They are easy to slip into my bag in case I get cold and can be pulled down over my ears if necessary. Plus they don’t smash or electrify my hair the way a knit cap (called a bonnet) does.For more about French chapeaux, check out FranceSays.
How I love the fashion trend of flat shoes. And they are everywhere, on women of all ages. I started really paying attention, and I spotted some trends, at least among the fashionable women around here in the south of France.
Lace-up oxfords are popular. My podiatrist told me that lace-up shoes are good because they hold your foot and adjust to the width, whereas slip-ons can slide around. (The fact that I had a podiatrist explains my enthusiasm for flat shoes, eh?) Don’t you love the ones in the top photo? Not loud but not quiet either. Interesting. The woman told me they were extremely comfortable and advised looking for the handstitching around the sole as a sign of quality.That said, simple low Chelsea boots were ubiquitous. Also, note the cuffs. Slim pants or jeans, either cropped or cuffed.
Shoes should shine. No scuffs! When I lived in Africa, my students would shine their shoes daily; in fact they were always impeccable in their uniforms. People today are so sloppy. They have so much and take care of so little. I like how so many French iron their clothes and shine their shoes.Shiny shoes can mean patent leather. Not just for summer anymore. You can even wear them in the rain.
Otherwise, black shoes don’t have to be plain Janes. I loved the black-on-black paisley on these.
I spotted bows, especially at the back of the ankle, on several women. And lots of stud details.The athleisure look is everywhere, too. Plenty of women were wearing outright running shoes, but there were also lots of comfortable-but-not-great-for-sports Chuck Taylors and Stan Smiths. On the main pedestrian shopping street, a shoe store that used to sell dressy heels (escarpins) now is called La Toile (the Canvas–like canvas tennis shoes) and sells athleisure shoes for men and women. Not a heel in sight.
Even the models in the windows of dress shops are sporting flats.There also were lots of flat-heeled high boots, but I didn’t get good shots. I think I saw two women in all in relatively high heels, similar to the ones above. Certainly no stilettos. And as for heels, make them count.All that said, not everybody here is making an effort to live up to the French stereotype of high fashion. It’s quite typical to spy retirees going out to the boulangerie for their daily baguette wearing plaid flannel bedroom slippers. And sometimes they wear them other places, too.Are heels finally dead? I hope so.
Liberté. Egalité. Fraternité. The motto of France. And another kind of fraternity–une confrérie–is more like a brotherhood, and in typical French logic, is a feminine noun. They started out being quasi-religious and charitable, but now are mostly based on promoting certain traditions, especially those having to do with gastronomy.
The confréries are a way for French foodies to indulge their gastronomic obsession along with their love of pomp and ceremony, tradition and regulation, seriousness and silliness. You name something to eat or drink and there’s a club devoted to it. They dress up in costumes and attend each other’s festivals.
The ones that really slay me are when they wear a cup around their necks. Be prepared!
There’s the Confrérie Gastronomique des Compagnons du Boudin Noir (the Gastronomic Brotherhood of the Friends of the Black Blood Sausage) and the Confrérie Gastronomique des Compagnons du Haricot de Soissons (the Gastronomic Brotherhood of the Friends of the Soissons Beans). There’s the Confrérie Gastronomique de l’Ordre de l’Echalote de Busnes (the Gastronomic Brotherhood of the Order of the Busnes Shallot) and the Chevaliers de la Poularde (Knights of the Hen). The Carnivore was in fact a member of la Confrérie du Taste-Cerise. Two groups are dedicated to cassoulet: the Academie Universelle du Cassoulet and the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet. I wrote about the Academiehere. And la Confrérie Los Trufaïres de Vilanova de Menerbès (that’s Occitan–the ancient language of this region–for the truffle brotherhood of Villeneuve Minvervois) here.
Belonging to a gastronomic brotherhood involves dressing up in medieval costumes and getting together to eat your chosen dish regularly, as well as helping to promote it and preserve its purity and traditions in France and around the world. It’s the Chamber of Commerce, with a big dose of bons vivants. You can see a parade of various groups at the Toques et Clochers festival I wrote about here; toques are the hats worn by chefs, while clochers are church bells. The festival raises money via food and drink to restore a church belfry each year.
Anyway, French frats came to mind on Saturday, when, while buying locally grown cauliflower at the market, I was distracted by the dulcet tones of horns. How appropriate! Of course, I had to investigate. I didn’t figure the gilets jaunes had brought in a band.
By then, a men’s choir, le Choeur des Hommes des Corbières–a neighboring wine territory–had started singing. I can’t upload videos here, but you can see one on my Instagram. An elderly gentleman, wearing a long apron and a hat, poured little cups of wine for the crowd from a wooden cask hanging around his neck. It was 10 a.m.
It was the feast of Saint Vincent, patron saint of winegrowers. So the national gastronomic club of Prosper Montagné (hometown boy, born in Carcassonne, inventor of the food truck, writer of the original Larousse Gastronomique, which is the bible of French cuisine) organizes a march past Montagné’s childhood home to the Church of St. Vincent (of COURSE a church in the center of Carcassonne is dedicated to St. Vincent!) for a blessing of the wine. Then they paraded through the central Place Carnot and on around the corner to a former church (they were about one per block back in the Middle Ages and now only a couple of bigger ones are still used) that now is a temple to bullfighting, headquarters of the Cercle Taurin. You can see the local TV coverage here.It was all wrapped up with a gastronomic dinner. Of course.
Around Christmas, making a detour around the gilets jaunes, I passed through the charming village of Pennautier and pulled over. I have you to thank. In the past, I would have craned to peek down the interior streets but I wouldn’t have stopped. Now, I park and get out my camera. Pennautier is a stone’s throw from Carcassonne. Prehistoric tools have been found, but it didn’t take off until the Romans came along around 100 B.C. and put up some fortified agricultural buildings. In 508, King Clovis the First gave the territory to one of his lieutenants and called it Pech Auter, which means High Old Warrior. On a rocky hill with a river nearby, the village was fortified by walls that were torn down in 1591 probably because the village was a refuge for Protestants, according to the mairie.It doesn’t look like the heart of the village has changed much over the centuries. It’s a maze of narrow streets, improbably full of cars parked as close as possible to one wall, because there’s barely room for anybody to pass.
It was late on a Saturday and raining when I stopped. I saw quite a few people walking briskly, then realized they were going to church.
Unfortunately, the château was closed. The top photo shows just one end of it; you’re missing the broad front. It’s called the Versailles of Languedoc! Huge! It was built in 1620 by Bernard Reich de Pennautier. You have to watch the video clip on the château’s site, especially the bed that was a gift of King Louis XIII when he visited in 1622.In 1670, the son, Pierre-Louis de Pennautier, took over and added on. He hired Louis Le Vau, who was the architect of Versailles, to design the wings, and Andre Le Nôtre, who did the gardens at Versailles, to design those at Pennautier. Starchitects of the 1600s.
The whole place was redone in 2009 and now has 24 double and twin rooms, but you have to book a minimum of four bedrooms or two suites.
Did I mention they make wine, still today? Good stuff.
The château is on my to-do list for the next Journées du Patrimoine.
Eating fresh greens can be a challenge in winter, especially if you favor locally grown produce. Around here, even lettuce survives because we rarely get frost and almost never a hard freeze. But if you are in harsher climes and want to add some fresh crunch plus vitamins to your salads, consider growing sprouts.
Back in the hippy dippy days of the ’70s, my mom experimented with growing sprouts. The contraption was environmentally awful plastic and the process was way too complicated. I think it was for soybean sprouts, which were extremely exotic at the time. I think we did it once, maybe twice. Then it joined the yogurt maker and other good intentions in the basement.My all-natural sister-in-law presented me a sprout kit over a year ago, and it has gotten a good workout, especially in winter. It’s from Nature et Découvertes, and has a pleasing design–an elegant glass container with a metal mesh insert. That’s all. All it takes is a single teaspoon of alfalfa seeds (called luzerne in French). You can use other seeds as well–red cabbage, radish, cilantro…high in vitamins!You soak the seeds for half an hour in a cup of cold water.Then spread them over the mesh so they’re in a single layer.Fill the glass bowl with water up to the mesh.
Wait. You have to change the water every day until you’ve eaten all your sprouts.It takes only a couple of days to have a crop. We pull out what we need to add to salads or garnish a plate, and the rest keeps growing. We eat the whole thing, but some people cut off the roots.The process didn’t work so well in summer–it gets too hot and the water goes bad too quickly. But in summer there are so many other fresh things to eat.
I love having a microgarden of microgreens growing on my countertop. They make me smile. However, where did this word “microgreens” come from? What was wrong with “sprouts”?
I like knowing that no chemicals are used. Plus they’re about as fresh as you can get.
Have you grown sprouts? How do you keep your cooking fresh in winter? Do you have any tales of trends from decades ago that are back?
Last weekend, we had a bunch of friends over for a little party. Too many people to put around a table, but it’s fun to get everybody together and not just in summer, when there’s plenty of space outside.
We kept it smaller than the Fête de la Lumièrelast year, inviting about 20 people. The menu was similar but hey, we can’t rest on our laurels! Make new friends but keep the old…and that goes for recipes, too.As usual, I made a spreadsheet. This is so helpful for making a shopping list. I duplicated last year’s, and just deleted or added dishes as needed. So the big work is the first time, and then you just have to tweak.
This time, the big course was vegetarian chili. I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe and it was a hit. I did not, however, roast the sweet potatoes. Are you kidding? Everybody knows chili is better on Day 2, so I made it the day before. I feared the sweet potatoes would be cooked to mush even if they went in raw. I doubled the recipe, and while we had leftovers, there wasn’t all that much extra–lunch for me and the kid for just two days after. The French famously dislike spicy food, and this wasn’t spicy at all; we had a bottle of Tabasco on the side for those who were adventurous.We served the chili with cornbread (3/4 cup butter; 2 eggs, 1.5 cups buttermilk mixed/ 1 cup cornmeal, 3/4 cup white flour, 1/4 tsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt; one can (a little more than a cup) of corn. Mix the dry, mix the wet, mix the two together. Bake at 400F/200C for about 25 minutes–check halfway in and turn if one side is browning faster than the other). Big hit.
As usual, there were deviled eggs, Thai chicken wings and drumsticks (baked in the oven at 400F/200C the day before, then reheated in batches) with peanut sauce, crudités with ranch dressing, and homemade hummus (1 big can of chickpeas, about 400 g, rinsed; one clove of garlic, some (maybe 1/4 cup?) olive oil, tahini (about 1/4 cup) and lemon juice to thin it out). The difference between homemade hummus and store-bought is night and day, and homemade is so easy.To go with the hummus, the kid made (at the last minute!) some rosemary cheese sablés. Kind of this recipe, but without the olives, which the kid hates, and instead with fresh rosemary from the garden. Doubled the recipe and they disappeared. They mostly were eaten plain, but they were available for the hummus, as were baguettes from the bakery.
I wanted to recreate the meatballs I made last year, which were a big hit, but I realized the recipe I had saved I didn’t use last time; I think I made something vaguely Italian. This time I had hoisin sauce, but I made up the recipe on the fly: ground pork, LOTS of fresh minced onion, a couple of eggs, some breadcrumbs to stick. The onion is essential for moist, tasty meatballs that don’t get hard. I baked the meatballs in the oven and didn’t even need to turn them. Bake them on a cookie sheet at 400F/200C only until they’re just cooked, then put them into a glass dish for reheating; they’ll brown up more. A hot oven is good for cooking them fast without drying them out.
Half the table was given over to charcuterie, per the Carnivore. The cheese assortment was barely touched in light of the rest of the bounty.Rather than cheese, people skipped straight to dessert: chocolate crinkle cookies, a nut sheet cake (cut into squares) and, of course, Christmas cookies. Our friend brought his grandma’s famous chocolate mousse. Quelle délice! And, when everybody could eat no more but didn’t want to leave, the clementines were passed around.
We do like to use real plates and silverware. It’s easier to hold, feels fancier and, after so many years with the same dishes, is more economical and environmental.I didn’t dress up, but I do have a fun dress that I got during the soldes a while back. It’s silk, so it’s light enough to wear in summer; it has sleeves, so it’s OK for winter. It’s so, so simple, yet…Do you see the pattern?Yes, tiny Eiffel towers and gold stars in a black sky of stars. So appropriate.
One of my favorite hostess gifts that people brought was this box of savory toast spreads. We already tested a couple of them and they are delicious. Bio, too (organic). I think I covered all the recipes, but if you have questions, let me know! Lots of good stuff, with big impact with little effort or budget.
Signs of Christmas everywhere. Windows decorated, especially at the bakeries and chocolate shops. The shop above, Bimas, is renowned in Carcassonne, a veritable art gallery of cakes and chocolates. Eye candy for the mouth. The bûches de noël range from traditional to more modern, like the ones above. And graisse de noël–Christmas fat!–has appeared in the cheese shops. Graisse de noël is a cross between Cantal cheese and butter. Very rich, very good.Shops are decorated, mostly low-key, with wreaths and garlands, but some, like the florist above, are in full-on holiday mode.
The skating rink is trying to stay frozen as temperatures climb into the mid-teens Celsius (flirting with 60 Fahrenheit). The Christmas market and holiday amusement park fill with people in the evenings when the lights go on. Square Gambetta’s plane trees twinkle with lights. I like its tree.I was surprised to see flowers blooming in the square. Roses and whatever these plants are. The leaves look like bamboo, but what are those pink flowers?People tend to do low-key decorations on their homes, too. A few lights, some wreaths. An occasional Santa hanging from a window or balcony.Even little villages decorate. I like the variety of church steeples outlined in lights.
Of course, la Cité needs no decoration. It was particularly moody on a foggy morning last week.The sunrises and sunsets lately have been stunning. This photo is as-is, no editing. Kind of like this post, which is a verbal potluck.Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you. May all your sunrises be beautiful and bright.
One of the challenges of living in the south of France is that until two days ago, we’ve been in sweater weather, or even in shirt sleeves, and are shocked that it’s December already. We put up our Christmas tree, a mini edition that originally was for our kid’s room, back when that sort of thing was terribly exciting. It doesn’t have room for all the decorations we’ve accumulated. So we stuck to the sentimental ones only.
We lit all the candles, and our kid chose a Christmas playlist from Spotify. We were able to sing along to almost every song. I could name the singers of the old ones after just a few notes, whereas our kid knew the more current performers. (I didn’t know Beyoncé did Silent Night! I love it, of course, but Andy Williams is forever the king of Christmas to me.) This process of singing, unwrapping and hanging is one of my favorite moments of the year, more so than Christmas itself. We’re unwrapping dear old decorations, some of them a little worse for the wear, others handmade by loved ones no longer among us. It lacks the excitement of unwrapping a present–we already know what’s in each box, nestled in tissue paper. The friendly ghosts of Christmas past.
Are you making Christmas cookies? I am on the fence. It’s a lot of work and a lot of high-fat, high-sugar temptation, but people around here don’t do Christmas cookies and seem genuinely thrilled to get a box of them. Plus it’s another excuse to put on Christmas carols and sing with my kid while we putter away. Cookie baking deserves musical accompaniment.Speaking of high-sugar temptations in pretty boxes, take a look at these Ladurée macarons from a friend. They tasted as sublime as they look. If you can’t get to Ladurée, you can make your own–it isn’t hard.
Meanwhile, Carcassonne’s Christmas market is full of people sharing aperitifs and oysters, or mulled wine and aligot, while energetic youth chase each other around the ice rink. Between high temperatures and rain, it’s hard to keep the ice frozen.
What is your favorite Christmas carol? Mine is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I just found the sheet music, which my mother had bought when the song came out, in 1944. Instead of records, she would buy the sheet music. I’m going to work on playing it.
We recently enjoyed a visit from a Parisian friend and her 13-month-old, and the baby’s meals struck me as very French. Our own child was never so lucky. We moved here when our kid was three months old, and I pretty much relied on family and friends back in the U.S. for advice. When I started to make friends here, I realized that the whole baby thing was different, but this was many years ago and I had mostly forgotten about it.
The biggest difference is that French baby foods are marked by time of day. Protein is for midday and never in the evening. I vaguely recall French moms telling me this back in the day. I searched around a bit to see whether baby foods sold in, say, the U.S. were marked for evening or whether nutritional recommendations said anything about protein in the evening, but I found nothing (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist). I considered calling up a pediatrician, but (1) they don’t have time and (2) there’s a broad range of advice out there. My friend, in fact, was horrified at what her friends feed their children of the same age–cereal in the formula to get the kid to sleep at night, sweets, etc. All I can say is that if there were only one way to raise a child, there wouldn’t be 7 billion people on the Earth today.
There are two arguments about protein at night: that too much protein is taxing on the kidneys, which are delicate at such a young age, and that protein is hard to digest and will disturb sleep. The latter argument also applies to adults, and in fact quite a few of my friends have supper (souper) of soup. And that’s it. They eat a big meal at noon, not at night. All the ones who do this are very trim and fit, by the way, even though they are retired.
Another thing is that French kids don’t drink milk. Babies get formula in bottles, but when they get bigger, they might have hot chocolate with milk for breakfast and that’s it. In France, McDonald’s Happy Meals don’t have milk among the drink choices, but it’s typical in the U.S., even in school lunches. French kids are expected to drink water (and yes, there exist French parents who give their kids juice and sugary sodas).
And then there are the menus for babies. Get a load of these:
Navarin de petits légumes, agneau français–a kind of ragoût with lamb and “small vegetables”: carrots, potatoes, butternut squash and mushrooms. This was marked for lunch.
Patate douce, chataigne, pintade fermière du Poitou–sweet potato, chestnuts and guinea hen from the Poitou department. Also for lunch.
On Tuesday, you met Oliver Gee, of the Earful Tower podcast, who visited Carcassonne as part of the honeymoon tour of France with his bride, Lina Nordin Gee. The lovely Lina is interesting in her own right, as a shoe designer, company founder, and chic Parisienne.
I ran into Oliver and Lina at the Saturday market in Carcassonne, where I was waiting to meet up with a friend and her husband–the same couple whose love story I described here. My friends were delighted to meet Oliver and Lina, and C kept leaning over to me to whisper about Lina: “She’s so beautiful!” “Seriously, she is very beautiful!”
And it’s true. From the bits of time I got to talk with Lina, I learned that her heart is as beautiful as her face. And she’s a businesswoman! Her brand is Deuxième Studios, and the shoes show that you don’t need heels to be chic.
—How did you get into shoe design?
When I grew up, my mother started her own brand, designing and selling traditional clogs. I started helping out at weekends and after school. A few years later I graduated from Istituto Marangoni in London (and a year in Milan) with a BA in Fashion Design, I continued to work with my mother as well as taking on freelance work for other brands. I also started designing and making custom wedding dresses on request. In 2016, I decided to start my own brand, designing and selling my own line of shoes.—How did you end up in Paris?
I have moved around quite a bit since I turned 18. As soon as I finished high school, I moved to London to study fashion design, from there I moved on to Milan and Abu Dhabi, only to move back to Stockholm (where I grew up) a few years later. I spent about a year back in my home town, but it wasn’t long until I got restless, so I sent off an application to study a semester of french at the Sorbonne in Paris. In December I got the letter from the university welcoming me to Paris, and I moved a couple of weeks later.
—How did you start your company?
It took about a year of preparations and planning before I launched my brand. In 2016 – my first year in Paris, I started thinking about starting my own shoe brand. At the time me and my now-husband Oliver–then boyfriend–were living in a tiny chambre de bonne (basically shoebox sized) apartment in the second arrondissement (deuxième arrondissement in French), in the very bullseye of Paris. I guess it must’ve made an impression on me because I settled on ”Deuxième Studios” as the name for my brand. I was still working with my mother’s brand, and therefore had all the connections with suppliers (shoes, leather, shoeboxes, etc.) I needed to start. So I went ahead to register my new name, I flew to Portugal to develop and order my first shoe samples, I ordered shoe boxes and made a website.After about a whole year I was ready to show my first collection to the Swedish press. It went well, and I got in contact with some of the biggest fashion influencers in Sweden. They showed and shared my shoes in their channels, and before I even opened my webshop, I had customers waiting to order.
The first collection existed of basically one model (in an array of colours, hot pink to powdery beige) – a fluffy slipper. I have just finished the new samples for autumn/winter 2019, the number of models have increased over the four seasons I’ve been active, from the first fluffy slipper to a full collection of boots, ballerinas, pumps and sandals! —Tell us about your philosophy/ideals about the perfect shoe.
I started Deuxième with the idea of offering shoes that didn’t have to have a towering heel to look fun. Living in Paris and marching the cobbled streets every day, heels is not always the best option. I wanted to make shoes that can transform an outfit, something simple yet special. A shoe that can take you from day to night. Oh – and it had to be comfy! I basically wanted a shoevolution, haha. Sounds pretty ambitious, but I guess you need to dream big to dare to take the step of actually starting your own company. It helps if you’re a little crazy!—How are your shoes made?
My shoes are made in the north of Portugal, around Porto and Guimaraes, to be precise. They are produced in a small family run factory run by the owner named Paulo. I source some of the materials myself, and some are sourced via the factory’s connections, but it’s ultimately me who will ok a material before it’s used. It’s so interesting to see a a shoe being assembled by all these pieces and processes, from initial sketch to a pair of beautifully made shoes wrapped in silk paper, ready to be shipped to their new owner.
I am pretty vigilant when it comes to quality. It pays off to choose a more expensive leather/sole/lining in the long run. The shoes ages better and will by the same logic live longer. It’s extremely important to me to offer a sustainable option in the fashion world.
I am currently working on extending the Deuxième family further, I’m in the process of making a few models of bags! About six months ago I contacted a hardware manufacturer in Milan, and I recently got the finished samples of the custom bag clasps I designed. 2019 will be an exciting year for me, new shoe models, very new bags, and I might just be in talks with a well-known department store in Sweden.