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.
What to wear? If the photos of Parisian fashions seem too crazy, take some cues from the more laid-back south of France. On some outings to Toulouse and Montpellier, a few trends were evident.
While I usually use only my own photos, it was next to impossible. Either I photograph or I shop. As I was with a very chic friend who wanted to shop, there was a limit to how much I could stop for photos, especially since I have an ancient point-and-shoot camera whose shutter works when it decides to. (New phone with decent camera on order!)
However, please note in the top photo, taken in Montpellier, the color. An orange coat, a red coat, and a woman in a bright yellow coat with yellow tights.
I did stop a woman at the market. I was with the same friend, who told me, “THAT’S how you should dress,” pointing to an extremely elegant woman buying vegetables. She really was stunning. I went up and asked to take her picture. She demurred, then agreed as long as I cropped off her face. I showed her the photo afterward to make sure she was OK with it.
We got to talking, and it turned out she was 82!!!! I would have guessed 60-something, and maybe less from farther away. She walked like a dancer, with perfect posture. Tall, slim, with a great haircut and just-right makeup–enough to not look faded, not so much as to look painted. I have seen her from time to time since, and she is unfailingly elegant.
As I don’t always have time to talk for 15 minutes for every photo, I sometimes snap from behind, to get the idea of the outfit without someone’s face. But too often people cross in front, and it’s hard to focus….
So I took some photos from a few popular retailers that one sees around French cities. I link to their sites as a thank you for using the photos. I don’t get anything from it and they aren’t advertising. Any advertisers you see here are thrown in automatically by WordPress to make up for me using the free version and I don’t get anything from them nor even know who they are.
We must admit a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words. So here are the main trends I saw:
The fanny pack as bandolier.
Mostly spotted on men, but I did see it on a few women. It was far more common in Montpellier, where everybody seems to be under age 25, than in Toulouse. I have seen it only once in Carcassonne, which someone once described to me as “une ville mémère”–granny town. In Montpellier, I saw a woman whose fanny pack/bandolier had a metal chain strap like a Chanel bag. Go figure.
Untucked is over. Men and women alike wore their tops tucked in–all the way around. Not the fake tucked-in-front, out-in-back move. That is so 2015, Jenna Lyons.
Again and again I saw young women with enormous, chunky sweaters tucked into their trousers or jeans. The sweaters weren’t cropped–that would have been a boxy shape on top. The trend was to create billows of material just above the waist.
My fashionable friend explained that it was about the silhouette–you can’t have a big top and looser bottoms without defining the waist, otherwise it just looks sloppy.
High waists are back.
I have heard this routinely ever since waistlines started to descend in the late 1990s. It seems to be true this time. Those big sweaters are tucked into high-waist pants or jeans, and cinched tightly with belts. Self-belts that match trousers are OK, but with jeans you need a brown leather belt that’s way too long and you loop the extra end around artfully.
Also, the jeans can be oversize mom/boyfriend cut, preferably large enough to create a paperbag effect when you cinch that belt.
You don’t have to wear jeans.
Lots of very young women and teens were wearing pinstripe and plaid (glen or tattersall) trousers. If the pants had wide legs, they were cropped. Otherwise, the “carrot” shape with tapered ankles was common.
(No idea why this photo is so small!)
The ugly shoe has arrived.
However, the uglier the shoe, the prettier the person, otherwise it backfires (which we also saw). That rules out ugly shoes for me.
Lots of camel, with men and women alike wearing a very simple, classic beltless model. Also bathrobe versions in gray and olive green.
Have you seen any of these trends where you live? Would you wear them?
Also: check out this great video from Oui in France of what goes on in a French bakery. Good thing we can’t smell it. I would eat all the bread.
I realized I have three folders of door photos, and they are getting out of hand. Let’s meander through one folder, which ranges from Carcassonne to Montolieu to Caunes-Minervois to Cépie, which are all quaint little villages around Carcassonne.
The top photo is technically a gate. But so gorgeous! look at how the scrolls in the stone match the scrolls in the ironwork. And the bits of “lace” hanging from the gutter.This one might be a gate to an inner courtyard or just a garage door. Who knows! Good luck driving up over that curb.A hidden courtyard elsewhere in town that I spied before the huge doors closed automatically. I love how old French buildings keep so many secrets.Perfectly imperfect.Another gate. But the colors!Why do the women’s faces on doors and buildings usually look unhappy? The men usually look stern or fierce, but the women look like their patience is being tried.Note the fish knocker. And the date: 1746.I wonder whether the shutters and door started out the same shade and the shutters faded more because of more exposure to the sun, or whether the homeowners intentionally chose different shades.The little pot! Notice how almost no threshhold is straight.This door doesn’t even come up to my shoulder, and I’m short. For a while, it led to an underground bar, called “Le Trou Dans le Mur”–the Hole in the Wall. It was gorgeous, with a high vaulted ceiling and stone walls and a deep well that they had artfully lit. It was no easy feat to crawl through the hole and then descend the steep stairs. Too bad it closed.Arches+ivy+old stones = French charm.
Hamlet as in tinier than a village. Not Hamlet as in Shakespeare.
A little wide spot in the road that I’ve driven by without stopping. A church steeple beckoned. I pulled over.The hamlet of Grèzes was founded in 778 by Charlemagne after defeating the local Visigoths. Charlemagne founded un prieuré, or a priory, at Grazanis, which became Grèzes, now a bedroom community of Carcassonne. The priory had five or six monks of the order of St. Benoît, a hospital, a dispensary and a school. It sounds downright bustling. Charlemagne established a number of abbeys across the region, including Saint Hilaire (birthplace of bubbly wine!!! YES, not Champagne…more on that later), Caunes, Saint Polycarpe, Lagrasse, Saint Papoul. He wanted to re-instill Catholicism across the land. This was well before Catharism took hold in the region and led to the last Crusade, against the Cathars, in the early 1200s, when Carcassonne surrendered rather than face the slaughter that happened at Béziers.The other high point came in March 1579, when Catherine de Medici visited Grèzes during a five-day stay in Carcassonne with her son, Charles IX. She gave two chandeliers that light the choir. The church was closed when I passed, but having learned of this must-see décor I will go back! It dates to the XIII century, but has had many additions, renovations and restorations. It had only one bell until 1952, when two more were added.I saw more cats than people.
All the streets were two-way but barely big enough for one car.
A pretty drève leads out of town. So many of these have been cut down because of the blight killing the platanes, or plane trees.The Black Mountains are visible in the distance, beyond the rolling wheat and hay fields and vineyards.
And Carcassonne’s airport is very close.
Somehow, even places that are little more than a wide spot in the road manage to be charming here. I promise to report back on Catherine de Medici’s taste in light fixtures.