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Crepe on a stick

Crepe on a stick

One of the nice things about France has always been their approach to eating.   They sit, enjoy and savor finely prepared foods (even if that food is a goddamn snail).  In moderation.

I’ve seen that trend fading with the preponderance of fast food places and prepared foods at the grocery store (which I like to pretend are geared towards american tourists, even though logic tells me otherwise).

But I’m sorry, a crepe on stick?   Yes, this was at an outdoor festival of food.    I’m sure it’s lovely to be able to stroll around with one hand free while eating a crepe, but this just isn’t right.

Jeez, the next thing you know they’ll be making camembert-whiz and drinking wine out of berets.

Wine-Hatphoto of wine cap from www.likecool.com.

 

eating for two

Today I’m eating for me of course, but I’m also eating for Wayne.   Wayne is…was my often partner at the San Francisco company where I do a lot of freelance remotely.   His last day is Friday.  Since I just can’t bring myself to fly 6000 miles to attend his going away lunch,  Wayne and I decide I’ll eat a bunch of French stuff for him over here and chronicle the deliciousness.  So I take a stroll through the Antibes Marche Provencal to find some goodies.

I start by raising a mojito macaron to Wayne’s new job.   It’s surprisingly good–tart but sweet with a subtle whoosh of mint.   Damn, I’ll have another.   Oh, make that four.   It’s for Wayne.

Wayne is experiencing a bit of a sugar rush so I race past all the gorgeous fruit and vegetables (you can get them anywhere) towards the Socca oven that’s up and burning at the other end of the Marche.   Yes, Wayne must have a socca.   It’s distinctly from this part of the world!   Socca is basically a crepe made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt and it’s much better than it has a right to be, especially with a healthy shot of black pepper.   It’s a specialty of Southeast France and the Ligurian Coast of Italy.   It’s like a tidy falafel.    It’s a particularly good choice if Wayne happens to be on a gluten-free diet.

Next up, the Grande Aioli lunch.   Very South of France.   Very traditional.   It’s basically boiled cod and vegetables with an aoili dipping sauce.     It would be very healthy if Wayne didn’t insist on slathering it with the aioli.

Now I figure Wayne could go for something sweet, so I pick up a pack of the nougat that is popular here and in Provence.   I get the multi-flavored assortment to try all the nougaty essences.   It’s sort of a sophisticated version of Turkish taffy.    While there’s a similarity, it’s not as sweet and much more, as the package says, “tendre”.   Also, the flavors are more subtle and natural tasting.   The roasted almonds are a nice touch.   I get another pack for Wayne to enjoy later.

As I make my way out of the marche, all the people selling cheeses, olives and tapenades invite me to sample their wares.   I’m kind of full, but it’s a good opportunity for Wayne to try a lot of delicious Provencal products for free.  He particularly enjoys the the sundried tomato,caper, anchovies, basil, garlic tapenade and the brebis cheese.

As I stagger food-drunk through the old town, I make my customary stop at the window of the bakery and ogle the michettes.  Only today, I go inside and order an assortment.   For Wayne.   They’re yeasty little rolls filled with all kinds of savory things.   Onions, saucisses, chorizo, tuna, spinach, ratatouille, several varieties of cheese, etc, etc.   You could definitely make a well-balanced meal out of them.   The chorizo and chevre ones are particularly good.

I’m not sure if it’s me or Wayne, but one of us is starting to feel a little sick and needs to lie down.    On the way home, I can’t help noticing a beautiful little cake in the window of another bakery.

I start thinking that we really haven’t had any fruit and this cake is full of fresh strawberries.    On the other hand, it’s a little pricey, I’m pretty stuffed, and I think I’ve fulfilled my going away lunch commitment.   But it looks so delicious.

Then it hits me.    I think Wayne’s birthday is coming up.   So I buy it.   Anything for Wayne.

the true meaning of fete de la cocagne

Today’s the big day. The last day of the Fete de la  Cocagne. Maybe today I’ll figure out what it is.

The main drag is closed and booths are set up for about a quarter of a mile. Booths selling stuff—yes, little make due shops! Joy to the world. I celebrate with a glace (ice cream cone) for breakfast.

There are Savoie cheese vendors, sausage and jambon vendors, vendors selling a variety of juices made in the region, arts and crafts booths, a booth selling beer made in the region, wine booths, a booth selling Auvers posters with Van Gogh paintings he painted while he was here, a bakery booth, and my personal favorite, a booth selling framed bugs and butterflies for a mere 10% of the price I’ve seen them sold elsewhere in the states or Paris.

An ooompapa band plays in the background as the tourists and natives wander the streets. Fortunately, only a few are in period costume so I don’t feel out of place or like a party poop.

I ask a few people qu’est ce que c’est cocagnes and most people shrug their shoulders. A few people answer, but I don’t understand a word they’re saying. Where is the French lesson booth when you need it?


My economic contribution is to buy two Auvers Van Gogh posters which I figure will be a nice memory of my time here and will look lovely on my refrigerator box wall when I return to the states. I also get a bottle of cherry/apple juice, a bottle of award winning Biere du Vexin (which is quite good, I must say), a delicious cheese and a small salami. There goes my grocery money for the week. But when I think about it, I’ve got all four food groups covered: dairy with the cheese, meat with the salami, fruit with the juice and grain with the beer. I’m set.

Everyone is jolly and friendly, although I don’t recognize any of them from Auvers.

All in all, it’s a lovely fete. And I think I’ve figured out what cocagne means: tourist trap.

the rock stars of auvers

vWhere I come from, people stand in line for celebrities and iPhones.

Here in Auvers, it appears the most wanted men are the butchers.   On Sunday mornings before they close for their weekend, the line stretches down the main drag.

J.Y. Gicquel Boucherie  comes highly recommended by the Ladoux family.   I’ve been a little hesitant to venture in there because it will require speaking French and I shudder to think what adorable forest creature I might wind up taking home for dinner.   I’m also not sure whether those numbers before the decimal point in their prices, are ones or sevens and whether we’re talking francs or euros and I’m afraid I can’t afford it if I have to ask.

I’m feeling a little lazy tonight and have decided that my lack of energy is due to a protein deficiency and I need a good piece of red meat.   Preferably something someone who’s lived on takeout for the past 20 years can cook.

butcher window

I’m a little nervous entering, the vibe here is a lot friendlier than the boulanger down the street, where I feel I must apologize when I enter, again when I order and one more time when I pay.   Sometimes I apologize when I leave for good measure.

It’s not like I’m a total stranger here.  I wave to them every time I walk by and they wave back.  There are usually two butchers; a younger one with a roundish face and receeding hairline and an older guy with salt and pepper hair and a nice northern european face.  They may be wearing bloody aprons, but here, they’re captains of industry.   A woman mans the prepared foods counter (quiche, Frenchy salads, things en croute and terrines with hardboiled eggs in them) and cash register.

A couple of people are ahead of me which gives me time to get my bearings and look at all the meats behind the counter and try to figure out what they are so I can point knowledgably.   There are about 7 different kinds of chicken shaped items in various sizes.  Lots of fillets of chicken colored objects of various sizes,  slabs of red unrecognizable red meats.   Lots of unrecognizable parts.   Sausage galore.   Chops.   Ribs.   Rabbits.   Geese.   I’m getting a little sad and consider fleeing or at least turning to the deli counter, but it’s my turn.Meat Question

Here are the french words for meats I know I’ll eat:   poulet (chicken), agneau (lamb), boeuf (beef), dinde (turkey), porc.   But then we get into cuts and I’m lost.   Is an onglet a steak or some organ I don’t want to know about?   And is it an onglet de boeuf, ou cheval?   And what the heck is french for goat?   Je ne voudrais pas goat.   Or lapin (rabbit).   I’m now in a cold sweat and probably look guilty.

The younger guy greets me in French.    I try to say something in French, but all I can do is look behind the the glass and point desperately at a kebab and ask ‘qu’est ce que c’est.’   He doesn’t understand me.   Shit (merde).   He’s one of those French people who doesn’t understand English OR really bad French.   This could be a problem.

I point again at the kebab and ask “c’est l’agneau?”

He looks at me blankly.   I repeat myself slowly.   Nothing.   By now everyone in the store has stopped and watches curiously.   I really want to flee now, but I might want to come back here sometime, so I blunder on.

I point at the kebab and “baaaaah” loudly like a lamb.   His face brightens and he nods vigorously.   I point to my leg.   He nods again.

I shout excitedly, ca!   Un de ca s’il vous plait.  He doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but we’re on the same wavelength.

He wraps it up and I hold my hand out to take it.   He gives me a slip of paper and points to the cash register while babbling something in French.  And I totally get it.   They give me the meat after I pay.   I say merci beaucoup, he says something and the transaction is completed.    We’re both very pleased with ourselves.

Next stop, cash register.   Grand total about E4.92 which is about 9 dollars, so, pretty pricey.   It also presents the problem of whether I pay with the pocketful of coins in my pocket or just hand her the E10 bill I have and get even more coins.   If I pay in coins it could take hours for me to figure out the right amount.   But if I get my change in coins, I’ll just have to face the problem down the road.   I do the only logical thing and dump the contents of my pocket on the counter and let the very nice cashier pick out the coins she needs.

rock stars of AuversI leave the store with my package, calling out “merci, bon soir!” feeling very French.

I broil the kebab, which is all seasoned lamb cubes with a chunk of some sort of sausage at each end and make a salad.

All I can say is that kebab brought me more pleasure than Springstein, Jagger or an iPhone ever could.   Hours later, I’m still fantasizing the subtle seasoning and the tender juicy lamb cubes.   And the sausage!   OMG!  A veritable medley of spices in perfect pork harmony that I can’t get out of my head.

Tomorrow is Sunday, so I’m going to get in line first thing in the morning.   Maybe I should camp out front over night.   I’ll just die if they’re sold out when I get there.

Consult this meat translation guide before venturing into a boucherie.

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