After returning Luz to the neighbour’s, Valerie picked me up and I went off to San Raphael with her & three youngsters.
Markets are one of my favourite things, from London’s markets, to Germany’s Christmas markets, to the markets here, which range from the overwhelming bounty of the Nice market to the charming, simple, tiny market in Les Adrets on a Wednesday.
Like today. Under instructions from Verity, I have once ordered a ‘demi-poulet fermier,’ or ‘half a roast farm chicken’. Today I went all-out and ordered a whole poulet, complete with roast potatoes. The vendor writes down your order & your name, and tells you when you can pick it up, because it’s there, in the side of the van, roasting, as you order.
Then I had a chat with the lady who sells olives and spices, who gives a poetic litany of what is from where – literally, exotic spices from the Orient, from Arab countries, from all over: cinnamon and ginger, nutmeg and coriander, paprika, white pepper, black pepper (apparently there are five types of pepper) as well as olives marinated in garlic, in chills, in herbs; there is lavender, thyme, sage…
Next is the produce vendor, with fruits and vegetables piled high, and finally (today, at least,) was possibly my favourite – the cheese vendor. I bought €25 worth of French cheeses to make up a plate for my family, who arrive on Friday. Goat’s cheeses, cow cheeses, cheeses with herbs, cheeses wrapped in leaves, cheeses in pots, cheeses in paper…
So I shall return in about two hours to collect lunch – the chicken which I shall eat over the next three days – and I shall have to defend from two cats with very good noses.
At the market with Valerie and her children, we wandered up and down the stalls, bounded on one side by the beach, and the sea. Look to the left, and the glittering dark blue Mediterranean stretches out in front of you. To the right, and all manner of goodies await: cashmere jumpers from Italy at jaw-droppingly low prices, leather handbags, woven baskets, scarves, donughts, paella pans as large as a dining table, berets and striped Breton jumpers (I bought one,) the honey vendor from Les Adrets, candles, candies, nougats, wine, fruits, home-made sausages, mobile phone covers, blankets, coats…
All of which had to be hastily wrapped up and ferreted into vans, boxes, and bags, when it started to pour with rain.
We dashed to the car, and Valerie made a stop at Intermarche, one of the large supermarkets in San Raphael. Then we drove back up the Roman road and had a wonderfully traditional lunch, which she explained is not from this region but ‘from the mountains, further north.’ She had an electric contraption that went in the middle of the table. Each person gets a little tray with a handle onto which goes a slice of raclette, which is a type of cheese. You stick the tray with the raclette slice beneath the heating element and the cheese melts, getting all bubbly, and, if you wait long enough, toasted brown. The top of the machine is a griddle, and you take slices of various cured meats (all variants of ham,) and roll them out onto the griddle where they sizzle and smoke. Boiled potatoes are the base of this dish: you take some boiled potatoes (either small potatoes or cut up pieces,) then put the sizzling ham on top, then pour the melted cheese all over that. Ramond had a melange of spices which was his own very flavourful blend of the five types of pepper, curry powder, and cumin, which I tried, and went very well with the mix. No one else seemed interested in the spices, and charmingly, it seems he puts them on everything he eats. Despite the meal being exciting to me, it seems that it’s one of those ‘quick and easy’ family meals, because really all you need to do is boil potatoes. As my mom would say, ‘works for me’!
Valerie also treated me to her home-made orange wine, which she makes every year, using white wine, sugar, and a particular type of sweet orange (it may be clementines). This was an aperitif, and amazingly sweet, and of course tasted of oranges: the blossoms and the fruit. All the taste of warm weather right up my nose and down my throat. It was wonderful, and I can imagine in the hot summers it’s even better.
To top off this lovely meal, though she said she wouldn’t normally buy one before Christmas, Valerie treated us to a Bûche de Noël: a traditional Christmas ‘log’ cake, making it my ‘première bûche’. This one was coffee-flavoured; the cakes are traditionally chocolate, coffee or vanilla. However, I’ve ordered a very special cake from Isabel at the bakery which is traditional, as well as more unusual for me & my family: a chestnut bûche (pronounced ‘boosh,’) or bûche aux marrons.
Valerie explained that she thinks the log shape of the cake (the icing is crafted to make it look like a log, and the cake and filling are rolled,) is traditional because a log used to be a real gift, in the middle ages, because of course it contributed to a warm fire. I also asked her about the santon figurines, the ‘little saints,’ sold everywhere and unique to Provence. She thinks those originally were carved out of wood by the shepherds during the winter, when they weren’t out in the fields with their sheep; they became gifts, then they were sold, and the tradition has grown from there.
I’ve bought marrons glacés from Isabel as another special, local, treat for Christmas. I have yet to try one because they are in the pile of ‘special things to share with my family,’ but I love chestnuts and these are sugared chestnuts. Sweets, meats, and cheeses, as well as champagne and oysters, are all major Christmas foods here. I think we’ll have all but the oysters (as far as I know, none of my guests like them, and I’m interested to try one but am in no rush,) and perhaps also some salad. I’ve been eating green salads a lot, because it’s very easy to forget the vegetables amidst this decadence.
Wishing you all a joyeux Noël et bonne année!