November 27 2017
This autumn week is always abundantly oversaturated with food, friends, family, fetes… It’s like the new year really begins here-one very busy year ending and one yet to be born arriving. Beautiful food haunts the fleeting Insta-photograph feeds as millions of my fellow Americans set tables, arrange flowers and autumn leaves, bake endless pies to the moon, and sit down to eat together, at last. It happens once a year near my birthday (but never on it) and the hoopla and feasting is a joyous thing to witness. I just wished it was more often. Really. More a normal thing for all these folks. Maybe not a ‘too much to eat’ dinner, but a ‘let’s share some food once a week or once a month’ sort of thing. Could we start a new movement?
I don’t mean to preach. At least, not too much. The life I chose to make here in France has been one continuous long feast. But like many, I, too, need an occasional reminder and social media heads-up to be grateful. A special day to say ‘Merci’ for all the blessings of friends and family, plenty and diversity, and all the small comings and goings of a gastronomic life. I always said Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday: the extra efforts, the long-distance travel to table, the gathering of the clans. Now, I think I’d swap it for the weekly suppers with French neighbors and friends, the monthly ex-pat Spicy Cravings Club Potlucks, and the occasional lunches out in a charming village cafe with girlfriends. We all need reminding more often. We all need gratitude and cooking on a daily basis. I hope I can inspire some of you here, cajole a bit or just give you a solid recipe to try out. Shopping would be where I start. Always.
Look at this old postcard. The photograph is of the original Marche Couverte in Agen, the covered market hall. What a nostalgic reminder of when beauty and food were a daily occurrence! Inseparable. Concrete evidence that food (and thus cooking and eating) was valued so highly that a glass and iron temple was erected to its honor. It doesn’t look like that now. Demolished in 1970 by the army of young revolutionaries looking to upgrade and modernize France, a modern concrete parking structure squats over a truncated market hall with barely two dozen vendors. When built in 1884, there were 184 stalls selling locally produced food.
So why do I still shop there? To touch the past; to buy the best beef and imported charcuterie from the Pineau Freres; to celebrate the oyster season at Poisonnerie Gibaux and find foie gras and a rare truffle or two at Chez Maria; to share a glass at Gueuleton’s wine bar; to support the experienced butchers, charcuteries, cheese and fishmongers; and especially to keep the future market options varied and abundant.
In 2019, the current Marche Couverte will get a much needed face lift. A new glass facade will be imprinted with this old postcard image and the main entrance to the market will be restored to its rightful place facing the Place des Laitiers- the ancient Roman forum. Looking through these transparent layers from past to the future is part of learning the France game. Each year, I delve a bit deeper and uncover a golden nugget that helps me understand how we hold onto the past enough to enrich the future. When America makes more of its shopping experiences less like Costco and more like a French farmer’s market, maybe then I can inspire some of you to spend a bit more time shopping for a bit more beautiful cooking and eating experience. As I said once, “Shopping is Cooking!”
So your first task- support your local, farmer, producer, CSA, or whatever food is actually bought from a real person. Keep your food money close to home. Encourage your raw milk neighbors to keep those few cows freshened. Buy small batch cheese. Bring home warm bread from the bakery. Each small thing that you do that touches another is a reward in itself. This week I bought the following at the weekend fete and market: fresh grape juice and grapes, hazelnut flour and oil, walnuts and their oil, spelt bread, prunes, cheese, chicken, carrots, apples, eggs. I'll be making some holiday treats with these and sharing those recipes here.