Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn Leaves

This is the time of year when the world glows. The colors are vibrant, breathtaking, It makes it easier to accept the push of darker days just ahead. The season is over, the rhythm of life changes, the guests are less frequent and tend to be business people rather than holiday makers. We order the fuel and a huge supply of firewood. We think of putting the patio furniture away, but not quite yet, not while these golden days are still upon us, fleeting though they be. This year, as often happens, the October weather has been idyllic. Even if the temperature drops, the sun is out and warms our cheeks. Perfect days for walks in the woods, or a drive in the countryside. I take along the camera to capture some of the images, to help me guard them for the cold days. The world has such a wonderful way of easing us into winter!
Nothing Gold Can Stay Robert Frost Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold, Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.
The vines on the front of our house mark the season gloriously, bud green in spring, vibrant green for summer, flaming to red for autumn and dropping off when the wind begins to blow, leaving gnarled old trunks exposed during winter months. A walk to our garden affords expansive views over the countryside below our hilltop village. The fields are not yet green with winter cover crops, but the trees turn their various mellow shades. We drive to la Ferté-Bernard once a week to do errands. It's the biggest town in the area, about 10 miles from home. The river flows though the city and there is a large lake for boating and swimming. On the drive back towards home, we stop to capture some images of the gentle landscape. With the colder weather, comes cozy evening fires and out comes the soup and stew recipes. Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence), writes charmingly of France. He recently published an article in the New York Times about October and how the French celebrate Halloween. It's well worth a read and it has a bonus recipe at the end of the column. It's Called Pumpkin Eaters.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Magic Book

A few years ago I learned how to make a wonderful magic book at the San Francisco Center for the Book. With one piece of paper, a couple of cuts and some very easy folds, you can make what's called a Jacob's Ladder Book or a Tetratetraflexagon. You have a front and a back, but hidden inside are another two pages that are only revealed when you fold the middle of the book in a certain way.
folding the book to discover the hidden third page
the third page
folding the book to discover the hidden fourth page
the fourth page
The form can be used as a travel journal (as described in the book Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, and Turn, one I highly recommend, with all kinds of great projects for children and adults who love books and journals) or an invitation, diary, love letter or just a way to display art or photos, as I have used it here. You could use it to make someone a very special handmade Chritmas card or gift. And children love its magical nature. If you would like .pdf directions for making this little book, please email me at and I will reply with a file.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paris Neighborhoods--Where the artists live

Tucked away in quiet back alley ways, you can find the studios and residences of some of Paris' many artists and craftsmen. There are whole neighborhoods that have ateliers and charming little apartments where artists have lived side-by-side for generations. These spaces are reserved for them and so remain the same year after year. You can watch glass blowers, book binders, musical instrument makers, engravers and painters of minatures working in these traditional studios. In fact there are about 4000 artisans* who live and work in central Paris. They are mainly clustered in the Marais and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, near the Bastille. There is strong support for arts and crafts in France. This comes in the form of both cultural and financial encouragement. France seems to be a country that really appreciates those activities and professions that bring beauty and charm to daily life and are willing to fund people of keep them alive. Of course France is also known for guarding its history and traditions with attention to detail. Since Paris is the most visited spot on the planet, there must be something in the rest of us that is attracted to the old beautiful things which the French take so much time and expense to maintain. This is all good news for French crafts people. There is still a lively system of apprenticeship in France and jobs waiting for young people who learn traditional arts and crafts. The amount of restoration that is accomplished every year in France is phenomenal**. Children who do not seem academically inclined at the early age of 13-15, are encouraged to skip ordinary high school and take up a trade. Our neighbor's daughter was apprenticed to a fine chocolate maker after finishing junior high school. Her first year she was required to get up at 4 am to start work and work a split shift. She worked on every holiday, which was, of course, the busiest days for the shop where she was an apprentice. It was grueling hard work for a young girl but it certainly kept her out of the usual adolescent trouble! After five year of studies, and passing several demanding exams, including creating chocolate sculptures in a few high-pressure hours, she's a professional candy maker with all the skills and knowledge of generations of chocolatiers before her. She works at a very fine chocolate shop and can aspire, when she's a bit older, to either take over the business or open her own shop. Gwenola, the daughter of our friends Françoise and Bernard, followed the usual academic path finishing high school with a speciality in literature. It's a whole other story about how rigorous high school is in France and how impressive it is when someone, like Gwenola, passes her baccalaureat, the big exam at the end which determines who will go on to university. After high school she attended fine art school and began training as a photo restorer, one who can restore not only photos but negatives as well. She studied for 10 years, passing various difficult exams at every step of the process to become one of the very few professionals in France who can do this very meticulous and delicate work. She has had jobs at the Rodin Museum in Paris, and various other museums and archival institutions. Not far from the Marais and the Faubourg St. Antoine, where many artisans live and work, is another of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris, where handmade journal creators have set up their shops. It is such a pleasant walk from the Marais, down toward the Seine through the Village St. Paul. It's one of the oldest and least touristy corners of central Paris. On the Rue Pont Louis Philippe are a number of shops that sell beautiful paper products. It's curious to me that in Paris you'll often find types of shops all clustered together on the same street. This is true for book, journal and paper making artisans. It's a real delight to go from one shop to the next and see all the wonderful things on offer. I suppose my favorite is Papier + They have a luscious selection of several styles of journals in every beautiful color of the rainbow. Emily and I both bought a little book with a round hole in the cover and used it to make photo albums for our husbands for Christmas last year. Les Exprimeurs is across the street and sells beautiful paper products as well. Calligrane has two stores, one with paper sculpture and really gorgeous handmade folios, quite expensive, one with inks, gadgets, notebooks and miscellanea. One can spend a very pleasant afternoon walking from the Marais, through the Village St. Paul, ducking into the passageways behind the store fronts and finding some adorable and almost secret shops. I have never found more than a few other people there when I have poked around. Then shopping at the various paper stores is a great pleasure. You'll find yourself at the end of the stroll right at the quai across from the Ile St. Louis. You need only cross the bridge to have the wonderful adventure of exploring there. But that's another post, another time!  

* The word artisan in French is used for anyone who works with their hands, from butchers to plumbers to stain glass window makers. I use the word with the English meaning, which connotes someone who works in the arts. ** One of my favorite books about Paris is entitled Paris, Paris, Journey into the City Of Light, by David Downie. He has a fabulous chapter about these neighborhoods in his very different guide book. He has also recently published his first novel, which I also highly recommend, entitled Paris, City of Night. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

At the Market in Paris

I love to do my food shopping in Paris. Whenever we visit Emily, we're sure to go to the fabulous market in Le Pré St Gervais. The best of the best French products come to Paris for distribution to the capital. The choices are wide and the quality is superior. Farmer's markets are not a novelty in France, but rather the most normal way to purchase one's food. As my friend Françoise has pointed out, good locally-grown organic produce is available everywhere. Most families eat fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables as they have down through the centuries. Fall has its many pleasures when it comes to produce. Potatoes, tomatoes, onions of every color, apples, squash, carrots and some of the other tasty root vegetables are plentiful. It's getting to be time for more hearty meals. Here's one to try:
2 T olive oil 12 oz spicy sausage 12 pearl onions 1 1/2 c crushed fresh tomatoes 3 c chicken broth bundle of fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme or oregano 1 medium butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces) 3 parsnips (peeled and cut into strips) 1 fennel (trimmed and cut into thin slices) 12 Brussels sprouts (cut in half)-otional 2 t salt 1/8 t freshly ground pepper 1. Heat oil over medium heat and add sausage, stir, breaking into small bits. Cook until no longer pink (about 10 minutes). Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. 2. Discard all but 2 T of sausage fat. Heat to medium and add onions, stir and cook until golden (5 minutes). Add tomatoes, stock, and herbs. Cook until the liquid begins to thicken (20 minutes). Add sausage, squash, carrots, parsnips and fennel. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender (10 minutes). Add Brussels sprouts and cook covered for another 3 minutes, until sprouts are cooked. Remove cover and allow stew to thicken, boiling lightly for 15 minutes more. Add salt and pepper and serve.
One thing that is hard to find in the U.S. is really good cheese. Once you've become accustomed to French cheese, it's hard to do without it. At least for me. I have a strong cheese addiction. Charles de Gaulle, when he was president of France, famously said "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?" French cheese is one of life's enduring pleasures. And the variety here is truly extraordinary. If you want a decadent fall/winter treat, buy some Camembert, Brie, Colombier or Mont d'Or cheese (these are creamy cheeses that often come packaged in little wooden boxes). Remove any plastic, wrap the cheese (box and all) in tin foil and place it in the coals of a fire until the cheese, inside its crust, is fully melted. The crust stays firm. Spread the warm cheese on a piece of baguette. Oh la la! It took us a little time to get used to French beef, as we were used to the corn-fed American beef, marbled with fat. If you read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, as we did, you'll discover that there's a problem there! We have to appreciate the meat we get in France, knowing that it is raised naturally. Fish is abundant in France. The fish man is a character and teases me as I take portraits of his products. Our favorites are bar (sea bass), cabillaud (cod) and lotte, Not to mention, of course oysters (huitres), crab (tortue) and prawns (langoustine), all now at the height of their seasons. A neighborhood cat visits the fish-monger on market days. He politely sits on the counter and enjoys the smells. He receives a morsel or two as a treat, but he's willing to wait patiently for it and never tries to take any fish unless it's offered. In my next post I'll be talking about neighborhoods where artists in Paris live and work and about where to purchase gorgeous handmade books and journals.