Saturday, 24 November 2012

Thanksgiving, Monaco Style

When I heard that the American Club of the Riviera would be hosting its Annual Thanksgiving lunch in the Salle Empire in the Hotel de Paris, I thought it would be the coolest gig in town.  

As luck would have it, my American foodie friend Scotty would be in Monaco for Thanksgiving so I saw it as a sign and snagged seats at the lunch for Hubby, Scotty and I.  Just to be on the safe side, I brushed up on the words to the Star Spangled Banner.
Carved potiron squash

I seek out any opportunity I can to visit the magnificent Salle Empire even if it means just sticking my head in to take a look when it's empty.   Who wouldn't?  With it's luminescent gilt trim, 6 metre high ceilings, and frescoes of naked and bare breasted women cavorting with various creatures and each other, the décor is much more theatrical than its subdued neighbour, the 3-Michelin Star restaurant, Le Louis XV.

Funny thing about the luncheon was that I'm not American and I don't eat meat so you think I'd feel out of place at a traditional American Thanksgiving meal but I didn't.  I felt very much at home and welcomed, and we ate quite well considering that we were the first two people to have ever requested a vegetarian meal for the Club's Thanksgiving lunch. 

Even though the Salle Empire is about as far as one can get from the modest first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, the sentiment was the same:  one of sharing, creating new friendships, and giving thanks.

I'm just hoping that at next year's lunch there'll be pumpkin pie.

Members of the military were there from Camp Darby in nearby Italy

Le Menu

Turkey lunch (l) vegetarian lunch (r)

Dum de dum.  Souvenir de Monaco

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Quinoa Tabouli with Fresh Fava Beans

When I saw heaps of fresh spring fava beans along side fall foods like walnuts, porcini, chestnuts and squash in the Ventimiglia market the other day, I got confused.  Was it spring?  Was it fall?

I often get confused about which season it is here in the Côte d'Azur.  The weather is always temperate so there are always a few spring-like goodies here and there in the local markets even in the dead of winter.  

One thing's for sure, when I do see these bonus fruits and vegetables, I always buy them and prepare something to travel forward or back to wherever they usually belong.  In the case of these fava beans, forward to the spring.  Ahh.

Quinoa Tabouli with Fresh Fava Beans

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course
Whole fava pods

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa or 1 cup cooked
12-15 whole fava pods
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup finely chopped chives or green onions
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fruity olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Inner beans after cooking and cooling

1.  Cook the quinoa in salted water until it's al dente.  Pour the quinoa through a sieve and leave it to cool completely.

2.  Remove the beans from the whole pods and boil the inner fava beans for about 6 minutes in heavily salted water.  Drain and blanch by covering them in cold water with a few handfuls of ice cubes added.  Allow them to cool completely.

3.  Peel the fava beans.  Using a small knife or your fingernail, make a small slit the tough outer skin and squeeze out the soft, tender, inner bean. Set aside.

Peeled fava beans
4. Combine the cooked quinoa, peeled fava, tomatoes, parsley, mint, and the chopped chives or green onion in a medium bowl.  Mix well, add the lemon juice and olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the pine nuts.  

5. If you're adding feta cheese, you can crumble it and stir it in or cut it into slices or wedges and place it on top of each serving.

6.  Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

1.  If you can't fiind fresh fava beans you can substitute edamame.

Friday, 16 November 2012

An Egg Carrier from the Pomelkophile and Mr Cranky

Every Friday, the weekly Brocante rolls into Menton with about 25 antiques vendors, their wares in tow, hoping for a few good sales to make the day worthwhile.  

Their prices are usually crazy high but sometimes when there aren't many buyers, which happens when the weather is cool or cloudy, you can often negotiate your way into a pretty good deal with a bit of hemming and hawing, some chin rubbing and a, "je ne sais pas" thrown in for good measure.  Today was one of those slow days so I bagged a bargain on a charming vintage aluminium egg carrier.

The vendor, Jean Baptiste, told me the carrier was made in post war France.  I always take whatever the vendors say with a grain of salt, especially about the production date they estimate for the treasure in question.  It didn't really matter today since the egg carrier was something I could actually use and not just display on a shelf.  

Jean Baptiste was asking 35 for it, so I pulled out my bag of negotiating tricks and I battled him down to  €20.  We were both happy at that price.


Jean Baptiste also had a huge collection of vintage and unique tire bouchon or bottle openers.   Some were screw pulls and some were to open pop bottles.  Believe it or not, the  French have a name for someone who collects them:  a pomelkophile.  You learn something new every day!

There were other goodies on offer.  Some pretty copper jelly moulds which I was considering until the crusty old vendor rushed over and told me in no uncertain terms to "stop taking photos of his things," smoke puffing from his cigarette while he yelled at me.  I guess he thought I was some sort of copper jelly mould spy.  "Poof" went that sale for him!

Well, it was a good day for the polite Jean Baptiste and I at today's Brocante. The egg carrier will be a practical, green, and modern way to safely transport 6 eggs from Gilbert, my Monaco egg vendor to the market delivery people, to me.  From now on, I'll ask him to put my eggs in my nice new vintage carrier instead of the disposable plastic egg cases he normally uses.  

It's a win, win, win for everyone.  Except for the cranky guy.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Small is Beautiful in Monaco

New man on the block, Mr Brunengo
Mr Brunengo's selection of Italian produce
People in Monaco seem surprised when I tell them I do most of my food shopping at Monaco's  traditional market in the pretty Place d'Armes. Surprisingly, some people don't even know where it is.  Different strokes, as they say!

Most Monaco residents do their day-to-day shopping at the modern, gigantic, Carrefour Supermarché in Fontvielle, a neighbourhood built on reclaimed land that was once the Mediterranean sea.

Tender, greenhouse grown basil from Mr Brunengo
I'll admit that the prices at Carrefour are good and you can find anything and everything on their shelves, but in general, I avoid it like the plague.  It's bigger than a football stadium, lit like an operating theatre, and filled with an oddly large number of cranky customers and staff.  Maybe it's the damp.

Personally, I prefer to shop at the market, out of doors, from polite, informed vendors, with free delivery and the sun shining on our smiling faces.  Go figure!

For its modest size, the market has an outstanding variety of French, Italian and rare and fine imported products.  Local chefs dressed in their chef's whites shop here all the time.  The market has been on the same site for 132 years and this summer, the Prince and Princess cut the ribbon at the grand re-opening after a year or so of loud renovations.  I'm always grateful that the market is there, a short walk downhill from where I live.

During the week, the vendors are mainly resellers with a smattering of local producers.  There's Romy, who brings extraordinary things from her bountiful farm in St Jeannet.  Then  there's the gentlemanly Gilbert my "egg man" from Sospel whose fresh eggs with dark orange yolks make the most billowy souflées imaginable.  The line-ups to buy them form at 8AM when he arrives and disband around noon when he packs up for the day. 
Gilbert takes a photo break with me at the market

On Saturdays, all the local producers are there, under the market's loggia, along with some organic vendors added to the mix. 

On Friday when I was at the market to buy eggs from Gilbert, I was happy to see that a new local Italian producer, Mr Domenico Brunengo had arrived on the scene to sell his produce on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to fill in the gap between Romy's Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday visits.  This was his third day at the Monaco market.  His friend, the lovely and multilingual Jorien was on hand and she was able to fill me in on Mr Brunengo's business, in perfect English, one of her six languages.

Gilbert's son at the helm

Mr Brunengo grows his products in Ospedaletti and Vallecrosia, two small Ligurian villages  between Ventimiglia and San Remo, about an hour's drive from Monaco.  He pulled out his iPhone and proudly showed me some photos of the succulent greens he had growing in his greenhouses and teased me by telling me that he'd be foraging for Porcini, Sanguine and Chanterelle and hoped to have some for sale soon.  When he's not selling his produce in the Monaco market he's busy at his stand in the Ventimiglia market, snuggled in the row of local Italian growers there.  He also delivers.

Romy and her fresh bounty
A few years ago Monaco's market was floundering but it's heartening to see it slowly coming alive again with people grabbing lunch inside the market building or sharing a coffee at one of the outdoor cafés that line one side of the market.  With more local producers on the scene with different products and price points, there'll be more choice for everyone.

Take that Carrefour!

Turnip from Romy, romanesco from Domenico


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

In Strange we Trust

The blue plate special:  Blanquette de Veau avec Tagliatelle

When I travel, I'm always drawn to, and amused by, foreign interpretations of another country's cuisine.  Take for example, the Hakkaido rice pizzas we ate at Causeway Bay in Hong Kong last year.  Where do I begin...

Hakkaido rice pizza in Hong Kong
When it's done right, like the heavenly croissants from the depachika at the Takashimaya department store in Tokyo it's quite the treat.  But more often than not, it turns out to be a strange cross-cultural head scratcher. Like the culinary equivalent of wearing someone else's old shoes.  They're still shoes, but they never feel quite right. 

Well, this morning hubby and I wandered into Menton for a bit of shopping and to find a copy of the Financial Times, as we often do, and not far from Les Galeries Lafayette, we spotted an new American themed café called "Vintage." 

Normally we would have just passed by a restaurant with a scantily clad, blonde-haired mannequin waitress out front, but in honour of election day taking place in the United States today, we thought it would be a fitting to pop in to have a drink and enjoy an American snack.

Well, I loved the décor, but the food?  A bit like flip flops with stiletto heels and shoelaces.

Hubby ordered a milkshake, one of his favourite diner treats.  What came was La Frapperia, an Italian version of a milkshake that had a texture like Marshmallow Fluff with chocolate flavouring in a milk base.  For some strange reason, it wasn't cold nor icy.  Poor hubby.
Strange milkshake

Well, I didn't fare any better.

I was licking my chops when I saw the photo of a slice of lemon meringue pie on the dessert menu.  This would make a great lunch, I thought. American style lemon meringue pie topped with a high, fluffy cloud of meringue was one of my favourite desserts.  Well, my dream went "splat" when the pie turned out to be a tarte au citron meringuée, a traditional lemon tart popular in Menton.  The meringue topping was a sickly sweet, flat, densely textured Italian meringue.  What happened to the pie in the picture?  

We left, scratching our heads, but I think we may pop back and try a plate of their spaghetti with tomato sauce, which looked quite good when the chef carried it from the kitchen to the guests at the table next to us.

Well, at least the music was authentic American.  

Luckily these experiences never deter me from checking out other strange culinary tangles whenever I see them.  

As more of the world's cultures blend, who knows what awaits us?

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Piglets, Fruity Finds, and Fall Treats

"The circus animals are not for sale"

This morning when the bugle sounded at dawn, it was cold and overcast outside.

Over breakfast, I was hoping this was the last bit of crankiness left over from the weather temper tantrum we'd been having all week that involved high winds, thunder, lightning, stuff blowing around everywhere and rain that seeped in under our front door.

Saturday is my favourite day of the week.  When I was a kid it was because I got to watch cartoons but as a grown up, it's because I get to go the market to buy food.  So the cool, grey day and my moody mood didn't stop me from jumping out of bed and making my way to the Menton market. I just felt a bit melancholic and had a craving for comfort food like mashed potatoes and pie.

Figs, walnuts, pears, squash, root vegetables, cabbage, and mushrooms dominated the scene this morning.  When you stop and think about it, fall is mostly about what comes from the trees and from under the earth.

On Saturdays, the Menton market is fortified with locals who bring all sorts of interesting treats with them.  Sometimes the goodies are edible and sometimes they're not.

Today someone brought a portable "fund raising" petting zoo where for a few centimes, you could pet a piglet and a baby goat.  I'm always a bit conflicted when I see animals being used like this but if it saves the piglet and the goat from the soup pot, I'm all for it.

  One vendor was selling her "Clémadrine" which she explained was a fruit from a mandarin tree on which she'd grafted some clementine branches.  I was a bit dubious but I bought some anyway.  They were about the same size as a mandarin but a bit juicer and sweeter than usual. Delicious. I just hope there are more where those came from and she grafted a lot of branches on that tree.

Another woman was selling little Granny Smith apples.  I love that the French call Granny Smith apples,  "Granny." The surprise was that these Grannies were grown in Menton and until I saw them, I'd always thought that Menton was too warm to grow apples.  These proved otherwise.  The apples were crisp, fresh and as locavore as you can get:  they were grown on the same street as our seaside shack.

The Chapellierie or, "hat shop" was doing brisk business from people who arrived under-dressed and thought a pretty, warm hat would take care of the problem. 

With the Fall season unfolding as it should, I'm looking forward to picking up other other earthy treats to cook with, all bundled up of course.

Must dash, the timer for the apple pie just rang!

Goat cheese from my favourite cheese vendor

Local figs and dangerous prickly pears

Finally, broccoletti!
Pink garlic from Lautrec, Potiron squash
Fresh local walnuts and Fijoa 

And a cat