It’s been 2 years since I’ve been to France. 2 years too long. For me, France perfectly epitomizes a beautiful life. Its rich culture, classical art, immense history and chic lifestyle make it a country I’d easily live in.
And that was that plan I had committed to earlier this year. More on that later, but let’s just say my non-stop American hustle has arrested my plans in motion for the time being and so any dream of making Paris or any central France my home for an enviable amount of time is on the backburner. The flame is still burning, but ever so faintly.
Since I’m a bonafide Francophile living in the states, I oft-time relish in the the things I remember most from every trip I’ve taken there.
Among the most memorable ones was a misty evening walk to a local bakery in Loire Valley. The scenery and emotions I experienced during my and dads’s saunter were so impactful, I was inspired to write a story for a print magazine. You can read it here if you like. It’ll inspire you.
As part of my monthly participation in the gourmet cooking group, 5 Star Makeover, hosted by Natasha and my guy Laz, I decided to indulge myself in this month’s theme by taking a virtual trip to France. This month’s theme: Farmers’ Markets. I couldn’t think of a better time to introduce you to one of the most fabulous markets I’ve been to.
So, back to the trip.
During that same visit with my parents, our mission was to drive from Paris, our home base, all the way to Monaco — the best 10-hour drive anyone could ever beg for. Along the way, we stopped at Hospices de Beaune, situated in a quaint and quasi-gourmet town about 30 minutes south of Dijon. Hospice de Beaune also houses the historical Hôtel-Dieu. Our somewhat planned stop in the lovely countryside of Burgandy (really to use the bathroom and freshen up so we could safely continue on our trek to the Principality) suggested by M (our host back in Paris) turned out to be a colorful gem in so many ways.
Having little knowledge about Hôtel-Dieu, we were thirsty to find out and experience for ourselves some of the documented occurrences there. After our long-hour self-guided toour inside the Hospice (admittedly a very posh and regal ambient space), we made our way to the outdoor masses.
It was the last day of October, so the weather was perky and brisk. Perfect for strolling outdoors. And what better backdrop than a massive edifice bearing history few of us can even fathom.
Unbeknownst to us, the grounds of the Hospice host a very popular open air famers’ and merchants’ market where anything and everything is sold. Everything! If you know me, you know my eyes made a beeline for the apparel and accessories. I quickly scooped up two velvet and tattered-edged scarves for 5 Euros! I should have bought every color. But, I was being cheap; certainly not the place to be penny-pinching.
After I stopped drooling over all of the lovely accoutourements, mami finally pulled me to the crux of the market. This is when I realize how French life is just so sweet. Markets are a way of life for the French. Both in the city and in the country, markets are where you go to buy everything you could possibly need to live deliciously, to connect with friends, talk about the new culinary trends and just people watch. I saw a lot of that.
At this particular market, there must have been over 80 vendors selling a variety of fancy and rustic local foods, many of them which I’ve never seen at American markets.
Mami and I tasted jams and preserves galore, ranging from fig, to kumquat and peach. We bought some fig preserves. I smelled perfumed handmade soaps and cremes, and again wanted to walk away with all of it.
Papi was more interested in the the nuts and fruits and the plethora of artisanal cheeses and breads. He eventually dissapeared to the butchers’ corner. Hanging ham legs, sausage links and prosciutto made him grin like a pollito aspiring chef.
A dark and older French man, looking like he may be from the Basque region, speaking with a very aggressive accent, sold dried fruits and fresh vegetables. I snuck in a few bites; but that’s what you do when so much is in front of you, just staring and begging to be tasted, right?!
The quadrant where the farmers’ market stands is surrounded by plenty of boutiques, small cafés and boulangeries. All very inviting and packed with visitor’s steadily entering in and out.
As we hesitated to end our visit, I noticed a huge sectional of market bags… Not on my radar at the time since we had a car replete with goodies we picked up in Paris and had our minds set on shopping in Monaco, I wish I would have snagged one up. They were gorgeous. Colorful, ranging in texture, size and design.
And, everyone was carrying one.
Why? Because these most practical of totes hold the goodies you’ve just picked up. They’re great for the aromatic flowers and perfect for the fruits and vegetable and packaged meats you will devour.
And yet again, in retrospect, I wish I would have bought several. For 6 Euros, there was no reason to not buy several for myself and one for every totin’ girlfriend.
With the swelling number of farmers’ markets in the states, especially this summer, I’ve found a need to hit up all the markets in Atlanta and D.C.. And, I’ve found the two perfect market bags to bring with me to carry all of my spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables, fish and meats.
After doing some more online scouring (see here for my 1st virtual shopping experience), I finally settled on two completely different designer bags that serve their purpose and beyond.
The Envirosax bag was perfect for day and night. Its waterproof construction protects against spills and damage and is made from recyclable materials. The chic design, however is what attracted me most. No wait, the price. At $8.95 I think I can afford at least the entire Graphic Line! Thanks to Madelyn whom commented in the tote giveaway post last week, I’m now the owner of a few… and I used them to get some groceries this week.
And, if you see if the raggedy yellow plastic bag I’m holding in the pic below (holding those luxurious scarves I bought), you’ll understand why it was imperative I ended up with this yellow “Cherry Blossom” and even more appropriate black “Paris Metro Stops” jute bags designed by an Orange County, Cali-based company, appropriately coined French Envelopes! Just as the bags in the Beaune market spoke to me, so did these uber chic ones! I was so excited to go shopping with these bags, especially the black one, naturally! It took me to France; to that bucolic place where I smelled seasonal flowers and freshly baked bread.
Aren’t they cuuuuuute?! Not to mention sturdy and great for other uses…
While my farmers’ market experience earlier this week in prep for today’s #FlanFridays wasn’t as sexy or exciting as any of the market’s I’ve been to in France, this bag did the job of transporting me there. At least in part.
I bought some local eggs, local milk, snatched lavender from a neighbor’s yard and was given lavender sugar from baking diva Chris. Do you see where I’m going here?!
Instead of going for summer crops to make a delecatable dish for this month’s 5 Star Makeover event, I went for ingredients that placed me in France. I love lavender and have wonderful access to it, though Atlanta is not the best habitat for growing it. Being a super fragrant flower that’s only recently become popular in French cooking (having been adapted by Southern French cooks via the herbal blend we all know as herbes de Provence) and which you’ll see lace the countryside, it made complete sense to finally make this decadent and really pretty flan!
I’ve made many a flan, as you know, but this one was different. It was all in the sugar this time. The sugar used to make the caramel has been sitting for over one year with a generous amount of ground lavender, making it very potent. That worked out well because I didn’t have to infuse any into the actual custard. You can imagine how fragrant my kitchen smelled at 1 this morning. Hard to go to sleep.
To top it, I sprinkled French lavender buds from a local gourmet market and styled it with twigs from my neighbor’s house.
At 10 this morning, I was dipping my finger into the caramel sauce as it oozed out of the mold and onto the plate. I easily could have bypassed the actual custard and drank the caramelized sugar. After over-night chilling, the caramel smelled better than an acre field of lavender, which I’m sure could knock you out!
Farmers’ markets are a way of life for the French. They live, breath and eat it. Literally. The abundance of artisanal products and fine ingredients is always a good excuse to go to market any day they’re open….In some cities, every day.
We’ll catch up one day. Trust.
FRENCH LAVENDER VANILLA FLAN
- 3 eggs
- 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
- 14 oz. 2% milk
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. lavender sugar
- 1 tbsp. water
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp. lavender buds
Whisk eggs in a medium sized bowl. Add and combine sweetened condensed & 2% milk and vanilla. Set aside. Add sugar and water to your flan mold and caramelize on medium-high heat until it is golden color, stirring constantly. Make sure not to burn sugar. When fully liquified, carefully coat entire bottom and sides of mold (I suggest using a brush if you are not experienced in handling extremely hot caramel). Set aside for 1-2 minutes. Add mixture to each mold and secure with latch lid.
Add 2 cups of water to a 4 or 6 qt. pressure cooker. Gently place mold in cooker and close lid. Place jiggler on lid. If your pressure cooker jiggler has different PSI settings, set it to 10. Cook on high for 10 minutes, or until pressure cooker starts hissing. Turn off heat and allow to cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow all of the pressure to release itself, or for another 2 minutes.
Remove flan from pressure cooker after all pressure is released. Refrigerate for 8-9 hours or overnight for best taste. Remove from refrigeration 30-45 minutes before serving to loosen some. To serve, using a butter knife, loosen the sides of the flan all the way around. Take a large plate, place upside down on top of flan and flip! Be careful not to waste any of the caramel sauce. Garnish with lavender and sprigs for more taste and appeal.