Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fresh & Pitted

I am laying in jars of red fruits since we are in peak cherry season: cherries, berries & rhubarb. Is there anything better, any time of year? This weekend we'll have them fresh:

I bake them slightly, add a little lemon juice, and jar the fruits and syrup til the fall and winter, when they come up in cake fillings and over ice cream. I use a cherry pitter from our local French grocery store, stamped "Italy." It costs $2 in France and could also be used for olives, I am sure:
I went to Sur La Table today, to see what they had for cherry pitters, and found this book at the front door: glad to see they are promoting local, though I don't know how much this has caught on with the Sur La Table crowd;
They had two cherry pitters; one that resembled an egg crate; slot in 6 cherries and press the top, and it pits for you. The other was a take on the traditional, though it looks pretty souped up, with this plastic hood and all; it costs $13:
I don't know about all this "stuff" they have at these stores though. Look what they have at the register, a point-of-sale enticement:

Honestly, who really needs a smiley-face spatula? I like the old stuff, including a lot of my Grandmother's things like her sifter; I embrace things like silicone no-melt spatulas, but I'll skip the smiley face ones. My sister swears by all this Sur La Table stuff, like a contraption to core and peel an apple. Fine for her, but it's so not me. We're gearing up for the weekend now...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Madagascar v. Ghana

I don't like to talk about "the competition," but in the spirit of the World Cup, I am going to do so. Recently, a man camped out opposite my booth holding the closest competitor to my merchandise, the Bolga Basket made in Ghana. He's a Big Guy, but he looks off-kilter; looks like he's dragging a boulder behind, no?

But he's the perfect match for this (IMHO) unwieldy basket; it's brut, like he is. The fibers are elephant grass, and the leather handle is crudely stitched. He was in front of my booth for so long, I got more shots; this basket is so big and round, just try to sneak through a crowded French market with it. The handle is chunky, the basket is chunky, and in the larger sizes it looks awkward to carry, with your arm out to the side like his; I suppose it is structured to protect your food, and easy to get stuff in and out, but to me it's unwieldy; the color combinations vary, but they are not ones I use at all:
The exception is the child's bolga; it is adorable and usable. There is a man who sells oranges and Bolga baskets in Rancho Santa Fe; I discounted my prices a tad to be competitive though still a little more expensive, and I outsell him easily 9:1...hehe...I want marketshare; though our products are different animals.

For comparison, you have Kathy and Hubby looking very man-confident with their basket; it's carried naturally here, with his arm at his side and a little to the front:
and the lovely Laura aka Decor to Adore Blog with accessory Madagascar hat, tote and Biscuit with Honey; she is sleek and chic; be sure to vote for Laura's Oprah audition HERE:
A shopper in Corona del Mar:
And the ultimate Chic Shopper, from Palisades, carrying her tote casually in the crook of her arm:
I have new merch coming from Morocco that will knock your socks off; this satchel, lined with linen & with lambskin handles is big, but perfectly balanced on your shoulder; it will be in large and medium:and of course the elusive shopper in Palisades, with her structured Eze basket; she bought the XL size, which holds a ton but is classy slim-shaped for getting through a crowded market like Pali, it's is a perfect match for her. She would never carry a Bolga basket; she carries something more refined, on the crook of her arm:

And I continue to carry the colored Madagascar baskets, the same ones you will find all over France:And here is Brynne, with a stack of bags; see her at the Sawdust in Laguna this summer, I will post on her soon, she is a dear! She carries all of her handmade cards in my baskets;
Madacascar/Morocco v. Ghana in the basket realm, GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLL Madagascar/Morocco!!! I know, if you are not a FIFA fan you won't care, but for the rest of the world, it's bigger than the Olympics. It's too bad of these three African nations only Ghana qualified for the World Cup, but at least Morocco and Madagascar have their teams; Madagascar may be the 13th poorest nation on the globe but they do have a national soccer team.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Airline Food

I'm still reading Jill Richardson's book (she was our speaker at Saturday's Slow Food BBQ) and I can't wait to post on all the wonderful information she shares; I wonder if she addresses airline food...?......because there is an article out today about how poor the standards are for the catering companies that make half a billion in-flight meals annually; check it out HERE. Jill was telling us about the school lunch programs nationwide, and this looks to be in the same category of nutrition, the broccoli is actually green, but it's surely overcooked. Could they make this food look any less-appetizing?

Me, I pack my own food for a trip. What do you bring on the plane with you for food, or do you eat before you go?

Loic & His Macaroons

This photo has been haunting me lately, found on the blogosphere I can't remember where:

I guess the next time I'm in the south of France, we're going to stop at Remi Perrot's in Saint-Remy! I love the colors, I can only imagine the flavors...I see my favorites: pistache, cafe, citron and chocolat, as well as cerise, fraise, mure, framboise and perhaps orange (or is that peach?) The French also display macaroons perfectly, like this on their sides, so you can see how puffy and light and uniform they are, as well as the fillings.

I love just a few macaroons, but I've never dared make them myself. The key I think is the powdered almond meal, which you buy at the farmers markets in France in bulk. It's white and fine and truly powdered, not like our "almond meal" here. You also have to pipe them perfectly, so the sides match up.

A few weeks ago a new patissier started at the Rancho Santa Fe market; his name is Loic Laffargue and he is an Executive Pastry Chef with his own bakery in San Diego.

On his first day at the market, Loic had set out just a few macaroons; I had to run back to my booth for a sale, but in the meantime a single shopper bought all of the macaroons; please bring more next time! And he did: Here you see coffee, chocolate, strawberry, cinnamon, vanilla and pistachio macaroons. Loic is really wonderful because he makes everything from scratch, and you can tell when you bite into one of these macaroons.

We have another "French" bakery near our house, and there used to be an assembly of mixers and industrial tools set out, as if someone was doing a lot of baking (French bakers keep early hours, often up most of the night baking, if they are a sole proprietor. French bakers are also said to have the highest suicide rate in France.) Then one morning before 6am I was on the treadmill at the little gym right across this street from the bakery, and witnessed a delivery of many boxes of frozen breads and pastries. This left me as deflated as a fallen souffle, and I stopped buying there most of the time. On Sunday I'm buying breads from Loic for our 4th of July feast:
Loic's little stepdaughter is his assistant at the market (seen in the pic below), and she told me his schedule: he leaves home at 3am, bakes until 7am, and is busy with the bakery all day until he returns home at 7pm, when he cooks dinner for the entire family. Every bread, every macaroon, every pastry is made by him and his team, from scratch. I don't know if you have ever tried to make puff's a lot of work, but Loic does it. As he tells you in his website and philosophy HERE, it's a matter or repetition and constantly learning and challenging yourself. I love his website as it's obviously written by him from the heart, and shows his passion for pastry! I'm going to have a ladies brunch one of the days soon, and we'll be stocked up on pastries and macaroons from Loic for that little party....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Medals +

I came to Rancho Santa Fe today ready to sell a lot of hats, but I also brought some busywork to fill the time between sales and fluffing the merchandise. I brought a group of vintage French religious medals, thinking I would make and show a few more key chain tags, and see how people liked the idea. The answer is, they loved it, and women soon dumped the hat search for browsing vintage French medals. I sold a few to my repeat client MarGee (why didn't I get a pic of you today!?). She had a shop for many years and has a very trained eye. She selected medals that were all meaningful for the intended recipients...she is a very thoughtful gift-giver! She also bought one of my most favorite items, a highly decorative cross with tiny hole in the center; if you look through the cross you see an image of the Cathedral at Lourdes. That was a very special piece but it went to a good home so I will have to search for a new fav piece.

I'll post later on the history of French religious medals and show you some in my own collection, but here is what I had out today; all of these medals are from France and they are in French or Latin or old French.

The most basic medal is in aluminum, and is found in abundance around France; I will attach these to lavender sachets for $4 and sell the medals alone for $1. The chain shown was my idea for displaying medals so that no one would pocket one. That was busywork one Sunday in LA; the rest are loose:

I have a bunch in silver-tone, "not aluminum" category. A woman who recently survived a serious illness took the XL St. Christopher today, here at top left; I think she liked the imagery of the Christ Child being carried, and she was ready to cry when she touched it; these are $5:
I have others in gold-tone; some of these are old & rare; $10 for these:
I have a bunch that came from the south of France; these are the "old & crusty" category and they are 17th-19th C according to the dealer I bought them from. I have to figure out what I've got before I sell them, but I think they will be $20; most of them are still caked with dirt and some are in Latin; I was told they were "excavated."
The most popular French religious medal is the blue enameled one; these are of the Virgin Mary, grotto at Lourdes, St. Christopher (patron of travelers) and St. Therese the Little Flower. These are in silver/gold-tone metal or sterling silver, some single sided and some double sided. These are $20 each at the NYC flea; I am going $10. They are tiny but they look amazing on a charm bracelet or necklace:
I have a lot of crucifixes too, varied; $5-10.
Where else would you find French religious items next to mushrooms? My across-the-aisle neighbor Kenny from the 'Shroom Shack gave me a lovely gift today, a still-growing brick of mushrooms and compost; this shot is so you can see the elevation, which is made of sterilized straw and manure from Del Mar racetrack, which gets infused with mushroom spores to grow these white or Paris mushrooms:
It was a trick to find room for it in the car, but I managed. When the mushrooms stop popping up I will break the brick up into the compost pile; btw they don't grow straight up, they tend to lean, with roots; I have never seen how mushrooms are cultivated before:
The rest of my haul today was rainbow chard, live basil, fresh garlic (please don't buy garlic "made in China"), baby romaine heads, broccoli and yellow carrots:
We love beets, so I got a selection, also some kind of onion at far right; I don't like onion, but I make a great goat cheese tart with caramelized onions, and it's even better with the flavor and color of these:
Maggie's Farms displayed their baby romaine perfectly; cut in half, add a little olive oil and parmesan and stuff and set out on the table like this; these are baby heads, not the hearts you get at Trader Joe's; these are tiny perfect little fresh heads of lettuce:
Maggie's had a great display today, including cut fresh beets:
Golden, candy-cane, scarlet Chioga (new to me) and white (never seen those) beets; also purple potatoes:
here is part of the mix, on my table; I got some finger potatoes as this is what we had last night for Slow Food and they were so good....
I'm hungry now after this post, and tired after the long day, so excuse me while I go make dinner ....enjoy your Sunday evening!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Slow Food Orange County BBQ

Are you familiar with the concept of Slow Food? You can read the principles of Slow Food HERE. It is an international group that promotes eating locally, eating healthy, and slowing down to enjoy your life and your food with family & friends. My market-buddy Claudia and her husband also live in Laguna and invited me to a dinner this evening hosted by the Orange County chapter of Slow Food. Claudia's daughter did a great video of the event that you can watch HERE. Here is the entrance sign today:
The dinner was held in a local canyon that is closed to the public; the old cattle loaders are there at the entry, which was about a mile up from the main road; we saw these for years on El Toro Road when it was still part of Irvine Ranch and the cattle still grazed there; no longer:
The entrance to the dinner area:
The area is at the base of Bommer Canyon; from our house we hike along the ridge to the top of the canyon, which is called Bommer Ridge:
I had no idea what to expect this evening, but suddenly in the middle of this tranquil space there were several hundred people, seated on long picnic tables under the magnificent oak trees; there was a group hike at 4pm:
in front of the long tables was a bluegrass band:
And off to the side, a serious BBQ pit with 6 staffers;
chicken, portabella mushrooms and potatoes in the pans:
Tray after tray emerged from the small kitchen, like this, with grilled chicken and arugula; garlic potatoes were also piled on:
on the table:
and salads with watermelon and cucumber and feta:
the band was great!
here from a farther view:

and a barn-style bar:
I donated baskets and net bags to the auction:
some of the baskets got stuffed with wine and linens and were over $350 value:
I took a few pics of the happy winners; I just noticed she has my Moo card in her hand!

so happy to have won, in the day's last light~
Slow Food did all the packaging, I just gave them the baskets:
Between the auction and dinner we had an awesome speaker that I will post on tomorrow. But then we moved on to dessert, organic local strawberries topped with lemon biscuits:
I plan on going to more Slow Food events in coming months. Thank you Claudia and Terry and all of the wonderful people who produced this lovely event.