2 avril 2003
added to the French food Hall of Fame
L'oignon doux des Cévennes mérite un AOC
Big news from our region: The sweet onion of the Cévennes, long admired
for its delicious, mild taste, has been awarded an Appellation
d’Origine Controlée (AOC) from the French government. Grown on steep terraced hillsides in the
mountains of south central France, boasting a pearly color, shiny skin, and
easily peeled thin layers, the oignon doux des Cévennes, particular to this area in the Gard (Languedoc),
has a delicacy and sweetness that justifies its being deemed an integral
part of France’s closely managed agricultural heritage. Thus the stamp
of AOC for these beauties.
Sweet Onion Tart
from la vallée de l'Arboux in the Cévennes
A pâte brisée type crust
2 pounds (1 kilo) sweet onions of the Cévennes
50 grams of butter
¼ liter of crème fraiche (or sour cream)
1 cup of milk
4 whole eggs
100 grams of grated cheese
Salt and pepper
the onions finely, then braise them slowly in butter in a saucepan. In a
bowl, mix the crème fraiche with the milk, the eggs and the grated
cheese. Salt and pepper.
the pastry crust in a buttered and floured tart or pie pan. Add the
onion mix and the milk/crème/egg mixture. Sprinkle with bread crumbs,
and cook in a 400-425 degree oven for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
What is all the AOC brouhaha? Most of us are familiar with AOC
designated wines, those of a particular territory made in a certain
prescribed way. There are more than 400 AOC wines in France, and
counting. But there are also AOC cheeses and agricultural products.
Three elements make up qualification for an Appellation of Controlled
Origin: 1) territory,
strictly defined geographically by commune and acreage; 2)
fabrication, strict rules as to how the product is raised, cultivated
or produced; and 3) typicity, the most elusive of elements, by which
it is determined that a particular product is typical of its genre or
area. Voilà la formule AOC!
designation started back in 1935 with wines, as part of an effort to
protect France’s cultural heritage from disappearing. The INAO (Institut
National des Appellations d’Origine) was created to oversee and
regulate what was once handed down by tradition. Other agricultural
products were added in the 1970s, including cheeses (there are 36 AOC
cheeses), and an assortment of other items, including carrots from Créances,
lentils from Puy, chickens from Bresse, oysters from Belon, certain
creams, butters, olives, eaux de vie…on and on. As of spring 2003,
there are 25 agricultural products (exclusive of cheese and wine) with
AOC halos hovering over their names.
Meanwhile, occupons-nous de nos oignons. The onions of Cévennes are now in France’s food products Hall of Fame, so
to speak, with their election as the 25th official AOC product. Félicitations!
Stylish, fast train from
But the restaurant le Train Bleu lives on...
The Blue Train
Le Train Bleu
On a recent train trip to Paris, we decided to have lunch upon arrival
at Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon. The famous restaurant has
namesakes all over the world, but this is the original, a fine example
of turn of the century brasseries, and it has been continuously serving
travelers and gourmands since 1901. Its name derives from an actual
train, the Calais-Méditerranée Express, more commonly known as Le
Train Bleu because it ushered people to the beautiful blue Mediterranean
and the French Riviera.
by the New York Times to be one of the most beautiful trains in the
world, this rail line’s origins go back to the turn of the century as
well, when British, German, Russian, and all sorts of aristocrats
regularly vacationed on the Côte d’Azur. The Brits’ long train trip
from London was transformed into an important part of the social event
with the introduction of new “Blue Train” service. In the 1920s that
service was further upgraded, with blue-and-cream colored trains that
boasted all modern comforts, elegant appointments, fine dining, and 120
kph high-speed travel. Most travelers sent their maids, chauffeurs,
cars, luggage and children on a different route so that, thus
unencumbered, they could enjoy the le Train Bleu’s service and
sophistication. After WWII more and more Americans jumped on the Train
Bleu, and service continued to thrive until the 1950s, when air travel
became more popular for the newly minted Jet Set.
put some spin on the popularity of Le Train Bleu, a list of devoted
riders includes Churchill, Colette, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Toscanini,
Rachmaninoff, Segovia, Jay Gould…and 1922 saw the stage production of
“Le Train Bleu,” with music by Darius Milhaud, lyrics by Jean
Cocteau, costumes by Chanel, backdrops painted by Picasso, choreography
by Nijinsky, performed by the Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. Can you
The name continues to evoke memories of different
times. Unfortunately the train, le Train Bleu, is no more. But if you
find yourself at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, take a quick hop up the
elegant staircase to peek at the restaurant. If you have a few hours and
euros to spare, you might even have lunch or dinner there. The food is
decent, the service a bit rushed, but the atmosphere can’t be beat.
Disappointing French rugby
Une grande déception
Our two favorite French rugby teams have been very disappointing this
year. It’s been une grande déception, a big disappointment.
(What a great language, oui?) France played poorly, by its high
standards, in this year’s Six Nations tournament. They lost to England
and Ireland while beating Scotland, Wales and Italy. With Six Nations
behind them, it’s on to the World Cup.
every four years the rugby world gathers for its World Cup. This year,
in October, these games will take place in Australia. The last time it
was played, in 1999 in Paris, the Australians beat the French in the
championship game. So France has a lofty set of expectations to match
this year. Unfortunately for les Bleus, if they’re going to
meet those expectations, they’re also going to have to pick up their
game a very great deal from where they are now. England is way better.
Ireland is just as good. New Zealand is probably just as good. And the
home team, Australia, is also probably better. But that’s right now, in the spring. In the fall, who
knows? So, allez y France!
than the tumble of the French national team is what’s happened to our
local boys from Uzès, down in the Federal 3 division of French rugby.
Uzès won just two games this year and, for next year, will be demoted
out of Federal 3 and down into “Division of Honor.” Intriguingly, in
France the lower the level of your league, the loftier the name it has.
For example, next year Uzès will be playing in the sixth level of
French rugby, “The Division of Honor.” By comparison, the pros who
play on the French national team compete in France at a level called,
five years ago, Uzès played at the top of Federal 2. Since then it has
plummeted rapidly, straight down, getting worse and worse each year, as
we’ve been reporting. Frankly we didn’t attend many games this year.
Paying 5 euros to see a lousy rugby match is a hard (silly?) thing to
dramatic fall from being a really good team to a crummy one? Well, you
won’t find out by interviewing the Uzès coach, who happens to be the
fourth coach in two years. His reasons were: 1) the wine harvest; 2) too
much time spent instructing the youth-league players; and 3) the first
loss of the season, to a truly terrible team, “that broke our
Whatever. We’ll check in again on local French rugby next year.
Paris en bref
Just back from a long weekend in Paris, we were blessed with perfect
spring weather. Everyone was out and about window shopping, sitting in
cafés, sunning in the parks. And the flowers and trees were at their
burgeoning best. A few items of note from our visit:
Friday evening, strolling across the Pont Neuf
toward Notre Dame, we noticed a poster announcing a concert at La Sainte
Chapelle…that very night, two shows, Vivaldi and Bach on one slate,
Schubert and Mozart on the other. A quick check of our watches showed it
was 20 minutes until first show time…should we do it? Yes, oui!
we all cried out in agreement. And so we asked le gendarme how to
get in; he directed us through security at the Palais de Justice, we
climbed stairs and wandered through vast hallways, bought our tickets,
and then walked awestruck into the upper chapel at this magnificent site.
The immense stained glass windows were lit up with evening light, the
musicians from the National Orchestra of France were enthusiastic, the
music itself was celestial. Formidable! If you’re strolling
around Paris, keep an eye on the posters as well as the shop windows.
Good things come when you least expect them.
Try a concert in Sainte-Chapelle.
Spring is bustin' out all
including the Jardin de Luxembourg...
Marc Chagall's genre-defying
at the Grand Palais.
The Museum of the Grand Palais in Paris, at the
foot of the Champs-Elysées, is hosting a landmark exhibit:
"Marc Chagall, Connu et Inconnu." The word on the street and at our
hotel was that the exhibit was sold out. Dauntless, we went anyway to
try to get in, and with a bit of patience and lots of luck, we managed
to see the exhibit first thing on Monday morning. The collection is
superb, a broad range of Chagall’s genre-defying work including many
of his Russian paintings, pieces from his illustrations of La
Fontaine’s fables, and of particular interest his paintings from the
Jewish Theater in Moscow. The Paris exhibit runs from mid March until June
23, 2003 (closed Tuesdays), and then travels to San Francisco this
A sampling of other exhibits
around town this spring include Magritte at the Jeu de Paume (thru June
9); Raoul Dufy at the Musée Maillol (thru June 16); Gaugin at Pont Aven
at the Musée Luxembourg (thru Jun 22); and a history of trains in
France, le Train Spécial, an outdoor exhibit along the Champs Elysées
and its side streets (May 15-June 15). Check out www.paris.org
for more information on Paris events.
More soon...keep in touch!
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