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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

2 avril 2003
Uzès, France

Onions 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
     Bread crumbs
     Salt and pepper

Chop 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.

Spread 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!
     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!



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Stylish, fast train from another era...

But the restaurant  le Train Bleu lives on...

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 ...in baroque brasserie splendor!

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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.
     Declared 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.
     Just to 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 imagine?
     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.
     Once 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!
     Worse 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, simply, “D1.”
     Only 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 do.
     Why the 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 morale.”
     OK. Whatever. We’ll check in again on local French rugby next year.


Paris notes
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.


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Try a concert in Sainte-Chapelle.


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Spring is bustin' out all over,
including the Jardin de Luxembourg...

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Celestial music...stunning stained glass.





Marc Chagall's genre-defying work
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 fall.
     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.

 

 

 

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