Paris to Provence is a culinary travelogue of separate summers spent in France, interweaving a collection of simple recipes with evocative memories and stories of those years. The recipes are simple and accessible to readers, but reflect France’s culinary sophistication and traditions Ethel and Sara discovered during their childhood summers.
TARTE AUX POMMES
TOMATES À LA PROVENÇAL
GÂTEAU AU FROMAGE DE CHÈVRE ET CITRON
RÔTI DE PORC ET SAUCE AUX CÈPES
Each chapter of Paris to Provence is representative of a specific part of Sara and Ethel’s summer travels: Road Trips, Farmers Markets, Street Food, Cafes and Bistros, Afternoon Snacks and Meals with Family and Friends. The recipes are drawn from memory of places, foods and ingredients experienced while traveling with their families.
With more than 50 recipes to draw from, the book gives readers a range of desserts, side dishes, main dishes and snacks that can be paired together and/or enjoyed individually.
Visually, the book is a collection of location photography, ingredients and finished dishes. Sara Remington has captured the wonder and discovery from a child’s perspective through her lush, evocative images.
Ethel W. Brennan is a freelance writer and prop stylist. She is the coauthor of At the Farmers’ Market with Kids, Citrus, and Goat Cheese, and the author of Baby Gifts and Herbes de Provence. Her work as a prop stylist can be seen in such books as Vintage Cakes, SPQR, Princess Tea Parties, The Wild Table, Kokkari, Mixt Salads, The Cook and the Butcher, and The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, which was nominated in 2011 for a James Beard Award for best photography. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and twin boys.
Sara Remington is a photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and travels the world for editing, publishing, and advertising. She was raised in upstate New York and studied photography and cinematography at Syracuse University and FAMU in the Czech Republic. Sara has provided photography for over thirty books, and was nominated for a James Beard Award for her photography in The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook.
See more of Sara’s work at sararemington.com.
The drive from Paris to Provence marks the beginning of our story. It is on this stretch of the vacation that we muddled through jet lag and headed to the bakeries, cafés, shops, and markets to rediscover our beloved candies, pastries, sandwiches, and drinks. For this reason, many of the recipes are interchangeable within various chapters, but decisions had to be made, and for us, the following foods, such as tiny cornichon pickles, salty squares of black olive and anchovy pizza, truck-stop prix fixe menus of steak au poivre, cheese, decadent cream-filled pâtisseries, and sandwiches filled with ham, butter, salt-cured meats, and liver-rich pâté mark the beginning of summers spent in France.
As a kid, I thought if I flapped my arms really hard, I would be able to fly, just barely floating above the ground. I envisioned this as my own little dream road trip sans car, slow and methodical, experiencing sights and colors from an angle that no one else would be able to touch. I continued to have this daydream summer after summer in France, from the backseat of a tiny cheap rental car. Looking out the backseat car window was almost as good as the idea of being a human bird—I had my imagination as my silent playground as I tried to follow each blade of grass flying by, my fingers touching the green tips in the endless fields.
The weeks and days leading up to the road trip were so fun. My parents, for the most part, would have the same routine, visit the same friends, with slight differences in course. There was comfort in familiarity, comfort in routine and tradition, knowing what was going to happen next in a general sense, but the details would fill themselves out later. As kids, we were oblivious to the conversations about mapping our route. The trips just magically happened.
Strangely enough, the smell of diesel fuel that always struck my nostrils so abruptly as we entered smoggy Paris was a comfort. The smell reminded me of movement, progress, and adventure. We would arrive at the one-star hotel where we always stayed, Hôtel de la Paix (now out of business), and knew what we were getting into. After about the fourth visit, the little old lady who owned the hotel would stand up from behind the counter with excitement, a huge smile taking over her wrinkles with more wrinkles, speaking mumbled French where I would catch every other word at most. Much of the banter was “Oh la la les filles, elles sont trés belles et grandes! Oh la la la la!” and this was always followed by a giant, wet kiss that left me smiling but cringing, running to the other room to wipe my cheek without her seeing. I still remember that noise of the old woman at the hotel kissing my cheek: much like the sound of a cork being slowly pulled out of a wine bottle, ending with a pop!
We always had a room on one of the top floors with no elevator, but my dad would gladly haul all of our suitcases up the narrow winding staircase. The sag of the hotel bed and the sound of the old bedsprings as we plopped our suitcases on top of the mattresses felt like old friends. The bathroom down the hall, window knobs that squeaked as you opened them to let the sounds of Paris into our tiny rooms, the peeling paint on the ceiling: all were there to remind us that we’d begun our adventure.
French marchés are defined by seasonality, and while grocery stores may stock produce from around the world at any given time of year, the markets reflect the time-honored French traditions of terroir—the progression of seasonal, regional produce as it is cultivated by small, land-connected farmers. No matter how fleeting the season for any given culinary treasures, they are offered up in French markets: delicate squash blossoms, two-day-old fresh goat cheeses wrapped in paper, fresh shelling beans of all colors and varieties, fruit picked that morning and meant to be eaten by dinnertime. Fresh fish, locally caught, specialty cuts of meat, and charcuterie are all displayed behind the glass of traveling vans.
Although France is not particularly known for street food cuisine, what is available is delectable and uniquely regional, such as the buttery chickpea flour crepes historically cooked in three-foot-diameter pans on charcoal ovens in Nice, spicy grilled merguez sausage served on a baguette and doused with fragrant red harissa sauce, while sweet and savory crepes, salty sugared pralines, and powdered sugar–covered beignets, or French-style donuts, seem prevalent everywhere. Whenever we were out and about, visiting ancient castle ruins, hiking down the arid cliffs of the Mediterranean coast to get to the perfect beach, or wandering city streets, street food seemed common fare. As our families settled in for the summer, the long trek to the south behind us, the next weeks promised an itinerary of day trips to historic sites, favorite villages, and visits with friends. This life on the go was meant for street food, and we intended to try it all.
Any café or bistro, in the tiniest country village to the bustling streets of any city, provided us with glimpses into the lives of locals: the postman stopping by for a quick coffee at the bar while on his morning route, traveling salesmen eating alone, workers having a drink at the bar at the end of their day. At the bistros, changing menus sported regional and local specialties for lunch, and sometimes the cafés had hot sandwiches. Savory salads with poached eggs and tender boiled potatoes or baked goat cheese with bitter salad greens and bacon are the salads we looked forward to, hopefully served with a charcuterie plate of pâté, jambon cru, and saucisson. For kids, of course, any version of a grilled cheese sandwich would do, and the French one, a croque madame, is laden with rich béchamel sauce and a fried egg. Drinks, ice creams, and tarts often finished the meal.
Late afternoon, with dinner still hours away, was the peak of playtime for us, our energy fueled by our goûter, the French word for late afternoon snacks, a treat reserved for children, not always healthy, often a version of bread and chocolate. As we spent ample time with family and friends, most with children of varying ages, we also jumped in on the fun and were fed, alongside our friends, tomato and olive oil sandwiches, chocolate hazelnut spread on open-faced baguette sandwiches, moist vanilla-scented madeleine cakes, and more.
A mix of sweet and savory snacks midday were sure to carry us to the aperitif hour in the early evening, when the drinks, olives, and salted nuts would segue into a long multicourse dinner with the grown-ups, including some lush dessert, but until then, goûter was the meal and we were refueled and sent back out to play.
Hot lazy summers were familiar to me in both California and Provence. By four in the afternoon the sun would still hang high and pesky little flies would relentlessly land on our arms and legs, attracted by our salted skin. Regardless of whether we were in France or California, most of my summer days were spent seeking relief from the dry heat through shade or water. France was special, though, because we lived in the country, not in town like at home. The fields, vineyards, and hillsides were our playgrounds. We had such freedom—out the door in the morning, down tractor roads, making bows and arrows from mulberry branches and baling twine, and excavating Roman tiles and even dinosaur bones.
Around noon, we all headed home for lunch and a nap, and then at three we were back out the door. On days when no body of water was at hand, my friend Aileen, my brother, and I pitched beach umbrellas in the overgrown grassy meadows, laid out soft French quilts, and prayed for a thunderstorm to break the heat that hummed with the sounds of crickets and cicadas. Somebody’s mother would eventually track us down and bring us goûter. Dinner wouldn’t be served until at least eight or nine in the evening, so afternoon sustenance was essential. The snacks varied from day to day, but usually were served in the form of tomato and olive oil sandwiches, yogurts, sweet baguette and chocolate bar sandwiches, sometimes spread with butter. My very favorites, however, were dense little madeleine cakes, baked in the shape of small boats, all washed down with Orangina, a light orange soda made with fruit juice.-Ethel
Everything about snack time reminds me of swimming: running barefoot from the pool sans towel with my sister, water still dripping down my legs, tufts of thick crabgrass itching the bottom of my feet, to the wood table on the right side of the stone house. By the time I would arrive, the treats would be neatly laid out for us kids—slices of bread with Nutella and honey, jam, cheese, and a possible bonus candy bar. When we were done, my bathing suit would be mostly dry from the August heat. Not knowing the language perfectly, I always felt like a bit of an outsider with the other French kids. However, I would communicate my humor by smearing chocolate spread all over my mouth and face, trying to extend my tongue so far to lick off every bit from the tip of my nose to underneath my chin; sticking my hands in the jar of honey and trying to wipe the sticky sweetness all over my sister’s arms; shoving as many pieces of chocolate in my mouth as I could while trying to speak a sentence without the chocolate falling out—all hilarious and annoying.-Sara
At the end of each day and certainly following on the heels of the earlier days of the holiday, the long road trip behind us, mornings we strolled through the marché, lunch and afternoons we spent sampling street food, or in cafés and bistros, and we recharged our energy with late afternoon goûter chocolate-filled treats. The days subsided into the lingering and food-centered evenings, often spent outside under a canopy of mulberry trees or the stunning star-filled skies of Provence. Those evenings we sampled snails in garlic sauce, fresh grilled sardines, and bite-sized lamb chops. Other evenings, if a chill hit the air, meals were moved inside and were richer collections of warming beef daube, baked bouchée à la reine pastry shells filled with chicken and mushrooms, bowls of rich Provençal fish stew, and always a dessert, preferably something along the lines of îles flottantes, clouds of meringue served in bowls of crème anglaise custard.