More Food, Wine, No Doggie Bags: My Trip to France Part II

Lunch at Chateau Bailly, where I met helicopter pilot Gilbert Aubrée.

Lunch at Chateau Bailly, where I met helicopter pilot Gilbert Aubrée.

As those of you who follow my column might know, I’ve been visiting my son all over the globe during his career in the U.S. Air Force. Creed, an Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot who’s served in dangerous war zones, is now part of an international military exchange program in the south of France.He is the only American at a French Air Force base in the village of Cazaux, near Bordeaux. My husband Sam Paredes and I jumped at the chance to visit him and Naomi.

And while this is supposed to be a fashion column, I can’t help but share the delights of the French love affair with great food.

In fact, one of my few disappointments was that the French have not adopted the U.S. custom of doggie bags to take home leftovers. We had dishes that were so amazing, I said, “Ooh, we have to have the rest of this for lunch tomorrow.”

But that is a cultural no-no in France because of the emphasis on freshness. My goodness, by the next day, the food would no longer be garden-fresh! In France respectable cooks start anew daily at the amazing food markets.

 Palmieres, Nan's favorite French pastry.

One of my favorite treats is a palmiere, the elephant-ear shaped crispy French pastry. I do love croissants, but the palmiere is crispier and sweeter. It became a sport to find a French bakery with palmieres each morning, and then I played the game of palmiere comparisons, each day assessing if it was the best, most buttery and mouthwatering.

My husband Sam Parades cleaned his plate of frog legs.

Sam, on the other hand, is a big fan of frog legs, a delicacy of French cuisine. They taste a bit like chicken. My son and daughter-in-law indulged him by participating in the sport of locating restaurants that served frog legs. You can see that he cleaned his plate.

My new savory favorite is pan-seared foie gras, made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. I had a negative attitude about foie gras, but the rich, buttery and delicate yet intense taste won me over. My favorite is an entrée of tender beef topped with pan-seared foie gras.

An entrée of tender beef topped with pan-seared foie gras.

An entrée of tender beef topped with pan-seared foie gras.

Ah, the difference in just “cheese” and fabulous French cheeses is enormous. We enjoyed a cheese tasting in a gorgeous outdoor setting at the Arcachon home of friends of my son and daughter-in-law. Christina served eight varieties of cheese with fresh baguettes.

 At Christina and Mark’s cheese tasting in Arcachon.


At Christina and Mark’s cheese tasting in Arcachon.

Comté is a favorite hard cheese in France, with its strong and slightly sweet taste that comes from maturing in cellars in the Franche-Comté region. And I learned to love even more Camembert from Normandy, a soft cheese served warm with a local honey.

Creed helps pick out spices.

Creed helps pick out spices.

Before I went to France, I saw several recipes calling for herbs de Provence. The Roasted Chicken de Provencal recipe that appeared in a New York Times Food Magazine in April intrigued me. I was delighted to discover a spice vendor at the outdoor market in Arcachon who was incredibly knowledgeable, energetic and animated about dozens of herbs. He prepared fresh packets of herbes de Provence and unusual salts for me to bring home as souvenirs for my employees. I have a few left – if you hurry in, I’m happy to give you one.

We made two trips away from the Bordeaux area – to Normandy and to Bilbao in Spain – and we stayed overnight in San Sebastián in Spain’s Basque region. The coastal town touts having one of the highest number of Michelin stars – the international hallmark of fine dining – per square metre, beaten only by Kyoto, Japan, and well ahead of Paris and Lyon.

Tapas in San Sabastian

Tapas in San Sabastian

I knew Spain was famous for its tapas bars, but I wasn’t prepared for the massive arrays of dozens of different kinds of tantalizing tapas.

And all of the above doesn’t even touch the topic of French wines. We had an amazing lunch with wine at Chateau Bailly. Our tour filled my head with fascinating information about wine. We dined with Gilbert Aubrée, a fellow helicopter pilot and friend of my son’s French Air Force base squadron, and one of the most interesting people I have ever met.

Next week, a little about French fashion – I promise!