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Tavola Del Mondo

food, travel, life...manger, voyage, vivre...mangiare, viaggia, vive...

Signs of Spring: From Union Square Greenmarket to Washington Square Park

Annalee Archie

I hope I am not jinxing all of New York with a title like 'signs of spring.' Last week was no heat wave, but for the first time in what felt like years, I could step outside of my apartment without my hat layered underneath my giant fur hood. I could walk slowly, linger even, taking in the chirping birds and the colorful flowers for sale at the bodegas, instead of hustling to and fro with my eyes glued to the sidewalk lest I step on a patch of black ice.

Union Square Greenmarket is a Manhattan treasure. I like to go first thing in the morning, especially on Saturdays, when the city is still sleeping and the vendors are lining up their last crate or loaf of homemade blueberry bread. They cross the pedestrian area to say hello to one another, laughing over their coffee, relaxing a moment around their table or sitting on the back ledge of their van. They remind me of how simple life can be if we would all slow down just a second. All we need is a good pair of worn-in jeans to kneel down in the soil and cut our homegrown beets, a big bunch of sweet, pungent basil, a batch of freshly cut flowers, and great friends and family to make us laugh and keep as cool as cucumbers. The farmers who share their bounty with Manhattan four times a week quite literally help us stay grounded, in their own unknowing, unintentional sort of way.

Nothing brings me greater joy than making salads all week with the organic greens and local, seasonal vegetables from the market, such as the all green bowl of goodness below. Buying organic, local greens also means less washing, cause to celebrate when one lives in a small Manhattan apartment. My big head of organic Boston lettuce from Two Guys from Woodbridge stayed crisp all week, and I added their organic basil and microgreens to every meal.

Now that the days are getting longer, and we are slowly creeping up the thermometer (Dear 60 degrees, I can nearly feel you, just a bit closer...), I cannot wait to spend more mornings at the greenmarket, ogling over each producer's bounty as it grows and grows. Summer berries, watermelon, plums, peaches, tomatoes... oh the things that make me happy..

Organic basil and microgreens from Two Guys from Woodbridge make a fantastic snack with celery, avocado, tomato, and Breads Bakery's Swiss Muesli Roll
Organic basil and microgreens from Two Guys from Woodbridge make a fantastic snack with celery, avocado, tomato, and Breads Bakery's Swiss Muesli Roll

Pre-Spring Pesto: Toast, Vegetables, and Scramelettes get the Dollop.

Annalee Archie

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Pesto is one of my favorite things to make in the spring and summer. If you take a look at my recipe list, you will no doubt see evidence of this favoritism. I make a big batch once a week, keep it in the fridge, and add a dollop to nearly everything for heightened flavor and sauce. It is the perfect spread on toast, a fantastic addition to salads and lemon juice dressings, vegetables, omelettes or scrambled eggs (or scramelettes- which is what happens when I try to make an egg-white omelette), and of course, as a main anchor for pasta and grains. Oh, I forgot shellfish. I love pesto with grilled or baked shrimp and scallops. Below are a few photos of ways I used up my pesto in simple, fast, healthy lunches and light dinners. Bring on the basil :)

Beachside Stroll in Bretagne, France: La Ville de La Trinité-sur-Mer

Annalee Archie

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www.tavoladelmondo.com

Brittany, or Bretagne, lures visitors, sailors, and current residents alike with its fretted coastline, unique Celtic history, and its laid back lull and overall placidity. In the seaside town of La Trinité-sur-Mer, just up the boardwalk from the shops and restaurants, stone homes are unassuming and fairytale-like. Residents take advantage of a 'cliff side' walk along the water's edge, and young parents take their children for bike rides on the neighborhood's beach-accessible roads, lined with manicured shrubs, covetable stone walls, weeping trees and blackberry vines. All you need is a hammock, a good book, and a vintage beach cruiser bike, et voilà- la vie est une plage.

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Breakfast of Champions in Bretagne

Annalee Archie

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www.tavoladelmondo.com

Serious perk of staying with lovely nutritionist Carole at Les Pianos du Bonhomme? Beautiful breakfast spreads each morning. Carole, owner of the property and chef/nutritionist on site, knows how to prepare a fresh, locally sourced French petit dejeuner. An assortment of homemade breads and jams, homemade yogurt, organic fruits from the local market or her neighbor's garden, fruit smoothies, freshly baked breakfast pastries, and the region's specialties: miel de Bretagne (honey) and Brittany's famous salted caramel butter. My favorite of the breads: Nordic bread with linen seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Gracious Carole shares all of her recipes with her guests, but better yet, grab an apron and join her in the kitchen.

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Les Piano du Bonhomme: http://www.lespianosdubonhomme.com/

Carole's Cooking Classes: http://www.casserolesababord.fr/

The First of Many Spring Pastas: Farro Strozzapreti, Squash, Kale, Mint, and Lemon Zest

Annalee Archie

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www.tavoladelmondo.com

My first bowl of farro was in Rome, in an impossible to find cafe a few cobblestoned blocks behind Piazza Navona. I was living on ceci beans and eggs; the life of una povera studente. I sunk into a cushy velvet sofa next to chic architects in fedoras and trendy but trusty Roman sneakers, effortlessly beautiful women just done with yoga (quietly catching on in Rome), and other gli studenti, and as the chair swallowed me up, I devoured that bowl of warm farro mixed with Italy's best tuna, shredded carrots, chopped vegetables, olive oil, and a few other goodies I can no longer recall. I cannot tell you how many times I tried to retrace my steps to this corner cafe. 'It's on a corner, across from a bodega....' (as if that helps). And the few times that I managed to find it, I rewarded myself with a heaping bowl of this ancient grain.

Farro is a densely flavorful wheat. It has almost a nutty flavor, and it goes perfectly with the best quality tuna you can find, fresh vegetables, herbs, and a really good olive oil. This weekend rewarded us New Yorkers with a hint of Spring; a dose of sunshine and 50 degree weather that restored our faith in seasonal living. Washington Square Park was packed, everyone was out and about, picnicking, soaking up sunshine on benches, deliriously happy to be outside without the risk of hypothermia and freezer burn. I took advantage and made the first of many spring pasta dishes with this fun shape: strozzapreti, which ironically translates to 'priestchokers' in Italian. Legend has it that a gluttonous priest ate too much of it and choked to death, although this sounds like a fairly blase child's tale. There's got to be something juicier...

Choose whatever vegetables you fancy. I really liked the addition of lemon zest and mint, and I tried to stay within a color story, hence the yellow squash and all of the greens. Farro is one of the healthiest wheat pastas you can find, as it is rich in folic acid. It is also very filling and intensely flavorful, so one small serving goes a long way.

Ingredients (2 servings): 2 cups farro strozzapreti, 1 yellow squash, halved lengthwise then sliced into half-moons, 2 or 3 cups of roughly chopped lacinato kale, 1/2 yellow onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, zest from one quarter of a lemon, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, fresh mint, fresh parsley, lots of cracked pepper, parmigiano reggiano, 1/4 cup beluga lentils, and the best extra virgin olive oil you can find.

I cooked the pasta to just shy of al dente ahead of time, drained it, and set it aside loosely covered to stay somewhat warm. I saved about one cup of the pasta cooking water, knowing that I would need it to loosen up the pasta again when I added it back to the vegetables.

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Buckwheat in Bretagne: Crepes and Galettes

Annalee Archie

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Here is what I learned: galettes are savoury and crepes are sweet. Invite your amis for un soirée, (I suggest investing in a professional crepe pan for impression's sake), and set up all of the ingredients family-style. Have patience with the first course and stick to classic, high quality ingredients like organic eggs, different cheeses, thinly sliced zucchini, and maybe some meats if you must. Then indulge in dessert with dark chocolate, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, stone fruits, figs, and maybe a little shaved coconut. Et voila!

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Restaurant Roscanvec in Vannes: Imagination in a Refined Setting

Annalee Archie

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Chef Thierry Seychelles waits for us outside of his restaurant, Roscanvec, early Saturday morning. It is market day in Vannes. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, and friends drag their carts on wheels to the center of the old village. They wait in line at their favorite producers for just-picked lettuce and rustic pints of organic raspberries. Thierry, gentle and soft-spoken, needs a few items for lunch service. He is a gracious guide as we tag along on his Saturday trip to the market. We snap photos on his heels as we meander through the tables, trying not to knock down pints of strawberries as we hurry to keep up.

Thierry says hello to a very old, hunched over woman standing behind her long table of farm vegetables. She is surrounded by crates and radishes and the like, and she seems like the gruff type, literally not afraid to get her hands dirty, type. Thierry tells us that a chef can tell a true purveyor from a mere truck-loader-and-unloader; 'The proof is under their fingernails. In this test, dirt is good; dirt means they were gathering on their farm this morning.' I suppose...

It is a curious thing to watch a Michelin-starred chef hand-pick his ingredients. I try to guess which bunch of delicate greens he will choose; if I am right then maybe I have the keen eye of a professional chef; if I am wrong, then what do I know? Thierry looks out for exceptional, seasonal choices. He finds a red pepper that is lovingly misshapen and with a  scent sweeter than the flower bins at the table next door. He has maybe three ingredients in his bag at the end of our tour. Clearly this is a delicate chef; a man who is looking for the final details, le petit seasonal touches that will make une grand difference.

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After a walk through the massive seafood market, Thierry returns to his restaurant to begin lunch prep. I indulge in endless 'samples' at the marche (including five too many kouign amann)and I am quite full by the time we sit down for lunch at Roscanvec a few hours later. Chic diners, both local French and visiting Italians, are already halfway through their first courses in the intimate, two-level restaurant on one of the town's picturesque cobble-stoned streets. The downstairs room feels like a cozy sitting room. Tables are adorned with white tablecloths and beautiful cutlery. We are treated to more amuse bouches than I can count, and we taste Thierry's creations made complete by his finds at the market that morning. The small bowl of porcini mushrooms, photo above, is enough to do me in. I rate it as one of the top ten dishes in my eating career thus far; the stock is divine with a perfectly balanced consistency- none too thick, none too thin. The chive flowers are an example of Thierry's delicate hand and his proclivity to subtle hints of beauty. The red pepper sorbet atop the rich chocolate dessert was created just that morning; it is a test recipe made with the sweet red pepper he bought at the marche, and it is strangely sweet and fruity. He has a natural finesse so rarely found in the culinary world today. Each artful dish in the succession of the meal further exemplifies Thierry's virtuosity, and one can only hope that in touristy Vannes, visitors appreciate his thoughtfulness as much as his loyal fans and his exquisitely trained staff.

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Nasturtium flower, melon, avocat, langoustine, purslane, octopus.

Nasturtium flower, melon, avocat, langoustine, purslane, octopus.

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Versailles: The Waldorf's Trianon Palace Hotel and a Civilized Jaunt Around a Civilized Town

Annalee Archie

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The Trianon Palace Hotel is a royal meeting ground of elegant, contemporary decor and conservative worldliness. Perhaps this is what Marie Antoinette's home would look like if she were alive today, complete with Guerlain spa and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Or perhaps she would still prefer to romp about in the hayfields. In any case, the hotel suits both a business and leisure traveler just fine. In fact, I found myself surrounded by quite a mix of guests from all over the world. While having a quick bite on the patio closest to the courtyard, I found myself in the midst of multiple business meetings (meetings with chic women in short dresses drinking expensive bottles of wine no less), but there were also a myriad of couples visiting the area from the states, small groups of fashionable Milanese men and women, and members of the French Government. Perhaps I should also say that the French Minister of Defense was visiting that evening; security was swarming and headsets were charged.

I love how the hotel is a stone's throw from some of the most beautiful jogging paths. The park grounds are immediately behind the hotel, and oftentimes one can spot grazing farm animals outside the rear windows. I took many evening walks on these perfectly symmetrical, graciously wide, dirt roads. I felt like a little girl, walking straight down the middle with looming trees planted in measured perfection on either side of me.

Versailles is picture perfect. It is highly civilized and considered very conservative; I can understand it's reputation as a slightly stuffy suburb, but that does not mean that it is any less beautiful. The streets are lined with posh, upscale shops: Yves Delorme, Petit Bateau, Aux Bains d'Oriane, and the like. I imagine that it is a fine place to raise children, and well-to-do suburbanites must agree as I see mostly families as I wander around the town. They are buying pain and snacks after school, on their way to a piano lesson or a class in royal etiquette, one can only assume. On a warm September afternoon in the town center, children abandon their backpacks at their beautiful mothers' feet (all adorned in Hermes head to toe; it's a sporting life after all), and little Jean-Damiens and Amelies dash around the flowers, statues, and symmetrical pebble paths; innocent, petit versions of their sophisticated peres and well-groomed meres. Forgive me, but I so enjoy this scene.

Gordon Ramsay Restaurant

Gordon Ramsay Restaurant

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Arcachon Bay and Oysters in Cap Ferret

Annalee Archie

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The 'cape' one hour west of Bordeaux is slightly different from the 'cape' four hours north of New York, yet certain characteristics overlap more than one might think. Cap Ferret is situated on a 'spit:' a waterway that divides the Atlantic Ocean and the Arcachon Bay, also known as Le Bassin. The pull is the French seaside lifestyle, the relaxed glamour of a glass of wine and plate of oysters on a wood dock overlooking bobbing sailboats, music playing in the background, nautical decor strung about...

Cap Ferret is isolated and elite but not as ritzy as it's oft compared sister, the Cote d'Azur. Restaurants are found in unpretentious, wooden, seaside shacks, evoking a charm scarcely happened upon on the glammed-up Riviera. Careful not to confuse Cap Ferret with Cap FerrAt, where American rapstars (and Paul Allen of Microsoft) can oft be found pretending they are second generation Humphrey Bogarts and Charlie Chaplins, or perhaps hiding their seven figure sports cars behind garage doors so as not to attract tax authorities. No, no hidden ostentatiousness in Cap Ferret; this cape more closely resembles a Francophiled Martha's Vineyard combined with the Bahamas: a mix of preppy Bordeaux inhabitants, artisan types, and casual fishermen.

Indeed it is an exclusive beach destination, but it is also the center of the country's oyster industry: this stretch of coast supplies nearly all of France with fresh oysters. So in the colder months, when the restaurants are closed and the beaches see only the fulltime fishermen, there is still work to be done, oysters to be caught, crated, stacked, and sent on their merry way. There are quite a few small beach towns on the diamond-shaped Arcachon peninsula, many of which cater to the oyster farms. The country protects both the land and the oyster business like a mother hen, meaning that oyster beds can only be passed down through a family or sold to others already in the business, and construction is not allowed on the peninsula's Atlantic shore. The result is a seemingly rustic, undisturbed stretch of land with a trickling of buildings leftover from the war, enabling a boat cruise around the peninsula to remain blissfully peaceful.

A few French celebrities quietly escape to Cap Ferret, but the commitment to nature means that the quaint town will never rise to St. Barths status. Indeed if you are looking for a rocking after-hours scene where you can mingle with Beyond, Russian moguls, and Victoria's Secret models, by all means, bypass charming, unpretentious Cap Ferret.

www.tavoladelmondo.com Arcachon and Cap Ferret
www.tavoladelmondo.com Arcachon and Cap Ferret
www.tavoladelmondo.com Arcachon and Cap Ferret
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They make wine (and macarons) in Saint Emilion

Annalee Archie

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Slick cobblestones of Saint Emilion
Slick cobblestones of Saint Emilion

I'm not a wine connoisseur. Is this a bad time to let that be known? En route to Saint Emilion, the oldest wine town in the Libornaise region of Bordeaux?

I suppose some bits and pieces are better kept to myself. I plan to spend the day wandering and exploring Saint Emilion, a reputedly beautiful village, taking photos and, well this part goes without saying... eating a macaron or two.

It is a dreary, cold, rainy day in mid-September. Oh how the seasons change so unforgivably, so harshly and decisively (the latter being a character trait I am not equipped with, you can attest to this if you have ever asked me to pick a restaurant and then, shudder to think, to make a menu decision). So I join the huddles of tourists hopping from one tchotchke shop to the next, from one wine tasting to the next (just kidding- I skipped those), and I take a tour of the caves and learn about the history of this tiny village on top of a hill crest. What everyone says is true indeed: it is an ancient, picture-perfect village, more so when the sun shines and bounces off of the cobblestones and onto the warmly colored buildings.

On to déjeuner. A quite excellent meal at L'Envers du Decor, an unassuming, rather cozy and jovial restaurant which I highly recommend to those who are looking for a relaxed atmosphere in town. One might be put off by the rather loud and boisterous main room where the bar is situated, but venture to the second room down a quiet hallway, past the 'pass' where the delicately prepared dishes come through, and one finds the locals and those in the know. I adored the quirky decor; the tables and walls are made of reconstructed, glazed wine boxes, the floor a blue and red tile, and an oversized fireplace heralds the head of the room, surrounded by wine bottles from the area. It is rustic yet warm, and the menu is a welcome mix of both light and classic Bordeaux cuisine. My lobster salad was simple and perfectly proportioned. The bread divine as per usual, and the chocolate mousse cake with raspberry sauce a classic fin.

For those keen on visiting the masses of beautiful wineries surrounding the hilltop town, be sure to visit Chateau Fonplegade, quite possibly the most majestic property of the bunch and the most highly regarded, some might say.

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