Coucou

Coucou, mes amis,

Its Libby again with the second instalment of my travel blog. Gary is tweeting his beer experiences, so you will have to follow him on Twitter to benefit from those pensees.

I heard “coucou” on the French-only tv here and discovered that it means  “hello” or “hey there”, in an informal way. So, while you shouldn’t use it to greet people in a professional setting, you can use it to say hi to your friends and family. I thought it was sort of cute, so I am sharing it with you. No hugs are given in France, but plenty of air kisses on each cheek, including between men friends.

One of the true joys of travel is discovering what the locals do, say and eat and what is different from what we are used to. For instance, going to the supermarkets is an experience in and of itself. You might think that is ho-hum, but virtually everything is different here, the brands, packaging and their contents. For example, eggs and milk are not refrigerated but are piled up, just like the paper towels, on the shelves, (although they keep the temperature in the stores so cold, you are encouraged not to linger). Missing, however, from their extensive line-up of foods are crackers; all they have are toasts – an opportunity to fill the gap, in my mind, for an enterprising businessperson.

A favourite from our last trip is “fromage blanc”, a delicious creamy soft cheese made from milk with a consistency similar to yogurt, but less acidic. I bought some which is fat free and use it on cereal with honey. Honey in this area is sold mostly in a solid form.

We visited several open air markets, two in Saint-Omer itself and also one in nearby Arques. Open air markets are a delightful facet of daily French life; there are 62 weekly markets in the Nord Pas-de-Calais region alone! The markets are filled with the freshest of produce farmed by the local fermiers. I have never seen strawberries so glistening, leeks so tempting and cauliflower (a local abundant crop) so large and fresh, still with their leaves attached to their stalks.

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We used the leeks, carrots, mushrooms, and onions we bought in the market to make “carbonnade a la flamande”, a traditional Nord Pas-de-Calais dish and cooked it chez nous. It turned out great. Here is the recipe we used:

2 leeks (white part only) sliced

2 small onions (sliced)

fresh mushrooms (sliced)

1-2 cloves of chopped garlic

2 pounds of beef (chunks)

2-3 cups of beer of your choice

fresh thyme, salt and pepper to taste

2 pieces of bread slathered with mustard

We sautéed the meat in extra virgin oil to brown it and separately, the veggies and spices. We then combined the two in a pan with high sides and added the beer and placed the bread, mustard side down on the top and covered the pan. We let it simmer on low for about 1 and a half hours et voila, a meal fit for a king!

We visited a open air market in nearby Arques yesterday. We took the local inter-urban bus which leaves from the St.-Omer Gare to get there. Cost: a reasonable 1 Euro, 10 centimes.

Arques is a small town of about 10,000 people, adjacent to Saint-Omer. The market was small, by comparison to others we have visited, but charming nevertheless. An itinerant cheese vendor sold us one of the best cheeses of the trip, a young Maroilles and we stopped for lunch at a stand, serving local fast food – clearly, a favourite of the residents of Arques who lined up well outside its doors. Not our fast food, however. I had a (the freshest) fish sandwich on a bun called a “falouche”, a local specialty which looks like a small deflated rugby ball, while Gary had a chicken kebab also on the same bun. We sat outside on the lovely sunny day and thought life could not get any better.

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Arc International is headquartered in Arques and produces glass tableware such as Cristal d’Arques and Luminarc, names that are sure to be recognized by most. I was fortunate to be able to visit their factory and to see how glass tableware is made. It is a “hot” business with kilns operating 24/7 at 1500 Celsius degree temperatures. I saw the molten paste drop into moulds corresponding to the shapes of the glass. Fascinating stuff. Half the town of Arques is employed by Arc and the other half by the local brewery called Goudale.

Last week, we visited the “Maison du Marais”, recognized by UNESCO for its cohabitation of man and nature and designated a biosphere reserve. We took a flat-bottomed barge called a “Bacove” boat ride through the Audomarois marshes, a wetlands, riven by waterways, painstakingly created by man over centuries.  It supports more than 450 species of wild and cultivated plants, 232 species of birds and 26 species of fish. It is a tranquil experience, floating amongst the flora and fauna and connecting with nature all around you. People live on its banks and farm the verdant land around it. Although it produces many different vegetables, it is particularly known for its delicious cauliflowers and succulent endives. As they say in France, c’est incontournable!

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Today, we had a picnic lunch at the lovely public gardens of Saint-Omer. There are well-tended flower beds, good walkways, a carousel and a kiosk selling Italian-style gelato for big and little kids alike. As municipal gardens go, welcome to paradise.

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So, a bientot, for now from the land of the (almost) midnight sun, where sunset today is a very late 10:06 p.m. and sunrise was at 5:39 a.m. resulting in a very lengthy 16.11 hours of daylight.

We’re off to coastal Calais on Friday/Saturday to see how the people of Calais live. We’ll keep you posted!

6 thoughts on “Coucou”

  1. After reading this wonderful blog a few times before going to bed, I have already had wonderful dreams tasting these wonderful foods you describe so well. I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. The most amazing read!!! I am so glad you are both having such a great time. Keep them coming.

    Reply
  2. That market photo is great. Eventually my local farmers market will get up to speed, but right now the offerings are still sparse.

    Reply
  3. I have to ditto all the comments above! What an exciting read! I feel like I’m on our shoulder enjoying every moment with you. Coucou!!
    A la prochaine!!

    Reply
  4. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your post. You can be a travel reporter for a magazine or newspaper! Beautiful job, and a recipe to boot!!!!!! Thank you, it’s really a most enjoyable read!!!!

    Reply
  5. Libby, your descriptions are succulent. I can almost taste and/or smell everything you describe! Who needs Stanley Tucci!

    Reply

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