November 2020: Foodie things to do, read, and eat during lockdown
It feels like déjà-vu all over again. We’re back on lockdown in France for (at least) the month of November (though most likely longer). You’ll forgive me if this newsletter is a bit late as my priorities flew out the window after Macron’s Wendesday evening announcement that a five-week lockdown would start on Friday. Not great, to say the least – though much-needed, according to all of the French health experts.
After having gone through 8 weeks of a very strict lockdown in March-May, I found myself wanting to be (or at least feel) better prepared for this one. Does that mean I went food shopping? Oh, no – I know those shops will stay open (along with the open air markets this time, thankfully). This time, I focused on things that would be difficult to get my hands on once we went into lockdown, but that would make the experience much more comfortable – a scented candle or two, a new craft project, some new cookbooks, a fuzzy sweater to cuddle up in. That’s right – I went full-on “mode cocooning,” as we say here in France, and I don’t regret it. This whole year has been teaching me that I’m a lot happier when I focus on the things I can control, like my environment and where I put my attention.
Because, believe me, there is a lot that is out of our control about this situation. After spending 2 weeks learning how to deal with curfew restrictions that forced most people to be home by 9pm, restaurants in France now find themselves going back to takeaway or delivery. Even though the government has promised support, it may not be enough to help them through (especially since we do not know for sure when this lockdown will end or what the dining restrictions will be like afterwards). The same goes for shops and businesses that have been deemed “non-essential” and forced to close during lockdown. The saving grace this time around is that they are allowed to sell via “le click & collect” (in France, this means basically any type of remote ordering method) for pickup or delivery. So I’m also thinking about which of my favorite local businesses I can do some remote shopping from, as well.
This monthly post is devoted to the things that we can control – fun things to keep us busy, supporting local businesses, finding happiness and joy where we can, and helping each other get through this.
À votre santé,
Foodie Things to Do During Lockdown – November 2020
15 November – Online Camp Cassoulet with Kate Hill
Add “learn how to make cassoulet” to your list of lockdown goals and cook along with the fabulous and talented Kate Hill of Camont as you master THE classic dish of southwest France. Get your cassoulet on!
19 November – Celebrate Beaujolais Day with Taste of Toulouse and Wine Dine Caroline
Join me (@tasteoftoulouse) and my dear from Caroline (@winedinecaroline) from Lyon Wine Tastings for this special Instagram Live as we celebrate the release day of Beaujolais Nouveau and other primeur wines! (Not sure what I’m talking about? Read this.) We’ll be tasting and talking about this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau as well as other similar wines from around France – including the southwest. Grab a glass of wine and join us on Instagram Live at 8pm France time!
21 November – How to Build a Cheese Plate online workshop
Join me for the perfect pre-holiday workshop where you learn how to build a beautiful cheese plate – whether it’s for 2 or 10. Learn tips for buying and serving cheese and all the delicious accompaniments, then roll your sleeves up and get to work as we each build a cheese plate together on Zoom. Only 25€ per screen, so make it an evening (or afternoon) with everyone in your house for no extra cost! Sign up now.
Online French Pastry Classes with Molly J Wilk
If sweets are more your style, why not try your hand at French pastry? My friend Molly is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef who gives online workshops from her beautiful apartment in Versailles. Check out her schedule of upcoming online classes to see what sort of treats you could soon be baking up!
Free Holiday Hosting Hacks Online Workshop Series
My friend Caroline is a triple threat – she’s a WSET diploma-trained sommelier, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, plus she’s hilarious and has an Oxford diploma! Just before Thanksgiving, she’s hosting a series of free workshops on various holiday hosting topics. Sign up for one or all of them!
- Saturday November 21st at 12pm ET – How to Pair Turkey Dinner
- Sunday November 22nd at 12pm ET – Sparkling Wine Masterclass
- Monday November 23rd at 12pm ET – How to Make the Perfect Cheeseboard + Pairings
- Tuesday November 24th at 12pm ET – Gifting Wine & Wine Gifts
What I’m Reading, Writing, and Listening To
The Toulouse restaurants offering pickup or delivery during COVID-19 need your support (Taste of Toulouse blog)
Since we’re back into lockdown, I updated and republished this post from the spring with a list of great restaurants that are operating during our second bout of confinement. If you can, make a point to support this extremely hard-hit sector of local businesses.
With France on lockdown again, can its culinary legacy survive? (Eater)
A look at the challenges being faced by restaurants in France – first lockdown, then shutdown, then curfew, then lockdown again – and the difficult choices they face. To stay open? To work with huge delivery companies like Uber? Read about what they’re doing now and their worries and hopes for the future.
‘We want to open!’ French shopkeepers revolt against orders to close (The New York Times)
As in the first lockdown, all “non-essential” businesses have been ordered to remain closed. However, this time there is a lot more push-back from business owners who question the nature of what is deemed (or not) essential, why large “superstores” are allowed to sell the same products while they must close, and fear that all these measures are doing is pushing people to shop at huge retailers and Amazon, at the price of destroying local businesses and communities.
To support small businesses, the Region of Occitanie launches the platform “Dans Ma Zone” (actuToulouse)
One of the differences during this lockdown is that, while non-essential businesses must remain closed to the public, they are still allowed to operate on a limited basis through online and other forms of remote ordering, with in-store pickup. To support local businesses, Occitanie (our region) has launched an online platform and ad campaign called “Dans Ma Zone” (“In my zone,” a play on words to counter Amazon.com). If you live in or near Toulouse, you can find local businesses on the platform where you can shop online and pickup in store. Before you order something off Amazon, think if you can get it locally!
The return of Toqués d’Oc in Occitanie with a new formula (ladepeche.fr)
Like many events this year, the Toqués d’Oc dinners, where the best chefs in our region unite to make local gastronomy more accessible, were cancelled. But not beaten! They’re back with a gourmet box that you can order and then pick up at various locations on December 5. Something to look forward to in December!
Why I miss American supermarkets (Alexander Lobrano)
An honest (and very accurate) look at why Americans in France dream longingly of supermarkets back home. Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping at the markets and specialty food stores in France – but supermarkets? Not my favorite. Especially when you’re looking for an ingredient not commonly used in French cooking (tofu, I’m looking for you…).
What’s the deal with carbonic maceration in wine? (Forbes)
Carbonic maceration isn’t just for Beaujolais Nouveau anymore! As someone who doesn’t like heavily tannic wines, I get excited to try any wines that have undergone carbonic maceration (a fermentation technique that extracts color and flavor, but not as much tannin) – especially on different varieties of grapes than the usual Gamay that is used for Beaujolais Nouveau. Plus, they go great will all types of food! The next time you go to your local wine shop, ask if they have something made using carbonic (or partial carbonic) maceration!
Listen to Taste of Toulouse on the “Eat the Damn Bread” podcast
If you’ve spent any time with me, you know how much I love talking about (and eating) bread. So when I heard about the “Eat the Damn Bread” podcast, I knew that the host Colet was a woman after my own heart. She just released an episode where we talk about making French food accessible, life in southwest France, and why you should skip Paris (there, I said it!) and visit Toulouse instead.
What I’m Eating
As if I had a premonition of what was ahead, I packed a lot of excellent meals into the month of October – all of which were quite different from each other. The first was at the new restaurant Cécile, which opened in the Marché Carmes in June. I had heard a lot about it and finally had the opportunity to go for lunch – and I will definitely be back! First off, they have at least one vegetarian option, which is a huge win for vegetarians and vegetarian-adjacents like me (my husband is vegetarian, so finding restaurants that are welcoming of different diets is a priority). Second, the menu featured a lot of interesting combinations featuring local produce, even on the meat dishes. I had an amazing lamb meatball as a starter (pictured below), followed by polenta with roasted veggies (the vegetarian option caught my eye and I didn’t regret it for a moment), then sautéed apples with ice cream. Just writing this is making me dream of when restaurants reopen and I can go back for dinner…
My next amazing meal was the brunch at Sweet Home Café, one of my favorite coffee shops in Toulouse (also home to my favorite chai latte with honey). We went with friends who had never experienced what I call “French brunch,” which is a set menu where you get one “savory” plate and one “sweet” plate along with a hot drink and fresh juice. None of that having to choose between the sweet and the savory options for the French – they can have it all! Granted, this style of doing brunch is not for the people who always ask for customizations or substitutions, or who are not ok with giving up their power of choice (some restaurants give you a couple choices for each plate, but others serve the same brunch menu to everyone) – but I love being able to have the best of both the sweet and savory worlds (and also not having to think too hard on a Saturday morning). In addition to my much-beloved chai latte, I adore the bagel sandwiches at Sweet Home Café, plus their delicious cakes and pastries, so I’m always happy to have the opportunity to brunch here, especially when I can help introduce others to the wonders of French brunch!
Serendipitously, our next amazing dinner was the night before curfew started (which seems like forever ago!). I occasionally get invited to check out different restaurants around Toulouse and the owner of Pizza Teatro had contacted me through Instagram to ask if I would like to come in for dinner. Being able to check out a new Neapolitan pizza restaurant near Compans Caffarelli within a 20 minute walk of our apartment? “Sì grazie!”
So, I had the pleasure of meeting Antonello, a native of Napoli, who moved to Toulouse last year for love and then found himself trying to find a job in a pandemic. (Note: Antonello also studied in Edinburgh, as you’ll be able to tell from his mild Scottish accent!) After spending a few months working for Forno Gusto and realizing that pizza was one of the few things still selling well during confinement, he decided to start his own pizza shop. With a pizzaiolo direct from Naples and a beautiful pizza oven, he opened Pizza Teatro in September and is already selling pizzas as fast as they can make them!
We tried their margherita pizza, a classic that is always my baseline for Neapolitan pizza places, and the Genovese, which is made with slow-cooked onions and beef – both delicious! One thing we really liked about these pizzas is the crust, which you might notice is a little bit more substantial due to being made partially with whole wheat flour. When I asked Antonello about this, he said the change was for his own health (and his staffs’) – because they would be eating so much pizza that he wanted to make it a little bit more healthy than the standard 100% white flour. I really liked this! They also have a nice selection of Italian wines and both Antonello and the sommelier were eager to have me try some of their favorites – so don’t be shy about asking for wine pairings!
This meal was given to us for free, but with no promise that I would write about it. However, I loved it so much that I wanted you to know about this great local place – especially since they are definitely open for takeout and delivery during lockdown. Since then, we’ve already been back for takeaway and we’re so glad this new favorite discovered us!
My final culinary adventure was instigated by a friend who invited me to an Asian-inspired lunch at M, by Mo Bachir, of which his friend Mo is the chef. Mo is from Toulouse and was well-known in gastronomic circles here for his cooking at La Corde, which was the oldest restaurant in Toulouse until it closed in 2010. He returned to la ville rose last year after having spent 7 years in Paris and opened his new restaurant.
Our lunch that day was an Asian-inspired tasting menu, as Mo’s cooking is very globally-influenced – inspired by 4 years spent working in New York City. Pictured below are morsels of salmon on rice, a perfect and flavorful way to start the meal. And I will go on record of saying that this is the first time I have tasted salmon that I actually enjoyed! I’m also still dreaming of the main course of “lacquered” duck breast, cooked in the style of Peking duck but with a touch of southwest France. Mo is also open for takeaway during lockdown, so don’t hesitate if you need a bit of a gourmet pick-me-up!