Monday, August 8, 2011

Searching for the perfect Salade Niçoise...

Summer is my favorite time to enjoy salads. 

While traveling in France last month, I enjoyed many delicious ones, and I enjoyed them often: La salade de chèvre chaud (broiled goat cheese slices served on crispy toast and a bed of greens in a light mustard vinaigrette) was a favorite. It is served everywhere and it can be overdone but I was lucky and most were delicious.

Salade de chèvre chaud
Another favorite comes to mind: La salade périgourdine (the Perigord salad.) You may remember that in Le Périgord, where we spent several wonderful days eating, visiting châteaux and prehistoric caves, and reconnecting with relatives, it is practically impossible to find a restaurant menu that does not include at least one item made with duck (or goose.) Le Périgord, c'est le royaume du canard et des oies (the Perigord is duck and goose kingdom.)  

What is la salade périgourdine? This one qualifies as a "salade gourmande" (a hearty gourmet salad.) Imagine a bed of greens as a foundation; some green beans added for color and texture; slices of preserved duck giblets (gésiers de canard,) smoked duck breasts (magrets de canard,) and at the top, a generous slice of duck foie gras. Let's add some chopped noix (walnuts,) another local specialty. Enfin, let's pour a light vinaigrette. Voilà, your salade périgourdine is served. Bon appétit.

Salade périgourdine

There is another salad I am quite fond of. Unlike the other two, it is easy to find in the United States, with a significant difference: Like French toast (or, "le pain perdu" as it is known in France,) this salad is considered an elegant dish. In France, canned tuna in olive oil is commonly used to make la salade niçoise. Last week, I went out to lunch with a girlfriend. When my salad arrived, it looked  très fancy. The canned tuna had been replaced by generous slices of seared Ahi. Oh, la, la

Grilled Ahi Niçoise salad (American style)
Canned tuna Niçoise salad (French style)

That salad was delicious and I could not get enough. Problem is, I now want more salade niçoise, and I want it with a glass of chilled rosé wine if at all possible. Oh, and I would like to savor it outdoors, and in the sun, and in a lively place where I can watch the world go by. Where does one go to enjoy an authentic salade niçoise? Easy. I will fly to Nice. Nice, sur la Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera.) Soon. How about at the end of the week? Perfect.

That's right mes amis. This French Girl is about to take off and fly to France for the second time this summer. I know, I know. Nice and the French Riviera in August. Crowds. High prices. What about airfare? Mon Dieu. I could send Junior to college for several months with the cost of the airfare this summer. 

Nice, la Baie des Anges (the Bay of Angels)

One of these parasols (beach umbrellas) has my name on it!

What can I say? I heard of a small 25 square meter (270 square feet) studio in the heart of Old Nice. It is bright, well equipped, a short distance to the beach and public transportation. Best of all: it is affordable. An amazing deal, even. A student of mine stays there for several weeks every year. She loves it, as she has told me over, and over again during our French lessons. [Have I mentioned how much I love my students? I learn from them as much as they learn from me.] My student put me in touch with the studio's owner, Rosa, a fellow blogger, travel writer, and local chef. Then, guess what? Le miracle. The studio (or, as I like to call it "my pied-à-terre",) was available.

I will be going in just a few days, leaving behind our long overdue Seattle summer (it took so long to arrive I and thousands of other Seattleites had just about given up on it.)

The best part about this? I will have only one travel companion. Moi. Véronique. It has been a while since we have kept each other company for more than a few hours. It has been so long I don't remember the last time it happened. I think we have a lot to say to each other, as we go sightseeing, relax, read, shop and write, or whatever the heck we feel like doing during our 10 days on la Côte d'Azur. Let me say that again. It makes me feel giddy. 10 days. Alone. On the French Riviera. 

Looks like I will have to get a new wardrobe.
I don't suppose Northwest fleece would look good there...

Sun year round: Some people have all the luck!

What about Le Husband? Junior? Les pets? So nice of you to inquire. Well, Le Husband has to work. We were gone for a long time in July. Dommage, but he has relaxing weekends with friends and Mistral, our sailboat, to look forward to. There will be contractors working on the house for the next three weeks, so none of us wants to be around much.

One (giant) window down; two to go...

Junior and a buddy of his are camping with Wilderness Awareness, a local organization. My young environmentalist signs up for their programs every summer. He will not miss me a bit, you'll see. One of the pets is going to the pet hotel (Hailey the yellow dog) where she will get daily walks. Felix the cat will stay here. He will spend a lot of time outdoors, hunting, eating rabbits and birds, and coming home at night to recover from his exhausting life. As for Hammy the hamster, well, to be honest, I am a bit worried about Hammy. Le Husband will be under strict instructions to feed him and check on him twice daily. There will be obnoxious post-it notes placed in strategic places all over the house, [including the bathroom mirror,] and they will say things like: "FEED HAMMY!" - "CHECK ON HAMMY!" - "HAVE YOU CHANGED HAMMY'S WATER?" - "WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CHECKED ON YOUR SON'S BEST FRIEND?" Hopefully, little Hammy will survive just fine.

I will leave my cell phone number with Hammy so he can call for help!

I still need to pack, but the basics are ready. France and the Mediterranean are out there, and I can't wait to enjoy one last summer fling before the beginning of the next long, wet, Seattle winter. A good book. Check. My favorite Longchamp Le Pliage travel bags [carry on only, of course. I am NOT letting airlines ruin this trip!] Check. IPod and travel speaker [le pied-à-terre will be rockin'.] Check. Le faithful Lumix camera and Le MacBook Air laptop. Check. 

My favorite Longchamp Le Pliage tote bag in a great color, Taupe.
I also own a large travel bag, and a day pack (backpack.)
It's easy to bring several Longchamp Le Pliage bags:
They fold and hide inside my suitcase
[Plier = to fold, in French]

I needed a good guidebook before my visit. My old ones are outdated at best. Where does a Seattleite look for the best travel guides before a trip to Europe? Well, we call Rick Steves, that's who. Based in Edmonds, WA (his hometown,) the man fell in love with Europe as a teenager and over the next thirty years, has built a small empire while advocating independent travel. Travel author, TV personality, travel operator and philanthropist, Steves has become the European travel guru of choice to many Americans.

Travel essentials...

During the travel workshops I teach in the Seattle area, I like to tell jokes about Rick Steves' appeal:  In Paris neighborhoods highlighted in his guidebooks (la rue Cler on the Left Bank comes to mind,) it is not uncommon to spot Rick Steves guidebooks [and the American tourists holding them] everywhere, at the local bakery, at the grocery store, in cafés and in the street. 

Come what may, his books are well-researched and regularly updated by local reps. While we were in France this summer, we noticed Rick Steves was known personally by hoteliers, restaurateurs and other locals involved in the tourist industry. They referred to him as "Monsieur Steves", were able to remember the last time they had met him in person and offered special discounts to anyone who presented one of his books.

I must confess I like Rick Steves. His success (and the positive response he receives everywhere in Europe) are largely based on his laid-back, genial personality. It does not hurt that he is also a savvy business person. When he retires, he will be credited for his unflagging enthusiasm and interest towards other cultures, his open-mindedness and for single-handedly dispelling the myth of the "Ugly American" all over Europe. 

"Ugly Americans" do not read Rick Steves' guidebooks 
The attractive American tourist (The Tourist, 2010):
Is that a Rick Steves' book in Angelina's purse?

I saw Rick Steves on different occasions during the fun and informative Travel Festivals he organizes every spring at his homebase in Edmonds, WA. I finally got to meet him in person just a few weeks ago at a summer outdoor concert at a local winery, Château Ste Michelle. The artist was Garrison Keillor. Apparently, Rick is a fan. I spotted him in the crowd and Le Husband convinced me to approach him after the show. I did so reluctantly, since he was there with people, but he was very friendly and we chatted about this and that, France, and his upcoming European travels. Scoop: He is shooting new travel shows in Europe this summer. What a fun evening we all had and what a treat it was to meet a local celebrity!

Garrison Keillor in action: A piece of Americana for these French imports!
Great friends, good music and wine: What's not to like
at Woodinville's Château Ste Michelle?

+=+=+ Operation "Approaching Rick Steves" - Code name: "Le Guru" +=+=+

Step 1: Take your picture while celebrity chats in the background to make it look like said-celebrity is part of your group (Rick is in the striped shirt.)


Step 2: Approach local celebrity and chat casually for a few minutes, acting relaxed.

Rick is thinking: "Oh, no, French tourists!"

Step 3: Sharpen negotiating skills and request celebrity's permission before taking picture.

Le Husband (after taking three pictures):
"One last shot, s'il vous plait, Reeekkkkk"

Step 4: Act relaxed [I meet celebrities all the time, no big deal!] and smile for picture

French Girl thinks: "Merde, I should have powdered my nose.
Coco [Chanel] would not approve."

So off I go, leaving Seattle behind, back to Europe and la Méditerranée. Landing in Nice on Saturday August 13. There are so many salades niçoises and bottles of rosé wine waiting... 

I hope you all have a wonderful August, here, there, everywhere. Keep in touch, will you? 

A bientôt.


What happened to this French Girl in Nice, France? Don't miss these stories if you want to find out: 

Part 1: Living on Nice Time
Part 2: Surviving Monaco
Part 3: Eze, Enjoying Life on Top of the World
Part 4: As If the World Needed More Reasons to Love Nice
Part 5: Every Day is Market Day on Cours Saleya

There is always time for one more story about Nice:

The Negresco: The Museum-Hotel


  1. OH V ALL I CAN MUSTER IS A GIANT WISH OF BONNE VACANCES!!!! ENJOY ENJOY AND ENJOY!!-oh and one more thing....if possible try to keep us posted. looking forward to hearing all about it....sooner or later. travel happy.-g

  2. So many goodies in your post! I'll have to re-read it later :) Program your cell phone so that all the buttons have the same function for the poor hamster.
    I wish you to have a fantastic vacation!

  3. I am very jealous indeed Veronique! The Cote d'Azur in peak holiday time. I don't mind the crowds.. indeed it doesn't feel quite right without them. We were in Saint Raphael two years ago in July. I loved it!
    And I simply adore a warm goats cheese salad and a salad nicoise! I think the American version with ahi might just be better.
    Have a fabulous time.
    Did I mention that I'm jealous? :)

  4. --g-- Merci, mon amie. Of course, you are all coming along! Le MacBook Air always tags along as you know. Talk to you [from Nice] in a few days.
    -- Olga -- So good of you to think of Hammy Le Hamster. I am sure he will be fine. He is the most independent of "all" my children. ;-)
    -- Craig -- Don't be jealous. I will have a special Nicoise Salade just for you! Like you, I do not mind the crowds and since I am on my own, it will be easier to beat them ;-)

  5. OMG the whole time I was reading I couldn't stop thinking about the salads. Im off to have lunch and lucky for me I know where to get a good french salad. That is so cool you got to meet Rick Steves! Your comment about Coco Chanel had me in stitches. So funny!

  6. -- Sandy- Great to hear from you. So, how was lunch and most importantly, did you find the ultimate French salad in town?!

  7. Yep i did! The costumer service was horrible but the salad and especially the dressing was delish @ Bonjour Bakery in Las Vegas.;)

  8. Quelle surprise to find our pictures in the blog! Now we are celebrities! Once, again, a great article in which I learned several new things? Bravo!

  9. -- Sandy- Good girl! Bravo!
    -- David --- Merci mon ami. I have a feeling you and E. will be back on Le Blog soon ;-)

  10. What a glamorous and relaxing life you lead!!

    I love all these mouth-watering salads. Now I'm inspired to research some recipes online. Hehe.

    I think it is fantastic you are heading up to France alone. It will be perfect time for you to get reacquainted with yourself and rediscover things you love. :)

    I'm envious, actually!

    Have a lovely trip! xoxo


Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle