Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Getting Spices

Climbing up the hill to the Croix Rousse plateau today, I counted the steps. Images came to mind and I counted, days and weeks the years here in France in which I endured some disappointments but also had some of the happiest days of my life. I took a moment as I mounted the steps one by one to review the main archives of the last seven years.

There was that carefully crafted poem typed with an Underwood on a post card that symbolizes something very big that I will one day open out. There's the dissertation on onion skin, the ideas I dwelled on for perhaps too long but like many of these things can leave a feeling of the good that has come from conscientiously maintaining a commitment to a principle. There were the administrative files, the carte, the country, the file to request and the file to explain and the file that was lost at the prefecture and had to be filed again. These files give us an official history, and here in France this history is meticulously kept for the benefit of future generations.

The unofficial history is altogether another story. The kitchen notebooks and stories of families and friendships are very important to preserve. It is being able to choose and encapsulate, to focus and prioritize that allows us grow stronger in our abilities to do these stories justice. I thought about these things as I reached the top of the first one and then found a different stairwell to climb. But then again it is also learning to take a moment and live it.

Soon my thoughts began to become more fluid and far between as they often do when I undertake repetitive activity like climbing stairs, and I probed the hopeful places in my heart. I rested lightly on these thoughts, just very briefly and respectfully, and did my best to heed Clare’s advice and breathe to allow myself to be open to their implanting and coming true the way they should.

Here at the present at the top of the hill I went about my plan to stock my larder with a trip to Cap Epices, a store that sells spices in bulk, dried imports, and olives. We see them on the Quai St. Antoine, and I often wait in line there to get a ladle of this one, a scoop and a pinch of that from them during the bustle and hustle of the market. People jostle and poke and lean against one another as they call "next!" until it is your turn. For this reason I also go up to the shop where I can inhale the singular aromas and stand in the wooden cave that is their boutique and mull over them. It is the only time I can really envision how I can use them, and think about their provenance.

There are 23 jars in my sliding racks for spices, many of which are empty at the moment, mainly due to my own impatience and lassitude, and a habit I have of only buying what I need. Aside from the three large jars continuously in a state of use containing sea salt, herbes de provence, and my spice mix maison, I only sometimes have a nice full selection of the spices that might come in handy. Today I purchased enough for another batch of my mix, the best curry I have found, and a few other things, including an interesting mix of spices to make pain d’epices, kind of like a gingerbread honey cake that is very popular around the holidays.

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Blogger Jann said...

Glad you got all the spices.....and enjoyed the post!

4:58 AM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Lucy. Very layered, like the colors in your photographs.

5:18 AM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Christine said...

Your writing brings a smile to my face Lucy. I can lose myself in the richness of your sentences and can only hope to aspire.

7:16 AM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Riana Lagarde said...

I love, love spice shops. I go to one in Toulouse and spend all day looking at the exotic ones. I also go to the Arabic stores and stock up. During the summer, there is a lady that comes to our farmer's market and sells them by the scoop. Needless to say, I have about 40 mason jars full of spices. I should send you some of my extras! I love to share.

Here is a photo of one side of the island...

9:09 AM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I just found a great spice shop in the North End (Itallian section) of Boston that is so reasonable compared with big chains!

3:24 PM, November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a lovely inspirational read. I traveled with you and that felt great.

3:45 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks everyone for your comments!

12:08 PM, December 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your pictures and words make me long to return. Happy you have more spices for the holidays now.

2:52 AM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger Katie said...

As much as I complain (and hate) weeding, it's a wonderful, 'repetitve - thinking' task. It can be interesting just to see where one's own mind can take us.

I just recently found a lovely spice shop myself - she also sells grains, rice and olives, so it's a real treat to go there....and Turkish sweets...

9:57 AM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger AnAmericanHousewifeinFrance said...

I'd like to check out Cap Epices. I can never find the spices I need at the local Monoprix (I go to the one by Cordelier since that one is closer to my apt). I checked on page jaune and didn't see Cap Epices listed. What's the street address?

1:44 PM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

AHWiF, The address is: Cap Epices, 8 rue de Cuire, 69004 LYON Tel:

The Monoprix by Cordeliers is not nearly as complete as it was before they tore down the building they were in across from the Bourse. We'll have to wait for that construction project to be finished before we have another catch all in the neighborhood. Across the the street from Cap Epices is a larger Monoprix with parapharmacy and also a clothing section upstairs. This Monoprix has imports like American peanut butter, cottage cheese, etc. Whil'e you're up there you might also want to check out their offerings.

5:04 PM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger AnAmericanHousewifeinFrance said...

I'll have to make a trip up to the Croix Rousse. Does that Monoprix carry cream cheese? Is there a French cheese you would suggest as a substitute for use in baking? Thanks.

1:47 PM, December 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have really been enjoying your glorious blog since I discovered it a few weeks ago. Naturally, I am disappointed that it is not very active right now, but at least I have all those archives to enjoy.

Lynne Rosetto Kaspar included in today's show a bit of a dated interview with Paula Wolfert, who, I believe, is someone you greatly admire. A few weeks ago, I purchased Paula's updated version of her classic, The Cooking of Southwest France. As I listened to the interview, I was idly thumbing through the book and came across a startling name in the bibliography: Lucien Vanel. Some readers will not know -- as you know very well, "Lucy" -- Lucien Vanel was (is?) a very famous chef in Toulouse. Paula makes numerous references to him in her book, including the observation that his restaurant "was a magnet for all gastronomic travelers to Toulouse."

I think you see where I am going with this, don't you "Lucy Vanel?"
[~grin~] Lucy Vanel/Lucien Vanel? A nom de cuisine, this "Lucy Vanel?

(Apologies if this little "coincidence" has already been picked apart here. Google does not reveal it.)

10:05 PM, December 31, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

It's just a coincidence, Charlotte. But while you are reading your new edition of Paula's book, check out page 433 in acknowledgments for the new edition - that is not a coincidence!

3:38 PM, January 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: Paula, page 433

I see you there among the eGulleteers acknowledged by Paula!

Lovely to be thanked in a book that may eventually fade from fashion but will be showing up in bibliographies forever.

6:02 PM, January 07, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Charlotte dear, that book will never go out of style - it's a classic! Trust me, you'll go back again and again.

9:35 PM, January 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

~Truly~ classic. I only meant to suggest that trendy culinary winds will not always blow from the SW and some of the restless novelty seekers will move on. But people who are serious about food and honor its traditions will always seek that book out. And serious food writers will always acknowledge it and list it in their bibliographies! It is, IMO, beyond "style."

I would ~never~ dis' Paula. {Shudder}

10:18 PM, January 07, 2007  

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