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Celebrate Bastille Day with this refreshing cocktail and salad

Fields of lavender, grapes swelling in the sun and tomatoes heavy on the vine. Rolling hills, green not so long ago, are now dry and golden brown. Taming the heat of the day with a glass of chilled rosé and the shade of a silvery olive tree. And the scent of the sea carried on a welcome breeze. The sound of apples dropping to the ground and the aroma of fresh garlic.

This is easily a description of a Sonoma County summer, but it also evokes Provence, in the south of France. The biggest difference is, of course, age. There are centuries upon centuries of human history throughout Europe, with troglodyte caves and crumbling ruins alongside contemporary constructions.

Humans have lived just as long or longer here, but the Indigenous people of North America lived lighter on the land than Europeans and their fingerprints on today’s landscape are more difficult to discern, a testament to their understanding of how to take care of the Earth.

Today is Bastille Day, meaning we should take a few minutes to be a bit French for the day. Wear a beret or a blue-and-white frock, give everyone you see an air kiss on both cheeks and, most importantly, expect life to be rich with pleasure.

A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with friends in Europe about an Italian wax bean that grows curved, not straight. Someone mentioned a similar bean in France, adding that it was straight.

“That’s because French people straighten them, in the spring, when they are young,” another friend responded.

What I find so wonderful about French people and culture is that, while no, they do not actually straighten their beans, it is entirely possible to believe that they might. I smile every time I recall that exchange.

The French seem to value pleasure more than many cultures. They expect life to be good. They care, deeply, about what they eat, but they don’t make the huge deal of it that so many Americans do. I’ve always thought this was because Americans, with our Puritan heritage, are surprised by pleasure and feel a tad guilty about it, including when it comes to food and eating. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say, “If it tastes good, it is bad for you.”

The slightest bit of common sense should reveal the fallacy of this attitude: If eating were not a source of pleasure, the human race would have died out a long time ago. It is not a cerebral need for nutrients that makes us seek sustenance; it is pleasure and its handmaiden, hunger, that motivates us.

So, how about this? Enjoy everything you eat today and eat only those things you enjoy. Forget about balance and calories, and micromanaging every single thing that slips past your lips. Eat local foods, from our farms, fields, ranches and waters. Make aioli with our new crop of garlic. Make a peach galette, using Dry Creek Peach & Produce’s Arctic Gem white peaches, which ripen this week. Stop by Healdsburg’s Costeaux Bakery for a pan bagnat, Provence’s famous sandwich. Listen to Françoise Hardy, watch a French movie — I recommend “An Affair of Love,” released in 1999.

Whatever you do, savor it. Bon appetit and vive La France!

Over the last few years, I have heard a few local people boast about how much they hate salade niçoise. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is because of tuna in the US. Most brands are drier and have a sharper flavor than European canned tuna. My way of dealing with this is to use our wild Pacific king salmon instead. When it is not in season, I use fresh tombo albacore that I poach in olive oil. It’s available at Santa Rosa Seafood for $15.99 a pound.

Sonoma Salade Niçoise

Makes 2 servings

6 to 8 ounce fillet of wild Pacific king salmon, trimmed to remove belly flap and cut into 2 equal pieces

Kosher salt

Black pepper

Olive oil

1 small shallot, minced

1 tablespoon best-quality white wine vinegar

4 to 5 ounces very small new potatoes

Handful of very small haricots verts (green beans)

2 large farm eggs

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small lettuce, such as a Little Gem, cleaned, trimmed, leaves separated

Handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

¼ cup Picholine or Niçoise olives

Use needle nose pliers to remove the pin bones from the salmon, running your clean fingertips gently over the fillet to find them. Use a sharp thin knife to scale the skin.

Preheat an oven to 250 degrees (I use a toaster oven).

Season the fillet with salt and pepper and brush it lightly with olive oil. Put it on the rack of a small roasting pan, skin side down, set it in the oven, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, fill a medium saucepan half full with water, add 2 tablespoons of salt, and set over high heat.

Put the shallot into a small bowl, sprinkle with salt and add the vinegar. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the potatoes and cook until very tender when pierced with a fork; the time will vary based on size. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to a plate or bowl; set them aside.

Put the green beans in the saucepan and cook until tender, from 90 seconds to as long as 4 minutes for full-sized beans. Use the slotted spoon to add them to the potatoes.

Carefully set the eggs into the water, cover the pan, and remove from the heat. Let sit for 15 minutes.

While the eggs rest, finish the dressing. Stir the mustard into the shallots and vinegar and whisk in the olive oil. Season with black pepper, taste and correct for salt.

To assemble the salads, put two large bowls or plates next to your work surface. Divide the lettuce between the two plates, placing it near the edge of the plate, in a little stack. Set a salmon fillet alongside. Add the potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and olives, grouping them separately.

Remove the eggs from the water and break them in half by smacking both on their equators and then gently breaking them all the way in two. Use a spoon to scoop out the egg and set it in the middle of the plate.

Season lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle the vinaigrette over everything.

Scatter chives on top and enjoy right away.

There is a subtle nod to the French flag in this cocktail, with red watermelon juice, white pastis, ice and blueberries. It is quite pretty but it is even more refreshing. Do not leave out the salt as it is the ingredient that brings everything together in sweet delicious harmony.

Pastis Cocktail

Makes 1 drink

Several ripe blueberries

3 or 4 spearmint leaves

1 ½ ounce Ricard pastis, or other brand of choice (see Note below)

1 ½ ounce Lillet Rosé

2 ounces fresh watermelon juice

1 juicy lime wedges

Crushed ice

Fleur de sel or salt

Thread the blueberries onto a bamboo skewer and set it aside.

Put the mint leaves into a cocktail shaker and use a wooden pestle to muddle them to release their oils. Add the pastis, Lillet and watermelon juice. Squeeze in the juice of the lime wedge and add the wedge itself to the shaker. Stir well.

Fill a highball or similar glass with crushed ice and strain the mixture into it. Add 2 or 3 pinches of salt, slip the skewer of blueberries into the glass, and enjoy right away.

Note: “Pastis” is a generic term in France, as “beer” is here. It is almost always ordered by its brand name. Ricard is probably the best known, but there are many producers. You may also use pernod or, my favorite, absinthe, in this cocktail. These three spirits have a significant taste of licorice and anise.

Michele Anna Jordan founded the Sonoma-Provence Exchange in 1994; it thrived until about 2000. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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