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In Nice there are three local street foods you should sample:
- Légumes farcis
- Beignet de Cébettes
Socca is a niçoise classic, outdoing the salade niçoise or bouillabaisse which actually comes from Marseille. Made of chickpea flour mixed with water and olive oil and cooked in a wood burning oven like pizza dough, then portioned out on small paper plates to waiting customers. It’s total street food. Salty, a little greasy, fabulous. If you’re in the Var it’s called cade.
Légumes farci is something you’ve seen: simply stuffed vegetables. Usually they are stuffed with beef and bread crumbs and broiled in an oven. You can use onion, zucchini, pepper – all featured in this photo – or eggplant and tomatoes.
Fried scallion lumps. Honestly, I don’t know what else to call them. In French they are called beignet des cébettes. They are scallions chopped and mixed with a thick bread batter then deep fried. I guess some people would called them tempura scallions. Beignet are very common for all vegetables, but the onion are a classic. Onion rings, anyone?
But if you want something a bit sweet, a bit more upscale. Go to Amorino near Place Massena for chocolat chaud or better yet, ice cream.
All natural, all simple, all subtle, creamy and wonderful with a chantilly that is more cream than sugar and so worth it.
Visit the Modern Art Museum. Even if you don’t like modern art there are some cool exhibits. One of a dress made entirely of bottles. I will wear it at my first book signing.
If you’re like the husband and can’t stand the art, race through it to get to the top floor, where you’re rewarded with an excellent view:
Then there’s Carnival. Which takes place every year at the end of February going into March. Parade with devil floats included.
There is always more. There is shopping – of which I did in abundance – I can’t help it, they have a Fossil store. There are plenty of museums, archaeological sites, and landmarks. Nice is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the oldest in France and has a rich history which I will not repeat here so as not to bore you to death.
So in this short overview, I say, “Visit Nice.”
I have too many projects. I do that to myself. Besides the everyday work, the everyday study of the French language, there is life, there is food, there is writing, there is cooking. Sometimes all of the writing projects I have on my table in front of me get a little out of control. When things get stressful and I can’t stare at my kitchen or my desk anymore, it’s time for a road trip and ice cream.
The tourists are mostly gone. The roads are now calm and almost quiet and the towns are easy to maneuver through on foot. In celebration the husband and I went to Castellet, one of my favorite places in the Var. It’s set between Bandol and Cassis, high up on a hill that offers an amazing view going all the way out to the sea.
Besides cute shops and two very good restaurants there is L’Art Gourmand which makes amazing ice cream. The husband got cactus-lime and peach and I had strawberry and gingerbread. They also do rose, violet and lavender ice cream that are out of this world.
Inside the shop, you can also buy chocolates and dainty candies and cookies that are native to Provence. Like every space in Castellet, the building is renovated, Medieval stone. It’s luminous, the walls are pale, but there’s something about the shape – slightly uneven – that tells you it’s been there for hundreds of years.
And after you leave the shop, walk up a little hill, through little streets and eat your ice cream while looking out onto this view. Quiet and mountainous and full of vineyards.
It’s almost fall. While I’m holding onto the last remnants of summer fruits and vegetables with both hands, I couldn’t help but buy a slice of pumpkin at the market. But I had no idea what I’m going to do with it. So I tried Lasagna.
Pumpkin Vegetable Lasagna
- pesto (preferably homemade)
- lasagna sheets
- tomato sauce
- tomato paste or fresh tomatos
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
Begin by roasting the pumpkin in the oven at 175°C for about 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender and soft. In the last 15 minutes of roasting, add eggplant, sliced to about 1/8 inch thickness.
When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, cut away the skin and in a bowl mash the pumpkin up like you would potatoes.
In a baking tin of your choice (I used my bread tin since it was a good size for two people), put a thin layer of tomato sauce mixed with olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Place your lasagna sheets on top and then add a thin layer of mashed pumpkin, eggplant, ricotta, and on top spread half a teaspoon of pesto.
Add another layer of lasagna sheets and this time add tomato sauce and either your paste or fresh tomatos before continuing on with the rest of your layers. I have three layers of each ingredient, but I was over zealous and wanted to use all of the pumpkin.
When you’re done add the final layer of lasagna sheets, drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and tomato sauce. Top with shredded cheese of choice: comté, gruyère, parmesan, mozzarella etc.
The beauty of vegetable lasagna is that you can prepare it before hand and stick it in the fridge for cooking later in the day. I would have taken a photograph of the finished product, but the husband and I were too hungry.
It’s an odd combination, I know. But the sweetness of the pumpkin offsets the tang of the ricotta and tomato and mixes nicely with the nut of the eggplant. Everything comes together with an easy, soft texture and flavors that are each subtle, but noticeable that blend and don’t overpower.
Now this project is over for today and I have to move on to others. One story revision and guacamole await.
The women of my family have this disease. Actually I’m not sure if it’s a disease. Experts say addiction is a disease, but is it really? Who knows. Anyway, I’m talking about ice cream. We are all addicted to ice cream. This dates back at least to my grandmother who, I’m told, can polish off a half gallon of ice cream in under an hour.
I, personally am addicted to the sundae. Whipped cream, toppings, peanut butter mixed with something minty and a cherry. Heaven.
So there was one place I had to go when I was in Plymouth and if you go to the south shore of Massachusetts you have to go there too.
They make homemade ice cream. If you go to their location in Whitman you can meet the cows that give the cream while enjoying a cone of your favorite flavor. No joke. This place has been around for years and I have fond memories of poking cows with one hand and holding an ice cream cone with another.
My favorite flavor, and indeed the only one I ever get there now is peppermint patty. Isn’t it beautiful?
That was the mom’s cup of ice cream. I got mine covered in peanut butter sauce.
Don’t laugh or make a face. It’s the most amazing thing ever. Peppermint and peanut butter. Yum.
That was the evening.
In the morning we had breakfast at a place with a giant metal chicken out front.
Percy’s Place is another small chain on the south shore that boasts the biggest breakfast menu in New England. Maybe the world. It’s pretty much all they serve. I think they even have grits if you want grits.
True to quaint New England restaurants it’s filled with kitsch paraphernalia and Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses-esque paintings on the walls.
The breakfasts are gigantic, you won’t need to eat lunch or even dinner, and are fantastic.
I had the farmers breakfast. Two scrambled eggs with chives on a bed of cottage cheese. Corn bread, Boston baked beans, and a turkey sausage. Served with coffee in a Percy’s coffee mug. I brought home a mug for the husband who also has happy, big bellied memories of eating at Percy’s. He was pleased and has been drinking his coffee out of it every morning so far.
Everything is slightly greasy at Percy’s. Not in a bad way. In a home cooked, fill you up and ship you out so you can spend the rest of your morning and most of your afternoon running around on the farm. Corn bread is sweet, moist, crumbly. The baked beans are savory and hearty, the eggs are never runny. The coffee is a little weak, but refills are free. And they serve it in the glass pots with orange and green lids that you see at diners and truck stops all over the country.
If you like eggs benedict, by the way, they do that and about 9 variations of it. All fabulous.
Obviously my vacation centered around more than just food. I went shopping. I saw my friends. I didn’t answer any frantic emails from work. I met a psychic who told my future. And of course I spent time with my wonderful sister and mother.
And ice cream. I ate a lot of ice cream.
Andernos to Toulon is a seven hour drive. As I can’t drive a standard transmission to save my life, the husband did, not most, but all of the driving. I slept in the passenger seat. We stopped off at Nîmes for a break. Why someone thought putting the front piece of an ancient Roman theater at a rest stop is and will always be beyond me. But there it was.
The last leg of the trip took me to Aix-en-Provence for dinner Monday evening. Aix is one of my favorite cities in France, because it’s a university town and I will always be a university student at heart. It’s not by the sea, but on the edge of the Luberon mountains with lovely streets, good shopping and most of all a wide variety of restaurants.
After finding that the restaurant we originally wanted to go to was closed, we settled for L’Antioche, a Lebanese restaurant that we had been to last year and enjoyed.
Dinner was simple. Any Lebanese restaurant should do a good mezze and this one is no exception. Hummus, smoked caviar d’aubergine with sesame, crème fraiche with scallions, fried cheese things with spices, pita bread, taboulé, hand rolled grape leaves with meat and rice, a pita sliced open and baked with lamb and spices, rolled beef “samosas” and falafel. I love Lebanese food because there’s not a crustacean to be found.
I wanted to take a close up photo of the man rolling the grape leaves but I was too embarrassed to ask.
It’s simple, it’s delicious and even though it’s kind of meant as an appetizer, as we learned the first time around – a mezze for two is definitely not an appetizer. Antioche, though not a fancy establishment, nor a big one. Most of the restaurant spills out onto the street.
It is excellent food for a good price. The waitstaff is very friendly and tried not to look when they saw me taking photos of everything, including the low-lit dining room and each plate individually.
That is until I got annoyed with having to stand up and just made a sample plate to photograph.
My favorite was the taboulé, which is fresh and light and full of yummy green things and onion and tomato that my body craved after my spitted pork. The second favorite is the caviar d’aubergine which is, as I said smoked so that it has a wonderful wooded flavor that is captured and absorbed into the taste of the eggplant adding deeper flavor to the complex vegetable.
For dessert? Well, if you’ve never had Arabian pastries you really should. But I couldn’t resist the husband’s offer of more ice cream and so we set off to find a place.
On Cours Mirabeau, the main street of Aix, we found heaven. Organic, homemade ice cream. What could be better? (Salted caramel on top.)
I had coconut and pana cotta-caramel. The husband had banana and speculoos.
The night and my vacation was over by 9pm when we got into the car and drove the 45 minutes back to our apartment. There we were greeted by a very angry and distressed cat. It’s fresh vegetable soups for the rest of the week for me while I digest all the food from this past weekend.
This weekend I went to Andernos on the western coast of France, where I got to see the other side of the Atlantic ocean. That may not seem like a big deal, but it was to me, after spending my entire childhood in New England.
No road trip would be complete without enough food to feed six people. Even though there were only two of us.
The rest stops, like the rest of France, have vineyards behind them.
Ironically, the region of Bordeaux and especially the quaint towns of the coast look very much like the French-version of New England. Or the New England version of France. I can’t decide which.
Andernos is located in a part of the west coast known as Le Basin d’Arcachon. Because of the enclosed bay, when the tide goes out of the basin, it really goes out. Boats are left resting lopsided in the sand for the water to come back in.
We found a coffee shop that served real, good coffee, and blueberry muffins. It was clearly based on an American café, but as I often miss my coffee shop hang outs, it was a welcome sight. After my run in the morning, the husband and I spent time reading and writing there.
There was a zoo not far away, where the husband and I visited to get a look at the lions. He said as we were getting into the car “Get a photo for Pistou, so he can see what a real lion is like.” I did.
One also roared for us, which was very impressive. If you’ve never heard a lion roar up close, it is as thunderous as the descriptions say. I’d have run if there wasn’t a cage separating us.
We also sampled the local pastry. Cannelé. Don’t get this confused with canoli as I do every 15 seconds. A firm pastry, consisting of cream, egg, flour, sugar and surprisingly, rum. When cooked properly – which is hard to find outside the Bordeaux region – they are moist and spongy, almost like a flan. I’d had them in a pastry shop in Toulon over a year ago and was disappointed. I am now, after having fresh made ones, a convert. There’s something satisfying about the bounce to the cooked dough and the pure, but not over powering sweetness.
The whole purpose of this trip was a wedding. Which involved lots of food, lots of wine and lots more food and wine.
Here I am at the vin d’honor, an aperitif that took place after the ceremony. Oysters (which are famous in the western border of France and which I can’t eat) and little petits-fours were served, but the wine and champagne were the main attraction. And the bride and groom of course.
This is my second glass of wine. A pinot-something that was old enough to have an aroma and taste of a white port. Fabulous. As a side note: I have to thank my wonderful student AB who lent me the dress.
After another glass of champagne we made our way to the reception, where dinner was awaiting us:
Pig roasted on a spit. No wait, not one pig – three pigs.
Here is my reaction captured on film. It is a cross between “What the —?” and “Oh my god, I get to try pig roasted over a spit.” I kind of wanted to change into my medieval garb, but then remembered I didn’t bring it with me.
Pig roasted over a spit, cooked by two men in berets.
This required another glass of champagne.
Here is what my pig on a spit looked like when it was served. Pretty harmless until I saw the heads sitting in the cold storage the next day. (Photo not included) In the end it was very moist, very flavorful, very tender, almost as if it had been soaked in milk before hand. (not a kosher evening). The men in berets knew what they were doing, despite sipping red wine throughout the preparation.
We tried to make the next day more moderate, but on our first night in Andernos, the husband’s family had found an amazing ice cream place by the port. So we had an ice cream dinner – which is not at all moderate. My flavors were peanut and straticella which is a simple cream flavor with chocolate bits inside. Topped with whipped cream and salted caramel. I don’t know who invented salted caramel, but they deserve a medal.
No beach-front vacation ends without a beautiful sunset. So here’s your portion. Notice the tide is back.