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Bacchus: the Greek god of wine and drunkenness. His spirit has visited Toulon at the beginning of every spring, and for the last three years (since I’ve moved to France) it has become part of our tradition as well.

 

The Fête de Bacchus is a wine event that the husband and I look forward to in order to replenish our stock of good wines for the spring and summer months, while patiently waiting for the foire aux vins that happens all over France in September. For three days, Friday to Sunday the big white tent is erected in Place d’Arms in the center of the city, and the wine makers, sellers, and connoisseurs come rolling in every morning from all over France to peddle their noble fare. They open their stands at 10am and the place is packed by 10:30.

 

Bottles are uncorked and lined up. Let the tasting begin.

 

We had a list of what we wanted this year. Chateauneuf Domaine du Rempart had returned and we made our usual purchase of their 2005 and 2001, both excellent years with very different characters. The 2005 we’ll be drinking this summer with something humble but heavy on a stormy day. The 2001, a deeper wine that needs to be aired, enjoyed, sipped along side something like boar will be saved for December.

 

Alsace wines are always a big purchase for us at any foire aux vins. Sure, you can buy Rieslings and Pinot Gris in the supermarkets here, but the wines from the smaller producers that come to Bacchus have much more flavor, as complex as they are subtle. We bought one of each – the Riesling, the Pinot Gris and a Gewurztraminer each with a different undertone and melody. The Riesling is dry and lemony, the Pinot Gris a bit spicy and the Gewurztraminer is soft and peachy.

There were two discoveries this year. As I’m looking to continue my studies in gastronomy at a school in the Anjou region, I insisted that we take a taste of the Angevin wines. Our first taste was of an older variety of grape the Grolleau noir which neither the husband nor I had ever heard of, let alone tasted. The producer told us it was a grape that was “out of fashion” at the moment having been replaced by the Cabernet.

A interesting scent hit our noses when we took a sniff. “It smells like a light, creamy cheese,” the husband said. I was relieved, I thought my nose was playing tricks. The taste was oddly the same. A very fruity flavor, but with a creamy taste that reminded us of, yes, a creamy cheese spread with some sort of berry sauce. According to some wine experts, all the Grolleau vines should be ripped up and replaced with something with more potential, but I am interested in opening this bottle and tasting the strange flavor again to make my final decision. Maybe it doesn’t have aging potential, but neither do I.

By this point we were hungry and a bit tipsy and our tongues were incapable of tasting further. It was time for a snack.

Of sausage.

At any wine tasting event, there are always produit du terroir, because you can’t buy wine without being inspired by the food. Or vice versa. Mushrooms, macaroons, cheeses, foie gras, sausages; they were all out in force.

On our way through the meat and cheese section we came upon a lone wine stand. It was odd to see this one separate from the others of its kind until we looked closer. It wasn’t just wine- it was hypocras.

I was excited. Ever since I first tasted this medieval beverage at Château Trigance a few years ago, I’ve loved having it as an aperitif, but it’s not something that’s easy to find. La Cuvée des Elfes had many varieties, hypocras flavored with rose, raspberries, even pepper. It was the last one that we purchased and promised the producer that we’d check out his website in case we wanted to order some more at a future date.

There was more tasting. Many of the vendors themselves were nipping at their own glasses between lulls of customers and curious tasters.

There was a lull for us too, as we had lunch at the local Japanese restaurant – and I continued my tasting with one of the biggest glasses of a local red I’ve never needed.

When we got home I rounded up the bottles and looked them over. Three whites, an Angevin rosé with a flavor completely different from that of their Provencal cousins, one hypocras, two Chateuneuf, our Anjou red and a nice Saint Emilion 2007 – a red Bordeaux that is fast becoming my favorite of the region. We won’t be going thirsty this season.

All in all, it was a festive morning and afternoon devoted to the grape. Confrères were wearing their ceremonial robes and medals in honor of the occasion – this is the twenty year anniversary after all – and we humble consumers were mostly drunk by noon. Just at Bacchus intended.

Toulon is not an international city. It’s French. Very French. And in poor condition. About fifteen years ago the mayor was ineffective, the police corrupt, the red light district booming and you did NOT walk around the city at night. Period. Unless you wanted drugs. Which you might. That’s alright.

Today, Toulon is under the leadership of Falco, a man born and raised in Toulon, a man who is admittedly running the city like a minor king, but also doing a good job of it. So who am I to complain?

I’m not.

Toulon is an up and coming city, but it’s still highly traditional. The shops and cafés close at 7pm, the restaurants don’t open until 8pm, and in between you have a small collection of strange bars and the American influence – you know what I mean – fast food joints, which I avoid at all costs. The food is French and sometimes Italian. There are a few Indian places, only two of them good. One Thai place WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY up in le Farons and some random sushi joints. However, I cannot eat sushi, being allergic (or at least believing I’m allergic) to shellfish and in the mean time strange bars are not my thing.

So what do I do on a Wednesday night, when the new movies come out and the husband and I plan a little date?

First there are drinks at Gaetano Café. When I first came to Toulon 7 years ago, the Gaetano was simply a family run pizza joint that sold relatively good pizza and had a huge open area seating near Galarie Lafayette and Place d’Arms. Since then the family has expanded a bit, buying the small place next to them and opening up not so much a café but a nice bar with a fresh, youthful look and the best of all COCKTAILS.

Cosmopolitans and margaritas! The French outside of the big cities are new to cocktails, so finding a place in Toulon that make a proper margarita or cosmo is huge. It’s not in the right glass, but the taste was there. We were pleased. The music is good, the bartender is friendly and the price is pretty correct – 7Euro50. They also serve little appetizers, which is unusual for a bar in France. Nothing great, but if you’re looking for some baked Camembert with fresh bread, nice sliced ham, an olive plate, small pizza, you can find it here and it makes a nice snack or shared starter before dinner.

We headed to Teppanyaki Roll just a few blocks away from Place Liberté and cinema for dinner. If you want Japanese in American-sized portions this place is for you. It’s a small place with black and red decor, a slightly more relaxed décor than Sushi Roll, it’s sister restaurant located right next door.

Inside there’s a lot of red light. It was a very nice for ambiance, but made for bad photography. The restaurant is tiny and it’s possible to see everything from where I was sitting.  There was an electric fire appliance to keep us warm. The husband tried to get out of the way of my shot, but he didn’t try too hard.

I was a little worried about sitting in that type of indoor/outdoor greenhouse style seating during the night. While the days have been warm here in Toulon, the nights are very cold and I didn’t want to be freezing. But it was well heated and very comfortable, no drafts at all. Maybe it was the wine and saki we order.

Remember when I said I don’t eat sushi? That’s not entirely true. If the restaurant chef is willing to prepare me a vegetarian option, I’ll go for it. Remember when I said Toulon is a traditional city? That means anything vegetarian is viewed with suspicion. But not here. They were happy to make me nori, rice rolls with only avocado. It was even on their menu.

The husband and I split them. I wouldn’t have been able to eat all eight and then my main dish. They were very simple, very tasty. What more can be said?

While we munched we watched our chef prepare our meals. This is what teppanyaki is all about, of course. Or at least that’s how they interpret it in Toulon.

In a small restaurant such as this one, it was impossible to put the chef anywhere other than where he was. But he is visible no matter where you are in the restaurant and entertaining to watch. I had been here before Wednesday, and he was more playful the first time, but we all have our days.

I ordered chicken with mushrooms and leeks in a sweet sauce.

Along with a side of sautéed vegetables

It was a MASSIVE plate. I’m not sure how I finished it all, but the bathroom scale is confirming that I did. The chicken, mushroom, and leeks were very tasty and though the sauce was sweet it had a savory flavor behind it. The vegetables were well prepared, not too oily and still had a bit of crunch to them – the way I like to eat my cooked veggies. I did however, find the dish too salty. I grew up in a household that abhorred salt and consequently I don’t like foods that have a lot of salt in them – pretzels, fries, chips, popcorn – if there’s a little salt that’s one thing, if they are covered in it, it’s inedible for me. There was enough flavor here to make the dish enjoyable – otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it – but I do think the chef could have cut back on the salt a bit and created something just as flavorful.

The husband had beef teriyaki and egg fried rice.

He claims to have never had teriyaki before. I’m not sure if that’s true, I must have taken him somewhere in the States where we had a teriyaki dish, but whatever. He really wanted to try this sweet dish and enjoyed it, saying that the beef was perfectly cooked, very tender and moist. For the record, he did not find the food too salty at all.

Even though I was stuffed we had to order something for dessert. Mostly because we had plenty of time to kill before our movie at ten. And there’s one thing that Teppanyaki Roll serves that I’d been talking about since the first time I went there. Maybe it’s not authentic Japanese, but if you’re looking for the most wonderful, most unhealthful dessert, most amazing creation in the world and can’t find it in France- you’ve found it now.

Do you know what it is? Ten points if you guess correctly!

Fried Ice Cream. Oh baby.

It’s not something for everyday – it can’t be. But on those rare occasions when I’m feeling naughty, I can’t resist it. Deep frying combined with ice cream. Amazing. Served with just a touch of caramel and I was in heaven. Despite being totally bad for you, there is something so pleasing about the contrast of warm, fried dough and the cool, soft texture of the ice cream. I love it.

There are much better cities in France to visit. There are more authentic Japanese restaurants out there. But I’m in Toulon and I like to eat out. When I don’t want classic French cuisine, Teppanyaki Roll is a fine option. A friendly ambiance, good food, huge portions and plenty of variety on the menu from sushi to tempura to stir-fry to kobe beef, all for a fair price. I’d like them to go easier on the salt, but otherwise Teppanyaki Roll is a fine choice for a Wednesday out on a dinner and movie date.

Do you ever have moments when you’re so enthralled in your work that you do stupid things like stick your finger in your ear or pick your nose (hey, when you have to pick, you have to pick – just not in public) or make weird beeping noises to yourself and yell at your computer-

Only to look up and see your super cute student looking at you through the classroom window?

Yeah. I had a fabulous day.

He really is that attractive. That smile with the dimples…

Anyway.

I should be writing. No really. I should be writing. I’m behind about 2000 words from where I want to be tonight. But I never celebrated my 50K. I never made apple pie, or pumpkin ice cream (though I don’t know how I would as I don’t have an ice cream maker) or anything savory. I didn’t have the time.

But tonight, I’m wiped, I’m out of steam, my head is a muddled mess of characters and settings and prose, etc. Sometimes I write sarcastic things into the narrative that my characters would never say. Clearly I need a break. I need to celebrate. I need to clear my head and dope myself up on sugar.

I need cookies.

And these are my most deadly cookies yet.

Dark chocolate Nutella, cocoa powder, oatmeal, cereal flour, dark chocolate chips.

They’re amazing.

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup cereal flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons Nutella
  • 1 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • dark chocolate chips
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.

Cream butter and sugar as normal. Add egg and cocoa powder, mix well. Add 2 tablespoons of Nutella. Mix well.

Add all your dry ingredients, flours, oats, powders, salts. Mix together until its well blended. Add your last tablespoon of Nutella and your chocolate chips. Mix one last time, quickly on low speed. Just enough to combine everything but not blend the Nutella in, you want a little bit of a swirl.

Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 180°C (350°F) for 11 minutes.

 

When it comes to the flour, I know cereal flour is a strange choice – I mean really, who wants seeds in their cookies? But it’s good. Not only does it add a great crunch, but the cereal flour is slightly salty, added to the bitterness of the cocoa, the amazing sweetness of the Nutella and chocolate. There are so many rich, complex flavors here. I had to step away from the kitchen and lock myself in the bedroom just so I’d stop eating them and write this entry.

 

Melty chocolate goodness with salt and bitter cocoa, warm just out of the oven.

And in case you’re wondering I’m at 55,000 words.

Tomorrow I have a 1 hour wait at the train station in the morning and the afternoon. Not to mention the 20 minute train ride. I was going to buy a pastry, but now I have cookies – and plenty of time to write.

Also, yes that is my computer right next to the mixing bowl. I told you it was covered in flour.

Before you read the first part of this, you’re going to need a drink. I recommend a vodka tonic with a twist of lemon – or lime if you have it.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s August. To many people August means high heat and vacation. To me, no month is more dreaded. Not because of the heat, I love the heat. Not because I have to work while everyone goes on vacation – I get to take my vacation in September when everyone else is left with memories and mountains of work. I dread August because no other month in the year reminds me more that I am a foreigner in a hostile and confusing land. Or is it confused? I can never tell.

This comes two fold:

First, August is the month when I must begin the long and paperwork filled process of renewing my titre de séjour. No matter that my titre doesn’t expire until November. I have to begin making my appointments with the marie (town hall), getting my list of requirements – which changes every year, getting new official photographs taken, finding every piece of official looking paper with my name on it and then photocopy all of it – in triplicate.

Second, August is the month when everyone in Europe comes to Provence. And I do mean EVERYONE in Europe. La Seyne and Toulon, which are quiet, desolate towns 11 months out of the year suddenly explode in population. The boat I take to work is suddenly completely packed and I’m lucky to find a seat. Shopping at the market becomes a wrestling match where I have to push and shove in order to get to the table, then push and shove again in order to pick out the best vegetables.

But there’s another drawback to these out-of-towners. Obviously, many of them aren’t French. Obviously, I couldn’t care less, except that every time I go out of my house and open my mouth my accent immediately gets me treated like a tourist.

This was no where more apparent than in two examples from this week.

On my way to work yesterday morning, I walked through the market and decided to stop off at a fruit vendor and buy a peach for breakfast. I can buy a peach in French. It’s not hard. I can tell you what kind of peach I want. I can tell you if I want one that’s bien mûr (nice and ripe) or if I want one un peu dur (a bit hard) for later in the week. But as soon as I said “Je voudrais un pêche jaune” the man started answering me in English. Never mind that I was answering him in French. Never mind that his English was so terrible he had to repeat himself 3 times before I understood what he was asking. Never mind that I asked him to please speak French because I couldn’t understand him. I’m not a French citizen. Therefore he was required to speak to me in very bad English.

Today, was slightly different. I was in Toulon teaching. Went to the park after to have lunch. Then decided to stop and have a glass of wine at a café before heading home. I sat down at a café in the center of the city, near a lovely fountain, where I can watch the world walk by. The waiter came up to me. “Madame?

Un verre de rosé.

He didn’t even ask me to repeat it. He called over his colleague who “speaks English.”

“Tell me,” she said.

Un verre de rosé.

So now I had two blank faces staring at me.

Un verre de rosé,” I said again a little louder and getting lightly annoyed.

“Glass wine?” she asked.

C’est quoi j’ai dit.

“Red?”

J’ai dit rosé. Trois fois.

“Red?”

ROSE!” I half shouted and then turned my back on both of them.

They brought my glass. It was rosé.

The fact is, I’ve been to this café before. The fact is, I order a glass of wine all the time. The fact is that this ONLY happens to me in August where, whenever I open my mouth and my accent marks me as a foreigner, I’m immediately treated like an ignorant tourist who can’t speak any French.

And worst of all – I’m marked as an ENGLISH tourist.

Vous venez d’où en Angleterre?” They ask me.

Nul part. Je suis americane.

Quoi?” My god, she answered me in French – cannot compute.

After a very large inward sigh on my part: “London. I’m from London.”

C’est bien, Londres.

“Yeah, it’s great.” Too bad I’ve only been once when I was 14.

 Ironically, going to the marie where I can present proof that I have an address, a job and a life here in France, despite the paperwork, appointments and photographs, is much more pleasant. As they expect me to speak French, when I speak it, they don’t call over their colleague immediately upon me presenting my passport.

Also, to be clear, I have nothing against the British. But as it’s  British tourists that come to Provence and not American, apparently the locals can’t comprehend that there might be an American in their midst.

25 days of August to go. I’m counting them down.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the summer with salad. Strawberry Spinach Salad.

I begged the husband to buy strawberries when he went shopping yesterday. It’s the last of the season, and they’re a bit pricier than in June, but I will miss them when they’re gone. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that they are still around, albiet in smaller quantities.

Perhaps you’ve seen this salad at restaurants. But it’s easy and tasty to make at home.

  • Strawberries
  • Fresh spinach
  • Chopped pecans
  • Sliced chicken
  • Gorgonzola
  • Onion – red works best.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • Honey

(not pictured: salt and pepper)

For this salad, I used already prepared chicken slices, but if you’re cooking your own chicken, you probably want to do that first.

Wash your fruits and veggies. If you don’t have chopped pecans, crumble, crush or chop them yourself. There’s no real reason for this other than that they’re easier to get on the fork and eat.

Slice your strawberries. Mince your onion. As it says above, red onion works best as the flavor gives the best contrast to the strawberry, but I forgot to specify what kind of onions I wanted when I gave my shopping list to the husband, so I had to use yellow.

Crumble or thinly cut your gorgonzola into chunks. I had a very soft, creamy cheese this time, so it was easier to cut it.

For the dressing:

Put some balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, honey, and dijon mustard into a salad bowl and whisk together. Only use a tiny bit of mustard and less than half a teaspoon of honey. These are really for an extra zing to your vinaigrette and you don’t want them to overwhelm your salad. You can use balsamic vinegar alone if something more simple is desired.

Add your chicken, strawberries, pecans, and onion. Coat them in the dressing.

 

 

Add spinach and gorgonzola. Toss and serve.

The combination of sweet strawberries, the crunch of pecans, bite of the onion, and the gorgonzola give this salad a wonderful and fresh flavor. It’s fun to eat and extremely satisfying. Especially when you’ve had a hard day of trying to prove yourself in a country that – at least for a month – can’t figure out that you speak their language.

The French word pâte is very familiar to me. I buy it in the supermarkets to cook tarts, quiches, pizzas, pies, and it’s used for a variety of pre-baked pastries. There are a bunch of variations: pâte brisée, pâte sablé, pâte pizza, pâte feuilletée etc. But for some bizarre reason I could never think of what the translation for this word was. It seemed obvious, right on the tip of my tongue, something I should know, being as obsessed with food as I am – I mean, it’s the only thing I can talk about fluently in the French language.

I figured out what it is today. Very simple, though I’m ashamed to admit it – dough. Pâte = dough.

It’s 30°C today. For those of you not on the Celsius system 30°C is 86°F, is 303.15 Kelvin. A good day to go to the beach, which I did yesterday when it was a mere 28°C. Today, being hotter, I decided to spend some time with my favorite type of pâte and bake. Real smart.

I should rephrase that. I didn’t decide to bake, I volunteered. The English school I’m working for is throwing a party on Tuesday. A party that will feature me in a short nightgown, heels and a boa. But that’s beside the point. Seeing as how we may have around 50 people, the party-organizers were worried about food. So I volunteered to make 100 cookies.

Of course, most smart people would make 100 cookies of the same kind – like chocolate chip. Right? Well, I can’t do that. Call it stupidity, call it over thinking, call it over achieving, I decided to make 5 different types of cookies, all variations on chocolate chip:

  • chocolate chip
  • peanut-butter chocolate chip
  • white and dark chocolate
  • Nutella pinwheels
  • white chocolate and coconut

Hey, how often do the French get good, chewy cookies? The answer is never. Obviously I love French cuisine, but they haven’t mastered the cookie. They make hard, flat things with pépites de choco – disgusting tiny chips that are a sorry excuse for chocolate.

I started at 10 and finished at 3. My kitchen started out like this:

By the second batch of cookies – the peanut butter ones – it looked like this:

If you’re wondering about the hammer, it’s what I use to smash up the chocolate bars.

And who doesn’t love raw cookie dough?

There was a break for lunch. By the time I was done with the last batch of cookies, the dough was starting to look strange to me (like a word does if you stare at it for too long) and I was doped up on sugar and sugar fumes.

The hardest were the Nutella Pinwheels, which are honestly a pain because cookie dough was not meant to be rolled and sliced. But I got them done, and they look lovely.

All my cookies look lovely, even when you’re staring at them cross-eyed in pre-cooked dough form.

Now the question remains: how does one transport 100 cookies? Seriously. Do I put them all in a bowl? Do I keep them separate so that the flavors don’t taint each other? Do I wrap them on plates and carrying them through the streets of Toulon, my skirt swinging along around my legs like some lost waitress? Where should I store them? Is there room in my fridge? I should have thought of these things BEFORE I volunteered to make the cookies.

For the rest of the afternoon, I will sit in the shade, wisely like my cat. A fresh salad awaits me for dinner, because if I have one more piece of refined sugar, I might take off and soar back to the U.S.

Another thing I’ll be doing – never looking at another bit of pâte n’importe de quoi for at least a week.

I like vodka. I love cosmos. I like the occasional martini. And I love vodka sauce.

Sadly, martini means something drastically different here in France. It’s the name of a brand of aperitif – before dinner drink – that tastes nothing like a real vodka martini. It’s not a bad drink, it’s a dark caramel color sometimes, yellow-white like pastis other times, it’s a little sweet mixed with bitter herbs I think, but it’s not vodka.

Vodka sauce also does not exist here in France. This was horrifying to me, as I had discovered this wonderful pasta sauce only about 1 ½ years before I moved to France and was crushed when I couldn’t find it here.

So, I learned to make my own.

It’s actually not so hard, nor does it take a long time. It’s just a matter of having enough vodka on hand to create the recipe:

  • 1 cup of vodka
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 can of tomato paste, or concentrated tomatoes
  • 1 can of whole, peeled, stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • fresh basil
  • parsley
  • heavy cream
  • salt and pepper

 

When I make my vodka sauce I like to add something to it besides pasta. I asked the husband what he would like in his sauce and he said “Sausage” so off to the butcher we went. There was some consultation with the butcher when we walked in. I wanted something a bit spicy, but not the spiciness that comes with sausages like merguez or chorizo. In French, they are called piquant. I wanted something épicée, which is different – less burning your tongue off and more of an “ooo spice!” feeling.

Anyway, our butcher, who I like to call our butcher because he recognizes us, recommended these. Porc sausages laced with 3 types of pepper and some fresh herbs. They were 3 euros and the best part is that they are handmade and fresh, as in made that morning. As usual, I made one of my famous language faux-pas and forgot which language I was supposed to be speaking to who and said “OK, we’ll take two” to the butcher in English, right after I had said tu veux l’essayer? to the husband. (Do you want to try it?)

Back to the sauce:

Put the vodka and red pepper flakes into a bowl. Let them sit for 1 hour or more.

Heat up olive oil in a pan and cook the sausage. I recommend cooking the sausage through or almost completely through, so that you don’t have to wait for the sausage to finish cooking in the sauce which can take a long time.

Chop the garlic, basil and parsley (if fresh) and add to the the pan for about 30 seconds. Lower heat to low or medium-low.

Add the vodka, pepper mixture and simmer for about 5 minutes

 

Crush and add the peeled, stewed tomatoes, then add the tomato concentrate. Mix and let simmer.

Here I like to take out the cooked sausage and roughly chop it, and then put it back in the pan.

 

Add heavy cream or light cream (I’ve used both and they both come out fine) slowly, mixing as you go, until the sauce becomes a nice red-orange color. Let it cook over low heat for another 2-3 minutes and serve with pasta.

Some notes: this recipe does not dilute the vodka, and the taste of the vodka is VERY strong. I like it that way. However, if you do not, and just want the tang of the vodka, I recommend making sure you use a lot of heavy cream and diluting the vodka with some water.

This would be a must if you’re going to serve this to children, because honestly, I think the husband and I both got a little tipsy on this sauce, even though he loaded his down with cheese.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a weekend in France without a protest. The husband and I went to see a movie in Toulon on Saturday afternoon and when we walked out of the theater and stepped onto Boulevard de Strasbourg we saw hundreds of bikers.

Hundreds of bikers. Maybe even thousands. I didn’t know this many people owned motorcycles in France, but it shouldn’t surprise me as this part of the country that gets very little rain and rarely drops below 5°C in the winter.

They were protesting the government’s new decision to take down the warnings for the speed radars on the highways. Seriously. That’s all. The government isn’t lowering the speed limit or raising the fine. But they’re taking down the huge warning signs that proceed these radars about 1km before the actual radar, and people are mad.

They claim that the government is doing this for the money and not for safety reasons – which in all honesty is probably true – but wouldn’t it just be easier and safer to drive the speed limit instead of 150km/hr without a helmet?

Apparently not, and so the bikers of the Var took to the streets of Toulon, blocking traffic for miles – I mean kilometers.

The husband was happy we had taken the boat to the city instead of driving.

It’s been one of those weeks. You know the type where you don’t have much to do in reality, but the next week, which has a full calendar is looming up before you causing you to have a seizure. I worked this morning and rushed home to make taco salad. I rushed because I was impatient for the salad and STARVING. After eating I put the dishes in the sink and looked around the apartment and thought “My god what a mess.”

I started to clean. I tried to clean. But it was one of those days where I looked at the huge task and long list of things to do in front of me and couldn’t handle it. So I grabbed my paper journal, a book and some Euros and headed down to the port for a glass of wine.

I was walking to the park when I saw this:

 And said to myself “Where am I? Venice?”

 

Well, apparently I was.

 

The Carnival of Venice has come to La Seyne for the Pentecost weekend. (Pentecost is Monday) Complete with parade of whimsical masked figures straight out of some other century.

 

I followed the parade down to the Marie (town hall), the back up the street that lines the port, and then back up to the center of the town where everyone lingered around.

 

The costumes were spectacular.

 

And every so often one of the people would fall into a great pose.

 

Below was by far my favorite costume. Not only was it beautiful, but I have no idea how this woman was walking.

 

Unfortunately it was windy. Some of the people were having trouble keeping their headdresses straight.

 

Sometimes it pays to throw the housework out the window and go out for a glass of wine – that I never had by the way. After following the procession around, my feet were hurting and with the wind picking up, I knew that if I didn’t go home now, I’d never make it and probably get blown into the sea.

 

Did you expect me to cook again today? I didn’t. But here I am.

There was a bike race going on underneath my balcony today. It started around one and went until five.

Kind of odd, considering I live on a quiet street in a very quiet urban town. It’s just not the type of thing you’d expect to see after lunch.

Last month the first strawberries appeared and I celebrated. This month the first cherries appeared, and as soon as I saw them at the market, my mouth started to water.

My first thought was: I really need to buy some.

My second thought was: Chocolate Covered Cherries

I finally bought a handful today. Most were eaten as dessert, but then I remembered I had chocolate in the house. And I also had rum.

Ok, so a cherry liquor would have worked better, but I worked with what I had.

Honestly, I didn’t know if this would take. I mean, how exactly does one make chocolate-covered liquored fruit?

First wash your cherries. (Did you hear about the contaminated Spanish cucumber scare? Wash your cucumbers!) Put them in a small bowl and cover them with liquor. Let sit.

Bowl water in a large saucepan, with a bain-marie on top. Once the water is boiling add chocolate and a little bit of milk.

This is the most delicate part, I think. I’ve worked with chocolate a lot and it’s a finicky sweet thing when melted. I found that adding milk to the melted chocolate keeps the chocolate or the sugar in the chocolate from cooking and caramelizing – if that’s true or not I don’t know, but it seems to work for me.

It also seems to require patience. I wait until the chocolate looks completely melted before I mix the milk in to form a paste and then I usually add more milk – just to make sure. I mix lightly, slowly. The spoon doesn’t whip around the bain-marie, but mostly spreads the chocolate around and I let the milk do its thing on its own.

Then take the cherries that have been soaking in the liquor and dip them into the bain-marie, coating them with the chocolate.

Make sure you steer clear of the steam from the water! I burned my wrists a few times.

Put the cherries on a baking sheet and let cool.

I wasn’t sure if the rum would actually stick to the cherries. Honestly, they’d only been soaking for maybe 15 minutes, but the end result was a very light rum taste that off-set the sweetness of the chocolate and acid-berry of the cherry.

Ideally, if I’d had any forethought I would have let the cherries sit in the rum for an hour or two. But I’ll try that next time – maybe after I return from the market tomorrow.

What did I do this weekend? Rien de grave or rather, nothing serious.

I taught on Saturday morning. I take the boat in to Toulon and on a sunny spring day, it really is a delightful ride, almost making up for having to teach on a Saturday morning.

I ran 14 kilometers this morning. It was hot, but I usually go early to avoid the heat and the crowds and the traffic. Running along the shoreline in the morning is wonderful. Mist rises off of the mountains and underneath the soft narration of whatever audiobook I happen to be listening to -Anna Karenina right now – is the sound of the waves lapping against the sand.

I made bread from my favorite recipe: Garlic Rosemary Foccacia. Although this time I didn’t use rosemary, but the basil I have growing on my balcony. I would have taken a photo but the husband and I ate most of the bread already. It’s that hard to resist.

I made gazpacho. If you’ve never made gazpacho, it’s SUPER easy. I don’t even measure.

  • Around 5 tomatoes
  • Around 2 onions (one white, one yellow)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 cucumber
  • Garlic to taste (If you’re me, you add A LOT) I won’t even tell you how much.
  • Tomato juice – I usually buy a liter and use about half.
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Herbs of your choice (basil, rosemary, herbs de provence)
  • Olive oil which I poured in until I thought it was enough. Maybe ¼ of a cup?

Chop the vegetables. They don’t even have to look nice. Just make them small. Why?

 Because then you put everything into a food processor and process the heck out of it. Stir. Taste. Add something (or not). Process some more.

 Pour into a bowl and put it in the fridge for an hour or two. Serve with bread. Maybe some garlic basil foccacia bread.

 

The husband and I climbed up a tower on the harbor of our town. We could see the whole town and the boat I take to work every morning.

  I didn’t think it would be this pretty because our town, up until about 5 years ago wasn’t the greatest. Up until 8 years ago Toulon wasn’t the greatest either. But it’s coming.

After lunch I laid in bed watching old reruns of Unsolved Mysteries. My guilty pleasure.

So it’s been a pretty lazy weekend. In two weeks, the husband will turn 30. Any thoughts of what to cook him? If you were a French man having an important birthday, what would you want to eat?

I have plenty of balcony-raised herbs to cook any type of meat known to man. And veggies too. Luckily they are out of reach of the cat, who seems to have a thing for leafy-greens. It’s going to be an herbal summer.

As of late, I’ve been pretty lazy when it comes to restaurants. I’ve been to some very good ones and visited my old favorites, including eating at the Indian restaurant on the corner every week. So in order to get the restaurant side of this blog running again, I bring  Le Jardin du Sommelier which is located not far from my apartment.

The restaurant, as far as I know was started by the Sommelier, who long story short, loves wine and loves to share his passion with people. He’s there when you come in, greets and seats you and then leaves you to mull over the menu and wine list.

An amuse-bouche was served – I took a bite of mine before snapping a photograph.

This was morue, a type of fish used usually in Caribbean cooking – although don’t quote me on that. It was topped with capers and marinated tomatoes. I’ve been trying to stay away from fish lately, but I like morue and couldn’t resist tasting it. It was soft and served fresh. The fish was flavorful without being overly fishy. The capers were nicely salted and the tomato well marinated.

With a name like Jardin du Sommelier, the highlight of this restaurant would have to be its wine. A sommelier is a trained and certified wine steward. Someone who specializes in all aspects of wine including wine and food pairings. And since this restaurant is owned by such a specialist, he had a nice offer – a glass of wine chosen to go with each course. We both decided to go with this offer and the sommelier came over to ask us if we would prefer a white or a rosé to go with our first course – the entrée. He suggest a white for both of us, and since he’s the guy who knows we agreed.

For the entrée, I ordered something I wasn’t expecting: slices of patta negra – Spanish ham – melon in mint and a croustillant de fromage frais which I have no idea how to translate except to say it was a rolled, crusty cheese thing, lightly fried. Ok, so I expected the ham, but I didn’t expect how fatty or thick it would be.

(the croustillant is on the bottom right)

Talk about fatty right? And the thing is, you’re supposed to eat the fat in order to get the full flavor of the ham. It was very excellent, despite its heaviness, and the fat which I had to force myself to eat at first, added a really nice buttery taste to offset the salty and meat of the pork.

The melon with mint and a hint of muscat (a sweet white wine) was delightful. I didn’t know it but the melon season in France this year has had a great crop and no one is buying them.

The wine selected for us was from La Londes, about one hour from Toulon. It was light when it first entered the mouth and dry. I was afraid it would be totally lost in the heaviness of the ham, but the after taste of the wine was very fruity and stayed in the mouth to work well with the ham.

For the main course, I had something just as heavy – probably worse – margret de canard or duck breasts with spicy chorizo sausage slices laid in between. On the side was a light (thank god) quinoa and tomato blend. Margret de canard is a lot like a piece of steak. If it’s not cooked properly it can end up chewy and bland. If not cut correctly, it’s surrounded by fat that takes forever to cut away without making a huge mess. I’ve had a lot of badly cut and badly cooked duck over the time. This was none of those things. There was not a trace of fat on the slices and the meat was tender and tasty and didn’t take me 10 minutes to chew. The breast was pink and cooked through without being bloody – which is a good thing. I would have never thought of adding chorizo to the duck, but it added an extra zesty, spicy flavor, something totally unique. The quinoa was light, buttery and a perfect side to such a heavy meat. I wish my husband liked quinoa because I would love to make it for myself.

The husband made a much wiser choice for his main course: roasted sole (a type of white fish) with a lemon sauce.

Underneath the sole was a craquant de tomates fraiches, which I can only translate as fresh tomatoes surrounded by a toasted crust. One the side was a basil sauce. He said that everything was absolutely delightful, except the basil sauce kind of overpowered the lemon sauce. Personally, I just thought the presentation kicked butt.

For wine, the sommelier served me a red, after learning that my favorite wine is Chateauneuf du Pape which he said he didn’t have any of in his cave. This red was very close to Chateauneuf and fit incredibly well with the spiciness of the chorizo and heaviness of the duck. After I had eaten the sommelier came over to have me guess where the wine was from. I guessed somewhere in the Cotes du Rhone region where Chateauneuf is from. Nope. It is a Cotes du Provence, from Pradet called Domaine de la Navicelle. I quickly wrote that one down, as I’m always looking for new wines locally made and it can be difficult to find a good red in a region that is famous for its rosés.

The husband had a white to complement his fish, which I tasted and founded very fruity without being sweet. Also surprisingly, this was a Bourgogne which is a region famous for its reds.

Finally, dessert: I had a huge vanilla macaron surrounded by strawberries. I was terrified that this was going to be as rich and as heavy as everything else I had ordered but the macaron was very light and airy and the cream was rich without having a thick butter taste. The strawberries were fresh and sweet, reminding me that it was soon the end of the season and the next day I ran out and bought strawberries of my own.

Husband had a dessert full of his favorite herb- mint. Complemented by my favorite dessert – which I had to refrain from – a molleaux du chocolat. A chocolate cake with a melted center.  I had a taste of the mint “ice cream” which is in the center bottom of the photo with the spoon sticking out of it. It was fresh, light and very minty. Not really ice cream, but more of a frozen mint ice.  To drink, the two of us both had a “simple” as the sommelier described it monbazillac which is a sweet golden wine used either with desserts or foie gras. It’s a very good wine and one of the husband’s favorites.

Jardin de Sommelier was a great find in a city that really doesn’t have many gourmet restaurants. The sommelier loves to talk about his wines, which creates a very welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. The room is small but well decorated and each table is very private. The husband and I both admonished ourselves for not visiting before and told the sommelier we’d be back.