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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 The producer told us it was a grape that was “out of fashion” at the moment having been replaced by the Cabernet.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.

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It’s snowing again. And again, I’m not pleased. In fact, it’s freezing all over France. Only here in the Var has it risen above freezing and only then by 4 degrees. It would be an ideal day to spend time with a mug of homemade hot chocolate in my hands, gazing out the window with a wistful expression, remembering my childhood of snow days, snow angels, snowball fights, snow igloos and massive snow suits.

But that’s not happening this weekend. Not the hot chocolate part anyway. This weekend it’s all about the soup.

I’m into week 4 of quitting smoking. It’s not going so well. I hate everyone and have a lot of time on my hands to do it. I know that seems odd. I smoke and run. A cigarette for every kilometer.

I have another confession to make. And it’s pretty serious. Sometimes I go a little nuts on the sweets. And by a little nuts I mean a binge. And by a binge I mean a real binge. The one where you eat 24 cookies in 5 minutes without ever tasting anything. After that I eat a pint of ice cream and then a bar of chocolate. Time Elapsed: 12 minutes. It’s a bad food relationship and it’s been happening a little too much lately.

These two things combined create one very upset digestive system and a very unhealthy mentality towards food. Did you see the Mindful Eating article in the NY Times on Thursday? Though I do consider myself a Buddhist, I’ve never been a very good one. My mindfulness and meditation practices are pretty awful.

But since quitting smoking, I’ve found a need to snatch any moments of meditation where ever I can. See: Be Here Now from NPR for some tips on short meditation. It’s not perfect, but anytime you can take the time to “quiet your mind and open your heart” as Jack Kornfield says, you’re helping yourself in all sorts of positive ways.

What better way to renew a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food and cooking by practicing mindfulness while I eat?

Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad. ~Jeff Gordinier; NY Times 

When I binge, I don’t actually taste anything. I couldn’t tell you if those almond butter cookies I made yesterday were good or not. If they tasted different than peanut butter cookies or if the white chocolate I put inside added anything in texture, taste, pleasure. The same with the handful of Brazil nuts I ate after. I still don’t know if they were salted.

This weekend, then, it’s about two things. 1) A bit of a liquid diet to go easy on my digestion. 2) Learning to slow down and re-focus my brain and do things more mindfully – in small chunks of course because these things take lifetimes – but especially to be more mindful of my eating and my food.

This is where the soup comes in. When was the last time you tasted soup? Really tasted soup? All the textures, the tastes, the way it slides around your tongue, your mouth and then down your throat. It’s an intense experience if you have a good soup. It could be something as simple as leek soup with a twist of ground pepper. The bite-burn of the pepper, over the leek’s soft twang. When the leeks are puréed they are mushy – as all purée is – but there’s an interesting consistency, not thick, not thin. Almost like a thin oatmeal. Comforting.

Comfort foods are necessary when it looks like this.

There are lots of soups on the menu. Some homemade, some store-bought. Leek soup, Carrot and sweet potato soup, roasted vegetable soup with tahini (recipe below), tomato soup, lentil soup, zucchini soup. I’m stocked on soups.

And lemons. Got to clean out that liver.

Don’t get worried here. I’m not trying to starve myself. Though almost all of my soups are under 150 calories, I’m eating a bowl every 2 hours and keeping myself up around 1200 calories. I am allowing myself a bit of homemade focaccia bread or rice cakes as the mood strikes me.

Spiced Roasted Vegetable Soup with Tahini

based off of Babaganoush Soup by Sprint 2 the Table.

  • 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 100 g Eggplant sliced
  • 100 g Zucchini sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 100 g red onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 tblspn EVOO, divided
  • 1 tblspn Sesame Tahini
  • 1 lemon slice
  • 500mL Organic vegetable broth

And a whole lot of spices. But we’ll get to those.

First preheat your oven to 200°C. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper put all your veggies except the tomato. Keep the garlic in their skins. Drizzle with the olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, turning everything halfway through. Take out of the oven when fully roasted, let cool and remove any blackened skins.

In the meantime boil your vegetable broth in a large pot, slice your tomato and add to the pot. Reduce to simmer. Add the roasted vegetables and cook for 10 minutes at a simmer so that the flavors have a chance to blend together. Add the other tablespoon of EVOO.

Then add your spices. Here are the ones I used all in ¼ or 1/8 teaspoons:

  • ground cumin
  • ground cinnamon
  • ground ginger
  • tumeric
  • cayenne pepper
  • ground nutmeg
  • ground cloves
  • ground black pepper

And add your tahini and lemon. Let simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy with a bit of homemade bread. Enjoy it with mindfulness – every last drop.

Spend the day relaxing, reading, catching up on sleep. Like I’m doing with the cats. We’re all on the couch staying warm together.

I’ll be updating on my journey in Mindful Eating later on in the week. Try the experience with me. For dinner, lunch, or breakfast – or even during a snack – tomorrow turn off the TV, sit down comfortably and spend a good 20 minutes concentrating on what you’re eating. The texture, taste, smell, look. Enjoy it from all sides and experience your food.

There is something completely unacceptable happening in Provence this weekend. It’s worse than chilling a 20 year old Château de la Tour. Worse than mixing a good Epoisse with tomatoes and onions. Worse than clam ice cream.

It’s snowing.

No, really. It’s snowing. Big wet flakes coming down from the sky covering trees and cars.

I grew up in New England, so you’d think I’d be okay with this. But I’m not. At all. After living in Phoenix for four years I got used to the happy times of heat and bright sun all year round and never wanted to leave. I thought I’d have something similar in Provence. It is, after all, a Mediterranean climate.

Nevertheless, there it is. I got up this morning, made my morning coffee and oatmeal and opened up the blinds. I was bringing my oatmeal to the couch, when I saw it. My expression was horrified, a terrified, disgusted gasp escaped from the deepest parts of my belly. The cats sat up on their hind-legs and pressed their paws to the glass. Snow.

The husband and I had plans to go to the market and buy some items for the weekend and cat food for the cats – who eat like horses – and so we bundled ourselves up at 10am and set out.

On the way back we were discussing what to have with the lamb and red wine we had purchased and I suddenly remembered: “We still have a can of Cassoulet in the house from L’Esprit du Vin.” Lamb was forgotten. Red wine wasn’t. Cassoulet was on the menu.

Cassoulet. White beans, goose or duck, sausage from Toulouse, slow cooked in duck or goose fat.

It’s direct from the producer. I added tomatoes and onion, to which the husband said “you know there are no tomatoes in cassoulet.”

“They use tomato paste,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“So, I’m adapting it. I’m using a small dice.”

“Ok, I just wanted to be sure.”

There are also carrots in cassoulet, but I omitted those because I knew the husband would complain about my vegetable obsession.

Anyway. Into the pan it went over low low heat. The fat melts and heats up quickly becoming such a thick, wonderful sauce. With a glass of red wine it is truly winter-stick-to-your-ribs food. Comfort food. Perfect for watching the snow out the window and Iron Chef on the computer alternately.


We drank a Crozes Hermitage, 2007 made of only syrah grapes. It was a simple purchase from the supermarket. A light wine but with a full-bodied fruity flavor that worked well with the soft, subtly of the white beans without anything being over powering. Not a complex flavor, no oaken-tones or rosemary and herbs like you find in many Côtes du Rhone, but it was a delightful taste.


It went well with the cheese that followed the meal. Because on a day like this you have to make a holiday of it and have cheese.


And ice cream. Vanilla and Nutella ice cream with fresh strawberries. I found these at the market, coming from Spain, and while I try to only buy French produce, Spain – as I’ve reminded the husband – is not that far away – and I couldn’t resist this touch of summer in the midst of winter. Ice cream might not have been the warmest option in the middle of snow, but I can never resist ice cream. And warm coffee with a piece of chocolate soon followed.


Curling up on the couch with a belly full of cassoulet and red wine and cheese is the way to spend a snowy Saturday. The emergency of this sudden and horrific change in climate has been averted and I have dealt with it admirably, if I may say so myself.

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.

NaNoWriMo is over. I made it to 100,000 words, but the novel itself is no where near done. There’s about 1/3 left to write, which leaves me with about another 50,000 words so I’m plugging away at it every day in the hopes that it will be finished by the end of December.
This late autumn has been surprisingly pleasant. The weather is still hovering around 17°C, which is in the low 60’s for those of you not on the Celsius system. It’s still sunny and not too windy and the sky is blue and mostly clear. A very nice change from the freezing windy winters we’ve had the past two years I’ve been here. This is what I moved to Provence for. (Well, that and the husband.)
I get up every morning before the sunrise to go running. I don’t like going in the dark, but like most people, I have a day job I have to get to. While I’ll always prefer being in the mountains over the sea – I don’t know why people love the water so much – I can’t complain about the sunrise over the Mediterranean.
I’ll let the photos do the talking. This was on an 11K run last Monday morning. I was running and taking photos at the same time. I’m impressed I didn’t fall on my face.
 
What do you get for writing 100K but not finishing the novel? Well, on Sunday the husband and I are going to Table du Vigneron. But you also get cheese. Lots and lots of melted cheese.
This is a mont d’or. It’s truly amazing how many variations on one thing the French have. In this case fondue. Mont d’Or is a circle of cheese purchased in its thick rind and a bake-able wood box. You cut a hole in the top, pour in a dry white wine and bake in the oven until it’s hot and melted.
Serve with bread, potatoes, onion, ham, broccoli, what ever you like with your fondue right out of the rind. You can buy bigger ones than this. Much bigger. But as it was just the husband and the cat and me, this was enough. Apparently, my cat likes melted cheese. He’s French.
On Saturday, well, all weekend there was a salon in downtown la Seyne. L’Esprit du Vin et de la Gastronomie, has come for four days. Wine, cheese, foie gras, sausage producers from all over France have come to sell their wares in time for Christmas preparations.
Did you know they’re banning foie gras in California? Don’t get me started…
Anyway, it was a relatively small affair, compared with the Fête de Bacchus that comes to Toulon every April, but it was pleasant enough, and as it was smaller, there were less people and the rooms were hushed with festive red carpeting everywhere to block out footfall. Despite being under a simple white tent, it was warm and welcoming.
The husband and I are well known for going to these things and spending way too much money and getting more than a little tipsy. Entry was 5 Euro each and came with a complimentary glass and we had to taste as much as we could before we made any serious descisions.
We bought two whites from Alsace. A heavy, though young red from Bordeaux by a small producer in between the Margaux and Pomerol domains. A lighter red from Burgundy which will go well with a sharp cheese and last but not least a Chateauneuf. Not as good as Domain de Rampart, but Chateauneuf is Chateauneuf.
Then there was the cheese. A blue and St. Nectar from sheep’s milk. Soft and fresh, but definitely strong enough to hold their own. Handmade, carefully aged. I couldn’t resist. I love small cheese producers. There’s something definite in the taste of a homemade cheese that cannot be beat. Olivade – not to be confused with tapenade – of the last green olives of the season – which is why they dip is mostly black. And of course we can’t forget the husband’s impulse buy:
A three foot long sausage made of bull soaked in Gigondas.
It’s a lot of food. A lot of wine. But these producers are small, the types of fresh, handmade, hand cultivated, hand grown, products that you can’t get in the stores. And even if you do, they’ll cost you an arm and a leg.
Here is the producer of the Bordeaux. He was packing up our wine as if we were going to give it as a gift. Hahahaha. We’re planning on drinking it for Christmas. Hopefully with boar.
At the Burgundy table there was just too much choice. Every year had a different taste as does every part of the domain. That makes a lot of wine to try.
But for now, Pistou the cat has decided it’s time for dinner.  In fact, he’s being fairly insistent about it. There’s squash and chicken and onion. I hope I can make some sort of meal out of that.

It’s been seven days since my last post and we’re now twelve days into the novel. I reached 40,000 words last Thursday night, officially Friday morning. 7 days, 25,000 words. Today I hit 46K. Am I tired? Yes. For NaNoWriMo only 50,000 words are required to win. As I’m at 46K and not even one third into the story, I’m aiming for about 120k. By the end of November? Can I do it? I have no idea.

For those of you wondering what you get if you win, the answer is nothing but the satisfaction that you wrote a novel. And a certificate you can print from the website. I still have mine from 2009. It was on the fridge for a year.

For ten days the weather was rainy. Wait. Did I say rainy? I mean POURING. And WINDY. This wasn’t your typical run of the mill wind. This was wind with an attitude. This was wind that broke my super strong titanium umbrella. This was wind that blew off the roof of a building on my running route – that was a surprise one morning. This was wind that picked up fish from the sea and tossed them on the sidewalk. It was kind of gross. It’s called the Mistral. It came early this year. Had it lasted one more day I would have called in to work. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

By Wednesday, flood trucks were by the shore in case they had to suddenly evacuate. A friend told me the roads into and out of St. Tropez were closed off, the city completely shut down. I was lucky. Parts of the Var are under water. This is only disturbing when you realize that those parts are on the side of a mountain.

And yes, I ran everyday, through the wind and rain. 10K. I’m masochistic.

But it’s gone – for now – and there are sunny skies. I never realized how much noise the wind made. The silence outside when hanging laundry on my balcony is golden.

Let me update you on food. Because that’s what you’re hear for. With laying down this many words per day and trying to keep some semblance of a figure, I haven’t been cooking much. There’s a party tomorrow and Thanksgiving for the in-laws in two weeks and I will make SOMETHING when I hit 50K tomorrow, a trip to Table du Vigneron if I finish… well, I have to lay off the food. But I’m still cooking.

There was butternut squash soup at 25K.

Soup has always intimidated me, but it was super easy and so yummy, even cold. I’ve conquered my fear of homemade soups, much to my husbands dismay.

There were banana cream desserts. Creme fraiche, a teaspoon and a half of sugar, softened banana cooked over a low flame for 10 minutes and then cooled in the refrigerator for a few hours. I should have put them in the blender for a smoother finish, but can you get any easier than that? Not really.

And there were buttery, garlic wheat knots for yesterday at my 40K milestone. The husband and I going through them like they’re going out of style. I might have to make more.

The best part of each one of these delights is that they were not only easy to make, but they allowed time for me to step away from both the computer and the stove. I got to go back and forth, I got to take breaks and relax my mind, which for all intents and purposes is a little fried.

But I’m only 12 days in and there’s a whole two-thirds of a novel to finish. It’s time to go pick up the pace…

In the northeast corner of the Var there’s a tiny little town hidden in the mountains called Trigance. At the top of a hill is a 12th century château with ten large bedrooms, a very big terrace that looks over the valley and village, and ends with a wonderful restaurant inside a 13th century armory.

The husband and I went to Château de Trigance last year and enjoyed the peace the quiet and the food so much we wanted to go back this year for our anniversary. Though, our anniversary was one month ago – I just happened to be in the United States at the time.

Pistou says that I always have an excuse…

 

We arrived Saturday at noon. But where in the world can you check into a hotel, even one in a château before 2pm? So we had to enter the village.

Take in the sights.

Then find a quiet place for lunch.

Prosecco in a field.

Prosecco and ravioli dauphinois (three cheese) with zucchini, chicken, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and parmesaen cheese. Yum.

It’s a rough life.

We went for a walk in the mountains and found wild raspberries.

And sheep.

 

Before you go to dinner you have to try the hypocras. It’s a sweet white wine, thick and spiced with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and other such happy things that pique the taste buds into mouthwatering happiness. But drink it slow because it’s about 15% proof and is easy to drink.

We had our drinks in the salon. They brought us olives and little toasts of salmon, anchovies, and chorizo.

Chateau de Trigance has a lovely wine list. We chose our favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, a 2007, which was a pretty good year and has a nice fruity taste but in order to get the full flavor, it definitely needs to be decanted for a good 30 minutes before drinking.

 

My entrée was a wild mushroom soup served with dried magret de canard, which was a little like duck ham. It was delightful. The duck very tasty and the soup thick and hearty.

 

For the main plate I had pigeon. No seriously. It’s not the bird you see walking the city sidewalks, flying kamikaze like into your face when they’re startled. But it’s a cousin. It’s a difficult taste to describe and one that is acquired. I like to say that it has a dirty, wild taste but that again seems to bring to mind the disease ridden feathered-rat outside my window. But nonetheless it’s a deeper, darker taste than chicken and similar to duck. Anyway it was served with a scallion tart and soaked in a caramelized red-wine sauce.

 

Greg had deer, which I tried a piece of. An interesting meat, people once told me deer tasted sweet, but this wasn’t sweet. It had a very wild taste, but not my thing.

 

Ok, so last year the whole reason for us going to Château de Trigance was because it’s one of the few restaurants we’ve found that still serves a cheese cart.

 

It’s quite a cheese cart. Serving classics like Camembert, brie de meaux, époisse, tomme de montagne but also has local cheese made from goat and sheep. Pick any thing you like. They cut you off a nice slice and let you enjoy with the last of your red. I tactfully avoided the waitress in my photo.

 

Cheese should finish a meal. It can finish a meal. But it didn’t finish this meal.

 Dessert was chestnut cream blended with Bailey’s and vanilla ice cream with chantilly on top. Simple and very tasty.

 

And then we needed tea, because we couldn’t get up yet to waddle back to our room.

 

Breakfast in bed, the next day:

 

A lovely view as we took our last look on the castle.

 

But don’t stop there! On your windy way back down the mountain, stop off here and buy some fresh cheese and then say hi to the goats, sheep and cows that gave the milk to make it.

After a weekend full of food, there’s only one thing, Holly-cum-food-critic can do: go home and go to sleep.

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.

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.

I am waiting at the train station. It’s a cloudy day, almost cold if it wasn’t for the humidity. I sit on the odd, concrete stairs that separate the queue from the station building, and take out of my purse a small slice of something wonderful.

 It is my personal belief that all train stations should have a boulangerie somewhere within sight and walking distance. But in my limited knowledge of les gares de Provence I only know of even a smaller number that fill this requirement.

 So I planned ahead. This half-eaten fruit-crumble pastry is from the bakery across the street from my apartment.

I probably shouldn’t be eating it. It’s loaded with calories, but as there’s fruit – blueberries most likely – inside, I try to pretend it’s a healthy breakfast.

 I’ve arrived an hour early for my train. So by the time I’m done waiting in line to buy my ticket, listening to the life stories of two obstinate women trying to get to god-only-knows-where in two months, I have 40 minutes to spend savoring my pastry. (One of them was still arguing at her teller window after I was done paying for my passage)

 First I break my pastry in half, telling myself that I’ll only eat one part now and save the rest for later, or maybe give it to some hungry person. Yeah, right.

 I like to pick off the “crumble parts” first. Those round things that are about the width of my thumb. They are buttery, soft and have the texture of crumbs someone smashed together into a ball, and if that doesn’t sound good to you, you don’t know the guilty pleasure of scraping together the last of a birthday cake or the bottom of a brownie pan – and I pity you.

 After, I eat the butter, browned crust, which leaves me with a soft, fruity cake to munch on, piece by piece. I don’t miss a crumb. I cup one hand under my chin to catch any breakage. I lick my fingers clean. It’s not a sweet cake – only mildly sweet with butter and tart fruit. The crust is all butter and flower and just a little bit flaky. The inside is not cake. On top are the baked berries whose juices have infused the dough. It’s almost paste-like and it would be a pleasure to chew even if I had the worst toothache in the world – it’s that soft.

 I’m in heaven.

 The station is not too crowded this morning. A little strange, given that the day before – a Thursday – it was packed. Do people take trains on Thursdays but not on Fridays here? There’s one guy sitting on the concrete steps a little ways down from me. Another on the chairs across from me. I keep my legs tightly pressed together, to catch crumbs, but also because I’m wearing a very short skirt.

 I begin to eat the next portion of my pastry. And then remember – I should take a photo. The other waiting passengers watch as I pull out my camera and take a photograph of the half-eaten cake that I’ve been savoring for the past 15 minutes.

 It’s hard not to scarf this thing down. Which is why I was scribbling these notes in my journal while I was eating. When it’s over, I press the unforgotten crumbs into my thumb and lick them off. I gather up my box and paper and throw it away.

 I spot a small, golden crumb on my exposed toes and for a moment I consider giving myself one last little taste. But thankfully, my love of food stops at my feet and I’m able to restrain myself.