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 The producer told us it was a grape that was “out of fashion” at the moment having been replaced by the Cabernet.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

…and it’s going to take a while to tell you about it.

In France, there are two meals traditionally served during the Christmas holiday. The first is dinner on Christmas Eve, the second it Christmas lunch. They are long meals starting with mis-en-bouche and foie gras and sweet wine, going on to appetizers, main courses, cheeses, desserts, coffee and then chocolate. If you really love your sweets and live in Provence, at the traditional Provençal table thirteen desserts are served representing Jesus Christ and his apostles. They’re actually not all terrifying creams and sugars. Many are simple fruits and nuts, light cookies, small slices of pain d’épice, but it’s still a daunting task to get through a four or five course meal twice in less than 24 hours.

And then at the end when you wake up on the 26th, you realized in horror that the whole thing is going to be repeated on the 31st December and 1st January.

This holiday week, I am not stuffing myself beyond capacity, thankfully. We, the husband and I, had one slow and indulgent holiday dinner on the 24th that was more than enough.

It started with cleaning the apartment. Like most Europeans, we have a small living space, the beauty of which is that it’s quick to clean. The ugly side is that it’s just a quick to make a mess of. No matter, once we cleaned, the husband decorated. Then we set down to the five hour task of preparing our dinner. Make yourself comfortable folks, because this is going to be a long, photo-filled meal.

Our menu was both traditional and non-traditional. Of course, there was foie gras. There are hundreds of various ways to serve foie gras, most of them involving some sort of sweet sauce or jelly. But we kept it simple with homemade bread and a glass of sweet and spicy hypocras.

I’ve mentioned hypocras before. It’s been around for longer than the medieval era, I believe, but it’s often branded as a medieval aperitif. As I’ve been in a medieval frame of mind lately, it was the perfect opener to dinner, and it’s complex flavors blend well with the foie gras au naturel.

Next up was the appetizer – very non-traditional. I wanted something, one course, where vegetable was the main ingredient. So I came up with roasted pumpkin, roasted shallots, roasted garlic, topped with dried cranberries and gorgonzola.

It was easy to do – only had to wait around for the roasting – and simple yet very tasty. A very nice autumn and slightly American touch to my French Christmas.

There was a pause while we waited for the main course to finish cooking and heating. Bread and butter cleaned our pallets.

Along with our wine selection for the night. St Emilion 2005 Grand Cru Chateau Faurie de Souchard.

A wine with a very round, acidic taste, with hints of berry. It’s strong, but not overwhelming like many of the older Bordeaux. We might have been able to let it mature for another few years, but it was good as is and went very well with our main course…

To many people, I’ve been talking about this main course all week. It was something the husband and I dreamed of since the autumn arrived and our butcher told us he’d have this particular game in stock. A dish I first tasted at Table du Vigneron, and despite always preferring vegetables to meat, I instantly fell in love.

Daube de sanglier – or boar stew.

For those of you not familiar with a daube, it’s very close to beef bourguignon. Marinated in red wine and herbs and vegetable for 24 hours then slow cooked over a low fire for at least five hours until the boar inside is close to melting.

Boar is an extremely dark meat that turns almost black after being cooked for so long in a strong red wine, but don’t let that stop you. The sheer wildness of the taste, the depth of the flavor, it has a nutty taste to it, a woodsy taste to it, that quite frankly is like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.

We served our daube de sanglier with potato gnocchi – not homemade. I was going to make fresh taglietelle but after all the baking, roasting, mixing and cleaning, I was wiped and the pre-prepared gnocchi was too tempting to pass on as a short cut.

Warm, comforting, perfect for the windy day that had descended on the Var. At the end of cooking your boar add a touch of flour to create the most perfect gravy to drizzle on top of the gnocchi. We wiped our plates clean with more bread, and then took a break, waddling over to the couch to digest a bit and relax in the evening.

Cheese followed. Langres on the left. A very strong, but soft cheese that is similar to Epoisse. Any strong cheese, as smelly as they may be is a lovely way to enjoy the last sips of a find red, and I can never resist on any occasion.

On the right is a blue cheese that I have no idea of the name of. However, when I went to the Fromagerie in Toulon and asked the man behind the counter what he had in a blue he dragged out the whole wheel of this cheese from the shelf behind him and started singing it’s praises. Made in Alsace, exclusively by women, it’s the only naturally blued cheese left in the world, according to the fromager. Most blue cheese are done naturally, but given a little bit of – help you could say – to encourage them to mold faster, therefore they are available for sale to the public faster. This cheese however, is apparently not, and you can actually see it in the color of the mold culture and the way it has grown on the slice. It’s a bit darker and in a clump rather than all over the place in long, wildly grown veins.  After listening to his monologue, I couldn’t resist and this was our second cheese for the end of the evening.

Finally, came dessert. Homemade apple sorbet with salted caramel and speculoos cookies.

This was the only semi-failure of the evening. I think I added too much water to the sorbet mixture and it tasted more like frozen apple sauce than sorbet. However along side the hardened caramel and cinnamon cookies, it was a refreshing way to finish the meal.

The next day was spent sleeping late (for me), a fabulous run where the sky was clear and the sea completely calm, the Mistral having blown itself out the night before, and of course writing. The novel has quite a ways to go yet, and I’m determined to get as much done as possible on my vacation next week.

But that’s not all. I woke up on Christmas day and my first thought was “I need to make cup cakes.”  That’s a story for another day.

Hope your holiday was as filled with warmth, good cooking and fine wine as was ours!

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.

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.

One of the wonderful things about the United States is that all restaurants will do take out. This may not seem that great to you if you live in the US, but TRUST ME, you miss it when it’s gone. I’m not a huge take out fan but some nights I don’t want to have a waiter breathing down my neck, nor do I want to cook and neither pizza nor kebabs are going to cut it.

So on the night the sister and I couldn’t decide where or what to eat, we decided to order take out. She went to her favorite Thai place and I ordered from Acitron, a Mexican Bistro. It was more authentic than your typical tacos and enchiladas but it also had some fun, more creative items on the menu. One of which was this:

Fried Avocados.

All I have to say about these is WOW. They are battered in a floury-tempura mixed with jalapeño pepper and served with a creamy, spicy sauce. It was amazing. The avocados were soft and flavorful, mixed with the crispness of the batter and the spicy peppers were just enough to add tang to the nuttyness of the avocado. They were so awesome I’m going to attempt them on my own.

I also ordered chicken cooked in bitter chocolate sauce. This was something I’ve always wanted to try and jumped at the chance of tasting when I saw it on Acitron’s menu even though I wasn’t really in the mood for chicken.

Very interesting. It’s a thick sauce with a taste that I can only describe as dark but not bitter. It was almost like a rich, savory red Bordeaux that has aged about 10 years. Heavy and full, but you don’t notice all the flavors until the after taste. It was mixed with three different types of chili pepper which brought out the coco flavor, and the coco obviously killed some of the spice creating a nice contrast. Definitely something I would try again.

Friday the mom arrived and I cooked dinner.

The sister has a very nice apartment, but we need to talk to her about her kitchen space.

Some how despite having only a tiny table to cook on I managed to make kebabs – which were broiled in the oven – covered in provençal mustard and olive oil and risotto primavera.

Risotto is quite easy to make, like most things it just takes a bit of time. Cream isn’t even required if you do it right:

  • Broccoli
  • zucchini
  • onion
  • fresh spinach
  • garlic
  • yellow pepper
  • peas (I used snap peas because they looked yummy)
  • asparagus (I used white)
  • risotto rice
  • white wine
  • chicken broth
  • Parmesan cheese

Warm some olive oil in a large skillet. Cook the onion for 30-60 seconds over medium heat then add the rice and garlic. Stir often and cook until the rice begins to separate and crackle. Add about 1 cup of dry white wine. When the wine is mostly gone add the broth just until it covers the top of the rice. Cover and cook, adding more broth as needed. About 10 minutes before the rice is done add the other vegetables. You can add them before hand if you like softer, more cooked through veggies but I like a little snap in mine. When everything is done turn heat to low or off but don’t remove from heat just yet. First add shaved Parmesan cheese and stir in to let it melt throughout.

Both were a success and because I always cook too much, there were plenty of leftovers.

Saturday I had a cosmopolitan.

I started drinking them before I ever saw or even heard of Sex and the City, so it’s ok. Like I said, martinis and cosmos are impossible to find in France and when the mom and I went out to dinner, my one requirement that the restaurant had a good bar.

Today, it’s hot in France. I’m dreaming of another cool cosmo and trying not to fall asleep. My resolution when I returned to France was to listen to French talk radio for at least 20 minutes everyday. But for some reason RFI Monde isn’t connecting and so I’m listening to Spanish flamenco guitar. I figured it was almost fitting given the Mexican food.

Don’t miss part 3: Peaceful Meadows and Percy’s Place.

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.

So.

Let me tell you about La Table du Vingeron and Domaine de Terrebrune.

That is, if I can figure out where to begin.

 

Long have I wanted to write about this restaurant. And the wine of Terrebrune. Oh lord, the wine. I had been there twice before, and each time I was too involved in my food, in the ambiance, in the wine to take photos and pay any attention to what I should be thinking about, be remembering for this blog.

Today I promised myself, and Christophe de Bretygny, the maître D and owner, that I would take photos and write about this restaurant. But I don’t know where to begin. Seriously. Because the restaurant is completely summed up in one word:

AMAZING.

I’ve sung the praises of this restaurant to everyone I meet. And today I’m going to sing it to you, the best that I can.

 

Imagine that you’re driving down a windy one way road in the hills of Sanary-sur-mer. You’re a ways away from the beach, a ways away from the traffic and the bustle of the pink concrete houses, surrounded by nothing but vineyard. You follow some weathered signs that read “Domaine de Terrebrune” and find yourself pulling up to a secluded vineyard and in the middle is a small mas, or Provencal stone house.

You park and walk to the entrance.

 

There you are greeted by the maître D (see him on facebook). Who has a smile on his face and if you have been there more than once and caused a bit of a mess more than once, remembers you.

My mess? Well, it was literal. Never use a white tablecloth when I’m eating at your house. Just don’t.

You’re seated and an aperitif is served. The cocktail de maison is champagne, crème cassis and peach liquor. Fruity, refreshing with a good zest, and it will knock you over so drink it SLOWLY.

A mis en bouche is served. Fromage blanc with a hint of ham, olive oil and tomatoes. Light but mouthwatering.

Entrées are next. Homemade foie gras with rosemary jelly, a fresh brioche, and sesame sauce. The foie gras is the best I’ve ever had. Fondant (melty), lightly cooked, well seasoned. The rosemary jelly sounds a little strange but it has an excellent texture and taste. The brioche is warm with a tender crust on the outside and a thick, soft, warm inside. It is so tasty with the foie gras that you never want it to end.

The husband has a tomato, cheese pie with green salad on top and a scoop of lovely olive oil and basil ice cream. The crust was flaky and buttered, the tomatoes seasoned with basil and a salty, soft cheese.

Then the main course. Turkey stuffed with summer herbs and forest mushrooms in a sauce of cream and forest mushrooms. These wild mushrooms are spectacular. Soft and full of incredible forest flavor. The turkey is boneless, tender and also flavorful. I’m not sure of all the herbs that there are as I chew slowly, savoring each bite, but I catch hints of rosemary and I swear there’s sage.

The French have excellent adjectives when it comes to describing food and I can describe this dish in one word – onctueuse. Maybe that’s not the word people would put to turkey and mushrooms, but that is what it says to me.

Let’s stop a moment and discuss the wine. La Table du Vingeron, being set in the Domaine de Terrebrune, obviously serves Terrebrune. We had a 2003. Acidic with berry and wood, a heavy smell and a slightly lighter taste that sat in my mouth mixing with the meal.

And let’s take a moment to discuss the service. The servers are all wonderful people. Friendly, smiling, professional and they thought it was fantastic that I was taking photos, drunk and taking photos while drunk.

After lunch, before dessert. You’re digesting, you’re enjoying your last drops of wine. You’ve lost track of the time. Out comes the pre-dessert. Little cakes – but the wine is gone! What will you drink. Of course, it being Sunday at a fabulous restaurant with fabulous service there must be champagne! And there was.

Here are your choice of desserts:

 

The last is fresh raspberries with vervaine ice cream, a funky cookie and wait – what is that red liquid? Cold red pepper soup. You’re hearing me right. An amazing contrast is created when red peppers mix with a sweet, tart (is there such a thing?) berry. It’s refreshing, interesting and a taste that you want to keep trying because it seems more and more fascinating each time.

Ok. So I’m showing you photographs of what other people at my table were served. I didn’t try them, but I can assure you by the smiles and happy moans, and the husband’s assurances, all the other plates were fantastic.

But wait! It doesn’t end there. Coffee must be served in dainty cups alongside chocolates, which the maître D knew I’d love.

 

And I did. I loved the whole thing. La Table du Vingeron is truly a gem. In service, ambiance, in wine and in food, it is my favorite restaurant of all time and to be perfectly honest, I know that this blog entry did not do the restaurant justice.

I guess that means I’ll have to go back to re-taste their fabulous food and try it all over again!

Thursday is the husband’s 30th birthday. You could ask why I wanted to make him a huge lunch almost one week before his day of birth – but do you want to?

No.

Actually, it was a good day to cook. Not to hot. Windy. Cloudy. A mild spring day, which would be a mild summer day if you live anywhere outside of Provence.

Lunch was much debated by moi. I considered beef, I considered pork, I considered buying a whole rabbit and taking it apart (because I love rabbit, but they are sold whole – head, organs, feet, claws etc). In the end I decided on lamb. Souris d’agneau to be precise which is lamb shank in English, but souris sounds so much nicer so we’ll stick to that.

I’ve never cooked lamb, it’s normally the husband who cooks the red meat, and I had to make an occasion out of it. And out of the husband’s birthday, but food first. The menu was as follows:

Radish, Zucchini, Carrots with an artichoke, cream and herb dip, served with jambon de parme (ham from Parme, Italy).

Souris d’agneau with a pesto crust and tomate provençal

Cheese: St. Felicine and Tomme de montagne

Dessert: Pastries.

Wine: Chateauneuf Domain de Rampart 2000, red of course!

The sauces/dips:

 Creamy artichoke dip:

  • artichoke hearts
  • crème legère or sour cream
  • 1 basil leaf
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • a bit of thyme
  • a bit of rosemary
  • a bit of sage
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon juice

Put it in a food processor and blender. Chill. Voila! Granted it wasn’t your typical creamy vegetable dip, but it was great with the vegetables and bread.

Pesto. It’s so easy to make, there’s no reason not to make it fresh when basil is in season. I forgot the pine nuts and it still came out fine.

  • Basil leaves
  • Parmesan
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • Pine nuts or walnuts – when you remember to buy them.

Blend the dry ingredients. When they make a coarse paste slowly add the olive oil and blend some more adding salt and pepper. Chill.

This was my first time making lamb. I found a recipe online that said if you cover the lamb with something there’s no need to brown it first in a pan. The husband was skeptical, but said to try it anyway.

We went to our favorite butcher the evening before and ordered our souris. Originally, we ordered two, but when we arrived at 9:30 this morning the butcher said “Well, today they were kind of small, so do you want three?” Like the husband was going to say no. We bought 3.

I took them out and put them in the pan feeling nervous:

I covered them in the pesto. Green meat!

 And cooked them at 400 °C or 200 °F for 1 hour.

 Along side the lamb, I made provincial tomatoes: tomates provençals. This is basically tomato covered with bread crumbs, herbs like rosemary, parsley, thyme, garlic and olive oil and baked in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

 Bread crumbs bought in the store are high in calories and full of stuff, like salt and disgusting chemicals, that are completely unnecessary. I make my own bread crumbs – or chapelure – whenever I need them. It’s simple:

  • Take some bread, slice it thin
  • Put it in the oven to toast for 15 – 20 minutes – low temperature.
  • Once it’s pretty dry and toasted, put it in a blender with the herbs of your choice.

 I used coeur de boeuf tomatoes. They have some other name in English but I don’t know what it is, but these are huge tomatoes that are not perfectly round, and have ridges. They’re great for stuffing or in salads. I wanted two round tomatoes for our tomates provençal but I couldn’t find any big enough so I went with the coeur de boeuf from my favorite produce vendor at the market.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Cover with a bit of parmesan, then the bread crumbs. A bit of olive oil. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes at 200 °C.

The beauty of the lamb and the tomatoes was that they cooked at the same temperature, so I started the lamb and then put in the tomatoes about 30 minutes after and let them cook together.

Upon tasting the lamb my husband said he was proud of me. I used to be a vegetarian and had to give it up upon moving to France – there’s just no way to go out to eat here – unless you live in Paris. But I always shied away from actually cooking read meat.

These souris d’agneau came out perfect.

First, don’t worry about the pesto burning. It might seem worry-some but it’s not. It creates a nice crust around the lamb and holds the moisture inside the meat, so that when you cut into it, it’s tender, moist and yummy. The pesto, even though it was crisp, was actually still tasty and a bit sweet – probably because of the garlic.

Fabulous.

The tomatoes were soft and melty and made me happy. I love vegetables.

Cheese:

St. Felicien and Tomme de montagne are two of my husband’s favorite cheeses. The St. Felicine is known as a creamy cheese with a very sharp bite to it. With the red Chateauneuf it was amazing.

Tomme is a much firmer cheese. The kind you see in the really thick brown or black rinds. It had a milder taste, and is a perfect end to the meal.

Wine:

Oh Chateauneuf. I’ll die drinking this wine. Really.

No, really. I love it. The grenache grapes – I don’t know what it is – they’re amazing. This 2000 had a lovely acidic, berry taste to it. Different from many older wines. It wasn’t the best thing to have with all the garlic, but with the cheese – OMG. And at 14.5% 11 years ago, it was pushing 15.5 – 16% alcohol, which meant that by the time the cheese course was done, the husband and I were sous-table – or very drunk.

A friend of mine stopped by for wine and chat – which was a nice interlude because I could walk down to the port and walk off some of the wine. When we had returned the sun was out and the afternoon was getting warm. We sat on the balcony, had a glass of reisling and then it was time for dessert to be served.

Chosen from our favorite patisserie: A little marzapan pig with chocolate inside, coffee and meringue pastry and a millefeuille. They were sweet and rich and full of cream and butter and other things that make me want to run another 10 kilometers.

At that has been my day. Filled with food and wine and some social activity. Now you can do the dishes while I take a nap.

Last weekend we went to Toulouse in the Haut-Garonne region. It is located in the southwest of France and formerly the capital of the Languedoc province. It’s known as the Ville Rosé or “Pink City” because of its brick buildings.

Absolutely beautiful, the city had a calm to it that I hadn’t found in Provence. Maybe it was because the southwest was on vacation. The city is home to many historical landmarks and beautiful architecture but the highlight of the trip for me was seeing Les Jacobins and the tomb of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

As a big medieval history and theology/philosophy buff, I had no idea that Aquinas’s tomb was in the city. I was taking photographs of the walls totally ignoring the shrine in the center of the cathedral when my husband turned me around and pointed to the tomb. At which point I almost peed myself. It was an exciting moment.

Of course, no trip to anywhere would be complete without a tasting of the regional cuisine. In the southwest, duck, meats and foie gras reign supreme. The husband and I consulted the Gault-Millau and found Chez Emile which was described as the restaurant one must go to for a taste of traditional southwestern cooking.

Located in the center of the city, it has a rustic setting. Cream stone walls, wooden rafters and a home-cooking smell. While the menu had it’s fair share of fish dishes, we were there for the regional meats and the regional wines.

I wish I had been able to take a photograph of the wine list which was a book of about 15 pages boasting wines from 2009 to 1929. The prices were also impressive. We chose a 1996 Saint Estephe, one of the famous Bordeaux domains. Our wallet didn’t allow us to order a grand cru so we went with Les Pagodes des Cos, which was a heavy, woody wine that had the taste of the forest-y region that is Bordeaux (or it was before it was turned into vineyards).

For entrées, the husband went with a traditional foie gras, homemade with a chutney of mango and pineapple. I decided for something heavier – if you can believe there is anything heavier than foie gras. Homemade foie gras ravioli with a sauce made from cream and wild cèpe mushrooms. The foie gras inside the ravioli was poêlé. This means it’s raw, cooked quickly in a frying pan just before being served rather than being baked in a terrine and left to sit for 24 hours. This cause a much richer flavor and a very melted texture. And these raviolis were fondant, melting in my mouth almost instantly. The sauce was light and rich at the same time, tasting heavily of the cèpes, something that you don’t often find because cèpes are expensive and it takes a lot of mushrooms to make a good sauce.

For the main plate, the husband made up for his restraint by ordering the heaviest dish on the menu – and something he had been dreaming of for years – cassoulet. White beans, tomato, 3 different sausages, duck confit, garlic, carrots and onion cooked in duck fat.

Yeah.

Knowing I’d be having duck for the rest of the weekend, I chose lamb. It was cooked in a casserole with potato, onion, and mushrooms. This was not a vegetarian evening.

The waiter came out before the plate was served to place a cutting board and two serving utensils in front of me. When I asked what they were for, he told me the dish was served in the casserole at the table and that he’d be serving me. I didn’t see this happen for anyone else and the husband said they must have been warned in advance of the mess I make when I eat.

For dessert I had the savarin au rhum, with coconut milk and pineapple sorbet. Apparently it’s fashion to serve the rhum in something that looked like a syringe. It was still fabulous.

The husband had a tower of strawberries and basil sorbet separated into layers by a croustillant of strawberries which I still don’t know how to translate, but you can look at it in the photos.

We left the restaurant VERY full and waddled back to the hotel.

Chez Emile is not inventive, innovative cuisine. It’s traditional cuisine. Heavy, rich and savory. There are no surprises, just the taste of well cooked, tender meats, flavored with its own broth, onions, and a few extra spices (like thyme) thrown in to complete. While flavor twists are always special, it was a treat to eat the traditional dishes of the southwest with recipes that haven’t changed in any major way in hundreds of years. 

Welcome me back to the world of technology.

This weekend was the Fete de Bacchus – the annual wine festival in Toulon. If you’ve ever wanted to see two people spend 150 Euros on wine in under 60 minutes, you should have joined the husband and me. We went just a little crazy, but this year they had some good domains that had good prices. Even a good Bordeaux for under 10 Euros. Our expensive purchases extended to 2 Chateauneuf du Pape from the Domaine du Rempart – one 2005 and one 2000 and a white Bourgogne from 2007.

We tasted everything the Domaine du Rempart had at the fete. We bought a bottle from them last year and loved it and were excited to see them back. This year, even the owner was there and spent time explaining each of the wines to us. It amazed me – each year had a different color, different smell, different taste. It’s all the same wine with the same grape but each year was completely unique. 2005 was a good year for all French wines and theirs is a classic Chateauneuf. The 2000 was darker, heavier with a more foresty taste. I can’t describe it beyond that because I only had a quick taste – I’ll let you know when I actually open the bottle.

We were torn between the 2007 and the 2005 as both were great years, but the husband and I have too many wines in our “cave” that need to be kept and we were looking for stuff to drink now. The 2007 has another 3-4 years to grow and while it’s ready to drink, it would be a crime to not let is rest. So 2005 it was.

Overall we bought 6 bottles: the 2 Chateauneuf, Bourgogne, Bordeaux, Gigondas (a typical cotes du rhone with an insane 15% content) and a Riesling. The last was an impulse purchase of mine because I’ve been dying for good whites and I knew the husband would like the citrus-y flavor of this come a nice piece of chicken and warmer weather.

So we won’t go thirsty. There’s also a 1999 Terrabrune that we’re opening for our collective 30th birthdays in the summer and we finally opened our white Chateauneuf this weekend to celebrate finally being completely set in our apartment. White Chateauneuf – totally unlike anything else out there – it tasted like a red and went great with the duck confit and garlic-potatoes the hubby made for Sunday lunch.

And that’s the way to celebrate the return of internet.