Archive for March 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

March 29, 2008


We’ve been on a cake splurge lately, what with Easter, and more recently the advent of cake-appreciating visitors.   These Easter pastries were almost too beautiful to eat, although after taking about 100 photographs of them I was ready to bite each of their little heads off.  Sometimes the most beautiful things are the hardest to photograph.


This cake was not only photogenic and posed politely, it was especially fun to eat, covered with its little pop-in-the-mouth chocolate balls and a crunchy meringue surprise snuggled into the cake layers.


Although this cake is admittedly quite eye-catching, I hope you noticed the wine label. The cake was very good, the wine was even better, but the label was best of all.

Just a fluffy little post to brighten up your weekend with visions of sugar and spice and the magical things they do together in France.

Going To Pot

March 27, 2008


Have I ever mentioned that I’m obsessed with pottery?  Honest, I could attend a chocolate fair without even taking a bite, but take me to a pottery fair at your own risk.


If you’d followed me around, and around, and around again at the Uzès pottery fair this weekend your feet would have needed a good soak too.


I do tend to lean toward practical pots,


ones I can take into the kitchen,


or leave on the counter.  But I’m also drawn to impractical beauty.


Even some pots that are nominally practical seem to be too beautiful for kitchen use,


and I just can’t imagine putting them to use for something as pedestrian as a Brussels sprout gratin.


Some of it reminded me of pottery from the U.S.,


a lot was clearly Japanese-influenced,


and even North Africa was present.

There’s hardly anything more down-to-earth than pottery, but I have to say that being surrounded by clay and people who like to get their hands dirty with it made for a heavenly way to spend Easter.

Fish Head Fascination

March 24, 2008


As I mentioned here, an amazing number of my readers are fascinated with fish heads.  Why this should be true I do not know, but their attraction to the foremost parts of fish is rubbing off on me.

Since we’re having guests from Seattle this week, I thought I’d make a nice soupe au poisson to welcome them.  It’s soothing, goes well with jet lag, and is very typical of the area.  The fish lady gave me a different assortment today, including the water bug-thingies pictured above.  The market was so crowded that  I totally forgot to ask her what they’re called.  Does anyone recognise them?

Walking home after fighting our way through the Easter weekend market crowd it suddenly struck me: one of our guests is deathly allergic to fish.  Merde, alors, there I was on the sidewalk with 3 kilos of assorted fish and water bugs and no one to feed them to.  Do you happen to be free for dinner tonight?

In the end I put them in the pot, and will soon begin the truly arduous work of putting all those fish solids through the three successive layers of the food mill, from whence it’ll go into the freezer to await a more propitious moment for serving.  Let it never be said that I threatened the life of a fish-allergic friend or let the life of a water bug go to waste.

If you’re inclined to follow me down the fish head highway, this is the basic recipe the fish lady gave me.


The thing I do a bit differently is to add a little fennel to the vegetables in the beginning and a splash of pastis to the finished soup.  If I want it a little richer I beat a couple of egg yolks with a spoonful or two of crème fraîche and stir that in at the last minute.  To do as the locals do, serve the soup in a flat bowl with a flotilla of rouille-covered croutons and a handful of grated cheese, preferably a Comté.  Yes, I know that the Italians say never to mix fish and cheese, but try this, it’s very good.

And honestly, don’t you think fish heads are beautiful?

Why Are The French So….Nice?

March 21, 2008


I’m not going to claim that the reason people here are so nice has anything to do with artichokes.  Unless it’s to say that these violet artichokes are beautiful, and the French appreciate beautiful food at least as much as I do, and once that mutual interest is established, niceness ensues.

Here’s what I mean.  Remember when I made that Seville orange marmalade?  Well, I took a jar of it to the fruit vendor who’d sold me the oranges, just to thank him for having such nice fruit.  And then the other day he tucked into my basket


the first strawberries of the spring, to thank me back.

And there was the time when, after I’d remarked on how expensive tulips are here compared to in the States, my favorite florist added half a dozen to my order, on the house.  So naturally I took him a jar of marmalade too, to thank him.  And then last week he ran out of his shop when he saw me across the street to hand me


one perfect rose, to thank me for thanking him.  And really, those are just a couple of examples for which I happen to have pictures.  The system of give and take is very intricate here, and I’m sure I’m only beginning to understand it.  But sharing something wonderful with someone you appreciate seems to be one of the keys to how it all works.

I’m making some vin d’orange now, and some of it will certainly find its way into the fruit and flower guys’ hands.  And some will go to Alice to thank her for the extra vegetables she often adds to my bag, and maybe some to our garagiste to thank him for the time recently when he came out to the house to jump start the dead battery but wouldn’t take a centime for his time.  Although probably he thought we didn’t owe him anything because he still remembered the bottle of good whiskey we’d given him to take on his annual vacation.

See how it’s never ending?  I thank you and you thank me so I re-thank you and you re-thank me back and so on it goes, hopefully forever.  It’s a kind of niceness that I never tire of, and it’s very, very French. 

Sending Flowers

March 19, 2008


Just when I needed them, France sent me flowers.  It’s an early, fragile spring this year.


The cherry tree is covering itself cautiously with blossoms, opening just a few at a time lest wind destroy the crop.  I’ve heard that this tree produces wonderful fruit, and I’m hoping that this will be a good year for cherries.  It’s poignant, because the palm tree next to it, like all the palm trees in our yard and many of the palms in the south of France, is dying from a noxious infestation of grubs.


Sometimes a flower is just a flower, just beauty, just something that stops you in your tracks with its extravagant impracticality.


My favorites are the flowers that remind me of the fruit to come, and in the process remind me of how to live: before we can have fruit, flowers must fall.

Drink To Me Only

March 16, 2008


As I mentioned here, we left ViniSud with a wine importer in tow.  You can meet him here, Michel from Vinotas Selections, who just happens to import some excellent wines that are made very near to us.  Lucky us, being able to visit the wineries with him. 

Although things have been considerably modernized since the days this little beauty was in use, Jean-Marie Popelin is still making wine à l’ancienne, the good old-fashioned way


at the first winery we visited.  Château Haut-Musiel is a very small producer in Domazan whose wines are all hand made.  There’s no actual château involved, more of a shed in fact, but thanks to the spirit and the care with which they’re made, the wines are worthy of the name.


The reds are a treat, quirky, interesting, and the rosé is outrageously good, one of the freshest and brightest I’ve tasted here.  This was my first time to do barrel tasting


and it was really an education for me to taste wines before their bottling and to try to imagine how they’d evolve over the next months or years.  After we tasted Jean-Marie poured the wine back into the barrels.  It’s going to ferment anyway, you know.

Later we headed to Château de Montfaucon where Rudolphe and Mari de Pins are making beautiful wines at the foot of an imposing château.


Rodolphe is a thinking person’s winemaker; the art and science he brings to his wines is starting to get a lot of attention, and after tasting his wines and hearing how they’re made I can really see why.


Mari, a transplanted Finn, offers tastings and sells wines from the counter at the winery.


Their reds, whites, and rosé are all utterly delicious. 

By the end of the day I’d acquired quite a few bottles from the two wineries, and it’s going to be a distinct pleasure to pour them throughout the summer.  You can find a few of these wines in the U.S., and if you see some, grab it.  And then drink it in the spirit in which it was made, with passion, intelligence, and a reverence for all that wine brings to the table.

The Fruit Of The Vine

March 13, 2008


I haven’t been talking about wine a lot recently, I suppose because I’ve been too busy drinking it.


Have you ever been in a room with literally thousands of bottles of wine and the opportunity to taste each and every one?  I got to do that recently, and it’s an experience.  And if there’s just one thing I learned there it’s to spit, spit, spit.


ViniSud was a three day wine expo with over 1700 wineries showing their wines.  It was for professionals only, no tourists guzzling free wine, but since I’m taking a wine tasting class my teacher got a few of us in for an afternoon.  It was everything you might imagine


starting with wine barrel art in the entryway,


people tasting, scoring, and spitting everywhere you looked,


beautiful displays,


beautiful and serious people, a surprising number of them really young,


and deals being made that will determine what we’ll all be drinking this year.  This is Big Wine, a huge show that happens every two years, with about 35,000 professional visitors from all over the world.  The wines on display, and for sale if you’re willing to pop for several thousand bottles, were mostly French, but also from Spain, Italy, and other surprising Mediterranean countries like Tunisia and Lebanon.  I have to admit to having tasted only the French stuff, but if I’d had more time and more stamina I’d have been dying to find out what kind of wine they’re making on Cyprus these days.

Wine tasting is actually hard work.  I know you’re laughing, but really, some of it is terrible but you don’t know that until it’s already in your mouth, and then you have to get rid of the taste and move on to the next one.  Even if you spit religiously some small bit is absorbed by your tongue, or your gums, or someplace sneaky inside your mouth, and so it’s easy to get a little spinny.  And then sometimes a wine is so good that you just want to stay at that stand and drink a glass of everything they have to offer, but no, you have to move on and someone has to drive home.

As thrilling as it all was, one of the best parts was that we got to bring a wine importer home with us, and the next day he took us for a completely different sort of wine experience, Micro Wine.  Stay tuned.