Friday, October 29, 2010

Tuesday Morning Market, Vaison-la-Romaine

Yesterday afternoon was the last farmer's market for this year in Occidental, the small village in west Sonoma County California where Bistro Des Copains, the French country bistro we co-own with friends Cluney and Ferney is located.

Unfortunately, shoppers and tourists who came to the market yesterday were greeted by gray sky and drizzle. This stopped a few rain-adverse souls from coming, but those that did brave the weather, enjoyed the annual holloween celebration which marks the end of the market season in Occidental.

Every time I see a market, I immediately think about the wonderful market that takes place every Tuesday morning, rain or shine in Vaison-la-Romaine. We don't mind at all not having a weekly market in Sablet since Vaison-la-Romaine is only 10 minutes away.

Regardless of our normal routine (mine usually includes a petit café at Café des Sports and the International Herald Tribune), we alway get going early on market day so we find parking near Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth (Cathedral of Our Lady of Nazareth) before the crowds arrive.

You can tell the passing of the season by what is on display for sale each week. Here are a few pictures of items from the several hundred vendors when we were at the Vaison-la-Romaine market last month.

This week, we were thrilled to find the first cèpe (porcini) mushrooms of the season on display.

There were also girolle (a member of the chanterelle family) mushrooms.

There were still beautiful berries available for anyone who hadn't had their fill already this summer.

There were tables of various onions and shallots.

There were displays of stone fruits like peaches and nectarines.

There were table grapes. I love the Muscat grapes; so sweet.

There were tables of saucisson sec (dry sausages) of all flavors, perfect for hors d'œuvres.

Tables of spices of all kinds. You buy what you need for the week, thereby assuring that your spices are always fresh; no bottles or tins of spices one or two years old.

There are also vendors selling brightly colored baskets.

More saucisson sec (dry sausages) and cured meats.


There is food to emporter (take with you) like pizza and paella and this vendor with roast chicken.


Dried sanglier (wild boar).

Our favorite poissonier, fish monger or fish seller. He comes to Sablet and sets up his truck every Thursday morning.

Some of his shellfish for sale that week. He only sells the freshest seafood available.

Lots of fresh produce was on display.

More mushrooms.

Jams and jellies of all types. You have to have a jar or two to spread on your baguette for petit déjeuner (breakfast).

There are many displays of saucisson sec (dry sausages). You can see this seller has some with truffle (truffles), ane (donkey), and myrtilles (blueberry).

A big pan of telline (local shellfish) cooking.

A table mounded with strands of garlic.

What market in Provence would be complete without beautiful fabrics?

We will be returning to Provence soon and we are already planning our trip to the Tuesday market. If you are in the area, make sure you go. You don't want to miss it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ménerbes, A Plus Beaux Village de France

I fell in love with France, or at least a tiny part of it, during childhood trips to visit my father's family at the Metairie Neuve, the family farm located near Viane, a small hamlet about 15 km from Lacaune in the southeast region of Tarn France.

It wasn't until quite a few years later that I discovered and began my love affair with Provence through the pages of Peter Mayle's charming book "A Year In Provence" and his other books that followed.

If you don't know, "A Year in Provence," describes Provence, its culture and the people Mayle encounters from this Englishman's unique perspective after he and his wife leave London, buy a stone farmhouse in a Luberon village, fix it up, and adopt the region as their new home.

The village where Mayle and his wife settled was Ménerbes, a beautiful village perched along the top of a long ridge of the north face of the Luberon. Ménerbes is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, wife Shirley and I drove to Ménerbes from Sablet to visit Peter Mayle's village (I should mention that the Mayle's don't live there anymore). Here are a few pictures from our visit to Ménerbes.

In the village, narrow streets wind up and down past lovely old homes.

A beautiful door on a home in Ménerbes.

A colorful door.

A wrought-iron gate into a private home in Ménerbes.

An old stone fountain.

There are beautiful vistas where ever you look from Ménerbes.

Place de l'Horloge and the wrought-iron campanile (bell tower) atop the Mairie (town hall). Through the arch, there is a magnificent view out across the plains with several villages visible.

Also at Place de l'Horloge, there is the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin (House of Truffles and Wine).

A beautiful stone house in Ménerbes.

Église Saint-Luc stands at the east end of Ménerbes and dates back to the 14th century.

Another beautiful door in Ménerbes.

This 13th century fortress was rebuilt in the 16th and 19th centuries.

Cousin Annick and Shirley walking in Ménerbes.

One of the many beautiful vistas from Ménerbes.

As we got to the end of our walk around Ménerbes, we stopped for drinks near the entrance to the village. As we sat there, I could see this sign saying La Vie est Belle (Life is Beautiful). I couldn't agree more.

If you go to Ménerbes, you might want to stop by the Musée du Tire-Bouchon (Cork Screw Museum) at La Citadelle winery about 1 km outside Ménerbes on the road to Cavaillon. The museum displays 1000 cork screws from the 17th century to today.

I would guess the Mayles were attracted to Ménerbes more for the house and the surrounding area rather than the village itself. While Ménerbes and the surrounding area are very pretty, there is not much village life as far as we could see.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bistro Preface, Roaix

As we do our daily errands and travel to villages and wineries throughout the northern Vaucluse Department, our route often takes us past the small village of Roaix about 7 kms north of Sablet.

Just past the rond-point (roundabout) in Roaix, on the Route de Vaison-la-Romaine, there is Le Grand Pré, a gastronomic restaurant (one star in the Michelin Guide) owned by husband and wife team Raoul and Flora Reichrath.

One of the first meals we had in the area after signing the papers for the purchase of our house was at Le Grand Pré restaurant with our friend Ferney; we have been fans ever since.

The couple recently opened a casual bistro called Bistro Preface next to Le Grand Pré restaurant where you can enjoy the chef's wonderful food for less than 30 Euros per person.

We had not eaten at Bistro Preface so last month we decided we would do just that. You enter Le Grand Pré restaurant and Bistro Preface by way of a narrow walkway into a walled courtyard perfumed by the herbs growing for the kitchen's use.

The courtyard is divided into two parts, one side for Le Grand Pré restaurant and the other for Bistro Preface. We were welcomed and seated at a small table without tablecloth in keeping with the casual feel of the Bistro.

We were surprised and pleased to see that Jean-Hugo, son of our friend Daniel Roger, chef and patron (owner) of Maison Bleue in Villedieu, was going to take care of us. He is a student at a hotel school in Nîmes.

Shortly after being seated, we were brought a plate with a ramekin of creamy anchovy puree topped with a lone anchovy and one of hummus topped with a few garbanzo beans to spread on the accompanying little toasties.

We looked over the wine list and picked a bottle of 2007 Domaine Jean David's organically produced Les Levants, a delicious blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cournoise and Syrah from nearby Séguret.

For entree (starter), wife Shirley chose the caesar salad with delicious but unusual for a caesar salad, additions of sundried tomatoes, nicoise olives, sesame seeds and various herbs.

I decided on the Brandade de Morue with croutons and fish soup sauce. This was a rich, deeply flavored dish of salt cod with a yummy sauce. You can have the Brandade served warm or cold; with Jean-Hugo's help, I chose to have it warm.

For my plat (main course), I decided on the Navarin d'agneau, tomato braised lamb cubes with potatoes, carrots, and celery served with a dish of fusilli pasta. I love lamb, especially braised and this was delicious.

As you probably know from reading Our House in Provence blog, Shirley is mostly vegetarian but she does like fish so she chose grand aïoli. Bistro Preface's version included steamed cod with carrots, pea pods, cauliflower, boiled egg and a pungent garlic aïoli sauce.

We both ended our meals with petit cafés and vacherin; layers of chocolate, vanilla and meringue.

We went without reservations and I recommend you go, but not without reservations, especially during summer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Caviar d'Aubergine (eggplant puree)

Several years ago, it was in November as I recall, I was standing in line at Marseille Provence airport to check in for an Air France flight to Paris. As luck would have it, Air France pilots were on strike that day over proposed changes to pensions (have you heard this before) and most flights had been cancelled.

While standing in line, I chatted with a nice couple who I found out lived in Villedieu, one of our favorite villages in the Vaucluse. Bruce and Christine were booked on my same flights as they were headed to San Francisco to see family.

After first telling them they would have to wait till the next day when flights were supposed to resume, they booked Bruce and Christine on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt and then on to San Francisco. They did the same for me which gave us a chance to get acquainted.

Before we parted company in San Francisco, we agreed we would stay in touch and meet for dinner at Maison Bleue in Villedieu when we returned to Sablet in the spring. The following April when I got back to Sablet, one of the first things I did was call Bruce and we made plans to meet for dinner.

Bruce suggested we meet at their house for aperitifs before going to dinner at Maison Bleue, a wonderful pizzeria in Villedieu. Villedieu is about 15 minutes by car from from Sablet. I arrived and was welcomed into their charming home, a short walk from the center of the village.

Along with some wine from the area, there was a dish of what Bruce called caviar d'aubergine and plate of toasts. This was his delicious creation and he generously shared the recipe with me. The recipe is easy and I have made it many times since.

If you want a tasty hors d'oeuve, here is a great one from Provence. Start with 3 medium eggplants; split them in half. Do not peel them.

Score the eggplants as shown here.

Brush them with olive oil.

Roast the eggplants on a baking sheet in the oven for 1 hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 200 degrees Celsius until they are nicely golden on top. I turn the baking pan around every 15 minutes to compensate for hot and cold spots in the oven so the eggplants roast evenly.

When the eggplant has cooled, scoop the roasted flesh of the eggplant into a blender or food processor.

Add all the remaining ingredients (tomato paste, crushed garlic cloves, olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, sugar and salt) to the roasted eggplant in the blender and pulse till smooth. The ingredients are listed at the end of this post.

Serve with toasts.


3 medium eggplants
2/3 of a 6 oz can tomato paste
3 cloves crushed garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar

Thank you Bruce and Christine for your friendship and for sharing your recipe. I have made a couple of minor modifications to suit my taste but we think of you each time we enjoy your tasty creation.

The pictures were taken in the kitchen at our home in Sablet.