Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Encore Provence

We all made it to Sablet, safe and sound. Our four grandkids, Avery, Dylan, Caedon and Madison, did very well according to their parents on the flights between San Francisco and Germany (Frankfurt and Munich) but were a little grumpy on the flight from Germany to Marseille.

As I wrote in a previous blog, I came over a day early, arriving on Sunday, to make sure the house was warm and stock the refrigerator and cupboards with the stuff we don't buy at the weekly market in Vaison-la-Romaine.

After I finished shopping at Intermarché and putting my purchases away, I headed to cousin Jean Marc and Christine's house in Clapier, northwest of Montpellier for a holiday lunch with my Uncle Élie and bunch of first cousins once removed.

We filled a long table, there were seventeen in all, my uncle, his wife Monique, cousins Jean Marc, Christine and Bernard, first cousins once removed Noémi, Guillaume, Aurélie, Hans, Claire-Lyse, Stephan, Anne-Emmanuelle, Nicolas, Matthias, Vincent, Camille and me.

After a leisurely lunch prepared by Christine - a great cook - I took off to Marseille Provence Airport to rendezvous with daughter Tricia and her family: husband Alvin, daughter Avery and son Caedon. Despite spending hours confined in an airplane, the kids were full of energy upon their arrival at the exit from the baggage area. Caedon was happy to see his Papa waiting for him.

Avery was all smiles as she rode atop the family's baggage out to meet me; she did offer immediately "Papa, I screamed a lot". Parents Alvin and Tricia were not sure if this outburst on the flight between Munich and Marseille was due to being sick and tired of being cooped up or because her ears were hurting; probably some of both.

A short night's sleep, up early, the kids were awake at 5 AM due to the 9-hours difference in time, we were one of the first patrons at the boulangerie and Café des Sports where we went for café au lait, coffees, and chocolat chaud - hot chocolate.

I am happy to be back in Sablet and see my friend Bruno who is patron - owner of Café des Sports. I returned at the end of the day for l'apéro, a pastis, the cost 1,50 Euro, this compares to probably $7.00 or $8.00 dollars in most American bistros. Before I left, he poured me another pastis and said "cadeau - gift".

In between my two visits to Café des Sports, we went to the market in Vaison-la-Romaine, bought fresh produce and also visited Lou Canesteou and stocked up with cheese for fondue, Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois, Parmigiano-Reggiano for risotto, and Reblochon, Banon, Pelardon and Roquefort for cheese plate.

We returned home and fixed a simple lunch of saffron pea risotto (made from locally produced saffron) and green salad. For dessert we had fruit we picked up at the market. At lunch, we were joined by wife Shirley, daugher Stephanie, her husband Earl and their children Dylan and Madison who had arrived while we were at the market on their flight from San Francisco.

After lunch and a short siesta, I went to Vaison Menager at the suggestion of Barbara from Cuisine de Provence and found my de-natured alcohol. A very eclectic store, I also bought a raclette oven, a le creuset non-stick saute pan and a iron screen to put in front of the fire place. I guess I am not sure if I am happy that Barbara suggested I go there since I spent so much money.

This morning we were awaken early again by Dylan calling out at 3 AM, Shirley went and got him and went downstairs so his mommy Stephanie and daddy Earl could sleep. I followed them down shortly after and found Shirley and Dylan concentrating on putting together a puzzle.

I am hoping that the kids will nap later today so they are not too cranky but not too much so they won't sleep tonight. Bonne journée!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Deck the Table with Cheese

I leave for Sablet tomorrow, Christmas; wife Shirley and the rest of the family -- depending upon work schedules -- take off on Sunday and Monday. We decided that I should go early so I could shop and make sure the house is toasty warm when everyone gets there.

One of my first stops will be to pick up a nice assortment of cheese, one or more made from milk of goats, sheep, a blue and one from cow's milk, for a plateau de fromage - cheese platter and others for cooking some wonderful cheesy dishes.

I have to admit, I have started to obsess about the cheese we are going to eat in Sablet. This fixation on cheese started when I read David Lebovitz's post Making Swiss Cheese Fondue and Raclette some weeks back.

Then Sarah in "Sarah in Le Petit Village" wrote I Heart Raclette about eating raclette and then about eating fondue in Sunday is Cheeseday. That was followed by Honey who posted about making tartiflette in her blog "I'm an Outlaw, Not a Hero."

This week David Lebovitz has been at it again writing about how farmers bring their cow's milk to fruitières to make Comté cheese in Comté Cheese Making and ripened in fromageries in Comté Cheese Ripening and Tasting. I was interested to find that Comté cheese is made in a different location than where it is ripened and by different artisans.

And then the above mentioned Sarah had a snow day and she and The Husband and some of her French family decided to gather at Brother-in-Law's and have fondue and raclette in the same meal in It's A Cheese Cheese Cheese World. There has been no shortage of tasty cheese posts to stimulate my appetite for cheese.

Luckily for us, we have a fantastic cheese shop in Vaison-la-Romaine, which is a quick 10 km drive north from where we live in Sablet. Lou Canesteou cheese shop is in the center of Vaison-la-Romaine on a side street off Place Montfort, the town's main square.

The shop is owned by Josiane and Christian Deal. She has been recognized as a Meilleur Ouvrier de France for her cheese knowledge and skill in aging cheese. In addition to her large selection of cheese, the store also carries a good selection of gourmet products such as wines, locally produced saffron, honey, dried mushrooms and olive oil.

Lou Canesteou has many cheeses on display in refrigerated cases and on shelves along the back wall. I always ask Madame Deal to recommend a variety of cheeses and without fail, she chooses cheeses that are perfectly ripened and we love.

I don't think I mentioned it but I am bringing a brand new fondue pot with me in my luggage. We are definitely planning to have a fondue one or two times while we are in Sablet. The question is, where do I find de-natured alcohol for the burner in France?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Provence for the Holidays; Looking for Ideas!

We are ready for Christmas here in California. The tree is beautiful, simply decorated by wife Shirley, only one tree this year, rather than our usual two. We are staying slightly low key this year because we are all leaving for Provence right after Christmas.

When I say all, I mean everyone including daughters Tricia and Stephanie, their husbands Alvin and Earl and our four adorable, if I say so myself, grandchildren Avery (4 years), Dylan (3 years), Caedon (2 years) and Madison (1 month old).

We have a few santons set out which I bought a few years ago in Les Beaux. I bought them for display at our Bistro Des Copains but we don't have the space for a creche at the Bistro so we have the santons at home.

The only family member staying home is Abbi. Abbi is a 150 pound Newfoundland. She is as sweet and loving as she can be; yes she does drool some, especially after she eats, drinks or runs. Abbi thinks she is human and never likes to be more than a few steps away from us even when we sleep.

Abbi will be home watching over the house, we think it would be complicated and hard on Abbi to travel in a plane so she doesn't get to come to Provence when we go.

This will be our first time in Sablet or anywhere in Provence at Christmas time or for New Years. The last time I was in France at this time of year was back in 1966 and 1967 when we lived in Strasbourg while my father was a doctoral student at the University of Strasbourg.

We don't have many plans so we are looking for suggestions for things to do. We are looking forward to catching up with neighbors, meeting with friends in Villedieu and of course spending time with our French family. I am especially looking forward to meeting several of the bloggers I follow who live in the Vaucluse.

So what are good things to do or see at this time of year in the Vaucluse? We will have two cars so we can go different places but we are looking for some things to do that our grandkids will enjoy. I know for one thing, we are going to Avignon's Place de l'Horloge so they can ride the carousel.

As you probably know, we are co-owners of a small bistro called Bistro des Copains in Northern California. Most of my family love food and wine so if there are special food and wine events, special markets, that would be right up our alley. I want to find truffles where should I go?

Are there any special or unique celebrations to bring in the New Year? Any ideas or suggestions would be most appreciated! We wish you all Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Roundabouts - Orange

We are fascinated by the roundabouts in the Vaucluse. Many are beautifully designed, have some type of art form and usually reflect something important about the town or village where they are located. For the next few weeks, I am posting pictures of different roundabouts in the Vaucluse. Today's roundabouts are in Orange.

There are some unusual roundabouts in the Vaucluse, probably none more so than in Orange. Orange is about 25 minutes from Sablet and best known to wife Shirley and I as an exit off the A7 and A9 to get home to Sablet.

Orange is also where our insurance agency is located and the Tresor Public. I had to go there to submit a signed form with details about the size and number of chambres - rooms in our house. It seems the information submitted by our Notaire when we bought the house didn't match what they had on file; the house was now bigger and had more rooms, meaning taxes would be higher. Qu'elle surprise.

Orange is best known to most people for its Roman architecture, especially the Roman theater and the Triumphal Arch of Orange which is said to date from the time of Augustus. In 1981, the arch, theater and surroundings were designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Here are four roundabouts we like in Orange. The first is a roundabout that circles the Triumphal Arch of Orange. The arch is decorated with sculptures of military themes, including naval battles, spoils of war and Romans battling Germanics and Gauls.

The roundabout below was built around the Theater of Orange. This theater, not to be confused with Orange's Roman theater, was inaugurated in 1885. The busts of Molière, Corneille, and Félicien David on the theater symbolize comedy, tragedy and music respectively.

This roundabout with its jet poised for take off is located at exit 22 off the A7 autoroute where we exit to Sablet when returning from shopping at IKEA or the other grande surface - super stores which are in Le Pontet or coming from the Marseille Provence airport. This jet represents the Orange-Caritat Air Force base located nearby.

We don't ever see or hear jets except when a precision flying team is performing aerobatics and releasing colorful jet streams as they fly in formation above the vineyards. I wish I could take credit for this picture but it is from Wikopedia of the Patrouille de France performing aerobatics in 2004.

We see this roundabout with flowers and fountain at exit 21 where the A9 and A7 autoroutes meet and we exit the A9 from Nîmes or returning from a visit to cousin Jean Marc near Montpellier. This is the exit to central Orange.

Check back to see other roundabouts that catch my eye in the Vaucluse. I will post these between my usual posts about our dining experiences, visits to interesting places and reflections on life in Provence.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Le Temps De Vivre, Uchaux

I was reading emails one day last summer and happy to find one with questions about Sablet, the village we call home when we are in Provence. Bob, the writer of the email, said he and his wife were going to be in Sablet in September and had stumbled across our blog when he Googled "Sablet to Cassis" to figure out the distance between Sablet and Cassis, one of our favorite towns on the Mediterranean Sea.

Bob began his email by explaining he is a planner and likes to carefully plan their trips and asked if I would be willing to answer a few questions about Sablet and the surrounding area despite the fact, he was sorry to say, they were not renting our house.

I love to talk about Sablet and the Vaucluse and I am always happy to share what knowledge I have about our beautiful corner of Provence. I was thrilled Bob found our blog and emailed as it is always nice to know there are people in cyberspace reading what I write.

I know some of you who read my blog, and I have become cyber friends with others, mostly fellow bloggers who comment regularly; thank you, I hope to meet up with you in the future. Some readers dine regularly at our Bistro Des Copains, and a couple readers made special trips to dine there, which I consider a great honor. I know some of my family read the blog but I don't really know who else reads it.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with Le Temps De Vivre? Well that first email from Bob was followed by several more and we soon figured out that wife Shirley and I were going to be in Sablet at the same time as Bob and Lynn (his wife). We exchanged contact information in Sablet and made plans to get together.

We met up several times for l'apéro, a delightful moment of the day in France when you can slow down, have a drink, and transition between the day's activity and a pleasurable meal. We also got together for dinner at our house, along with friends from Villedieu and one evening we went to eat at Le Temps de Vivre.

Shirley and I have eaten several times at Le Temps de Vivre, a wonderful restaurant owned by the chef and his wife just north of Uchaux in the tiny hamlet of Les Farjons. We headed out with Bob and Lynn and after a pretty, 25 minute drive past vineyard after vineyard, we arrived at Le Temps de Vivre.

Entrance to Le Temps de Vivre is through the terrace dining area which was not in use this evening as it was quite cool; we were happy to be offered a table in the cozy dining room. Although it was September, and not exactly the off season, there were only one or two other tables with diners.

Shirley with our new friends Bob and Lynn from Cincinnati Ohio settling in at our table. The restaurant offers a small a La Carte menu and two set menus, one for 29 Euros and the other for 38 Euros. We all chose the set menu for 29 Euros.

To start off, the chef's wife brought us a glass with chilled tomato soup accompanied by a house-made bread stick with ham from the Vallée des Aldudes in the Pays-Basque.

Our first course was brandade of flaked cod, topped with pimientos de piquillos, small roasted red peppers from Navarra, Spain surrounded with a creamy garlic emulsion.

For our meat course, we were served Parmentier, shepherd's pie with shredded duck leg confit topped with mashed potatoes with vigneronne sauce, a delicious blend of shallots, red wine, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Since Shirley doesn't eat meat, the chef prepared her a delicious pan roasted swordfish served over eggplant "caviar", a tomato Provencal and a tapenade vinaigrette.

To transition to dessert, we were offered a small round of local chèvre, goat's cheese and a small green salad.

For dessert, we all enjoyed poached figs with sacristain au sucre roux, twisted puff pastry with baked brown sugar.

Every time we go to Le Temps de Vivre, I come away thinking it is one of the best price to quality restaurants in the area. I should reiterate, that it is a very small menu with few options so it is best for those who have few dislikes or food allergies. Bon appetit.

We are looking forward to a visit from Bob and Lynn to Northern California next summer.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saignon, Pretty Village in the Luberon

One Sunday morning we were meeting cousin Annick to explore some Luberon villages. As we were walking to our car to go meet her, we ran into an American couple we had met earlier in the week. They were leaving Sablet to return home so we chatted for a few minutes about their time in Provence.

They said they loved Sablet and had visited some of our favorite villages including Vaison-la-Romaine, Roussillon and Cassis but to my surprise, they said their favorite village was Saignon, a village in the Luberon we knew nothing about.

We met Annick in Bonnieux (more about that visit later) and since she didn't know Saignon either, we decided to go there. Saignon is about one and one-half hours drive southeast of Sablet near Apt, about 15 minutes from Bonnieux. Our first sight of Saignon as we arrived on the road from Bonnieux was a church.

The village of Saignon is perched at the top of a hill behind a rock with a great view over the plains.

Like most villages of France, Saignon has a war memorial dedicated "Aux Enfants de Saignon Morts Pour la France" - To the Children of Saignon Dead for France, near the ramparts with a great view over the Luberon.

We walked down the narrow streets of peaceful Saignon stopping frequently to

admire pretty houses with colorful shutters and potted gardens.

The mairie - town hall festooned with flags.

Across the way is the 12th century Romanesque church of Notre-Dame de Pitié.

The interior of Notre-Dame de Pitié. The church is also known as Saint Mary of Saignon.

A tree-shaded café.

The main square of Saignon with its ancient fountain.

The tall clock tower built in 1584 against a back drop of vivid blue Provençal sky.

Saignon is full of pretty houses such as this charming stone house next to one with pretty blue shutters.

The church of Notre-Dame de Pitié stands over the village.

A Saignon house with stone walls that are covered with green ivy.

The path through the stone archway leads up to the castle - chapel and rock of Saignon.

The castle - chapel which blends in with the rock of Saignon.

Wife Shirley enjoying the panoramic view over the plains.

The view from the rock of Saignon is breathtaking on a clear day.

More scenic views from Saignon.

As we were walking to our car, we came upon this local man making lavender wands. He had a sign which read "no photo" and underneath that "photo 5 Euro". I snapped a quick picture (I did it on the sly so I wouldn't have to pay) while Shirley and Annick chatted with him.

There is not much commercial activity in Saignon but I would visit anyway as the village is most charming and worthwhile to visit if you are in the Luberon. Enjoy your visit.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My self-indulgent trip to Paris - Part 4

A week ago,I took a self-indulgent trip to Paris. After learning that I was short a few thousand miles to maintain my status as a 1K flyer with United Airlines, I packed my bags for a quick trip before the end of the year. I didn't have enough time to go to Sablet so I went to Paris; I flew on Thursday, arriving early Friday morning. My flight home was on Sunday afternoon.

After lunch at La Fontaine de Mars on Saturday, cousin Matthias and I walked to the Metro station and squeezed ourselves onto the crowded train and headed toward Place de la Bastille near where his apartment is located.

If you don't know, Place de la Bastille is a large square, where the Bastille prison stood until the 'Storming of the Bastille' and was later destroyed between July 14, 1789 and July 14, 1790 during the French Revolution. The square straddles 3 arrondissements of Paris, namely the 4th, 11th and 12th.

In the center of Place de la Bastille stands the July Column (Colonne de Juillet), which to my surprise doesn't commemorate the storming of the Bastille but rather the Trois Glorieuses, the "three glorious" days in July 1830 that saw the fall of Charles X of France and the start of the "July Monarchy" of Louis-Philippe.

I don't usually spend a lot of time visiting museums or art galleries as they typically bore me, but I accepted Matthias' invite to accompany him to meet his Sorbonne classmate Astrid at the Centre Pompidou and see the Arman exhibition.

As I found out, Arman was a leading figure of post-war art. A founding member of New Realism, a movement promoting new "ways of approaching the real", Arman made art from manufactured objects produced by the consumer society. In my opinion, it looked like art made from junk collected from garbage.

The view from Centre Pompidou's upper level down to the square below looked quite mystical in the waning light of the day.

We invited Astrid to eat dinner with us at Le Cochon à l'Oreille, another bistro included on Alexander Lobrano's list of 23 best Paris bistros. Being a typical girl, Astrid wouldn't go to dinner until she changed clothes (I thought she looked cute the way she was, but what do I know).

We met up, Astrid in her newly changed outfit, in front of Le Cochon à l'Oreille (the pig has the ear) on Rue Montmartre in the 1st arrondissement near Les Halles.

We walked into the tiny belle epoque dining room with its old zinc counter, antique pay telephone and wooden booths, all charming reminders of Les Halles' heyday as the City's celebrated food market.

One wall of the Bistro is covered with ceramic tiles that depict scenes of Les Halles' market in all its chaotic splendor.

Madame, we later found out she was the wife of the patron - owner, came over to greet us and check our names against her list of reservations. She told the waiter to seat us and he directed us to an empty booth. Before we got there, madame loudly rebuffed him saying that wouldn't work because it would be too difficult for us to get out of the booth after we finished eating.

The two got into a loud conversation including hand gesticulations pointing to the booth and then to me. This was not a discrete discussion about where to place a guest; no it was loud and it was clear it was me, not us, she was worried about. I was not offended in the least because it was so entertaining to watch.

Madame finished the argument by saying that yes, I could get into the booth no problem, but I wouldn't be able to get out after eating her food. So in the end, they pushed two round tables together in a corner and we sat there. We would have been fine in a booth but madame would have no part of that.

Matthias and Astrid sitting in our corner of the dining room. I thought they looked quite cozy but I was assured they are only friends and that Matthias has a girlfriend by the name of Aurelie.

The waiter propped the slate blackboard with the menu for the day on a nearby chair for us to consider. Astrid ordered the fillet and the waiter asked cuisson - doneness of the meat? Bien cuit - well done she replied; he said non mademoiselle, we will not serve the fillet bien cuit.

Our starters included escargots.

Oeuf en Meurette, poached egg in a rich reduction of red wine, stock, lardons and croutons.

Foie gras with toast.

Here we are at our "roomy" corner table. We ordered a bottle of the newly released Nouveau Beajolais to accompany our dinners.

For main course, instead of the fillet she originally ordered, Astrid chose the braised jarret d'agneau - lamb shank. It was tender and fell off the bone.

Steak au poivre and fries. I ordered "a point" and to my mind it was pretty close to rare but delicious. The fries were the best I have had in a long time. Delicious and perfectly crispy.

Fillet au poivre with more of those delicious fries.

For dessert, we chose a chocolate pot de creme.

And two tarte aux raisins - raisin tarts. First time, I have ever had a raisin tart and I hope not the last.

After dinner, we walked out to the street. We did la bise - exchanged kisses on alternating cheeks and Matthias and Astrid headed to the Metro station to go home and I grabbed a taxi to go back to my hotel.

Sunday morning, my self-indulgent weekend in Paris coming to an end, I grabbed a taxi to the airport. It was pouring rain! I had a great weekend, good food, wine and weather plus I had a chance to spend time with Matthias. I am sure this won't be the last self-indulgent trip I make to Paris.