Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Us to You

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, wherever you are, however you say it, we wish you a Merry Christmas and we hope you have had a wonderful day.

This has been an unusual Christmas for our family. Eldest daughter Tricia and family are spending the holiday with her in-laws in Southern California. Wife Shirley and youngest daughter Stephanie are both working at the hospital today, Shirley on a neurology floor and Stephanie on a neonatal intensive care unit.

To top it off, little Madison is under the weather and parents Stephanie and Earl took her to the Emergency Room this morning to see the doctor. Thankfully, since Stephanie works at the hospital, they didn't have to wait and they were in and out and back home.

We did take a few minutes to sit in front of the tree with Abbi for a Christmas picture before we started opening gifts. Do note the red ribbon in Abbi's hair; she went to the cleaner and got groomed all pretty and sweet for Christmas.

"Santa' was very good to me. I asked for books, especially cookbooks and my wishes were fulfilled. Shirley says giving me cookbooks is like giving the gift that keeps on giving. I look forward to trying out the recipes from each of the books.

Besides cooking brunch this morning and preparing dishes (mushroom leek stuffing) for Stephanie to take to her work potluck and Shirley too (roast beet salad), I fixed a couple of dishes to take to the neighbors house. In between all of the gift opening, eating and cooking, I also found time to call family in Michigan, New Mexico, France and chat with the guests who are staying at our home in Sablet this week.

Our long time neighbors invited me and son-in-law Earl over for Christmas dinner tonight. Not sure if Earl will make it or not as he is taking care of sick children. I am taking a couple of dishes to contribute to the feast.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gigondas, a Pretty Village and a Must Stop for Red Wine Lovers

A few nights ago, I was chatting with a diner at Bistro Des Copains about the similarities between Sonoma County where we live in Northern California and the area around Sablet where we live in Provence France and how lucky we are to live in both places.

The similarities include vineyards everywhere, olive trees, although fewer in Sonoma County, more and more olive trees are being planted in Sonoma County every year, both areas are close to the sea so we have a wide variety of fresh seafood, artisan cheese makers, and the regions produce a bounty of fruits and vegetables. There is in fact a formal sister region relationship between Sonoma County and Provence France.

Despite the similarities, wife Shirley and I can't come up with anything we have in Sonoma County besides our family and dear friends that we don't have in Provence. By contrast, there are quite a few things in Provence that you won't find in Sonoma County, which makes Provence unique and special.

Some of the different things about Provence near Sablet include amazing ruins from the Romans like the Pont du Gard and the Arènes - the Roman amphitheater in Nîmes, the Transhumance - the annual migration of sheep between the valleys and mountains where they graze in the summer (the link is to my friend Barbara's post about a Transhumance festival on her beautiful blog Cuisine de Provence.

Other unique things include the year around weekly markets, ok yes there are weekly markets in Sonoma County but none like Provence, Christmas markets and santons, truffles, one of the largest truffle markets in Europe takes place on Saturday mornings during the season in Richerenches about 30 minutes from Sablet, saffron, Le Mistral - an infamous fierce and cold wind, Cistercian abbeys, and lots of beautiful old medieval villages.

We love exploring the small villages of Provence. No two are alike as each village is seemingly influenced by its geography - Cassis by the Mediterranean Sea, topography - Gordes by its location on a giant rock, geology - Roussillon by the ocher deposits, history - Villedieu by the Knights of Templar or industry - Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is influenced by both its papal history and famous vineyards.

Sablet is located between Séguret, a small beautiful village to the north and Gigondas, a village renown for its wine to the south. We think Gigondas is one of the prettiest of all the Côtes du Rhône wine villages and a must stop for red wine lovers. From afar, Gigondas seems little more than a cluster of stone houses on a hillside with a church below the Dentelles de Montmirail overlooking the vineyard covered valley below.

Turn off the D-7 and follow the road up through the lower village; you will pass a succession of cafés and wine caves - tasting rooms, before you arrive at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie - town hall, and the Caveau du Gigondas - the wine growers cooperative, are located. You can taste most current releases of Gigondas wine at the cooperative and buy bottles to take with you.

Park your car here and take time to explore Gigondas. Time your visit so you can eat lunch on the village square at one of our favorite lunch spots; L'Oustalet, owned by the Perrin family is an outstanding restaurant and one of my favorites in the area or for simpler fare, go to Du Verre a l'Assiette, one of Shirley's favorites. Make reservations so you are not disappointed.

The pictures which follow are some we took this summer during one of our visits to Gigondas. Stroll the pretty narrow streets lined with stone houses up to the parish Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria with its central clock tower flanked by the campanile belfry; the church dates from the beginning of the 17th century.

Some of the rampart ruins - the ancient defensive fortifications around Gigondas.

A view from near the ruins of the castle of the Princes of Orange over the village.

Wife Shirley and niece Leslie walking down the path from the castle to the village along the rampart ruins.

Me and Leslie pausing on the path to enjoy the view.

A view over the vineyard covered valley.

A view from above the village towards Sablet with the parish Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the foreground.

The Gigondas cemetery with the parish Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the background.

Some of the renown Gigondas vineyards outside the old ramparts.

The parish Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. A hollow on the front facade shelters a statue of the Virgin Mary. There is a lot of modern sculpture around the village. I must say it looks somewhat odd set among the ancient buildings.

The upper ramparts.

The stairway walk up the hospice which dates from 1678. After the French revolution, the hospice became a girl's school up to the beginning of the 20th century when it was abandoned and fell into ruins.

Some of the Gigondas vineyards with the Dentelles de Montmirail in the background.

The courtyard of the old hospice.

The view from the hospice.

The village ramparts in the background with the top of the parish Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the foreground.

One of the pretty streets lined with stone houses in Gigondas.

A pretty stone house in Gigondas.

Back on the main street in front of the poterie artisanale - pottery shop, leading to Place Gabriel Andéol and the main commercial area in Gigondas.

An old stone house.

There are many reasons to visit Gigondas, not the least of which is its a charming village with great views. If you like big red wines, save time for tasting at one of the tasting rooms or the wine growers cooperative. If you have time, plan to hike up to the Dentelles de Montmirail, more about that in a future post.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Calanques and Restaurant Bonaparte, Cassis

Friday morning July 15 was our wedding anniversary -- a perfect day to be in Provence. Shirley and I, along with niece Leslie who was visiting from Florida, were in our car and headed to Cassis. We had decided that it would be wonderful to spend our anniversary in Cassis, eat lunch and go out on a boat to see the calanques.

Cassis is a very picturesque town on a steep hillside with vineyards and pastel-colored houses which tumble down to the tiny seaside port lined with more pastel-colored houses and shops about 1 and 1/2 hour drive from our house in Sablet.

We have been to Cassis many times but had never taken a boat ride out to the Massif des Calangues which stretch for nearly 20 kms between Cassis and Marseille. Nature lovers have been attracted to the Massif des Calanque's solid limestone, whiteness and weather-worn peaks for a long time.

But the unique charm and beauty of the Massif des Calanques stem from the deep walled, narrow inlets --the famous calanques, chiseled out along the coastline creating a beautiful trilogy of sea, sky and rocks.

Boat tours operate from the Cassis port, the tourism office there sells tickets for trips that take you to 3, 7 or 13 calangues. We opted for the 45-minute boat tour of 3 calanques.

The following are pictures of Cassis from the Bois D'Amour II --our boat for the trip, and tour along the coast out to the calanques and back. Leslie and me soak up the sunshine while we wait on the boat for departure to the calanques.

A seagull enjoys a swim in the still water of the Cassis port.

A boat returning from a tour of the calanques.

We are underway!

A shot back to Cassis and a beach full of sunbathers.

The coast line with the blue sky backdrop.

More coastline with the magnificent blue sky backdrop.

A few of the calanques are accessible on foot and rocks along the way provide the perfect spot for sunbathing.

Limestone rock formations.

The calanque de Port-Miou, the calanque closest to Cassis.

As I said earlier, you can access a few of the calanques on footpaths along the sea.

More coastline with the white limestone rock formations with the backdrop of the magnificent blue sky.

Flat limestone walls.

The large calanque of Port-Pin with its sandy beach surrounded by pine trees.

The tree appears to grow right out of the limestone rock formation.

The entrance to the calanque d'En-Vau.

The pretty calanque d'En-Vau, the best known of the calanques with its white cliffs, emerald water and stony beach.

Headed back to Cassis.

The western beach of Cassis.

Meanwhile back in Cassis, the sandy Plage de la Grande Mer, on the seaside of the breakwater.

We arrived in Cassis late-morning and after wandering through the Friday morning Marché Provençal and in and out of shops decided that we would have lunch before we went on our boat excursion. I have complained in several previous posts that we have not found a really good restaurant alongside the port.

And several times, Sara over at Sara in Le Petit Village, one of my favorite blogs, has suggested we try Le Bonaparte Restaurant. The restaurant is located on a side street several blocks off the port. There is a small dining room and seating on the street.

Shirley and Leslie smile for yet another picture.

We chose a bottle of the 2009 Clos Sainte Magdeleine made of a blend of Marsanne, Ugni, Clairette and Bourboulenc. We have visited this domaine and I can't imagine a more beautiful wine estate in Cassis.

The Le Bonaparte Restaurant is owned by the chef Jean-Marie who has been in business 23 years. I asked about the grilled fish of the day on the menu and a few minutes later chef Jean-Marie came to our table with a hotel pan with whole large (meant to be shared by two people) and smaller sized Loup de Mer and Daurade.

Our entrée -- starters, included Moules Marinières -- mussels steamed in white wine and

Moules Gratinées -- a saucy mussel gratin and

an off the menu salad made for Shirley with greens and tomatoes.

Our plats -- main courses included the whole grilled Daurade I chose from chef Jean-Marie; it was served and filleted table side with mashed potatoes.

Other main courses included grilled salmon served over pasta with a taragon cream sauce and

pan roasted white fish from the cod family served over pasta with a red cream sauce.

Our dessert choices included a chocolate brownie with a sabayon sauce and

apple tart with vanilla ice cream and

a delicious chocolate mousse.

To finish our meal, chef Jean-Marie sent out two glasses of crème de cassis for the ladies and a glass of cognac for me. A very nice touch and most pleasant way to end our wonderful meal at Le Bonaparte

Thank you Sara for your recommendation. We will return many times I am sure to this restaurant and recommend it to anyone willing to fore go a view for great food. I would make that choice any day based upon our previous experiences at port side restaurants.

If you are not familiar with Sara's blog, I would encourage you to go check out her entertaining blog, she is a most interesting writer, at Sara in Le Petit Village.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.