Wednesday, September 28, 2011

She's Just Too Cute!

I love being a grandfather or "papa" as I am known to our four adorable mischievous grandchildren. However, I was sure I would not like being a grandfather nor did I think I was ready or nearly old enough to become a grandfather when my daughter Tricia and son-in-law Alvin announced that was exactly what was going to happen one night at a family dinner about 6 years ago.

Tricia didn't even get the big announcement out of her mouth when I had a horrible premonition about what she was going to say and shouted "Please God, don't tell me you're pregnant". I didn't think she was old enough to be a mother, although she was thirty years old, and I didn't think that she and Alvin were settled enough either, and I hated the thought of being called "grandpa".

Somehow, magically that all changed when I held first granddaughter Avery in my arms shortly after her birth some five plus years ago. Since Avery's arrival, daughter Stephanie and husband Earl gave us grandson Dylan. That was followed by Tricia's second child, a boy named Caedon and last but not least, baby Madison, joined the family via Stephanie and Earl a little over 10 months ago.

There is nothing better than walking into the house and having someone yell "papa" and come running at break neck speed with arms out stretcched for me to pick up and give a hug. I love the fact that its my job to spoil them. I love it when Dylan whispers conspiratorially into my ear "papa, can I come over and watch something with you and have a cookie (TV and cookies are limited at his house)"? I love it.

Grandma, or "GiGi" as she is known to the grand kids, took the picture below of baby Madison a few days ago. Madison is just so cute; I had to share the picture with all of you who read my blog about Provence. She stands wobbly and has taken a few steps and is fast becoming quite the independent little lady. I think she will give brother Dylan a run for his money.

Now this is generally a blog about our experiences in Provence and I am proud to say that Madison's first airplane trip was to Provence when she was six weeks old. So thank you for indulging grandfatherly bragging about my grandchildren.

People we meet frequently ask us if we are going to ever live full time in Sablet. While we love Sablet, we both agree we will never live there full time away from our children and especially Avery, Dylan, Caedon and Madison.

They are full of energy and keep us running to keep up with their activities. Avery started kindergarten this year, she is going to a Spanish immersion school and is quickly learning some basic Spanish. We wish there was a French immersion school but the closest one is in San Francisco and too far away for daily commuting.

Dylan loves all things sports and outdoors, takes after his father Earl who is a high school physical education teacher. Maybe this is grandfatherly pride, but I am convinced that Dylan is going to be a star athlete some day. He is remarkably gifted for a little boy less than four years of age.

Caedon is just figuring out the world, learning to use the potty, trying to keep up with cousin Dylan. Caedon and Dylan started pre-school this year and I can imagine they are quite the handful for their teachers. We will see how this all turns out.

Don't worry Tricia and Stephanie, I promise I will show off pictures of Avery, Dylan and Caedon whenever GiGi takes some new cute pictures for me to post on this blog. We are headed to Sablet next week and we can't wait. But you can be certain we will miss the daily hugs and good times with Avery, Dylan, Caedon and Madison.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Les Abeilles Restaurant, Sablet

After a fun day wandering around Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (more about that in later posts), we returned home to Sablet and sat down on the terrace for aperitifs and to figure out what we were going to do for dinner that night.

I didn't feel like cooking, not an infrequent occurrence with good restaurants close by, so we (wife Shirley and niece Leslie) decided that we would see if we could get reservations for dinner at Les Abeilles restaurant, right there in Sablet.

Successful, we walked the short distance down the hill to the restaurant which is located at the entrance to the village. Note, the picture below is the entrance to the village coming from Gigondas, not the entrance where Les Abeilles is located.

Les Abeilles literally translated the bees restaurant, is owned by Marlies and Johannes Sailer who prior to opening Les Abeilles Restaurant owned L'Oustalet in neighboring Gigondas for quite a few years.

There is a wonderful terrace at Les Abeilles Restaurant that is perfect for dining alfresco on warm sunny days and evenings and a cozy dining room for cooler or inclement weather. Although this was July, it was not that warm so guests were being seated in the dining room.

As soon as we sat down at our table, Madame Sailer brought us menus and a plate of toasts and various flavored bread sticks to dip in a small bowl of pistou which accompanied the toasts. While we nibbled on the Chef's amuse bouche, we studied "la carte" which offered a variety of multi-course menus to fit appetites and diner's wallets.

We chose the 44.50 € 4-course menu consisting of an avant propos (a foreword to a meal like a foreword to a book or story) chosen by the chef, an appetizer, entrée and choice of either dessert or cheese selections from the cheese cart.

After looking over the wine list, we selected a bottle of 2010 Chateau La Couranconne Séguret Rosé, a delicious crisp, chilled blend of cinsault (60%), grenache (25%) and syrah (15%) to accompany our meal.

Shortly after we were seated, 4 diners sat down at a nearby table and hearing English being spoken, we asked where they were from. Turns out that Frank and Ellie were from Calistoga which is close to where we live in Northern California.

Shirley being always the good marketer for our Bistro Des Copains, gave them a business card and extended an invitation to come dine at the Bistro which they did a few days ago.

Wife Shirley enjoying herself at Les Abeilles.

That night, Chef Sailer served plates of tuna rillettes for the avant propos to start the meal.

Shirley was in the mood for a simple salad and Chef Sailer prepared her a composed salad of mixed greens and raw vegetables dressed with vinaigrette; she was very happy with her salad.

One of the starters included a simple plate of melon with jambon from Noire de Bigorre pig, the most ancient breed of pig known in France. Similar to the Spanish Iberico, this breed is deep black in color and originated in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.

Our other starter was a beautiful plate of roast lobster over an haricots verts and peach salad.

Main courses included local lamb chops roasted perfectly medium rare as requested,

a pan-roasted fillet of Lieu Jaune, commonly known in English as Pollock,

accompanied by a side dish of seasoned steamed rice and carrots.

I had the roast pigeon, generally called squab in English, from Comtat with lemon confit

with a side dish of roast potatoes, carrots and other summer vegetables.

Shirley and I had the mille-feuillles also known as Napoleon with raspberries and vanilla ice cream.

Leslie chose an assortment of cheese from the cheese board, opting for something more savory than our sweet dessert.

As we finished our meal, Chef Sailer came out of the kitchen to say hello and chat for a few minutes. Another great meal from Chef Sailer at Les Abeilles. If you are in the area, don't hesitate to go to Les Abeilles, you won't regret it. We will be back soon.

Bon appétit mes amis et à bientôt.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A little bragging on our Bistro Des Copains

As those of you who have been reading my ramblings over the past few years know, I am co-owner with my good friend Cluney of a small bistro in Occidental, California called Bistro Des Copains.

We opened the bistro a little more than five years ago. For those of you who own or may have owned restaurants know, it is not easy to make a go of a restaurant especially the last few years with the bad economy. That certainly holds true for us.

However, despite the ups and downs of the economy and associated challenges that brings to the restaurant business, we have always tried to make sure we are serving up great food and good time for our guests who come to the bistro, many so frequently, they are now dear friends.

Every year, in major cities in the United States and some foreign countries, Zagat, who was just bought by Google, publishes an annual dining guide with ratings and lists based upon feedback they get from restaurant diners.

We have a very hard working and loyal staff and we are very proud to say that the just published 2012 dining guide for the San Francisco Bay Area included our little bistro in its list of Top Spots in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We don't do super refined cuisine like the other Top Spots. We just try to deliver fabulous bistro cuisine using the best ingredients we can find with a generous welcoming spirit.

So you can imagine, it is very gratifying to get formal recognition that diners appreciate what we do at Bistro Des Copains. Here's my wish to you that all of your dining experiences are great ones. Bon appétit et à bientôt mes amis.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fun times at the 98th Tour de France, Stage 16, Saint Paul Trois Châteaux to Gap

We made our decision to be in Sablet during July on the day the route for the 2011 Tour de France was unveiled. Although the exact route wouldn't be announced till much later, we were excited to see that based upon the start town and finish town for Stage 16, the route would have to pass not too far from Sablet.

As readers of Our House in Provence know, we live in Sonoma County, about 60 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and wife Shirley and me have become fans of pro-cycling as interest in cycling and professional cycling have exploded here in Northern California.

Levi Leipheimer, one of the sport's premier cyclist lives in Sonoma County and in a few days on October 1, 7,500 cyclist will ride in Levi's King Ridge GranFondo, a huge charity event that raises money for local worthy causes.

The 2011 Tour de France was won by Australian Cadel Evans, whose BMC Racing Team is based in Sonoma County and in May 2012, the start for the Tour of California will be hosted by Santa Rosa, which is the largest town in Sonoma County. So as you can see, cycling is huge in Sonoma County.

Sure enough, when the exact route for Stage 16 was revealed, the map showed that the peloton - group of cyclists, would start in Saint Paul Trois Châteaux and ride through Suze-la-Rousse to the D 94 and pedal northeast along the Eygues River to Nyons before finishing Stage 16 in the mountain town of Gap.

We would have to cross the Eygues River to watch the Tour de France and looking at the map we saw our best options were at Buisson about 12 kms from Sablet and Nyons which was about 28 kms from Sablet. After chatting with friend Bruce who lives in Villedieu and knows the area well, we decided to go to Nyons.

The schedule for Stage 16 showed the publicity caravan would arrive in Nyons at 12:20 and the first riders in the peloton would arrive around 14:05. Since Stage 16 was on Tuesday, the day our favorite weekly market takes place in Vaison-la-Romaine, we decided we would go to the market and buy picnic food to eat while we watched the caravan and waited for the riders to arrive.

The clouds were dark gray and rain poured down as we shopped at the market for lunch. We ducked into doorways and paused under vendor's tents hoping the rain would stop. I was not very excited about watching the race in the rain. However, while the clouds were still ominously dark, the rain stopped by the time we park near the bridge over the Eygues River where we were going to watch the peloton race by.

The peloton would ride 162.5 kms or about 101 miles from the start in Saint Paul Trois Châteaux climbing up to 1,268 meters elevation or 4,160 feet at the Col de Manse before dropping down to the mountain town of Gap at 744 meters elevation or 2,441 feet. Stage 16 was classified as a medium mountain stage.

The first vehicle in the publicity caravan arrives at our vantage point on the bridge.

The publicity caravan has been part of the Tour de France since 1930. One of the rolling gift boutiques that stop periodically along the route selling identical bright yellow bags with 10 souvenirs including a hat and t-shirt for 20 Euros.

The publicity caravan is a parade of vehicles which are decorated to advertise their sponsor's "wares" to the race fans who line the route. Some create additional interest and excitement by throwing out little gifts.

According to the Tour de France, the publicity caravan stretched for 20 kms or about 12 1/2 miles in length from start to finish.

There was a continuous stream of decorated vehicles, team cars, medical vehicles, official Tour de France vehicles and police vehicles which passed our vantage point from the time the first vehicle arrived until just before the arrival of the peloton.

The following are pictures of some of the decorated sponsor vehicles which drove past our post on the bridge. There would be a big scramble every time gifts or newspapers were thrown from the vehicle's occupants towards the spectators that lined the bridge.

Wife Shirley and niece Leslie modeling hats they grabbed from one of the sponsor vehicles that passed by our spot on the bridge over the Eygues River.

Spectators on the bridge looking for the first rider to come into view.

The view from our vantage point down the bridge to the north in the direction the peloton would arrive around the corner to the left along the Eygues River.

The view from our vantage point south in the direction the peloton would ride towards a roundabout and then make an immediate sharp turn to the left along the Eygues River.

One of Team RadioShack's cars loaded with extra bikes. As I said before, Levi Leipheimer of Sonoma County rides for Team RadioShack.

A mobile gift shop stops just before the roundabout at the end of the bridge to sell official Tour de France souvenirs.

Another team car loaded with spare bikes.

Police on motorcycles lead the way for the peloton to make sure the road is clear for the riders when they reach the area.

The first rider in a little breakaway reaches our spot on the bridge. We could follow the progress of the peloton as they rode along the Eygues River by watching the helicopters overhead who were filming the peloton for television.

A second small breakaway group from the peloton arrives.

The main peloton approaches.

Thomas Voeckler of France who rides for Team Europcar started Stage 16 in first place and wore the yellow jersey who you can see on the right hand side of the peloton.

The following are pictures of the peloton as they rode past us on the bridge. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them; maybe you will spot one of your favorite riders.

The last riders in the main peloton arrive.

A lone rider brings up the rear.

He was followed by a caravan of team cars loaded with spare bikes.

A team car for BMC Racing Team based in Sonoma County whose Cadel Evans won the Tour de France.

Thor Hushovd of Austria who rides for Team Garmin-Cervelo won Stage 16 that day. We watched the publicity caravan and other team and official vehicles drive past our spot on the bridge for at least 1 1/2 hours but it only took a couple of minutes for the entire peloton to pedal past our vantage point.

Never the less, it was great fun and we will go see the Tour de France every chance we get. Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.