Saturday, February 23, 2013

Market Day in Nyons, the Land of All Things Olive

Our village in Provence is 6 miles south of Vaison-la-Romaine, a town we pass with Roman ruins on our way to Nyons across the 15th century Pont Roman (Roman Bridge) on the right bank of the Eygues River in the Drôme. Nyons is in a natural basin, surrounded by hills and small mountains, sheltered from wind and gets an unusual amount of sunshine, earning Nyons the nickname "Little Nice" for its great climate.

I told you here, that we came to Nyons to watch the peloton pedal across the "new" bridge which spans the Eygues River out of Nyons on their way to Gap during the 16th stage of the 98th Tour de France. On this early spring day, we were headed to the weekly Provençal market which takes place every Thursday morning in the center of Nyons (28 kms).

Nyons is the largest town of Les Baronnies region, the historic name for the area East and North of Mont Ventoux, the tallest peak in Provence. The 6950 residents of Nyons are called "Nyonsais." As the old capital of the Barons de Montauban and later the administrative center for the region, Nyons has many historic buildings.

The Randonne Tower is a chapel with an ornamental bell tower with a tall statue of the Virgin Mary on top overlooking the town of Nyons. The tower was erected around 1280 by the Baronness of Montauban, and at the time was used as both a keep and a military prison for the castle. In the 19th century it was converted into a chapel and renamed "Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours".

The Randonne Tower

Saint Vincent's Church with the Saint-Césaire monastery and two nearby cemeteries formed the religious center of Nyons in the Middle Ages. Most of the modern-day building dates from the beginning of the 17th century.

The bell tower of Saint Vincent Church

The church has a nave (center) with five bays, a choir bay with flat chevet ("headpiece") and eleven side chapels built in various styles.

Saint Vincent Church

We had not come to Nyons to see the church or other historical monuments this morning but to walk around the Provençal market underway on "Place de la Liberation" and "Place des Arcades" in the center of town. Our friend Bruce from Villedieu knows we like outdoor markets and suggested we should check this one out.

The roundabout in the center of Nyons

We love to wander through markets even if we don't have anything specific to buy. I can say with 100% confidence that we have never gone through a Provençal market without buying something; linens, soaps, pottery, artwork, or something tasty to eat.

A square full of vendor stalls on market day

In Provence, people go to socialize and meet-up with friends as much or more than shop. As you wander through markets in Provence, you will see friends greeting each other at their favorite vendor's stall with "la bise," face-kissing while they wait for their turn to be served or pay for their purchase.

Shoppers at the Nyons market

You can buy fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meat and poultry, seafood, sausages, spices, honey, candied fruits, olives, and flowers. In the larger markets, you can also buy clothing, shoes, items for the kitchen and many other useful and not so useful knickknacks from Provence.

Market stalls with Mairie (town hall) in background

"Place du Docteur Bourdongle" also known as the "Place des Arcades" dates from the 14th century when it was set aside for markets and fairs in Nyons. The square gets its name from the arcades full of shops that surround the square. Here in this picture, we see the plant sellers that set up shop at the Thursday morning market.

Plant sellers in "Place des Arcades"

Lucky for us, we could go to a different market every day of the week if we so choose. There is a large market in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on Sunday, Bedoin on Monday, Vaison-la-Romaine on Tuesday, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence on Wednesday, the Nyons market on Thursday, Carpentras on Friday, and Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes or Uzès on Saturday. All are within one hour of our home in Sablet. There are almost as many markets as towns in Provence.

More vendor stalls

Dogs are welcome in outdoor markets in Provence unlike in Northern California where signs are posted at the entrance to farmer's markets saying "No Dogs Allowed" by order of this or that health department. Not in Provence; here you see ladies and gentlemen walking through the market with their dogs on leash.

A dog left in a van does a little "dog" watching

Besides the weekly market and monuments like the Pont Roman and the Randonne Tower, Nyons is also known for its culture, oleiculture (olive culture) that is.

An impressive passage through the wall

Nyons is home to the "Institute of the World of the Olive Tree," a cultural, scientific and economic center that in addition to conferences and exhibitions, offers weekly olive oil tasting seminars to the public.

The "Coopérative Agricole du Nyonsais" (the Nyons olive oil cooperative) shop has everything related to olives and olive oil, as well as tapenades, anchoiades, local wine, honey, jams and olive soap.

Next door to the Coopérative is the "Museum of the Olive Tree" with its exhibit of tools and information about ancient and new methods for picking and curing olives to eat and for making olive oil, all set among millstones and different types of olive oil presses.

There is also a 4 kilometer Olive Tree Trail marked with directional signs. Along the way there is a series of informational signs about olive trees and at the 1/2 way point, there is a picnic area. You can pick up a trail map in the Tourist Information Office.

Near the Roman Bridge, you can visit two defunct 18th and 19th century olive oil mills and a soap factory dating from 1730.

Besides the vendors in the market,stores are open with merchandise displayed out front

Olives are celebrated in Nyons year-around with the Fête des Olives Piquées (Festival of pitted olives) the weekend before Christmas, Fête de l'Alicoque (Festival of new olive oil), the first Sunday in February, and Fête des Olivades, the weekend which follows July 14 (Bastille Day). This year is the 50 year anniversary of the Fête des Olivades and will be on July 18 - 21, 2013.

We wandered down this narrow street

In 1994 Nyons became the first region in France to be awarded its own appellation or AOC, for olives and oil, similar to that of wine regions. The rules of the AOC dictate what can be called Nyons olives or oil. For example, oils in this AOC must contain at least 95% of a variety of olives called Tanche.

A butcher with the country of origin for his meats posted on the exterior wall of his shop

Along with the Niçoise olive, the Tanche is probably the best known French olive variety, grown primarily in the Drôme and Vaucluse regions of Provence. The olives grown around Nyons are normally referred to as "Olive de Nyons", or simply "Nyons," and this is the name under which the olive is best known to the rest of the world.

Rose, yellow and blue houses with pretty shutters

The olives can be harvested at smaller size in late November, while for larger olives they wait until December or January. When fully mature, the color of the fruit is a violet black. The plumpest Tanche olives end up as eating olives, after being cured in brine or salt. The rest are used for making olive oil. I should mention that Shirley cured green olives with lye and marinated them in a brine for the first time this year. They turned out really yummy.

Market stalls set up around the war memorial

If you are in the area and thinking about going to shop at a Provençal market on a Thursday, go to Nyons. Shirley asked me this morning what I was going to post about next and I told her the Nyons market. She replied without hesitation: "That was a great market, I want to go back." There are many fields of lavender around Nyons so make sure you go when the lavender is in bloom.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Michelin Announces the 2013 Stars and Bib Gourmand Restaurants for France

One of the most anticipated occurrences in France, or at least for foodies and restaurateurs is the annual announcement by Michelin of which restaurant and chefs have been deemed worthy by Michelin's infamous inspectors to keep or earn one, two or three stars in a run up to the release of the Michelin Red Guide.

The days and weeks leading up to publication day are given to endless debate, speculation and rumor on TV and in newspapers over who might lose or gain, a star. The results, provide either a very public triumph or a very public humiliation for the chefs concerned, and a corresponding rise or drop in revenues for their restaurants.

The complete list of Michelin star ratings for France was announced today for the 2013 edition of the Michelin Guide. One new restaurant, La Vague d'Or, a Saint-Tropez restaurant headed by the 35-year old chef Arnaud Donckele, was awarded the coveted three stars. This brings the total of three-star restaurants in France to 27.

In addition, there are five new two-star restaurants, bringing the total number of two-star restaurants in France to 82 and 39 restaurants got their first star, including two restaurants in the Vaucluse (the region in Provence where our house is located), La Closerie in Ansouis and Prévôt in Cavaillon, bringing the total number of one star restaurants in France to 487.

Earlier this month, Michelin announced that 632 restaurants earned the Bib Gourmand award, Michelin's designation for good cuisine at a reasonable price. Defined as “Inspectors Favorites for Good Value,” Bib Gourmand restaurants offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for under 31 euros.

In 1933 André Michelin and his brother Édouard introduced the first countrywide French restaurant listings and introduced the Michelin star system for ranking food. One star indicates "very good cuisine in its category"; two stars represent "excellent cuisine, worth a detour"; and the rare three stars are awarded to restaurants offering "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey."

Michelin "inspectors" are completely anonymous; they do not identify themselves, and their meals and expenses are paid for by Michelin, never by a restaurant being reviewed. Supposedly, Michelin goes to extraordinary lengths to maintain the anonymity of its inspectors. It is said that many of the company’s top executives have never met an inspector and inspectors themselves are advised not to disclose their line of work.

Here are the starred and Bib Gourmand restaurants listed in the 2013 Michelin guide located in the Vaucluse (there are no three-starred restaurants in the Vaucluse at this time). I have indicated which restaurants are newly starred or designated as Bib Gourmand restaurant plus provided links to the Bib Gourmand restaurants I have written about on Our House in Provence blog.

Star Restaurants in the Vaucluse

Bonnieux (La Bastide de Capelongue) **

Ansouis (La Closerie) * New
Avignon (Christian Etienne) *
Avignon (Le Diapason) *
Avignon (Le Saule Pleureur) *
Avignon (La Vielle Fontaine) *
Cavaillon (Prévôt) * New
Cucuron (La Petite Maison de Cucuron) *
Gargas (Domaine de la Coquillade) *
Gordes (Les Bories) *
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorge (Le Vivier) *
Joucas (Hostellerie Le Phébus et Spa) *
Lourmarin (Auberge La Fenière) *
Roaix (Le Grand Pré) *
Sérignan-du-Comtat (Le Pré du Moulin) *
Vaison-la-Romaine (Le Moulin à Huile) *

Bib Gourmand Restaurants in the Vaucluse

Avignon (L'Essentiel)
Avignon (Hiély-Lucullus) New
Bonnieux (L'Arôme) New
Cairanne (Coteaux et Fourchettes)
Caseneuve (Le Sanglier Paresseux)
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse (Philp) New
La Motte-d'Aigues (Le Lac)
Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes (Campagne, Vignes et Gourmandises)
Uchaux (Côté Sud)
Vaison-la-Romaine (Le Brin d'Olivier)
Villars (La Table de Pablo)

There are 4282 restaurants in total listed in the 2013 Michelin guide. All restaurants listed in the Guide, regardless of star status, also get a "fork and spoon" designation, as a subjective indication of the overall comfort and quality of the restaurant. Rankings range from one to five: One fork and spoon represents a "comfortable restaurant" and five signifies a "luxurious restaurant".

Restaurants that Michelin deems unworthy are not included in the guide. Having said that, we have had many wonderful meals in little cafes and restaurants not included in the Guide. So don't let the Michelin Guide be your only consideration.

If you are interested in learning more about how Michelin does their inspections, here is one of the few on-the-record interviews with an inspector, actually more of an observation of an inspector at work.

Bon Appetit mes amis.

Monday, February 11, 2013

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Antique Capital of the South of France

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, literal translation is "Island on the Sorgue (River)," is a small town about 22 miles south of our home in Sablet that straddles five branches of the Sorgue River. As you can imagine, there is water pretty much at every turn.

The area was swampland in the 12th century when a handful of fisherman and their families built houses on stilts where the town now stands. The Sorgue River has been essential to this area's economy for centuries providing fish, water for crops and power for industries.

Le Bassin where the Sorgue River enters town and divides into branches

Canal waterwheels provided the power for silk, wool, rugs, dyeing, and paper-making industries making l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue the most important town of the Comtat-Venaissin, now known as the Vaucluse. It is said that at one time, there were approximately 70 waterwheels, only a few remain today.

Pretty shutters on a house along the Sorgue River

As the town modernized, these industries disappeared and today the town's economy is driven by tourism and sales of brocante (second hand goods) and antiquaires (antiques).

A little house sits right on a canal

Today, l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has the second largest concentration of antique dealers in France after the market in Saint-Ouen in the northern suburbs of Paris. Over 300 antique dealers exhibit in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on a permanent basis.

Waterside restaurants and cafes

There are two international antique fairs held in 'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue every year - one at Easter and one on August 15 - when over 500 dealers come to town. On Sunday mornings, the permanent antique shops and antique villages are joined by sellers who set up stalls along the canals.

A statue of Alphonse Benoît and one of the canals of l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

The town holds weekly Provençal markets on Thursday and Sunday mornings in the streets of the old town. The Sunday market is huge, the one on Thursdays is more intimate. Once a year on the 1st Sunday of August, there is a floating market.

One of the moss-covered waterwheels that remain

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is fun to explore and it's interesting to check out the antiques even if you are not looking to furnish your home. Be forewarned, it's not cheap! Parking is a challenge almost anytime but especially on the weekend.

After walking around l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and in and out of antique shops all morning, where to eat is the next thing to figure out. We generally fore go the view and opt for good food which is what we got at Le Jardin du Quai Restaurant.

The entrance to Le Jardin au Quai Restaurant

The restaurant is owned by the Chef Daniel Hebet who opened the restaurant on April 1, 2004. Prior to opening the restaurant, Chef Hebet worked in various kitchens including a stint as Chef des Cuisines at La Mirande in Avignon where he was awarded a Michelin star. In March 2010, he was named Maître Cuisinier de France (Master Chef of France).

The garden dining area for Le Jardin au Quai Restaurant

The menu changes daily based upon the season and the whims of the chef. As soon as we sat down, a tray with tapenades and a basket of sliced baguettes was brought to the table.

Amuse bouche tapenades

That day, Chef Hebet offered only a single three-course menu for 35 Euros.

We chose a bottle of pale Domaine de Jale La Moure Rosé, a crisp blend of 30% Grenache and 70% Cinsault, AOC Côtes de Provence.

Domaine de Jale La Moure Rosé

To start, we had a brandade made with fresh cod served with celery root in mayonnaise, topped with a few leaves of fresh spinach dressed in a vinaigrette.

Brandade de Cabillaud et Céleri en Mayonnaise

As I said, the Chef offered just a single option for each course and since the main course was a preparation of beef which Shirley doesn't eat, he graciously substituted a piece of pan-roasted fish set over coco beans prepared in a Provencal style with a light tomato sauce and Nicoise olives.

Poisson et Coco à la Provençale

I had the roast fillet of beef set over coco beans prepared in the same fashion as Shirley's roast fish.

Filet de Boeuf Rôti et Coco à la Provençale

For dessert, we had a fruit tart accompanied by a refreshing strawberry sorbet.

Tartelette aux Fruits Rouges

To complete a perfect lunch, the server brought out a large container of a house-made marshmallow type of confection.

Le Jardin du Quai Restaurant
91 Avenue Julien Guigue
84800 L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Tel: 04 90 20 14 98

One of the great things about our corner of Provence is that there is something for everyone, no matter what your passion is, be it sunshine, food, wine, art, historic ruins and monuments, biking, hiking, or antiques, all in a beautiful setting. If you have not been to Provence, you must put it on your bucket list. If you make it, you will be most happy you did.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pain Medieval Boulangerie, a wonderful bakery in Sablet

As regular readers of this blog know, our house in Provence is in the heart of Sablet, a small wine-making village dating from the middle ages that sits in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail between the villages of Séguret and Gigondas. The oldest part of the village is made up of narrow streets that rise in a circular fashion around a beehive shaped hill up to the twelfth century church of St. Nazaire.


Although a small village, there are only 1200 residents, the shopkeepers in Sablet can provide for the daily needs of the residents and surrounding wineries. There is a butcher, a Vival mini mart, a bank, florist, tabac where you can buy newspapers, magazines and souvenirs, a pharmacy, post office, hair salon, doctor's office, a café, pizzeria, several restaurants and two boulangeries (bakeries).

Fountain at Place Yvan Audouard

Pain Medieval is our favorite Sablet bakery and thankfully it's conveniently located just a few steps from our house behind the big trees between the fountain at Place Yvan Audouard and the Vival mini mart. The Pain Medieval Boulangerie is open every day of the week except for Monday and Tuesday.

Pain Medieval Boulangerie

Pain Medieval is owned by Jeannine Moulin and her son, Julien Moulin, who does the baking. When the bakery is open, there is often a line out the door and cars double-parked in front with motors running while the owner dashes into the bakery to get a freshly baked baguette or some other baked treats.

Julien and mom Jeannine Moulin

Each time another person joins the line of people waiting to buy a freshly baked baguette, the newcomer greets those already in line with "bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur" and will be responded to in a similar fashion. When it's your turn, Madame Moulin will ask what cuisson (baking), you prefer, meaning how golden brown do you want your baguette or croissant to be?

Julien Moulin

According to Jeannine Moulin, there is a family tradition of working as bakers. She said that at an early age, Julien would ask her father who was also a baker if he could come and watch him work in the bakery. Madame Moulin said she has another son who is a baker in another village.

Julien Moulin preparing dough for baking

This past weekend I was reading new posts by favorite bloggers including Camille's post about éclairs on her blog Croque-Camille Food Adventures in Paris. Camille is a pastry chef by trade and in this post she recounted the history of éclairs and what are important characteristics of a good éclair.

Eclairs are made of pâte à choux, a light pastry dough used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs, cream puffs, gougères and chouquettes among other things. Choux pastry contains only water, butter, flour, and eggs. Instead of a raising agent it employs high moisture content to create steam during baking to puff the pastry.

As I read Camille's post this past Sunday, I was transported to Sablet and Pain Medieval Boulangerie as I pictured the big basket of freshly baked chouquettes that appear every Sunday at the bakery. The chouquettes are feather light, golden brown and topped with pearl sugar; they are sold by weight.

Since it was Sunday, I thought I would make a batch of pâte à choux and bake chouquettes for our grand kids who would be coming over later in the day with their parents to watch the Super Bowl. The recipe by Eric Kayser in Food and Wine magazine is easy and the chouquettes turned out great. They were big hits with the grand kids and parents. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photograph of them with sugar on their face.

Pâte à Choux
Makes about 3 dozen choux puffs


1½ cups water
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
200 grams all-purpose flour (about 1½ cups)
8 large eggs


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large sauce pan, combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to moderate. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a tight dough forms and pulls away from the side of the pan, 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

3. In a bowl, beat the eggs and add to dough in four batches, stirring vigorously between additions until the eggs are completely incorporated and the pastry is smooth. The dough should be glossy and very slowly hang, stretch and fall from the spoon in thick ribbons.

4. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip. Pipe 1½-inch mounds onto the baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between the mounds. I found that putting dough into the pastry bag is messy. I drew circles on the parchment paper to guide me as I piped the mounds onto the baking sheet.

Mounds of choux ready to go into oven

For the next step, follow the directions for whichever choux you want to make:

Chouquettes Sprinkle each mound with ½ teaspoon pearl sugar (decorating sugar). Bake for 30 minutes, until browned and puffed.

Gougères Divide 1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese equally over the mounds. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned and puffed.

Cream Puffs Bake the choux for 30 minutes, until browned and puffed. Let cool completely. Cut each mound in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Fill each one with 2 tablespoons chocolate pastry cream. Replace tops and dust with powdered sugar.

Baked chouquettes just out of the oven

Serve your choux the same day you bake them, they won't be nearly as good the next day.

Chouquettes ready to be served.

As you can see above, choux pastry is very versatile and can be used for multiple preparations, even in the same meal. For example use half the choux pastry to make gougères for apéritif and the other half for cream puffs or profiteroles.

Pain Médiéval
6 Place Verdun
84110 Sablet
04 90 46 91 54

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Food Gifts to Bring French People From America

I am up early this morning to write a new post but first read some new ones by my favorite expat bloggers. A post by David Lebovitz got me thinking about what food items my French friends and family would really appreciate as gifts from the United States when we return to Sablet this spring.

David Lebovitz is an American who lives full time in Paris writing books and interesting and informative posts on his blog David Lebovitz living the sweet life in Paris. Prior to writing books and starting his blog, David worked in restaurants, the last thirteen at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, with Alice Waters and co-owner, Executive Pastry Chef Lindsey Shere, before he left the restaurant business in 1999.

David was named one of the Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle and has written six books and been featured in, Bon Appétit, Chocolatier, Cooking Light, Food+Wine, Cook’s Illustrated, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Travel and Leisure, The New York Times, People, Saveur, Sunset, and USA Today.

David's post Food Gifts to Bring French People From America provides a long list of food items such as maple syrup, dried cherries and chocolate chips and kitchen items such as offset spatulas, rasp zesters and heavy duty aluminum foil. What do you think about his list and what would those of you who live in France add or subtract from it.

I look forward to your comments and to your ideas about what to add or subtract from David's list and in the meantime, I leave with you a couple of pictures Sara took with my mobile phone within minutes of each other last evening at Bodega Head.

Seagull at Bodega Head

Bodega Head is a small promontory on the Pacific coast of northern California a short distance from our Bistro Des Copains in Occidental. Bodega Head is considered a prime spot to observe the migration of grey whales. It is also one of the three points of the Red Triangle, a major feeding ground for great white sharks.

Me staring out to the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Head

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.