Tag: French cuisine

visit Orange, France

Three Very Good Reasons to Visit Orange, France

Not everyone who goes to Provence makes a stop in Orange, France. I’m not sure why because it’s not that far from popular places like Avignon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Plus, it’s an extraordinary place to visit. 

I’ve been to visit Orange, France three times now. For three different reasons. The first visit was with my son when he came to Uzés to see me for the first time. It was literally a “drive by” to take photos of the Triumphal Arch and the Roman Theatre (Théâtre Antique) and to stop at Vaison-la-Romaine. Mon fils loves to go to as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible. He’s also a wonderful photographer, so most of the photos I’m sharing with you are his. The second visit to Orange was to attend the opera, Madame Butterfly, at the Théâtre Antique d’Orange. The third trip was for a meeting of Network Provence (women’s business group) that gave me another chance to explore the theatre and town.

Orange is a town of just over 30,000 only 20 kms (12.7 miles) away from Avignon. It was founded as a Roman city in 35 BC. Like Nimes, Orange was established by Roman soldiers who were awarded with land for their service. Also like Nimes, the town was a cultural center with impressive structures like the Roman theatre, built before 25 BC.

1) The Roman Theatre (Théâtre Antique d’Orange) is the first good reason to visit Orange, France

One of the best preserved theatres from Roman times, the Théâtre Antique was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It still has its original stage wall which serves as the external wall. Once covered by an awning, the stage is now covered with glass. The theatre is has three tiers which can seat up to 9.000 spectators. The best seats are up front although none are what you would call comfortable. Hard as a rock, matter of fact.

visit Orange, France

 

visit Orange, France

2) The Opera is the second good reason to visit Orange, France

In 1869 the Théâtre Antique’s three tiers were restored so that the venue could rediscover its past,  hosting performances of the great Greco-Roman tragedies, as well as promoting French authors. Since 1971 the theatre has been home to one of France’s leading summer opera festivals, the “New Chorégies.

Last year I splurged to buy a ticket for “Madame Butterfly.” Seeing it in the magnificent amphitheatre was one of my most treasured memories of France. It’s well worth the cost to just be there.

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 3) The third very good reason to visit Orange, France is to see and experience the country’s biggest and most important sites of Gallo-Roman artifacts

Even if you’re not into history, you can’t help but be amazed by the ancient structures, including whole cities of Roman ruins that remain in and around Orange. In addition to the Théâtre Antique, a Roman Temple was discovered during the excavation of the amphitheatre. A Roman arch is a famous landmark in Orange and not far away are two Roman neighborhoods in Vaison-la-Romaine –Puymin and La Villasse.  Once part of the Roman city of Vasio, the neighborhoods span over two eight-hectare sites. While there can stroll along the paved streets where the Romans lived, worked and shopped. You can walk through the homes of the town’s wealthiest families. You can see what remains of the fountains and pools, the kitchen, the living areas and garden. You can witness the grand design of “Maison à la Tonnelle,” a 3000-m2 “mansion” built on 3 levels.

From the two neighborhoods, paths lead to a Roman theatre that was unearthed in 1912. Dating from the 1st century BC the theatre could seat 7000 people. Today it still serves as an event venue for theatre, chorales and dance. In the center of the Puymin site is the Théo Desplans Archaeological Museum. It contains a collection of more than 2000 everyday objects and decorative statues.

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Other reasons to visit Orange are the little shops and alleyways with all types of Frenchy things…

 It’s even more fun when you visit with a really good friend like Yetunde from Cook’n with Class who’ll show you the best places to eat.

Have you been to Orange? Tell me about it on a comment. What did you enjoy the most? 

Hot Weather In France

How to Make the Best of Hot Weather In France

As I write this post I’m a long way from the hot weather in France. I’m in the US for a few weeks spending time with my “grands.” Usually I’m not anxious to leave Uzes, but I’ll admit, the heat was getting to me. The thermometer in town was nearly exploding at 39.444 celsius, 104 degrees fahrenheit. Without air conditioning in my apartment, I was sweltering.  Nevertheless, my friends and I found ways to make the best of it.

Forget the hot weather in France with great seasonal foods

No matter how hot it gets, there’s always a respite away from the heat when there’s great food around. This day the restaurant was Le Patio Littre in Nimes, a place I had visited when I first arrived to live in France. I had forgotten the name but ran across it again in this post from long ago . I won’t forget it again!

Hot Weather In France

You don’t have to venture far from Uzes to find fresh seasonal treats like this tartine from Le Vieux Cafe in Uzes made with aubergine, tomatoes and peppers.

Escape the heat with local art 

Fortunately two of my favorite local artists were having their exhibitions before I left town. Andy Newman, an American who lives near Uzès part-time that I’ve written about before, was just setting up his show at the studio next to the Tourist Office. I had a chance to run by to see him … and to snap up a new piece of his work. The exhibit lasts until August 18th, so stop by if you’re around Uzes.

Another artist friend, François Lewandrowski, is exhibiting his work nearby, too. I’m still loving my crazy oiseau (bird) painting that I bought from Francois and I love going to his parties! The exhibit at the Galerie ”La Verrière”, 8 rue du Dr-Blanchard extends through the month of August.

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Party, Party!

As hot as it make get in the south of France, it’s always party-time. While I didn’t get to attend many of the Fete Votive events this year, I did see the electric parade. This year there were more people attending than ever before. The colorful floats and marching bands are always crowd favorites.

 

Everyone is partying around Uzes in August in spite of the weather. From impromptu aperos on the rooftop to pool parties with live music.

How are you spending the hot days of August in your part of the world? 

 

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Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, France

Get Out of the Heat and Learn to Cook Provençal 

Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, FranceIf you’re headed for Uzes and you want to learn to cook Provençal dishes you can easily prepare back home,  meet Petra Carter. She’s the brains and bubbly personality behind Le Pistou Cooking School.

Petra and I have become great friends since meeting last year at her cooking school. Most people who meet the vivacious Dutch/Irish lady feel the same. Which may add to the fact that a class day at Le Pistou Cooking School is so much fun.

Petra’s interpretation of traditional foods from PROVENCE and nearby regions is focused on market-fresh foods, ease of preparation and beautiful presentation.

Her dishes can be served as a main course, starter or apero.

Once you are introduced to an interesting new food, like stuffed and tempura-fried courgette flowers (zucchini), you’ll realize you just read about it on the pages of a gourmet magazine.

You’ll learn knife skills as well as how to choose the best ingredients and cooking methods.

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Mediterranean diet? The way Petra dishes it up, a “diet” never looked or tasted so good. Each food, each flavor and each recipe is fresh, healthy and impeccably prepared and presented.

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Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, France

Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, France

Says Petra: “I hope you’ll MAKE THESE DISHES YOUR OWN by adapting them to your own personal taste” she says.  “After all, that’s what CREATIVE COOKING is about.”

For more information on Le Pistou Cooking School  check out Petra’s website. Classes are given on demand and by reservation and they are limited to 8 people.

Mas d’Augustine Chambre d’Hôte: Ready For Business

It’s time to catch up with Jane and Gary of Mas d’Augustine, the classic French B&B outside Uzes, France. With the winter chores done and a few holiday getaways behind them, I asked Jane: “what’s it like to be welcoming guests again.”

Here’s Jane’s response:

“This has to be the best May we’ve had since we moved to Uzes – the weather was just stunning, beautiful blue skies, lots of sunshine and cooler evenings – it is definitely one of my favourite months.

French B&B

Mas d’Augustine

The garden looks beautiful this year, as finally it is maturing and our lawn really looks like a lawn rather than a cut field!  Considering it was just a huge expanse of sand and weeds when we bought the Mas back in 2010, it has come a long way. The extended vegetable garden is now planted and we will soon be picking our own salad leaves, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers etc

French B&B

New lawn at Mas d’Augustine

May was a very busy month and we had lots of clients from all over Europe. It is always difficult to get started again after the winter months and this year whilst we had a few guests over the Easter period it is not until May that the hard work really begins.

French B&B

Mas d’Augustine

Gary is so much better than me at getting up in the mornings, I really struggle to get out of bed before 9 am but once we start work that is out of the question.  He is always up first and takes on the task of laying the breakfast tables and cooking the bread and croissants.  I follow half an hour later and sweep the courtyard, water the plants and vegetable garden and then make up the fresh fruit salads. Once the guests start arriving for breakfast Gary is front of house and I am happily making tea and coffee in the kitchen.  Then the egg orders start and Gary loves walking into the kitchen and saying “two scrambled eggs, two soft boiled and four poached!”

French B&B

It took us a while to realise why we were so tired at the end of our first season…… there are no weekends!  Once May has started we do not get a day off until the beginning of October, breakfast has to be made every morning whether we just have a few guests or we are completely full.  We split the tasks very well between us, Gary has responsibility for all the laundry, washing and ironing whilst I clean and make up the rooms.  Gary looks after the pool and grass cutting whilst I do the gardening and cooking.  All the other jobs are shared and considering we are working together 24/7 there are very few arguments!

French B&B

Pool area at Mas d’Augustine

The only time we fall out is in the evening when we are offering the Bistro menu, I am very calm and organised in the kitchen and Gary gets a little stressed when we are really busy, mainly due to the fact that he is hungry and cannot sit down to eat until the dinner service is over.

French B&B

Gary taking care of the all-important wine service at Mas d’Augustine

We had a wonderful Table d’Hotes evening with some super guests from Belgium and Switzerland, and of course we sit down and enjoy the meal with them so it’s a lovely relaxing evening for everyone.  It is always so interesting to meet people from other countries and most of our guests become friends and we look forward to them returning the following season. But the most exciting time for me was the week we were visited by my son Edward and his friends.  They came to stay with wives and girlfriends to take part in the Aix-en-Provence Iron Man competition.  This was the first time most of them, including my son, had competed in such an event.  It involved swimming 1.9 kms in the beautiful Lake of Peyrolles in the city of Peyrolles-en-Provence.  Then a 90 kms bike course passing through Pays d’Aix and eight surrounding towns climbing up the mountain Sainte-Victoire and finishing with a 21kms run through the city of Aix-en-Provence and La Torse Park.

French B&B

Jane’s son running to the Iron Man finish line

We were able to watch the final running stage, as they had to complete 3 loops before passing the finishing line at the Rotonde in the city centre. They had an amazing day and they all completed all three stages to gain their Iron Man medals!

French B&B

Iron Man fans celebrating

Then it was back to Mas d’Augustine for a huge celebratory BBQ and an opportunity to try out the new barbeque which Gary built during the winter months.  The idea is to hold BBQ and boules evenings with our guests during the summer season.

As soon as the celebrations were over and the boys had left, it was back to cleaning and bed making to be ready in time for the new intake of guests.  We were fully booked and everyone was dining, so there was lots to do. But, on the Thursday, I went from cleaning toilets to modelling (for charity).  On the 25thof May there was an amazing charity fashion show, followed by a luncheon on the grounds of Chateau Arpaillargues, organised for Cancer Support France, www.cancersupportfrance.org.  We all had a great time modeling a summer collection of clothes from a dress shop in Uzes. The event was attended by over 90 guests, raising over €2,900 for the charity.

After the fashion show it was a quick lunch for me, just a couple of glasses of wine and then back home in time to prepare table d’hote for our ten guests.”

 

The French B&Bn Table d’Hote Menu 

Smoked salmon terrines with pickled cucumber and wasabi cream on a roqette salad

Roast fillet of pork with Ardeches vegetables, roast tomatoes and a port wine sauce

Strawberry and white peach vacharins, with a raspberry butter sauce

French B&B

“We had a lovely evening, the guests dining by the pool until the early hours.  I am afraid I left the clearing up to Gary that night and I fell exhausted into bed.”

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

 

More posts on Barefoot Blogger

The Inside Story: Owning and Running a Chambres d’Hôtes in the South of France

An Expat’s Life in A Chambre d’Hôtes in France: Jane’s Story

If Owning a Chambre d’Hote in France Is Your Dream, Spend a Day Picking Olives

A Slice of Life in the “Off” Season: A Chambre d’Hôtes in France

“Company’s Coming!” Owning and Running a Chambre d’Hôte in the South of France

Friends and Family for the Holiday at Mas d’Augustine

 

French B&B

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Travel Guide France: 5 Things To Do in Montmartre

If you’ve been to Paris before, you might not want to see the Eiffel Tower every time you return. This visit to Paris, I chose to stay in Montmartre. In just two days I got a taste of the town. And I loved it! 

Travel Guide FranceI confess, I’ve been to Montmartre before. A night at the Moulin Rouge was high on the “must do” list when I was a twenty-something in Paris for the first time with college friends. In the 60s it was pretty raunchy.  I stood in the line and walked through the  Sacré Coeur Cathedral many years later.

So what do you do in Montmartre if you’ve been to the Moulin Rouge and Sacré Coeur? Plenty!

#1  Cooking Class

Travel Guide France

Cook’n with Class Paris

Go to a cooking class at Cook’n with Class Paris. If it’s a Sunday, all the better. The Sunday Market Class includes shopping at the city market. Then you go back to the school to prepare a sumptuous meal with all the fresh ingredients. Read all about the fun experience — click here.

#2 Enjoy the Scenery

Even on a cloudy day, Montmartre is charming. Check out the patisseries and cafes along the way.

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Who knows who you’ll run into? My good buddy and mentor, Silver Wainhouse, lives near me in Uzes and she was in town for the day.

Travel Guide France

#3 Eat the food

Take your time to find just the right spot to have lunch or a snack. I mean, is there anything quite as good as French Onion Soup — in France?  Pair that with a glass of your favorite wine and you’re just about in heaven.

Travel Guide France

One day, wandering around near Pigalle, what should appear? Le Chat Noir. Right out of a Toulouse Lautrec poster.

Travel Guide France

Le Chat Noir

I expected Picasso or Toulouse to walk in any moment. Surely they would enjoy the cafe’s Paysanne salad — filled with duck magret and gizzards. I did!

#4 Climb the hill to Sacrè Couer

Go ahead. Even if you’ve been to the Sacrè Couer, do it again.  The views are spectacular. Yes, it’s quite a hike to the top, but there’s a lift and a small train that can take you up. If you’re around on a weekend, plan to have a coffee and croissant while sitting at a cafe near where the artists hang out. You might even snag a painting at a good price. It’s what memories are made of.
Travel Guide France

Imagine yourself here…

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Travel Guide France

Travel Guide France

Musée de Montmartre

#5 Visit Musée de Montmartre

If you want to take a trip through Montmartre’s past — to actually see where artists, writers and sculptors such as Renoir, Émile Bernard, Suzanne Valadon, Pierre Reverdy and Demetrius Galanis actually lived and worked, visit the Musée de Montmartre. It’s tucked away on a side street at the top of Montmartre and it’s worth the stop.

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Would I stay in Montmartre again? Absolutely! 

I don’t always “plug” a place that I stay when I’m traveling, but I have to give a big shout out to Le Grey Hotel. The boutique hotel is so convenient to everything I wanted to see and do on my short stay. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. The breakfast is fresh, tasty and served late into the morning. And there is a bar and sitting room that’s cozy and inviting.

Next stop: Living Like A Royal!
Travel Guide France

Sete or Marseille? Which Has the Best Fish Soup?

While we’re on the subject of Sete from our recent train-from-Barcelona post, there’s a question that fish soup lovers who visit the South of France want to know: What’s the difference between Marseilles’ bouillabaisse  and Sete’s fish soup?

Leave it to Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France to have the answer. She’s an expert on foodie things in both Sete and Marseilles where she offers walking gourmet tours. Recipes from Cook’n with Class make it easy for us to prepare their version of the Sete’s fish soup and Marseilles’ bouillabaisse at home!

A TALE OF TWO CITIES – by Nancy McGee

Bustling, edgy Marseille, France’s second and oldest city, and largest commercial port. Designated as Top Ten Oceanfront Cities by National Geographic in 2014 and one the New York Times’ favourite destinations, Marseille is becoming increasingly trendy.  Sete, its younger, understated cousin and the most important fishing port on the Mediterranean is ‘the most fascinating small town on the French Mediterranean coast’, according to the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Despite their differences they have much in common: a strong shared maritime tradition, fascinating history – and a passion for food. So how does a visitor to the South of France choose between the two? Easy – visit both, they’re only a two-hour drive apart.

While in the South of France, a visitor’s first question is invariably food-related, often about authentic regional dishes. So let’s look at two typically Mediterranean specialities: fish soup from Sète and bouillabaisse from Marseille. What is the difference between the two?

It’s simple.

Sete’s City Market serves up a fresh catch for fish soup

Fish soup from Sete is made from a variety of small rockfish that become caught in the fishermen’s nets as they feed off the rocks near the Mediterranean shore. Rather than toss them back into the sea the fishermen take them home and cook them in a special blend of herbs and spices. The bones are then removed and the broth is put through a sieve. The soup is served with thinly sliced croutons spread with rouille  (a type of mayonnaise with olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper.)  In restaurants, this fish soup is served as a starter and cost is around 8 euros for the dish.

The best rockfish soup has been produced in Sete  since 1963  by the same family Azais Polito. http://www.azais-polito.fr/. Their fish soup is featured in gourmet shops such as Harrods and Lafayette  Gourmet and is exported worldwide… If you get a craving,  simply order online.

Bouillabaisse from Marseille is basically fish soup but  served with a side dish of  fillets of  least three types of fish – mullet, turbot, monkfish .   The fish fillets are cooked in the soup and along with potatoes. Like the fish soup, it is served with a rouille and croutons. The Bouillabaisse is a main course costing at least 35 euros per person to as much as 100 euros  for  versions including more delicate species of fish and seafood.

My favorite spot for  a Bouillabaisse in Marseille is at Chez FonFon. http://www.chez-fonfon.com/    Not only is the soup tasty but you are offered constant refills.  The restaurant is  niched in an alcove barely noticed by passerbys and is overlooking the inlet crammed with small fishing boats.

 

Bouillabaisse in Marseille at Chez FonFon

 

Picpoul de Pinet

Isn’t a meal without wine like a day without sunshine – especially in France? Definitely and there’s no shortage of good regional wine to complement a fish soup. To play it safe, choose a Bandol rosé from Provence or a refreshing Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc.

Anything else not to be missed? Quite a lot, but I’d need to write an encyclopaedia! From Marseille: navettes, light biscuits delicately flavoured with eau de fleur d’oranger. And let’s not forget pastis, France’s  favourite aperitif.

From Sète: the Tielle, a deliciously piquant octopus pie with a strong Italian heritage, also zezettes,  a light biscuit delicately flavoured with local muscat wine.

 

 

Thanks to Cook’n with Class Uzes, here are their recipes for the famous fish soups from Marseilles and Sete.

 

 

 

 

Want to see it all in Sete and Marseilles? Contact Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France for guided tours — especially her famous “walking gourmet” tour.

Absolutely Southern France’s Nancy McGee and the Mayor of Sete — of course!

Here’s where to find year-round activities in Sete. 

Discover Marseilles?  it’s on my travel list… soon! 

 

For information on train schedules from Barcelona to Sete click here

 

 

Mapping Barcelona to Sete

 

Seeing the South of France by train from Barcelona

How to Get To France Via Barcelona by Train

All Aboard for Carcassonne

7 Reasons to Visit Sete This Year 

7 Reasons To Visit Sete This Year

Visit Sete This Year

Those of you who follow the Barefoot Blogger regularly know how much I love to visit Sete. It’s one of my favorite places to go for the beach, for the fabulous seafood and for the “always on” fun. If you’re traveling from Barcelona to the South of France, Sete is less than 3 hours away by train.

Here are 7 reasons you really must go:

#1 Visit Sete for Great food

Sete has been one of France’s major seaports for centuries. It is said that Louix XIV made Sete his personal sea gateway so that the treasures of the Orient and beyond could travel directly to Versailles. Italian fishermen helped establish the port as a prime supplier of tuna, sardines, anchovies — among other sea delicacies. Oysters abound around Sete — especially in nearby Bouziques — rounding out a perfect assortment of most delectable seafoods.

Visit Sete

Bluefin tuna from Sete

 

Visit Sete

#2

Visit Sete for History

Along with fishing and importing kingly goods, Sete grew to become a prosperous town with stately homes and thriving businesses along the canal waterfront. Evidence of that prosperity can be seen still today, even though new trade routes and bigger seaports have largely impacted Sete’s economy. Tourism is bringing it back.

 

Visit Sete

Sete’s canal front

 

Visit Sete

Opulent details throughout Sete’s waterfront architecture.

 

 

 

Beyond being a famous port, Sete is known for her favourite son, George Brassens — composer, singer and activist.  In fact, there’s a museum in Sete dedicated to Brassens. It tells of his life and work that captivated me as much as learning about American icons Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. Click here to learn more about visiting the museum.

Visit Sete

George Brassens

 

#3 Visit Sete for Unique Natural Beauty

Canals that run throughout the town 

Visit Sete

Canals that run throughout the town

 

Visit Sete

 

Sky high, panaromic views of the Mediterrean Sea

Clear blue sea

Visit Sete

#4 Visit Sete White Sandy Beaches

Think the Cote d’Azur has the only beaches in the South of France? Try to beat this. Sete has beautiful beaches, blue skies and all-day beach clubs with seafood and much more!

Visit Sete

Beach buddies

#5 Visit Sete for Summer Sports

 

Where else can you sit in a covered arena, overlooking a sea canal, watching water jousting? Day and night?

 

Visit Sete

 

Visit Sete

#6 Visit Sete for Extravaganzas

Plan your holiday in Sete, especially around August during the St. Louis Festival, and you’ll be amazed the sights you’ll see.

 

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Visit Sete

Sete

#7 Visit Sete for Party hearty

Summertime in Sete there’s always a party going on!

Visit Sete

 

Visit Sete

 

Visit Sete

London’s Bad Girls’ Groove Band

 

Visit Sete

Partying at St. Clairs

 

Visit Sete

St. Louis Festival celebration

 

So what’s holding you back? Stop by Sete in the South of France. You might be surprised who you’ll run into!

 

Visit Sete

My “gang”: Hilda, Paula and Rich hanging out in Sete

 

Want to see it all in Sete? Contact Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France for guided tours — especially her famous “walking gourmet” tour.

Here’s where to find year-round activities in Sete. 

More about Sete:

Sete or Marseille? Which Has the Best Fish Soup?

A Day at the Beach in Sete: That’s Life!

Next Stop: Sete France

Barefooting in Sete, France

The Bad Girls in Sete

“The Golden Girls” Loving France: Day 7-8 Sete, Beziers and Bouziques

Sete: Abbeys and Vineyards

By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sete

Sete: Eat, Pray (to eat), Love (to eat)

Final Days in Sete: Parties, Artist Friends and Days at the Beach

For information on train schedules from Barcelona to Sete click here

 

 

Visit Sete

 

Seeing the South of France by train from Barcelona

How to Get To France Via Barcelona by Train

All Aboard for Carcassonne

A Slice of Life in the “Off” Season: A Chambre d’Hôtes in France

Time to check back in at Mas d’Augustine and find out how the owners and managers, Jane and Gary Langton, are spending their time at the chambre d’hôte off season … with no guests, but plenty of chores. As we visit the Langtons, it appears that Jane has quite a few projects in mind. Let’s see how they manage it all…

“It’s a busy time of year in the Chambre d’Hôtes business………even though we’re closed,” says Jane.  

I suspect, most people think during the chambre d’hôte off season we have our feet up in front of the fire doing little or nothing before we welcome guests in April. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as there is just too much that needs to be done both inside and out.

I had planned for us to be working in the garden this week but we had to stop as, despite the beautiful blue skies and sunshine, it is just too cold. I have decided to increase the size of the vegetable garden this year so that we can offer a wider selection of organic home-grown fruit and vegetables. As a consequence, Gary has (reluctantly) agreed to remove the existing hedge (circa 5 metres high) which will enable me to plant a long row of tomatoes. Previously we had room for 6 tomato plants, but I want to include a wide selection of Heirloom tomatoes in all colours, as they are such an important ingredient in Provençal cooking and straight from the garden the flavours are really intense.

All the hedges bordering the property need to be cut, olive and fruit trees pruned and there are two Italian Cypress trees that need to be cut down as they did not survive last year’s hot summer. I also have a plan to improve 3 of the existing flower beds, which involves the building of a dry-stone wall, changing of soil and the re-shaping of the beds. I am hoping to create a new lavender bed, a white rose bed and extend the giant poppy bed. I think Gary is rather grateful for the cold snap, as he is not an enthusiastic gardener!

chambre d'hôte off season

One of last year’s flower beds

Before the cold snap started, Gary moved our lemon trees to their winter home up on the terrace and I have wrapped up the diplodenia – fingers crossed it will survive the freezing night temperatures.

Gary has just returned from a quick trip to London to welcome his new granddaughter into the family. Mathilda was born last Friday and we are looking forward to her first visit in the summer.

While he was away I pressed on with the redecorating. I have nearly finished painting the main kitchen, but decided to leave the ceiling to Gary. Next week we will start the office, closely followed by re-varnishing the front doors and re-painting all the windows at the front of the mas.

 

chambre d'hôte off season

 

chambre d'hôte off seasonPainting and decorating done, we will be tackling the garden to make certain everything is ready for the first shoots of Spring in mid-February. Then, in March, it will be time to clean the terraces and fill the pool, layout all the garden furniture, clean the summer kitchen and get the rooms ready for our first guests in April.

I like to add something new to the guest rooms every year, so we will spend a few Sundays visiting the local brocante and antique markets searching for interesting items.

There is one job that Gary looks forward to every year………. tasting the dishes for the newly designed menus. Over the next few weeks I will prepare all the new recipes for us to sample and critique.

We are enjoying hearty French classic dishes to help keep out the cold. One of our favourites is a traditional French stew. In the Languedoc region this stew is known as a Cassoulet. Made with meat, sausages and beans, it takes a while to cook and prepare but, on a cold winter night after a hard day in the garden, it’s definitely worth it.

chambre d'hôte off season

Cassolet

Cassoulet

A wonderful change from traditional casseroles, it takes a while to cook but the flavours are wonderful and very warming

Ingredients – serves 6

140 grms of pork belly

140 grms of smoked bacon

300 grms of garlic sausage

600 grms of haricot beans, soaked overnight in plenty of water

1 celery stick

1 small white onion

2 carrots

2 large plum tomatos

6 cloves of garlic

2 tsp of lemon juice

2 cloves, crushed

6 confit duck legs or 6 pre-cooked chicken legs

25 grms of goose fat or 2tbls of olive oil

1 tsp of dried mixed herbs

Method

1. Chop the bacon, pork belly and garlic sausage into bite sized chunks.

2. Drain the beans that you soaked overnight and tip into a large saucepan with the bacon, sausage and pork belly. Cover with water and bring to the boil, blanch for about 15 mins. Drain and set aside. Heat the oven to 120 c.

3. Chop the celery, carrot and onion and peel the garlic leaving the cloves whole.

4. Heat the goose fat or olive oil in a large oven proof casserole or frying pan and over a low heat sweat the garlic, onion, carrot and celery for about 5 minutes until softening. Add the tomatoes and herbs and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

5. Add the sausage, bacon and pork belly to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, add the beans and then 1 litre of water.

6. Bring the mixture to the boil and add the lemon juice, cloves and season with salt and pepper.

7. Transfer the casserole to the oven and cook uncovered for 2 to 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally, the beans will soften and thicken the juice.

8. Remove the cassoulet from the oven. Now add either the confit duck legs or your pre-cooked chicken legs, place them under the beans and cook the cassoulet for another 2 hours for duck and 1 hour for chicken

Serve the cassoulet in bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and plenty of crusty French bread.

chambre d'hôte off season

Proud Granddad Gary and Mathilda

At the chambre d’hôte off season there’s always time for a horse ride

chambre d'hôte off season

Stay tuned …

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

Homage to Truffle Hunting Pigs

Saturday night I served a fancy pork terrine bought in the Loire Valley to friends who were in town for the Uzes Black Truffle Festival. That bite of pork could have been my last. I’m in love with pigs.

I’ve always had an attraction to pigs, namely Porky Pig, Piglet, Babe and Miss Piggy. However, the attraction never kept me from having more than my share of pork barbecue, pork chops, ham and bacon. Yesterday, though, I fell under the spell of a truffle hunting pig. She was awesome.

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Truffle hunting pig in Uzes

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Snout down finding a truffle

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival Activities

Let me set the stage …

Sunday morning, under a bright sunny sky, there was a brisk Mistral wind blowing across the main plaza in Uzes, Place aux Herbes. Crowds of couples, families and singles were scurrying towards the centre of the plaza to join in on the Black Truffle Festival festivities.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Morning view of Place aux Herbes in preparation for the Truffle Festival

 

In the square there was a huge tent and dozens of little food stands, each filled with vendors with their renditions of truffled delicacies. 

Merchants with truffle paraphernalia were set up to sell knives, bags, truffle shavers and more.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Truffle gadget vendor in Uzes

 

There were even tiny tree starts implanted with truffles at their roots so you could take one home.

Uzes Black Truffle Hunt

A “truffle pen” filled with dirt and small trees was set up along one side of the plaza. It had been seeded with black truffles that were free to any man, woman or child with a dog who could find them. 

 

Not one dog found a truffle, but one stole the show. Nancy McGee’s 2-pound Papillon, Jewel. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Jewel the truffle dog

 

 

 

 

Jewel was the show stopper … until the truffle-hunting pig arrived. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

“Madame Cochon” rooted where others n’er dared to go.

 

She snorted and dug until every truffle was sorted out.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Finding a truffle

 

Surely Madame Cochon’s talent was due to the mutual admiration between she and her master. You might even call it piggy love. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Who could resist such a loveable pig?

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

 

Even the piglets-in-waiting were envious. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival Auction

Meanwhile, back at center stage, a truffle auction was starting. Truffles that had been blessed at an earlier church service were up for sale to the highest bidders to raise money for charity.

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Blessed truffles for auction

 

Each truffle was carefully cleaned, weighed and sold, starting at 1000 euros per kilo.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Truffle auction

 

All was supervised by the ever-present Compagnie Bachiques — a group of wine-loving men who show up at every wine event, dressed in the colors and golden coat of arms of the Duchy of Uzes. It is their duty to spread the word about wines from the region and to proclaim:

 

“VINO NON AQUA” 

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Uzes Black Truffle Sales

 

All through the day curious and truffle-hungry guests mobbed vendors who were selling truffles by weight. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Selling truffles by weight

 

 

Precious truffle oil, butter and cheese sold fast.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Those seeming to have the most fun were those who just showed up for the experience, the food, the company and the wine.

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

What truffle delight did I buy? A little block of truffle butter, cheese with truffles and a small jar of truffle pate that I’ll  have to give away — it’s made with pork! 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Barefoot Blogger “do I shop or take photos?”

Oh yes … and dare I forget? Nancy and I polished off  a few Truffle macaroons with a nice pot of tea before she left for her drive back to Sete.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Another fun day in the South of France!

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Friends and Family for the Holiday at Mas d’Augustine

“Legally” it’s Christmas until Twelfth Night here in France. To stay in the holiday spirit just a bit  longer, let’s visit the Langton’s at Mas d’Augustine for a chambre d’hôte holiday. We’ll take a glimpse of holiday decorations and parties and best of all, Jane will share her secrets on how to create the perfect traditional Christmas cake. 


Christmas Time at the Mas 

chambre d'hôte holiday

Holiday party at Mas d’Augustine

Jane and Gary are ready for guests

The chambre d’hôte is decked out for the holiday party

The aperos are prepared and ready to be served 

Time for the party to arrive!

chambre d'hôte holiday

Traditional Christmas Cake

chambre d'hôte holiday

 “Whilst I absolutely love living in France, when it comes to Christmas there are a few things that I really miss and one of them is a traditional Christmas cake.  Gary does not like Christmas cake, Christmas pudding or mince pies and so in previous years I have made a yule tide chocolate log or, as they are called in France, a Bouche de Noel. This year, however, I decided to make myself a proper English Christmas cake and I have a very quick and easy recipe.  I have used this recipe for many years, whether making a Christmas cake or Wedding cake, and it always turns out rich and moist (although it might be something to do with the extra brandy I pour over the base!).”

 

Ingredients

400g Currants

250g Sultanas

300g Glace cherries, rinsed, quartered and dried

75g Candied peel

4 tbls Brandy

300g Plain flour

1 tsp Mixed spice

½ tsp Grated nutmeg

300g Soft unsalted butter

5 Eggs

300g Soft dark sugar

1 tbls Black treacle

Extra brandy

Method

 

Place all the fruit and candied peel into a bowl and pour over the brandy, leave overnight in the fridge to soak.

 

The next day line the sides and bottom of a 20 – 23 cm tin with greaseproof paper and pre-heat your oven to 140C or, for a fan assisted oven, 120C.

Place all the other ingredients into a large mixing bowl and, starting slowly with an electric whisk, beat until the mixture is thoroughly blended.

Stir in the brandy soaked fruit, ensuring the fruit is evenly distributed throughout the cake mixture.

Tip the mixture into your prepared tin and cover the top with greaseproof paper.

Bake in the oven for 4.5 – 5 hours, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin.

Remove the cake from the tin and turn it upside down, using the skewer make random holes in the cake and pour over your additional brandy (about 2 tbls).

At this stage, if you are efficient and have made your cake in plenty of time (ideally 3 months before you want to eat it), you can keep adding brandy (about 1 – 2 tbls) each month to enrich the cake.  Make sure it is well wrapped up and stored in an air tight container.

Decorating

 

The next stage is the marzipan and you can make your own or buy it and, I must confess, I buy mine.  The French love marzipan and so I can buy excellent quality marzipan in our local stores.  For some reason, rather than being golden or white as it is in England, it always comes with a pink, white and green stripe.  But it tastes delicious and these colours will not show under the icing.

Roll out your marzipan to the right size.  Heat a little apricot jam in a saucepan and brush this on the top and sides of the cake – this will keep the marzipan in place.  Make sure you cover your cake completely and allow the marzipan to dry out for at least 2 days before you attempt the final icing and decoration.

I decorated mine with a plain white fondant icing and golden sugar granules. I made the holly leaves, red ribbon and twisted rope from coloured sugar paste and carefully frosted everything with edible glitter.

“I confess, I did not think about making my cake 3 months in advance, but probably put it together over about 10 days – but It still tastes great.”

chambre d'hôte holiday

Happy Holiday to All from Mas d’ Augustine

See you in the New Year!

chambre d'hôte holiday

 

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

Silly mice in Uzes, France

Uzes Christmas Market In Real Time

Christmas Market is in Uzes right now. If you cover your eyes and click your heels together, you can imagine you’re here!

 

Uzes Christmas Market 2016

Uzes Christmas Market 2016

 

The Saturday Market was hurried this weekend for the setup of the annual Marché Noél Saturday evening. Through Monday the Place Aux Herbes is filled with vendors operating out of white-topped stalls selling all types of holiday gifts and foods.  Wrap your taste buds around these morsels

 

 

My favorite jewellery maker is in town with more of his fabulous designs…. and a big hug and kiss for me, too!

 

 

Along with the woolies for sale and games for children and families, the market has something for everyone.

Handmade woolens in Uzes France

 

 

Furs at Uzes Christmas Market

 

 

 

 

Click on the slide show below and imagine the music ringing through the town. 

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Everything from religious santons to a silly mouse …

Santons in Uzes France

 

Silly mice in Uzes, France

Christmas in Uzes

 

The holidays are in full swing here and new shops are opened to welcome the crowds.

Le Comptoir de Mathilde 

 

 

Le Goûter d’Uzés

For my first full Christmas in Uzes, everything is merry and bright!

images-12

 

chambre d'hôte life

If Owning a Chambre d’Hote in France Is Your Dream, Spend a Day Picking Olives

How many of us have dreamed of owning a chambre d’hôte in France? Jane and Gary have taken the lunge and they’re willing to tell us all about their chambre d’hôte life. Today they’re picking olives at their B&B – Mas d’ Augustine in the south of France. There’s a favorite recipe from Jane’s kitchen too, so enjoy! 

chambre d'hôte lifeChambre d’hôte life … from Jane …

It’s Olive Time.

I’ve just been for my morning stroll around the gardens, checking what needs to be done today, as even in the winter there is always so much to do to make sure we have a beautiful garden ready for our guests next year. I’ve decided that the olives are ready for picking, the weather is sunny and bright, albeit very cold for the next couple of days, so it’s perfect olive picking weather! We only have 8 trees, but they produce about 50 kilos of olives which in turn provide us with about 7 litres of our own olive oil to enjoy the following year.

chambre d'hôte life

Armed with step ladders, bowls and our olive crates, we decided to make a start. It’s not exactly difficult to pick olives, just rather tedious and very cold.

 

chambre d'hôte life

I think the dogs and cats enjoy the task far more than we do, racing around and around the trees and then lying, panting in the winter sunshine.  Merlot, our Beauceron, is very troubled by olives……. he tries to eat them and then spits them out in disgust. You can tell he is completely bemused as to why we would want to tenderly collect these disgusting, bitter little fruits.

In our first winter at the Mas we didn’t know when to harvest our olives until someone advised us to pick them for oil. Picking that first year, in December and in the sleet and rain, was miserable – it was so cold and it is impossible to pick olives wearing gloves. I had no idea what they were supposed to look like; some were green and some were black and so, to be on the safe side, I put green ones in one crate and black ones in the other crate. This obviously made the task even more tedious, as every tree had both colours and we were careful not to mix them.

chambre d'hôte lifeAfter 2 days and 10 long hours of picking in awful weather we had 2 crates of olives, one black and one green. The next morning we proudly took the olives to the local moulin. Not understanding the process and, at that time, with very limited French, we stood in the queue to have our olives weighed. To my absolute horror they took my crate of green olives and tipped them into the crate containing the black olives – all that work to keep them separated was a complete waste of time!

I now know that the green olives produce a very green, peppery oil and the black ones a much smoother golden oil, the idea being to blend the colours to give a rich smooth oil with a good peppery finish.

We were given a ticket with the weight of our olive crop, 49 kilos and told to come back in 4 days to collect our oil.

chambre d'hôte life

 

The next Friday we returned to the moulin, a little unsure what to expect and handed in our ticket. What a lovely surprise when we were given 2 plastic containers containing approximately 7 litres of olive oil – not a bad result!

chambre d'hôte lifeThe following year, having taken advice and consulted the internet, I realised that our trees needed to be cut back as they were far too tall and very dense. Apparently, a good olive tree should be shaped like a martini glass with enough room between the branches for a swallow to fly through without touching its wings. We had some serious pruning to do! Unfortunately, due to our hard pruning, the next year our crop was very small and the year after that all the olive trees in our area were badly eaten by insects, with the remaining olives beaten from the trees by terrible storms – so for two years we had nothing to take to the moulin.

This year is much better and we have taken about 40 kilos of mixed green and black olives down to the moulin for pressing and are currently awaiting our plastic bottles!

BFB Note: 

Funny how Jane talks about “we” yet the photos tell a different tale. Lots of photos of Gary’s chambre d’hôte life and only this one of Jane… hmmm….

img_2917-1

From Jane’s Kitchen at Mas d’Augustine 

CHICKEN TAGINE WITH OLIVES AND PRESERVED LEMONS

SERVES 2

Ingredients
2 chicken breast and 2 thighs
olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1.5 tsp. turmeric
1.5 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. coriander seeds, cracked
350ml white chicken stock or vegetable stock 130g large green olives, pitted
1 preserved lemon cut into wedges
10g of fresh coriander, chopped

Method

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook the sliced onions over a high heat until soft and caramelised. Put them into a tagine dish or an ovenproof pot.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade

Season the chicken pieces, add a little more oil to the frying pan and fry the chicken until golden.

Turn down the heat and add the chopped garlic, turmeric, paprika and cracked coriander seeds.

Cook for a few minutes to bring out the flavours then add the stock, bring to the boil and pour into the tagine dish.

Sprinkle over the olives and preserved lemons. Cover and put in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

Remove the lid, check the seasoning and drizzle in a little olive oil.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Serve with bulgur wheat or couscous.

chambre d'hôte life

A proper Tangine dish

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

 

 

7 Great Ideas for An Awesome Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

 An autumn weekend around Uzes makes living in the south of France even more delightful for this expat. 

The tourists have left, or at least the crowds are gone. The weather is cool. The colors of nature and the man-made village walls, homes and regal buildings are all the shades of red and yellow against the autumn sky. Most noticeably, there’s a calm in the air that has been missing.

Being that this is the Barefoot Blogger’s third autumn in Uzes, I now know a few more people and a few more places to roam. My world is expanding. However, I’ve discovered you don’t have to go very far away to enjoy sights and experiences that are familiar. But as you’ll see from the photos here, it’s all somehow very different in France. Come with me to spend a weekend around Uzes.

Vernissage

October is when many artists show off their latest works to the locals. In the nearby village of Cavillargues, an art exhibit — or vernissage — was hosted by town officials in the Mairie (town hall.) Andy Newman — one of my favorites who lives part-time in the US, part-time in Cavillargues — was the center of attraction at this event. The village is less than an hour’s drive from Uzes, so it was a perfect start for weekend activities. (See the earlier post for more on Andy’s exhibit.)

2

Dinner in Uzes

After the vernissage with all its wine and apéros (snacks), a visit to the cozy Italian restaurant, La Voglia, in Uzes was a perfect choice for a late, casual dinner.

3

Vallée de l’Eure Festivities

In the valley park near Uzes there is almost always something going on. This weekend the main event was “Envolée Céleste” or “Heavenly Flight.” Twenty hot air balloons lifted off the valley floor to soar above the town and countryside. We watched the pre-flight setup from ground level, then we climbed up a rocky, narrow path — filled with prickly bushes — to reach the highest viewpoint.  The sights along the way and at the top were amazing, even though it was an overcast day. If you have 5 minutes and want to feel like you were actually there to see the huge balloons pop up behind the trees and hills around Uzes, watch the video.

4

Saturday Dinner and Jazz at Au Petit Jardin

To round out the balloon day events, friends gathered at the Au Petit Jardin for dinner and music.  To top it all off? Caraxés: A new taste from France — spirits made with rum and aquavit.

5

Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

Le Zanelli’s in Uzes

Sunday Lunch at Le Zanelli’s 

One of the best Italian restaurants in Uzes, in the opinion of many friends, is Le Zanelli’s. I confess this was my first visit, so I reserve my vote for a later time. A small salad was all I cared for after a large meal the night before. I will say, it’s one of the prettiest restaurants in town. Indoor and outdoor seating makes the location ideal for a Sunday, rain or shine.

6

A car ride into the Cevennes

As a child in the Carolinas, we’d often go for a “ride” on Sunday afternoons. We’d visit friends and relatives, or drive into a town nearby just to see what was going on. The habit is one I will pick up again now in France. So many interesting places are only a few hours away from Uzes.

A drive into the Cevennes sounded like a great idea, especially with the changing colors of foliage in the mountains. So off we went in good ‘ol Lucy —  me, Paula and Rich — and we picked up Geoffrey to add humor and guidance. After an hour or so on the winding road, we ran upon a market where the locals were selling apples and onions. It wasn’t long before we discovered there was a festival farther up the road. Too bad we hadn’t looked at an events calendar or we would have made an earlier start. Next time! There’s a famous book to read about the area, too —  Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Lewis Stevenson.

 

What an amazingly beautiful ride! Stops along the way to take pictures of the French countryside proved this was no ordinary “Sunday drive.”

Nosey me, I insisted we stop to peer into the yard and garden of a luxury château.

7

A Monday afternoon walk in the Garrigue 

Depending upon how much time you have to spend in and around Uzes, try to find an opportunity to take off to explore by foot. Recently I’ve joined a “newcomer’s” group — AVF — and one of their popular activities is hiking. This walk, however, was with a leader of the AVF hiking group who was doing a “test” walk on an unfamiliar course before offering it to AVF. By the end of the afternoon, we’d travelled 8-10 kilometers along rocky trails, up and down large and small hills, in the garrigue (scrubland) area outside Uzes. Even where there is little more than short trees and sparse vegetation, the scenery was enchanting.  (For a wonderful review of the garrigue, read this article at The Good Life France.)

Back to Uzes

After a very busy weekend, there’s no place like home. For me, this is the way…

Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

More on autumn in the Cevennes:

The Cevennes: Saint Jean du Gard

Halloween Train to the Cevennes

 

Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

Visit Uzes

An Expat’s Life in A Chambre d’Hôtes in France: Jane’s Story

After visiting new friends Jane and Gary Langton at Mas d’Augustine, the chambre d’hôte they own and run in the south of France, I asked if they would talk about chambre d’hôte living with me and Barefoot Blogger followers.  Happily, they agreed!

The original post about the Langstons, The Truth About Owning and Running A Chambres d’Hôtes in the South of France, told us the history of Mas d’Augustine, the eighteenth century silk mill converted to a luxury B&B that’s located outside of Uzes. The personal bits of the first story were told by Gary. Now it’s Jane’s turn to talk about chambre d’hôte living.

chambre d'hôte living

Jane preparing lunch for our visit

Whose idea was it to own and run a B&B? Yours or Gary’s or both?

Jane: “A small boutique hotel has been my dream since my thirties.  I wanted to work at something I love doing. My vision was to combine my love of beautiful things and my passion for cooking into a business. To create a holiday place where guests could enjoy a stylish décor, superb food and exceptional service.  Unfortunately, chambre d’hôte living was far from Gary’s dream. It was probably his worst nightmare.”

Did it take much persuasion to convince Gary?

Jane: “It took a lot!  Fortunately he couldn’t come up with an alternative way for us to work together in the sunshine,  so he gave in !”

How did you decide on a business in France?

Jane: We thought long and hard about our where we would locate and we considered various different countries.  South Africa was probably my favourite destination but we thought it was too far away from our combined family of seven children. We considered Spain because I had lived and worked there and I loved the sunshine, the food and the wine. However, I was not keen on the ex-pat lifestyle on the Costa del Sol. France seemed the obvious choice — as long as we headed south. 

chambre d'hôte living

Pool area at Mas d’Augustine

What was the condition of the property and house when you bought it?

Jane: “Once we decided upon France, we searched the whole southern coastline and came across Uzes by accident.  A friend recommended that we stop by Uzes and visit the Place Aux Herbes at lunchtime if we happened to be nearby. We did and we loved it !  Focusing our search in and around Uzes, we looked at about fifty properties until we found Mas d’Augustine. It was love at first sight for both of us.  The old mas was badly in need of some TLC but it offered us the opportunity to create our five ensuite guest rooms  — and still have our own private family house with two ensuite rooms.”

What prepared you for taking on the project of a B&B?

Jane: “Nothing prepared us! It has proven to be much harder work than I anticipated!  I have cooked and cleaned for a large family for twenty years, at the same time carving out a successful career, so I thought this challenge would be easy —  it wasn’t. It is incredibly hard work.”

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How do you divide up responsibilities?

Jane: “We have a very clear division of responsibilities. There are certain jobs involved with chambre d’hôte living that Gary simple will not do. For example, he will not clean the bathrooms. Gary scrubbing toilets is just never going to happen.  So I clean the rooms and make up the beds. I’m very fussy, so in the long run, its easiest for me to just do them myself. Gary does all the washing and ironing and he does it well. There are no creases in our bed linen. He takes charge of the front of house and I take on all the cooking. Gary loves to talk and I love to cook, so it works. Gary looks after the pool beautifully, it’s always glistening. I’m in charge of the garden and have had lots of successes and lots of failures trying to work out what grows down here and what doesn’t.  I spent ages planting daffodil bulbs only to find they bloomed in January when we were closed. By Easter, when we opened for guests, I just had lots of straggly leaves! Gary, under strict supervision, does all the chopping and hedge trimming. Left on his own, my flowers seem to disappear.”

chambre d'hôte living

 

What has been the most fun about renovating the property?

Jane:”The original renovation was great fun, we spent 18 months creating the finished property. From the shell we bought, it now looks exactly as I imagined, inside and out. So it is my dream home.”

 

chambre d'hôte living

What has been the least enjoyable part about your new life venture?

Jane: “The worse part has been sorting through all the French bureaucracy to get ourselves, and the property, registered and operating legally.  Gary had to take two courses in French, in order to understand how to get the correct licences for a Chambre d’Hotes in France.”

What’s the hardest part?

Jane: “Getting up every morning to prepare breakfast. There are no days off once the season starts. Its every morning.”

What did your family think?

Jane: “First of all, they said we had made them homeless by moving abroad, but once they saw the project, they understood why we wanted to do it.  Now they love coming over whenever possible and all think they have the best back garden possible!”

chambre d'hôte living

Courtyard and garden at Mas d’Augustine

 

Do you ever regret your decision?

Jane: “Not at all, we are both very happy with our new lifestyle. We work together extremely well.  Going from seeing each other just at the weekends to working together 24/7, it was a risk. But it’s great fun and we both love it!”

Describe the very best day you’ve spent so far. 

Jane: “The best days by far have been our daughters’ special celebrations here: Frankie’s 21st birthday party with all her friends and Kathryn’s wedding for 40 guests and family.”

chambre d'hôte living

 

And the very worse day?

Jane: “The worst day was right back at the beginning.  We completed the sale on the house in August 2010 and scheduled to move down in December.  In August, we planned and ordered our new kitchen. The idea was for it to be installed prior to our arrival in December, in time for Christmas.  When we got to October and had heard nothing from the kitchen company, we became suspicious.  Then we got the news. The company had gone into receivership. So not only would our kitchen not be fitted but we had lost our very sizeable deposit.  We moved down in December, the house was freezing, the fire just billowed smoke and we had no kitchen! But we sorted the fire, got the heating going, bought a little hot plate and, using this and our George Forman grill, we had a great Christmas lunch!”

Since you love to cook, will you share a favorite autumn recipe with us … or two?

Jane: Of course. Here are two recipes we enjoy serving ourselves and friends in November — after the guests have left for the season. They’re easy to prepare and remind us it’s Autumn.  Spicy parsnip soup and a lovely apple cake. 

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Spicy Parsnip Soup  

A tasty warming soup for the winter months, made with simple ingredients.   You can omit the chili if you prefer less heat and the flavor will still be wonderful. This soup makes a filling lunch, or serve smaller portions as an impressive starter to your evening meal.

chambre d'hôte living

Spicy Parsnip Soup

Ingredients – serves 4

2 Large parsnips

½ Onion, finely chopped

20g Butter

500 mls Chicken stock

150 mls Cream

1 tsp Turmeric

1 tsp Ras el Hanout

1 Large clove of garlic peeled and crushed

1 Piece of ginger (about 3 cms long), peeled and grated

1 Small red chilli, deseeded and chopped – optional

Salt and black pepper to taste

Method

  1. Peel, core and slice the parsnips, place them in a saucepan with the butter and sweat until they soften.
  1. Add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chilli (if used) and cook for a further 5 minutes until soft, but not browned.
  1. Add the spices and cook for a few minutes to allow the flavour to develop. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the parsnips are very soft (about 15 mins).
  1. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and then liquidise until really smooth.
  1. Place back on a gentle heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste with black pepper and sea salt.
  1. The soup can be thinned down by adding water if required.

To serve, reheat the soup gently and serve garnished with some finely chopped parsley or coriander, crispy croutons and some crusty bread.

our breakfast buffet for our guests and then also as a dessert, warm with cinnamon ice cream.


Apple Cake

Apples are in season now!  This cake was a great success with our guests, lovely and moist and not too sweet!  It would also be really good served slightly warm with some vanilla ice cream.

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Apple Cake from Jane’s kitchen at Mas d’Augustine

Ingredients – serves 8

3 Eggs

25g Ground almonds

225g Soft butter

200g Castor sugar

25g Vanilla sugar

(I use vanilla sugar in this recipe but, if you can’t find any, use a tsp of vanilla essence and 225g of castor sugar)

500g Apples (Granny Smith or similar)

225g Self-raising Flour

2 tsp Baking powder

1 tsp of Powdered cinnamon

Butter for greasing the tin

Lemon juice

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan assisted). Line the bottom and sides of a 24cm loose bottom cake tin with baking parchment.

 

  1. Peel and core the apples, then chop into cubes and toss in the lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Set aside.

 

  1. Whisk the butter and sugars together in a large mixing bowl until thick, pale and creamy.

 

  1. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.

 

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and fold gently into the mixture.

 

  1. Gently stir in the ground almonds and chopped apple. Mix thoroughly.

 

  1. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour.

 

  1. Check the cake after 30 minutes and, if it is becoming too brown, place a piece of tin foil or baking parchment loosely over the top.

 

  1. After one hour, check to see if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into its centre – it should come out clean.

 

  1. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

Serve cold on its own for tea or breakfast, or warm as a delicious dessert with crème fraiche, mascarpone, cinnamon or vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!!

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

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southern france holiday

Uzes: A Food Lover’s Southern France Holiday

You would be forgiven for thinking that Paris is the best place to experience French food. However, surprisingly many would argue against such a claim. While it is at the forefront, and to some extent the gateway to French cuisine for the average traveler, there are many other wonderful food hubs across the country that rival Paris’s thriving restaurant scene.

https://bfblogger.com/2016/11/06/southern-french-food/Though, that doesn’t mean the city isn’t without its fair share of amazing restaurants. Chez Dumonet for one, helmed by Chef Jean-Christian Dumonet, was at one point dubbed by Fodor’s Travel as the best restaurant in Paris. Chez Dumonet is so well known now that this restaurant is on most foodies bucket lists when the visit the capital.

Getting to visit such a place gives travelers a real sense of the roots of French cuisine. In The Scene’s ‘Presents’ series, a video blog was published about ‘Honest French Food’, and Chez Dumonet’s classic French dishes were described as “masterfully assembled” which in turn has attracted lots of patrons from all corners of the world in recent years.

There are, happily, many other wonderful food hubs across the country that rival Pariss thriving restaurant scene…like Uzes, way down in the south of France. 

Uzes is a hidden gem. The NY Times Travel Magazine described the town as one of the “best preserved and most meticulously renovated towns in the South of France.”

southern france holiday

A Food Lover’s Southern France Holiday

In Uzes the people have retained their identity in every aspect of daily living, from the architecture to cultural practices to the way they prepare food and their cooking traditions.You would be forgiven for thinking that Paris is the best place to experience French food. However,

Amazing foods, cafes and restaurants are everywhere. The food markets in Uzes are bustling with vendors that sell only the best and freshest, locally grown produce, meats, cheeses and breads. These markets were included by The Guardian amongst the best food markets around the world.

If you’d rather pass on checking out every stall and just fancy watching people make their way around in the morning, head to Terroirs within the Place aux Herbes. Simply sit down and sip your cup of coffee or tea while watching one of the finest markets within the whole southern region of France spring to life.

La Table 2 Julien at Montaren-et-Saint-Médiers serves sumptuous food at lunchtime that you can pair with a glass of your preferred wine.

Uzes has ‘natural wines’ which, according to Real Food Warrior are made only from sun-ripened grapes and free from any additives.

For special occasions there’s Le Comptoir du 7, one of my favorites.

The newly-renovated Hotel Entraigues is a rising star on the restaurant scene in Uzes with Chef Axel Grousset-Bachelard returning to his hometown, determined to outshine any competition. His “nothing is fixed’ menu” is short and imaginative, featuring market-day fresh, local products that “excite the tastebuds,”according to Chef Axel.

You can also have a bistro meal on the spot in cafes and restaurants scattered around the area. They are worthy additions to your culinary journey.

In case you’re wondering about food etiquette during your Southern France holiday, be sure to see Nancy’s McGee’s post about cutting cheese.

Do you have restaurants in Uzes, or nearby that you would like to add to the list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Loire Valley Holiday

Loire Valley: Château Villandry and Living Large

When the plan was conceived for a 3-day visit to the Loire Valley, I thought the trip was going to be rather low-key. It was the first time in years that Nancy McGee’d been away from her business, Absolutely Southern France. Now I know there’s nothing “low-key” about traveling with Nancy, destination planner extraordinaire.

For the long drive from the south of France to our Loire Valley “base” in Amboise, Nancy had smartly planned our lunch stop in Clermont-Ferrand.

“I met the merchant during a tour I was offered,” Nancy wrote to me before our trip. “He is one of only 10 cheese merchants in France who ripens his cheeses,” she continued. And oh yes … ” We could get him to prepare a small sampling platter for our dinner on arrival.”

As you learned from the first post in the series, “Hanging out in the Loire Valley,” Clermont-Ferrand, the cheese shop, the boulangerie and the whole experience was something to remember as much as visiting chateaus and wineries.

That wasn’t all Nancy had up her sleeve. She conjured up  a private chef.

“A private chef!” I exclaimed to myself when I read the first lines of Nancy’s email. “That’ll cost a fortune!” I sighed. Then I read the next part of Nancy’s note:

“I spoke to the Chef today. Here is what he has to offer on Sunday evening. He arrives at 7 with everything, and leaves at 9. He sets the table, cooks (some things he makes in advance) and does the washing up. He cooks with local produce and uses organic when he can.”

When she added that the menu would feature regional foods, complete with the chef’s choice of local wines — and cost no more that a meal at a moderately upscale restaurant — I was “in.”

But first … Château Villandry

The date set for our private chef to prepare dinner at our “chalet” was Sunday evening.  That meant we had all day to visit one of the châteaux we heard was extraordinary — Château Villandry. Believe me, it didn’t disappoint.

Château Villandry in the Loire Valley

Château Villandry in the Loire Valley

Château Villandry was built in the sixteenth century by Jean Le Breton, France’s Controller-General for War under King Francis I. The structure was erected on the site of a feudal castle from which Breton salvaged only the keep (fortified tower) because of its historical significance — the site of the peace treaty signing, “La Paix de Colombiers ” (The Peace of Colombiers), between   Henry II of England (Henry Plantagenet) and King Philip Augustus of France.

Château Villandry was confiscated during the French Revolution and acquired by Emperor Napoleon to house his brother, Jérôme Bonaparte. In 1906 the château was purchased by Joachim Carvallo, a Spanish doctor and medical researcher, married to Ann Coleman, an American heiress. The Carvallos piled massive amounts of money and effort into creating a home and showplace,  including resurrecting and installing a magnificent tri-level garden. Enrique Carvallo, the doctor’s great-grandson, and his family live on the grounds of the château today.

From any angle, the château and gardens are both man and nature’s works of art. 

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Gardens at Château Villandry

Gardens at Château Villandry

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The day we visited Château Villandry the sky was overcast and grey. In spite of the weather, the garden was colorful and cheerful — flush with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and assorted other seasonal fruits and vegetables. I could only imagine how it the same place might look in the summertime with a different variety of plants and flowers.

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While I admire gardens, it was the interior of the château that, to me, was breath-taking. Especially the dining room.

Dining room at Château Villandry

Dining room at Château Villandry

If you wonder how dinner is served in a château, this setting showed it off to pure perfection.

Family portraits and live flower arrangements throughout the château created a warm and friendly ambience. 

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Long halls filled with an impressive art collection belonging to the Carvallo family and intricately designed ceilings were reminders that Château Villandry is a grand château worthy of its World Heritage Site designation.

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Ceiling decoration at Château Villandry

Ceiling decoration at Château Villandry

Dinner Dimanche 

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Back to chalet “chez moi.”  

After a long day visiting the château and gardens at Villandry, we were more than ready for our special treat — dinner with Chef Arnaud.

Chef Arnaud

Chef Arnaud

Le menu

Entrée
Oeufs Meurette au Chinon (poached eggs in onion and red wine sauce)

Plat
Joues de Porc Confites , Purée de Vitelottes  (candied pork cheek and purple potatoes)

Fromage

Toast de Fromage de Chèvre (goats cheese on toast)

Dessert

Tarte à la tatin  (apple pie with creme)

For any who think eggs poached in wine is weird, just try it. If you cringe at the thought of pork “cheeks,” this Southern Girl has never tasted anything quite like it. The pork was slowly cooked until the meat was deep pink. It was so tender it melted like butter in my mouth, yet there was an outside crust that was crispy and savoury.

Along with the meal fixings, Chef Arnaud brought more regional delicacies from his own kitchen that we could buy — pâte, rilettes de porc and confitures. And buy we did.

Brad even got in on the evening fun!

Many “thanks” to Barefoot Blogger readers for your comments on photo representation in the blog posts. In addition to saying “keep the photos in the post as usual,”  you seem to like the slide shows and video slides, too. Always open to your thoughts and suggestions on how to make the postings easier to manage and enjoyable for you. I love having you along with me on this ride!

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South France Holiday

A Dream Vacation in the South of France.

I’m feeling pretty smug these days that I get a south France holiday everyday. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world to be here.

Lately I’ve had more good luck to be included in the travel plans of my “blog world” friends. Some of them you know since I talk about them a lot — Nancy McGee from Absolutely Southern France and Yetunde from Cook’n With Class Uzes (and Paris) and Carolyne with Perfectly Provence and Edible Heritage are now part of my “gang,” too. While I was still in the States, Nancy put together a whirlwind tour for the four of us, upon my return, to visit in Uzes and Sete. She arranged the trip with the tourist agencies from both cities so that we could learn more about the towns and help promote tourism — as if I didn’t already promote them. Sete and Uzes are two of my favourite places in the world.

Nevertheless — I was more than happy to go along. Albeit I was jet-lagged from the US trip and Scotland. (Oh… I do hate to complain!)

In three days we stuffed in so many activities and sights that it’s hard to tell you about it all. Perhaps a synopsis will do for now and I’ll write more about each place in later posts. So here goes..

 

South France Holiday

Nancy introduces everyone and we begin our tour

Uzes Historic Tour

Nancy and Carolyne arrived at my apartment in Uzes around 5pm — just in time to meet Yetunde for our historic tour of Uzes. We were hosted by Fadila, our host in Uzes, and our guide from the tourist agency.

Starting with the Mairie (town hall) we visited the inter-court of the Duché and heard the history of the “castle” and the three main towers in Uzes.

A visit to the Saint Théodorit Cathedral with its Fenestrelle Tower helped explain some of the religious background of the town — which is both fascinating and complicated as this place was once a very important bishopric. If I thought I knew a lot about Uzes I was fooling myself. The history of the town is like peeling an onion. The more you learn, the more there is to know.

South France Holiday

Fenestrelle Tower and Saint Théodorit Cathedral

A bit of rain stalled our tour of the city, but we continued our history lesson inside the Hotel d’Entraigues where we were treated to wine, aperitifs and an amazing dinner.

Fortunately the raindrops stopped falling in time to view the hotel’s amazing views of the town from its rooftop… and the pool.

South France Holiday

Hotel Entraigues

Cook’n With Class Day

Early morning the next day we grabbed a croissant and coffee and hurried off to meet the chef and students of Cook’n With Class. It was market day in San Quentin la Poterie and we were to choose and prepare a menu in the Cook’n With Class kitchen from the day’s best finds.

Look what we created!

South France Holiday in Uzes Countryside

Just when we all could have taken a nap from all the food shopping, preparing and eating, we were off on a limousine tour of the countryside near Uzes — the shops at San Quentin la Poterie —

South France Holiday

San Quentin la Poterie

 

… and the luxury hotel in Castillon du Gard – Hotel Le Vieux Castillon . What a view!!

On to Sete!

If you think our day was finished, you’d be so wrong. On to drive to Sete!

South France Holiday

Canal view in Sete

Stopping off  just long enough to drop our luggage at Nancy’s AIRBNB after reaching Sete, we were whisked away to the beach.

South France Holiday

Tuk-tuk ride to the beach in Sete

South France HolidayThere we were met by our friend Marie-France from the Sete tourist office and treated to an amazing dinner at Le Cabanon de la Plage.

South France Holiday

Le Cabanon de la Plage

South France Holiday

La Cabanon de la Plage

South France Holiday Gourmet Tour of Sete

South France HolidayNancy’s Absolutely Southern France weekly gourmet tours are quite the “thing to do” in Sete these days. In fact, Nancy has recently been named “Entrepreneur of the Year” for the entire region of France. It’s no wonder. The Canadian-born expat who has lived in the south of France for thirty years is a fountain of knowledge. Her tour not only includes the city markets of Sete, she also tells of the history and architecture that makes the town so distinctive and compelling.

Here are just a few of our stops along the tour.

Al Fresco Dining at Oh Gobi

Finishing our gourmet tour of the city we were invited to a seafood FEAST at the waterside restaurant Oh Gobie.

South France Holiday

There we joined the restaurant owner … and an uninvited guest.

Fish Auction House

Probably the most unexpected opportunity Nancy and Marie-France opened up to us as guests of the tourist office was to visit the fish auction house in Sete. First of its kind to be automated and computerised, the fish auction occurs each weekday in the late afternoon — just in time for the fishermen to deliver and sell their catch of the day.

Fancy a South France Holiday Tour?

The best thing about the whirlwind tour of Uzes and Sete is that it’s available to everyone. Most of the activities are free. You just have to show up in Uzes or Sete to enjoy the scenery, the history and the ambience. For Nancy’s Gourmet Tour, contact her at Absolutely Southern France, and for Cook’n With Class Uzes, learn more and contact Yetunde here. Links to the hotels and restaurants mentioned are “hot” in this post, so learn more as you please. For any additional information, feel free to send me a note at deborah@bfblogger.com.

There will be more posts to follow about this experience with more stories and photos. Hope you enjoy!

Stay tuned ….

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True Confessions of a Blundering Expat in France

Well, I did it again. I’ve made almost every blunder imaginable since moving to France. And I keep adding to it.

First I was locked out of my apartment when returning from a visit to the States. It wasn’t enough that I had endured a grueling 23-hour travel day. The keys were left in a drawer in Atlanta.

Then there was the fiasco with putting gasoline in “Lucy,”  my diesel-engine Citroen.

The latest was a doozy.

My good friend from Sete, Nancy McGee, was on her way to visit me in Uzes for the first time.  (That’s Nancy McGee of “Absolutely Southern French Food and Etiquette.) It was a Saturday afternoon and I had just finished straightening up the guest room when she called from her car to tell me she was approaching Uzes.  I told her I’d meet her on the main street of town and direct her to a nearby parking lot. I grabbed my keys and the two bags of trash I wanted to drop off in the dumpster on the way.  I turned around to lock the door to the apartment, then changed my mind.

“It’ll just be a few minutes,’ I said to myself. “No need to lock the door.”

I literally flew down the 55 steps that descend to street level of the building; dashed out into the parking lot; then headed for the trash dumpster.

Lifting the lid of the dumpster, I tossed the bags of trash into the barrel drawer; flipped the front lid closed with a “bang;” and listened while the barrel drawer rolled upside down, dumping its contents into the bowels of the can below…with a loud “clunk.”

Suddenly I felt a wave of nausea. You know that sick feeling you get in your gut when you know you’ve done something totally stupid? Something irretrievably dumb? I was overcome with it. I almost threw up. “Oh no!” I said to myself (although the language was not quite as polite.)

I had dropped more than the bags of garbage. My keys were no longer in my hand. They were in the dumpster.

When the nausea subsided I ran to the meeting place to find Nancy.

“What can I tell her?” I said to myself, knowing she would think I was a total “bean brain.”

Nancy’s car approached the parking lot. As soon as she stopped I opened the passenger door and jumped in, breathless.

“You won’t believe what I’ve done,” I moaned.

“Oh dear,” said Nancy, surely thinking I’d killed someone judging from the look on my face.

“I threw my keys into the dumpster,” I cried. Then I blurted out the whole story, including the fact that she’d have to drive us around the whole weekend. We had a list of places to see near Uzes.

Maintaining her customary, calm composure, Nancy pulled the car into a vacant parking space near my building.

“Hey, wait!” I exclaimed as we were unloading her overnight bag and her tiny Papillon dog from the back seat. “There’s a telephone number on the dumpster! You can call the company and explain what happened,” I chirped, hopefully.

Nancy is from Canada and she has lived in France for nearly 30 years. She speaks French like a native. When I told her how I knew there was a phone number on the dumpster — because I’d had an earlier episode with the dumpster and my cellphone — a false alarm — she wasn’t amused. Nevertheless, she called the number. Of course there was no answer. It was Saturday evening. Nancy left a message on the answering machine and she gave several phone numbers so they could call us back.

If there was any good news about the key incident it was that my apartment door was unlocked.  Also, I had a second set of apartment keys. But that was it. No extra key to the tower entrance downstairs. No key to the large wooden door at the street level. No key for my mailbox. No extra key for the car.

“This is going to be a big problem,” I lamented to myself. “And it’s going to cost me a bundle, “ I predicted.

“When does the city picked up the trash?” Nancy asked later, after we’d had a glass of wine to settle our nerves.

“Early Monday morning,” I answered, recalling the noises I heard under my bedroom window each week. A big garbage truck parks beside the dumpster and pulls the cans out of the ground. It’s a noisy process that seems to take forever when you’re trying to sleep four stories above.

“Go down there and ask the man to help you look for your keys Monday morning,” Nancy suggested –as if I could converse with anyone in French.

“I thought about that,” I admitted, “perhaps he’ll understand sign-language,” I said to myself.

Nancy didn’t volunteer for duty. I didn’t blame her.

“I’ll do it,” I said.

Picking up the trash

Sunday night I could hardly sleep. Plotting how I was going to communicate my dilemma to the garbage man was all I could think about. Just when I dozed off, I heard the familiar, jarring sound of the big garbage truck below the window. I peered out and the garbage “extraction” process had already begun.

One of the two dumpsters was being lifted out of the ground. “Oh my God,” I shrieked to myself. “It’s too late for me to get down there!” Then I saw the dumpster that held my keys in its belly was still firmly planted. I had time to act. In fact, I figured, I had too much time. So I sat in a chair at my bedroom window, with a coat thrown over my nightgown, and I watched.

Dumpster

 

It was all very organized … and automated. The crane on the truck lifted the dumpster and … the driver punched buttons on a remote control and … the crane and dumpster moved over the backend of the truck … and ..the bottom of the bin flapped open…and the contents fell out onto all the other garbage in the truck.

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Forget it!

There was no way the garbage man would help me sift through a truck full of trash for my keys. Nor would I!

Monday morning Nancy drove me to the Citroen dealership before she left town for Sete. We were certain they would cut new keys as I waited since I had a plastic replacement key I’d found among “Lucy’s important papers.

No such luck. The key had to be ordered from the factory. Plus, “Lucy” had to be towed to the dealership to program the new key. A week later.

 

"Lucy" on the tow truck on her way out of the parking garage to the Citroen dealership

“Lucy” on the tow truck on her way out of the parking garage to the Citroen dealership

 

New friends at the Ciroen dealership in Uzes

New friends at the Citroen dealership in Uzes

 

The Payoff

Bottomline, my blunder with the keys cost me a pretty penny. Replacing the keys to the apartment wasn’t a big deal. Obtaining new car keys was expensive and a pain in the neck… but I now have friends at the dealership. The weekend with my friend, Nancy, was a blast — including a party for the opening of La Grandmère wine and coffee house in Vers Pont du Gard , La Grange

 

 A night of music, food and dancing at Au Petit Jardin in Uzes.

Petite Jardin in Uzes

Au Petit Jardin in Uzes

 

 

Poubelle

And I learned a little French along the way …poubelle … the garbage can!

 

P.S. Nancy says the trash company returned her call Monday afternoon. They apologized for not offering any help. The office was closed for the weekend. They informed her that if I had lost the keys on a weekday, they would have sent a small truck to the dumpster and sorted the trash. I could have found my keys.

Geez. Next time I’ll be a little more intentional when I do something really stupid.

Read about the lost cellphone here

Read about the left-behind apartment keys here 

Read about Lucy’s problem with gas here 

 

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Sea Urchins: Facts, Fiction and How To Eat Them!

Ever eaten a sea urchin? Find out why the French love them, fresh from the Mediterrean.

One of my favorite people in France is Nancy McGee, contributor to the Barefoot Blogger’s  Absolutely Southern French Food and Etiquette page. She really knows about the south of France, it’s foods, its places and its customs. Proprietor of the now infamous Absolutely Southern France tour company in Sete, Nancy’s company won Best Holiday Tours 2016 in Luxury Travel Guide and … drumroll …. Nancy is Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year for her region of France for 2015.  Thanks to Nancy we’ve enjoyed reading about two of France’s favorite foods — cheese and oysters. Now it’s time to learn about sea urchins. Yes, those spiny creatures that, if you’re not careful,  you step on while wading in the Mediterranean.

Would you believe they’re edible? Read on and find out more.

SEA URCHINS  : A REVELATION

My story – Nancy McGee

What is it that makes one fall in love with the south of France? Is it the lifestyle, climate, food, wine…? For me it was all of the above – plus my future husband, a young medical student. Thirty years ago, rather than return home to Canada after a one-year work assignment, I readily exchanged the arctic climate of Quebec for endless days of sunshine. My husband and I spent our summers in his hometown of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. I have many happy memories of those leisurely days spent on the beach, swimming, sunbathing and also discovering many culinary gems of this Mediterranean island. However, it wasn’t until much later that I learned to appreciate the most highly prized of all: the sea urchin.

Sea urchin from Sete

In Corsica, where this bounty from the sea is almost revered, summer beach parties which centred around the thorny creatures are a popular tradition. The young men dive for the urchins and return to the beach bearing sacks full of ‘treasure’. Beach towels are spread out, bottles of wine, opened – and the sea urchins are slit and eaten on the spot. Fresh from Canada, I was quite taken aback by the “primitive” nature of this event. As far as I was concerned, sea urchins were something to be cursed, especially if one had the bad luck to step on one! But to eat them raw and live? It was simply out of the question!

I graciously refused the kind offers to join the feast but have since made up for lost time!

Originally called ‘sea hedgehog’ for obvious reasons, the sea urchin has been a much maligned creature along with its cousins like the sea cucumber, sea star and sand dollar. The very name suggests ragged, scavenging youngsters out of the pages of Charles Dickens. (And indeed the species – echinoidea – does scavenge the ocean floor.) In 19th century Newfoundland they were disdainfully referred to as ‘whore’s eggs’, yet they were considered delicacies in the days of Pompeii. The philosopher Aristotle studied them long and hard. In his book The History of Animals he described their ‘mouth’ (center) as a horn lantern, known as ‘Aristotle’s Lantern“. It is capable of drilling through rocks!

The “revelation” for me came around five years ago when a friend in the colourful Mediterranean port of Sète, which is now my home, invited me to a New Year’s Eve party. As the guests sipped aperitifs, a huge seafood platter was presented and we were asked to serve ourselves. I must admit I don’t know if it was the excitement of the New Year or a little too much bubbly, but I spontaneously took hold of a sea urchin, scooped out the small bright orange sections – and cautiously took a bite.

Never could I have imagined such a delicious and delicate sweetness. I felt like a princess (the word primitive was instantly erased from my vocabulary) as I explored the shell in search of a small bite of this newly discovered treasure. It took me back to the beach parties and the young men offering unlimited quantities of sea urchins. It made me realize how much I had missed and how silly I had been to refuse to taste this fabulous sea food.

 

A FESTIVAL TO CELEBRATE THE SEA URCHIN

The south of France offers a variety of festivals, mainly during the summer, which draw hoards of visitors and tourists to the Mediterranean coast.

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One of my favorites is the Sea Urchin Festival in March , or ‘oursinade’ which is unique to the town of Sete. Over 20,000 sea urchins are served in the main square over the weekend. Just 5 euros buys a glass of local Picpoul white wine and a dish of raw sea urchins, which are generally accompanied with slices of fresh baguettes and butter.
The urchins are hand picked by divers in the neighboring lagoon by the Mediterranean and sold in the local markets for approximately a mere 4 euros per dozen.
At first glance, admittedly, sea urchins do not appear particularly appealing, but they are comparable to oysters for delivering a fresh, straight-from-the-sea flavour. Often described as tasting like the sea without being fishy, they have a “creamy ocean, slightly sweet flavour”. Rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, they are a good source of protein. (Also rumoured to be an aphrodisiac, but that’s another story…)
Please bear in mind if you plan on travelling to the Mediterranean coast that sea urchins are not available in the summer (from May to October). It is the reproduction season with laws instated to protect the species.

Recipes

Scrambled eggs with sea urchin
Ingredients
8 eggs, 12 sea urchins, 2 spoons of butter, salt and pepper
Open sea urchins and retrieve the « coral » ,
Beat eggs , add salt and pepper.

In a double boiler, first melt t 1 teaspoon? spoon of butter. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can easily place a light, non-plastic bowl set over a pot of lightly steaming boiling/simmering? water
Add eggs and stir with wooden spoon until the eggs become creamy
In a saucepan, melt 1 spoon teaspoon? of butter and add the sea urchin coral coral wasn’t explained , heat for 1 minute
Pour over the scrambled eggs and serve

As legend would have it...

  • Fossil sea urchins were thought to be stones that had fallen from the sky during a storm.
  • The druids thought that sea urchins were eggs of snakes.
  • Sea urchins “Eurhodia”, found in abundance, are called ” lucky stones ” in Jamaica.

And the facts…

  • The sea urchin first appeared five-million years ago and more than 200 species of sea urchin populate waters around the world.
  • In the south of England, fossil sea urchins are placed on the racks of the dairies to prevent milk from turning.
  • They are believed to be strong aphrodisiacs.
  • Sea urchins prefer rocks to the ocean floor because their tentacles can cling to rocks.
  • Sea urchins do not have a brain.

urchin 2

Lyon bouchons

What Does a Southern Gal Think of Lyon? “Hog Heaven!”

Lyon, France is famous for its bouchon restaurants. In the southern states of the US, we call it “home cooking.”

Lyon bouchons are known for their modest food made from inexpensive ingredients like organ meats. We have chitterlings, tripe and hog’s feet served in restaurants throughout the southern states of the US. We call them “innards” and “parts.”  Bouchon takes “parts” to a new level — cow’s foot, veal nose, veal paunch (stomach) — just to name a few tasty bits.

Lyon bouchons

Bouchon restaurant menu

 

Lyon Bouchons

Bouchon gastronomes in Lyon were where the silk merchants frequently ate during the day. Now there are so many restaurants that serve bouchon there is a rating system to help differentiate the “authentic” from the “tourist-traps.”

Lyon bouchons

Since 1997, Pierre Grison and his organization, L’Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), bestow annual certifications to restaurants as “authentic” bouchons. These restaurants receive the title Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais and are identified with a sticker showing the marionette Gnafron, a Lyonnais symbol of the pleasures of dining, with a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin bearing the Lyon crest in the other.” (Wikipedia)

 

Bouchon de l’Opera 

Bouchon de l’Opera is a little restaurant with a big heart. When I arrived without reservations I was seated at one of the two small tables the owner’s wife designated as “unreserved.” Looking around, it was obvious all the other settings were for groups of six or more. Soon the place was filled with couples and friends who seemed to know the place well as a friendly stop after work.

Decorations in the homey cafe are vintage kitchenware with a big emphasis on “piggy” collectibles. 

There were only two people working in the restaurant — the owner/chef and his wife.

Lyon bouchons

Owner/chef at Le Bouchon de l’Opera

The chef was chopping away on salad fixings, then he’d turn to stir a pot on the stove. It was all open to view if you peered into the back.

His wife was scurrying around the front of the house with menus and carafes of water and house wine.

“English menu?” she asked, figuring quickly that the tall blonde she’d seated didn’t appear to be French.

Fortunately there was a menu in English. The items would have been hard to explain in French.

 

Yes! I ordered the Bouchon de l’Opera salad…

Veal’s nose and cow’s foot and all…

It reminded me of the andouillette at the markets in Uzes. Unlike the cajun variety of andouille, the French sausage is made from pork intestines (chitterlings) and stomach (tripe). It was just a bit more unusual to see it served here with pieces of herring.

Lyon bouchons

Bouchon de l’Opera salad 

 

My main course, or “plat,” was another extraordinary taste-test: home-made pike quenelle — a mixture of creamed fish, bread crumbs and egg served in a cream sauce.

 

 

Lyon bouchons

Pike Quenelle

 

 

Lyon bouchons

Tripe with cornichon “mayonnaise”

Tripe: another bouchon plat choice 

Tripe (cow’s stomach), breaded and pan-fried. It was served with a cornichon (gherkin) “mayonnaise” that tastes much like tartar sauce.

 

Served with vegetables

Although it was quite in disguise, pumpkin was a side dish. Alongside, a French variety of potato pancakes. Lyon bouchons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For dessert …

There was no way that I was going to finish the night without a dessert. Below are just two of the choices –terrine glacée au chocolat noir and the tarte tatin et sa confiture de Beaujolais nouveau. Fabulous!