Daddy!

29 07 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Woke up in my new digs this morning and took a look around since it was so late last night and I was too tired to see where I was. I am going to like it here and am excited to welcome Rich to the party.

cute living room with plenty of light

cute living room with plenty of light

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nice kitchen

nice kitchen

sunny bedroom (quiet, too)

sunny bedroom (quiet, too)

I messed around “home” unpacking and also doing my laundry.

I like hanging my clothes outside to dry

I like hanging my clothes outside to dry

No big plans for today.  Dario texts me and we agree to meet later for lunch.  He leads me to a nice local restaurant that he frequents when in Barcelona. Restaurant D’Aqui is very cute and has a nice menu del dia.

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I feel like I am in language purgatory.  My head is still in France (even though I know very little French). It is hard to drastically make the switch.  I prove that when it is time for post-lunch coffee and I request a “cafe au lait” (instead of a “cafe con leche”).

After lunch Dario and I take a nice long walk down to the Corte Ingles to shop for food to pick on tonight when Rich arrives. We collect some great Jamon, little slider-type burgers, bread and tomatoes (for pan con tomate) and a bottle of wine.  Along with the French cheese purchased in Provence we shall have a nice spread to welcome of newest member. When we come out of the store it is pouring down rain so we catch a cab back.

The only thing left to do today is make an airport run.  Janel and I hop on the Airport bus  and zoom out to meet Rich’s flight at 10pm.  Waiting around for the flight to come in is torture.

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C'mon...

C’mon…

Yessss!

Yessss!

So happy to see Rich!

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We taxi it back to our place where Dario is busy preparing our meal.

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We sit around eating and chatting.  It is wonderful to have the four of us together now.  We have lots of adventures to look forward to.  Rich is glad to be here and is only slightly brain dead from jet lag.

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Dario demonstrates how to prepare our pan con tomate:

 

 

 

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A few trinkets for Janel were purchased along our trek today and they are presented to her.

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We found some great little “animals” that you make with wine corks.  She loves them and imediately begins to assemble the water buffalo.

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Time for this party to wind down. Janel has to work in the morning and Rich has been up for hours as well.  Rich and I will be on our own for tomorrow.  We can handle it.  The plan is to meet tomorrow for dinner, but call it a night for now.

 





“Sur la Pont”

28 07 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014

Last day in France – the morning is bittersweet.  We have had an absolutely fantastic trip and I don’t want it to end.  However, I DO want to get back to Barcelona to greet Rich when he arrives tomorrow night.  That thought eases my suffering a bit.

Our flight does not leave until early evening so we have all day to mess around.  We think we will try and hit up Avignon.  Don’t really know what is there, but could be something interesting.  Also, we are certain to find a place for lunch there (and really, that will be the most important part of the day).  Another nice garden breakfast is served and we leisurly dine and then pack.  A big thank you goes out to Charles and Andree for their wonderful hospitality.  We have felt very comfortable and cared for at Mas du Clos de L’Escarrat and I hope to return with Rich someday.

Off to Avignon.  We are sort of learning our way around (at least Dario and Janel are), but these French roads can be tricky.  On a whim, Dario suggests that we try to breeze through Chateauneuf-de-Pape one more time for a quick visit to  Vin Chocolat & Compagne where we had our chocolate/wine tasting.  He wants to pick up some chocolate to bring back. Now, if we can just find the place…

How many navigators does it take...?

How many navigators does it take…?

Well, at least one of the navigators was correct:

Success!

Success!

Endless choices

Endless choices

beautiful chocolates with lavender

beautiful chocolates with lavender

After Dario got his chocolate fix we set our course for Avignon and zoomed away through the countryside. We found ourselves smack in the middle of the walls of the city and veered off into a parking garage.  When we completed the elevator ride up and then the steps we were all surprised at what greeted us on top.

Hello.

Palais de Papes

Palais de Papes

Wow. What a stunner and so unexpected.  Here we thought we were going to wander aimlessly around Avignon and then this magnificent beast appears before our very eyes. I guess we are set for the next hour or so.  Palais des Papes in Avignon was the Papal residence during parts of the 14th century when the Papal seat was in France. Each time a new Pope was seated, he added on and made improvements to the palace.

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This place is huge and pretty darn cool.  It is a great place to wander in and out of the rooms thinking what it must have been like centuries ago.

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had to

had to

So much wandering makes us hungry so Janel and Dario check their smartphones to find a good place for lunch.  They settle on L’Epicerie restaurant right in front of the beautiful Church of St Pierre.

IMG_3305It is perfect weather today and we choose to sit outside under one of the umbrellas.  The menu looks great and is obviously made for sharing.  We order three different “platters” of “pickings” to share. Oh, and what we think might be our last bottle of French Rose.

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Beef tartare and roasted potatoes

Beef tartare and roasted potatoes

Smoked salmon and accoutrements

Smoked salmon and accoutrements

Various spreads/fruits/salads

Various spreads/fruits/salads

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Everything was especially fresh and delicious – just what we wanted.  What a great choice for our last lunch in Provence.  We finished our meal with coffee all around and then decided we had enough time to see another important landmark in Avignon – the Pont du Avignon. Pont Saint-Bénézet (or Pont du Avignon) is a famous Medieval bridge spanning the Rhone River. It was built from 1177-85 and has collapsed several times due to flooding of the Rhone.

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There is a song about this bridge that all French children (and apparently all students of French language) learn.  Dario starts singing it as we walk on the bridge: Sur la Pont d’Avignon song.  Please click on the link – this song has been in my head ever since Dario sang it.  I would like for others to share in my suffering!  We can hear other children and adults singing it as we stroll along.

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I am consistently reminded that France is for lovers:

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IMG_3317ches on and we must say goodbye to Provence.  We pat ourselves on the back for making the wise choice to spend our free days here.  It has been a wonderful experience for all.

The flight back to Barcelona is delayed (naturally) and we are tired.  It is raining when we arrive back in the city and we have some maneuvering to do.  I have to find and move in to a new apartment and also must collect my leftover baggage from Janel’s place. We are all tired and very, very hungry but do what must be done.

There are not many restaurants open on Monday night at this time (10:30pm), but we actually find a good Lebanese place and have a great meal.  No pics – too tired! I am walked back to my new digs.  Exploration will begin again tomorrow and Rich arrives tomorrow night.  A new chapter will commence for the STFD gang.

 

 





To Market, to Market…

27 07 2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

So – did we actually get up for our proposed 8:30 workout?  Yes, we did.  Dario led us through our paces out in the garden.  We were all reluctant at first, but felt pretty good when it was all over.

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Breakfast was served again in the garden and the weather was perfect.  There was a scary moment when we discovered that there was only one of the containers of the fromage blanc that we all love. No problem, Andree quickly remedied the situation by bringing out more.

Oh no!  Only one container of fromage blanc...

Oh no! Only one container of fromage blanc…

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Today we are going to travel to L’isle Sur la Sorgue for their “famous” Sunday market.  We have a lunch reservation on the river there this afternoon and plan to finish off our morning strolling around the market.  Sounds like a plan.

trash or treasure?

trash or treasure?

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The market here is mostly French antiques and some of the items are really cool.  We enjoy wandering around and looking at the “treasures.”  If I were furnishing a house, I could probably do some damage here.

Love this mirror!

Love this mirror!

The market is lively and packed with people.  We decide it is not worth it to give up our parking space to drive to the restaurant and start out on foot.  Turns out to be a great idea. Google Maps leads us through the market stalls and we are getting hungry looking at all the delectable items.

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Le Vivier is a highly recommended restaurant that is situated directly on the river. Looks great both inside and out.  We had reserved a table on the patio overlooking the river, but the day is very windy and we wisely choose to dine inside.
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Dario discusses our wine selection (yes, Rose)

Dario discusses our wine selection (yes, Rose)

As per our normal routine, we each choose different items knowing that they will all be shared.  The presentations are stunning. (lots of pics next):

Tuna amuse bouche with cream of cauliflower

Tuna amuse bouche with cream of cauliflower

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Dario with foie and smoked reel terrine; my lobster with razor clam lower right

Janel's starter was the winner with the marinated mackerel and burrata

Janel’s starter was the winner with the marinated mackerel and burrata

Dario is certain that his entree (the roast free-range chicken breast) is the best.
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I beg to disagree. I have been presented with the speciality – Pigeon Pie.  It is awesome and even comes with a separate little nibbling “leg” on the side.
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Janel chimes in with her sea bass with squid ink ravioli.
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At least we all can agree that the fromage is fabulous.
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This was another incredible meal in France.  A person could get used to this.
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After coffee we step out on the patio to get the views of the river.
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The walk back to our car was brutal.  The sun was out in full force and there was no shade. It was almost cruel.  However, we managed to arrive intact.  The sunny walk (along with the lunch and the wine) has worn us all out and we crash and burn when we get back to the Mas.

After nap and lounging by the pool, it is already getting late for our notion to visit the Wine Festival that is taking place in a nearby village.  We head out during a gorgeous sunset.
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When we arrive in Cavaillon, the festival is almost starting to wind down (it is 9:00pm).  Tasting glasses are procured and wines are poured.

Proudly wearing tasting glasses

Proudly wearing tasting glasses

Proudly tasting

Proudly tasting

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The wandering is nice, but we are just a bit hungry and end up at an outdoor cafe near the start of the festivities.
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reading the wine list

reading the wine list

Our evening winds down with a bite of dinner and a bottle of (you guessed it) Rose.
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Tomorrow we must leave France and head back to Spain.  Our flight doesn’t leave until the evening, so we will have some time tomorrow to flit around for just a little while longer.





Eye of the Driver

26 07 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014 (Guest post by Dario)

I’m a guest blogger and I’m ok, I sleep all night and I eat all day

“I’m going on a trip to France with Janel.” “Oh, cool,” my friends said. “And her mother,” I added. They looked at me with a mix of heartfelt commiseration and barely disguised schadenfreude.

I know for a fact that most of them would rather put a rusty needle through their eye than spending vacation time with their belle-mère.

Obviously, they haven’t met MP.

The day starts with a three-station, high intensity workout including pushups, planks, double burpees, and jumping lunges. Because these ladies know how to earn their croissant.

Post workout coffee

Post workout coffee

Our host Eloïse’s gigantic breakfast omelette doesn’t disappoint. As a special treat on our last day in Les Beaumettes, we enjoy lavender honey and madeleines, the simple, delicious French muffins that instantly bring me back to my childhood days, prompting an explanation of why muffins are key to understanding French literature.

La madeleine de Proust

La madeleine de Proust

Feeling enlightened, we say our goodbyes and are on our way to Jonquières. First day on a French highway: the fees are reasonable, the limit of 130 Km/h feels like the speed of light, and the classical radio station soothes our ears with some Schumann. So much so, in fact, that both your Designated Driver and the charming Master Navigator miss the ramp.

The next exit is in 24 Km, and then we’ll have to double back. We are going to be late to our wine tasting tour. Shoot.

Driving too fast to appreciate the landscape

It takes us nearly an hour of driving through idyllic wine lands like cannonballers on ephedrine to reach our destination. Eventually, we take a couple of turns on unpaved road, and then, time, and our ride, come to a complete stop. Charles, our host, welcomes us to his 13 century restored farm in the heart of the Rhone valley.

Mas du Clos

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Charles is everything you would expect from a French gentleman. Perfect manners, soft spoken, the hint of a mischievous smile in his eye. Think the Pope meets Dr. No. In calm, precise English, fluent Spanish, and sharp, witty French, he ushers us to our rooms and immediately proceeds to introduce us to the basics of wine tasting.

This is not my first time. I’ve been around. I’ve had my fair share of tastings, wine courses and pairings. But I listen to Charles’ every word like a novice. I love the concept of “chewing” the wine so that it coats your mouth. He debunks a couple of myths for us. No, the legs on your glass don’t mean a thing. No, you don’t pair cheese with red.

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You could never guess number 17 was liquorice

We play a fun game with a set of scent vials: violet, black currant, grapefruit, butter, toasted bread. You can smell all of those and many more in wine. The scents are incredibly hard to identify by themselves. Our olfactory memory doesn’t work that way. You know you’ve smelled that before, but you can’t put a name to it. However, once you know what’s in the bottle, you have an aha! moment. Of course it was aniseed.

I know better than to swallow the wine. This is going to be a long day and 24 wines await. You smell. You chew. You taste. You spit. It’s a tour de force out there, and you want to pace yourself for the delights to come.

The Big Varietal Obsession

You should be aware that the American obsession with varietals is completely alien to Europeans, and almost anathema in France. You don’t buy a 100% Merlot or Cab. It would be akin to ordering a salad 100% lettuce or listening to a concert for solo clarinet. Could be nice, but you’d be missing out on a lot. Nearly all French wines are blends. Most of the time, the varietals in the blend are not even listed on the label. You trust your winemaker, you trust your AOC (Appelation d’Origine Contrôllée, Controlled Designation of Origin). You drink and say thanks.

Armed with this knowledge, we set off to meet our winemakers.

On Tour

First stop is Clos de Caveau in Vaqueyras, a charming family winery that looks like an understated farm in the vineyards. They make amazing reds with designer labels, including the one we had for our introductory class with Charles. They’re new school Côtes du Rhone (more on that on a second) and we love them. A good start.

Wine stain was not in the original design

Wine stain was not in the original design

Château Saint Estève d’Uchaux, on the other hand, occupies the luxurious manor where the owners used to live. Wonderful reds and rosés all around, but then we are blown away by Cuvée Thérèse 2012. A white aged in oak that makes you rethink whatever you know about white wine. A white so rich that it could withstand a stake. MP grabs a bottle because, OMG.

Down in the cellar with Charles

Down in the cellar with Charles

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Nice red!

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You should check this white

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OMG, I think I should get a bottle

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It had to happen

Next stop is Châteuneuf-du-Pape, the town where the popes of Avignon had their summer residence. We’re there to visit Ogier, a big, modern winery.

Les barriques

Les barriques

Ogier has a cellar displaying all the possible sizes of oak barrels. From the 225-liter barrique to the 10,000-liter foudre. Different sizes, different ratio of wood surface exposed to wine, different flavours and tannin concentration.

Foudres

Foudres

On our way to the shop, a little garden showcases the four types of soil in provence: river rocks, sandstone, limestone, and sand. Welcome to France’s kingdom of the terroir.

Four terroirs

Four terroirs

This is a religious war. A large part of French winemakers believe that the soil the vines grow in completely determines how wine will be. That means a certain wine can only be produced by a specific winery, from grapes growing on a specific side of a hill. A French hill. Sorry, Australia.

To prove this point, Ogier offers a box with four wines, made of the same grapes, the same year, using the same techniques, but each of them coming from grapes grown in different soils. Point made: the wines are –slightly– different.

Four wines

Four wines

Yeah, I guess they're different

Yeah, I guess they’re different

However, some people in the world think wine can be figured out. They believe that by carefully controlling irrigation, temperature, sun exposure, humidity, and nutrients in the soil, you can fine-tune the grapes and obtain every flavour in their wines, just like a computer generated shade of colour.

I was one of those people. Until now.

Raining really hard!

Raining really hard!

But before my conversion, a stop in Chocolaterie Castelain. Awarded best chocolate in France by Gourmet Magazine, they offer chocolate-and-wine pairings. It goes like this: You taste the wine. Then you eat half of the chocolate. Your eyes water with sheer pleasure. Then you eat the other half and sip some more wine along with it. You blend the flavours in your mouth. Let out a tear.

You're gonna like this

You’re gonna like this

Milk chocolate filled with verbena and apricot washed down with a fruity white. Calvados-scented dark chocolate along with a juicy, sweet red. You get the picture. We die and go to choc heaven.

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The chocolate experience involves some wine swallowing, so we face our last stop at Les Caves Saints Charles in high spirits.

In the cellar of an old town house, to the tune of Gregorian chants, our host Guy Bremond has us sit on a wooden pew in front of an altar displaying six bottles of wine.

Gloria in excelsis

Gloria in excelsis

“Will you say mass?” asks Charles, only half jokingly.

Guy (pronounced ghee) is your guy. Your wine guy. A professional sommeiller, he knows wine like Bruce Lee knew Kung Fu. He doesn’t like pompous, overpriced, unreliable Bordeaux. He doesn’t like Rioja. I like him immediately.

Guy travels to the US during low season with a chef friend and a truckload of French wine. If you put together a party of 16, they prepare a gourmet dinner and wine pairing in the comfort of your own home, hands free.

He talks with barely contained passion about old school Côte du Rhone, the oak-aged, dark red powerhouses you can only properly drink along with a hearty venison stew, sitting by the fire on a winter night, your dog farting by your side. A hundred years ago, he says, all wines in the valley were like those. Then the Americans came.

Robert Parker is to blame. Wine Spectator’s resident guru spurred the trend towards easy to drink, fruity, spicy reds that slowly but relentlessly displaced the old school ones. Family feuds abound in the Rhone valley. The producers who turned to the bright, more profitable side of wine are despised by the loyal traditionalists. Fifty years from now, Guy says, those dark old wines will disappear.

This is serious

This is serious

I never believed in old school. I never gave a used cork for the terroir. But when I take a sip of “the beast,” Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils, and feel the darkness wrap me up in its woody, spicy, leathery embrace, I understand. I’ll cry bitter tears the day those wines are extinct.

Dinner

Overwhelmed, we return to our farm to proceed with a blind tasting of the wines we later enjoy for dinner. We do pretty well, considering the circumstances.

Some more of the blue one please

Some more of the blue one please

Soon, dinner is ready. Andrée, Charles wife, no longer cooks for guests, but we made our reservation before her decision. We feel privileged, and sorry for the guests to come after us.

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Let’s call it a day

Soup of scallops, clams, and red scorpion fish. Gigot de agneau de 8 heures –a leg of lamb slow cooked for 8 hours. A cheese platter and white wine –because you take white with your cheese, especially goat. Red fruit and lemon sorbets. Bliss.

We call it a day and retire to our rooms, smiles upon our faces.





Fish, Peaches and Sin

26 07 2014

Saturday, July 26. 2014

(note:  yes, Friday’s blog has not yet been posted.  Patience, grasshopper… We will let you know when you can find it)

My morning view:

Looking over the vineyards

Looking over the vineyards

My room at the Mas - there is also a little kitchen

My room at the Mas – there is also a little kitchen

Breakfast at our Mas is scheduled for 9:00 am – a civilized hour.  It is nice and quiet around here, and I find it difficult to arise and drag myself out even at that late hour. But I do.

As a side note:  our proprietor (Charles) explained to us that a Mas is a farmhouse which differs from a Bastide which is a “manor house and/or a Chateau which is a country house of nobility.  Some of the buildings at our stone Mas were built in the 17th century! Charles and Andree have lovingly kept in in top condition without sacrificing any of the charm. We love our Mas. (great pics on their website: Mas du Clos de l’Escarrat)
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The garden at the Mas is absolutely beautiful especially in the morning sunlight.  I can’t put my finger on why, but it definitely has a “French” feel.  This is just the place you want to stay at while in Provence.

Some pre-breakfast swinging is in order.

IMG_3140Breakfast will be served in the shady garden (of course).

Andree is bringing out a breakfast tray

Andree is bringing out a breakfast tray

Great setting for a civilized repast

Great setting for a civilized repast (Auguste is standing guard)

Breakfast is a delightful ordeal.  We are offered fresh coffee, croissants with home made jams, orange juice, fruit salad and an unbelievable soft, white cheese – fromage blanc (sort of like yogurt) with which we immediately fall in love.
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The basic plan for the day is to hit up the market in Uzes to procure picnic items and then rent kayaks to paddle to the Pont du Gard (what? More on the Pont later).  Sounds like a full day.

We easily reach Uzes with some expert navigation and fine driving.  Parking, however, is not so simple.  The Saturday market in Uzes appears to be quite popular.  We manage to squeeze into a space that is a bit of a trek to the center and set out on foot.

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The market looks amazing and we don’t get very far in before a stall with fresh oysters, mussels and shrimp beckons us to stop.  Dario stays to make the transaction while Janel and I scoot across the street to a sidewalk restaurant in order to snag a table.

Janel snags the catbird seat

Janel snags the catbird seat (we want to do what the dude beside her is doing!)

When Dario joins us he tells us that he has just made a huge faux pas (haha – I can say that in French!) and is completely embarrassed.  (his French is wonderful and he has been our guide and translator for the past several days)  He relates to us that he asked the proprietor for the oysters without a problem.  Then when he wanted some mussels as well, he asked for the “moules.”  Apparently, the “ou” sound in French is very tricky. Too much “oo” and he was no longer asking for “moules” (mussels), but “mules” (mules)!  He kept requesting a plate of “mules” and created quite a stir among some of the French customers… Janel and I loved his story and it is obvious that this will now become one of the highlights of the day! (I can relate totally; especially after asking for “tea ice cream in Barcelona”)

"May I have a plate of Mules, please?"

“May I have a plate of Mules, please?”

While waiting for our “plate of mules,” we decide that we are actually generally hungry and that Dario needs his protein fix.  Fortunately, just next door is a Charcuterie booth and a Boulangerie.  Janel is sent off on a mission and successfully returns with bounty.

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IMG_3163The shellfish arrive and are consumed with abandon.

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We finish our “snack” and continue on with the task at hand of procuring items for our picnic. There are so many choices, but we finally settle on a couple of terrine-type items (salmon, tuna) and a terrine de campagne made with liver/kidney/who knows what else which we dub the “big boy.”  A couple of side items like fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, a piece of Quiche Lorraine, and a baguette are purchased and stashed in the backpack.

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Dario wisely purchases a hat to ward off the sun – looks great, too!

The market is bid farewell and the three musketteers set off to find the village of Collias where I have read you can rent kayaks.  I have a specific company in mind – “Canoe Collias” – that gets great reviews online.  However, there are no shortage of kayak rental places in Collias.

Found it

Found it

We rely again on Dario’s French to get us what we want.  The folks at Canoes Collias are super friendly and customer-oriented.  They have this down pat and know exactly what you need for an afternoon on the river. Yay!

Must sunscreen up

Must sunscreen up

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We have chosen to paddle the 1.5k trip to the Pont du Gard.  The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman acqueduct spanning the Gardon gorge that was built to bring water from Uzes to Nimes.  It is an amazing structure (no cement!) that was built in the 1st Century AD, y’all!!  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and well deserves the honor.  I am looking forward to getting an up close and personal view.

The river is busy with paddlers, bathers, picnickers and such all along the 1.5 km route to the acquaduct. The sun is brutal and we take several “shade stops” along the way. A nice, shady secluded shore is spotted that would be perfect for our picnic spread.  We lay out all our goodies and watch people float past.

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Dario is in charge of opening each item for our picnic.  He takes great care in opening them one at a time and offering them to each of us.  The salmon and tuna terrines make their entrance followed by the tomatoes.  When I suggest that I want to try our “big boy” Dario says that we must first finish the two fish dishes.  That comment prompts the retort of “You are not the boss of me!” and the big boy terrine is promptly retrieved and opened.  In retaliation Dario quips “Well, fine then.  I am going to have the quiche!” Another set of quotes are immediately embedded in our history.

The picnic is demolished by three hungry paddlers – this kayaking thing is a lot of work! Time to continue down the river towards the Pont du Gard.

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This stretch seems longer than the first probably because I am bringing up the rear and the sun is bearing down.  Finally the Pont comes into view and makes it all worthwhile. It is simply stunning and actually mind blowing to think that it was constructed in the first century!  Those crazy Romans…

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How did they build this??

How did they build this??

I catch up with Dario and Janel on the other side of the Pont.

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Canoes Collias is there waiting for us.  They are efficiently packing kayaks onto the trailer and bus us back to where we started.  We all agreed that this was an awesome activity and are so glad we did it. I think it qualifies as a “must do” when in the area.

On our way back home, Janel asks Dario what his last name (Pescador “fisherman”) would be in French.  He tells us that it would be pêcheur which is French for fish.  It is also very similar to pêche “peach.”  Oh and also close to s’épuiser “sin.”  We decide those words are a fitting description for Dario:  Fish, Peaches and Sin.

Back to our Mas for a dip in the refreshing pool and some down time on the deck. This is a perfect time to drag out that great bottle of white wine we purchased yesterday.  After all, we are only taking carry-on luggage back to Barcelona and won’t be able to take the wine.  Too bad.  We have to drink it right NOW.

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The wine is just as great (if not better) than we remember from the tasting.  I doubt that I will be able to match it at home, but I plan to try.  The grape is Viognier.  We all love it.

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Late afternoon by the pool is perfect and we linger for quite a while.  We have nowhere to be until our 8:30 dinner reservation and are in no hurry to leave.

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Charles has made a reservation for us tonight at a place that is nearby.  I had written to him asking him for a recommendation and he suggested Couteaux & Fourchettes.  For navigation we used Dario’s iPhone with Google Maps and ended up going the “cool way” through some great backroads.

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The evening is beautiful and we are seated on the patio.  The menu looks wonderful and we each chose different selections from the 3-course menu knowing that we would all taste each dish. A glass of Tattinger Rose Champagne for each is chosen to begin the evening.

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Too bad we never have any fun...

Too bad we never have any fun…

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The champagne takes us through our starters:

the foie

the foie

the salmon

the salmon

the fish

the fish

We each taste a bit and plates are rotated clockwise…

A bottle of white Cote du Rhone from this village(Cairraine) is suggested for our main courses.  It is perfect and carries us well into dessert/fromage.

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All of the dishes are excellent and we linger long after we are finished.

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At some point in tonight’s conversation we all agree to meet at 8:30am for a workout.  Who’s crazy idea was that?





Shut the Front Door!

24 07 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014 Happy Birthday Johnny!

Guest Post by Janel Torkington

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The morning sun loves Provence, and so do we.

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We’ll take breakfast in our private terrace, yes and please.

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Our two hosts present us with an elegantly lavish breakfast, precisely the type that comes to mind when one considers breakfasting in the southern French countryside.

Apricots are in season and make appearances as tart and jam; present too are figs in the form of confit swirled throughout slices of brown bread. There are croissants – there must be croissants – and there is coffee, and fresh orange juice. The butter alone is show-stopping. The creamy house yogurt is too good for words.

We put in a request for an omelet for purposes of protein. It is enormous.

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We explain today’s plans to our host: we’ve got a lunch rez in Gordes, and we’d thought to tool around the various villages in the hours prior. He gives us a few local recs, plus a guidebook in English – voila!

Today's excursion merits five fingers

Today’s excursion merits five fingers

 

...and matching toe socks!

…and matching toe socks!

We head slightly south and end up in Oppede Vieux, a village the guidebook claims had been ransacked (using the passive voice, so we’re not sure who was doing said ransacking). We park and start a mild climb up the hillside.

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D’s lent me his SLR camera, which reignites my latent inner photog.

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Hillside morphs into teeny touristy town, which is just as cute as can be.

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The climb continues...

The climb continues…

… ending up atop a hill with a church overlooking the idyllic French countryside. Well alright.

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It calls for a selfie.

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Mr. Popped Collar helps out Marilyn Monroe.

Mr. Popped Collar helps out Marilyn Monroe.

 

"C'mon, act like you like each other."

“C’mon, act like you like each other.”

We poke around the church a bit, then head back down the hill.

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The path gets a bit steep, so D plays the gentleman to MP

We’ve spent more time than anticipated in Oppede, so we head straight to Gordes next in order to make our lunch appointment.
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There are signs along the road proclaiming Gordes as officially one of the most beautiful French villages. I can get behind that.
Lunch is at L’Artegal. The center’s surprisingly bustling with tourist activity for a Thursday, so we’re glad for the rez.

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The sea bass atop ratatouille is the most photogenic, but also lovely is duck in a honey sauce and beef with allspice. We accompany it with an elegant rose, of course.
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Near to Gordes is L’Abbye de Senanque, known for its lavander fields. It’s teeming with tourists, especially flocks of Chinese folk from a pair of dreaded buses. We still sneak in a pair of deceptive look-I’m-alone-somewhere-beautiful photos.

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We decide to swing by Cavaillon, one of the larger towns in the area, seeking a new French phone card for D’s iPhone. The Orange store there turns out to be the new hip place for the kids to hang, so MP and I wait out the crowds in the Carrefour across the street. Grocery store tourism is my favorite – really. I find a few old friends (Tresor, Petit Fantomes) and MP makes a new one (Crostibat!). We contemplate canned cassoulet, and which candy you would eat if you HAD to.

Back to the ranch for a quick nap for some and a long bath for others.

Then, a dip.
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We gussy, slightly, and head out to our designated dinner spot for the night in nearby Bonnieux. The sunset across the Provencal landscape is soft and sweet.
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Yeah, well. Had to happen.IMG_3058
Un P’tit Coin Du Cuisine appears to be a rather casual wine bar-ish spot with pickings to accompany. We settle into a terrace table overlooking the previous viewpoint. Yes.
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It’s not hard to choose rose again. Even the name of this one is “L’Exquise” (exquisite), and it is.
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We find ourselves hungry, and all three share the same unfortunate trait of fading quickly upon lack of calories. The table goes fairly quiet, until…

Oh my.  Steak Tartare with black and white truffle shavings.

Oh my. Steak Tartare with black and white truffle shavings.

Two “planchas” (excuse my French) – l’Italienne and la Charcuterie. It’s picker’s paradise, dear readers. The sausage with hazelnuts! The grilled eggplant! The burrata, oh, the burrata. Confit tomatoes, yes. Pork rilletes – which is like pate with plenty of meat, a D favorite. And the steak tartar. Moses.

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Talk gets intense, touching on emotions, plans, values, big ideas. The STFD* trio has spent enough time together that we’ve started getting into meatier conversation. It’s good. We need our protein.

*Shut The Front Door.





Viva la France!

23 07 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My alarm goes off way too early this morning.  Fortunately, all I have to do is get dressed and walk over to Janel’s apartment.  I am already packed and sitting on “go.”  When I arrive at her door, the making of breakfast is already in progress.  She and Dario move about the kitchen like pros and deliver us a beautiful asparagus omelet, goat cheese, fresh avocado and spelt bread along with fresh-pressed coffee. This is a great way to start our travel day.
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We taxi to the airport and settle in for a second cup of coffee at the terminal.  Everything is going great until we see that our flight has been delayed for an hour.  Usually that would be no big deal.  However, we have a very much anticipated lunch reservation in Ventebran (a little town that is about 30 minutes outside the Marseille airport).  We have allowed enough time to rent our car and get lost a few times.  Now, it looks as though we will not be able to make it.  So disappointing.

The flight was uneventful and I took a nice little nap. When we land we start thinking that IF we can scoot out right away, IF we can pick up our rental car really quickly, IF we can get on the road without too much trouble and IF we can find Ventabren then we MIGHT be able to make it to La Table de Ventabren within 10 minutes or so of our reservation.

We zoom out of the airport to the rental car area and our faces fall when we notice there is a line of people waiting for cars.  Every second counts at this point.  Finally it is our turn and we slog through all our paperwork and get our vehicle.  Dario jumps behind the wheel, Janel navigates with my crude map/directions and we are off.  The roads become narrow and totally winding as we get closer to some of the small villages. – Dario loves it!

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I think we only made a couple of wrong turns and we are ecstatic when we arrive in the tiny village of Ventabren at 1:15 – only 15 minutes late.  The restaurant is very easy to find and they have been waiting for us!IMG_2945

We are greeted warmly and shown to the prime table on the terrace overlooking the hills of Provence.  Ahhh

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We are presented with a little tray of goodies and an aperitif while we peruse the menu.
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Our server tells us that there are only 2 things we need to “Take your time and don’t forget dessert.”  No problem.  It is immediately apparent that we must get the tasting menu.

No question of what we should order

No question of what we should order

We also ask for a wine recommendation.  This region of France is well known for their outstanding Rose wines.  None of us are very familiar with Rose winese (in fact, we all have been under the impression that rose wines are really not very good).  We are all happily mistaken. The Rose that is suggested and poured is amazing.  We are converts.

love the wine bag

love the wine bag

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The setting is idyllic and as course after course is presented we are amazed both with the flavors and also with the stunning arrangements and plates.

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What a perfect introduction to Provence.  We are already sated when the “pre” dessert arrives, but we carry on.

Pre dessert

Pre dessert

Then comes the actual dessert.

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The 3-hour feast is capped off with coffee choices.  We are told we can have either the special blend from Mexico or the Blue Mountain from Jamaica.  Dario and I go Mexican and Janel opts for the Blue Mountain.  Of course coffee is served with a “post” dessert…

Coffee and post dessert

Coffee and post dessert

Post post dessert

Post post dessert (Yes, Lesia – that is the dress you made me purchase)

A few moments are spent wandering around the village, but it is really hot and we are ready to find our B&B.
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With Janel’s expert navigating and Dario’s expert driving we easily find the village of Beaumettes and our B&B –  Au Ralenti du Lierre.

Home for a couple of days

Home for a couple of days

Au Ralenti is an old stone house that oozes Provence charm.  It is just what you hope to experience in this area.  The proprietors are a super sweet couple and it is obvious they are proud to show us around. We are going to be very, very happy here.

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It has been a stressful, hot day and the pool is calling to us.  Janel and Dario jump right in, but the water is freezing and I am a wimp with cold water.  I finally manage to ease myself in.  We look around and can’t believe where we are.

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We don’t have any actual plans for dinner and really didn’t anticipate that we would be hungry after our lunch.  But, alas – there is a really nice restaurant right across the street.

Just walk across the street!

Just walk across the street!

Le Fleur de Sal is housed in another beautiful stone building with a very inviting outdoor terrace.  There are no diners inside, but the terrace is busy.  Looks like just the place for us.  So far we have not encountered any trace of perceived French snobbiness and tonight is no exception.  Our server is welcoming and kind.

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We all order a different version of the menu du jour (entree, plat + dessert). We mix and match and taste all the dishes.  Is all food in France this good?

Foie (omg)

Foie (omg)

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Yet another Rose wine

Janel's dish wins for presentation

Janel’s dish wins for presentation

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As usual, we almost close up the joint. Good thing we only have to walk across the street to get home.

I tuck into my huge bed surrounded by stone walls and thankfully air-conditioned!  I know I will have a great sleep tonight.








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