Thursday, June 26, 2008

O Canada!

Tomorrow we return to Canada for our first trip home since moving to France. I love living in France, but it will be great to be in our home country for awhile. I can't wait to go to an english bookstore, shop with ease in familiar stores, have sushi, and be surrounded by english speaking people. I know it is time to go home because I am starting to crave silly things like licorice and tuna sandwiches.

We start our trip in a patriotic way with the Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa. Then we are off to the Maritimes for a few weeks. We return to France in late July, hopefully stocked up with lots of treats from home.

A bientôt!

Monday, June 23, 2008


I spent last week with our latest visitor, Ghada Abdallah, who was a friend and roommate of mine at Mt. Allison University. This is only the second time I have seen her since 1999, the year we graduated, but once we were together in Paris it was like old times. We spent a few days in Paris together, then she joined me in the south of France for two nights. While in Paris I saw many of the top sights that I had not yet done: the Louvre, Orsay museum, and a Seine boat cruise. It was wonderful!

Gilles joined us for one day en route from Gabon back to Pau. For that day, we hopped on a high-speed train for a daytrip to Reims, the largest town in the Champagne region. We toured two champagne houses, Pommery and Martel. They were the coolest wine tours we have ever done. Gilles and I love champagne. We have previously taken two champagne classes in Calgary and already knew a lot of its tedious production, but seeing it first-hand in Reims was very special. Champagne is stored in dark, cool caves about 30 metres below ground. Most of these caves were dug by Romans, so have existed for almost 2,000 years. Pommery itself has about 30 km of caves! The wine tours took place in these ancient caves…it was quite eerie. As an added bonus, Pommery was featuring contemporary art in their caves; when we weren’t walking by riddling racks filled with champagne bottles, we were looking at art, including an installation of live birds making music by landing on electric guitars plugged into amps. Trippy!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

C’était hyper-bon!

Here is the final blog entry from our wonderful trip to Provence. On our second evening in Arles, we decided to treat ourselves to a unique dining experience at a renowned restaurant called L’Atelier. The chef, Jean-Luc Rabanel, has been awarded one Michelin star for this restaurant. The Michelin star rating system is the most recognized and influential culinary rating system in France.

There is only one choice when dining at L’Atelier. For 75 €, the diner receives 15 small dishes. The menu changes frequently and features local, seasonal products. Unlike everyone else who ate at the restaurant that night, we decided to dine outdoors. It was wonderful because it felt as though we had the place to ourselves. We could do and say whatever we wanted. And after Champagne and three bottles of wine, I am sure our voices only rose as the evening wore on. Now you may think that 15 dishes is a bit excessive, but we were there for four hours! Surprisingly, we were not too full when we left.

Before I list the dishes, I must commend Amy for being such a good sport. She’s not too culinarily adventurous, but approached the evening with a positive attitude. Turns out, she liked 13 out of the 15 dishes. One of her favourites was a dish featuring a raw piece of fish, something she would never have tried before. In the end, she agreed it was a wonderful experience, and was proud to have tried things that she would normally have avoided. So here is a list of what we ate. I was the note-taker, but as the evening wore on, I must admit that my secretarial skills got a little sketchy. Here goes:

1. Green asparagus fried in a tempura batter with two dipping sauces.
2. Greens, tomatoes, and a fresh anchovy served with an anise biscuit. A savory ice cream was served on the side. We all agreed the ice cream was too bland.
3. Pistachio cream over a sweet (pineapple?) jelly. A white asparagus stalk was inserted into the pistachio cream. This dish (pictured) was very yummy and one of Steve’s favourites.
4. “Non-sushi”: raw tuna-like fish served with citron, peanuts, shaved raw asparagus, chives, and edible flowers. A tomato sorbet was served on the side.
5. Chicken confit and rabbit liver served with green beans, mushrooms, and topped with a foam of balsamic vinegar. It was accompanied by warm pistachio biscuits. A foam appeared on many dishes throughout the night.
6. Purple artichoke, crème fraîche, topped with a prosciutto wrapped tomato bread stick (pictured).
7. Potato puree topped with salmon, peanuts, alfafa sprouts, and a peanut foam. Amy and April did not like this dish.
8. The next dish we called “salad soup”. A tomato stuffed ravioli sat in a thai broth loaded with fresh herbs. On top sat a parmesan tuile. Gilles thought the parmesan and ravioli were too contrasting with the thai broth, but the girls loved it!
9. Citron broth with shaved artichokes. Turbot grilled à la plancha. Beet tops, and another (mystery) foam.
10. Spring lamb chop, fresh peas, roast potatoes and garlic, chocolate smear. Probably Steve and April’s favourite.
11. “Virtual beer”: So yummy. This was the first of the dessert dishes, but most of the desserts had a savoury component to them. This dish (pictured with Amy and Steve) was made of strawberry, pineapple, and passionfruit juices with a non-alcoholic beer.
12-15 This is when the note taking got really bad. So for the remaining dishes we apparently had the following items, but I am not sure in what combination or order: Rosemary jelly with olive oil ice cream (not good), piement tuile, and something that looked like a chocolate turd (sorry, but there is no other way to describe it), Pastis ball, almond and olive cookie, mint jelly, mint foam, passionfruit jelly, limoncello, and an unidentified bitter biscuit.

In my defense, the decline in note taking was not only due to a wine-induced lack of concentration. Our private dining area got crashed by inside diners who came outside for a final drink and cigarette. Then the chef joined his outside clients for a digestif. Then the police showed up, and the chef mysteriously disappeared with them. Then we may have stolen some wine from crazy neighbours who left without finishing it. Then we decided it was time to call it quits. All in all, a wonderful dining experience that was worth every penny!