Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Baguettes are Yummy!

Without me knowing it, Xavier pulled a baguette out of the grocery bag this morning. I caught him walking around the house, chowing down on the still warm loaf. He's well on his way to being a true frenchman!

Birthday Boy

We celebrated Xavier's first birthday this week. We turned the weekly anglophone playgroup into a birthday party, and all his little english speaking friends spoiled him with gifts. We gave him the ceremonial first piece of cake, in this case it was a cupcake, and he managed to smear it into a wet paste. I am not sure any made it into his mouth, but he had a great time regardless. We had fun too-Monday night, we celebrated his birthday with Champagne, and reflected on the past year.

Speaking of reflection, this is my 100th post!! It will be interesting to see how many more posts I get in before we have to pack up and move away.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Culinary Jackpot

Gilles took part in his second vendanges (grape harvest) yesterday. It was the first pick of the grapes that go into making the dry Jurancon wine from our region. In a few weeks they will pick the grapes for the sweet Jurancon. After the picking was done, the group gathered for a snack and some wine. Gilles and one of the vineyard owners decided to skip out on the food and wine, and go foraging in the adjacent forest for cepes.

First, a little background on cepes. The Fall is mushroom season, and the French love to go foraging for mushrooms in their free time. The king of all mushrooms is the cepe. You are likely more familiar with the Italian variety called porcini, which are essentially the same thing, although would be a bit different because of terroir. Cepes do not travel well, and must be eaten soon after picked. They are not successfully cultivated, so must be found in the wild. Once the season begins, some people take holidays to go on a cepe hunt, selling their finds to restauranteurs and shops. Cepes are very expensive, and a fruitful forager stands to make a lot of money.

Cepes are found under acorn, chestnut, and beech trees. Apparently, the cepes found under beech trees have an even superior flavour an already sumptious fungus. Our region is well-known for cepes, and the most popular French way of eating them is cepes a la bordelaise (cepes made in the way from Bordeaux): simply sauteed in oil with garlic and parsley added at the end.

As you can see from the photos, Gilles and his co-forager were successful, each finding one cepe. When they returned to the group, everyone was shocked at their find, and started cheering. Several of the men instantly dropped their drinks, and headed out on their own search. Gilles was ecstatic-he wanted to call everyone that would appreciate his find, and share the news with them.

Gilles returned home with both of the large cepes, and now we have to figure out what to go with them. I am not concerned about the cooking, but the cleaning. They have bugs crawling in and out of their caps, and the spongy underside is a little intimidating with pieces of leaves and branches sticking out of it. But the collective enthusiasm of a nation of millions tells me it must be worth it. We shall see tonight.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Weekend in Provence (Fourth Visit!)

Oh, how we love Provence. We spent three days there last weekend, and fell in love with it all over again. The region is very fertile, and each period of the year offers different products in season at the colorful markets, and different sights and scents as you drive around the region. In the Fall, the olive trees are brimming with olives and the grapes are just ready to be picked. I bought a bag of the first of this year's fresh olives. They are not stored in a brine, so are fresh and buttery rather than salty. A real treat from the region. We noticed for the first time pomegranates and kiwis on their trees-the region can grow almost anything.

Provence is home to perhaps Gilles' favourite wine area: the reds from the lower Cotes du Rhone (Gigondas, Vacqueyras, etc). We lucked out, and were there during les vendanges, or the grape harvest. There were people picking grapes in the vineyards, and small tractors pulling trailers overflowing with grapes. The morning we left, we visited the wine cooperative of Rasteau, and at the production facility there was a back-up of tractors overflowing into the road, all full of beautiful, juicy grapes.

Our bed and breakfast was nestled between a vineyard and an apricot orchard. Gilles and Xavier took a stroll through the vineyard, and Xavier sampled grapes right from the vines. They were sweet, with not a hint of sour, likely the grenache grape which is the workhorse for the red wines of the region.

Southern France also boasts some of the best Roman sites anywhere. This time we made the trek to a 2,000 year old bridge called Pont Julien. This amazing structure remained a car bridge until 2005! Now Pont Julien is enjoyed by pedestrians and bikers, and Xavier who crawled over and under his first Roman site.

Knowing this will be our last visit to Provence for quite some time, we returned home with four cases of wine, three liters of olive oil, and many other regional goodies.