Monday, February 22, 2010


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Tonight I made dinner for Ellen and our good friends Phil and Margaret. I made quail with root vegetables. Ellen made her green beans à la Patricia Wells (The Provence Cookbook, 2004. p. 193-4) – a recipe that Ellen learned from our Lansing friend Brian. We then had salad, cheeses and a light dessert. Not to mention, a lot of good local wine: Vacqueyras, Cotes du Rhone, Vinsobres.

At one level, this is no news at all. Since we have been in France, I have cooked with quail, pheasant, free-range chickens and turkeys, rabbit and a wide variety of fish. I have commented on how the flavors are so much broader/deeper/real here in previous posts, I don’t want to get redundant or boring.

At another level, this is amazing in that I don’t have a clue as to where I would need to shop to actually find quail or pheasant in the US. (I have found rabbit at Goodrich’s in East Lansing – frozen and from China – and US turkey is so engineered to have a big breast that it is so far from what we get to purchase and cook here.)

Ironic, isn’t it? To have spent my teen years thinking about big breasts and now suggesting that French small-breasted turkeys are better??? Go figure… better yet, go taste the difference!

At a third level (don’t worry, this is where it ends. I will not take you down to the depths that Dante explored) it surprises me how much I have come to enjoy cooking and the little compliments that come from a meal well-prepared. The quail was good (better than usual) tonight because I took the time to braise/sear the quails well before adding the root vegetables. My previous cooking was either soups – always better the next day – or microwave cooking. In previous attempts at this menu, I was always impatient and stopped the braising process too soon. Tonight, I let the hot pan really brown the quails before I removed them to deglaze the pan with a good red wine.

I remember a conversation with my mother at a time when Ellen was living in Austin, TX working on her PhD. My mom asked me what I was having for dinner and I replied that I didn’t know. She asked: “How can you not know?” I said: “I look at the back of the box and find out how long it has to cook. I don’t look at the name of what I am cooking.”

I have changed. My goals are few: I want to cook with the creativity of Dan, the finesse and great flavors of Brian, the artistry of Benoit and the celebration of Provence found in Patricia Wells’ cookbooks.  – I guess that I should have started learning about 70 years ago…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day

We got back from Paris around 10:00 AM after spending 10 days with Ellen's brother and sister-in-law (the last three of which were in Paris). During their visit, we covered a lot of ground – including a day trip to Carcassonne to see our long-time friends Daniel and Irene.

Paris was cold and it was snowing and on the day that we went to the Eiffel Tower it was snowing AND blowing AND cold! We left Paris at 0:dark 30 to get a 7:30 AM train back to Avignon. As we were making our way to the metro, we saw a lot of people who were just leaving the bars – early Valentine ’s Day partiers?

On the train, we got “Happy Valentine’s Day” wishes from the cupids in the picture.

We were back in time to have lunch with Phil and Margaret, rest and then go to La Lyriste for dinner. It was the best meal that I have ever enjoyed at Benoit’s place. It was the Valentine's Day menu and more expensive than usual, but we enjoyed:

"Mise en bouche:" - Benoit's own foie gras (the best!) plus a goat cheese/cream cheese with scallions wrapped with magret de canard.

Entre: Cannelloni de Saumon Farci à la chair de crabe, légumes craquant, brochettes de Gambas Grillées. (vegetables, crab and herbs wrapped in smoked salmon; lettuce and grilled shrimp.)

Plat: Aiguillettes de canard rôties, croustillant de Risotto, Spaghetti Végétale.
This was the dish to see. Ben put the Risotto cooked as a crispy round cake on the plate. He then added three aiguillettes that he had rolled into tight spirals and then put on a "hat" of grilled tortilla on which he placed the vegetables-cut-like-spaghetti. Gorgeous presentation, delicious flavors.

The cheeses came from the local fromagerie and included brie, Roquefort and goat cheese. I plan to go to the shop and ask the cheese shop owner what she chose for Ben's menu - and then buy them.

The dessert was a macaroon (pink), dark chocolate ice cream, some kind of marscapone filling in a sugar shell and a piece of cake that had been marinating in some "eau de vie"...
What a wonderful meal. Only once before had we enjoyed a similar Valentine ’s Day meal and, by coincidence, it was at a restaurant only 8 km away in Sablet. It was a restaurant that Brian knew about and we went there with him for a memorable Valentine’s Day lunch.Add to Google Reader or Homepage

In the news

Add to Google Reader or HomepageA few weeks ago, I met a free-lance reporter who had just finished an article on the crèche. She had seen me working there and had asked the director about me. (I imagine that she asked “Who is the old guy with the American accent?”) She said she wanted to do an article on me because it was rare to see a volunteer and she wanted to learn more about me and my interest in volunteering.

We met at one of the local cafés and, over espresso, I answered her questions. I like her article and hope you will, too.

Vaucluse Matin Vendredi 5 février 2010 
     by: Sophie Grebel

Translation: A happy volunteer in France

            Marc Sullivan comes from Michigan. For the past two years, he and his wife spend six months in Vaison and six months in the United States. Since last March Marc works as a volunteer two afternoons per week at “Gingerbread”, the program for young children in Vaison.
            He tells stories, sings songs in his language and tries to be helpful wherever he can. The children have accepted him totally. They correct his French when he makes mistakes and say “bye bye” when he leaves.
            For him, nothing makes him happier. Now as a regular, he enjoys his time and comes home to tell his wife about the events of the day that he shared with the children and the staff of professionals with whom he works (and enjoys).
            His decision? Before joining the program, he had to explain in a letter that he was retired and wanted to return to working with young children, the focus of his career. He had to provide a police record and other documents related to his work.
            From the time he was in college, he volunteered his time working in child care programs for poor children (Head Start). And, after teaching in Chad, he found work in child care, ending his career as the director of a child care trade association for Michigan which organized training programs and where he worked to find funding to continue to offer the programs.
            The work became more administrative and that is why today he is pleased to be able to have meaningful contact with young children. Living next door to “Gingerbread” Marc adds “even when I am not there, I can hear the kids, I can watch them play outside and it makes me smile.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Add to Google Reader or HomepageTomorrow, Michael and Mary Ann arrive to spend a week with us. Hosting visitors is always fun because it gives me another chance to show someone why I love being here.

I should have the hosting responsibilities down pat but I find that there are too many attractions to fit into the times our visitors are here. Do we forfeit a trip to “Les Baux” – the 13th century castle-fort built into the rocks at the top of the mountain to go wine tasting? Will we have time to see the Alps (from Mt. Ventoux) if we want to have our visitors meet some of our French friends?

Guests/visitors bring their own perspectives. Paul and Denise had so many questions about Roman and French history for which I had few answers, I had to get busy and learn more about my environs. MB (EmBay) saw colors on shutters and buildings that I had walked past without a (recent) thought. She enjoyed meeting our French and English friends and marveled at the architecture and the landscape. Michael – who also owns an apartment in the medieval city – talked about wine tasting at vineyards that I want to add to my list. Betsy and Howard were so passionate about the area; all I could do was nod in agreement.

Michael and Mary Ann will get to see the Mediterranean Sea, the Rhone Valley, the Dentelles and the Alps and the two-thousand plus years of history of the Vaucluse – and then a few day trips that we think they may enjoy… Clearly, every visitor brings an extra bag of expectations. Hopefully, they will leave having exchanged expectations for expectations filled and experiences they will long remember. And, if we don’t fill their extra bag with the sights and tastes and sounds of Provence, in this instance, we will get a second chance when we go to Paris with them – “for Paris is a moveable feast.” (credit to Ernest Hemingway.)