Monday, December 27, 2010

Gobble gullible

Add to Google Reader or HomepageThere are cars and then there is Rolls Royce.
There is caviar and then there is Beluga.
There is turkey and then there is “dinde de Bresse”

Ellen read these phrases as she was trying to find special recipes and information on the turkey (the expensive turkey) that I had bought from one of the butcher shops in town.

I had gone to a butcher shop on Wednesday wondering if I would be able to order a turkey for Christmas. We had invited a friend to come for dinner and we wanted to cook an American-style dinner. We thought it would be fun to repeat the wonderful menu we had in Paris at Thanksgiving. I was relieved when the woman behind the counter said that I could still order a turkey and that I would need to pick it up on Friday before they closed. I gave her my name and left the shop.

On Friday, I went to the grocer to get Clementines and then to the butcher shop to pick up the turkey. I told Ellen that I was also going to stop at the barbershop if they weren’t busy. When I got home, Ellen noted: “You didn’t get a haircut.” I replied: “No, I got fleeced! I picked up our turkey and it cost almost as much as our apartment!” Ellen opened the package and showed me that the turkey was tied with a cute red bow. Not only had it arrived with the head still attached, it was numbered and had an “AOC” tag.  AOC stands for “Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée” and is a guarantee that the product – be it wine or cheese or even this turkey – comes from a specific region and in that region, one obtains the “AOC” tag only if one meets the defined standards. One of our friends said that at the butcher shop, AOC really means “American is coming. Raise the price!”

I have calmed down since Friday morning. Time permits perspective and mine has permitted me to think about how humorous (ludicrous?) the episode was. I will never again place an order at the butcher shop – or any store – without asking the price per kilo/price per pound. Had I taken the time to do that, I would never have ordered the turkey I felt compelled to purchase. I would have willingly purchased one of the fresh birds available at the supermarket. (Turkey is not #1 on the French Christmas dinner menu. Our friends said that they would more likely have duck or lamb but would rarely think of having turkey for Christmas.)

As I calmed down and Ellen read a few recipes to me, I began planning the cooking of the turkey. At this point, I was no longer blushing about my error, but I was still upset enough that when I unwrapped the turkey again, I had to cut off the head (while thinking to myself: “I paid for this!?!”) The turkey came with the cavity filled with sausage stuffing (“I paid for this!?!”). Turkey in France is generally leaner with less white meat and less fat but this bird from Bresse was at least 10% fat (“I paid for this!?!”) We started talking about finding ways to use the bones after we made stock out of the carcass so that I could begin to think that I got my money’s worth.

I told my sister Sue about the turkey-purchasing episode and before the bird was even done, she had sent the following poem.

Turkey in the barnyard, what does he say?
  Gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble all day.
Turkey in Vaison, what did he say?
  I got here but you're gonna pay.
Turkey in our tummies, what did we say?
  We could've gone to
Paris for a day.

She then added: What can you make from leftover turkey BRESSE?  Turkey hash, turkey casserole, turkey soup, and, as they do here in the south, don't forget the turkey feets!!!  We hope you enjoy every golden bite.”

I hope your holiday meal was as joyful and tasteful but less expensive than ours. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

Add to Google Reader or HomepageNous vous souhaitons un joyeux Noel
 et une bonne année.

Les Sullivans, Ellen & Mark

Saturday, December 18, 2010

8 gr8 days

Add to Google Reader or HomepageA (not so) quiet week in Lake Wobegon

On “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keiller begins his news stories of Lake Wobegon with: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…” Our week was just the opposite – filled with fun, friends and excitement.

We met Bruce and Judy at the TGV station in Avignon last Friday morning and then drove to Uzès, about 30 km west of Avignon. It is a beautiful little village with wonderful medieval alleys and architecture, an imposing cathedral with a fenestrelle tower

and the castle of the first duchy of France. The castle was built on the site of a Roman camp. (The pictures are from the Uzès website: We had lunch, walked around the village admiring the shops (closed during lunch time) and the architecture and then drove back to Vaison la Romaine.

Our neighbor Jane had made a lovely chicken stew so we had a wonderful dinner across the street at her house. Saturday, we went to the truffle market at Richerenches and Judy bought some truffles to take back to their friends in Paris. 

As we did with Margaret and Phil last year, we ate at the town hall. The menu was the same: truffle omelets, salad, cheese, dessert and coffee. There were bottles of local rose and red wine on the tables to go with the meal. The long tables seat 16, so we got to rub elbows and converse with the truffle mavens on either side. We drove back to Vaison and then followed Jane to Mirabelle aux Baronnies to see the house that her friend owns there. It is situated in the center of the village and includes five or six different levels. (I got confused after walking from one area to the next, then through a passage way, an OLD circular staircase…)

We were back in time to make dinner for the four of us plus Terry who had come to claim his sweet dog, Cesar. Cesar had been staying with us for a week while Terry was in the UK. It was Ellen's (and my) opportunity for a dog fix, since our own deerhounds are back home in Lansing with our wonderful dog/house sitters.

The lovely Cesar!
I made lasagna but with a few twists: Greek yogurt instead of ricotta, Scamorza instead of mozzarella, fresh pasta (as in rolled out in front of us), and with each layer of pasta, I added a layer of zucchini slices. Ellen and Judy made salad and Bruce and I had gone to the cheese store to get Roquefort and goat cheese (chevre). Terry brought dessert. (French language error: When the merchant showed me the rolled out pasta, I said it looked like twice as much as I would need. He understood me to say that I wanted twice as much and rolled out another sheet of pasta… I tried using the extra pasta dough as a crust for a pie, but it doesn’t work too well!)

Bruce has become a discriminating connoisseur of “pain au chocolat” for breakfast. He has honed his skills in the bakeries in Paris near where they live. We asked him to continue his research in Vaison la Romaine so that we would know to which bakery we should go whenever we wanted “pain au chocolat.” Between Saturday and Sunday, we stopped at five bakeries and, at each one, asked for one croissant and one “pain au chocolat.” Tastes vary, but there seemed to be general agreement that the “pain au chocolat” from Emile Bec was tops. (The croissant from the bakery on Cours Taulignan got the highest marks.) For lunch, we went to La Lyriste, our favorite restaurant in Vaison and run by our dear friends Ben and Marie Joulain. We had a lovely Sunday lunch with good friends. Later that afternoon, we took Bruce and Judy back to Avignon to catch their evening train to Paris.

Tuesday, Père Noel (Father Christmas) visited the crèche (it was not I this year as the kids know me too well). He talked with the kids and gave out candy. The kids ate way too much candy and as one can guess, they were still on sugar highs three hours later when their parents came to take them home.

On Wednesday, we left early in the morning to drive to Villefranche sur mer to visit the village and the language school where Ellen will spend February as she has enrolled in the “Institut de Français” ( The village is located between Nice and Monaco and is built on the cliffs rising out of the Mediterranean.

When I first looked at the map, I noticed a lot of hairpin turns – they are switch-backs – as one climbs or descends from the main road through town. The hills made us both think of Greensburg, PA – though the PA hills seem almost flat when compared to those in Villefranche sur mer. We are both excited about the school because of reports that we have heard from former students. Ellen will spend a month immersed in French. Once the program begins, the students are allowed to speak only French. The emphasis is on developing oral skills. I plan to visit Ellen on the weekends and of course we will speak only French.

For the last week of our French class before the holidays, we had a combined Thursday/Friday class “apero” that included all of the students of the Vaison French classes. We shared wonderful foods and wine/champagne and good conversation (mostly in French but there were side conversations in Dutch, German, English…)

The holidays are upon us. The towns and villages are all decorated with holiday lights and people are wishing one another happy holidays. There will be parties and “aperos” and more good times with friends and neighbors. The opportunities to over-eat abound… (It’s time to clean some carrots to put in a bag to eat before starting the next food fest.)

May your holidays be filled with good friends, good times, good foods and the joy of sharing them.

Meilleurs vœux et bonne année !

Town square, Villefranche sur mer

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Halfway to Heaven

Add to Google Reader or HomepageWe are currently taking care of our friend’s dog while he is in England for the week. As we talked about places to walk with the dog, our neighbor Jane suggested a walk up to a beautiful little chapel located in the Drome – the county (French “department”) next to ours. We loaded up her car and then drove about 20 kilometers from here. As we got close, I could see the chapel St. Jean d’Ollon on top of a very high hill. We parked in the valley and started our climb.
The chapel, from the valley
The picture may not capture how spectacular it looks from the valley below, but the little yellow building to the left of the tree with its fall leaves is the chapel. The day was sunny but cold (when in the shade). We had to cross a small stream twice as we started up the hill. With the rains that we have had, the stream was pretty high, so we did our best to jump from big rock to big rock. The walk itself was fairly easy as the path circled the summit. Plus, Ellen had little Cesar – the very energetic English Cocker Spaniel – to pull her up the hill. 

Once at the top, the sun was warm and the vistas were awesome.

St. Jean d'Ollon
One can go around to the back of the chapel and enter a small room from which you can see the interior of the chapel.

According to information that I found when I looked up the chapel on Google, it was built in the 12th century and then renovated in the 19th century. I am always amazed by the craftsmanship and the feats of engineering of old buildings here. First, who decided that they should build a chapel on the top of the hill? (I am guessing that the person who chose the sight thought it would be nice to have a chapel halfway to heaven.) Second, did this person believe that it would be a good place for the congregation to gather for mass? Third, how did they manage to tote all of the building materials to the site? And, of course, how long did it take to construct the chapel? Pretty amazing.

It is equally amazing how often I use the word “spectacular” to describe the vistas. I have stood in a valley below a limestone cliff gleaming in white and gray and yellow and thought: “This must be the most beautiful spot in Provence.” Then I go another kilometer/turn another corner and think: “No, this must be the most beautiful spot in Provence.” Our friend, Brian talked about enjoying the art of the impressionists – especially those who lived and painted in Provence – but he thought that they must have used a lot of imagination in choosing the colors for their landscapes. Then, he came here and discovered that the colors are real!

Quelle belle région!