Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Oregon Visitors

Mark and Dan in Portland
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Dan & Mark, Brian and Steve visited us during their European tour of Amsterdam, Prague, Vaison la Romaine and Paris.

Dan & Mark were our next-door neighbors in Lansing until they moved to Portland, OR. When they lived next door, there was a path on which no grass could survive between their back door and ours. They are still BFF and it was so much fun having them here/hosting their time in Provence. Long-time blog readers may remember that I want to write with as much humor as Mark and to cook as creatively as Dan (and I haven’t accomplished either.)

Since they missed the Vaison market, we went to the market in Carpentras on Friday. It is a sprawling market but seemed to be dominated by textile booths rather than food booths. I like the Vaison market better (showing my chauvinism).

On the way back from Carpentras, we stopped at the village of Le Barroux and toured the castle built in the 12th century for the “Seigneur” – is that a bishop or higher? Or lower? The village is also the home of the Benedictine monastery Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine de Barroux) (

Whenever we are with Mark and Dan, food and wine are important parts of the agenda. We ate very well – Dan prepared a wonderful roast of lamb, fingerling potatoes and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. I made my stalwarts: spinach pie and, on Saturday evening, lasagna (with layers of zucchini.)

So many wines, so little time

We went wine tasting at “Vieux Clocher” in Vacqueyras. Vieux Clocher is a winery that has been family-owned since 1717. We like it because they put good wine in a bag-in-box (“BIB” in French). Next stop was Gigondas and the Caveau du Gigondas which is temporarily located under the Post Office while the permanent shop and the surrounding buildings get updated. ( Last stop and “la piece de resistance” was the Wine Museum in Rasteau. The wine museum was created by Paul Coulon. His family has vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape and in Rasteau ( The Wine Museum and tasting room are run by a wonderful woman named Catherine who is extremely knowledgeable about wines and wine making. She is so engaging that we spent almost two hours in the tasting room and none of us realized that we had been there so long. Maybe, it was the sparkle in her eyes… We followed the prescribed process: start with light and progress to heavy. We tasted some wonderful whites, some great reds and some super Chateauneuf du Pape wines.  

Before leaving for Paris, we had dinner at our neighbor’s house. She had also invited Phil and Margaret and their daughter. As we sat on the balcony as the sun set, Mark commented on how perfect the visit was: the weather, the food, the wine and, of course, the friendship. He asked: “What could make this more perfect?” and then, almost as if on a movie set, the full moon appeared. “Cue the moon!...”

The next morning, the four young men left for Paris and left us to recover. As Ellen said, “You realize how old you are when you try to keep up with those who are half your age.”

ChezSullivan meets “Our House in Provence

I have been following a blog written by an American from California who has a house in Sablet (just 10 km from here). You can read his blog at: I have been following it for two years and like Michel Augsburger’s stories and reports on local restaurants. He found my site and we have traded comments for the past two years. I finally met Michel at the Vaison market last Tuesday. I heard someone speaking American English behind me, turned and recognized him from his blog photos. – you gotta love small towns!

BTW, I wrote about Carpentras, Vacqueyras and Gigondas as villages that we visited. Locals know that when you say “Carpentras”, you don’t pronounce the “s” but you do when you say Gigondas and Vacqueyras. The three towns are located almost next to each other but the pronunciation differs. I think it is a plan to keep Americans confused while we are here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Add to Google Reader or HomepageWe have been watching for spring since the beginning of February. When Ellen was at the Institut de Français in Villefranche sur mer, hints of spring were already evident. The almond trees with their pinkish-white (or whitish-pink blossoms) were first to welcome the sun. Then, being close to the Mediterranean, the mimosas bloomed and there were hillsides covered with the yellow mimosa blossoms.

I once heard that spring travels north at a rate of 50 miles per week. It has been six weeks since Ellen left Villefranche sur mer so we have had the time to see the same hints of spring pass us here and see the real thing arrive. New leaves are coming out on the deciduous trees and the blossoms are on the fruit trees (cherry and apricot). The temperatures have hit 20 Celsius (about 70°) for the last couple of days and we have not had a frost since the Ides of March.

Another, man-made sign of spring is that the grape vines have been pruned and are ready for a new season of buds and branches to fill in with grapes. Between November and the end of the frost season, vintners and their helpers go into the vineyards are cut back all of the branches that produced grapes the previous summer. As winter progresses, one can see more and more fields of pruned grape vines. One vintner explained that they cut back all of the branches but leave enough so that the roots can produce another four to six buds. As these develop during the spring and early summer, the workers go back into the fields and remove half of the new growth thus concentrating the flow of earthly riches to a few remaining branches. This gives the wines more body and thus flavor.

Although folks sit outside in the café all winter long, the café terraces are now filled with people enjoying their coffee or glass of wine (or pastis) as they enjoy spring and watch the world walk by. We are off to join them!  Wave if you walk by, better yet, come and join us!

BTW, since we just celebrated April Fool’s day (my favorite day) I wanted you to know that it is celebrated in France as “Poisson d’avril” (Fish of April) when the French try to attach a paper fish to one’s back. Although the original celebration of fool’s day did not come from France, it has been celebrated here since the 1500s.