Sunday, April 29, 2012

We call ‘em snails, in France they are « escargots »

Add to Google Reader or HomepageOn Saturday, several of the nearby counties held “de ferme en ferme” (from farm to farm) – a day where local producers opened their farms for visits and tastings. Farmers who grow, or make, everything from almonds to wine offered tours and tastings. There were vegetable farmers, honey makers, olive oil presses, goat cheese makers, rabbit producers, candy makers and much more. (

Five of us loaded into Jane’s car and headed north to visit some of the points listed on the map. Our first destination: a snail farm. Les escargots de l’enclave – that should translate to something like the snails from the Enclave of the Pope. In the 1300s, Pope John XXII bought a region including four villages north of here because he liked the wine they grew there. But that is another story.

At Les Escargots de l’Enclave (, we got to see how they raise snails. First, they buy the small snails from another farm in Normandy. Mr. Clavel held up a small wooden container – like you might get when you buy a small round of Brie or Camembert – and explained that the box held over 2,000 baby snails. (I read that snail eggs don’t hatch. They develop and become snail shells.)

picture from

Mr. Clavel said that the snails live in a fenced and protected area – the fencing is as much to keep the snails in the farm area as to keep the predators out. Predators include a variety of birds, fox and wild boars, but he quickly added that the greatest predator is the summer heat of Provence. They grow two varieties of snails: le gros gris and le petit gris (the big and little grays). After about four months of living in the grassy farm, the snails are harvested and sold. There are over 200 snail farms in France.

 The snails live under the wooden lean-tos eating the grass and attaching to the wood at night.

A tray of “Gros Gris” snails.

I have always enjoyed snails cooked with garlic-parsley butter (and I thank my sister Sue for introducing us to them!) The farmer talked about grilling them and eating them with a pepper (piquante) sauce which I may have to try – though it is tough to top anything with garlic butter.

Bon appetit!   

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wine and Wineries

Add to Google Reader or HomepageOne of the reasons that I so enjoy Provence is that I really like the taste of Côtes du Rhône wines. Red wines to be exact. France has SO many good wine regions but there is something about the Côtes du Rhône that I find special. Most Côtes du Rhône red wines are made from a mixture of three grapes: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Many of the wines in our neighborhood use only the first two, i.e., Grenache and Syrah. I think it is the taste of pepper at the end of a sip that I like best.
“The trademark flavor of French Syrah is black pepper. In the southern Rhône, around Châteauneuf-du-Pape in appellations such as Gigondas and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Syrah plays an important though usually subordinate role, typically adding structure to the dominant Grenache grape and other local specialities such as Mourvèdre - for Syrah grapes are relatively small and high in colour and tannins.”
“As for Grenache Noir, it is one of the most important red wine grapes… Increasingly, however, Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre is regarded as the holy trinity in this part of the world. This is the classic blend for the southern Rhone's best red wines: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Tavel and a host of increasingly exciting Côtes du Rhone Villages from villages such as Rasteau and Cairanne. The Syrah adds structure and longevity. Difficult-to-ripen Mourvèdre can add an exotic gamey, almost animal note. But Grenache Noir is the grape most at home in the best dry, almost drought-prone vineyards of the southern Rhone.” (Jancis

If I tried to write about all of the wineries that I like, this blog would take on book proportions. Today, I am limiting my words to a few discoveries that you might enjoy as well.

Domaine des Escaravailles (, located above the village of Roaix, with vineyards in Cairanne and in Rasteau is producing some really fine red wines. At Domaine des Escaravailles, they are now producing a red wine from only Grenache. They also have very nice wines made with the more traditional blend of Grenache and Syrah. We discovered this winery because Ellen and Jane had really enjoyed the white wine that they make called “La Galopine”. Wines from Domaine des Escaravailles are shipped to the US.

We have also been impressed with a little winery in Rasteau called Domaine Elodie Balme and run by a young woman of the same name. She has a very small vineyard (six hectares-almost 15 acres) that she got from her father. Her wines are excellent and, it seems, popular. For instance, we went to buy some of her wine and she is sold out – of everything! (She told us that she will start bottling the 2011 vintage in the middle of May.) – and we will go there to make sure that it is not sold out before we get a chance to buy some.

One more winery worth mentioning (our Lansing neighbor’s favorite) is Domaine Rouge-Bleu ( It is owned and run by Jean-Marc Espinasse and he is making some very nice reds. One of his wines, Mistral, got high reviews by Hachette and by Wine Spectator. The vineyard is between Cairanne and Ste. Cecil les Vignes in the middle of the Rhône Valley where the Mistral reigns. Apparently Jean-Marc has captured the power of the Mistral and put it in a bottle.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (Rogers and Hart, 1939)

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One might think that living in France would be very similar to life in the states - western culture, similar rules of law, driving on the right side of the road, etc. In many ways that is true but there are enough things that are different to keep one off balance. For instance, on Sundays, only the supermarkets open and they open for only three hours. If you forgot something on the last trip to the market, you won’t be able to return to the store and buy it after noon on a Sunday. The pharmacies here take turns on which one will be open on Sunday morning. (Note to self: do not get sick after noon on a Sunday.)

The other big example of creating imbalance is the time. The French use a 24-hour clock. I go to the crèche at 14h30, not at 2:30 PM.  The concert will be at 17h00 (5:00 PM).

I am always using mental gymnastics and my limited math skills to figure out what time it is. If I am talking on the phone with a French person whom I plan to meet in the afternoon, I need to work out the time in French so that I don’t show up two hours early (or late!) It is a constant struggle for me. Having 12-hour clocks – including the clock tower and its bell which rings on a 12-hour schedule – and a 12-hour watch don’t make it any easier!

I was looking for a Panda by FIAT! Oh well...
Case in point: I rented a Fiat Panda at Super U yesterday. As per the instructions told to me on the day that I reserved it, I picked it up after 08h45 (8:45 AM) and knew that I had to return the car before 18h15. In my head, I kept repeating dix-huit heures quinze but I told Ellen that the car had to be returned by 8:15 (huit heures quinze).

We drove to Nyons to meet our French friend Catherine and her friends. We all went for a three-hour walk among the orchards along the river, stopped at a café for a beer (une pression) and then left our friends to return to Vaison and return the car. Since I still was saying 8:15 (while thinking 18h15) I dropped Ellen off at the apartment, cleaned the car, filled the tank and returned it one-half hour early or so I thought!

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms II
I got to the counter and the clerk immediately asked me why I was late. (There goes the balance again!) The question confused me as I thought I was early. He then repeated the time the car was due “dix-huit heures quinze at which point I finally realized my mistake. He told me that since I was late, I would have to pay for a weekend. He added that if there had been someone waiting on the car I would have also had to pay the difference between the Panda and the larger car that they would have had to provide to the waiting client.

I started apologizing. In French I was thinking: “espèce d’imbécile!” In English I was thinking: “What a doody-head!” as my friend John so often says. In either language, the generic translation would be “how stupid of me!”

The clerk reiterated that I might as well keep the car until Monday since I was going to have to pay for it. I replied that I didn’t want the car until Monday so I handed him the keys and said the car will stay at the store as I didn’t want to be responsible for any possible damages in addition to the weekend rate – and I would return on Monday to settle the bill.

The clerk looked at the clock (12 hour clock). It was five to eight (dix-neuf heures cinquante-cinq) and the store was closing in five minutes. To his credit and my surprise and relief, he took the paperwork and asked me to show him where I had left the car. He finished the paperwork and charged me for only one day. (There goes the balance again. The French are not known for bending rules/overlooking errors.)  On the way back into the store, I continued to apologize interspersed with thanks. He said that as soon as he saw that my license was from Michigan he figured that I might have erred on the time. More importantly to him, I acknowledged my mistake rather than arguing.

Nice ending to a very nice day albeit off-balance as usual.

The unique steeple in Nyons