Monday, May 20, 2013

Escargots revisited

Add to Google Reader or HomepageLast year (April 29, 2012) I wrote about snails (escargots) when we went to a snail farm called Les escargots de l'enclave – snails from the Enclave (owned by the Pope back in the 1300s).  Little did I know that our neighbor has a snail ranch right in her back yard!  She has “free-range” snails; no corrals or fences, just snails à la nature.

Our dear visiting friend Dan made this discovery when he was helping our neighbor Jane do some yard work. As soon as he realized that there were a lot of snails, he thought about menus and suggested that we could have snails as an appetizer for his big homemade meal before heading home.

First he had to collect the snails – sort of a snail round-up. He created a corral/stockyard (a large clay pot turned upside down) and then put the snails on a regimen of basil and other herbs, spinach, leaves, grass and water.

For the next few days, the snails ate and drank their fill. They seemed to love the basil and spinach. Dan tried to exercise them by taking them for a walk but after three days of walking they had only gone 30 meters.

When we decided the date for our dinner aux escargots, Dan changed their diet. In fact, put them on a water only diet so that they could clear their systems. Jane’s gardener came one afternoon and saw the snails and heard about Dan’s menu plans and affirmed that Dan was going through the right steps. (Dan had read a number of articles on preparing snails so he knew what he was doing.) Step 1: jeûner (fast, abstain from eating) for three days. The snails had only water during this period. Step 2: cleaning/de-sliming the snails with water and salt. After that, it was clean again, cook and serve. Dan chose to serve them in a butter-based persillade (garlic, shallots and parsley).

The dish was excellent. The presentation was attractive, the texture of the snails was perfect and the flavors were wonderful (what’s not to like when the ingredients include garlic and butter and parsley).

I am no expert but I think that free-range snails that Dan made actually tasted better than those raised at the snail farms….

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Faire le Pont

Add to Google Reader or HomepageMay is filled with national and religious holidays in France. The month started with “Fête du Travail” (Labor Day) on May 1, followed by a national holiday on May 8, Ascension on May 9 and the Monday after Pentecost (May 20).

Last week, for instance, Wednesday was "Fête de la Victoire 1945"  followed immediately this year by Ascension Day. With back-to-back holidays in one week, the French have a tradition of adding to official holidays by what they call “Faire le pont” – or bridging over the remaining work day (Friday) and creating a three vacation-day week. Many of the shops and businesses were closed or on reduced hours. (Restaurants and tourist shops were open and filled with customers.)

We went to visit the lovely hill towns of Roussillon and Gordes on Wednesday only to discover that we were joining throngs of tourists – French and foreign – who were there to enjoy the long vacation week. On the way back to Vaison la Romaine, we passed roadways lined with parked cars as people were picnicking along the banks of rivers and streams. We also passed lines of bicyclists who were making their ways through the hills and mountains heading?? Everyone was on vacation!

Vaison la Romaine is a destination for many tourists and it was amazing to see how the village has come alive with people from all over walking through town, looking in shop windows (lèche-vitrines – literally: licking the shop windows), buying chocolate and gelato or sitting in the cafés enjoying a glass of wine or an espresso as they watched people go by. Vaison is a very different village from the cold, rainy days of February and March when people were outside only to complete their shopping needs and get out of the bad weather.

The population of Vaison la Romaine doubles in the summer and with the three-day holiday created by “faire le pont”, we got a little hint of how this town will look in July and August.