Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas dinner in St. Remy de Provence

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On Christmas day, the four of us went to a restaurant called “Le Mas de l’Amarine”. “Mas” means ‘Provencal farmhouse’ but Le Mas de l’Amarine had been converted into a gorgeous restaurant and gîte. I don’t know how Daniel chooses the restaurants where we eat but he is 2/2 on the ‘excellent restaurant rating scale’. Last year, we ate at “Le Vivier” in L’Isle sur la Sorgue and I thought that it couldn’t get much better than that. ‘Au contraire, Mark!’

The sun was bright making the day warm enough that we had our “Amuse bouche” (hors d’oeuvres) outside on the veranda. The service was perfect: the staff was engaging and informative and always appropriate. They clearly enjoyed their work and enjoyed making us feel welcome.

As we made our decisions about Entrées (first course) and Plats (main course), Daniel decided that a Burgundy-style wine would work for the four of us, two of whom had ordered fish; two had ordered meat. The woman with whom Daniel consulted on the wine was a knowledgeable sommelier. Daniel chose a pinot noir from Domaine St. Nicolas. Daniel knew of the winery and their wines and recommended them highly as did the sommelier. I thought that Christmas was the perfect day to drink a wine that came from St. Nicolas.

The Amuse-bouche included oysters, shrimp in phyllo and bread sticks wrapped with prosciutto.

The server came and announced that she could begin serving the entrées as soon as we were ready to follow her to our table. We were seated at our table and next to a family celebrating their Christmas with the family matriarch – who was 104 years old. (We later learned that the matriarch had been a French teacher in England. A relative told us that she loved to speak English and she clearly enjoyed our in-English Christmas wishes.)

Among the four of us, we had chosen three different entrées. I wished that Ellen’s habit of sharing bites of each plate had ruled because the presentations were so beautiful and inviting, I wanted to try everything. The dishes were prepared so that every bite was filled with the flavors that the chef had melded so well. The wine worked well as a complement to the dishes we had chosen.

Ellen and Irène had ordered the langoustine roasted with ginger. Daniel had the scallops with beet salad and I ordered the duck broth with truffles and foie gras. Wow!

Scallops with beet salad
Duck broth with truffles and foie gras

As one might guess, the plats were just as beautiful and inviting as the entrées. For the main course, Ellen chose “loup sauvage” (sea-bass), Irène chose turbot, Daniel had chicken that was roasted on the spit in the main fireplace and I chose the T-Bone – which was a substitution for the boeuf on the menu. I know I am repeating myself but the melding of flavors was accomplished so perfectly.

Sea Bass

Spit-roasted chicken


The main course was followed by cheese and then dessert and café/tea. When they served the tea/café, they also brought a tray of sweets – chocolate truffles and a variety of sweet pastries.

After the meal, Daniel told me that he had called the restaurant to ask for the menu for Christmas several weeks ago. They transferred the call to the chef who said the menu was not ready but he gave Daniel an idea of what he was planning/thinking he might do. Daniel said that when he heard the chef’s ideas, he knew that we were in for a real treat. – He was SO right.

In France, we rarely encounter a bad meal. The cafés offer nice bistro foods and the restaurants compete for your return visit. Eating at Le Mas de l'Amarine was a wonderful and different from normal experience. I can still taste (or wish I could still taste) the wonderful flavors that we enjoyed.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Eve in St. Remy de Provence

Add to Google Reader or HomepageWe joined our French friends again this year for Christmas. They had chosen St. Remy de Provence as our destination, so we were happy to go to the village famous because Van Gogh had admitted himself to an asylum in the village and stayed there for a year near the end of the 19th century.

We stayed at a lovely “gîte” (vacation apartment) in a renovated old home at the edge of the town where one could see Mt. Ventoux as well as “les Alpilles” – a part of the Luberon mountain range.

On Christmas Eve, we went to the cathedral in St. Remy for the midnight mass service. The service began before 11:00 PM when women and men wearing traditional costumes handed out candles to all who had assembled at the church. 

Once the candles were lit, there was a procession through the old part of the town ending inside the cathedral where the mass was held.

(There is a humorous story about Christmas midnight mass written by Alphonse Daudet called “Les Trois Messes Basses” (the three low masses) about a priest who was so much more interested in the meal at the end of the service that he raced through the liturgy so that he could enjoy the wonderful meal planned for the end of the service. In doing so, he committed the sin of gluttony – le péché de gourmandise.)

The mass we attended was no parallel. The service was reverent and included singing and a procession around the interior of the cathedral with live sheep (The sheep were provided by the son of the owner of the “gîte” where we stayed.) At the end of the mass, a child dressed in traditional garb took the baby Jesus figurine from its stand in front of the altar and placed it in the stable (crèche).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lost in translation (Victor Hugo Poem)

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If you were "lost in translation" from my posting yesterday, my apologies. I offer a translation below.

Demain dès l'aube

Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Tomorrow at dawn

Tomorrow at dawn, at the hour when the countryside brightens,
I will leave. You see, I know that you are waiting for me.
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain.
I cannot live far from you any longer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Victor Hugo Poem

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Demain dès l'aube

Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

I have taken the first stanza of Victor Hugo's 1865 poem because the sentiment matches my feeling as we prepare to leave on our trip to Vaison la Romaine. 

As the poem continues, one learns that it was written to his deceased daughter - his promise to journey to her grave site. It remains a love poem and I find it beautiful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cheese, please

Add to Google Reader or HomepageIt was possibly the first time we went to stay at our apartment in Vaison la Romaine. I went to the local cheese shop. The proprietor of the cheese shop, a meilleur ouvrier de France recognized by President Chirac for her skill and knowledge, gets to wear a chef jacket with a red, white and blue ribbon collar that indicates her status. When I asked her for 200 grams of Roulé, she looked over the top of her fashionable glasses and said: “Ca c’est un fromage industriel. Je ne le vend pas ici.” (That is factory-made (processed) cheese. I do not sell it here.) Her response was so abrupt and (to me) so aggressive, I decided to buy my cheese from the market vendors.

Over the years, I have gotten to know our famous cheese shop owner and have overcome my reticence of visiting her shop. Josianne Déal provided the cheeses for the Valentine’s Day dinner at La Lyriste, our friend's restaurant. For that matter, if you eat in just about any of the restaurants in town, the cheese they offer is probably from her store called Lou Canesteou fromagerie.

I now visit the shop regularly because there are so many varieties of cheese from which to choose and I appreciate the guidance from her and her staff. The first problem to overcome is to decide among the options for one style of cheese. Did I want the Comté that was aged 12 months, 18 months or 24 months? Did I want the Roquefort that was creamy or the Roquefort that was spicier to the taste? And then, of course, several of the cheeses are sold with the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) which means that the product is certified as coming from the region named on the label.

Last winter, I stopped in the cheese shop and Josianne waited on me. I told her that there was a difference between her shop and the cheese store where I shopped in Lansing. I explained that in Lansing, the shop runs on a binary system: “Do you have Roquefort? Yes/No. Do you have Morbier? Yes/No. Press 1 for yes, 0 for no… Josianne smiled at me and said: “We have a few more options for you.”

On Saturday, I stopped at our cheese shop and asked for a half of a pound of Comté. (Hills Cheese is the most popular of all of the shops at the City Market. Hills has been a vendor at the City Market for more than 50 years. Their success is offering quality cheeses from across the world, not just France. When you go there on the weekend, expect to be third in line.) The young man that served me brought me the piece of Comté that he had cut and told me the price. I asked him if he knew how long it had been aged (12, 18, 24 mos). He replied that he did not know but he was sure that the Comté had come in a green wrapper which meant that it was high-quality Comté; better than the Comté that comes in the blue wrapper…

It seems strange that a city of the size of Lansing does not have the equivalent of the cheese shop in Vaison which is 5% of the size of Lansing. But one must consider the importance of cheese in France (DeGaulle once posed the question: ‘Who can rule a country that has more than 278 different kinds of cheese?’) It is a question of priorities. France has over 200 cheeses. We have more flavors of Cheetos here than are available in France. Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

French Reminders

Add to Google Reader or HomepageThere are a lot of things that remind me of France while we are in the States. I read several French or French-theme blogs and I see notes on FaceBook or in my e-mail from French friends. Ellen and I go to the meetings (réunions) of the Lansing area Alliance Française. Even the mundane activities of the day make me think of France:

·         I was buying beets to make a beet and pistachio salad and seeing the raw beets with greens attached made me long for the vacuum packed peeled beets that I can buy at grocery stores in France.
·         When I buy gasoline here, the price is per gallon but it makes me think of the price of fuel in France where the signs advertise the price per liter or roughly per quart. Prices vary, but a liter of gasoline is about €1.40 or about $7.00 per gallon. (Given the disparities in the price of fuel, it is no surprise that the French and other Europeans buy smaller, fuel-efficient cars.)
·         I have read all of the novels about “Bruno, Chief of Police” by Martin Walker about a village chief of police in Southwest France.
·         Shopping for spices and missing the spice and herb vendors at the market with their bags of spices and herbs (and the aromas!)
·         The summer film The Hundred Food Journey.
·         Buying eggs makes me wonder: why do we keep eggs in the refrigerator in the States? (In France, eggs and milk are not stored in coolers in the grocery stores. They are found on regular, un-refrigerated shelves.)

It has been a good summer and despite some “powdery mildew” on my zucchinis and my squash, we had a bountiful harvest from my garden and enjoyed fresh vegetables during August and September and our French friends know how much I like gardening and often ask about my potager (vegetable garden).

Now, we are sort of in preparing-to-return-to-France mode as Ellen has purchased our tickets for the trip. We leave Lansing on the 9th of December and will arrive at our apartment on the 10th.  Having tickets makes every day a reason to think of France and to wonder if there are items available here that we want to take because we have not found them in France. (In May, we do the reverse and think about the items available in France that we want to bring back to the states.)

Quel chanceux (I am a lucky/fortunate  person.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

French Cooking Lesson

Add to Google Reader or HomepageLast year we, with help, advice AND the offer to use their great house and wonderful kitchens from our good friends Brian and Ken, the four of us offered a French Cooking Class/Dinner as our gift item in the Meals on Wheels auction. It was snapped up by the same couples who had won the bids on our French dinners the previous two years.

The cooking class and subsequent meal were Saturday night. We guided six adults through the steps of preparing a five-course meal and then we became the servers for the dinner. The menu follows:


Amuse-bouche (Appetizers) :
Wine : Pierre Delize Blanc de Blanc Brut, Vin Mousseux (Sparkling wine)

Tapenade aux olives noires, paté de foie de volaille
Black olive tapenade, chicken liver paté

Entrée (First Course):
Wines: Chardonnay de Chardonnay,Vin de Bourgogne (Unoaked Chardonnay)
Villa Chambre d’Amour, Gros Mansang Sauvignon Blanc

Soupe au potiron
Butternut squash soup

Plat (Main Course) :
Wines: Chateau Pegau Côtes du Rhône 2012, Cuvee Maclura
OR Continuation of first course wines

Lapin à la moutarde, épeautre, carottes aux olives
Rabbit in mustard cream sauce, spelt, carrots with olives

Assiette de fromages
(Cheese plate – assortment of cheeses)
Wine: Chateau Pegau Côtes du Rhône 2012

Dessert :
Wine : Mas Amiel vin doux naturel 2011 (Red dessert wine)

Crème caramel
Chocolat au piment d’Espelette
Chocolate mousse with chili pepper

We all had a lot of fun and I think that our guests learned some new kitchen techniques and enjoyed some new food items. Curt Kosal at Vine and Brew in Okemos provided the suggestions for the wine pairing. He did an excellent job of matching the wines to our menu.

Cooking in a group can be a wonderful sharing experience. The food plus the aromas plus the wines make a formula for enjoyment. Sharing tasks, telling stories and learning about new food items turned the evening into a seven-hour party. Food with friends is the formula for a great evening.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Money (the Beatles), Money, Money (Cabaret) Money, Money, Money (ABBA)

We have done a fair amount of travelling since returning to the states: Gull Lake, Chicago, Pennsylvania (Greensburg), Beaver Island. The trips have all been fun and were opportunities to see/spend time with good friends. Time spent with friends is time well-spent: good food, preparing meals together, new recipes to share, new wine discoveries and, this year, stories about the winter of the Polar Vortex (compared to our mild but rainy winter in France).

During our travels, I was struck by the ways in which we pay for things – and the differences between money/payments here and in France.

Obviously, the currencies are different. France is part of the European Union so currency is Euros. Euros are easier to use than dollars as the sizes of the bills change based on the value. There is a small note for five euros, a larger note for 10 €, the 20 € bill is bigger still and the 50 € note is about three times the size of the five euro note. In addition to differences in size, the bills are different colors. There are no one € notes. There are coins in values from two € to one centime. (2 €, 1 €, 50 centimes, 20 centimes, 10 centimes, 5 centimes, 2 centimes and 1 centime.)

When we first moved to France, I seemed to end a day carrying about five kilograms (ten pounds) of coins. It was easier to get out a bill and take the change rather than work though the coins to find exact change – though I was sure that I had it.

Credit cards are accepted in most stores but European credit cards now have a security chip that is still rare in American credit cards. The credit cards with a security chips require a pin number much like our debit cards. Friends who came to visit last spring got to Marseille, rented a car and started their trip to Vaison la Romaine only to discover that the toll booths at the expressway exits require cash or European credit cards with-the-security-chip. Luckily, they had come with a small amount of euros and were able to exit the roadway after they dug the cash out of the bag in the back of the car – much to the chagrin of the always impatient French drivers in line behind them.

Checks are still popular in France. At the big grocery stores, I often see the cashier telling the customer the total amount. The customer then tears out a check and hands the blank check to the cashier. The big stores have machines that print all of the necessary information on the check. The cashier gives the check back to the customer for her/his review and then signature.

When Europeans rent our apartment, they most often pay with a bank transfer called a RIB. (Relevé d’Identité Bancaire). When Americans rent our apartment, they use PayPal.

Whether it’s cash, cowry shells or credit card, the song title by Lefty Frizzell seems the appropriate way to end this post: "If you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time".

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Belle Provence or Beautiful Michigan?

Add to Google Reader or HomepageWe’ve been in Lansing for two weeks. The vegetable garden is planted, most of the home maintenance chores are finished and I am back on my volunteer schedule at the two nearby child care centers. Clearly, we are settling into our state-side routines.

As we encounter people we have not seen for six or more months, we are often asked about what we missed while we were away or what strikes us as a source of differences between Lansing life and life in Vaison la Romaine.

From the get-go, I turn around the first question and reply that I miss living in the center of a village where a car is not necessary. I miss the walking to – everywhere! Not just in steps logged but in people encountered who smile or stop to talk or simply offer “Bonjour Monsieur” as I pass. (At some point in time though it must have been recently, I stopped being middle-aged and became old. People say “Bonjour Monsieur” as a respectful way of greeting someone older – and to most of the world, the someone older is I.) In France, I averaged 12,000 steps a day. In Lansing, I may get to 12,000 steps once a week. In Lansing, one can’t walk to any grocery or butcher shop or bakery… - did I say ‘butcher shop’? I am not sure where there is a butcher shop outside of a grocery.

I have missed the camaraderie of people with whom we have forged friendships over the past 30 years. I have missed our neighborhood and the special connections/supports that our neighbors offer.

I have missed NPR and the Sunday word puzzle with Will Short on Weekend Edition. And John Stewart, and Steve Colbert and John Oliver. (I have missed understanding subtle humor and political comedy.)

In general, people speak louder here than in France and we Americans laugh louder than the French.

I like the pervasiveness of “the customer is always right” attitude in stores here. It may also be true in France but you might have to do penance before your shopping error is absolved and the item is taken back…

I miss good, cheap wine. In the US, food is less expensive – even though the produce in the grocery stores comes from three different continents – but wine here is more expensive. Similarly, a baguette in France is only a dollar. In Lansing, a baguette costs three to five times as much.

On balance, there are so many things to make each “home” attractive. We are fortunate to have such wonderful options.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Missing You! Missing France! 2

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A week from today, we leave our apartment to go to Marseille. Our flight to Lansing is at 0 dark thirty on Tuesday morning and it is a whole lot easier to deal with the early departure from a hotel at the airport.

Given our departure, we are working on turning our apartment into a rental property for the summer/fall. The focus on work helps me not think about leaving here but I nonetheless do think about leaving and what I will miss most. (I looked back through my old blogs to the one I wrote as we prepared to leave in 2009 after our first six months here. My list of things I will miss has not changed a lot. For the sake of redundancy, I offer my 2014 edition of “Missing You! Missing France!)

·         FRIENDS! We have developed wonderful friendships here in Vaison la Romaine. The village is ‘just the right size’ for encountering friends on a regular basis. I realize that the village is also large enough that it could feel isolating without friends.
·         The “Bonjour, monsieur” greeting as I walk into almost any store (followed by: “Au revoir, monsieur. Bonne journée” as I leave a store – even if I didn’t buy anything.
·         The plethora of wineries and all of the wonderful wines of the Rhone Valley. We are fortunate to live amongst some of the best wine-producing villages of the southern Rhone Valley: Cairanne, Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas, Rasteau, Roaix, Sablet, Vacqueyras, Vinsobres, Visan. An American friend once asked if one could drink the water in France. I replied: “Of course! But wine is cheaper!”
·         The emphasis that the French put on good (and fresh!) produce, meat and fish. Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, underscored the importance of buying fresh/buying locally produced. Right now, asparagus, strawberries (from the next big town – Carpentras), spring melons make shopping more fun and cooking easier. I learned from the fish monger that the best mussels are from Brittany but the ‘moules de Bouchot’ have a season – July to March.

French grocery stores and shops as well as the Tuesday market vendors always display the country of origin of the produce, meat, fish and cheese they are selling. As I have tried to become more of a “locavore”, I have started paying careful attention to the country of origin of my foods.

·         Our world-class cheese store and the choices of cheeses. I am pleased that our market in Lansing has a very good cheese shop but in Lansing, the choice is usually binary: ‘Do you have Roquefort?’ Yes! (or no!) Here in our village, if I ask for Roquefort, I have to clarify what style of Roquefort I want. The same is true for Gruyere, goat cheese, brie, etc…
·         The varieties of meats and poultries
·         The View! from our small but viewalicious balcony on the 3ème étage (4th floor) The spectacular views as one drives/walks around the area.
·         Our daily bread (baguette)
·         Being able to clean the WHOLE apartment while standing in one spot (almost) – in about 12 minutes
·         Leaving the apartment at 5:25 for a 5:30 movie and being on time
·         Playing with the kids at the crèche.

Luckily, the sadness of leaving here is replaced by the joy of returning to Lansing and our wonderful friends there. Life is good!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Les Marchés of Vaison la Romaine

Add to Google Reader or HomepageI love to go to the markets in Vaison. We are fortunate to have two: the big, Pope-stipulated (in 1532) Tuesday market and the little market of local producers on Saturdays.

The Tuesday market is both a social and a shopping event. In addition to being able to buy everything needed for the cuisine (and the house), you run into friends and acquaintances and get to catch up on local news. Often, at the end of the shopping, you see residents and tourists sitting at the cafés having a coffee or a glass of wine and enjoying the community/social aspects of the day.

On Tuesdays, you can purchase vegetables and fruit from 20 vendors and meat from about 10 or so trucks – not including the dried sausage vendors who account for another five or six stalls. There are usually four fish mongers offering everything from albacore to sea urchins; seven or eight olives and olive oil, dried fruit and nuts vendors and an equal amount of cheese vendors. (Some cheese vendors offer the full array of French cheeses, some offer cheese from only a certain region such as the Jura and some offer only their home-made goat cheeses.) There are several honey vendors offering locally produced honeys and preserves.

Tuesday market - one of the 'Spice' trucks
If you are hungry while shopping, you can choose from pizza trucks, roast chicken trucks, paella stands, fried rice and egg roll stands, nougat stands, sugared fruit stands or a full-line bakery. Many of the vendors offer organic options. If you need a tablecloth or napkins or runners or flatware or pottery or cooking utensils or high-quality knives, you will find them at the Tuesday market. You can buy shoes, scarves, belts, socks, gloves, hats, clothing (both new and used items), thread to repair clothing, sewing machines to make clothing… If you prefer, there are live plants – pots of both ornamentals and vegetable starts including olive trees.

I needed a new gasket for my espresso maker. I found it at the market on Tuesday. Books – new or used? Tuesday market. Music – new and used? Tuesday market. Soap or perfume? Curtains? Artwork? – you guessed it: Tuesday market.

The Tuesday market offers an amazing array of – everything. We have big box stores in the States many of which would be hard pressed to offer the array of items one finds on Tuesdays in Vaison la Romaine.

(The locals like to shop at the market in the spring and fall but often avoid the market in the summer as there are so many people there that it becomes difficult to walk from one stall to another. But then, the population of Vaison does double in the summer.)

The Saturday market, by contrast, is the ‘locavore’ market. In the fall/winter/spring, there are about a dozen stalls offering locally grown vegetables and fruits, poultry and eggs, honey and jams, olive oil, olives and tapenades and, in January and February, truffles. A fish monger parks his truck at the end of the parking lot. (The market doubles in size in the summer but still offers only locally grown or produced items.)

Friday, April 11, 2014


Add to Google Reader or HomepageFrance is often called “the hexagon” by the French. If you squint while looking at a map drawn by a lazy cartographer, you can see that the name fits. Two weeks ago, we started a triangular tour when we drove from Vaison-la-Romaine to Troyes on our way to Paris. We then went to Ornans and back to Vaison. Given the distances covered, we might have driven over about one/sixth of “the hexagon”…

Troyes was a pretty town. It is located in the champagne region of France on the Seine about 150 km from Paris. We found a B&B there that was in a loft apartment in an old factory. The skylights (a veritable ‘glass ceiling’) and the renovations made it a beautiful spot to stay.

The old town was just five minutes away by foot and has beautiful churches and buildings with a hint of the architectural style we saw in Besançon and Ornans. Many of the old buildings date to the 1500s.

These buildings lived apart for too many centuries...
The hosts at our B&B gave us several recommendations of restaurants and we chose Pizzeria Giusepino where one can get “…the best pizza in the city, in the department, in France! – or so we were told by a man who gave us directions when we got lost.

Troyes is worth a visit. The next time you are driving in France, try Troyes!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sibling visit

Add to Google Reader or HomepageWe met Sue and Bob as they arrived in Paris. They had come to visit us, to celebrate their anniversary and to do some genealogy research in the eastern part of France. (Bob DuVernois’ family is from Franche-Comte – at least that is where most of the villages named Vernois are located.)

Paris is always a wonderful city to visit. The city has so much to offer and is filled with so many interesting people. We ate well, walked a lot and enjoyed three days of warm, sunny weather. We went to see: “How to Become Parisian in One Hour” and now know: wear black, never smile, never make eye contact… - a fun-filled one-man show that mocks the French as well as every other nationality in the theater. We went to “A la Biche au Bois” restaurant – as we do on every visit to Paris and again were pleased to share this restaurant with my sister and her husband. We also did the ‘tourist thing’ and took the ‘Bateau Mouche’ (river tour boat) tour of the Seine. The day was clear and warm and we enjoyed seeing several of the major sites of Paris from the river.

We left Paris and drove southeast towards Besançon where we got to see an old friend. She invited us to stay with her and asked us to go to her classes and speak to her students (in English). After our “English classes”, we started visiting the Vernois villages. Google maps had identified four of them; the Garmin GPS had found a fifth… All of the villages were small – I would guess about 400-500 people. After we arrived in each one of the villages, we took pictures of the town sign and then went to visit the cemetery to see if there were any ‘Vernois’ buried there. Two days of visits (and about five hundred kilometers on the car) but no luck.

Franche-Comte is very different from Provence. The architecture is different. The houses use a lot more wood in the construction. The outside of houses look like what I call Tudor style with exposed beams and stucco. Add to that long, steep-sloping roofs and a different tile used for the roofs and you start to get an idea of the architecture of Franche-Comte. In Provence – at least our corner of Provence – there are a plethora of vineyards and wine tasting rooms. In Franche-Comte, the wine tasting rooms are few but the cheese tasting rooms are ubiquitous. (Franch-Comte cheeses are renowned: Comte, Morbier and Mont d’Or, to name a few. – though I have never seen Mont d’Or for sale in the States…)

We stayed in Ornans while we did our genealogy research. A lovely village. A lovely hotel (La Table de Gustave). Before leaving, we went through the museum dedicated to Gustave Courbet, an artist born in Ornans and a major influence (my perspective) on the development of the impressionist style.
 …And then to Vaison la Romaine!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Notification of posts

Add to Google Reader or HomepageSeveral of you have asked to be informed of new posts. In the earliest days, if you became a follower of my blog, and noted your e-mail, you received a notice of new posts. The service changed and several of you reported that you were not receiving notices anymore.

Google has added (added back?) the e-mail notice function. In the top left corner of this post, you will note: FOLLOW BY EMAIL with a space for inserting your email. 

If you try it, please let me know if it works for you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Walk in the Park

Le Sentier le Mérindol les Oliviers
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I have mentioned in previous blogs the hiking system in France and the number of well-marked and well-maintained trails that are available to us.

Sunday, we went with Jane to hike the “Sentier le Mérindol les Oliviers”. The terrain was not very challenging – a short climb up a hill and then vistas that were breath-taking, then around a summit on top of which is an old medieval castle that has been restored and made into a family dwelling, back down the hill (on tarmac) to the starting point. The route was well-marked and it was clear which paths we were supposed to/allowed to take.

Castle from the south
Castle from the north

Cherry Blossoms

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Potty Talk

Add to Google Reader or HomepageWe went to one of the five cafés on Place Monfort – the square in the center of town  - for lunch and, before we left, I went to the bathroom. The trip is a common occurrence given my age and the elasticity of my bladder. Anyway, it made me think of the differences between restrooms in the States and in France.

The first big difference is that in France, the bathroom is NOT the toilet room. Most of the time, the toilet room is separate and, if you are lucky, has a sink for hand-washing (we don’t). The French explain that the bathroom is for bathing. The toilet room is for toileting but NOT for toiletry which occurs in the bathroom.

So, when you are in a restaurant, you ask: “Où sont les toilettes.” Always asking where the toilets (plural) are, but when you get directions and arrive at the toilettes, there may be only one. But you can never ask : « Où se trouve la toilette? » Because « la toilette » refers to doing your morning time in the bathroom in front of a mirror (faire la toilette).

There is a big difference between toilet rooms in the states and here. In France, most toilets offer a two-button flush: one for light, one for full flush. The second difference is that French restaurants don’t seem to have to comply with ‘handicapper accessible’ to the extent that American restaurants must. I believe that most toilets in French restaurants are NOT handicapper accessible. But then, most restaurants are not handicapper accessible - unless the handicapper/chair user wants to sit outside – assuming that the handicapper/chair user was able to negotiate the lack of curb cuts, narrow sidewalks, etc. Note to self: write something about handicapper accessibility…

Another difference is that the French are much less puritanical than we, so, there might be a toilet room for men but the stand-up options are visible to the women who might be walking by… (It is not very different from the denizens of men who ‘water plants’ along the roadways.)

Whether it is a small café or a big restaurant, the “Dyson” hand drier is the “le top” (new French word). It is so much more efficient than the slow, old air dryers. I don’t know how it compares ecologically with the restaurants that continue to offer hand towels…

Oh, BTW (aka ‘by the way’) I almost forgot that there are many toilets in the restaurants that do not have a toilet seat. I don’t know whether it is because they have decided that one more thing to clean is ‘over the top’ or because they have decided that a toilet seat makes it so comfortable that one might choose to remain there longer than necessary. Whatever the reason, few “toilettes” have seats…

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Only Lyon"

Add to Google Reader or HomepageAbout a month ago, we went to Lyon to pick up friends at the airport. Since Lyon is the “gastronomic” capitol of France, we decided to go early and enjoy a meal at one of Lyon’s restaurants. We got miserably lost and almost forfeited our reservation. Despite a WONDERFUL meal at 126, we decided that the city was too large and too easy to get lost and thus took Lyon off of our “must visit” list.

When we told Jane of our experiences and resulting decision, she countered with: “Lyon is beautiful. Let’s give it another try.”

We found a nice apartment in the Croix Rousse section of the city via VRBO and made our plans to visit. Between Jane’s good driving and Ellen’s Google maps, we made our way directly to the apartment without problem. It was a two bedroom apartment furnished in IKEA modern. It also had a garage – a big plus!

The owner explained that the apartment was originally a silk shop – many of the old buildings in the Croix Rousse section were. The area of the kitchen/living room was where they had their loom thus explaining the extremely high ceiling. The bedrooms were used for storage and a small door – where there is now a wall adorned with a huge mirror led to the sleeping space.

Lyon is located at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers. It has been an important city since Roman times. The old town is located between the rivers on the ‘Presque Isle’. The Croix Rousse neighborhood sits above the old town offering wonderful views of the city. Lyon became the silk-weaving capitol of Europe during the Renaissance. The silk workers – les Canuts – made silk and wove it into fabric. They built covered passages – called Les Traboules – to move the silk protected from the rain from Croix Rousse to the merchants in the lower parts of the city. Many of these passageways still exist.
Ellen and Jane check out one of the Traboules
Despite the decline of the silk industry in Lyon, the city remains vital. It is now called the gastronomic capitol of France. Paul Bocuse, who is one of the proponents of Nouvelle Cuisine, is from Lyon. It is therefore easy to find excellent restaurants. Three days, three wonderful restaurants. Some Lyonais restaurants are called Bouchon which normally means cork or blockage but in Lyon it stands for restaurants that serve local favorites – from local sources. We chose – Le Bouchon des Filles – and selected from the menu du jour from which we chose: rognons de veau (veal kidney), quenelles (shredded fish incorporated into a dumpling and saucisse (sausage). The meal was excellent. Even their pichet de vin was better than most table wines. (Lyon is situated between Burgundy to the north and the Northern Rhône Valley so finding excellent wines is easy.)

Another facet of Lyon is the “trompe l’oeil” murals found around the city. We found two while we were walking but saw another four as we were leaving and driving along the Saône.

Look closely. I am standing in front of the mural!
A major ad from the Tourist Bureau is “Only Lyon”. We appreciated the anagram. It is a wonderful city.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Add to Google Reader or HomepageThe evening started with a note from Dan reminding me of a wonderful lunch on St. Valentine’s Day at Les Abeilles in Sablet eight years ago with a group of friends. It ended with an espresso after another wonderful meal at La Lyriste in Vaison. 

Benoit, chef at La Lyriste, mentioned that he was planning the menu for St. Valentine’s Day when we were having dinner with them last week. I asked Marie to make reservations for us. (Good idea!)

The meal started with a glass of champagne and Amuse bouche.

The entrée was: Queues de Gambas Laquées au Sirop de Liège, Huile Basilic.
 Shrimp tails painted with fruit syrup and served with Basil oil 
  (on a bed of fennel, leeks and potatoes).

We chose a wine from one of the local (Vaison) vintners whom Dan and I met last spring. It was a nice CdR that paired well with the veal and the cheese. The young vintner and his wife have only three hectar of vines but they make nice, old-world style wines.

Terre de Gaulhem, 2010
The main course was:  Pavé de Veau Blanc Roti au Thym, Sauce Champignon, Pomme de Terre éecrasée au curry; a perfectly prepared piece of veal served on a bed of smashed potatoes gently flavored with curry. The mushroom sauce added a nice touch. (I let my appetite get ahead of my camera and ate too much of the main course before I remembered to get a picture.)

The cheese course – Camembert Pané was a lightly breaded piece of Camembert served on lettuce.

The dessert, oh the dessert: Ananas/Crème Tendre au Chocolat. I thought it was chocolate mousse served on thin slices of pineapple. Ellen thought it was ganache served on thin slices of pineapple. Either way, it was great.

Happy Valentine’s Day!