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.