Sunday, August 31, 2008
A fox in the hen house
Un loup dans la bergerie, literally a wolf in the sheepfold, is the French equivalent of a fox in the hen house. This is a wine we discovered on one of our wine buying excursions. I love the label! (I apologize for the quality of the photo... not one of my best) And the wine is wonderful, too, bien sûr. I did a google search of the wine and found lots of sights where it is reviewed and sold. It is a very inexpensive treasure. I love that about French wines. This one cost about 6 euros a bottle, around $9 US. It comes from Domaine Hortus in the region on Pic St. Loup in Languedoc, about an hour's drive from Arles. Seth and Craig, I sure would love to be able to buy this in Durham... I hope to get a bottle in my suitcase to bring home. Of course, that will require another drive to buy some as we have already finished the bottles we bought that day. The things I have to do!
In today's paper, there were pictures of the grape harvests that have already begun. The word around here is that there will be less grapes due to the heavy rains in May and a problem with mold, but better quality- moins de quantité, plus de qualité. And this is a very good thing I was told. The weather here right now is ideal for harvesting grapes- les vendanges. Cool at night, with Chardonnay grapes being picked from midnight until 8 am. The rosé merlot is reported as excellent quality this year. C'est vachement bien! Those grapes are also being picked at night and pressed immediately. The paper also listed local vineyards that are searching for pickers. Véronique, who comes to help clean, said she did this for 11 years and that is was grueling work. It all seems romantic to some of us... magical even. I tend to forget all the worry and hard work that goes into producing just one bottle of my precious rosé, rouge or blanc.
Today is the last day of the Roman history celebrations going on in Arles. We've seen parades of gladiators, legionnaires, ladies and children in togas. A film festival was held this week at night at the Antique Theatre, with the films being shown on a huge peplum screen. Astérix et Obélix and Alexander the Great were two of the choices. A Roman camp has been set up near the Arles Antique Museum and we are heading over there this afternoon. There have been gladiator fights in the arena (no deaths, bloodshed or sacrificing of Christians, I promise-- an American Baptist might be the first choice, I fear). At Café Voltaire, we got a good laugh out of the owner dressed in a toga serving Roman goodies one evening. Not bad legs, actually!
Since I arrived in June, there has been some kind of festival going on every week, celebrating music, photography, or history. Instead of chili or barbeque cook offs, they have aïoli contests. Arles also had outdoor music all summer in different squares around town. At Place Voltaire, two weeks ago there was an American musician, Tomko, playing saxophone and singing. He was accompanied by a man on the keyboard. He was really good and I must confess that it was good to be able to sing along to Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and Don Withers songs. I talked to Tomko afterwards and found out he is from San Francisco. His French is flawless, however, so I suspect he lives here and is married to a French woman.
Other random facts from the past few days...
Ladies and gentlemen who keep up with fashion-- gray is the in color for fall. The windows here are done in gray, black and hues of royal and navy blue. Christian Lacroix also had some bright orange pieces in his window.
Speaking of Lacroix, he is on the cover of this week's L'Express magazine. It is all about Arles and his roots here. He names the most influential people in his life and our friend Wally is there! Needless to say, she was thrilled when I ran into her on Rue 4 Septembre. She had several copies of the magazine in her hands.
The American election is a hot topic and I really must read and keep up with it because the French certainly are. They are very interested in politics and the percentage of French who vote in the elections put us to complete shame. They hold the elections on Sundays, which probably helps, too. I am afraid that Chef Érick's 11 year old son will know more about the election than a lot of my fellow countrymen. I am constantly asked what I think of Obama and McCain. Obama is the hands down favorite here.
I went to market yesterday with the express mission of finding a soccer jersey of the OM- Olympiques de Marseille- team. My son Grant turned 16 years old on August 25 and I thought this would be a unique gift for him. I sincerely doubt that anyone in Durham owns one! Their colors are Carolina blue and white. There are some serious fans around here. Sadly, a group of fans from Marseille were involved in a bus accident on their way to Le Havre, in northern France, for a game last week. The driver lost control of the bus around Paris and two passengers were killed and several others injured. The boyfriend of Véronique's daughter was on the bus. He wasn't injured, thank goodness.
We had a wonderful cooking class this week for four American women. It was so much fun, from start to finish. We prepared Haricots verts en persaillade, Tian de tomates et courgettes, Poulet Apicius, Riz au gingembre and Tartelettes aux noisettes et chocolat. A real feast. The women had told us that they didn't like fish- pas de poisson. Chef Érick didn't say anything, just kind of raised his eyebrows. He is thoroughly convinced that a person's intelligence is linked to how much fish they ate as a child. The women let me know when they asked to have the cooking class that they are fans of wine and hoped that Érick would choose some good ones for them. I assured them he would, he always does. However, no alcohol is consumed during the meal preparation. Just wouldn't be a good idea when sharp knives are involved! I told them that the sign that the lesson is about finished is when Érick puts on music and brings out the lovely little Napoleon III glasses. As he put on the music and pulled out a bottle of chilled Picpoul de Pinet, he also pulled out a squid from the refrigerator. One woman, Sharon, turned a little pale. He showed us how to pull out the spine (it looked like a plastic feather) and then said that sometimes a whole fish is found inside the squid. Sure enough, as if he had planted it there, there was a little sardine-like fish inside. He removed the little suction cups from the tentacles and cut it up. The pieces went into a very hot frying pan with olive oil. After they had cooked for just a few minutes, he threw in some of the parsley and garlic we had prepared for the green beans. Voilà- instant appetizer. Calamar. I have learned to taste anything and we had to convince Sharon to do the same. She stabbed a little piece with her toothpick. With her friends took photos so they would have proof of the occasion. She put it in her mouth, with her eyes closed, she bit down and a big smile spread across her face as she realized just how delicious it was. We ate every single bite, of course and enjoyed the Picpoul. We then moved to the dining room and started with our green beans and a Cabanis rosé. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, getting to know each other, Sharon and I translating for the others and for Érick. She has taken a few French classes and listened to CDs. Her French is really good, too! I am so lucky to meet such wonderful people and share the stories of their lives. These four women have been one of the highlights of my summer. People who love to travel and eat good food are, for the most part, very happy people who know how to enjoy the here and now.
I will leave you with a recipe and go have some lunch before heading out to the Roman encampment!
Tomorrow's big project is cleaning out the three refrigerators while it is quiet around here. Chef Érick will be at his sons' school in the morning for their first day ceremonies, so Véro and I have decided that will be an excellent time to clean. Quand le chat n'est pas là, les souris dansent. When the cat's away, the mice will play.
Riz au Gingembre- Ginger Rice
(We use red Camargue rice which has a kind of nutty taste)
300 g. rice 1 ½ c. (uncooked)
300 g. chick peas (cooked)
15 g. grated ginger (1 Tbsp)
2 shallots, minced
pinch of salt
Cook your rice.
In a heavy bottomed casserole, sweat your shallots in olive oil. Add in the grated ginger and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the rice and chick peas. Stir and warm up together for 10 minutes over a medium flame. Salt and serve.