Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How do I bring it all home?

This photo is of the port of Cassis, a little town on the coast. We went there this week for lunch. I had seafood pasta, Erick had monkfish. We drank a nice half bottle of Cassis white wine and watched the water. It was a chilly, sunny day. I did indeed take pictures of my food, but they are not nearly as beautiful as this one. The cliff in the background, Cap Canaille, is the highest one in France, about 400 meters or 1200 feet. I filled my pocket with smooth stones from the beach.
Earlier in the day we went to Aubagne, the birthplace of writer Marcel Pagnol (if you've never seen "My Father's Glory" and "My Mother's Castle" you should rent them just for the scenery, although the autobiographical story of his childhood is wonderful, too). The town is famous for its santons or crèche figures. The folks of Provence put together amazing manger scenes for Christmas. They include figurines representing people from their villages- the baker, the fishermen, the shepherd, the school teacher, etc. Lots of animals are also added. We saw the crèche at the Abbaye de Frigolet that even included a monk manning the distillery (they make a wonderful apératif liqueur) and imbibing of his own product! His nose is red and his glass is held high in a salute! What a great sense of humor those monks must have.
After Aubagne, we drove to the nearby small port town of Cassis, pictured above.
My lament about bringing "it" all home in the title of today's post does not only apply to packing my two suitcases, although I have no idea how I will manage that task next week. It is mostly my desire to bring home all of the special parts of Provence. I bought a beautifully decorated tin full of herbes de provence at the Arles Christmas market. I wish that I could fill it up with the sights, smells and sounds of Provence. I'd add sea salt, garlic, olive oil and sun-ripened tomatoes to the herbes, the basics of Provençal cuisine. Claudine's goat cheese, the one that is about 10 days old, would have to find a spot. I'd toss in some lavender and sunflowers, as well as the little white flowers that are now growing by the roadside and among the now sleeping vines. The ones that smell like honey. I'd add the smell of the hot August sun as it beats down on the fields of hay growing between Arles and Tarascon. The December sunset with its band of bright orange that fades to almost red before it meets the horizon would have to be a part of my collection, as would the night sky reflected in the Rhône river in the exact spot where Vincent painted it during his time here. The ever present humming of the cicadas in summer as they cling unseen to trees would be my favorite sound. A bottle of red Côtes du Rhône and a white from Cassis would go in. I'd add Virgil's café in the Place du Forum on a hot summer evening with the regular crowd discussing what to have for dinner as a kir, pastis, pression, or sirop de pêche is sipped after work. With that in the box, I'd be able to sit quietly, listening to the conversations around me and watching people pass by. I could see the women in their high-heeled sandals and sundresses, tourists with cameras slung around their necks, and the statue of Fréderic Mistral in the distance. The box is magic, of course, so all of these things will fit nicely in there. I could place it on my kitchen counter when I return in less than two weeks and take the lid off every now and then just to reassure myself that I was really here and Provence was my life for six months.
As I write at this very minute, I am listening to Blake Shelton sing "Home." "I feel just like I'm living someone else's life...." "Another winter day has come and gone away in even Paris and Rome, and I want to go home, let me go home..." (Michael Bublé does a nice job with the song, too!) So, oui, even as I already miss what has become my home-away-from-home, I feel the strong pull of my real home in Durham, my family and my friends.
I still have more adventures, though. René, the truffle hunter, called this morning and asked me if I am afraid to walk around in the mountains. I tried not to shout NON, pas du tout! into the phone. And I had to laugh when he told me not to wear my (non-existent) high heels. We also have a trip to Carcassonne, a walled city to the west of Arles, planned for next week. Érick's son, Jonas, turns 7 this weekend so we will celebrate. How do you put candles in Nutella filled crêpes, his favorite treat, I wonder?

My recipe below is one we made for lunch yesterday. So simple and so good.
Bon appétit!

Spinach and Seafood (Les Épinards et les Fruits de mer)

Take a large bunch of fresh spinach and wash it really well. Remove the larger stems and tear it into smaller pieces. Fry it in olive oil, a handful at a time. This only takes about 3-4 minutes in a hot pan. It is a good idea to cover the pan after adding the spinach so that the steam will help with the cooking. Turn it once with tongs. Remove to a baking dish. After the spinach is cooked, use the pan to heat your favorite seafood. We put in some mussels, tellines (small shellfish found at the edge of the water buried in the sand),and palourdes (I do not know if they are available in NC-- Note:  I now know that these are clams in English!). You could use shrimp. After adding the seafood, we stirred in a bit more olive oil. Salt isn't necessary here because the seafood is already quite salty. A nice fresh baguette and a white or rosé wine completes the feast.

The same seafood would be wonderful on top of freshly cooked pasta, bien sûr.

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