Peter Mayle's Provence A-Z. See, I haven't forgotten this project.
In this entry, Mayle talks about being told once that the air in Provence is very pure. Later, he learned that several of the départments in the area are among the most polluted in Europe. I am not sure I buy that. I will have to agree, however, that perhaps the Mistral wind keeps the pollution at bay in this corner of paradise.
Alpes et Alpilles
Everyone knows about the big, bad Alpes if for no other reason than the skiing and maybe The Sound of Music. I haven't spent much time there. But I do love the Alpilles. Between Fontvieille and St. Rémy de Provence runs a jagged, white range of "little Alpes," as they are called. A great place to hike and picnic, peut-être?
Malheureusement, I do not have any photos of the almond trees in bloom. I'm never in Provence in very early spring to see them. Maybe they will still be in bloom this March while I am there? Almonds were introduced to Europe over 2,000 years ago by the Greeks. In France, salty or roasted nuts are most often offered as a little something-something to go along with your before dinner apéritif of pastis, a chilled glass of dry rosé or kir. Or whatever your little heart desires. In Aix-en-Provence they make a wonderful sweet treat called Calissons d'Aix. I have eaten many of them, but photographed none, so I "borrowed" a photo from www.saveurdujour.com.
They are very good. Take my word for it. Or order some and find out for your very own self.
Another almond treat I discovered while living in Arles is sirop d'orgeat. This is a syrup made of almonds, sugar, rose water or orange flower water. The name confused me and I had no idea what I was drinking for quite a while. I just knew that, when mixed with cold water, it made a very refreshing drink during hot Provence summers in a kitchen with none of the air-conditioning we Americans think we cannot live without. I discovered that the name comes from the French word for barley, orge, because it was originally made from an almond-barley blend.
Vincent Van Gogh painted the almond blossoms. Perhaps he was startled by the blooms in what would have still been winter in 1888 or 1889.
Peter Mayle uses this entry to talk about how his house in Provence is a draw for many of his so-called friends who want to escape England and come to the sunny south of France. Since I do not own a house in Provence and can't speak to this from personal experience, I do know that I made some dear friends while living there.
The Arles 6 in 2008--
And the Goolsby clan who came at Thanksgiving 2008--
I never thought much about anchovies before living in Provence. I had no idea if I liked them or not. I found out that I do. Pissaladière, for example, a pizza-type treat made with anchovies. You can just simply make an anchovy paste, anchoïade, however to serve on toasted baguette slices to go with the pastis apéritif or you can dip raw vegetables in the anchoïade.
I took these photos in Collioure in December 2008, just before returning home from sabbatical.
3 Tbsp. olive oil
10 anchovy fillets (rinsed in water, if salted)
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
Heat the olive oil. Add the anchovy fillets and cook until melted and thickened into a paste. Add the garlic and sizzle for 30 seconds.
Spread on toasted baguette slices or use as a dip for raw vegetables.
Bon appétit, Provence! À bientôt!