Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Camargue

Before I visited the Camargue for the first time in 2005, I had read a little bit about it and had seen a couple of photos.  (Googling wasn't one of my favorite past times back then.  Did Google even exist?)  But nothing could have prepared me for the beauty of this part of the south of France.  I've now been back several times and taken clients, friends, and students with me.
Pink flamingoes are everywhere.  It's a bird refuge.

Horses also call it home.

You can go horseback riding.

I had a not-so-great experience on this particular day.  I was bringing up the rear and my horse spotted a fire in the distance

and decided to turn around and bolt back to the barn.  I rolled off, ever so gracefully, I am sure, into mud, horse poop, and a rock.  I trudged back, thinking that my arm might be broken.  None of my students witnessed the fall, thank goodness (or I would have a photograph).
GBear, our driver for the day and my dear friend,
jumped into his van and headed to the pharmacie.  For what I have no idea.  The woman running the place gave me a glass of water, told me not to drink it too fast because I might throw it up and she took off to see about the horse.  I could have told her that he was fine, if she'd asked.  He wasn't the one with the very sore arm.
It wasn't broken, just badly bruised.  
I was totally alone and, since I had my phone with me, decided to call the BFF back in the States so that someone would feel sorry for me.  But did she?  No, she did not.  I immediately launched into my woeful story, telling her that if I EVER again mentioned climbing on the back of a huge Camargue horse, she was to tell me I was crazy and forbid it.  (My language was pretty colorful, as I remember, however.)  She started laughing hysterically.  So much for trans-Atlantic sympathy.
I digress.  Back to the beauty of the Camargue.  
In addition to the flamingoes and the horses, there are also black bulls roaming around.

They are the main attraction in the summer courses camarguaises held in the local arenas.

I just happened to snap this sunset one evening coming back from the Camargue.  It's the scenery, not the photographer or camera, much of the time, I am convinced.  (But that doesn't keep me from wanting a new Canon PowerShot SX40 or hoping I will win the Nikon D90 Pioneer Woman is giving away...)

And this one is from last month.  We went to Néné and Hélène's restaurant, Le Mazet de Vaccarès, for dinner.  Néné is Chef Érick's cousin.   The restaurant looks out over the water, the flamingoes, and one lone little boat.

Here is Érick taking a photo of soon-to-be newlyweds Christian and Adrienne and another lovely woman, an Italian whose name I can't remember at the moment.  Before taking up cooking, he was a professional photographer and is immensely talented.  It was so good to see him again.

I wear this necklace around my neck at all times.  I think of it as my good luck charm.

It is the Camargue cross.  It is an anchor for hope and for the fishermen of the region, a cross for faith, with the upper part of the cross in the form of the trident-shaped tool used by the gardians, the cowboys of the Camargue, and a heart for charity.  It is the emblem of the church of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.  If I ever get a tattoo, it will be this symbol.  Not that I am rushing out to do this.  I'm just saying...
The Camargue produces rice
and salt.

I typically fill my suitcase past the weight limit with a much-too-small supply of both.  When I get lucky, the airline personnel at the check-in counter ignore my extra kilo or two.  Sometimes I have to pay.  It's a roll of the dice, but a chance I am willing to take.  Of course, I usually have lavender honey, a couple of bottles of wine, and some chocolate in there, too.
Last night, I decided to put the rice to good use and make my favorite tuna-rice salad.  The BFF came to dinner. (The Ex-Ex is still away.)  Some goat cheese, crackers, rosé, and a couple of dark chocolates from Joël Durand rounded out our meal.  Trop bon.

Tarragon from my back deck garden--

Camargue Rice and Tuna Salad
adapted from one of Chef Érick's recipes

1 cup of rice, cooked (when I don't have any Camargue rice, I use whatever I have, white or brown, but the Minute Rice type isn't as good)
2 small cans of tuna in olive oil
2 Tbsp. of capers (more or less to taste)
1 can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
A few sprigs of fresh tarragon, finely chopped (or maybe 1 tsp. of dried tarragon)
1/4 c. olive oil
Juice of 1 - 1 1/2 lemons
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
Sea salt

Cook the rice according to the package directions.  Drain, if necessary.
Combine the rice, tuna with its oil, capers, tarragon, and chickpeas in a large bowl.
Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and mustard together in a small bowl and stir to combine.
Pour the dressing over the rice-tuna mixture and stir gently to coat.
Sprinkle with coarse salt, if desired.

I like this salad warm.  But not everyone does.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The dressing is good on salads of all kinds-- potato, green, other rice salads with vegetables, such as this one made by M. Pastis this summer.

M. Pastis and his lovely wife, hanging out at a café.

Bon appétit, Camargue!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Favorite French Food?

Whenever I come back from France, I am asked what about what I ate.  What was my favorite?  What was the best?  How can I possibly choose?

Lunch on the TGV on the way to Avignon?  Un sandwich jambon fromage salade bought at the Gare de Lyon before departure, a Twix bar (they are better in France, trust me), and a bottle of rosé bought in the dining car on the train?

Confit de canard et frites in a café on Rue Cler?

Soupe à l'oignon in Paris, near Notre Dame Cathedral?

Breakfast croissants and café au lait at a café near our apartment in Paris at Arts et Métiers?

Vegetable quiche in Montmartre?

Escargots à la Bourgogne?

Falafel from L'As de Falafel on the Rue des Rosiers in the Marais?

Melon and proscuitto? I ate this every chance I got since melons were in season and they are amazing in France.

Caviar d'aubergine in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon?

Salade de chèvre chaud at a café in St. Rémy de Provence?

Tarte tomate-chèvre chez M. Pastis?

Soupe au pistou chez Mme P?

Soupe aux poissons at Néné and Hélène's restaurant in the Camargue?
An omelette et frites with Normandy cider on Mont St. Michel?

Mussels prepared by our group with Arles Betty as head chef?

Zucchini-goat cheese appetizers à la Arles Betty?

Oui, I ate all these things during my two weeks in France in July.  And this doesn't include any of the desserts.  And I didn't gain an ounce.
But truly the best thing I ate?  You really want to know?  Well, it's very simple...  no 5-star Michelin restaurant.  No Alain Ducasse.
We went to visit Mme P's brother and sister-in-law up in the Ardèche.  I have a real thing for goats.  And Carole and Pierre have 40 of them.  Including some babies.  I got to feed them hay.

They make delicious cheese.

Mme P took bread, tomatoes, her mom's homemade tapenade, and some rosé.  Add fresh goat cheese and voilà...  my favorite meal while in France this time.

The taste of Provence, sitting outside in the shade of their house.
Absolument délicieux.
But perhaps the most important ingredient in all of the meals pictured in this post...  my friends.  It was the common denominator in each and every one.  My American friends, my Frenchie friends, my brand new friends, my family, my long time friends.

Bon appétit to good food and great friends to share it with!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

iPhone 5 video

From some silly reason, the BFF saw this video and thought of me.  Many thanks to Adam for clearing up my use of the iPhone for the world and the BFF for pointing it out!

Bon appétit to all food photographers out there!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Birthday and Anniversary

Today is Son #2's 20th birthday.  How on earth did that happen so quickly?  I am no longer and never will be again the mother of a teenager.  That's a blessing in many ways.  Fewer sleepless nights are on the horizon, I hope.  His big brother was so eager to hold him when we brought him home from the hospital.  I remember it clearly.  He was a punctual little thing, arriving right on his due date, much to the doctor's disbelief when I called him to report that I was in labor and that my water had broken.  (Although he did have the nerve to ask me if I was sure.  Really?  That particular doctor's shift finished before I arrived at the hospital and my favorite one was waiting to deliver Son #2.)
Unfortunately for me, though, Son #2 is not home.  He has returned to Knoxville, Tennessee, Land of the Orange.

We allowed him to take a car this year and he drove himself and most of his stuff.  Three days later we followed on I-40 to take a few more things and get a good look at the new $2.2 million Kappa Alpha house he is living in.   It is very nice.  He is his chapter's #6, the treasurer, so he gets to live there.  Not for free, though, unfortunately.

He is the tall young man on the steps.  Yes, that's my baby.  I miss you.  Happy Birthday!
Here's what my two boys look like today.  They've grown a bit, n'est-ce pas?

In addition to being his birthday, today is also the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Paris by Allied forces in 1944 after a four year occupation by the Nazis.  To say that I am grateful doesn't begin to cover how I feel.  Mme Christiane Roze Buchanan came to teach me French after marrying her American soldier and moving to the US.  France was once again free and Paris was spared Hitler's plan to blow it up.  I can visit as often as possible.  And see the fireworks on le 14 juillet when I am lucky enough to be there in the summer.

I have no idea why La Tour Eiffel is leaning in that photo.  She has not become the Leaning Tower of Eiffel.
To commemorate this date in history, I am eating French today.  I got the Ex-Ex off to his trip into the NC mountains and decided to head to the Durham Farmers' Market.
First order of business, a pain au chocolat from Loaf.  As good as any I have had in France, and I have eaten my fair share, trust me.  Today's widget horoscope did tell me to concentrate on #1 today, moi, that being self-centered for once is not a bad thing.  It suggested buying new shoes, but I prefer French pastry.

I also bought a lovely warm baguette.  I bought two ripe juicy tomatoes from one of the vendors.  I already had some goat cheese and tapenade (not Fanny's homemade stuff, but the best I could do at the moment).  I actually ventured out of Durham and over to Chapel Hill yesterday to A Southern Season to spend more of the gift card my darling advisees gave me at the end of last school year.  I picked up herbed goat cheese and a bottle of red wine from the Gard region (south of France, near Nîmes and my Frenchies).
Voilà mon pique-nique à la française!

Miam miam!

Trop bon!
My last serious task of the day-- to  make Fanny's mousse au chocolat to take to Ms. Sunshine's house for dinner.  It's not a birthday cake, but it will do.
I had to do a taste test, of course.  Wouldn't want to take untasted mousse to dinner, now would I?
You taught me well, MLQ!

Bon appétit, bon anniversaire, et bonne commémoration!