Archive for the ‘…en Promenade’ Category

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Words & Wine 2010

July 16, 2010

Recently, we completed our second Vine & Wine tour.  Unfortunately I was unable to accompany the group on many of the outings.  Here are a few of my highlights.         

The first winery of the week was our neighbor, Domaine Gallety.         

Alain Gallety gave us a full tour of the caves.

 

          

One of the first producers of the AOC Cotes du Vivarais.  Their exclusivity means they are always sold out of wine to our disappointment.  So we are thrilled when they open a bottle each of their two wines, ‘Domaine Gallety’ and ‘Sy’rare’, a play on words since Sy’rare is 100% Syrah grapes and only a small amount is produced each year.         

The winery visit was followed by a tour of Viviers, a medieval village which retains most of its original buildings.         

The cathedral of Viviers, the smallest cathedral in France.

 

 After our tour, the group enjoyed a gastronomical lunch at Relais du Vivarais.  The group was off to visit  Mas d’Intras.  It was a day for local wineries and it ended with a tour and tasting at our own winery, Notre Dame de Cousignac.        

        

 We prepared dinner of wild boar.  Surprise, the meat had fur and a hoof until shortly before our guests ate it.  I’m not a fan of wild boar but Raphael prepare this one perfectly.        

        

Unfortunately this was my last outing with the group until Cassis.  I missed Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape with a tasting at Ogier;  I missed Die and Jaillance and the restaurant Le Caveau;  Jaboulet and Lyon and the amazing dinner at L’Escalin.        

And then finally Cassis.        

        

        

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Poppy princesses…

May 19, 2010

 

From my perch on the stone wall, I watch the girls pick poppy’s with their Mamie.  The girls are not looking, however, for the open flowers.  They are on the hunt for the unopened bud.  Mamie has taught them how to make poppy princesses and they are determined to make a whole kingdom of these delicate ladies. 

This is how it’s done:  pick the unopened poppy buds.  They are oblong in shape and have a fuzzy, rough texture.  You snip them below the bud leaving a small part of the stem attached.  Then you open the nodule to reveal the red petals all crinkled and delicate like a lady’s crinoline dress.  The head is made from the poppy’s center after it has lost it’s petals or as the girls prefer- you pick a poppy and de-petal it.  The center is then stuck on the bit of stem  to form the head.   

The poppy’s, or Coquelicot, line the fields and the sides of most roads each spring, sprouting up like the dandelions in the backyards of Pittsburgh.  This year, our fields are barer than usual maybe due to the cold and rain of the last few weeks.  It’s only been a day or so since I noticed fields of poppy’s while driving. 

This delicate little flower that I’ve always admired is the symbol of both sleep and death;  sleep because of the opium extracted from it and death because of its blood red color.   The corn poppy is the most common in France and is considered a badge of war as it is most abundant in fields of distressed soil.  It was the only plant life to grow in the shell shocked northern fields during World War I.  I picked my first French Poppy in front of Mt. St. Michel 18 years ago on my first visit to France and I still have it pressed between the pages of the photo album.

A ‘discussion’ is taking place near the ‘castle’ or swing set as to which poppy princess should become the queen.  The search is on as it has been decided that the queen should be made from the rare pink poppy.  This ought to keep them busy for the next hour.

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Wild violet liquor

May 10, 2010

Violets growing out of a crack in our stone wall.

 

In early March, after flipping through some old recipes and cleaning tips that I found in a book dating back to Raphael’s grandma’s generation, I got the brillant idea to make a violet liqueur.  Violets grow wild all over the winery in early spring so the timing was perfect.  I began picking handfuls as I walked around the property filling my pockets with the delicate flowers.       

The recipe calls for 500 grams of dried violet petals although it doesn’t specify if you should weigh the entire violet while still fresh, only the petals while still fresh or only the petals after they have dried.  Trust me, this makes a difference in the weight.  I chose to weigh the dried petals.  So after I picked each small handful of violets, I removed, one by one, the delicate petals placing them in a bowl to dry.       

After about two weeks of accumulating violet petals in a plastic bag on top of the refrigerator, I decided I probably had enough.  I took down my kitchen scale and emptied the petals into the bowl.  The needle barely touched 15 grams.  Most people would give up.  I became obsessed to pick enough violets to make a liquor that I can’t even drink until after baby is born.  It was obvious that I wasn’t going to find enough violets on the winery for this recipe.       

 Each time we went for a drive I scanned the roadsides for the tiny purple flowers.  I learned that they grow in humid, shady areas and frequently along stone walls or at the edge of woods.  Maybe, like the truffle mushroom and the Oak, there is even a specific type of tree they grow near.        

My jackpot of wild violets in the village of Clansayes.

 

My first big find was on my way home after buying goats cheese.  Spying a flash of purple, I pulled the car over, hoped out and filled my coat pockets with violets. Guiltily, I glanced in all directions certain some local would come walking up the road shaking a stick and yelling at me in French that I was a horrible girl stealing wild flowers from the side of the road.  But as the grams on the scale climbed I was more determined to reach the 500 mark.  Then I his the jackpot.  On my way back from visiting the statue of the Virgin Mary on the cliff above the village of Clansayes, I passed a slope of hill covered with violets.  The slope was bordered by the village stone wall on one side and hidden by trees on the road side which is why I didn’t notice the flowers on the way up.  I was in a hurry as it was almost time to get the girls from school but I couldn’t resist.  I even had a bag in the trunk.  In a rush, instead of daintily picking one or two flowers at a time, I grabbed handfuls, shoving them into the bag.         

When I got home, I set to sorting the flowers from the sticks and grass and removing the petals.  But that was not all I found in the bag.  As I opened the bag, large black spider came scurrying out at me with surprising rapidity.  I guess during the ride home, he found his way near the top of the bag and was just waiting for me to open it for him to reclaim his freedom.  I relocated furry guy outside using the dust pan.         

I discovered this baby snail in the bag of wild violets.

 

When all the petals were removed I was thrilled to see I had filled the bowl and half of a second.  I set them back on the fridge with the intention of weighing them when they were dry.  Surely now I had close to 500 grams.  The next day I weighed them only to find I had just reached the 100 gram mark.         

Do you know how many violets you need to pick to get 500 grams?  Neither do I.  After a month and a half of collecting them, I gave up.  I have about 150 grams of violet potpourri in a lovely bowl in the living room.  I’m going to leave the alcohol making to the experts in the family.        

I still wanted to try violet liquor so I recently visited the Eyguebelle Distillery not far from us in the Drôme.  They have a tiny museum that walks you through the history of the distillery which was begun by the monks of the Abbaye d’ Aiguebelle.  The visit ends at the store of course, where you can taste all the products.  In addition to the liquors, they make sirops including a violet sirop which I happily tasted.  A sirop in France is a condensed and sugared extract of a fruit or plant.  You pour a small amount into a glass then fill it with water to make a drink.  It’s a higher quality and better tasting Kool Aid.  Maybe it was just my obsession but I found the violet sirop good enough to buy a bottle along with a bottle of the violet liquor – one for now, one for after baby.

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Into the Ardeche…

April 11, 2010

    

Spring is taking its slow time arriving to Provence this year.  Yesterday, Raphael remarked that it was the first time he can remember seeing both the almond trees and cherry trees in bloom at the same time.  While the cherry trees are on time, the almond trees are late due to the long, cold winter.  Yet, spring is arriving.    

We spent yesterday in the high Ardèche where spring is still just a fantasy.  Living in my tiny southern point of the department, in the Rhone Valley and at the doors of Provence, I never quite realized how different our Ardèche is from its heart.  One main road winds its way through the most rural and rugged department of France.  Stone villages, considered some of the most beautiful in France, hang from the cliff side.  We took this road, Raphael told me, because it is the least curvy.  A fact difficult for me to believe while gripping the dashboard as we rounded bends barely large enough for two small cars to pass.  At one point, the road is considered so dangerous, the stone barrier protecting the cars from the steep descent is reinforced with a wooden beam.  Neither look to offer much security in my opinion.  After the hard winter, some places were undergoing road repair.  We passed a construction worker guiding cars by a large crane from the top of this stone barrier.  The drop behind him was steep and straight, broken up by a rare tree.  I thought of the camping car we passed earlier on the road.  Doubtful it would be able to squeeze through the tiny space.   

As we climbed higher and higher, we left spring behind along with many of those tiny cliff side villages.  Now only a sporadic house or two dotted the hills, some, it seemed to me, stuck in the crevice between two cliffs.  The villages of Antraigues and Laviolle wound in and out of our path and I watched the temperature drop on the dash…10, 5, 2 degrees and SNOW.  Mounds of snow stuck to the base of hills.  Orange posts lined the road- indications of snow depth and guides for driving in the middle of winter when the snow is at its worst.  The land was still steep and uneven and I wondered how you could possibly leave the house in winter;  the ease with which you could lose yourself on a snowy mountain.   Gone were the olive trees, the flowering almond and cherry trees.  The high Ardeche is the land of chestnut trees, and in a month or two, fraise des bois and wild blueberry’s, goat’s cheese, and saucisson.    

Horses in the mist.

   

  “I’ve never been to this part of the Ardèche,” I said to Raphael.  “Yes, you have.  When Olivia was a baby we came in the summer.  Remember,” he pointed out as we drove into one village, “the church of St. Regis.  We took a picture that day.”  Yes, I did remember.  Regis is my father’s name and this village stuck in my head.  But this rocky snow-covered mountain was certainly not the same place of the hillsides of cascading flowers and roaming sheep.  Higher we drove, Raphael slowing as we rounded a mountain pass coming into a dense fog.  It was mid morning yet when we drove back through in mid afternoon, the fog was still as thick, having never burned off.  Soon we drove out of the fog and into a land of rolling green hills, home to sheep and horses.    

The drive took almost two hours and past some of the most visited sites in the Ardèche;  the Ray-Pic waterfall and the Mount Gerbier de Jonc.  I would love to go back, in summer, to visit explore at leisure.  It’s a place, I understood, where time stands still and much is unchanged.  A land for people truly seeking escape.  No wonder people react with surprised impressiveness when they discover I live in the Ardèche.  My Ardèche is much closer in time and relation to other departments of Provence; the land of olive’s, lavender, and sunflowers.

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Picnicking with Nymphs…

March 22, 2010

 To celebrate the first sunny weekend and the start of spring, last Saturday we packed a basket with the basic necessities for a French style picnic;  baguette bread, three types of cheese, some sliced ham and pâté, a homemade fruit salad and yoghurt for dessert.  Not to forget the wine and a bottle of water.  Despite the sun, a light wind still chilled the air, and the bed & breakfast and winery grounds were too brisk to enjoy and outdoor meal.   We drove around for a while enjoying the sunny afternoon, the flowering almond trees, and the green grass thanks to the wet winter, discussing various picnic areas.  It was still damp so a picnic by the river was out.  We drove into the Drome with the intention of stopping at Grignan, a castle set atop a hill.  But the wind deterred us from that idea.  Nearing La Garde d’Adhemar we remembered the Val des Nymphs, an ancient Gallo-Roman worshiping ground where women once came to worship Nymph goddesses for fertility.       

Source

 

The grounds are hidden off a road which winds its way from Grignan to La Garde d’Adhemar.  The centerpiece is the Prieuré du Val des Nymphes , a 12th century chapel near which flow the natural sources once used in the pagan worship ceremonies.  An oasis said to possess a certain magic, a place where goddesses and Nymphs once played in the water flowing from deep in the earth.    

Prieuré du Val des Nymphes

 

The park is enclosed by the surrounding woods providing a wind free setting for our picnic.  I sat on the steps leading to one of the ponds, the sun warming my back, sharing bread and cheese with Raphael.  The girls ran free in the grassy yard, climbing trees and skipping down to the shallow ponds to dip their fingers in the chilly water.  We were alone but for one young couple nibbling on their lunch and as is the French tradition, each other from time to time.  They took no notice of us nor we of them.     

le Val des Nymphes

 

After our picnic, we wandered around the park exploring its hidden corners and discovering what was maybe once a smaller chapel in a nook in the woods.  As the afternoon wore on, we were joined by other strollers enjoying the exceptional early spring weather.  A few dogs came out to play to the delight of the girls.  An elderly couple, pant legs rolled to their knees and jackets thrown over the wall, sat in the glow of the sun, their hands resting on their walking sticks.  The afternoon moved on, the kids grew tired, and we soon left the Valley to its Nymphs and the young lovers who were still wrapped up in each other.  Did I mention the fertility part?