Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Slice of French Life

Beaune vineyard
Last spring a friend gave me a copy of A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi. I often dream out loud about a culinary stay in Tuscany and Cindy remembered this when she came across the book in a used bookstore. I have been pleasantly surprised by the author's outlook on travel and her eccentric intellectuality (if there is such a thing). It appears that food has always been at the centre of de Blasi's career choices. From chef to food and wine consultant, and restaurant critic. Throw Italy into the mix and de Blasi is quickly inspired to put pen to paper.

It is a year ago today that Jo and I traveled to Burgundy for a month stay. It feels like a thousand years ago. I often think about it and for some reason with a tinge of disappointment. I couldn't fully understand why I felt this way and I have Marlena to thank. She philosophies about her recent move from Venice to Tuscany:

"People who search for change, new beginnings, another kind of life, sometimes imagine they'll find it all set up and ready for them simply because they've changed address, gone to live in some other geography. But a change of address — no mater how far away, how exotic — is nothing more than a "transfer". And at the first moment they look about them, they see everything they thought to leave behind has arrived with them. Everything."

With a suitcase full of familiar things I headed off for a month away. I wanted this to be my Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. Heading toward the unknown, I was determined to absorb my new life like a sponge. The object of the exercise was to live life as the French. I was not looking for a "transfer".

Sunrise from my attic bedroom

Morning view from the farm house kitchen
So, today I ask myself what I expected from this Burgundian trip:

1. to meet my neighbours and break baguette with them
2. to ride a bicyclette with a wicker basket full of French yumminess
3. to develop a food rapport with my local butcher and grocery gal
4. to visit vineyards and drink in the art of French wines and their story
5. to be blown away by a great gastronomy
6. to experience la culture française au maximum

Writing is therapeutic. As I reflect on my experience, I start to realize that most of my expectations were fulfilled. Well with the exception that a wicker basket did not adorn the handle bar of my fluo green bicyclette. It's amazing how much more one can stuff into a backpack! Baguettes et al!

Our bicyclettes in Cormatin
The grocery gal turned out to be a guy. A creepy one at that. We baptised the butcher "the child beater" -- no need to elaborate. I never got to meet my neighbours. But I certainly spied on them. I like to think of it as an exercise in observation on how "they" did things: "oh look Jo, she's hanging up laundry to dry inside... oh look Jo, she's walking her cat in the garden... oh look Jo, they're entertaining friends on the terrace... oh look Jo, their blinds are up... oh look Jo ROXANNE! Oh how I do digress.

I regret not doing a guided wine tour. That would have looked after the wine facet of things. A thousand years of French wine making in two hours. Well... maybe not. Of Burgundian wines I have this to say: my preference was for the chardonnay over the pinot noir. And who am I to pass judgement on this ancient wine region?! We visited the cooperative of the Vignerons de Buxy in Saint Gengoux-le-national and Domaine Marc Greffet in the Solutré-Pouilly region. Negligible! Not even the tip of the grapevine! But fun all the same.

The gastronomy of Burgundy was out of this world! How do the French keep such fine figures? Je ne sais pas!

Beaune Vineyard

What do they call this wall Jo? I forget...
Did I simply "transfer" my Canadian life to France? Part of it but I'm OK with that. Enjoying my morning café au lait in bed with a book and a view of the French countryside is something I do in my Canadian life. It's comforting to experience familiar things when traveling. Even the simple chore of stripping my attic room bed on "bed washing day" brought me comfort...

I vividly recall this one day... I had to drive back to the Mâcon-Loché TGV train station for the third time because I kept making the wrong train reservation. I decided to make this trip à la française. I wowed to do everything as a true native would. I dress in my best duds, scarf et al. After all the scarf is part of the native uniform. Without it, you look like a foreigner. At respectable high speed I boot down the country road to my destination in the not so French Fiat 500. In Cormatin, I cross onto the oncoming traffic lane and park the car on the wrong side of the street because that's what the natives do. I leave the car and head to the boulangerie to purchase the holy bread of the day. I'm feeling so French that I pick out a selection of viennoiserie for my sweet toothed friend: pain au chocolat, tartelette au citron... At the next town I pull into the organic épicerie to buy the ingredients to replicate a leek and goat cheese tarte that I had enjoyed making and eating at The Cook's Atelier, a fantastic cooking workshop. Back on the road I get back on track. I have traveled this road so many times that I feel like I belong. I don't need a GPS or a MAP. I am no longer a tourist. Inside the train station I head to my buddy Jacques. We have met so many times that we are on first name basis. We chat. He makes the reservation for the TGV to Paris. He asks me: "Et puis après?" and after Paris? To which I answer: "Je rentre chez-nous au Canada" home to Canada. And he responds: "Ah, mais il fera froid!" but it will be cold. Yes, November is usually cold back home. At that moment I feel a slight pang of homesickness. But I must not allow it to take over my oh so perfect French day.

Thanks for sharing this French slice of life with me Jo!

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Burgundian Culinary Experience

With fork and knife in hand I am enjoying the culinary experience that Burgundy has to offer. Le déjeuner is from 1200 - 1400. Heaven forbid should you miss it because you'll have to wait until 1900 for the next meal.

Our very first lunch was at Café La Jouvence in Saint-Gengoux-le-National: salade de lentilles, andouillete de pâte avec sauce, vin maison, fromage blanc, déssert au chocolat et café. Filled with locals including tables of tradesmen on their lunch hour enjoying a three course meal with wine. Why not! It might help with the afternoon roofing job three stories in the air!

Most memorable for Jo was La Terrasse in Cormatin. Vivid memory of our first day in Burgundy: bistro tables and blue chairs on the village sidewalk. We became regulars! Curry tagliatelles, pork cheeks, tartiflettes!

Best experience was at Le Bourgogne in Tournus. Escargots de Bourgogne to begin. These were cooked just right. Tender and not rubbery. Followed by poulet de Bresse à la crème grand-mère. Oh my. Rich, creamy white sauce with two different mushrooms and caramelized cloves of garlic. Need I say more! Just when I think I can't eat anymore, the lady brings a tray of a dozen different cheeses and plunks an empty plate in front of me. Oh dear. I pick four and beg Joanna to please help me. If this isn't enough, we order dessert. OK, one dessert to share. The best vanilla ice cream ever with sides of fresh crème Chantilly and hot chocolate sauce. Joanna dives into the fresh cream and I into the hot chocolate sauce. Everything is washed down with a pichet of white Mâcon and petit café. Three hours later, we roll out of the Bourgogne onto rue du docteur Privey. It's official, the kitchen is closed. We don't eat for the rest of the day.

While visiting Dijon and its dukes of Burgundy we popped into Le Bistrot des Halles, 10 rue Bannelier where I enjoyed oven roasted marrow bones with fleur de sel de Camargue and a risotto avec ses escargots.

Roasted Marrow Bones
Risotto avec ses escargots
We came upon La Brasserie le Carnot on a very wet Thursday afternoon in Beaune. We fell in love. It was packed but a garçon quickly instructed us to "wait by the bar" and that "a table would soon be available". The energy was delectable. This was a true French Brasserie. My Jarret du porc was memorable. Our waiter was cocky, confident and poked fun at us. I must say that I was taken aback but quickly decided to make it part of our brasserie experience.

Jarret du porc

We travelled to Lyon to drop off our friends at the Part Dieu train station. We made reservation at the Café du Jura, an authentic bouchon lyonnais. The Fodor's travel guide says "Founded in 1864 (note that the awning in the photo below indicates 1867), the rows of tables, the 1934 mosaic-tile floor and the absence of anything pretty gives this place the feel of a men's club." I rather think that instead of putting the accent on decor, this establishment puts it on the food served. This rue Tupin restaurant, note this, is closed weekends May-Sept., Sun. and Mon. Sept.-Apr. I wonder if they go to the cottage for those summer weekends ; ) ? This is a perfect example of the French Art of Schedules! One would expect a "sauf"... At the table next to us, a regular patron was enjoying her lunch. She suggested that the girolles were delicious. I ordered them for a starter and asked Benoît, le fils de la maison, to recommend a main. Sadly, it was not a great choice. The bavette de veau turned out to be a skirt of tripes. Some organ or rather that Lyon cuisine is famous for... I don't mind organs. But this was not a memorable one. Ah but the girolles were worth it. Thank goodness we reserved. Benoît turned away a dozen who had not...

Bonchon Lyonnais
Buttery girolles

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bourguignon Birding

Chouette chevêche
Rouge-queue noir

Tourterelle turque

Mésange charbonnière