Taking a Break

By the time you read this, I’m sure it’s afternoon nap or siesta time somewhere.

summer afternoon nap by the pool

We’ll probably need one following our night flight tonight.  I wonder what insects will be there to greet us?  In any case, I’ve packed the mosquito creams to throw off the scent of a sweet-blooded Scot!

French garden

My favourite perfectly harmless insect in Provence is the cigale. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen my tiny video of the cigales singing in the trees. As soon as the temperature drops to around 24°C, the singing stops but I can tell you that heatwave evenings with us all chattering around the table, we needed to shout above their chirping, as if in some Provençal open-air night club.  The noise resembles someone cleaning their teeth with a bionic toothbrush at full speed – and it’s constant.

Standing by the olive trees

Even our friends from further north were intrigued by the cigales’ constant rhythm, as it’s something typical to Provence in France. It can be a real holiday pastime just trying to study and catch them jumping around in the trees.

We found one taking a break by the pool.  It’s a pretty rare sight to see them up so close. I think I prefer their souvenir versions, though, found in boutique shops in Provençal villages, in the guise of ceramic decorations.

Cigale close-up in Provence

Like the Parisians in summer, it’s time for us to take a break too.

Thank you for following, for sharing, for all of your lovely – and above all, motivating – comments.  I look forward to returning with more stories and have plenty of sweet treats to share from you in Paris  soon.

I don’t know if I’ll have access to a computer or WiFi but if you follow me on Instagram, I’ll be sure to post there first and I’ll show you where I am. If you leave a comment, I’ll be sure to post it when I can.

A très bientôt, my friends!

An Avignon Summer Festival Taste plus an Aubergine Tart

I love Avignon at any time of year. Come windy mistral weather to the cigales singing in the plane trees to announce the intensity of summer heat, the atmosphere is always lively.  But come July, when Avignon is in full festival swing (usually the second and third weeks in July), it takes on an even more upbeat ambience.

Avignon festival summer streets

It’s just buzzing. Even the shops go theatrical and arty.

Resident-poet-Avignon-summer-festival

I was too shy to stop and ask this poet what he thought about it all.  What would you have asked him?  I mean, how do you start a conversation with a public poet or Poete Public? I was never great at poetry at school.  Were the bikes behind him a quick escape route for people like me?

Avignon theatre festival France

This lovely lady must have felt rather hot in her fancy dress.  She was approaching as many possible theatre-goers as she could, showing off her bubbly character.  At the Avignon Festival, plays are constantly being performed and so be prepared to have leaflets thrust in your hand and explanations of the plays taking place. You could easily spend a week here just trying to fit them all in!

Avignon summer festival

As I was gazing up at the old buildings, my friend Sandrine just couldn’t resist these colourful head bands. Not are there theatre touts but the back-streets are full of temporary stalls of fashion accessories, musical instruments, books and silky or cotton Provençal looking tops and dresses.

Head band stall shops in Avignon festival

Just when you least expect it, a human advert for a show appears – here in the guise of a tandem and two rather well-dressed gentlemen hooting an old-fashioned horn.

Avignon summer festival theatre

Did I tell you that the posters for each show are plastered absolutely everywhere?

Avignon summer festival

Hamlet in 30 minutes? I wonder if Shakespeare would have approved of his play being fitted in to accommodate the others in a day.

Hamlet theatre in 30 minutes

Just around the corner, a judge and a couple of reporters were touting for another show, causing havoc in the middle of a restaurant as confused and amused lunch clients were treated to a quick show in rue des Tenturiers.

stage play trailer in restaurant Avignon

Perhaps this was the culprit disguised, running back to Paris? He was so fast when I took this shot that I didn’t manage to catch his training shoes at the bottom.  I thought it was hilarious – obviously the locals were getting used the scene: not an eyelash blinked.

Festival spirt in the streets of Avignon

Lunchtime? Time for us girls to head back to the ranch and see what the men were up to.  Barbecue lit ready for the Auvergne sausages? Check.  Rosé chilled? Check – even with ice cubes during a heatwave.

rose wine with ice cubes in Provence

During the apéritif, Valérie rustled up something quick and deliciously provençal in her kitchen with this light aubergine and tomato tart using filo pastry.

Aubergine tomato and filo pastry tart Provence

Aubergine Tart

Recipe adapted with more instruction by myself from the new “Happi Food” French Magazine (special edition of Happinez N°1).

Serves 6

3 small aubergines or one large
3 large sheets filo pastry
100g butter, melted
100g small Roma tomatoes, cut in 2
2 eggs
500g crème fraîche
150 feta cheese
150g Greek yoghurt
1/2 tsp rosemary
Pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas mark 6). Cut the aubergines into slices of about 2cm thickness.  Sprinkle them with salt in a colander and leave them to give out their liquid for about 15 minutes. Rince them and sponge them with kitchen paper.

2. Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil and place them directly on a baking sheet.  Bake for about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, brush 3 large filo pastry sheets (about 40 x 40 cm) with melted butter (or olive oil) and place them one on top of the other in a round tart tin of 22-24cm diameter.   Take out the aubergines and leave them to cool.  Turn down the oven temperature to 180°C (360°F/Gas mark 4).

4. Cover the filo sheets with the aubergine slices and slices of tomato.  Whisk the eggs, crème fraîche, feta and Greek yoghurt. Add the rosemary and a few turns of the pepper mill.   Cover the vegetables with this mixture and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Serve hot with a green salad.

Aubergine and tomato tart recipe

My version isn’t nearly as pretty, but as we’re heading off on holiday tonight, I made a version of this using the leftovers in the fridge and it was simple and so tasty.  I used only one large aubergine, one coeur de boeuf large tomato and sprinkled it with thyme and parsley. Next time, I’m definitely making it with the filo pastry (I used ready-made all butter puff pastry).

Thanks for the most delicious weekend, Valérie and Hervé, and cheers to you, my readers!

Discovering the Chocolate Alphabet in St Rémy-de-Provence (Part 2)

Continuing our morning walk, you can really feel Vincent Van Gogh’s presence in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Reminders of his paintings appear when you’re least expecting it.

Van Gogh portrait St Remy de Provence

Vincent was fascinated by the enormous plane trees; they’re dotted all around town, providing welcome shade here at the Mairie or town hall.

Town hall of St Remy de Provence

I love getting lost in the back-streets, especially when they’re as old as this – do you?

Old streets of St Remy de Provence

Always look up at the buildings.  I could have missed this Hospital established in 1646.  Look at the scallop shell (Saint Jacques) above the doorway. Although no hanging around – I could have missed our friends who were pressing on with a delicious destination in mind.

Hospital St Jacques in St Remy de Provence

We were heading to the most exquisite chocolate shop in boulevard Victor-Hugo.  I’d heard of Joël Durand as a chocolatier (seen in La Grande Epicerie in Paris), so when I saw this sign at the entrance of his boutique, I was confused.  Parfumeur?

Joel Durand Provence Perfume and chocolate maker

Joël Durand not only makes his signature Chocolate Alphabet (l’Alphabet des Saveurs), in which each letter represents the most delicious concoction of dark or milk chocolate perfumed with spices, provençal herbs, flowers or fruit to name a few, but he also creates a chocolate Eau de Toilette and scented chocolate candles.

Joel Durand chocolate shop St Remy de Provence

His ice creams are also welcome during these soaring summer temperatures. The day’s specials were chocolate with violet, white chocolate with mint, chocolate with a liquorice stick.

Provence cigale or cicada in chocolate

Joël Durand also honours the local cigales in the form of milk chocolate lavender or dark chocolate with rosemary. I’m also looking forward to tasting his Coriscan cédrat marmalade, salted caramel, plus some vanilla coated almonds on return from our travels but right there on the spot, Valérie and Hervé insisted we try out a selection of Joël Durand’s alphabet chocolates.

Plane trees in Provence

Just next door was the perfect solution to have a chocolate tasting: a wine bar (21 Chai d’Oeuvre) with tables in the shade of more plane trees and leafy vines, as we realised the chocolates would melt in a matter of minutes in temperatures approaching 100°F/ 38°C!

ham and cheese platter in Provence

A platter of charcuterie and cheeses just hit the spot with some chilled local Equinox rosé wine before tasting a selection of Joël Durand’s chocolates from the alphabet.  As Valérie enjoyed V for Violet, we watched our Ps and Qs: P for Provence (almond pralines with black olives from the Baux valley) and Q for Châtaigne (milk chocolate with chestnut liqueur from the Ardèche – or should that be the Q-Ardèche?). My favourites were G and L: G for Guyane with 41% milk chocolate, crunchy nutmeg and cinnamon with a slight hint of lemon zest; and L for Lavender and 41% milk chocolate.

Y, O, Y didn’t I get all the way to Z? I’ll try out the rest on my next trip to La Grande Epicerie in Paris.

Joel Durand Chocolate Perfume maker Provence

Who could resist the wine bar’s humour presented at the bottom of the blackboard?

Le Calin de Titi … offert (the hug from Titi is free)
La Rire de Bruno …. offert (Bruno’s laugh is also on the house)
L’addition du Frank … PAS offert (the bill from Frank is NOT free)

Provence town of St Remy

That was our lunchtime apéritif.  Original with the chocolate but hey, when in Provence during a heatwave, we need a plan B (incidentally, B is for Badiane: dark chocolate with flower of star anise).

Empty carousel in Provence

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence was closing up for siesta time.  It was time for the kids’ naps.

St Remy de Provence

And ours after lunch, dreaming up what Valérie would cook for another Provençal dinner!  Now that’s another delicious story.

Joël Durand, Chocolatier

3 boulevard Victor-Hugo
13210 Saint Rémy de Provence

Tel: 04 90 92 38 25
Open seven days a week!


 

As I’ll be going on holiday this week, posting and responding to your welcome comments will be rather erratic (depends if I can get to a computer!), so please don’t forget to subscribe to posts (see right bar) so that you don’t miss them.  It’s also easy to follow me on my travels on instragram.

 

Best Pastries in St Rémy de Provence (Part 1)

What? You’ve never been to St Rémy de Provence? Valérie plopped frozen raspberries instead of ice-cubes in her refreshing homemade citronnade. She always has brilliant ideas. Would we just stay by the pool and chat during our long-awaited Bastille holiday weekend visit, or should we venture out in this heatwave and have a bit of culture next morning?

citronnade homemade

I felt embarrassed. How could I have visited the parents-in-law in their Saignon village since 1992 and not even discover one of Provence’s most picturesque villages just south of Avignon?  But, in our defence, when we visit family in the south we don’t do the touristy things. We do what the family does: either sit around the house and chat, watch the Tour de France in the cool indoors, take “kid-naps” or have rustic picnics around the Mont Ventoux.

Provencal village France

So before we knew it, Antoine and I were whisked off to the town where Van Gogh spent the last year of his life in 1889, painting his blockbusters like Irises and Starry Night while at the psychiatric centre at the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole.

St Remy de Provence

There are no cars in the centre of the town, which makes walking around an extra relaxing pleasure.  Street names are in Provençal, with the town’s coat of arms.

Nostradamus St Remy de Provence

A must stop is at the fountain of Michel Nostradamus, celebrating the famous astrologer, apothecary and seer born here in 1503. His world predictions are best known in his publication, Les Propheties, which has rarely been out of print since the first edition came out in 1555.

Floral wall in Provence

I wonder if he predicted that his home town would be filled with some kind of curiosity shop around many a corner?

Shops in St Remy de Provence

Or ice cream shops too?

St Remy de Provence France

Or restaurants serving typical provençal dishes with a base of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and served with the local chilled rosé during the summer?

Bicycle in Provence

Valérie predicted that I’d be making for Michel Marshall’s pâtisserie in the heart of town, in Place Joseph Hilaire.

Patisserie st Remy de Provence

Michel Marshall’s exquisite artistic pastries were disappearing fast. No wonder – this talented pastry chef has worked previously with Pierre Hermé at Ladurée and with Philippe Conticini at Le Pétrossian before eventually opening his own boutique, just like the others. Had Van Gogh been around, I wonder if he would have painted them? In any case, I’d say that Michel Marshall is the Van Gogh of Pastry here – and predict more boutiques opening.

Michel Marshall best patisserie in St Remy de Provence

Overheard in the shop was a guide taking around American visitors – just what I do with the chocolate, pastry and macaron walks with Context in Paris, St Germain-des-Prés. Valérie encouraged me on, otherwise I was in danger of pretending I was in the group and tasting like the others – especially as I had my eye on a savoury pastry.  My hand must have been shakily excited too as the photo was terrible so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine that the artistic topping was a giant basil leaf.

French pastry shop window

Then I found myself lingering around another pastry shop. This time with over-sized lemon meringue tarts, giant macarons, and violet Réligieuses: one bite-sized choux puff placed on top of a bigger one and filled with fragranced pastry cream.  Recipes for all of them are in Teatime in Paris: A Walk Through Easy French Pâtisserie Recipes.

Patisserie in St Remy de Provence

Stumbling on another boutique, named so prettily, “The Pastry Chef’s Daughters”, it was more of a curiosity shop. Although, don’t show that you’re too curious; the shiny-muscled pastry chef was looking rather suspiciously from the window above as he was tucking into his lunch.

Busker in Provence playing the marimba

Sounds are also pretty different in Provence.  Above the trickling of the fountains, it’s sometimes deafening to hear the cigales or ciganes singing rhythmically screeching in the trees.  I took a video of it and will share it with you next time.  Over them, we listened to a busker playing in the shade of the plane trees.

Provence shop window with cuddly bears

Window boxes are remarkably sweet in the town hall square.  This is when I lost the others while getting carried away taking photos. Does that often happen to you too?

They had already headed towards the chocolate shop.  Let’s catch up with them on Tuesday, so join me then on the rest of our walk in St Rémy de Provence, to discover chocolate!

A Taste of Provence with Chickpea Spread

This view is from my parents-in-law’s house in the Luberon, the heart of Provence. It has always been special, whatever time of year; as in this picture, even if the pretty lavender from the fields has been harvested in August, watching the smoke rise from the distillery’s chimney down below conjures up all sorts of ideas as to what uses we have with lavender oil. (Which reminds me, I must share a lovely lavender cream recipe with you next.)

But today we’re going savoury for a change and thinking of the French’s favourite time before dinner: the apéritif. And as we’re heading to Provence this weekend to see good friends, I’m “spreading” the holiday mood with you and opening the rosé wine.

View from Saignon in Provence

This winding road takes us from Saignon to Apt, a popular Provençal market town. On summer Saturdays it transforms from sleepy town into a giant beehive of swarming tourists amongst the locals in every street and hidden nook and cranny, as we dodge past the buskers and look for the best olives, tapenade, honey, vegetables, cheeses and garlic, to name a few.

When we shop at the market, my Corsican mother-in-law and I have very different items in our shopping baskets. One of them is she doesn’t use much garlic and heaven forbid if I add any raw garlic if she is to join us. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles at her place.

garlic at the Provencal market of Apt

Ail, ail, ail!

I also love stocking up on good olive oil. Here is one of the popular olive market stalls.  Just be aware of scams. There are stands that exist that don’t sell the genuine article so ensure that you look for the quality label, AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) on decanted 3-5 litre plastic containers.

Olive stand at the market in Apt Provence

On the other hand, our good friends adore garlic and the local specialities. So when they invited us for lunch “up the road”- passing the villages of Rousillon and Bonnieux – we knew it would be a Provençal treat. Valérie is the most wonderful cook. Her recipes are not only eleven out of ten on the tasty scale but they are above all simple, using the freshest of good quality local ingredients. This means there’s just enough time to have a dip in the pool.

Provence swimming pool with olive trees

As the chilled rosé is opened before the meal, Valérie produces something different each time. Last time she brought out Poichichade (pron: pwah-sheesh-ad).  It’s rather like Lebanese-style Hummous or Humus.  In Provence it’s served as an apéritif accompanied by fresh toasted thin slices of baguette and fresh crudités or vegetable sticks. Not only was it rather addictive, but it also contained a good punch of garlic, using both cooked garlic and just one fresh clove at the end to give it that touch of Provence!

Julie and Lucie were itching to make it so much as soon as our return last time, I didn’t even have time to run out and get dried chick peas!  Dare I even say it?  We used handy tinned/canned chick peas (pois chiches).  I took a quick photo of it and although it was good (and er, yellower), it wasn’t a patch on Valérie’s.  I added some parsley to make up for the different texture, even if the garlic packed a punch.  What was wrong?  We should have taken the time to soak dried chick peas.  It’s far creamier and smooth.

Apologies for this photo.  I did it quickly, as the heat was so intense last night that I didn’t manage to do a photo staging: instead just helped myself to a glass of chilled rosé and had a taste before anyone came home!

Chickpea spread or French poichichade

La Poichichade – Provençal Chickpea Spread

Thanks to my friend, Valérie for the recipe. Please do use dried chickpeas and not the ones in tins: believe me, the taste is completely different.  The hardest part is just remembering to soak them in advance!

Pre-soaking time: 12 hours (or overnight)
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Cooling/Chilling time:  30 minutes

250g dried chickpeas (soaked overnight in water)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 + 1 cloves garlic, peeled
bay leaf
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp tahini paste (optional)
3 tbsps olive oil
salt & pepper

1.  Leave the dried chickpeas to soak overnight in water.

2. Next day, rinse well. Rub them between your hands to release the skins, discard the skins and rinse again using a sieve.

3. Transfer the sieved chickpeas to a heavy based pan.  Add enough water just to cover the chickpeas and add a teaspoon of  bicarbonate of soda (this makes them easy to digest).  Add 3 large cloves of garlic and the bay leaf.  Cover and cook over a low-medium heat for 45 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, skim off any impurities that rise to the top and also discard of any more chickpea skins.

4.  When cooked, drain the chickpeas and garlic, discard the bay leaf, and leave to cool for 15 minutes.

5.  Mix the chickpeas using a hand blender or mixer with the rest of the ingredients (adding the extra clove of garlic – or even more to your taste but beware – could be potent!), dribbling in the olive oil gradually until you have a good dipping consistency.  Chill for about 15 minutes.

Spoon into a bowl and drizzle with more olive oil.  Add some sesame seeds, smoked paprika or fresh parsley.  Serve with slices of good baguette, radishes, cucumber and carrots. Oh and chilled rosé – cheers!

Chickpea Spread or French poichichade - Hummous from Provence

Well I’m off to pack. I wonder what Provençal recipes I can return with this time?  Let me leave you with a view of last year’s fireworks display for Bastille Day celebrations on 14th July.

Wishing you all a wonderful long Bastille weekend from a hot and sunny Paris. Cheers!  See you in the South on Instagram.

Fireworks-Paris-Bastille-Day

Keeping Cool in a Provence Village Heatwave

Place de la Fontaine

We’re just back from Charles de Gaulle airport, dropping off our eldest for an adventure away from the nest for TWO weeks. Julie confirmed I’m a fussy mum. Have you got your identity card? Don’t forget this form and remember to … “Don’t worry. I’ve got it, Mum!”

To calm down on the way home, we called Antoine’s parents.  They are in a different world in the south.  As we were talking, stuck in Parisian traffic, they were sitting looking at this view from under the shade of an oak tree in their quiet Provençal village of Saignon.

Panoramic view of Castellet village Provence

Over the past week, this heatwave has continued to hit us hard in Paris. One way to keep our cool indoors is ensuring the shutters are closed: that’s something that my mother-in-law fusses about – even more than me.

Another rule in the south is to take an afternoon nap, or sieste. Call me a rebel, but that’s when I normally sneak out of the sleepy house and head into the village.  Although there are over 1000 habitants, as you can see from the photos I took on our last summer visit in August, most people head indoors during the hottest part of the day.  For me, it’s paradise. Even the cats were sleeping indoors.

shuttered windows in a Provencal village

Turning the corner from their driveway just underneath the imposing rock in the village, the only sounds are the drumming of the cigales (cicadas) hidden in the trees and, gradually going up the steep slope towards the church, the sounds of trickling water come from a small communal washing place or Lavoir, as if stepping back into another century.

Lavoir washing place Provence

I have always loved the chairs just outside some of the front doors.  They’re for the neighbours to gossip, chat, exchange recipes, perhaps?

Provencal village street

As you gradually climb up the village, which is 500m above the market town of Apt, many of the picturesque houses date back to the 16th century. Gargoyles included on some. The cars are far more modern…

Vintage car in Provence

This 12th Century Roman Church of Notre Dame (also known as Saint Mary of Saignon) reminds us of Julie’s very windy Christening there 14 years ago (where did the time fly?) and many other family events, joyous and not as much.

Eglise de Saignon in Provence

Just behind the church, the cinema had prepared the chairs for the night’s viewing. I guess cushions would be a good idea.

outdoor cinema in Provence

It’s also at the back of the church that the steps lead to the imposing rock in the village.  It’s not that much of a climb but we heard the story about some adventurous tourists that had to be rescued from a helicopter, as they went off track.  As you can imagine, the neighbours chatted about this one for a while.

Walk to the rock in the Provencal village of Saignon

This is only the back view of the rock.  On the other side, the view is over the Luberon valley.

Back of the rock Saignon Provence

This is where I found people!  So quickly making my descent, headed for the main lavoir in the village’s centre, the Place de la Fontaine. Just imagine the locals from another era all gathering around here, doing their washing and catching up on the latest news…

Lavoir Saignon Provencal village

with this as their view.

pretty fountain in the village of Saignon, Provence, France

Keep your cool and have a lovely week!  I’m looking to sharing some easy yet delicious recipes from my friends in Provence.  You up for a touch of garlic?