Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taking in the Provencal Village Charm of Cadenet, France

Who can resist the charm
of the plantain tree in the South of France?
I loved the idea of their legacy.
Everyone can plant a single tree
for future generations.
But do we?
Some can even plant more
and exponentially increase beauty.
I could not get enough of these trees.
They had such a peaceful quality
and their aging mottled skin inspired me.
Outside the village post office.
Notice the Liberte stamp representation
near the entrance.
A typical charming Cadenet exterior.
Shutters and windows of a certain size
are used everywhere.
In all colors.
 The inviting flowered fence (above) and 
exterior (below) of the Mayor's Office.
I believe this sign says that
Napoleon's drummer boy
was born in this home.

 I knew this famous name from history:
Victor Hugo, the author of
The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  The hardware store merchants
were neighborly.
 Sometimes it was just fun to decipher a
French sign like this one:
Maison des Anciens
Or chat up the locals.
I loved the beans hanging down
from this French vine.
The French insistence on continuing
a unified Provencal "look"
did create charm.
The cherished their Provencal history
 and prioritized it higher
than an individual homeowner's desire
to make grand changes to their houses.
The French, who prize individual liberty
as much as any American,
know that sometimes agreeing
to the common good
(in this case, strict controls on the look of housing)
creates something greater than we can do so individually.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Best View in Cadenet, France is Now Free to All

On the road to La Mourrade
there is a turn-off for the ruins
of an old chateau with the best view
of the Lubéron.
 The ruins of the old chateau include a pool.
We got a kick out the fact that it continued
to exist uncovered
when citizens have to cover
their swimming pools nightly
per EU safety regulations.
 As we walked to the chateau
we looked back toward the town of Cadenet
to take in the beautiful village steeple.
  This walk was the ultimate playground
for European children.
What child could not grow their imagination
in these surroundings?
Do you think there might be trolls down there?
  To get to the chateau when it was active
required crossing the moat.
A nice bridge helps today.
  The view of the moat and the bridge from below.
Maybe trolls lives here?
Looking down at the scenic village of Cadenet
and the nearby sunflower fields.
The view of the Luberon valley went on for miles.
It was magnificent.
Robin told me the reason this chateau
was now a ruin was the people of France
attacked it with pick axes during the Revolution.
That gave me pause.
The American people are pretty politically angry right now
but not THAT angry.
Wow, imagine what it would take for folks
to be THAT angry
they are inspired to
bring down a chateau with pickaxes.
It kind of keeps things in perspective, no?
How far do you think that is?
10-15 miles?
 Looking down at the village bells.
Jim had told me the village experimented with
eliminating them
for three months but
everyone wanted them to ring again.
When men are out in the olive groves,
they hear it ring on the hour once
but they don't catch the exact number of rings.
They then listen for the bells to ring a second time
to actually learn the exact hour.
  If it is time to go home,
they go wait
by the side of the road
for their wives to pick them up.
Even laundry is pretty in France!
We started to encounter houses as
we walked down toward the village.
 We descended into Cadenet to continue
walking around the village and to enjoy a local cafe.
May American liability lawyers never discover this place.
Ssshhh, don't tell them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is a cèpe exactly?

 Salad without "bite"
Not everything attempted in the La Mouradde kitchen turned out.  I made a beautiful salad with all of the magnificent vegetables and lettuce we got down in the market. The salad was pretty, but the dressing I put together of oil and sherry vinegar was boring.  Robin suggested it needed some mustard to give it some bite.
 A recipe that didn't work
This year, I've been trying to cook with eggplant because it is a vegetable underused by Americans, it is a staple of Mediterranean cuisine, and besides all that, it is very pretty. I tried to make a Provencal entree of roast eggplant slices, slathered in goat cheese, and covered in diced tomatoes and basil.  It was boring.  So my whole lunch was boring because both salad and entree were boring.
 Eggplant tapenade
with sliced anchovies
I swear though, in France, even the leftovers are better.  My college friend and hostess, Robin, took my uneaten eggplant dish, pureed it, and made a delicious eggplant tapenade out of it.
 Cèpes for sale at the market
She took our leftover veal roast and put it around a giant cèpe mushroom along with root vegetables and roasted them. I had never even heard of cèpes, but I have since learned from Wikipedia that they go by the name of porcini mushrooms in the States. Still, I don't believe I had ever eaten them fresh.
 The giant thing in the middle
is a large cèpe mushroom
surrounded by veal roast, potatoes,
fresh thyme and other spices.
Who doesn't like to unwrap something?
 It may look a bit of a mess
straight out of the foil,
but those veal bits and the mushroom were so moist
and the au jus was ambrosial
with the potatoes
 The end of another
satisfying meal
at my friend Robin's house.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Provencal Breakfasts to Savor

 Sunrise from my bedroom window
Cadenet, France  
It's fun to know someone 34 years and still make discoveries about them. I didn't know what an outstanding cook my Cottey College friend Robin was until this trip. 

Apricot and White Peach tart
One morning Robin asked me to make breakfast and suggested an apricot tart. "Just use the purchased puff pastry to make your crust, lay down some fromage blanc, the apricots, and voila!"  I don't think fromage blanc is sold in American grocery stores.  What a useful substance. It's a soft, creamy cheese with the consistency of sour cream. It was perfect "glue" for fresh Provencal fruit.
 Breakfast on the terrace
was such a lovely way to start the day
 Wow! Apricots warmed explode with flavor in your mouth.  Oh my, this was good.  And so simple!  We decided to keep the warmed fruit theme going.  Robin made a tart with fresh figs and fresh lavender sprinkled throughout.  The lavender was astonishing because it was such concentrated, intense flavor and then a bite of warm, yummy fig came next.  Both of these tarts were keepers! 
Fig and Lavender Tart
Apricot, white peach, and black currant tart
Another tart Robin made was with apricots, white peaches, and black currants.  The black currants had to be used judiciously because they must have had very low sugar.  But it's the warmth of those fruit flavors exploding that make these tarts so delicious.
 French omelet made with
truffle paste and ham
from the Loumarin market.
We didn't have tarts every single morning.  As someone who rarely gets pork in Istanbul, I appreciated this French omelet stuffed with ham from the market and truffle paste with a side of delicious bacon.
I learned on this trip that truffle paste is such an easy way to dress up everyday ingredients like potatoes and eggs and the result is laudable. Robin said many times during the week that Provencal cooking is "basically using wonderful ingredients and not screwing them up."

Monday, August 22, 2011

My First Provencal Market at Loumarin

If boutique farmers who sell their produce at farmer's markets in poly-cultural agricultural regions like Provence are rock stars, and the farmer's market ends up being like the rock concert where everyone comes to celebrate the farmer's productivity and applaud and purchase his or her work, it was only fitting then that our visit to a Provencal market began with a search for a parking place far from the market. My friend Robin had a long walk in to the main event as she parked our car - just like a rock concert!
We waited patiently
with fresh croissants in the cafe.
In Provence, every village has their market on a different day.  No matter what day it is you can find a small market or a big market to feed your body and soul.  The market at Loumarin seemed like the very lollapalooza of markets that I sampled.
 Shall we try the tomato tart?
Underneath the magnificent boulevard of plantain trees that past generations of French people had planted as gifts to their future citizens, the individual stalls were magnetic with smells, with visual aesthetics, with local traditional foods and products.

At each counter waiting to buy, there would be several glamourously-dressed French people who had done their part to complete the composed picture of beautiful landscape, beautiful weather, beautiful setting, beautiful products, and beautiful smells.
Mmmm, all my favorite flavors.
I bet that's goat cheese.
When a small village of less than 1,011 people can create a farmer's market that is admired throughout the world, you know it has to be spectacular.  Indeed so enticing were the products and people and smells that I was quickly overloaded with both hands full of packages within 15 minutes.  I think I probably only took in 25% of the actual market!
 Look at how beautifully they
wrap up our lemon tarts.
 Who doesn't come home from France
bubbling about the bread?
Robin would buy bread from this baker
and his daughter every week.
Nougat of Provence
a famous specialty made with
honey, sugar, egg whites, and almonds.
French macaroons!
 French cheese in all of its
spectacular variety
Thinly-sliced ham
to take home
Doesn't this make you want to find
an exotic recipe for each exotic spice?

 Remember when grocery stores
doubled their pepper offerings
by offering both white and black pepper?
Yes, you wouldn't be wrong
to think it would be awfully hard to choose
between 18 different peppers.
Tomato, fig, cherry, apricot
jams and marmalades.
Our biceps burned! There is so much more to this market I didn't get to photograph because how can you lift your camera when you're loaded down with goodies?  Were I to go back, I would love to buy every member of my family a Provencal tablecloth.  Their cheery designs are so specific to Provence and the prices are a wonderful value.

There were also olive and mushroom tappanades that would have been lovely to take home to Istanbul, beautiful handmade soaps, especially those made with redolent Provencal lavender, plus thousands of chi-chi straw "market" shopping bags.

I also didn't experience the fish counter because, well, that was an endurance test all in itself.  All of France goes on vacation simultaneously every August, they could have all been in line at that fish stall! And this wasn't even the weekend.
Later that night:
Beef steak recommended by the Cadenet butcher
as his own personal favorite cut,
slathered in mushrooms and onions,
with hericots verts (thinner French green beans)
& mashed potatoes laced with truffle paste.
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