Saturday, October 16, 2010
Ah, the best laid plans . . . I know, I’m behind on my Provence details, because we’ve been having such a lovely time, though the weather hasn’t been as warm as we had hoped. Yes, we’ve been eating, drinking, talking, reading, walking, laughing, etc. Wonderful villages, beautiful countryside, not any real progress learning any French. We try, but it’s a hilarious effort!
I left you in St. Remy on Monday, walking around with the Van Gogh “stations of the cross”. Tuesday, we drove to Aix-en-Provence to the market, met our Chef Daniel and walked around the mouth-watering stalls of food, while he carefully chose the ingredients for our dinner that night. Small shiny aubergine, my favorite color. (Eggplant, that is). And zucchini. Girolles and sep (mushrooms to die for), some sea bass, goat cheeses, pears, and honey. Then he went off to the villa to begin preparation for our evening meal while we found a lovely restaurant for lunch (I’ll get the card from my stash and enter the name here soon) and agreed to do a bit more market looking/shopping before we met at the cars at 3:30 to return to the villa.
Later that afternoon, Daniel set out cutting boards and sharp knives for each of us and we chopped and sliced, stirred and tasted, according to his direction, finally sitting down to our evening meal, accompanied by sparkling wine, white, rose, and red.
Of course we again went to our bedrooms stuffed to the gills, I with a cup of tea in my hand.
Wednesday, October 13. The winery St. Esteve de Neri, owned and operated by our villa hosts, Allan and Alexandra (Alex) Wilson, was our destination today. This morning we didn’t have to leave very early, and we took the opportunity to lounge around the kitchen table in our pajamas before heading to St. Esteve. The winery is located outside Ansouis, so we drove through a charming two-level village called Bonnieux, then Lourmarin, and finally approached Ansouis and turned into the vineyard property.
Allan was awaiting our arrival and we got a short tour of the lower levels, where the enormous stainless steel vats hold the wine before it is bottled. We then had a bit of a lesson in tasting, with one white wine, one rose, and three reds. Just as we finished our tasting, Helen, Alex’s sister and our chef from last Saturday evening, rang the tasting room to say that our lunch was waiting for us on the patio of the Wilsons’ home.
Walking from tasting room to home patio, we passed the vineyard again, complete with turning leaves, garden cats, and that smell of the countryside nothing else can duplicate. Our table was set with delicious fresh tomatoes from the garden, olives, fish cakes, roasted chicken and fingerling potatoes, and the richest chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted. Since I’m not a chocolate fan (I know, I know . . . ) I bestowed my portion of dessert on a chocoholic fellow traveler!
Later in the afternoon we stopped in Rousillon for a short visit, and marveled at the red and ochre cliffs surrounding this picturesque village. We decided we’ll have to return tomorrow.
Thursday, October 14, all but one of our group headed south again, this time in brilliant sunlight, toward Cassis, a small town on the French Riviera. The coastline is gifted with calanques, the fjords of this area. You can take a boat ride to visit the calanques or just sit on the boardwalk at a restaurant and watch the water. I chose to do the latter because I’ve seen the calanques from the water, and I’m a bit motion sick to say the least. So while the women embarked on a five-calanque ride, I sat at an outside table with a delicious plate of boef tartare, its presentation deserving of a photo or painting, but alas, I dug into it before I remembered that I had a camera.
I took out my Kindle, sipped my red wine, and savored the most delicious tartare I’ve ever eaten. It came as a ground up raw patty of beef, with a trio of minced onions, capers and parsley surrounding it. A raw egg topped the beef and I mixed all the ingredients into a most tempting mess on the plate. Then lovingly slathered bits of the tartare on fresh crusty bread and closed my eyes, savoring every bit of my light lunch. The waiter asked about dessert and I began to shake my head, but then asked what he had to offer. In the list of possibilities, the words “flan caramel” caught my attention and I ordered a slice. Exquisite!!! With a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream, drizzled with the same caramel sauce that bathed the flan.
When my traveling companions returned on their boat, THEY were hungry, though I was now completely stuffed, and happy. So I sat with all of them while they had their share of real French Fries, crepes, and salads. Another hour of exploring shops through the harbor walk, a cafe au lait with Kay, and we were back in our cars, negotiating the roads from Cassis through Aix to our sleepy town of Goult and down the long dirt road toward our villa.
No one was famished that evening, but I made a huge pot of chicken vegetable soup, with herbs de Provence right from the source! Salad and some of that incredible crusty bread and we were full, warm and happy.