Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

Turning a duck’s liver…

December 10, 2010

…into a silken slice of ambrosia.

‘Tis the season of gourmet delicacies – truffles, oysters and foie gras – perennial stars of les fêtes de fin d’année. The seductive/repellant duality of these acquired tastes is undeniable.  There’s an unsettling aspect either to their appearance, texture or how they are produced, which heightens the guilty pleasure of consumption; earthy truffles detected by a pig’s snout, fresh oysters ingested essentially alive, and the incomparably subtle flavor of a force-fed duck’s swollen liver.

Working on French Country Hideaways, which features several properties that produce foie gras and truffles, I stopped short of hands-on involvement.  So when friends proposed an atelier foie gras offered by Maison Perrin, a small Touraine producer, I was all in.  I always found purchasing foie gras a challenge with so many variations and pricing inconsistencies. Numerous French friends prepare it at home, but I envisioned a complicated ritual.

Maison Perrin is a farm in La Celle Guenand, near Le Grand Pressigny, owned by Valérie and Philippe Charcellay.  Its remote location conjured images of a convivial country kitchen with our intimate group gathered round a worn trestle table scattered with earthenware terrines, warmed by the glow of an open hearth.  The destination conformed to expectation, as did a modest shop with hand woven baskets suspended from the ceiling, shelves stocked with conserved duck dishes from cassoulet to rillettes and a cold case stacked with vacuum-packed magrets, lobes of foie and jars of foie gras mi-cuit.  Maison Perrin

It was startling to discover that the idyllic kitchen was actually a chilly white tile and stainless steel laboratoire, where to match EU standards, the ambiance exuded the charm of a hospital canteen annexed to a morgue.  Comfort was not to be part of our experience.  The temperature had to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  I regretted forgoing the long underwear and fur-lined boots I’d considered because of snowy weather.  Gloves weren’t an option, but mercifully we got to warm our hands intermittently under a steamy tap.

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Another French Exception. You are how you eat.

November 23, 2010

Tuesday November 16, Unesco added the French gastronomic meal to its world heritage roster of intangible cultural treasures. Wednesday, Le Monde.fr published a potpourri of reader responses to the announcement.  There was general consensus that the honor recognizes France’s devotion to the convivial meal shared around a table, as much as its rich, varied culinary heritage.  lemonde.fr

Le Monde.fr readers readily acknowledged that France doesn’t have a monopoly on gourmet cuisine.  Most Mediterranean countries take pride in the quality of their native cooking and the importance of making time to sit down twice a day for a meal shared with family or friends, but as an international symbol of culinary arts and l’art du table, France is unrivaled.

When the subject came up at a dinner we attended Saturday night, guests chimed in.  One felt Italian cuisine deserved to be included.  The idea was quickly dismissed.  “They eat virtually the same thing every day.  It’s delicious but they don’t have as much variety as we do”.  Italy couldn’t compete in the cheese stakes.  Pasta shapes and gelato flavors don’t count and besides, you can sample hundreds of macaroon flavors in Paris.   One woman, a psychologist, claimed Unesco was citing the ritual progression of a French meal,  “entrée, plat, salade, fromage et dessert”. Infinite variety within the context of a codified set of courses – which was precisely what our meal had been – fish soup, served with croutons and grated cheese followed by filet de boeuf en croute with glazed onions and roast potatoes, green salad, three impeccably ripe cheeses and spiced apple compote with crème anglaise.  Coffee naturally served in the salon. Read More »

Tamariu, Costa Brava

September 26, 2010

Sensing a wince of regret. Certain places you hesitate sharing, like the stellar friend you’re reluctant to introduce around for fear of diluting your quota of their affection. So I’ve stalled, but failed to repress sparkling flashbacks of Tamariu’s low key charm and exceptional setting.

Sampler of its seductions:

Clearest European seawater I’ve experienced that isn’t icy cold.

Kaleidoscopic trove of softly rounded stones at water’s edge you can’t resist pocketing.

Family tableau featuring three generations of women reclining in scant bikinis or topless – looking more comfortable in their skin than modesty police could bear.

Vertiginous hike along the shoreline to a beach shack bistro one cove over, accessible only by foot or boat.  Clambering over rocks, then up and down a narrow path along the pine shaded precipice.  Unfortunately it was off-season and the kitchen closed just as we scrambled down the hot cliff side at 14h30.  Settled for scrumptious potato chips, a cool San Migel and marveling at the craggy scenery, before confronting the half hour return trek.

Tamariu is fishing village resort gem – crescent moon beach ringed by a boardwalk with a couple of shops and a few more restaurants, all cradled within a backdrop of rocky coastline and a steeply rising pine-covered hillside.
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Manoir de la Pagerie

August 19, 2010

Manoir de la Pagerie in Ternay, a Rhone Valley town of 4000, 15 minutes from Lyon and 10 from Gallo Roman Vienne, is more suburban oasis than “Country Hideaway”  – a cool respite from the encroaching metropole and convenient base for sampling the cultural and culinary attractions of the region.

Once through the entry gate, you’re swept into an improbably lush park shaded by centennial trees, with a pool discreetly nestled behind a tall hedge. Don’t be put off by the impression created from the street, where the house appears to be row of homes. The owners have resisted renovating the street facing facade to discourage unwanted attention.

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Spitalfields Market in London’s East End

August 14, 2010
spitalfields images

Spent a few days in London mid June –  a trip I try to manage every few months.  Between Ryan Air flights from Tours to Stansted and the EuroStar train, the voyage is rapid, convenient and inexpensive (when booked in advance). London’s enormous size, combined with its dense history, vibrant contemporary culture and the most international flavor of any capital I know – offer infinite fields of discovery and this time, on advice from an artist friend,  I set off to explore around Old Spitalfields Market, www.visitspitalfields.com – London’s trendy-with-grit fashion/foodie/flea market hub. Liverpool Station is a convenient Tube stop.

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