Monday, December 31, 2007

Seen In Provence

A few more miscellaneous shots taken on our Provence trip in 1993. As I've mentioned, many of the slides are out of order and I can't remember where I took some of them. Maybe Ken can?

A cat and a downspout.

A blue window and streetlight.

Wide open windows let in the summer breeze.

*****
This is the final post of 2007. I had an unofficial goal of posting once for every day this year and I've done it - 365 posts in 2007!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Toits À Séguret

Séguret is built against the steep flanks of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains in the Vaucluse. It's a very small place, mostly filled with tourists these days, and is designated as un des plus beaux villages de France (one of France's most beautiful villages).

Vineyards in the valley below Séguret, and part of the Dentelles de Montmirail in the distance.

Because the streets are essentially terraces that cling to the hillside, there are beautiful views out over the town's clay tile rooftops at nearly every turn. Hence the title of today's post (toits = roofs).

The town is also, along with nearby towns Sablet and Gigondas, known for a quality wine production as one of the Côtes du Rhône Villages wines. Séguret's principle varietals are grenache noir, syrah, carignan, cinsault, and mourvèdre (reds and rosés), and clairette, roussanne, and bourboulenc (whites).

Much of the town has been restored and there are souvenir shops and artist studios. Not so many as to ruin the place, but you can tell that Séguret has its fair share of day trippers.

The day we were there, however, there were very few people around. It felt as though we had the whole town to ourselves. We wandered and took pictures.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bonnieux, Again

A few more images of Bonnieux for your viewing pleasure. Since my slides are out of order, these showed up after I had already posted some other images of this town.

Bonnieux seen from below.

From our house in Mérindol, there were two ways to get over the hill to the valley where these little hill towns were perched. We could west and around the mountain near Cavaillon, or we could drive east and cut through the mountain on a winding road that went through a pass.

There's always a view to be had in a hill town.

The winding pass road was much more scenic and we frequently used it. It spit us out right at the foot of Bonnieux, so we got to see it a lot.

This dog was napping in the shade, on cool stone, to escape the warm day.

This group of photos was taken when we decided that, instead of just passing through Bonnieux in the car, we should actually get out and walk around town a bit. We climbed up to the church and its grounds at the top of the hill and back down.

The hub of activity in Bonnieux was this café. Watch the traffic!

When we were in Bonnieux, there wasn't that much of commercial interest. One café/hotel, a handful of small artist shops, and not much more. I don't know how much it's changed since 1993, but I'd wager it has.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

This week: another puppy movie. Callie is now ten months old and this is her third picture. Can't wait for the residuals to star pouring in...


video

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Little Bit Of Lacoste

Lacoste (I hope), a hill town on the flanks of the Luberon mountain in Provence.

There is much to see in the little hill town of Lacoste. But I only have a few images to show you.

A café on the road leading up to Lacoste.

We wandered around the town on foot a time or two, and drove through it a few times.

Blue openings.

Lacoste is where the castle of the marquis de Sade is located. It was destroyed during the French Revolution and there are only ruins left. Now there is an art school in town, although it didn't exist when these pictures were taken.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm Melting, Melting...

That's what the cheese was heard to say as we made our traditional Xmas Eve fondue.

The fondue worked out well and we made rather quick work of it. It was accompanied by a garlicky green salad that was the perfect counterpoint to all that cheese.

The recipe is simple. Use a mountain cheese or cheeses from the Savoie or Switzerland (we used comté and emmanthal), grate it up and mix it with heated dry white wine. A sample proportion is 400 grams of cheese and 200 ml of wine. Add a dash of Kirsch, then salt and pepper and a bit of grated nutmeg. Stir slowly over medium heat until the cheese is melted and the mixture comes together.

You have to be careful at the table because as the fondue cools, it begins to solidify. A decent heat source is necessary under the pot.

My only regret is that I forgot to pick up some apples to dunk into the cheese; we just had the bread.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tour Eiffel De Noël

This year I decided to forgo the holiday tree, mainly because I didn't know how the puppy would react to it. Instead, I strung my Eiffel Tower with lights.

Happy Holidays to all!

I took a movie of it twinkling, but I couldn't get the movie to work out well enough to post here. A still photo will have to do.

*****
Our Christmas dinner menu:

foie gras with sparkling Touraine rosé

roasted poularde (on the rotisserie)
cornbread stuffing
collard greens (grown in our garden)
purée de pommes de terre (mashed potatoes)

salade verte (green salad) with vinaigrette

chocolate brownies that Ken made on Sunday
(oops, we ate those yesterday)
home-made pumpkin nut bread

There will be plenty of bread and local gamay wine.

The stuffing got made last night and the collards were in our freezer, but we have to get the bird out and trussed up for the rotisserie and do the potatoes. Not a lot of work, but it'll be fun to pull it all together.

Enjoy your roast beast or whatever you're having today!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Blogmas Eve !

Best wishes to all my readers and fellow bloggers.
Hope your Blogmas is healthy and happy.


Today we will eat our traditional réveillon (Xmas Eve) dinner: fondue savoyarde, or cheese fondue.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

They'll Never Get My Goat

On one of our provençale mountain drives (I think it was on the Mt. Ventoux), we were trailing some slow moving vehicles around some curvy parts of the road. Suddenly I was struck by the overwhelming odor of ripe goat cheese.

This small herd of goats stopped traffic!

At that very moment we turned a corner and had to stop. A small herd of goats had stopped traffic and tourists were out of their cars snapping photos. Of course, I jumped out and joined them.

These goats are at home on steep rocky mountainsides.

I was surprised by the smell of goat cheese. I had never really liked it much, and this smell just reinforced my distaste of the stuff. I love it now that I live here where it's made and have had a chance to try a lot.

And there were some kids alongside, too.

After a short while the goats moved on and so did we.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Birthday Dinner

So here's a little peek at what we had for lunch yesterday. It's our traditional steak au poivre with cognac cream sauce and french fries followed by a green salad.

The steaks are covered with crushed peppercorns.
They're pretty thick, and tied around the middle to hold their shape.

The meat is rumsteak. The cognac is actually armagnac. The cream is standard crème fraiche. :)

First the meat is marinated in pepper for an hour or two. Then it's seared in a hot pan and put to rest in a warm oven. While it's resting, the pan is de-glazed with the armagnac. Once that reduces a bit, add the cream and reduce some more. The steaks go back into the sauce to be served.

The finished steaks in the cream sauce.

This year we used green peppercorns. They have a very distinct flavor and it's a treat to use them on a steak au poivre.

Home made pumpkin pie for dessert! I grew the pumpkin myself.

That champagne glass down below is one that we got at the annual Sunnyvale Art and Wine Festival back in 1994, when we actually lived in Sunnyvale, CA. My how time flies!

A sparkling Touraine Brut was consumed during the cooking process.

It was a great birthday feast! I can't wait to do it again next year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Words To Live By

My friend Sue in California sent me this great card for my birthday (which is today). I laughed so hard I just had to post it here.

The answer: Why, she'd stuff a capon and whip up a fabulous sauce.

The card is by Cara Scissoria in L.A. I've never heard of them, but there are some amusing cards on the web site.

We've been watching a lot of Julia (on DVD) lately. Especially the chicken episodes. Remember the Chicken Sisters? Miss Broiler, Miss Fryer, Miss Roaster, Miss Caponette, Miss Stewer, and Old Madame Hen! We got ourselves a nice poularde to roast on Christmas Day.

A poularde is an immature (not yet laying) hen that's been fattened up. Yum!

Happy Winter Solstice to all!

By the way, if you're looking for your Puppy Pic Of The Week, it's in the sidebar; this week's Image Of The Week. Change is our friend...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Grand Canyon Du Verdon

A flower beside the road on our canyon drive.

In southeastern France, the foothills of the Alps rise up to meet the taller mountains that form the borders with Switzerland and Italy. Many rivers flow out of the mountains through the foothills, one of which is called the Verdon.

The Verdon River winds through its canyon.
The north bank road is visible in this shot that looks downriver and west.


This river carved a fantastic canyon on its way to its confluence with the Durance, which in turn flows into the Rhône and on toward the Mediterranean. The canyon, according to the Michelin Guide, is about 21 kilometers long. Of course, the winding roads are much longer than that.

More canyon wildflowers.

There are roads that follow the river's path through the canyon, one on each bank. The southern bank's road was built high up over canyon on the Corniche Sublime in 1947 and is a great touring road for spectacular views of the blue water below.

The roads can be a bit scary, but it's a beautiful ride.

We drove up the canyon on this southern road, stopping for lunch just at the entrance to the canyon. We spent the day driving in and out before heading back home via the north bank road (at least I think that's what we did...).

The blue water of the Verdon.

The Verdon is dammed at the western end of the canyon forming a large reservoir. I'm sure that lake is a great recreational destination these days.

The foothills of the Alps come into view.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Word Of The Week

verglas

If you drive in France then you are sure to know this word. Especially this time of year. There are signs in certain places on the roads around here that read, "Risque de verglas."

Thankfully we're not having weather this bad.

I think that in English we call it "black ice." It can be treacherous, not only when driving, but also when walking. There's nothing like slipping and falling on your fesses to put a damper on your day.

This morning's low temperature was -6.2º here at the house, and there's fog outside. That's a formula for moisture to accumulate and freeze on the roads and bridges. I'm glad I was out doing my errands yesterday so that I can stay home today!

Image from: http://www.fpjq.org

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kitchen Collection [53]

This pan is called a "chef's pan" according to the manufacturer, All Clad. I got it for Ken on one of his birthdays quite a while back. It's one of our three All Clad pans. We use it all the time; it's pretty much our favorite top-of-the-stove pan.

It's really nothing more than a fancy flat-bottomed wok. But it has this nice domed lid that also happens to fit one of our earthenware pots. It goes into the oven when you need it to. It's made of a great heavy stainless steel. It's another pan that we will have for the rest of our lives, and beyond.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Few Random Shots

Just a few miscellaneous snaps from the Provence trip. When I first started scanning these slides, I noticed that many of the photos were out of order. I lost track of some the places where they were taken.

I have no idea where I was when I took this lizard's picture.

Then, just the other day, I bumped into my light table and tipped about sixty slides onto the floor. Now they're even more out of order. For some photos it doesn't really matter, like Mr. Lizard up there. But there are buildings, towns, and landscapes that I can't identify. Ken's been able to help with some. Still, that trip was fourteen years ago.

This restored mill is somewhere near Taillades on the western end of the Luberon mountain, near Cavaillon.

I've been able to piece some of the more obvious series back together, but there are some shots that I can't identify. Oh well. Such is life.

This is the Roman amphitheater at Orange. There were workers and machinery inside setting up a stage for an upcoming performance, kind of interrupting the imagination. Even so, it's an impressive building.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Le Thoronet

Inside the cloister au Thoronet.

The romanesque abbey of le Thoronet was built in the 12th century and was home to members of the Cîteaux, or Cistercian, order that originated in Burgundy in the 11th century.

One of the cloister walkways.

We arrived late in the afternoon, not much before closing, and the sun was getting low in the sky. There was no time to linger, but we saw the place with the added bonus of there being very few other visitors. Except I do remember standing and waiting for about five minutes for someone to get out of the way of one of these shots.

Arches within arches and circles in stone.

One of the particularities of the cloister is the double-bayed arches each with a central column that you can see in the photos above. After a few pictures we left for the pretty long drive back to the house. If I remember correctly, it was dark by the time we got home.

I think this was the abbey's dormitory.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Leaving Marseille

Marseille seen from the terraces around Notre Dame de la Garde.

Just a few parting shots from our short time in Marseille. We left after lunch and headed east to a coastal road.

Building façades around the Vieux Port.

The eastern part of the city hugs the bases of some beautiful mountains, and the contrast of the natural rock and the regular shapes of the buildings was impressive.

Eastern Marseille gives way to grand mountains.

The road wound up and down and around cliffs along the Mediterranean coastline. It was slow going, especially with camera stops.

A portion of the Mediterranean coastline between Marseille and Toulon.

We wound through Cassis and La Ciotat, two small port towns on the coast, and Bandol, famous for its wine (we tasted and bought some). Then quickly on to Toulon and back up inland toward the twelfth century abbey of le Thoronet.

The port town of Cassis.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

Just the other day, when I took Mlle. C. out for her afternoon walk and we made our way out to the end of the dirt road that runs through the vineyard, we had a very interesting encounter.

Callie found a crushed water bottle in the vineyard and decided it needed to be moved to a new location. So she took care of it.

Max and his human, one of the vineyard workers, were out trimming and burning as usual (Max was obviously supervising since only the human was doing any work). With them was a woman who was helping with the trimming, and two dogs. Callie and I had never seen these two dogs before.

One was a basset hound, male, low to the ground, with a huge head. He's called le Baron, the guy told me. He lives over there (pointing across the ravine to the next hill) and shows up on his own every now and then. I take him home in the afternoons when I leave, he said.

I'm not sure whether Baron is his real name or just what the vineyard guy calls him.

This other dog is Cléo, said the woman.

Of course, Callie needed no introduction. The dogs played together for a while after the initial sniffing of parts, which is what dogs do in lieu of an introduction. They stayed close by, running up and down the rows between the vines, looping around at the ends to change direction. And Max, it turns out, is not a female. She's a he! "Il est castré," I found out.

I told the other humans that I was out early because we were trying to avoid Lily (read the story of Lily here). The guy laughed knowingly and the woman rolled her eyes. Then she said that she always leaves the vineyard before Lily gets there. Lily, she said, always takes the other dogs and runs away with them. "Ils se sauvent," were the actual words (just to remind you that this is all happening in French).

The guy said that he noticed that Lily did that with Callie, and that he often saw me wandering around whistling for Callie to come back after an encounter with Lily. I felt better about my initial dislike for Lily and her person; I was not alone.

We all commiserated over what a pain poor Lily is, then Callie and I took our leave and headed home. She came when I called and was not at all tempted to stay with the other dogs. If Lily had been there, Callie would have been off who knows where.

When we were about 50 meters away, Callie stopped. Le Baron was galloping up toward us, huge ears flapping, and on arrival began to resume play with Callie. Then the vineyard guy came up and picked up the dog so we could leave. Don't you have a leash? he asked me as he was holding the basset hound. Well, I do, I said sheepishly, but I didn't bring it with me today. He laughed the way you laugh when you want to call someone a dumb-ass but are too polite to do it.

We went on our way without further incident.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Marseille

A view of le Vieux Port and la Cathédrale de la Major.

We spent only a few hours in Marseille. Enough time to walk around the Vieux Port, climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde for the views, then back down to have lunch.

A cruise ship or ferry enters the port of Marseille.

The weather was beautiful. The city reminded me a lot of San Francisco. Pastel colors, gorgeous bay, even an island prison. In the case of Marseille, it's the Château d'If, the place of the fictional imprisonment of Edmond Dantès, better known as the Count of Monte Cristo.

Le Château d'If seen from la Garde.

The basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde sits 162 meters above the old port and commands spectacular views of the Mediterranean, the bay, the city of Marseille, and the surrounding limestone mountains.

Notre Dame de la Garde looks down on the Vieux Port.

We parked our car very close to the Vieux Port, in an underground parking beneath a beautiful rectangular place called (I think) le Cours Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves. We ate lunch in a nearby restaurant and had, of course, a bouillabaisse.

La Canebière, one of the main drags in Marseille.

After lunch we got back in the car and headed out of town eastwards along the coastal road.