Archive of ‘My Heart’s Home (France)’ category

The French Four: People

Every Friday, I will be posting four photos to transport you to my heart’s home, France. For me, each one of them is filled with special memories of a moment when time stood still and beauty, in some form or another, took my breath away. Perhaps it was a place, perhaps a dish. Maybe even a person (as is the case in this first post). Hopefully for you, they will be a source of inspiration. Not so much to visit France (although I highly recommend that), but to enjoy those wonderful moments even more. Capture them with your camera, but also with your heart.

Bon week-end

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Garlic Breath and Wine with a Fly

We decided to trust the advice written in the little guest book we found in the house we had rented that summer, and headed to a restaurant serving a three-course lunch (complete with a bottle of wine!) for only twelve euros. A bargain! What kind of meal that would be, though, was anyone’s guess, but for that price, I definitely wasn’t expecting too much. I was, however, extremely curious.
From the outside, the place looked deserted. The weather was beautiful, yet not a single table outside was occupied. An obvious sign of trouble, I thought. But we were brave, and agreeing to give it a fair chance, took a seat at one of the lonely outdoor tables.
After ten minutes of waiting, I decided to send Hans inside to see if there was any life to the place.
There was life, and there was food. But only inside. We were escorted to the back of the restaurant by a Piaf-looking gal with a raspy voice, red lipstick (on the teeth more than on the lips) and dishevelled hair. I braced myself as I followed her, passing the bar full of sweaty men sitting in a cloud of cigarette smoke. The wine was already waiting on the table, open and in a bottle with no label. The only thing I knew was that it was red.
We sat down, poured ourselves a glass and contemplated what was going on around us. There was an older couple to our right who was finishing some sort of salad, slurping their water (the wine was untouched) and not really saying much to each other.

4827449235_ff48e874b4_oThe tables in front of us on the other hand, were occupied by chatty groups of men (slightly better looking than the ones at the bar), greedily carving into their meat with their own Opinel knives. It was fun to sit there and try to figure out what they were talking about. And hey, the wine wasn’t even that bad!

4827448509_f77494e84a_oI noticed the large, French windows shaded by thin, yellowed curtains. There were other waitresses walking around, and the homely atmosphere combined with their nonchalance suddenly made me feel as though I was sitting at my auntie’s house. The more wine I drank, the stronger that feeling became. To me they were no longer ‘waitresses’ but ‘aunties’. I so wanted to stand up and hug them. And boy, was that wine good.

4827450285_6a66e94f9d_oHalf a bottle later, the messy-haired waitress came back to announce that the plat du jour was côtes de porc-frites and informed us that unfortunately, the starter was finished. It was a bit of a disappointment, but at that point I was just happy there was actually going to be any eating.
By the time the garlic-smothered chops came out, the wine was almost finished. Happily we tucked in, not minding at all that for the rest of the day, our breath would keep us from saying a single word to anyone (except each other).

4828058924_0a3722968c_oHalfway through the meal, I remember looking at Hans and asking him what he thought about the meat. He didn’t say much and instead poured me the last glass, which came with a complimentary dead fly. That didn’t seem to bother me though. Seriously, has anyone ever died from a little extra protein? And doesn’t wine and garlic prevent gastric upset?
When we left the restaurant, it was a little after two o’ clock in the afternoon.

4827449465_60d1952581_oI really can’t remember much about the rest of the day except that my head was spinning and that every pore in my body was wreaking of garlic. Only later did Hans and I confess to each other that we were glad we were spared a serious bout of food poisoning. And to think that a year later we would return to that same place…

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Recollections of France: First Trip to Saint-Émilion

First trip to st emilionWhen we first planned a trip to Saint-Émilion some years ago, I was so excited that I prepared myself for a few tears of happiness upon seeing the village’s name on one of those rectangular white, red-rimmed street signs. Saint-Émilion can boast being the oldest wine area in the Bordeaux region. Its wines, primarily made with Merlot grapes, are incredibly smooth and easy to drink. To me they are the most feminine wines of this region.

IMG_0252Our very first trip started with a drive through the vineyards. We went from one château to the next, Hans getting out of the car to take pictures, and I to allow myself the incredible pleasure of cupping my hands around bunches of juicy grapes.

IMG_0569But there’s more than wine to make my heart flutter when it comes to Saint-Émilion. When we arrived at the centre ville, I felt as though I had been transported back to the Middle Ages. The village is intersected by steep, cobblestoned streets that are lined with all sorts of wine and souvenir shops. It was the height of the summer season and masses of tourists were admiring the impressive ruins, walking around with boxes of wine or seeking refreshment at many of the lively terraces.

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First trip to St Emilion Streets After a stroll through the village and a few wine purchases complete with tastings and wine chats, we decided to round off the afternoon with lunch at the panoramic terrace of Bistrot du Clocher, a restaurant situated at the foot of the largest monolithic church in France. Hans and I both opted for the trio de cote d’agneau and a glass of their best grand cru. It was a light yet satisfying lunch. Besides the three succulent little lamb chops, our meal was accompanied by a mini-serving of a flan made with minced vegetables.

IMG_0228 First Time in St Emilion Lunch FlanBefore heading back to the car, we popped into the famous Ferlion Macarons Blanchez bakery where we purchased Saint-Émilion’s other gastronomic specialty – macarons! Not the colorful ones with the creamy/jammy fillings, but the flatter, paler ones baked directly onto a piece of parchment paper. These chewy, almondy treats were the sweet ending to one of our most anticipated wine trips.

First trip to St Emilion Bakery First time in st emilion end

Sundays in Summer

The medieval village of Issigeac has narrow streets, authentically preserved architecture and quaint houses with shutters in pale shades of yellow, blue, pink, cream and mint green. When you wander through its streets, you feel as though you’re back in the Middle Ages.

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Although very busy, especially during the summer season, Issigeac’s Sunday market is really something that should not be missed. It is definitely one of the most colorful and folkloric ones in the region, but you do need to be very patient, as the masses of people will literally force you to walk at the most leisurely of paces. It isn’t a market you’ll want to (or will be able to) rush through. And if you have a small dog, like we do, it might be smart to pick it up and carry it safely away from all those scary feet!

sundays in summer issigeac1Sometimes, when we are lucky enough to find a free table, we like to have a drink at a great little café with its terrace situated under a roof of grape leaves. Life is good when you’re lazily sipping something wonderful while engaging in a little people-watching.
I usually keep my purchases to a minimum at the market. Mainly because we always drive to Soumensac for lunch afterward, and it isn’t a smart idea to leave food in the car when the temperatures outside are above 30°C. I do like to take home some nice Marmande tomatoes, a few boxes of fragrant strawberries or a sweet Quercy melon or two.

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The Issigeac market is a great place to start the Sunday, while Soumensac’s Marchés des Producteurs is the only way to roll into an unforgettable afternoon. I always refer to this market as the ‘Renoir-live-painting-lunch’. On a beautiful hilltop, vendors sell and prepare regional specialties. You’ll find just about every kind of duck product, all kinds of barbecued meats, some of the fattest escargots, fresh salads made with seasonal vegetables, refreshing fruit desserts, crêpes, fresh bread and of course, plenty of regional wine.

sundays in summer soumensac snailsLong tables are set out under the tall trees, and if you want, you can even dress your table with your own pretty tablecloth and tableware. I make the comparison to Renoir because for some reason, the colors and atmosphere are just as magnificent there as they are in Renoir’s paintings. The soft, dappled light, the colorful scenery, the foliage of the trees and the beautiful hats worn by most of the people make you really feel as though you are literally inside Renoir’s Le Déjeuner des Canotiers! Don’t you agree?

Sundays in summer renoir

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Le_Déjeuner_des_canotiersThere are many different stands selling freshly prepared regional foods, and everything is bountifully displayed. At one stand a friendly couple offers simple plates of salads composed of rounds of cucumbers, ripe Marmande tomatoes, finely sliced sweet onions and thin slivers of peppers. They are dressed with nothing more than a little olive oil and some salt, letting the summery tastes and aromas of the vegetables shine through. Another stand sells warm crêpes with granulated sugar. Of course, there are grilling stands where everything is being barbecued right on the spot: fat duck sausages, tournedos with tender hearts of foie gras, chicken pieces and skewers of various meats and seasonal vegetables. The robust aroma of anything grilled is hard to resist, meaning that the lines there are usually the longest. Right across from the grilling area is a lady who offers fresh fried chips. Dessert offerings include slices of squidgy-bellied clafoutis dotted with halved prunes or refreshing parfait glasses composed of layers of vanilla pudding, tart berries and coulis.
If you are in the Lot-et-Garonne, you might want to check out this market. Who knows? You might bump into me there. If you do, please stop by and say hello!

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