Posts Tagged ‘France’

The French Four: Markets

Bonjour! The sun is out and my spirits are high! It’s truly been a wonderful week full of exciting things. Lots to be grateful for! To celebrate, hubby and I started the week off with a lovely dinner out on Monday. Salmon tartare to start, steak au poivre to follow and crème brûlée to finish; all washed down with a nice bottle of wine.
One of the many things I’m grateful for is our return to Duras in August. For a moment, it seemed like life was getting in the way and we just weren’t going to make it this year. But hubby kept assuring me we would. And he was right. I’m counting the days. In the meantime, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Like making salads for lunch with my homegrown greens, seeing how beautiful the lavender in my garden is, afternoon walks with my Daschund Pastis and my rebel without a cause teenage daughter Kirstie, letting the sun dry my laundry (instead of the noisy dryer)…
But before I get carried away and make this into a very long post, back to the order of the day: this Friday’s ‘French Four’! French markets! Who needs cooking lessons when you have these around! The perfect source of inspiration. Bon week-end!

Le Sud Ouest Market IMG_0140 IMG_0290 IMG_0152

Strawberry Tartelettes & a Perfect Meal

Yesterday, I made a special four-course dinner, not for a huge group, with expensive wines and the works, but just for the three of us. A midweek celebration of life. I put my busy agenda aside for the afternoon, tuned in to some French radio and spent a glorious couple of hours in the kitchen. I made a velvety soup with two beautiful, deep green and smooth-skinned organic courgettes. I whisked the perfect dressing to go over a simple salad of tomatoes, capers and shallots. I sang along with Zaz and thought back to how the three of us sang along to that same song last year as we drove through France. I carefully washed and cleaned strawberries for our dessert, popping some in my mouth every now and then. I chose a nice wine. Smiled. Enjoyed. Rejoiced.
No reason to wait for special occasions to celebrate. The best moment will always be now.
Here’s what we had for dessert. So easy and very delicious. A sweet little tartelette to round off a perfect meal. I made them with strawberries, but I’m sure they’d be just as lovely with raspberries or peaches, for example.
I hope you’ll love them as much as we did.

Strawberry Tartelettes

tartelettesServes 4

  • 4 squares of puff pastry (12 x 12 cm)
  • 15 small, ripe strawberries, cleaned and halved
  • 80 ml cream
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsps sugar
  • seeds from one vanilla pod
  • icing sugar, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°C and allow the puff pastry to thaw if frozen. Cover each tartelette mold with a sheet of pastry, pushing it down into the edges and trimming off any excess. Line each mold with a bit of parchment paper and weigh down with beans. Blind bake the pastry shells for 8 minutes. In the meantime, whisk the cream, egg, sugar and vanilla. Take the shells out of the oven, remove the beans and parchment paper and fill with the strawberry halves. Pour the batter over the berries and return to the oven for 12 minutes. Cover them with foil and give them a final 5 minutes. Unmold and serve with a little icing sugar.

Ode to Duras

The medieval town of Duras located about thirty kilometers to the south-west of Bergerac in the department of Lot-et-Garonne, has a warmth that captivated us from the very beginning. We love its history, people and neighboring villages, and being food and wine lovers, we simple adore its exceptional wines and regional cuisine. Duras is a beautiful little corner of the world stole that has stolen our hearts and inspired us in so many ways. Let me to take you back to some of my most memorable moments and show you a few of my favorite places in Duras.

IMG_0251Breakfast in Duras and Market Days on Monday
In Duras, there’s nothing better than beginning the day with a panoramic drive into the centre ville for breakfast. We pass rolling vineyards and in the summertime, when we take a little detour into another village, we can admire golden fields of sunflowers stretching out into the horizon. For some reason, the deep blue of the sky and the vivid yellows of the large blooms always make me feel as though I am actually inside a Van Gogh painting. It’s a little surreal at times. Breathtaking.

IMG_5491The first place we visit when we arrive in the village is the bakery on the Rue Paul Persil. We purchase some of their buttery croissants or huge, plate-sized pain au raisins and then take our breakfast to Le Tip Top, a bar/brasserie on the main square (NOTE: the place is now called L’EXpression) . There, we order a grand crème and have a leisurely breakfast while reading the newspaper or simply watching the world go by.

Ode to Duras MarketAnd speaking of the market, just like all the other markets in the area, this one offers a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, all kinds of spices, tasty olives, fat roasted birds and even toiletries and housewares. There is so much to inspire me as a cook! But the best market meals are always the simple ones. Toulouse sausages or a plate of charcuterie (either from the meat stand in front of the small supermarket or from the butcher Alain Evrard) with a green leafy salad, some olives and bread make a fuss-free and delicious meal. There are a few local wines on offer, and the sellers are always more than happy to give you advice or a little dégustation.

IMG_0001Mid-Morning Shopping and the Château de Duras
Being a food and wine lover/writer, my favorite places to shop are undoubtedly the gourmet kind. When it comes to wine, I’m very lucky because there is a wine bar, Le Chai et Rasade, located in the center on the Place du Marché, where you can sit down for a drink and a nibble and even buy wine straight from the wine grower himself.

IMG_0213We have spent many memorable afternoons sampling wines and enjoying artfully prepared boards of Pata Negra ham, dry-cured duck sausage, chorizo, Brebis cheese and bread. I especially loved the 2009 Château Molhière ‘Les Maréchaux’, a red, full-bodied wine bursting with luscious, ripe fruit. Thanks to the wine, food and extremely friendly service, it is one of our favorite places in the village. One year, before leaving, we purchased a few bottles of the house wine, and curious as we were, the next day we took a drive through the vineyards of Château Molhière which are found approximately five minutes away from the center, to the north-east.

Ode to Duras Chateau MolhiereAnother treasure is the Maison Guinguet. They specialize in the famous regional prunes (pruneaux d’Agen) and in fine chocolates. Agen prunes are sweet, wrinkly treats, very healthy on their own but sinfully delicious as chocolate-covered delicacies, in jams, creams or my absolute favorite – preserved in wine or liqueur;  a fast and easy dessert when served over vanilla ice cream. The pretty chocolates at Maison Guinguet are ideal to give as presents or to indulge in with a cup of coffee after dinner.
Of course, the main attraction in Duras is its imposing château which originally dates back to the 12th century. With the help of Pope Clement V and his nephew, Bertrand de Got, it served as a fortress starting in the 14th century and later as a luxury residential accommodation. The château, partially destroyed during the Revolution, was purchased by the people of the village and completely renovated in the late 1960s.

Ode to Duras Chateau de Duras (2)

IMG_0222 IMG_0224We’ve visited the castle many times, and I would definitely encourage anyone discovering Duras to do the same. There are many beautiful rooms including a kitchen and an original bakery. I’m not very daring, but I was still brave enough to climb up the rounded tower for a magnificent view over the Dropt Valley. In the late summer, an annual wine fair is held in and around the castle. It is the perfect opportunity to try the region’s wines, eat local food and mingle wih the French.

IMG_0132 IMG_0165Lunch at Don Camillo
How I love Don Camillo, that wonderfully cozy restaurant located on Rue Paul Persil! Officially, they’re a ‘pizzeria’, and their pizzas are certainly something to be proud of, but they also offer excellent traditional French cuisine and a reasonably priced wine selection.

IMG_0243I remember ordering a bottle of local Merlot and three pizzas the very first time we ate there, completely oblivious as to how filling they were going to be. Well, we nearly had to roll ourselves home that afternoon. So be warned: the portions are very hearty!

Ode to Duras Pizza IMG_0110Whenever we’re in Duras, you’ll be sure to find us at Don Camillo at least three times a week. Although lunch on a summer’s afternoon is wonderful, there’s nothing quite as romantic as finishing a crème brûlée under a starry sky while making plans for the next day. (NOTE: Unfortunately, things have changed. We only ate there once in 2015 and the experience was not very good.)
Drinks at Café de la Paix
To the locals it’s known as ‘Chez Régine’, but officially it goes by the name of Café de la Paix. Whatever you call it, it’s a lovely place to have a drink, whether that be a Pastis before dinner or an Armagnac and a coffee after. When we sit outside, we have a great view of the château. I love the welcoming, laid-back atmosphere.

Ode to Duras Cafe de La PaixThe family that runs it (with the locally loved Régine at the head) really make you feel at home and always receive you with pleasure. Even on their busiest of evenings. During the summer, the café organises a concert on Wednesday evenings (cancelled in 2016, unfortunately). The last one we attended was sheer joy. Many people made their way to the area where the band was playing and proudly showed off their best dance moves.
Dinner at Le Cabri
Just outside of the village, following the Route de Savignac, is our favorite restaurant, Le Cabri. It is part of a campsite, but don’t let that fool you into thinking their menu consists of pizza and chips. Quite the opposite, in fact. Le Cabri offers both regional and bistro-style dishes and boasts a nice selection of moderately priced local wines. If you’re looking for a good meal, whether that be a perfectly crispy confit de canard (a dangerously addictive choice) or a nice steak, this is definitely the right address.

Ode to Duras Le Cabri Ode to Duras LC menuThe dining experience is complete with the care of the most attentive of hosts, Peter and Eileen Marston, wonderful people whom we consider friends and are happy to see every year anew. No matter how busy they are, they always stop by to ask how your day was or to share a friendly word. (NOTE: Sadly, the restaurant closed this year and the Marston family moved to Spain. It was very sad to see the grounds empty and abandoned. Hopefully someone will buy the property and restore it to the wonderful place it once was.)
Duras Wines
The vineyards of Duras were one of the first to obtain the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée certification in 1937. The appellation produces a variety of wines of exceptional quality. There are reds (53%), whites (32%), rosés (11%) and sweet wines (4%) made by over two hundred passionate wine growers. Some of my favorites include the wines of Château Molhière (mentioned above), Domaine de Laulan (especially their Sauvignon Blanc) and Domaine Chater. The wines are very similar in quality those of the Bordeaux appellation. In fact, renowned wine authority Jancis Robinson once said the following about the wines of the region: “It is history more than geography that excludes these vineyards from the cozy umbrella of the Bordeaux appellation and I would take my hat off to any blind taster who could unerringly distinguish between the Bordeaux, Bergerac, Côtes de Duras and Côtes du Marmandais appellations.”


IMG_0015A Lovely Gesture
Perhaps my warmest Duras memory involves everything this charming village is known for: great food, amazing wine and friendly people. One Thursday evening, a lovely French couple sat next to us during the summer picnic. This weekly event sees both tourists and locals gathering in the town center where long tables are set out and stands sell everything from roast chicken to paella to garlicky escargots.

Ode to DurasThursday Evening Market DurasAt the time, we had our little Daschund, Pastis, with us. We had a brief chat with the couple about our dog, they showed us a photo of their lovely Spaniel and we all carried on with our meal. Just as I poured my husband and I the last of our bottle of wine, the man reached over and poured us some of theirs. It was such a lovely gesture. At that moment, I fell in love with Duras and its people even more. I can’t wait to go back every year… one day, forever. See you soon, my heart’s home…

Ode to Duras End

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.

IMG_0573 IMG_0226 IMG_0565

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

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