on the road

Travelling the red dirt roads of PEI

Two weeks ago my husband Scott and I traveled back to PEI (for you non-Canadians…. it’s Prince Edward Island) Canada’s smallest province, for a fantastic vacation.   The smell of sea air. The red dirt roads.  The gorgeous beaches.  The amazing FOOD! It was all so good!  PEI is my most favourite place in Canada to vacation.  So much so, I tried convincing Scott that we need to move there!

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There were two very distinct highlights for me on this trip.  The first was our trip to Annie’s Table Culinary Studio.

Under the direction of Chef Norman, we learned how to grill fish properly.  Our first fish was a beautiful salmon.  We candied it, and grilled it to perfection.  The fish was tender and flaky and oh so good.

The second fish was Atlantic Halibut.  This time we cooked it over a cedar plank.  The flavour of that halibut was second to none! DSC_0035

 
Annie’s Table is a culinary gem in rural PEI, new London to be specific. The premise is that you sign up for a short class, learn some cool new things to cook, taste, love, and then take the recipes home to try in your own kitchen. The experience is unique and well worth the time.

The second highlight for me was meeting my favourite Canadian Chef, Michael Smith. Nt sure what to expect, I wasn’t disappointed. Chef Michael is about as down to earth as they come. He graciously spent some time with me and Scott, showed us his home kitchen (it’s spectacular) and even got a map of the island and sent us on a planned route to see some amazing things, such as where his Food Network Canada series, Chef at Home, was taped.

Not only that, but he sent us to see some great places to eat. Feeling like we were in an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” or the Canadian counterpart “You’ve Gotta Eat Here” we headed out to Rick’s – best fish ‘n chips on the Island, and then to the Shipwreck Cafe, best fried clams on the island!

My love for all things PEI was firmly carved on my heart. So much so that I tried to convince Scott we need to move. So far no luck, but I’m working on it.

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Contests, on the road

Nosh with Nash turns 2!!

I can’t believe it’s been 2 years since I began this journey!  So hard to believe.  Well, officially it will be 2 years on February 2nd.  Ground Hog Day!  Hmmm, I wonder if I’m supposed to live that day over and over again?  Snap out of it!!

Well, this weekend I’m in Niagara Falls participating in a FAM tour (FAM = familiarization).  I’ve had more ice wine to drink today than I’ve had in the last 2 years! Ice wine, if you are unfamiliar, is like liquid gold!  The grapes are left on the vines after the harvest and protected with netting. When the temperature dips below -10 for a few days/nights consistently then the grapes are harvested by hand, picked lovingly one grape at a time. They are then pressed, again while still frozen, and what results is one precious drop of nectar! This is then turned into the sweetest wine you’ve ever had.  Also the most expensive!  I love it!

Today we participated in the Journey Behind The Falls. This is a lovely thing to do…. in SUMMER!  It was pretty cold! You can imagine how much ice was present, with our current Polar Vortex. Usually you can see the water flowing in front of you, but not today! There was so much ice! I could hear the water, I just couldn’t see it!  The entrance to the tunnels was completely encased in ice.

Following our trip behind the falls we were treated to a spectacular lunch at Elements, operated by the Niagara Parks Commission.  Fabulous!  No other words!

Stunning ice under the Falls
Stunning ice under the Falls

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But now that I’ve shared where I am, I’d like to share something else that’s almost as exciting as seeing Niagara Falls FROZEN!  Okay are you ready?  Nosh with Nash is turning 2!   True!  So frozen Niagara Falls aside, I’d like to share a fantastic giveaway with you to celebrate! If you know nothing else about me, you know that I am a huge [massively huge] fan of Chef Michael Smith.

Here’s the deal!  Enter to win a copy of Chef Michael Smith’s cookbook “Fast Flavours” right here!  Simply follow the rules on the Rafflecopter link on our Facebook Page.  The contest is open to residents of Canada and the U.S. only.  One winner will be drawn randomly by Rafflecopter on February 2nd!  Get the word out!  Enter today!!!!

WIN ME!
WIN ME!

You can enter on our Facebook page, but all comments must be left here on the blog!! just click on “GIVEAWAY”   https://www.facebook.com/NoshWithNash

Good luck!

And happy noshing!

on the road

Paris, the City of Lights

I once read in a “bloggers rules” type of thing that you should never apologize for gaps in your blog writing.  Well, part of me agrees, but another part of me thinks that if you start a story, you should finish it, and if you delay, you should apologize.  So, I’m sorry.  Breaking the bloggers’ rules, but I am sorry!   Let finally wrap up the story of our trip to France….  Paris, the City of Lights.  It would be a whirl wind visit to Paris,

We arrived in beautiful Paris on Saturday, August 31 and we were flying out on Tuesday, September 3 so we only had three evenings and  two full days in Paris and  we wanted to make the most of those hours!   We checked into our gorgeous small boutique hotel, Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais  We were a little tired after our long train ride from Nice to Paris, then a harried taxi ride to our hotel.  We settled in to our gorgeously appointed room.  We felt like we had taken a step back in time, although complete with all the modern conveniences, the decor was strikingly beautiful. After settling in we headed out for dinner and decided on a lighter fare, and had pizza – it was amazing! The ultra thin crust was crispy, the toppings fresh and full of flavour.  Seriously, we need to do pizza better here in North America.  The air had a bit of a chill to it that evening, but we decided to walk for a bit as well.  How refreshing after the intense heat on the Riviera!

The following morning, we ate a light breakfast, as usual, at a nearby cafe. Delicious.  That’s all, just delicious!  Since it was such a beautiful sunny day we decided to walk – and walk we did!  We headed toward the Seine and crossed the bridge.  We were very close to Notre Dame Cathedral and so we went in!  Mass was just starting, we skipped it and did a self-guided tour through the church.  Stunning stained glass windows,  ornate states, carvings, you name it. It was just beautiful!

From Notre Dame, we continued to walk and came to the famous Lovers’ Bridge, completely adorned with locks.  Each lock bore the initials or names of lovers, and dates.  We thought of buying a lock and doing the same, but then we thought, nah! Let’s just get a Sharpie and write our names on someone else’s lock!  (OBVIOUSLY, we didn’t do that!) Moving on, we were on the other side of the river again and very close to Le Louvre museum. We decided not to go in… I’m not really sure why now, but we didn’t go in!  Continuing to walk… the temperature of the day rising…. we walked, and walked.  Our goal was to make it to the Eiffel Tower. We saw it in the distance and it seemed that no matter how long or how far we walked, the tower never seemed to get any closer! Scott assured me that it wasn’t very far.  Scott lied.  ha ha.  I’ve got to tell you , the more we walked, the warmer the day became, and the warmer i got, the crankier I got.  Walking back and forth across bridges, stopping to look at different things and sites along the way, we finally made it to the Eiffel Tower. Praise the Lord!  It was HOURS later.

The Lover's Bridge
The Lover’s Bridge
On the bridge
On the bridge

We had to line up forever to buy a ticket to get up the tower, and then we had to line up to get UP the tower.  But up we went, and what a view!  Spectacular!  However, because it is so crowed up the tower, it was not enjoyable The crowds were oppressive up there.  We were able to get a few pictures of the city below, and then decided it was time to go.  Once at the bottom, Scott treated me to a delicious lemon ice.  It was cold, sweet, tart, and refreshing!  He’s a good man!!  Either that, or it was to distract me from shopping in the wee souvenir shops!  I worked.  I was too tired to shop.  Yes, I said it.  I didn’t shop!  😦

Finally, we made it!  Eiffel Tower
Finally, we made it! Eiffel Tower

Of course, we were miles and miles from our hotel and I just didn’t have the energy or desire to walk back.  That’s when we discovered the Batobus!  Ingenious!  We bought a two-day pass, and it was a bargain!  Unlimited travel up and down the Seine as many times as we wanted getting on and off wherever you want to! So, we got on, and headed back toward the hotel… or actual toward Notre Dame.  We figured out that if we went one stop further to ……  we would be about a ten minute walk to our hotel.  Brilliant!  Sitting on the boat, watching the sites, and relaxing, best thing EVER.

Back at our hotel, we  had a much-needed short nap, freshened up a bit and headed out for dinner. Since we liked our breakfast spot so much, we decided to try it for dinner.  Not disappointed Great food. I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter where you eat in France, the food is good! Pretty sure it’s because food is an art to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately, savouring each bite, and resulting in great pleasure!  Food is a sensual experience in France!

Not sure how far we walked that day, but man was I tired!  It was an early night for us. Dinner over, wine finished, cafe consumed, we were ready for sleep!

Now, Monday was MY day!  It was all about Heather!  Oh yes it was!  We had a light breakfast at another new place, and enjoyed it.  Surprise!  My goal on Monday was to find E.Dehillerin and Le Cordon Bleu. If I could just visit those two places i would be very happy.   We had Google’d the location of E.Dehillerin and turns out we were very close to it! About a 20 minute walk from our hotel.  So excited.  SO excited.  About one block from the kitchen essentials store, we passed Au Pied de Cochon. This restaurant was recommended to us by our hotel as uniquely Parisian.

E. Dehillerin
E. Dehillerin

One of the very few places that are open 24/7, unlike the usual places open for breakfast, break, lunch from 12-2, break, dinner from 8-whenever,  Au Pied de Cochon is always open.  Apparently, according to our source, the only time they shut down was during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II. The reason was that it was more desirable to shut their doors then to serve Nazis.  Gutsy.  So, since we were walking by, we went in and made dinner reservations for our final night in France.

Back out on the street again, we continued on to E.Dehillerin, just a block or so away.  There it was, in front of me. Taunting me, beckoning me to come in. Almost giddy with excitement, and scared of being labeled “annoying tourist” we went inside. The store was everything I had read it would be.  Rough wooden shelves stacked to the ceiling with everything ‘foodie’ with a light layer of dust on everything,  I was facing the most complete and amazing collection of kitchen things ever.  Now, I had to be careful – I couldn’t exactly pick out something cast iron, or large, since I had to get my treasures home with me.  But I HAD to get something!!!  I also didn’t want to be looked at as a tourist since this store’s reputation is that it serves the professional chef.  I was careful to be as professional as possible.  HA!  Hard to do when my husband was trying to take pictures!  🙂  But I maintained my demeanor and made my choices.  Here’s the process:  Take your purchases to table number 1.  Man there writes everything down and you take that paper to another desk, the cash desk.  There, the really nice (but overworked) woman takes that sheet of paper and looks up product codes and prices.  She shows you that list again to make sure that’s what you understand is right.  If it’s ok, she then totals up the sale and you pay.  Then, the man at table 1 takes that new paperwork, double checks everything to be sure that what you paid for is what you have waiting for you on the desk. If it matches, he puts everything in a bag for you and out you go.  I held it all together, keeping my emotions under the surface… I was beyond happy to be in this store!  We walked out the door and as I hit the threshold, I broke down and started to cry… just a little, really… but that one tear fell down my cheek as my heart overflowed.  I had shopped in E.Dehillerin.   I did it.  I had three smallish items that I was taking home with me.  Now, none of these things were life or death purchases, but just things that I could take home and always know that they came from Julia’s store in Paris.  The very store that Julia Child shopped in.  How awesome was that?  Very!

So, after more pictures in front of the store, we left.  and started to walk again.  We made it to the river and hopped on the Batobus and took that to the Eiffel Tower, again.  Only this time, that was just the jumping off point.  From there we walked, again, in search of Le Cordon Bleu.  It was quite a walk but not nearly as far as we walked the day before.  After a few wrong turns we found it.  My personal Mecca – Le Cordon Bleu Paris.  I was there, standing in front of the iconic cooking school.  How surreal for me!  Scott took out the camera and took pictures again – thanks!  I needed to have it documented!  🙂  With a boldness that I drew from deep within me I went in like I belonged there.  My heart was bursting, seriously, bursting.  If I could attend there, well, that’s a dream best left alone….  Scott did take a picture of the framed (blank) diplomas on their wall for me with a smile and said “picture your name on one of these”…. ya Scott, for a mere $50,000.  Sigh.  You KNOW I had to pick up a few little things to prove I had been there!  I got a beautiful wine server’s apron in black – yes I know, but it was pretty!  Also picked up a few dish towels, and a little bib for our granddaughter that said “Le Petite Chef”.  Everyone was friendly, and I left with information on applying to LCB, but seriously, a pipe dream that won’t be a reality.

Le Cordon Bleu... and dreaming of what could have been!
Le Cordon Bleu… and dreaming of what could have been!

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Leaving LCB we walked to a little corner market, picked up a couple of sandwiches and some bottled water and walked across the road to a little park where we ate out late lunch.  Feeling very proud of myself for NOT crying inside LCB, and the sense that I had been in the hallowed ground of great chefs, I lost it in the park!  If I could have had my way, and I sort of did, I would have looked for the original LCB which apparently was very close to where we were in the morning near E.Dehillerin.  Oh well.  I also wanted to find Julia Child’s Paris apartment on Rue de L’Université, or as Julia called it “Roo de Loo”.

No walking… we took the Metro to Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee – another shopping mecca!  I did none! 🙂  Scott then wanted to show me the spot where Princess Diana was killed.  We walked… and as you guessed it…we walked some more.  Finally found it.  He had said there was a “memorial” there to mark the place.  Unfortunately that is not true.  That is what is told to tourists, but it is actually a replica of the flame from the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The replica flame was placed there in 1987 on the 100th anniversary of France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States.  Close!  However, coincidentally, it is AT the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed.  Many flowers, notes, pictures, etc. were all around the flame and the tunnel bridge itself, marking the life of Diana.

We walked back to the Seine and hopped on the Batobus and headed back to our hotel, with my treasures from my two shopping stops in hand.  Heading out later that evening for our final night in Paris to the historic restaurant, we were feeling sad at leaving France, yet happy to be heading home again. The restaurant didn’t disappoint us!  We had a beautiful table on the street in a (very rare for France) non-smoking section!  Everything was delicious!  Good wine, good table, sweet evening air, and wonderful company!  Love my hubby!  Now, the specialty of the house was Pigs Foot.  Naturally, given the name of the restaurant, what else would you expect??  I ordered fish.  The only thing about the evening that was a big disappointment was dessert.  It was bland, unimaginative, and boring.  I had ordered tarte au citron which other than being yellow had no flavour of lemon at all. The pastry was hard. It was topped with a meringue (which surprised me) but even that was horrible.  I’m thinking that the dessert came from somewhere else and were not made on site.  Too bad.  It was a bad end to an otherwise delicious dinner.

We had a leisurely walk back to our hotel, taking the long way to take in as many of the area sites as we possibly could on this our last day.  What a beautiful evening.  What great company.  What a sad night since it was our last!

Good night’s sleep, off to the airport in a cab ride that rivaled any thrill ride at any amusement park, and check in.  This was it, we were heading home.  Finally on board our Air Canada flight, we were homeward bound.

That ended our  10th Anniversary trip.  I can cross that off my bucket list.  I spent time in the south of France and also in Paris.  I saw and shopped at E.Dehillerin.  I saw and went into Le Cordon Bleu Paris.  I experienced the sights, sounds and tastes of France in all its splendour.  I got to practice my French, as pathetic as it was I did ok.  I was happy. Oh I was leaving tired, but very happy and content.

I tasted France and it whet my appetite for more!

So, instead of my usual sign-off (Happy noshing), today I leave  you with Julia’s signature sign-off….

Bon Appetit!

on the road

The Riviera

Years ago, when we first talked about going to France. My thought was always that we would spend it in the south of France, and of course that meant seeing The Riviera.  So to finally be there was a dream come true!  The Mediterranean, the Cote d’Azur, the palm trees, the sun, it was all there waiting for us to enjoy!  Enjoy we did!

Arriving in the area around 6 p.m. we found our next B&B. Les Terrasses du Soleil, in Cagnes Sur Mer, is situated at the top of very steep and narrow roads in the historic Haut de Cagnes. Our hosts, Catherine and Patrick, were warm and welcoming.  A little bit of the history of this beautiful B&B: The Villa was once owned by G. & Betty Ulmer, famous in the sixties musical years. Some of the ‘stars’ who stayed and frequented this beautiful home were Frank Sinatra, Maurice Chevalier, Christina Onassis, among others.  I loved flipping through the scrap book of news clippings about the Villa and looking at the pictures framed that adorned the walls.  Our room had a private terrace that had both a sea view and castle view.  Arriving with little time to do any real exploring, and not wanting to move the car again ever, we asked Catherine for a dinner recommendation. We took her advice and walked to Le Perousin. We hit the food jackpot! Served by the delightful Sabrina, her husband is the chef, we sampled some wonderful food, prepared with great care, and served with such pride.  Really, a jackpot! I will write a separate blog post just for this restaurant.  Stay tuned!

Walking the narrow streets of Haut de Cagnes (Cagnes sur Mer)
Walking the narrow streets of Haut de Cagnes (Cagnes sur Mer)

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We really liked this place!  After dinner we headed back to our B&B and to bed.  We had a busy day planned for the next day including Nice and Monte Carlo!

Nice didn’t disappoint! A bustling city, a playground, Nice was delightful.  Our B&B host warned us to keep an eye on our valuables.  We did.  No issues, everything was fine. What surprised me the most about the ‘beach’ of Nice was that there was no sand.  None. Everything is stone! Now of course that makes for a very uncomfortable experience when lying on the beach.  Ugh.  We did learn that you can pay to use a private beach.  these private beaches have lounge chairs and often small wooden walkways so that you wouldn’t have to walk directly on the stones unless you were heading for the water!  We decided to save beach day for another time and concentrated on the city itself.  One of the best ways to see and appreciate the history of any city is to take a small tour.  Our menu in Nice? A delicious pizza.

best ever pizza
best ever pizza

This pizza had a delicate crust, a hint of tomato sauce, and emmenthal cheese. Then topped with prosciutto and warmed again.  Finally fresh arugula and field greens and freshly grated Parmesan topped the whole thing. This pizza was a taste explosion in my mouth!  So delicious!

The rest of our time on the Riviera was spent visiting Monte Carlo, and a wonderful beach day in Cagnes Sur Mer.  After our final breakfast of fresh yogurt, fruit, and breakfast breads/pastries, we bid farewell to our hosts and headed to the train station in Nice.  Returning the car was a nightmare, but we did it! Whew!  We boarded the train and headed to Paris!  Ah Paris! J’adore!

Next up:  Two days in Paris.

Gorgeous Med. Sea
Gorgeous Med. Sea
The Beach
The Beach
Looking for James Bond
Looking for James Bond
on the road

Provence – Part 3 – Aix-en-Provence

Getting back on track.  Blog interrupted due to my work schedule. I was in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia this week.

Okay, I’m back.

France.

Where were we?

Our first view of the castle
Our first view of the castle

Ah yes, we left Avignon and traveled to Aix-en-Provence.  Well, actually, we went to a place called Le Barban. Our accommodations here were in a medieval period castle, Chateau Le Barban.  It was everything a castle should be!  Large, imposing, lots of stone, and lots of beautiful history. The narrow road up from the (public) parking lot to the private lot was difficult to navigate, again, and the car bottomed out a few times.  But, we pulled in, found our hosts and were escorted to our room.  First set of stairs – 21.  Second set of stairs – 21. Third set of stairs 21. Ah there’s the sky again! We’ve reached the top after 63 stairs up. (No elevators, it’s medieval!)  We stepped out onto a gorgeous terrace area, breathed in the beautiful fresh air and noticed that our hostess was still going.  Oh dear!  I turned around to see sets of stairs shaped like a horseshoe heading up yet again… and up we went, and into the castle again, and up more stairs and more stairs.  All in all, it was 110 steps from the entrance up to our room.  I told Scott I would be content just to stay in our room for the duration and not leave.  The thought of doing those stairs again, wow.

Our room was spectacular, the view even more so.  With a flourish that only the French can do so well, Gislaine threw open the windows and shutters to behold our view!  Three words:  Oh Wow, Wow. Maybe the 110 step climb carrying luggage was worth it! She quickly said “Cocktail reception at 7:30 on the terrace before dinner” and with that she was gone!  We were left to enjoy our room. the large imposing door – very ‘castle like’ had a skeleton key lock which I just had so much trouble working. The bed was gorgeous.  The bathroom was bigger than my entire master bedroom at my home!  A giant claw-foot tub, a beautiful Italian shower, double sinks, a small table, a couple of chairs, more windows…. you get the idea. I could have moved into the bathroom and lived there quite happily!  The bedroom and bathroom were both decorated with beautiful pieces of art.  The bedspread, bed curtains, wall coverings, and window coverings all matched.  In my house, that would look way overdone, but in a castle? It was perfect.

open air and beautiful view
open air and beautiful view

At the reception we met the other guests, a young French couple enjoying a night away.  Their English was way better than our French! After drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the terrace, our hosts Gislaine and Bertrand, led us to the castle’s historic kitchen where they seated us and then said goodnight.  The dinner was spectacular!  We had lamb shank with all the fixings.  I wish I had a picture of dinner and the five courses, but I didn’t think our French dinner companions would understand my obsession with photographing my food!  Sigh.  No pictures, sorry!  We were able to communicate so well together, we laughed, shared stories, just really enjoyed getting to know them.  Of course, after dinner, we had to climb up the stairs again – in the dark!  However, since we were already about halfway up, we only had about 47 steps to go.  Not so bad!

More of our view
More of our view

The next morning we had a delightful breakfast and met Jacqueline!  What a delight this woman was!  She served our breakfast to us in the same kitchen. Her English was really good as well, although she kept apologizing for it.  We learned she was born and raised in Aix-en-Provence.  Scott told her that when we visited the city that day we would look for the historic plaque marking her birthplace.  She laughed!  We really liked Jacqueline.  Before we left for the day, we took the castle’s historic tour.  Unfortunately, it was all in French and we really couldn’t follow along.  We were given written English translation but you could tell it didn’t quite match what our tour guide was saying. Regardless, it was good to see the entire castle!

Gorgeous, yes?
Gorgeous, yes?

Off to Aix we went!  We parked the car and spent the entire day walking.  Really, it was so much easier!  I fell in love with this absolutely picture perfect place!  So many fountains.  So many boulangeries. So many artisans. We had cafe at a cafe, surprise! Later in the day we returned to the same area to have dinner.  I was really loving all this outdoor dining.  I have never eaten outdoor so much in my life!  It was fabulous!  We learned that Aix-en-Provence would be the dominant city of Provence if it weren’t for its close proximity to Marseilles. From the 12th Century to the Revolution Aix was the capital of Provence.  The whole of the old city of Aix is surrounded by its ring of beautiful boulevards.  The streets are alive with people, tempting restaurants, cafes, and shops.  We took so many pictures in Aix.  I’ll post a few here below.  Such a gorgeous city.  Gorgeous.  But our day had to come to an end.  Sadly.  We headed back to our castle.

Images from Aix-en-Provence

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Driving along the roads back it hit me.  “Scott, we did a tour of the castle this morning up and down those stairs, we’ve been walking ALL day in Aix. I’m exhausted.  And guess what?  We still have to climb back up those 110 steps!”  From Scott… no comment!  🙂  I’ll tell you one thing, my poor aching feet enjoyed that tub!

The next morning, at breakfast, we spoke briefly with Jacqueline. Such a sweetheart of a lady!  Back upstairs to pack up and head out.  Next stop – The Riviera!  Oh ya baby!  What I’ve been waiting for the whole trip!!

Horseshoe stairs from terrace to the rest of the castle, at dusk
Horseshoe stairs from terrace to the rest of the castle, at dusk
Jacqueline!
Jacqueline!
Breakfast in the historic kitchen, filled with beautiful antiques of the period.
Breakfast in the historic kitchen, filled with beautiful antiques of the period.

Okay, next stop: The Riviera!

on the road

Provence – Part 2 – Cooking!

Cooking.  In France. In a traditional Provence Farmhouse. Am I dreaming? Nope!  It happened.  Thanks to our wonderful trip coordinators (France Just for You) Emilie booked us a wonderful experience!  Leaving our B&B after breakfast on August 24, we took a leisurely drive (not really). We found Catherine’s farmhouse after driving by it and then doubling back.  Her house is set back off the street and unless you are really looking for it, you’ll miss it.  Nestled in the trees with vineyards all around, it’s a beautiful setting.

Catherine's beautiful farmhouse in the Provence countryside
Catherine’s beautiful farmhouse in the Provence countryside

While we waited for Catherine to get set up for us, we enjoyed some coffee in her garden. Her beautiful garden.

Hanging in the garden
Hanging in the garden

Everything set, we headed into her kitchen.  Catherine’s kitchen is beautiful. Gorgeous copper pots hanging from the traditional yellow walls with blue trim.  Beautiful blue and white ceramic tiles adorned the walls.  I felt like I was in a Monet french painting!  Just gorgeous! SIgh.

Catherine's kitchen
Catherine’s kitchen

Catherine led us through a three-course meal. First, a wonderful chilled zucchini soup. Second, a delicious stuffed chicken breast. Finally a finish with a wonderful light dessert.  So, let’s dig in and get started.  Catherine put us both to work. I was more excited to see Scott working in the kitchen and learning a new skill.  Now, before you get all “oh how sweet”, Scott is actually a very good cook. He’s made dinner for me on more occasions than I can remember.  We both work long hours and my commute is over 2 hours (each way), so by the time I get home, I’m often too tired to do much.  If Scott is home before me he often has dinner on the go before I get in!  So, on days when I do have time (and energy) I love to cook yummy things for him!  Okay, back to our lesson…

We started with the soup. Cutting up zucchini and adding it all to a pot with some chicken (or vegetable) stock and a handful of arugula, a bit of salt & pepper and simmer away!  Once it was all cooked, we pureed the soup and Catherine set it on ice in the fridge to chill.  At serving time, we ladled it into beautiful martini glasses, dropped in 3 whole cherry tomatoes and garnished it with fresh arugula.  Result? A refreshing, delicious chilled soup!  So yummy!

Our yummy soup!
Our yummy soup!

Meanwhile, while the soup was chilling, we started the dessert.  Again, with gorgeous glasses, we crushed some high quality cookies – a cross between arrowroots and shortbread… is that even possible? Oh yes it is!  So, with the cookies in the bottom of the glass, we added the next layer – we whisked together mascarpone cheese and…. something I cannot remember (I’m SO sorry!) this ended up being a light fluffy treat, topped with fresh sliced peaches.  I didn’t even take a picture as I was too interested in eating it!  On the bright side, I’ve emailed Catherine and asked her for the recipes!! Once I get these from her, I’ll make it again and take a picture hopefully before it gets eaten!  Let’s move on.

While dessert was sitting in the fridge to stay cool, we started our main course.  Catherine gave us wonderful plump chicken breasts.  We slit these open making a pocket in one side. These were stuffed with a goat cheese mixture – yes, I don’t have the recipe for that either… it’s coming, I promise!. Suffice to say everything was smelling wonderful!  I love the smell of anything savory cooking!  So, once the chicken breasts were stuffed, each was then wrapped with prosciutto and ‘tacked’ shut with a toothpick.  After taking about a medium sized white onion and slicing it thinly, Catherine pulled out a large skillet.  With a good splash of olive oil in the skillet and getting it heated up, we added the onions to the sound of that wonderful sizzle.  The chicken breasts were placed on top of the onions and we let the chicken cook. Once cooked, the chicken and prosciutto became one (oh yes, oh yummy, oh so yummy) and the onions were caramelized.  Catherine put on the polenta and got that going.

Prepping, with our Aussie cooking mate Kathy!
Prepping, with our Aussie cooking mate Kathy!
Under Catherine's watchful and expert eye!
Under Catherine’s watchful and expert eye!

 

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cooking the chicken!
cooking the chicken!

 

Scott, Kathy (our Aussie cooking mate!) and I got set up outside in the garden and were eagerly awaiting our zucchini soup. Mostly we were looking forward to the chicken.  As you can see, below, the chicken looked AMAZING, the side of caramelized onions were sweet, and the polenta was amazing!

The final result!  Looks yummy doesn't it?  It was!!!
The final result! Looks yummy doesn’t it? It was!!!

Over dessert and coffee, we talked. We compared cultures. And despite the differences and language barrier, we all agreed on one thing – neither KFC nor McDonald’s is REAL food!  We really couldn’t sit around all day, well we could but we didn’t want to wear out our welcome, and so goodbyes were said and we headed out to find Gourdes.

This cooking time in France was a real highlight for both Scott and me. Scott learned something new about using fresh garlic (darn, all my secrets are getting out!) and I learned a new way of doing chicken that was moist (from cooking over the onions) and delicious.  I’ll be making this recipe the next time we have guests for dinner.  Start to finish.

Thank you Catherine!  Nous avons eu un très bon moment et j’ai vraiment apprécié vous rencontrer!

I hope I said this correct: We had a very good time and really enjoyed meeting you.

Happy noshing!

on the road

Provence – Part 1

Ah Provence. You are so beautiful!  I could leave it right there and not say another word.  For me, that’s enough. But for you, maybe you are not familiar with Provence and would like to know a little more about it.  I knew it!  Thankfully, I have lots to tell!

We arrived at the Avignon train station (careful to travel only on the correct train cars) and picked up our rental car, a 2014 Mercedes Benz E250.  My first thought? Niiiice!  Reeeeally nice! My thoughts after the first half hour “WHO would drive something this big on such ridiculously narrow roads??” I was reeeeeally grateful that Scott was driving and not me!  With the GPS set, we headed to our first stop, an absolutely beautiful B&B in a 17th century farmhouse outside Avignon, near Pernes Les Fontaine.  We were not disappointed with our accommodations at all! We had a gorgeous room.  Our hosts were delightful. Jacques was always willing to talk and share stories!  We learned that he was just 13 when WW2 ended and he had such fond memories of Canadians during that liberation time.  Of course, that made us feel pretty special – and proud of our country too!.  Jacques’ passion was growing roses.  On the property he said he had over 100 different varieties of rose bushes.  I love roses!  I admired about every one I could see.  He told us that they were really beautiful in May and June. Of course I think that meant we were supposed to come back another time to see them in their full splendour.  IMG_0116Regardless, the roses were gorgeous!  One morning at breakfast, Jacques came by and handed me a bouquet of beautiful red roses that he had cut that morning, just for me. I was so moved!  It was Jacques’ daughter Isabelle and her family that ran the B&B and it remains one of our favourite places!  Here’s why: the family was very friendly.  The breakfasts were scrumptious – fresh baguette, croissants, other yummy pastries, homemade fresh yogurt, fresh fruit, cereals, and really yummy coffee!  This would be set out for us at a small table for 2 in their garden each morning.  We would walk into the garden and Isabelle would appear out of nowhere and say, in her beautiful lilting voice, “Good morning!” and bring our coffee and juice to us immediately. After we finished breakfast she was always available to help us decide what to do with our day.  Thankfully, we had an excellent guidebook from “France, Just for You” that outlined the BEST of the area.  We stuck pretty close to the book.

But I’m getting ahead of myself1  The day we arrived, we got settled in and then asked Isabelle where we should go for dinner, what her suggestions were.  Isabelle gave us directions to the little town of Pernes Les Fontaines.  I must say, it was absolutely adorable!  THIS is what I pictured France to be like!  We settled on the Gallery Cafe for dinner.  From our table, Scott could sit and watch the townsmen play Pétanque.  This is a game where… oh nevermind… I’ll just quote Wikipedia here:  “is a form of boules where the goal is, while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground, to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally “piglet”) or jack. It is also sometimes called a bouchon (literally “little bowl”, from the occitan bochon) or le petit (“the small one”). The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, but can also be played on grass, sand or other surfaces. Similar games are bocce and bowls.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A9tanque  accessed September 8, 2013)

Local men playing Petanque
Local men playing Petanque

The food at the Gallery’s Cafe was wonderful.  We weren’t too sure about the place at first, but it turned out to be great!  As the sun went down, and the candles and candle lanterns were lit, it morphed into a very romantic setting!

view from our table at the Gallery's Cafe
view from our table at the Gallery’s Cafe

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After dinner, and a late night stroll through the narrow streets of Pernes Les Fontaines we headed back to the farmhouse, praying that on the extremely narrow and unfamiliar roads we would be safe! Whew, quite stressful.

What we didn’t know before we left for dinner was that waiting for us in our room was a bottle of chilled Champagne from the operators of France Just for You, Emillie and Guillaume. This trip was to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and they had provided a bottle of Champagne for us to help celebrate and to welcome us to France.  We were so touched!  More about “France Just for You” later.  From here on in, I’ll just refer to it as F-JFY.

In our personalized guidebook from F-JFY Emillie had laid out several routes for us to take so that we would see the best of the area.  We were overwhelmed at the absolute beauty and uniqueness of everything we saw.  For instance, on Sunday we went to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. We spent most of Sunday there roaming the market tables, buying some fruit to snack on, checking out antiques, picking up a little olive-wood scoop for my home kitchen.  We stopped and had Cafe Gourmand at Cafe De France, afterall, this place was featured in our guidebook so we HAD to try it!  It was worth it!

Cafe at Cafe de France - yummy!
Cafe at Cafe de France – yummy!
Serenaded! :)
Serenaded! 🙂

We were even serenaded there!  How could we go wrong?  Of course lots of my time was spent looking at little girlie things for our brand new granddaughter.  Couldn’t find what I really wanted – well, not true, found lots but wanted to find something that was (a) made in France and (b) I wouldn’t need to take out a bank loan to buy!  Didn’t find it here!

From L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, we ventured on and came to Gordes.  Another amazing place!  We didn’t actually go into Gordes, but rather took pictures of it from across the way.  That was the best view.  Scott joked on Facebook that he wanted to put an offer in on a place there but couldn’t find one in the colour he wanted.  Here’s what it looked like:

Gordes
Gordes

We had such a great time in this area, going from Gordes to the town of the ancient Roman ruins. It was interesting to see and experience.  Ruins of buildings that had been around during the time of Christ really affected me!  We have nothing remotely that old in Canada so seeing this was something!

Back at our B&B, with chilled Champagne, we popped the cork and enjoyed a quiet evening in.  Felt blessed.

Here are some randomly placed pictures….

Our ivy and rose covered farmhouse B&B. Beautiful!
Our ivy and rose-covered farmhouse B&B. Beautiful!
Crazy narrow steep farmhouse stairs - the first of LOTS of stairs in France.
Crazy narrow steep farmhouse stairs – the first of LOTS of stairs in France.

...and the rest of those stairs.

…and the rest of those stairs.

We were also fortunate to have had Emillie (F-JFU) arrange a cooking class for us while in the area.  That’s in a separate posting. Suffice to say, YUM!

Our final morning at the farmhouse, we said our goodbyes and loaded up the car. F-JFY had arranged a visit to a vineyard and we were eagerly looking forward to this!  So, off we went in search of “Domain de Marotte”.  Beautiful!  We had a tour through the facilities and the actual vineyard itself, plus some tastings. But the best part, that  je ne sais quoi, was the picnic we had in the vineyard itself.  Our hosts at the winery had prepared a very large picnic basket for us filled with different cheeses, local meats, spreads, olives, fruit, two baguettes, and of course our own choice of a bottle of their wine.  Complete with dishes and glasses, we headed out to the vineyard, found a beautiful spot and set up our picnic.  One word: Delicious!

We lingered over the wine, talking about our day, discussing life, and just enjoying each other’s company.  I could have stayed all day!

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But staying all day would have meant we would have to skip seeing Avignon itself before heading to our next destination of Aix-en-Provence!  So, off to Avignon, and the bridge, where we sang…. ya, we’re tourists!  You’ll just have to use your imagination to hear us sing:

Sur le pont d’Avignon,
On y danse, on y danse,
Sur le pont d’Avignon,
On y danse, tous en rond.

Sur le pont D'Avignon.... wait...he's not dancing!
Sur le pont D’Avignon….
wait…he’s not dancing!

Off to our Medieval Castle and Aix!