Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's mushroom season.

One of the great joys of eating is to eat in season.  

 Of course that means that you have to wait for your favorites to come back around year after year. 

 Here in France, there are a bunch of folks that go hunting for mushrooms every year.  If you aren't absolutely sure of what is edible you can take your find to a pharmacist after your day in the woods and get verification of whether you are likely to croak or not from eating your mushrooms. 

I am not too keen on the idea of looking for my own but I can see in the markets now that the chanterelles are back and so I made a simple pasta for lunch today.

I  wash my mushrooms and take out all of the woody bits and cut off the rough ends of the stems.  Bits of fern and pine needles always get in the mix.  And I don't bother to dry them because they need to sweat in the pan anyway. 

 Just throw in some olive oil and saute them until all the moisture is gone and they are nice and limp.  Add in some salt and pepper.

I thought with this simple pasta, garnished with the best olive oil,  I wouldn't bother with the parmesan.  The flavor of chanterelles is so subtle, I wouldn't want to mask their perfume.    But I put it on the table and I have to admit that I did use some. 

 And I have to say also, that I used pasta made with half whole wheat flour ( demi-complet) which I really like but Monsieur doesn't.  (Yes, I made two different batches.  What a wife!)

What good simple food!  Try it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Foundation Maeght: Alberto Giacometti Expo, Vence Part 1

Garden of Foundation Maeght, Vence

Spoon Woman, Alberto Giacometti

Cubist Head,  La Tete Tranchant, Alberto Giacometti  

The cutting head with reflections

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Berghe Superior: Part 3

You can't go all the way to little Berghe and not see bigger Berghe so before we headed down the  rick- rack mountain road,  we climbed in the car to go the last few kilometers to see our new friends from the festival, Michele and Rene, who had asked us to stop by.

                                                 Looking back on Berghe Inferior

  On the way we were waving to folks we had met at the fete. They were out gleaning fallen chestnuts or walking through the "potager" collecting veggies for lunch.

We saw Robert and heard the story of the 5 o'clock hunting party. They had killed a boar stag that was now lying on the railroad tracks awaiting a decision of how to get him up the hill. 

Saturday's sanglier  in frigo

 It turns out that this hamlet is seriously equipped for "le chasse" with a special refrigerator and a haunting tavern next door, where food and drink can be prepared for around 30 hunters. 

                                                     Butcher's stainless steel counters

I hate to change the subject so irreverently but here was the church that apparently made the berg "superior".

But really, no chapels please, we wanted to see the rest of the tiny town and head out, not really expecting to run into our friends. 

                                                But they had their posse out and found us.

We were issued into a most welcoming accommodation of about 40 square meters,  their little nest.

Rene and Michelle are retired and met in 2002 .  This is their second marriage, lots of grandkids.

And lots of Michele's collections:   plates, small alcohol bottles, shot glasses,

Frogs, trophies, frogs, thimbles, frogs

And as they explained, there is no bar in this town so we serve everybody from our own bar.  Which they did, very generously.

 They were lovely people, untroubled and fun, even though life had dealt them their share of blows.  As they told the three friends who stopped by when they heard we were in town. " I have an invasion of Americans here...not the first time."  I got the feeling they liked us though....and not the first time. Retired age people in France have good memories of Americans in the last war.

 This is the second couple who has had me in their home this month. ... both retired.  And I have never had a finer welcome in either.

  Maybe one finally chills out in the end or maybe I have just "bien tombée". Translation:  tomber land well, to land in the gravy.   

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chestnut Festival: Part 2

I didn't know quite what to expect from a village festival.  I supposed that there would be quaint village costumes and country dance demonstrations and lots of consuming of bad red wine and local sausages and cones of roast chestnuts we see in New York on a cold winter day.  But this is not NYC.

Not at all.  The community of Fontan, and the two Berghes, little and small are made up of their share of "chasseurs"/hunters, and this is the season for game/ "gibier."  That means especially wild boar/ "sanglier".

Now I don't feel too sorry for the wild boar, animal lover that I am, because these piggies have figured out how to adapt to being culled each year.   The females now bear at a younger age and have bigger litters then before.   If we don't watch out we will have them in our front yards everywhere down here.  They are all over the mountains, the nearby villages and even in San Tropez.  

So, the local hunters set the menu of boar stew "daube de sanglier"  and polenta for this festival.

Leaving our gite, we hiked up a small hill and were greeted by American music being selected for its universal dancing appeal,  an open bar of various wines and beers and several bonfires burning.  It was to be a sit down dinner.

But first the polenta must not get lumpy.

We are already making friends and someone gives Lanie a go at the paddle.

Then we check out the stew that has been bubbling for three days.  Robert is the go-to-guy for the meat.

Our girl on the spot, Fiorella, gives him a hand.

New pal, Christian,  never leaves the hundreds of chestnuts to be roasted.  He has hooked up a funny, brazier run with a bicycle chain attached, Rube Goldberg style.

 He scoops the hot chestnuts out with his fire-proof gloves and tests them for doneness all through the night until they are passed around to all after dessert.  But he sneaks them to us all night too, offering them like expensive chocolates whenever we approach to keep him company.

There are 180 guests, all reserved in advance for 10 euros each.  We take our seats and are served by local teenagers who have the drill down.

The meal is delicious.  There is the first course, a cheese course and after, there are plates of bars and cookies  and finally a mousse au marrons glacée".

                                                                  Some of my "girls"

 At this point though, few of us are still seated because the music calls.  We dance until the wee hours, alone and with partners, male or female, all ages.

 Everyone seems to be pleased with the American oldies until the dj puts on techno music at 1am.  That's when this dancer says her good nights.

 It has been a memorable evening and tired but grinning five of us retire to our gite.  The two youngsters, we left there, dancing the night away.  Tomorrow,  visit to Berghe superior.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Le Berghon: Festival des Chataignes Part 1

Despite a tempest last night: sheets of water coming down,  flash flood, stabs of lightening and "tonnere",  today was relatively mild with just a little spitting rain.

After some typical Niçois resistance to going out in the rain,  I managed to go to the gym, clean two apartments, get in some food, make a tasty zucchini risotto for lunch and do the washing up.

  So I am taking the rest of the day to myself and to tell you about my unusual weekend.

 For the birthday celebration of a trio of good girlfriends, we decided to take advantage of one of the many autumn festivals in the area, the Chestnut festival at Berghe.  Berghe is actually the name of two towns, Inferior and Superior named by religious types because one had the top guy and a church and the other did not.

They are known as hamlets ( Berghe Inferior has eight year round residents, superior has 30) in the National parc de Mercantour, and it is where we stayed at a tiny gite called Le Berghon.  A gite for the uninitiated is our equivalent to the bed and breakfast inn.

Le Berghon has modern accommodations with a welcoming breakfast room featuring a wood burning stove.  This last was our meeting place to start the festivities with a few bottles of mother's milk/ champagne and wait for the others to arrive.

                                  Pauline in the dining room

Lucille helping in the kitchen

I was surprised to find two charming 16 year olds were in charge at the Berghon.  They were cooking the meals, taking the money and making us welcome.  I never did see the parents and was very impressed that their daughter, Pauline and her friend from school, Lucille were so ably attending to every need.

 Les filles

 Apparently most of Berghe was destroyed during the last war so many of the buildings have had to be restored.  I am happy to report that they have kept the original flavor of local stone and slate and it is hard to believe that it hasn't been standing since medieval times.

Luckily Berghe will never be a tourist destination.  To get there you have to climb a steep narrow mountain road that is basically one switch back after the other.  No place for a tour bus or even a big car. Ha.

Autumn colors abound

                               Looking down the mountain to the village of Fontan

But this was only the start of the fun.  I will leave you here for the moment breathing the fresh alpine air and continue on our trail tomorrow.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Strikes...continue

  I am getting requests for firsthand info about the strikes going on all over France.   Yes, they are happening here too.
I won't be able to take the train tomorrow because of interrupted service.... but there seems to be gas for the fire dept.  the police and the buses.    The gas stations are drying up all around for those with cars.

 I saw this all before with the Chirac administration.  The french really do go beyond talk when it comes to expressing their discontent.  I am not sure how it will play out this time.

 I could try to explain it from my viewpoint but a better explanation to clear up the misconception about the reason for the strikes was written by Diana Johnson a few days ago and is called French Fury in the EU Cage.  It can be found on

   Have a look.  Thanks Karen for the head's up.  There are also two enlightening articles in the new Vanity Fair about the Sarkosy/ Bettencourt coziness.  They are worth a read as well if you want to know what it is all about.

The new cookie dough

OMG,  I just had a new " pot de creme" experience.  Maybe it is the new raw cookie dough experience, if you read me.... but more frenchified.

I am all alone in the house and I sort of had dinner a while ago.

 So I'm standing in the kitchen looking around and then I  grab the creme fraiche, the wild mountain honey from Saorge and what is around for bread.... which turns out is only squares of pumpernickel.

  I don't' really make a sandwich, I just pretend that I have a pot de creme from the best french restaurant and dip my silver spoon in first the creme fraiche, then the honey,  then I  take a little nibble of rye.  Actually a shot of rye with that would be even more....Amazing.

  And I keep on doing it until some part of me says...Whoa girl.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Le Ciel

I think I finally captured it.

 For some reason , probably known to real photographers, it is almost impossible to photograph the true color of the sky in the south of France.

 It could be described as a periwinkle blue or in french" bleu violet."  I almost have it in the left hand side of this photo.   At any rate, it is a breathtaking blue.  We are a bit spoiled and tend to take it for granted down here.  Don't do it.  

Paddle to the Sea: the movie

  This week I found two kid movies to watch.   I don't know why they have this distinction, because I loved them both and I haven't lately been mistaken for a child.

 These children's films, however, are not ones found in a rental store , the kind with Hollywood production values and modern, over-indulged child actors. Nor are they animations of fish with Brooklyn accents or  violent rodents with french ones.  No, these two films are unusual and in a genre " a part".

   The first film I will introduce here was based on a favorite childhood book:   Holling C. Holling's  Paddle to the Sea.  

 Done by Janus Films in 1968, Bill Mason as director; it is on a par with their other offerings: The Red Balloon and White Mane which we all know as excellent, award winning films.

 The story of Paddle to the Sea is that of an Indian boy who carefully makes a small carving of a canoe with a single rider and places it in the snows of Upper Lake Superior, hoping that it will find it's way through all the great lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. He carves on the bottom, :"If you find me, please put me back in the sea.  I am Paddle to the Sea."

 The film, follows the boat and rider as it goes through adventures, trials and seemingly insurmountable barriers.  Whether he will make it or not is the issue as we follow on through the changing seasons depicted with a eye for its wonder and beauty. 

 It is a film that moved me, as I saw the metaphor unfold, a meditative film that had me reflecting on our own journey and our own attachment to the natural world.  There is no dialogue, but a simple narration which gives it a reverent, pure quality. 

Those who know the book well,  who had it read to you as a child as my family did,  may be disappointed that the story is simplified.

We do not find out who wrote on the bottom of the boat as they found it and that the boy later in life hears from these people. Some of the adventures are omitted. The idea that he is a native American is also left out and that his illness prevents the boy from paddling a canoe himself.

 But for me this movie is lovely and refreshing and I forgive these omissions.  It stands on it's own as a piece of art.  As does the book.  If you didn't get a chance to read it or see it as a kid, do it as a bigger one.

Amazingly, you can find a compilation version of the movie in three parts on You Tube. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Breil sur Roya: visit to a mountain village

Near the border of Italy there is a whole set of towns that used to encompass the ancient salt route.  The journey was once done on mule back but now there is a modern train that serves a hand-full of interesting medieval villages like Peille,  Berghe , Sospel and Tende and starts off from the main station Nice.

  They call it the train de Merveilles (Marvels).  You will  pass from one village to the next and during the high season you will have a commentary in French and in English to enlighten you.   A bonus is the marvelous clean air at the foot of the Alpes  and a feeling of leaving the big city behind.

Event tent across from town center

Along the route is the village of Brea sur Roya, where a friend of mine lives on and off during the year. It takes about an hour on the train to get there from Nice.  It is a sleepy but well preserved town on both sides of the Roya River.   Here during the fishing season, you can pull fresh trout from the river or go kayaking and canyoning and as of now, you will see no signs, plastic, barriers or indications of the spot where these activities take place.

The Roya looking from the village side of Breil

On my trip along the stream on a morning walk to the abandoned church (11th century beginnings)  Jeanne and I helped ourselves to  grapes, wild figs and berries....a real pleasure.  But I noticed that even the fullest part of the stream had no sides to the wooden foot-bridge, no railings.

Morning walk along the stream

Corner of abandoned church

Friend,Jeanne emerges from the walk

   If you don't have the sense you were born with and fall off into the water, too bad" ; you get the Darwin award.  Yes,  perhaps I'm being cynical but we Americans have been given the idea back home that someone else is responsible if we walk near the wild sea in a storm and get swept away or walk out too far on a mountain precipice and fall.

  One of the pleasures of nature here in France, and in Breil , there is seldom this over protection of people,  and less commercialization of the landscape and therefore many vistas are  left unspoiled.  There is an initiative to join this area of France to Nice, and I'm afraid this would be the beginning of commercial exploitation of this area.  I don't know the other side of the story but I hope it stays pristine.

Olive trees still cultivated since ancient times

Nearby town of Saorge, a perched village


Looking down on the village

Myself, I couldn't live in a village. ...too small, too isolated for my taste.  But I sure do love the privilege of a visit now and again.   Thanks, Jeanne