Thursday, June 24, 2021

Anniversary Outings

 On Wednesday, Earl and I celebrated our 31st anniversary. "Celebrated" is a bit of an overblown statement. 

The highlight of the day came in the afternoon, following a few hours of teaching. Jim and Theresa picked us up in their VW Golf with the snazzy red mirrors and we zoomed about 45 minutes south of here to Maury. Well, past Maury and the more heavily visited wineries there to MA, Mas Amiel, another winery, with a difference. 

The winery has jugs, known as dame Jeanne, setting outside in the sun. I'd always thought the sun was bad for wine, but apparently this winery has different theories. We would be the judge of that!

The dame Jeanne wine jugs sitting in the sun.
Vineyards and wine jugs and the hills beyond. 

We wandered in and looked around the showroom before walking up to the counter. Most tasting rooms have wine stewards who speak English, and this one did as well, although he got hung up a few times and we encouraged him to say it in French, thinking we would still understand. They usually ask what kind of wine we like. They serve the wine from weakest to strongest taste, so usually whites and rosés, first, followed by reds. Earl and I are red wine drinkers, but we have been won over by a few rosés lately. 

Post tasting. After each wine, we swish the water in our glass and pour it into the bowl. 

He started us with a mellow rosé. I've found that people frequently want a rosé in the summer, so knew we would buy a bottle for 8,90 euros. Then he moved onto fortified wines. Fortified wines are similar to port, they are mixed with other, stronger alcohol. The fortified white would work well as an aperitif. 

The four of us. 

The fortified red we tasted first, although it had Theresa's favorite label, purple and blue, did not win us over. A 2012 fortified wine was so smooth, but pricey. 

Then we moved on to the oxidized wines, those that sit out in the sun. They were labeled for their age --20 years old, 30 years old, 69 from grapes grown in the late 60s. The 20 tasted good. The 30 tasted like raisins. But the 69, oh, the 69, tasted like heaven in my mouth. 

The wine steward did a good job selling it, pointing out that it's like buying a good bottle of whiskey, you only drink a little and on special occasions. It lasts for years. 

As we were checking out, the steward gave us a gift of a bottle of wine since it was our anniversary. I figured it was a throw-away bottle they kept to hand out free, but Jim found it on the list and pointed out it was a 30 euro bottle of wine. That might not be much to spend on wine in the States, but anything over 10 euros seems expensive when you live in the land of free flowing, inexpensive wine. 

Chairs outside the tasting room. 
Us outside the tasting room

We drove home through the sunshine, admiring the mountains and the endless undulation of trees around us.

The lane leading up to the winery.

 We stopped to harass our friend Steve who we saw along the side of the road preparing for a time trial on his bicycle. It's fun to run into friends miles away from home. 

Then we walked to a nearby restaurant for a simple meal with Jim and Theresa, sitting inside because the weather had taken a turn to the chilly. 

Not a bad way to celebrate living in France and that day 31 years ago we pledged our love in front of our friends and family.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

French Vienoisseries

 One thing that people love about France are the pastries. As Americans, we probably use that word to cover everything from croissants to Napoleons to little fruit tarts. 

Here in France, those breakfast staples like croissants or pain au chocolat are called vienoisseries. It's made using yeast or puff pastry. When we first arrived, we were so grateful for any croissant or pain au raisin, but our tastes have gotten more refined. 

The bakery up the hill has a pain au chocolat (called a chocolatine in this part of France) made in the ancient tradition -- à la ancienne -- and the chocolate is wrapped inside layers and layers of flaky puff pastry. I have a favorite bakery for pain au raisin when I go to the Esperaza market on Sundays. 

But luckily, our local bakery has some vienoisseries that you don't find everywhere. I'm sure I've written about the chausson framboises, a kind of raspberry turnover, that the baker's wife reminds me should be chausson à la framboise. I've never seen them anywhere else. 

Recently, the bakery has started making croissant chocolat. You might think this is the same as a pain au chocolat, but it isn't.

Instead, it is shaped like a croissant. It has chocolate drizzled over the top, and it has melty chocolate in the middle -- totally different from a pain au chocolat. 

Un croissant chocolat for breakfast

I stopped this morning to get a sandwich that Earl and I would share for lunch, and I saw a tray full of croissant chocolat. What could I do? I had to order one. 

The inside has creamy chocolate, unlike the pain au chocolat. 

The woman waiting on me said, "Il n'y en a plus," there aren't any more. I waved my hand toward the tray, and she realized that the baker had refilled the case with a dozen chocolate croissants. 

My lucky day.

Do you have a favorite vienosserie? 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Castle on Every Mountain

 Yesterday evening, I was texting with our son Spencer. He was getting a tire fixed on his day off. He asked how my day was. 

I hiked with some friends, I told him and sent a picture. 

The view from atop Rennes le Chateau

"Is there a castle on top of every hill there?" he asked. 

Well, yes, practically. Or parts of old castles.

Monday was a scorcher here in the south of France, but we had planned a hike from Couiza to Rennes le Chateau. In addition to the hike, we had a mission from Grace, who is using Rennes le Chateau as a case study for her masters thesis. And we had invited our husbands and a few other friends to join us for lunch at the top as well.

We started off about 9:30 in the morning. We thought the hike would take two hours but we had reached Rennes le Chateau by about 10:45. We were sweaty, but the views were worth it. 

Melissa, Sue and I started from Sue's house in Couiza
The flowers were in bloom and the rolling hills and far off mountains looked great from up high.
Walking up to the chateau gave us a new vantage point. 
Some stone stairs at the end

Grace had asked us to search for pentagrams in Rennes le Chateau as part of her masters thesis. She's researching how some tourist places use the occult to draw in visitors. We treated it like a treasure hunt, searching the old buildings, examining the church.

We took a break to have a drink in one of the nearby cafes, sitting under the shade of the trees. I ordered a menthe a l'eau, water with mint syrup added to it. Cool and refreshing. My British friends ordered hot mint tea. I don't get it. My face was still dripping with sweat and I couldn't picture drinking hot tea, but apparently the Brits do. They were delighted with their mint tea. 

Grace texted that her professor suggested we look at the church pews for pentagrams, so we returned to the church. And inside, we found our friends Theresa and Jim who were meeting us for lunch, and Theresa was joining in on the pentagram search. The pews were obviously fairly new and plain wood. No signs of pentagrams.

Melissa had noticed a "storage shed" earlier that had some pews in it so she and Sue went to search there. 

The church is beautiful and quirky. 

No pentagrams, but lots of stars above the altar
This is a picture of the devil holding up the holy water. It's behind glass now because someone destroyed it a few years ago. So I've included an old picture so you can see what it looks like. 
The view all around Rennes le Chateau is beautiful
View again. 

Of course, there's more to Rennes le Chateau than the view. There's a mystery that draws visitors and researchers like Grace. Here's a link to a previous post I wrote about Rennes le Chateau in 2017 on our first visit there. 

After searching the church, the gardens, the tower and the surrounding village for pentagrams without success, we walked to the restaurant where we were meeting the rest of our group. France still has a limit on six people dining together, even outside, so our group of 10 was broken into two tables. We sat men at one table, women at the other, but someday we'll all be able to sit together again. 

The food was good, view beautiful, company outstanding and even the accompanying dogs were well behaved. 

Sunday, June 06, 2021

A Market Bike Ride

 Summer is finally arriving in the south of France, with a gorgeous day today. The sky was so blue; the white clouds, fluffy. So Earl and I rode our bikes to the Esperaza market. It's about 10 kilometers (6 miles) each way. Usually, we saunter around the market, admiring the rotisserie chickens as they drop fat onto the potatoes below, the handmade instruments we're always tempted to buy for the nieces and nephews, or the clumps of rose-colored garlic. 

Today, we simply parked our bikes and parked ourselves at a café, our usual café. The one where the waitress recognizes us and we can chat about whether she accepted a contract for the summer and what other restaurant she might be working in. "It's a young woman's game," she says, but in French, and that's my interpretation of it. 

While Earl ordered coffee, I waited in the ever-growing line at the bakery. I only go to that bakery on Sundays, but they have the best pain au raisin in the area. When I stepped inside, I saw one pain au raisin remaining. Not to worry, Earl prefers a palmier, so if no one took the pain au raisin, I was golden. The man behind me, his red hair knotted into frizzy dreadlocks that reached his elbows, shook the coins in his hand. I felt sure that he was ogling that pain au raisin when he stepped up to the vienoisserie case. When the woman in front of me asked for bread, I felt relief. I hurried to order the pain au raisin and palmier before anyone else could snag them. 

Then back to the café where Earl waited with our coffee. I even made a joke in French to my friend Claudine. She texted me a picture of a croissant and coffee and said the emoji for a pain au raisin doesn't exist. I told her pain au raisins don't exist any more in Esperaza, cause I just ate the last one. I was pretty proud of that, although she is probably too polite to tell me if I said it correctly in French. 

"We need tomatoes," I pointed out as we continued to occupy our table after the pastries were long finished. "We could find someplace to lock up the bikes or you could sit here with the bikes and I'll go get the tomatoes." He agreed to the second option and I walked past the cheese and wine carts, ignoring the scent of the olives black and green from another cart, and I didn't look twice at the jewelry stalls. Straight to the fruits and vegetables where I chose tomatoes that look dark greenish red. 

We rode home as the morning waned and felt slightly proud of adding exercise to our morning market routine. 

On Saturday, we enjoyed dinner at Sue and Steve's in Couiza and it included a walk for Sue and me, plus Elwing, their dog. As we climbed up the road past Montazel, the vista opened up. Sue pointed out Rennes le Chateau across the way, and the craggly top of Bugarach beyond it. I sent a picture to Grace since her master's thesis is focusing on Rennes le Chateau. 

We even came across a scarecrow of sorts that had been erected with the two sights beyond it. Apparently, they both have mysterious followers. 

The week has been busy and filled with the joy of friends, along with the satisfaction of beautiful morning runs. 

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...