Category Archives: Travels

When life offers you lemons…

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Don’t just limit the fun to lemonade!

Quite frankly, the day could not have announced itself with any more majesty than it had at that particular moment! Watching the sun rise, at first peeking timidly from behind Mount Vesuvius to suddenly quickly ascend to its full early morning glory was more than I had hoped for. Wow, what a scene and hurray for the early bird that I was!  Yes, this sunrise was maybe a tad more spectacular than most I’ve had the privilege to see in my life. The simple fact that I was on a beautifully appointed cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean may also have played a role in the euphoric mood of the moment… I just knew this was going to be another epic day! I stood on deck for a bit as the ship slowly made its way to port, welcoming the site of Naples with the giddiness of a school girl who’s about to wear her prom dress for the first time. I needed to share this moment with my King and flew down several flights of stairs to reach my cabin, barely touching the lush carpet under my feet. I just couldn’t wait to start exploring!image

From the moment we reached Salerno, our hearts were conquered and we fell head over heels in love with the land of lemon groves… Although we reached Salerno by tour bus, we were about to discover the Amalfi Coast by water. It was… Words escape me… Even two years later, as I write this post… I feel transported in that special moment in time. You know that feeling? When you are living an epic moment that is causing  your insides to flip and flop all over in sheer joy? When you need to pinch yourself to make sure you are actually wide awake and not dreaming? Yes, it was that surreal feeling that was taking over my entire being as we bobbled along the rugged coast line under the most spectacular azure blue sky. If I could have made time stand still forever, I think it would have been right there and then. We were feeling ageless and privileged: youth exploding from our pores, our skin glowing from sun and love and contentment.image

The town of Amalfi added to our awe and bliss of the moment. From the water, we had marvelled at the artfully layered terraces  of lemon trees, carved right into the rocky and steep mountain sides, the fruits so plentiful you could see them in the distance. As if an impressionist had purposely dabbed the greenery with a shower of yellow polka dots. Beyond the picturesque mosaic tiled roofs, beyond the old world charm, beyond the gazillion photo ops of weathered wooden shutters & narrow alleyways, it is the mighty lemon that stands tall and proud in this beautiful region. Amalfi oozes lemon everything: freshly picked lemons the size of oranges, lemon scented soaps, perfumes, desserts, gelato, pastries, Limoncello… Lemons are painted on canvas, on ceramic tiles, on paper… They adorned salt and pepper shakers and every possible kitsch plastic tourist souvenir from Amalfi “made in China”. Lemons, lemons, lemons everywhere. But if you must indulge in anything lemony, then nothing is more Amalfi “lemon authentic” than “delizie al limone” (lemon delight), a dome shaped dessert made of layers of genoise cake drenched in Limoncello and covered in sweet lemon cream. No one twisted our arms as we selected a prime seat at a little terrace in direct sight of the famous Amalfi church. We gleefully dug into a serving of this lovely cake, sharing an ice cold shot of Limoncello (obliged to partake, even at 10 am) and a semifreddo cafè crema, probably paying way more than we should have but not caring one iota! Our one-and-a-half-hour stop was merely a tease as we would have easily spent several days somewhere along this coast, basking in the warm sun and making our way through lemon scented menus…

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Although there are recipes online, I have not even attempted to recreate the scrumptious lemon delight cake of Amalfi. And I don’t really want to. Nope, these little creamy domes are not meant to be baked in my Canadian kitchen; they belong elsewhere. They are part of that travelling experience. I would rather visit again hoping to relive the joy of that moment, including a side of cold Limoncello and a view of mosaic tile roofs…

I am transported back to that magical place every time I grab a handful of beautiful lemons, especially when they come with a few leaves… I may not bake Amalfi Coast lemon delights but I hold my own with a few luscious lemon dessert recipes. Like these easy one pan lemon squares for instance: a shortbread crust topped with a rich and creamy lemon topping. They resemble nothing you would find in an Italian Pasticceria: they are truly a North American creation originating in the United States Midwest. According to my research, this popular dessert could very well be the brain child of the Betty Crocker™ Brand… But that is what the internet says sooooooo, may not be entirely true. Well regardless of where and when, these little squares are now hugely popular, many families handing their own recipe from generation to generation.  I find they are the perfect summer picnic/potluck/BBQ contribution because they can tolerate the lack of refrigeration for a while. They have the right balance of crunchy & creamy, tart & sweet. Refreshing too!  I have had this recipe for so long I now forget where it comes from. I wish I could give credit to the source of such wonderfulness so whoever you are, thank you!  And I love you and my family loves you and my friends love and I’m pretty sure the readers of this blog now love you too!!!

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LEMON SQUARES

What you need

For the Crust

  • ¾ cup butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp icing sugar

How to make it

  1. Heat oven at 325°F
  2. Grease 9X13 pan and line with parchment paper extending over long edges for handles. Then grease the sides only of the parchment paper well. It is not necessary to grease the bottom
  3. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Stir in flour in 2 additions. Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and let cool in pan
  4. Topping: in bowl, beat together eggs with sugar until pale and thickened. Beat in lemon juice and zest, flour and baking powder. Pour over baked base, spreading evenly. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and center is set
  5. Let cool in pan on rack. Then refrigerate until very cold before removing from pan
  6. Gently peel the parchment paper and generously dust with icing sugar
  7. Cut into 12 squares (or more if you prefer)image

 

 

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Part 3: The Ugly

I am Charlie ❤️🇫🇷

What can be so “Ugly” in the land of Paul Bocuse, Escoffier and Le Cordon Bleu? How about McDonald, Subway, Burger King, Dominoes, Pizza Hut and KFC!!! This for me sums up The Ugly: the complete invasion of the great American grub!!!

I could understand to a certain degree if these restaurants were offering a really inexpensive alternative to eating out for busy families. Let’s face it, restaurant food is expensive anywhere you go and the cost is relative to any country’s economy. I believe the success of the fast food outlets in Canada and the USA is a combination of fabulous marketing, accessibility and price. They offer the busy households the ability to feed family members at a somewhat reasonable price: my husband and I have noticed that fast food meals often cost about the same as buying the ingredients and making the meal yourself. Not always, but often! No mess, always ready when you are hungry and affordable.

That formula is the North American formula. But here in France (and in Spain), the cost of eating at any of these restaurants is far from cheap. We stopped at a McDonald on the road once near Avignon, hoping to buy cheaper sodas than what we had found so far and restrooms. My husband was also hoping to get a Canadian size coffee… For the hell of it, we ordered one BigMac combo with fries to share. We just wanted to see if the BigMac tasted the same because we had heard it was quite different. My sons both said they found some nuances in the taste of the bun and the meat. My husband and I thought it tasted exactly like a BigMac. Experience completed! But what was a shocker was the price: one combo meal plus 2 extra sodas and a coffee cost just short of 15€. In current exchange rate, that is about $22CD!!! In comparison, you can find sandwich shops and counters every few meters in most town centers. The average sandwich, served on crisp and insanely tasty baguettes (that’s a huge sandwich) cost anywhere between 3.5€ and 5€. Add a soda each at 2-3€ and you have the cost of a BigMac meal but as a bonus, you get the YUM factor!!!

The Europeans, more often than none, have strongly disregarded North American food, labeling it as being anything but real food. It has always been considered low grade and rightfully so (we even think so ourselves). The elevation of gastronomy in Canada (and the US) is a fairly recent phenomenon: thank goodness for that! And I can honestly say that now, some restaurants in my hometown would easily give French eateries a bit of a run for their money. So if they have laughed at our way of eating for so long, why on earth are they helping these icons of the fast food industry set roots on their territory?

Soooooo, if this type if food is sub-grade especially here in Europe and the cost of it equivalent, if not more, to their own classic take-out street food merchants, why are these restaurants experiencing such success here? That question baffles me other than maybe the youth is longing to experience the US way of life… And successful they seem to be as they are popping up EVERYWHERE! We could have eaten that type of food during our entire trip: they can be found at rest areas, shopping malls and even incorporated within the old town centers. There is a Golden Arch symbol wherever you go… And, it is all in English to boot!!! In the heart of old Montpellier is the famous square called Place de la comédie: it is a huge piazza boasting the beautiful fountain called “Les trois Graces” and surrounded by stunning Renaissance buildings. Countless cafés and bars spilling into postcard perfect terraces where one can enjoy a beverage while people watching. The quintessential European experience, even in January! And smack in the middle of old world charm, surrounded by names such as “Le Café Riche” and “Chez Joseph” is good old McDonald’s!!! And without trying to insult anyone, I find that at the top of The Ugly!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Part 2: The Bad

The Good was easy to write about and I suspect The Ugly will as well… But The Bad, for me and for the purpose of this recapitulation, is the in-between: I should call it The Mediocre or The Letdown!

I think at the top of this food chain of the bad is the tourist trap. I have travelled a fair bit in my life but not all over the world: mainly Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and the eastern half of the United States. There are restaurants surrounding major attractions in every city that will always be overly expensive for what they offer, and some are downright nasty. In my hometown of Ottawa for instance, the spectacular restaurants are not necessarily plentiful (although the numbers are increasing drastically) but I can say that even in the core of the tourist zones, most eateries are decent and priced fairly. I say most: Ottawa is not void of nasty, over priced restaurants, but I doubt a tourist would feel jipped simply because he is transient. If you read this and have never been to Ottawa but plan on visiting one day, simply remember that the average restaurant (excluding large chains and fast food giants) will offer you a decent meal, even in the center of the Byward Market. As a matter of fact, the Byward Market boasts some of the best restaurants in the city. Just bare in mind that any place with the word “Pub” in it will be mediocre and not the best choice for culinary discoveries. Now that I have pitched my hometown as a decent tourist destination, what about “The Bad” here in Southern France and Barcelona?

1. The Tourist Trap: with the unbelievable number of restaurants surrounding any visitor hot spot of any European town/city, the Tourist Trap is more prevalent here than anywhere in North America. And the sad part is that you will not know until you sit down and eat the food! Barcelona was a prime example of this hit and miss game. For starters, the entire center of Barcelona, which stretches over many kilometers, is “Full Tourist” zone! So it is hard to escape at all. To find an eatery frequented mostly by locals is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The hotel staff had recommended the beach area near Port Vell as a great place to eat. But of course, we fell on “The Bad One”! Without access to WIFI, we went in blind and walked away disappointed. A huge bill for a meal that was subpar… I can’t remember the name but it was right next to the Surf House Restaurant which we should have chosen instead considering the online reviews. Well, lunch was 133.50€ and it sucked. Frozen shrimps served still frigging frozen, tasteless mussels (appy), paella for two with 1 shrimp, 1 mussel, 2 clams and half a mini lobster each (18.70 € per person), tough & fatty steaks served with frozen potato patties (such as those found at McDonalds for breakfast). Yes, we had been “tourist trapped”! But dinner was the complete opposite!!! By then, we were in the heart of La Rambla. Amazing tapas and service at a little spot called Taller de Tapas. For four, including wine, beer and bottled water, our bill was 101.50€. Tip: ask the hotel for specific names of restaurant (which we did for dinner) instead of a general area (lunch). The number one “Bad”, for me, is definitely the tourist trap because a huge part of my traveling experiences revolve around food!
2. The coffee: tastewise, it is fantastic! Everywhere we have been so far, it has been really, really good. But the PRICE of it is insane! Even at the stand-up bars and counters!!! Obviously we, North Americans, are spoiled with the cost of a cup of coffee when out and about. Fine, we are often served horrid coffee by the bucket full but we also have plenty yummy coffee houses that offer a really decent product, at a decent price! I will never complain again at the price of a latté in my city! Promise 🙂 !!!
3. Same old, same old: it seems difficult to find restaurants that offer something unique… Pizza, sandwiches, Steak-Frites, Moules-Frites, burgers (yes burgers), croque-monsieur and crêpes/waffles is all there is it seems! Don’t take me wrong, I LOVE European pizzas and sandwiches but would have liked a bit more variety… We have not been disappointed with any sandwich we have eaten, I just wish we could have seen more original stuff however, the sandwiches are by far the most affordable easy to grab foods available. And if you are lucky, you will find a counter that offers unusual combinations of ingredients slapped between amazing breads!
4. Vegetables anyone??? Where on earth is the produce? Obviously not in restaurants… Although we have had some decent salads here and there, for the most part, vegetables for the sake of eating vegetables as a course are M.I.A.! Many, many places offer shredded iceberg (I know, how weird is that) with a few sprinklings of carrots and tomatoes. I was hoping to dig into ratatouille, peppers of all kinds, fresh tomatoes & cucumbers, huge buttery lettuces. My vegetable consumption has beeb reduced to a handful of iceberg and a few chunks of tomatoes…
5. The invasion of the processed foods: large North American style grocery stores abound now in France. Frozen pizzas, pastas, waffles and easy meals seem to be taking over the working families’ dinner table… The dinner convenience that is putting North Americans at the top if the obesity epidemic seems to have crossed the pond. The consumption if sugar also seems to be on the rise: thank goodness high fructose corn syrup is not accepted as a food additive! It is hard to predict the long term effect this will have on the younger generations here in France. Currently, the French population is still quite svelte! But the highly processed foods are a fairly new phenomena; twenty years ago, the typical household would cook from scratch nearly everyday. And I remember a not so distant past where the French would snub anything that came out of a box!!!

While it upsets me to get caught in a tourist trap, it is par for the course while traveling abroad 🙂 . But I am saddened by the increasing availability of mediocre foods in supermarket. France has always been the mecca of culinary integrity. Is France, the cradle of gastronomy, becoming an endangered species? Will the new generations have lost the art of cooking? I sure hope not because when you dig into good here, you dig into the very best!!!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Part 1: The Good

It has been 11 years since my last trip to France: the culinary landscape is changing and not necessarily for the better… I had heard that the country itself is rather perturbed by the invasion of Fast Food giants and processed foods in the grocery stores. However, and thank goodness, the little independently owned neighborhood food providers still seem to thrive and can be found everywhere even amidst the larger supermarkets! There is also a movement in France pushing to preserve the “original French way” of eating, phewee 🙂

The Good
1. The very good: the bakeries! They are everywhere and in easy reach (walking distance for the most part) of homes. The morning ritual has not change much as the French pick up fresh breads and croissants first thing in the morning and again on their way home from work.
2. More on the very good: the sweet shops! OMG! The art of dessert and treats seems alive and well. You can barely walk a city block without being lured in the many, many pastry and candy stores. It is culinary art at its best! When you walk into a “pâtisserie”, the aroma will cast a spell so strong that any resolve you may have had will be dissolved in an instant! You might be able to resist the sweet smells that emanate from the front door but once inside, just forget about it and dive right in. You will loose the fight anyways!!! Pâtisseries also tend to offer a small variety of handmade chocolates, macarons and other candies but leave that experience for the boutiques who specialize in those; because of course, you will certainly find one or two on the same street. “Chocolatiers” and “Confiseries” rule the art of candy making. Even if you have just indulged on a huge pastry or on a delicate yet rich “Opera”, you will not survive two minutes into one of these specialty shops without pulling your cash out. The best part: you can take these home to enjoy later!!! Just beware of the luggage weight restriction imposed by your airline because it is easy to go bonkers in ANY of these shops!!! Should you walk in one that offers pre-packaged gummy bears and sour worms, keep going: they are not the real deal!
3. The store fronts: nothing, I mean nothing at all compares to the shop windows here in France or in most European countries for that matter. Wether it is food related or any type of mercantile, showcase windows are exquisitely composed, especially during the holiday season. You can window shop for hours 🙂
4. The all inclusive price! I love that formula!!! Menu boards abound and the prices quoted are the prices paid with taxes and service included. I also love the “menu fixe” or “menu formule” which offers a 2-4 course meal for a fixed price (like a Table d’Hôte). Often, the meal includes wine (bonus!) and more than one choice for each course. However, don’t even think of asking for substitutions!!! The French are very punctilious: flexibility, adaptability and easy-going do not seem to be part of their vocabulary :).
5. The “regional” flavour: I love that each area has its own specialty! It makes eating out an adventure every time. Of course, it is easy to find the ordinary in restaurants. Just like at home, pizzas, sandwiches and other crowd pleasers are found every where. Unadventurous palates need not to worry: you are more likely to find pizzas and steak-frites than you are to be forced into “rognons à la moutarde” or “cervelle au beurre noir”!
6. Grocery store ready-to-eat meals: wether they are freshly prepared, frozen or canned, these easy meals seem by far much better than the North American counterpart. Of course I had to go snoop in a large grocery store: my gosh, it is part of exploration 101 for me ha ha ha! And because we are not in a hotel, we have the opportunity to eat a fair bit of “home cooked” meals. Not only is it easier on the traveller’s budget, it is also a great way to experience the local way of cooking while discovering new (and not so new) and regional ingredients. Sous-vide here is amazing and really offers a great alternative to the working parents. One of the best we have had so far were braised lamb shanks in a tick red wine sauce. Lip smacking good!!! They even sell duck confit in huge cans and I have also been blown away at the grocery store foie gras selection; an entire cooler section was dedicated to foie gras in every shape and form! It is as if foie gras is as mundane here as ground beef is at home…
7. Highway rest areas: not every pit stop on the highway offers dining but the ones that do offer really decent food. The toll highways are fantastic and the rest areas plentiful. It was not like that 20 years ago… The downside of taking the highway instead of the scenic route is missing all the small and quaint villages and towns. But for long distance travelling, these highways are the bomb!!! Many offer light menu fare similar to snack bars: sandwiches (hot or cold), pastries and beverages. The bigger stops provide full service cafeterias: complete meals, usually showcasing regional flavours, are surprisingly good. We have stopped in both France and Spain and have eaten quite well in both countries. My sons once tried pre-packaged sandwiches and said that these were better than any sandwich they have had in any Canadian pit stop!

The Good is very good here in Europe! Just dig right in with abandon… Unfortunately, there is a “Bad” and an “Ugly” to follow but I suspect they will be shorter texts than this one dedicated the the “Good”, as seen by me the tourist!

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Deciphering Local Culinary Jargon

Day two of romancing the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier. We are currently 12 people reunited for the holidays. My step-sister Delphine lives here with her husband Erwan (he owns the wine boutique) and their adorable daughters. Visiting from Brittany: Erwan’s mother and from Toulouse, his aunt. My father (Canadian) and step-mom (Parisian born) have rented a large house in Montpellier to accommodate this large group. It is home base while we gallivant the surrounding areas.

On this second day of discovery, we are visiting Sète, a quaint town and home to the largest fish port of France. And of course, no sightseeing can be complete without breaking for a long and leisurely lunch in a local eatery. The wind is bitterly cold but the sun warm enough to permit us to eat on a terrace outside, sheltered from the Mistral. And with a sizable group like ours, finding a table inside most port side restaurants is nearly impossible.

I am still amazed at how foreign the vocabulary of French gastronomy sounds to me. I am not a novice at this at all and I am not on my first French trip either. But each region has its own specialties and its own food dialect it seems! I mean, one can always find steak and mussels and “frites” but my motto when traveling is to dive right into the unknown. Why should I have a Steak Frites when I can choose “Seiche à la Rouille” for instance??? What on earth is seiche you may ask (well, unless you are truly French that is)? Ok, well I know what sèche is: it is in the squid family but slightly bigger. But “seiche à la rouille” is new to me! I have had rouille in the past which is typically a red mayonnaise made with garlic, saffron and cayenne and mostly served on little toasts to accompany Bouillabaisse, the well known Mediterranean seafood soup/stew (Cioppino is the San francisco similar fish soup). Side note on Bouillabaisse: if you order anything called Bouillabaisse anywhere else than by the Mediterranean, than you are ordering an imposter because the base of this soup is red rascasse (rockfish) which is only found in these waters. Although other Mediterranean caught fish can also be used in this soup, Bouillabaisse with rascasse is the most authentic. Back to my seiche à la rouille: this was different so why not try it?

Although my youngest and my husband ordered Steak Frites, I was thrilled to no ends when my oldest ordered a regional specialty: stuffed mussels and stuffed “encornets”. I had to ask what “encornets” were: simply another name for squid, how fancy! Other items ordered were “bullots”, a type of cooked sea snail served cold with a garlic aïoli, minuscule deep fried smelts and mussels (which were served raw, like oysters). My “seiche à la rouille” was divine: cooked to perfection, tender and smothered in a rich thick rouille of tomato and saffron.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit of Sète even with the abnormally cold weather and crazy winds which actually brought the temperature down to -7C! After lunch, we continued our discoveries by car, following the scenic route back to Montpellier through little towns and vineyards. We even braved the winds with a brisk walk on the beach of Palavas-les-flots. The day was crowned with a pasta dinner, fussilli Al’Amatriciana, that I prepared for the clan. And although I had purchased all local ingredients, somehow the result was not as good as the one I make at home because the smoked lardons (bacon) I bought fell a bit flat. There sure is one thing Canadians do extremely well: smokey delicious bacon! No envy for European taste on that one item lol!!! Our homemade pasta/salad/cheese tray/French pastries dinner ended a second day of good eats!

Foie Gras and Other Decadent French Foods

Lucky me! My family and I are currently visiting family in the south of France. Since our arrival less than 48 hours ago, my two sons have been digging into French gastronomy with such abandon and adventure it is pleasing this mom like mad. From fairly finicky eaters as youngsters, they finally seem to have embraced to joy of culinary disvoveries!

My personal (and very plain) “must have favourite: Jambon beurre” when landing on French soil was a huge hit. My boys have heard incessantly on how this unassuming sandwich is soooo amazing! Baguette, butter and ham! Nothing more!!! But that bread, oooooh how blissful. There is nothing, nothing at all like baguette in France! Even more so, there is nothing in the world like baguette in Paris which is the summum of all baguettes. Add cooked white Parisian ham and a thick coat of butter from Normandy, this sandwich is a symphony for the tastebuds!

Our first day upon landing in the city of lights was a huge travel day: an 8 hour drive ahead of us, jet-lag and all, to reach Montpellier and reunite with family. It was long and exhausting but we made it safe and sound. Upon arrival, we were greeted with champagne! But other than the ritual “jambon beurre” and road side dinner, we had yet to discover on our first day on French soil what the French are all about: food!!!

Day two was intro 101 for the boys. After a “must” breakfast of fresh croissants and baguette, we headed to the family owned boutique wine cellar for a Sunday tradition of freshly harvested oysters and wine tasting. It was barely 11am! We then all went to explore the outdoor Christmas Market in downtown Montpellier. This Christmas market was set in a downtown square called Place de la Comédie: a huge alley lined on both sides with the cutest little wooden kiosks featuring artisans and food crafters of all kinds including chocolatiers, candy makers, charcutiers (those who create wonderful sausages and other deli type meats), cheese makers and many other local delicacies. And of course, there was an impressive array of ready to eat foods. Both my sons and my hubby, as well as the rest of our group dug into the fare like children in a candy store. Everyone started with the european style hot dog: a 12″ long delicious sausage nestled in a warm baguette loaded with Dijon mustard so spicy it cleared all sinuses. After which followed raclette “tartines” (crazy amount of local cheese melted over heavy country bread), churros (pipping hot with a generous dusting of sugar), Aligot ( a potato and cheese purée I had never heard of), giant beignets with Chantilly cream (so giant any american portion paled in comparison) and hot local spiced wine. We then had to go discover the little streets of old downtown Montpellier and walk off this indecent amount of food because we knew dinner would be just as delectable.

The plus side of renting a house while on vacation is the access to a fully equipped kitchen! The French eat much later than we are accustomed to. If the size of the French midday meal has anything to do with it, then it sure was a welcomed break to wait at least 6 hours before we had to start tantalizing our taste buds again. The other thing the French seem to be big on are meats while vegetables (other than salad) are sparse, mostly served as a tiny side dish. As an appetizer, my step-sister had made “torchon de foie gras”. OMG, was that ever obscenely delicious. I was rather impressed when she shared the simple steps in preparing this supposedly difficult dish! Beware of chefs who often pretend food preparation is soooo complicated simply to make sure they can bathe in their own glory lol! Many so called “complicated” dishes are really not that difficult at all to execute; Torchon is one of those… The “politically incorrect” foie gras was followed by a huge roasted leg of lamb, french beans and potatoes mousseline. I was in charge of cooking the lamb so needless to say I was rather nervous to not only achieve perfection in cooking temperature using a strange oven graded only in Celsius, but also apprehensive of serving my dish to 10 discriminating palates including 7 really, really French guests. I must have had a culinary spirit looking over my shoulder because I nailed it!! I even managed to make a sauce from the pan drippings that everyone loved. Following the main were cheeses with more baguette and then French pastries… All of this liberally drenched with copious amounts of Languedoc-Roussillon red wine!

The entire day seemed dedicated to the pleasures of the table. It seems we left one meal to dig into another one! My biggest complain was the lack of greens! But I must admit that it was a very meek complaint on this first day lol! Elusive greens aside, it still amazes me how the French can elevate a handful of humble ingredients into spectacular feasts. Take foie gras for example: all you need is goose or duck liver, a simple blend of a few key seasonings, proper prepping and wrapping of the liver and a bath of hot water is really all it takes to create such a delicious course. All resides in the technique and specific order in which the items are prepared.

Both my sons, who had heard my endless tales of food fests in France (and elsewhere in Europe) were not disappointed at all. They “got it”!!! And by the time this first full day in Montpellier rolled to an end, they were already dreaming of the tomorrow feast which would surely include Foie Gras and other decadent French foods…