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Chasing Pineapples

an English girl tasting her way around the world

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October 2012

A Day of Driving through a Sea of Bordeaux Wines!

When tasting our way around Spain, we had to rely on public transport to get us from city to city. Here in France our little car has become our home and the third member of our travelling team. It facilitates whimsical stops in tiny untouched villages and gives us the opportunity to see the thick of the French countryside at its best. We made the most out of our private transport and the sunshine when driving from Sarlat to Bordeaux through miles and miles of vines. Surrounded by rows and rows of grapes, we decided to stop off at various points to experience the various stages of wine making.

Playing in the Vines

Our first stop was Monbazillac. After driving through the sea of vines on all sides, we stumbled upon some roadside grape pickers. Slowing the car down to tortoise pace, we crawled along to have a peek at the tons of grapes being loaded onto a huge truck. The men were very friendly, smiling and waving at the car with it’s giant GB sticker, and we very nearly stopped to ask if we could watch. In fact, we went back later to try and find them but they had unfortunately moved on!

Monbazillac Grape Harvest

The grapes that these workers were picking were not your everyday ripe pretty grape, yet late harvested Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle varieties which are allowed to form ‘noble rot’ on the vine, producing a much sweeter wine. On we pottered to the Chateau de Monbazillac where we had a very informed tasting. Far from wine connoisseurs, we were stunned at how dramatically the taste is altered with the three different sugar levels. We went for a bottle of the 2009, medium sweet, which we later drank as an appetiser with Saunt Maure goats cheese. This pairing is without a doubt one of the best I have experienced, the sweet golden wine balancing the creamy salty cheese. Absolute heaven!!

Monbazillac Grapes Rotting in a Noble Manner

Final detour before arriving in Bordeaux was one of the region’s most prestigious wine producers… The beautifully picturesque town of St. Emilion that rises up from the vast sea of surrounding vines. Bounding down the steep cobbled streets we passed wine shop after wine shop stuffed full with grand bottles. We saved our tasting until Bordeaux where we were staying with a wine enthusiast! We did stop off at the Maison des Vins where we had an interactive tour guessing the scents of various aromas!

Our Friend ‘The Wine Guy’

Then we bundled ourselves back into the car and finally headed on to our final destination (for now!)… Bordeaux…

 

Duck o’ Coq in the Dordogne

Perigord (or The Dordogne for us English folk) is renowned for its fattened up geese and ducks that produce the controversial yet deliciously gourmand foie gras. So off we went in our little car in search of ‘everything duck’!

Our market morning in Perigueux struck gold as we stumbled upon a foie gras tasting with an eccentric gentleman and his farm products. Foie de canard (duck) and foie d’oie (goose) are gourmet rivals with the goose being a more refined taste and certainly more expensive. However it’s nothing to be overly righteous about as the duck variety is more subtle and better suited to some tastes. Like wine, the best is only what you prefer, not what is the most recognised and expensive! This delicate product is produced in a much debated manner, by force feeding the poultry to produce a large, rich and firm liver which is perfectly complimented with raspberries or a sweet white wine.

One in a Million… Foie Gras store
Foie Gras at the Market!

Onwards to Sarlat… Now, if Perigord is the French capital of duck and goose, Sarlat is the crème de la crop and the must-visit city. Without exaggerating even slightly I have never seen so many gourmand shops packed into one tiny golden quaint town! Every place we stop, we without fail enter into a shop of this kind, yet here it was overwhelming to choose amongst the sea of foie gras goodie establishments. We entered a few and also had a tasting of Sarlanoix, an aperitif made of walnuts which would perfectly compliment the sugared walnuts we bought in the market, fresh from the farm!

After an exhausting morning of ‘ooing’ and ‘aaahing’ at hundreds of these products, we stopped for a well earned lunch at a traditional Sarladaise restaurant. Named ‘La Petit Bourie‘ after the little stone huts in the country, this house has been serving locally sourced dishes since 1920. We went for the very reasonable menu (on,y 16 euros!) so as to taste a bit of everything. To start was, surprise surprise, foie gras which melted in the mouth and was given a bit of an extra kick with piment d’Espelette and Guerande sea salt. The main event was confit de canard (duck confit) with Sarladaise potatoes. The duck was perfected down to a tee with crispy skin and fat and melt in the mouth meat, and even the group of chatty old ladies next to us commented on what a treat we were in for! The potatoes are a local speciality (hence the name!) and they, like everything in the area, incorporate poultry as they are initially fried in duck or goose fat with parsley and garlic, then formed into rosti-like paties which are crispy yet fluffy yet oily yet… (mouth watering!)

Confit de Canard

Best meal so far I think, and ten out of ten for value, friendly staff and interest in our tour! I would say that I’m all ducked out, but that I am not! What a fantastically gourmet stop!

Dedicated Mussel Chefs lost in France: Mouclade à la Alex and Gala!

On arriving in La Rochelle a few evenings ago, we got extremely excited about our following day’s plans. The sun would be shining, we would go to the market to buy our ingredients and then we would cook up a local dish somewhere on route to the Dordogne. Fabulous! So, when we opened the ‘curtains’ of our den (the car) to find that it was raining, we were a touch disheartened to say the least.

We headed to the market ‘quand même‘ (a French phrase whose translation of ‘all the same’ isn’t quite good enough!) and we bought a pain au chocolat to accompany our café crème at a bar called Le Gerbe du Blé that was attached to the market. This has been without a doubt my favourite breakfast, if not overall experience, of the trip thus far. With a motto of “Le travail c’est que du plaisir Seul l’orange et le citron sont pressés” (work is nothing but pleasure, only the oranges and lemons are squeezed (stressed… A French pun!)), the ambiance was captivating. We sat and kept ourselves to ourselves amongst the bustling world of the morning market… Clients inside reading the paper, groups of friends outside enjoying an early lunch with wine, old ladies pottering past with their purchases and then a broad man entered very astutely with a huge tray of oysters, plonked himself down on the table à côté (beside us) and with a glint in his eye asked ‘ je vous donne envie‘ (if were we jealous!)… and we were not!

Morning Market Coffee

We could have sat there all day watching the world go by, however eventually we moved on to the market and visited some very dishy young mussel merchants from whom we bought lots of mussels and also picked up a recipe for Mouclade, a regional dish! We visited various other vendors to pick up other ingredients and met a lovely couple with a basket of goodies!

Mussels ready to go!

With our ingredients all bought we headed off on the road again and decided, despite the rain, to stop off in Cognac to cook roadside style. We prepared the boot of the car to create a make-shift kitchen and began to cook away. Our previous presumptions about the rain “oh it will pass” were not quite fulfilled. It began to rain more and more until it was torrential. After losing a mussel to the river and the camping stove conking out on us, we decided to abort mission and reloaded the car absolutely soaked and with a bucket of half-cooked mussels playing passengers on my lap.

Rainy Roadside Cooking in Cognac

We turned up at our hotel in Perigueux an hour late and after recounting our story to the owner, he very kindly allowed us to finish in the hotel kitchen. Lucky ladies! So we finished off and it turned out rather well if I say so myself! He even gave us a glass of wine which we enjoyed as an accompaniment in the deserted bar. True dedication certainly paid off!

Muscadet and Mouclade, bien joué!

Recipe and a video of the days events to follow…

 

Tasting our Way Around Paris… A Short Video!

Crepes, Hot Chocolate and SPECULOS… Favourite Haunts in Nantes

I spent seven months living in the arty city of Nantes in the Loire Valley and I have just returned for a quick blast from the past. These are a few of my absolute favourite eateries in a city full of them…

Café Reflex is where I ate my lunch every Wednesday for five months! This was not because I was unadventurous, yet because I tutored the owners’ two boys. Before the lesson we would spend ‘English time’ over more often than not a Magret de Canard with honey and delicious frites maison. This would be followed by a pot au chocolat, a compact yet very rich and creamy chocolate ganache, divine! With the rustic surroundings and many local friends constantly popping in, I would also frequent this family business with my book for a coffee, the original situation I found myself in when the owner enquired about teaching!

Le Select is a very special place where we spent many an occasion whether it was sheltering from the cold with a thick hot chocolate in dark green and gold crockery, or for a very reasonably priced evening set menu. Gala and I returned here for steak frites with caramelised onion and a Tarte Tatin for dessert. This deliciously warming dessert has a rather quaint story behind it. The ‘Tatin Sisters’ owned a hotel restaurant in the Loire, and one of them was one day preparing her famous apple pie when she got distracted and left the apples cooking for too long. She decided to embrace her folliness and coat the caramelised apple mixture with her special pastry, turn it upside down, and voilà it went down a treat! All this and a big basket of bread for less than twenty euros! Not bad at all I say!

Cosy Select, waiting for our steak frites!

Tabl’O Gourmand was another of our favourites, and we ended up here at least once a week for a get together. Huge hearty salads, assiettes of charcuterie and best of all the Fournée! This has a different name for whether it is taken for breakfast or afternoon tea, yet it consists of the same delicious combination. A delicious ‘ancient’ hot chocolate being the perfect combination of chocolatey yet milky and frothy. This comes with a big basket of in my opinion the best French stick in France (a huge claim I know!) along with pâtes à tartiner… an array of spreads including hazlenut, caramel beurre salé (salted caramel) and the absolute highlight Speculos spread… A biscuity caramelised thick spread that is impossible to describe whilst doing it justice! TRY IT!

Very happy with my Speculos fix!

Talensac market where we used to go every weekend to buy some goodies for a picnic by the river… Usually consisting of carotte rapée, baguette, grapes, cheese and saucisson! This time we just missed the opening hours and instead of the bustling and vibrant chaos, the area was a ghost town… What a difference an hour makes!

Talensac Ghost Town…

As an end note, Galettes are all the rage in this former capital of Brittany… A black wheat version of the crepe, the city is packed with cosy little corners where you can enjoy these savoury filled goodies!

 

A 10pm Snail Craving in Nantes

Being back in the beautiful Nantes in the Loire Valley, I have found myself reminiscing and remembering little episodes of my life here two years ago. My housemate Alex and I lived in a tiny but cosy apartment across the road from a local restaurant named Tartines et Bouchons. Our French windows on the third floor looked out onto the terrace of the restaurant, therefore we experienced many of the goings on amongst the clientele and built up a friendly rapport with the owners.

One winters evening at about ten o’ clock we decided that we were hungry. After searching the apartment for chocolate from top to bottom (literally, Alex even stood on a chair to search the highest shelves), we whimsically decided to go and have an evening snack of snails at the neighbouring eatery!

So off we popped downstairs, entered the restaurant to huge grins from the waiters, which turned into laughter when we ordered une assiette d’escargots (a plate of snails). Generally enjoyed as a starter with a glass of wine, the staff brushed off our strange request as the English charm and gave us what we wanted.

After providing plenty of entertainment mastering the snail-eating concoction which actually proved more difficult than using a fork, we returned back to our little home and went to bed. I woke up in the morning to a text from my coloc (housemate) reading ‘I can feel the snails crawling around in my belly… Wiggle wiggle!’ For about a week after she couldn’t get the thought of live snails in her tummy out of her head…

Now that I am back in France, this time with another equally amusing friend, I am very much looking forward to many more entertaining snail eating experiences!

 

My Favourite Cosy Corner of Angers!

Two years ago I spent seven months in the Loire Valley as an English teacher. I lived in the arty city of Nantes and worked in the bourgeois town of Angers. On my days in latter, I would undoubtedly find myself in the school’s neighbouring café, Atelier. Delicious hot chocolate constantly churning on the counter, bric a brac furnishings including a sewing machine table, armchairs and little shoes on the ceiling; and a very friendly owner-come-writer all drew me to this cosy abode without ever considering taking my lunchtime chill out time anywhere else.

We spent so much time in this little corner of Angers that we built up a friendship with the owner, Olivier Piat, who has written a novel based on what he observes from the daily custom of his business. We also used to go for hot chocolate and Baileys some evenings (which is a must try if you haven’t done so before!) and hang out with Olivier and his friends, one of whom was very talented in playing jazz on the rickety piano. So many a happy memory has often taken me back here, therefore I was delighted to be able to return for real a few days ago and share this favourite haunt with Gala.

 

Olivier has actually since opened a new bar in a busier location, yet with the same charm as Atelier. It finds itself down a tiny alley with similar furnishings (sewing machine and all!) and even an indoor courtyard, complete with a tree, birdcages and grass! Named ‘Le Boudoir‘, a vase of Boudoir biscuits accompanies every drink and I recognised many a regular from Atelier who have evidently followed this dedicated café chap! The jazz pianist sat at the bar smiling at the world going by, the couple chatting away across their bar between reading the paper, and a poster on the wall of the motley crew in the style of the French film ‘Les Petits Mouchoirs.

Whenever I ordered hot chocolate a couple of years back, Olivier would serve it to me in a Charles and Diana commemoration mug, just because I was English. They obviously believe that all English people are obsessed with the Royal Family, as when I said I was returning to England for the holidays they all asked if I was going back especially for the Royal Wedding, and some even thought that

Chilling with Wills and Kate
Les Petits Boudoirs… The Motley Crew

I may be invited! This time round, to confirm their beliefs, I brought back a William and Kate commemoration mug to give to Olivier as a little souvenir and as a thank you for being so welcoming and making my year abroad that bit more special. He absolutely loved it and said he would keep it for his hot chocolate

A cosy inside courtyard… The best of both worlds!

On that note, we parted ways again with the standard French ‘à bientôt‘ (see you soon). With the prospect of taking the whole café back to England with me, I can only hope that it will be sooner rather than later that I can return once again to this very fond home from home!

Gala enjoying my favourite corner of Angers

Back a few Steps: Spanish Gastronomic Tour Videos!

Our first video, providing entertainment for no one but ourselves on the bus. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PP1DCIhu0ZI

Chapter 1: ANDALUCIA! Spanish fish and chips, Willy Wonka’s sherry factory tour, buying virgin cakes from blind nuns, meeting the ham man and other adventures… http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=16pH20e14Z0

Chapter 3: GALICIA! Attempting our first try of oysters, a foodie pilgrimage and picnic in Santiago de Compostela, and playing pepper roulette in Vigo. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=J2dC82vwRu0

Chapter 4: ASTURIAS! Meeting a pig, fun on the farm and singing a out cider production. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YS4PB8Xg0is

Chapter 5: BARCELONA! Last breakfast, salad dressing chocolate tasting with a pigeon intruder, Ferran Adria’s Crazy Tapas Bar. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HuYXwXQFFj0

Trapped in the Touraine; a Sleeping Beauty Picnic

The Loire Valley has provided us with many wonderful cliché experiences including running through the vineyards of Chenonceaux at sunset, driving through beautiful deserted villages, and buying bread from the local bakery in Chinon where there is ‘un pain pour chaque plaisir, un plaisir à chaque pain’ (a bread for every pleasure, pleasure in every bread.)

Buying our Baguettes!

The culinary highlight of the Touraine area that saddles the Loire Valley and Central regions has most definitely been their cold meats. Evidence for this comes in the form of a specialist charcutier wherever one looks in the local area. The perfect compliment for the light wines of the surrounding vineyards, they provided a great excuse for us to create a picnic, picking up local delicacies from each town visited.

A Picnic fit for A King

Our first stop was Tours, where we visited the specialist Charcutier Hardouin and came across ‘Rillettes de Tours‘, a Touraine take on the Le Mans treat of the same name (a rough paté made of pork slow cooked in its juices and spices and then shredded and blended with melted pork fat), the difference being that this one was cooked for longer hence less fat, and without adding goose meat like they do in Le Mans. Very light and buttery, this made a delicious spread for the freshly baked baguette we had purchased.

Next town was Vouvray where, after a very generous sparkling wine tasting at the Caves des Producteurs (obviously we spat as we were driving and co-piloting!), we headed into town to visit the various local specialist shops à la traditionelle (in the traditional way). The rather slim but very compact Saucisse Sèches de Vouvray burst with flavours of wine and spices, very warming and Christmassy! Next, we crossed the road to the Crémerie to get hold of a helping (or six) of the renowned AOC Saunt- Maure de Touraine goats cheese. A thin rind sheltering a gooey layer that oozed out as it was cut, surrounding a crumbly and creamy rich centre which is harder than others of its kind. Goats cheese is what enlightened me to become a cheese lover only this New Year, and this nutty variety was by far the best I have come across in this short period of time, and I suspect it will be hard to beat!

Playing Princesses at Chateau d’Ussy

For pudding was a Nougat de Tours which describes itself as a pastry containing orange marmalade and orange ecorces sheltered by a layer of macarons. This was extremely delicate, the orange flavour not being as harsh as expected. We savoured this to eat with some perfectly juicy Touraine Strawberries a few miles away in front of the Chateau d’Ussy. This castle is none other than the inspiration of Charles Perrault’s original story ‘La Belle au Bois Dormant’ (Sleeping Beauty) and was the perfect backdrop for a feast fit for a princess, or two!

A Walk through the Perre Augustin Vineyards

Next, the drive along the Loire river continues on a trail of chateaux, wine and Tarte Tatin!

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