Those of you who know me, understand what an important role food plays in my life – thinking about it, talking about it, shopping for it, preparing it and enjoying it with family and friends. So, when I travel it tops my list of things to do – explore and eat the food of the area. I believe you can learn a lot about people by what and how they eat.
Cooking is not chemistry. It is an art.
It requires instinct and taste rather
than exact measurement.
~Chef Marcel Boulestin~
September was the perfect time to wander through the markets in the French country side – the fresh produce was a feast for the eyes and had me imagining the feasts I could prepare with the bounty.
We ate a good share of our meals in restaurants and had many memorable dining experiences, but we also had some mediocre meals and a few that I would call bad – not what one imagines when envisioning dining in France. Some of the most enjoyable meals for me were the ones we prepared ourselves, and ate on the deck under the sun or the stars.
The best way to execute French cooking
is to get good and loaded and whack
the hell out of a chicken.
And that’s what we did – well not the getting loaded part – but we did enjoy a glass of wine while we were cooking. We bought these beautiful chicken breasts at the le boucherie and because we had limited ways to cook and less than ideal equipment, I decided to pound them thinner so they wouldn’t dry out in the cooking process. There was no mallet, so we just ‘whacked the hell out of them’ with a frying pan, which took a lot of whacking because it was a rather flimsy pan, but I’m happy to report they tasted delicieux.
This is Betsy and I cooking our first meal in the galley. It was lunch time and we were moored along the shore waiting for a lock to open. They close each day from 12:30 to 1:30. We were docked next to a small village so we set out to find a restaurant, but had no luck – and we were hungry – so plan B was executed. When we did our original shop for provisions before leaving port on the first day on the boat, we only bought things for breakfast, but fortunately on that day while we were getting the boat ready I met a woman who was just finishing her trip and had a bag of food that she didn’t want to throw away and asked if I might want it. I took her up on her offer and was glad I did. Among its contents were pasta, a few zucchini, garlic, a jar of pesto – so along with things we had on hand from the market in St. Remy, we prepared a tres bon dejuener. While eating that meal we decided we would be doing more cooking in the coming days.
A jazz musician can improvise based on
his knowledge of music. He understands
how things go together. For a chef, once
you have that basis, that’s when
cuisine is truly exciting.
When writing about the food in France one must mention the wine, which is delicious and plentiful. A tour of the wine country in the south of France is quite different from one in the California, Oregon or British Columbia wine valleys. In France a lot of the wine is produced and sold by co-ops, so the tasting rooms feature wines from a number of vinters – one stop shopping! Lots of variety!
We loved this adorable French man unloading his truck filled with grapes.
The co-ops sell wine by the jug – you bring the jug, they fill it up. The French love their wine!
Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is
everyday fare for a peasant but
ambrosia for a gastrome, though
its ideal customer is a 300-pound
blocking back who has been splitting
firewood nonstop for at least twelve
hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.
Cassoulet is a rustic, slow-cooked bean stew originating in the south of France. It is named after the traditional cooking vessel, cassole, a deep, round earthenware pot with slanting sides that insure the greatest amount of the luscious crust. There are many regional variations that may include, along with white beans and aromatics, pork sausage, duck or goose confit, pork, or sometimes lamb. It is topped with fried bread and cracklings. Yum! Yum! Yum!
Castelnaudary proclaims to be the ‘Capital of Cassoulet’.
Melon was on our breakfast table every morning – they were sweet, juicy and oh so delicious.
This was the most scrumptious lemon meringue tart I have ever eaten.
Since we were in the south of France, lavender was everywhere. This was an eclair filled with a lavender cream – very good!
This is why Betsy wouldn’t eat the duck in the cassoulet.
You can see how happy I am when shopping for food.