And Part II: How to Shop for Wine in the South of France
For as long as Leslie Barr and Richard Perle have vacationed in Southern France they have tried to entertain their friends and neighbors with an authentic, American-style cookout.
At first their house — built by my old friend Jackie for some of her staff — featured a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet. With the kitchen in the house much expanded, the cookout became a summer feature in the area. In recent years they stayed for most of the summer, not just August, and scheduled the event for the Fourth of July, transforming it into an Independence Day celebration.
The biggest challenge: the logistics of acquiring the necessary foodstuffs and decorations down there. However the menu changes, the basics remain the same: Hebrew National hot dogs, grilled hamburgers, and — an addition by Leslie’s mother of blessed memory — chocolate chip cookies.
At first, friends in Frankfurt stopped at the commissary for what was needed. More recently, the necessaries have arrived packed in our suitcases. This year Sheral Schowe (our wine guide from part II) brought red, white, and blue balloons, paper plates, napkins, and tablecloths. Richard supplied the hot dogs and held his breath while his luggage temporarily disappeared at Charles de Gaulle.
As scary: the fact that the suitcase we brought contained the chocolate chips and didn’t arrive until the night of July 3, a day after Leslie — who’d been stuck in Chevy Chase’s power outage with their dog — arrived to lend a hand.
See Part 1 of Clarice’s travel series: How I Learned to Bake French Bread in the South of France
One of the most fun things to do on a trip to Southern France is shop for wine. This visit my husband Howard, my friend Richard Perle, and I were lucky to be accompanied on this joyous task by Sheral Schowe, a wine educator from Park City, Utah, who is a certified French wine scholar and teacher at Wasatch Academy of Wine.
In my opinion, the lovely wines of the southern Rhone were long undervalued, though now more people are acquainted with some of the fine offerings of the region: Beaumes de Venise, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rasteau, Cairanne, and Seguret.
But even if you’ve grown to appreciate these wines, you may not be as familiar with the wines actually consumed here in the summer. You won’t want to miss out should you visit or if you care to experience these at home in warm weather — so please, let me take a minute to tell you about them.
It gets quite hot here and people tend to eat lighter food in summer than they do elsewhere in France — lots of fruits and vegetables, cold soups, the famous salad nicoise, and goat cheeses. Wine, which complements these foods, is rosé. It’s not the rosé of my youth — a sweet, unpleasant plonk. Rather, it is a light wine, served chilled. There are basically two kinds of it produced here. Vat pressed is a light wine produced much as champagne is in that the grapes are lightly pressed and then the skin and seeds are separated out before fermentation. Gigondas produces this kind using cinsault and grenache grapes. The second type is saignee, which is treated more like a traditional red wine in that the stems and skins are also crushed before fermentation, but the resulting juice is bled off before the skins turn the wine red. Domaine du Gour de Chaulé makes this type.
There is a certain bottle with a very tapered neck called a “skittle” in which much, but not all, of this wine is sold.
For about three decades the Luberon area of southern France has enchanted me, inspiring regular returns. While the region and its customs, foods, and winemaking remain largely unchanged, they are not immutable and we are lucky when records survived and recipes passed on to apprentices, allowing us to duplicate what would otherwise have been lost forever.
Chef Pierre Hiely’s eggplant in Avignon was a dish that I, along with thousands of his patrons, adored. Several years ago, after Hiely sold his restaurant, I returned to find to my disappointment that the dish was no longer on the menu. Luckily others published the recipe so that it was not lost and you can duplicate it. The version below is from The Independent. In brackets I have offered alternative suggestions by Simon Hopkinson who, in his book Roast Chicken and Other Stories, offers up the recipe, too.
4 small aubergines, peeled and thickly sliced
fine sea salt
olive oil [about 2 oz worth]
50g butter[about 2 oz worth]
8 ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped[Hopkinson uses 5 chopped garlic cloves]
salt and pepper
3 pieces of pith-less lemon zest
2 heaped tbsp chopped fines herbes: tarragon, chives, chervil and parsley (you may include some basil too, although it isn’t strictly “fine”)
juice of half a lemon
400ml whipping cream [450 mil or ¾ pt crème fraiche—in which case you skip the lemon juice]
[Fry the eggplant slices in hot olive oil until pale golden. Drain and cool.]
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F.
Melt the butter in a roomy pan and add the tomatoes to it, together with the garlic, seasoning and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, or until nicely thickened and mulchy, but not too dry. Remove the pieces of lemon zest and put to one side.
Lightly butter a shallow oven-proof dish, preferably oval in shape. Start to fill the dish, beginning with one slice of eggplant swiftly smeared with a spoonful of the tomato mulch. Slightly overlap with a second slice and smear with tomato once more. Continue in this fashion until the dish is full and neatly layered. Now pour the cream into the (unwashed) tomato pan, together with the chopped herbs. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until reduced in volume and showing signs of thickening to the consistency of custard. Whisk together to smooth and amalgamate and pour evenly over the eggplant. Shake the dish a bit to allow the cream and herbs to sink in, then slide into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until bubbling and blistered with little points of brown.
Another food I cherished over the years: the exquisite, savory tarts of Madam Dromer. I remember dreaming of their taste for months before a visit, arriving and telling our hosts, the hospitable Richard Perle and his wife Leslie Barr, that I had to have one. My heart shattered to learn she’d sold her lovely bakery in Cabrières-d’Avignon and there’d be no tarts that trip. Fortunately, once again, others shared my high opinion and she now sells them at the weekly market in Coustellet. I have not seen her recipes anywhere nor have I tasted their like, but now that her family is intimately engaged in the operation, I hope the tradition of her pastry making will continue.
While her bread is no longer available, we have found a very good substitute in Robion, where baker Jean Honorat makes, among other things, pain au levain using a 92-year-old recipe and a wood-burning stove. He was nice enough to allow me to observe and photograph his work, and I hope you will find the process as interesting as I did.
We were driving from Sanbona Reserve– which is just outside of Montagu, South Africa, and about 100 kilometers from Namibia– to Cape Town on Route 62. In the van were my husband, son and daughter-in-law, and my 6 year old grand daughter who had nodded off almost as soon as we hit the highway. “Did you drive here at night?” the driver asked. “Yes,”I said. “Did the Berryville ghost ride with you?” he asked. “No, what’s that?” I,a firm unbeliever in ghost stories,responded.
“Some years ago,” he replied, ” a young women was riding on this road at night, a passenger on a motorcycle. There was an accident and she was killed. Three months later the operator of the cycle, who had been badly injured in the incident, also died. She’s regularly seen on this road at night, usually she hitches a ride on a motorcycle or passing car, the driver sees her in back of the vehicle over his shoulder, but the next time he looks she has vanished.There have been twenty confirmed sightings.”
“Interesting,” I replied, not at all convinced that this was true.
My daughter-in-law every bit as chary of the fantastical as I spoke up.
“I was always skeptical of ghost stories myself until my friend had such an experience. She and her husband were looking for a house in Los Angeles and this wonderful house, fully furnished, was offered at a great price and they contracted to buy it. Before they moved in they went to the house to measure for window treatments or some such thing. They had brought with them my friend’s mother. She had just had a stroke and was now blind. They seated her in the living room while they wandered through the house. Upon their return the mother asked,’Who was that young man who was just here? Did you see him?’ They hadn’t seen anyone. The mother went on to describe the visitor, an event peculiar in itself since she could no longer see after her stroke.
Later that day they asked the real estate agent for the seller if she had admitted anyone to the property and relayed to her the information about their mother’s account. The agent admitted that she had not fully disclosed the background of the property. It seems that the young man who lived there (perfectly described by the mother) had killed both his parents and then murdered himself, and the surviving brother had placed the house and its contents up for a quick sale.”
Is it just me or are airport terminals getting longer and more difficult to navigate? And, at the same time is the area that skycaps are available to help passengers shrinking?
For Thanksgiving we made our usual trek to our children’s home in Los Angeles using the recently renovated facilities at Dulles. On our previous trip I noticed that the walkway from the end of the new rail system to terminal C was unusually long and largely uphill, a strain on a back that needs some tender care these days. I called the airline (United, if you want to know) and was assured that there were skycaps available, and I went to the Dulles website where I was assured that skycaps were available “throughout the terminal”. This was news to me and when I arrived at Dulles to the skycaps as well.
It seems that even in the absence of people movers at that terminal, skycaps are not allowed beyond the security checkpoint. In fact they seem to simply be available to take your bags from the entryway to the airline check-in area, a matter of a few yards . Given the easy accessibility of rental carts, that’s something few people really need.
That left me, and most others for whom carting bags about one mile often up an incline or on carpets which create enough friction to require substantial yanking to pull rollaboard luggage over them, two choices: a wheelchair ride up to the gate sans everything but an under the seat bag or checking luggage and trekking to the gate.
I don’t know about you, but the notion of checking my suitcase for a short trip on the heaviest travelled days of the year, fills me with almost as much dread as another sciatica attack, and fortunately my husband (who also has a less than perfect back) helped me out.
But isn’t this ridiculous?
Doesn’t the Department of Transportation have an obligation to help travelers at Dulles? Surely if the airport facility were a private operation, you can be certain it wouldn’t avoid lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Why can’t skycaps be allowed to work in the ever greater distance between the security checkpoint and the departure gates?
(Thumbnail image on Lifestyle blog homepage by Shutterstock.com.)
The wonderful Michelle Obama’s Mirror provides us with photographic backup to the list of Michelle Obama’s latest offered fashion tips.
Missoni and Target apparently came up with a winning partnership. The Washington Post reports the demand was unprecedented for the line of clothing and accessories Missoni produced for sale at Target at prices markedly below their usual ones.
In California, my fashionista designer niece Jodi Been Isaacson says the Culver City Target sold out the line in fifteen minutes. And a friend of her posts, “I drove all the way to WeHo’s and was – no joke – 250th in line to get in AT 7:45AM!!!!”
I find that some of the most interesting analyses of the daily scene are by regular internet commenters. Take bgates who frequently posts at Tom Maguire’s Just One Minute Weblog, though I’ve seen his work elsewhere.
Here he is today on cultural values:
I’m in favor of the culture that says America and its armed forces are tremendous forces for good in the world, immigrants should be as grateful to be here as the natives are, there’s nothing wrong with firing an unproductive worker even if he shares some racial affiliation with the President of the United States, “tolerance” is a synonym for neither “celebration” nor “subsidy”, Shakespeare was better than Toni Morrison, Frank Capra was better than Michael Moore, and America is better than anywhere else, not because of anything in our blood but because of a virtuous cycle between a system of government that allowed more liberty than anywhere else, the kind of people who were attracted to live under such a government, and the kind of society built by such people.
Every bit of that sentence is part of the culture war. And I’m not doubling down – I’m all in.
In response to another poster who attacked a candidate who espoused traditional views on the ground they might try to impose them on others he says only Democrats do that:
The only people I see using the federal government to force their religious views on others are Democrats — sacrificing my light bulbs to Gaia, for instance, or raising taxes because “Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead — being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper”, notwithstanding that Christ never said that, when a similar phrase does occur in the Bible it’s spoken by the world’s first murderer to evade questioning, and the speaker here is a multimillionaire who has a literal brother who lives in a shack in a slum in Africa.
It seems to me you’re less concerned with using the government to impose religious views than you are with the specter of politicians who are able to quote Scripture accurately rather than hypocritically.