April 8, 2013

Provence the Land of Lavender

Provence the Land of Lavender

Nutmeg has been fortunate enough to visit France several times. One year Ginger and Nutmeg joined some friends on a cycling trip through Provence.  That was the beginning of their “love-affair” with the region. However, on all the previous trips the fields of lavender had already been harvested, it was too late in the season. This time Nutmeg was determined to see the flowering fields. The lavender plant is actually part of the mint family, and there are some 39 varieties.  The plants love the dry, sandy, rocky soil that is typical of the Vaucluse region of Provence.  Lavender flowers come in many colours, they can be blue (almost indigo), purple, violet, even pink or white varieties exist. It is a relatively easy plant to grow, as it requires minimal care. (more…)

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March 25, 2013

Remarkable Gardens – Jardins Remarquable in France

Remarkable Gardens – Jardins Remarquable in France

In May 2003, the label Jardin Remarquable (Remarkable Garden) was created, to celebrate and document the magnificent gardens of France. A Jardin Remarquable, is one that meets the established criteria; integration in the site, interesting blend of vegetation, quality of the location, engaging use of plants and where applicable provides historical interest. (more…)

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January 28, 2013

Blessed Almonds Sign of Spring in Provence

Blessed Almonds Sign of Spring in Provence

Early in the year in southern France, the almond tree is the first to bloom. The small white or pale pink flowers typically appear on the trees in February. A welcome sign that spring may be close at hand in Provence. The almond tree is small; at full maturity it may reach a height of 10 meters, with a trunk diameter of 30 centimeters.  The trees typically start bearing fruit after about 5 years.  The almond is technically a fruit, not a nut, from the same family as the plum or cherry (Prunus).  This decidedly old tree has been a part of different cultures and human nutrition for eons. There are several mentions of almonds in the bible. It is believed that growth in almond tree cultivation closely followed human migration near Mediterranean shores.  Despite the fact that the almond tree is native to warm European climates, the large majority of global yield is now US based, in California, at 45% of world production. (more…)

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January 21, 2013

35 Hours at La Poste in France

35 Hours at La Poste in France

The official workweek in France is 35 hours. Then there is vacation time consisting of, 11 statutory holidays (jours fériés) and 5 weeks of personal vacation time.  Minimum retirement age is currently 60, it will move to 62 in 2018. Does that sound like paradise? Think again. (more…)

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November 5, 2012

The School of Epicurus in Provence

The School of Epicurus in Provence

There have been volumes written on the teachings of Epicurus, which will not be repeated here.  He and his followers would meet in his garden, around 307 BC. The philosophy of Epicureanism evolved from those encounters. In the Epicurean view, the highest pleasure (tranquility and freedom from fear) was obtained by knowledge, friendship, and living a virtuous and temperate life. Source: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicureanism) Lead a simple life. (more…)

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October 25, 2012

Cooking Class at La Petite Maison Cucuron in Provence

Cooking Class at La Petite Maison Cucuron in Provence

It is Saturday morning in the Luberon village of Cucuron, Eric Sapet the chef and owner of la Petite Maison is enjoying a few minutes of social time over a pause-café with friends. He has a busy day ahead there is a 25-person cooking class focused on girolles (chanterelle mushrooms). And the restaurant is fully booked for both lunch and dinner. G&N love these theme based cooking classes at la Petite Maison. Clearly, based on the number of attendees for the courses they are not alone. After five years of programming Eric Sapet has developed a loyal following. Arriving in Cucuron, a small medieval town dating from the 11th century was a combination of hard work and chance for M. Sapet. He was classically trained in his field in Paris at l’Ecole Hôtelière. Once the scholastic course load was finished, the long kitchen hours began in earnest. He spent 11 years working his way through the ranks in some of the Grands Restaurants Parisiens including the Michelin 3-star la Tour d’Argent. The path of his cooking career wandered from famous Parisian kitchens to a Relais et Châteaux in the Ardèche before he was attracted to the popular village of Lourmarin in the Luberon, in 2005. Tarte fine aux girolles, oeufs de caille pochés, échalotes confites La Petite Maison was once just that – a private residence. The charming building dates from the 19th century. The restaurant is situated, in the heart of this working village, right next to an enormous rectangular etang (pond) shaded by plane trees. In 2007, the house was converted into a restaurant. An old structure in a medieval village translates into a tiny kitchen and equally small prep area. Wood paneled walls and period photos surround the dining tables adorned with crisp, white table linens and china place settings, a classic backdrop for Eric Sapet’s inventive cuisine. The morning’s cooking class is followed by the opportunity to sample the creative menu over a long, lazy lunch – accompanied by excellent wine pairings. Nutmeg was able to borrow a few minutes of M. Sapet’s precious time to ask some questions. Provence is a rich canvas for local products – do you have a preferred season for ingredients and produce? No, every season is intriguing with powerful, rich flavours. In your opinion what is the most versatile ingredient? The black truffle. What is the most critical piece of equipment in your kitchen? The high quality oven. If you had the chance what would you change at La Petite Maison? It would be fantastic to have more prep area and a larger kitchen. The existing space is remarkably tight for a total staff of 10 people; in the kitchen and waiting on tables. Aside from your own restaurant do you have any regional favourites that you would recommend? Yes, two particularly enjoyable places to eat are La Bamboo Thai in Lourmarin and la Bastide de Moustier in Moustier. G&N left Cucuron after an exquisite lunch, with a few new recipes and cooking tips. The only thing missing was a hammock for an afternoon siesta.  Are you going to book a cooking class or a table at La Petite Maison? ______ References: 1. La Petite Maison ______ Image Credits:  1. Ginger and Nutmeg 2. Ginger and Nutmeg 3 & 4 Courtesy La Petite Maison

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October 22, 2012

Is this Tuscany or Provence

Is this Tuscany or Provence

It is possible, that it was the thirst and hunger created by biking over the lunch hour, or maybe it was their recent trip to Italy.  Regardless, both Nutmeg and Ginger both thought they had been transported from Provence to Tuscany.  The hilly rolling terrain, endless vineyards, Cyprus trees, olive groves and small villages are all extremely reminiscent of Tuscany.  It is no accident that the Luberon area within Provence resembles Tuscany.  Roman presence in present day Provence began in 2 B.C.. The Roman rulers heavily influenced architecture and immense construction projects (aqueducts, theaters, arenas) within the region. There is documentation of organized religious activity as early as the 3rd century, in Roman occupied Provencal towns.  During the 14th century, (1309 – 77) seven French Popes led the Catholic church from Avignon. Perched villages and castles in Provence created for defensive purposes are similar to those found in Tuscany. Tuscany or Provence? Provence. (more…)

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October 11, 2012

Jardin de Tim a Secret Garden in Provence

Jardin de Tim a Secret Garden in Provence

It may not be the same garden that Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote about in her 1911 novel The Secret Garden. That garden with all its hidden corners was in Yorkshire. The Jardin de Tim is a discrete Bed and Breakfast located in Eygalières in Provence, which opened to the public in 2010. (more…)

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October 8, 2012

Provencal Vines Through The Seasons

Provencal Vines Through The Seasons

Anticipation is what Nutmeg would call this blog post. The labour of love required to persuade grapevines to produce their fruit year after year, is one for only the most patient individuals. Owning a vineyard and producing your own wine certainly sounds romantic, to those who might be desk or office bound. However, the reality of the yearlong process is one of hard physical labour and working with what Mother Nature delivers. Ginger and Nutmeg have certainly sampled their fair share (possibly more) of wine, while in Europe. They certainly do not pretend to be experts in the field of growing grapes, nor producing wine. There is no reason to dive into the specifics of viticulture in a blog post, as there are many experts who have written tombs on the subject. Instead, here are some ABCs around wine that will make you sound like an expert (or an idiot) and some fun facts. (more…)

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