October 3, 2011

Tomatoes at La Petite Maison de Cucuron in Provence

Tomatoes at La Petite Maison de Cucuron in Provence

Due to a wedding cancellation only few days before the event, a lucky group of foodies received an email invitation, to participate in a rare Saturday morning cooking class. La Petite Maison de Cucuron is the successful restaurant run by chef Eric Sapet and his lovely wife. They offer a top quality seasonal menu and limited cooking classes. The restaurant has been open since 2007 in the charming medieval village of Cucuron, in the Luberon. The Luberon is filled with one delightful village after another so it is difficult to choose a favourite. Cucuron although small, it is unique among the hamlets, as it has a truly distinctive shaded main square with a large water feature l’etang or pond. (more…)

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September 5, 2011

Tuned Out in Provence Summer Music

Tuned Out in Provence Summer Music

Summer! Summer is festival time, and France is no exception. The only problem is making a decision, with the overwhelming variety of events. Famous events like Jazz a Juan in Antibes (started in 1960) or Le Festival d’Avignon (started in 1947), which attract large crowds and well-known performers. All the principal cities and many small towns host at least one noteworthy event during the warmer months. Ginger and Nutmeg both love music, although, neither of them can sing nor play an instrument with any level of competency. With the balmy Provencal evenings, they decided to take advantage of some of the local events and listen to the experts. The following is a musical summary for your listening pleasure: The Festival de Musique d’Eygalières, this event is only four years old, in 2011 they hosted four nights of mostly classical music – alfresco. This is an extremely well organized event, held at the beautiful private residence Mas de la Brune. The evening starts with a seminar or group discussion related to the music that night.Then there is an opportunity for dinner or as they called it a “Picnic Chic”, followed by the concert.  Check it out (very yummy): The “Viva Argentina” evening was excellent, a tribute to the music of this South American country.  The trio of artists included a pianist, clarinet and soprano.  The Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, has been held every July, since 1948. The focus of this festival is oriented towards opera; however, there are also recitals of chamber music, vocal concerts and orchestral sessions. This event is a large tourist attraction for the city of Aix and the surrounding area.  Ginger and Nutmeg enjoyed an evening with the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra click here. Festival les Eclats à Salon, was held for the eighth year in 2011 at the Château de l’Emperi.  The courtyard of this 9th century medieval fortress may not have originally built for the acoustic qualities, but certainly is an excellent venue for a range of theatre, choral music and other musical evenings. This particular concert was a group of four brothers and sisters who have been playing together since 1994, the group is called Les Ogres de Barback.  The evening was lively and engaging, as they play over thirty instruments. Click here to watch and listen to Les Ogres de Barback. The tiny village of Eygalieres is home to only about 1500 people. However, the town’s small size is deceiving. This is a place filled with artists, writers, musicians and many aficionados. The season started with the music festival (see above). However, that was just the beginning.  Ginger and Nutmeg were treated to a free concert in the church. Over 200 people were listened to a duo of flute and piano. The lovely and talented Julie Scolink organized this concert. You can find her at Mistral Music. You can watch part of her concert here. Provence has been an inspirational backdrop for artists, writers and musicians for centuries.  The famous names are far too numerous to mention. In Eygalieres, there is a unique four night series named Calan d’art, which marries, the artistic mediums of visual art (sculpture, painting) and music. This series is held in private gardens, creating an intimate setting with the musicians, called Les Nuits des Patios. The musical theme was different each night.  Nutmeg’s favourite was “La Dolce Vita” with Jean-Pierre Como on piano listen here. The 31st International Piano Festival was held outdoors in the village of La Roque d’Anthéron. This is a popular musical series that attracts over 85,000 people annually. Ginger and Nutmeg decide to take in the evening of piano duos. Twin sisters, Michelle and Christina Naughton, played the first section. A pair of sisters also performed the second section of the evening. The talent and timing was incredible. Here, is a video of the Naughton twins in action. To wrap up the musical tour the evening of Nutmeg’s birthday there was the inaugural “Diner Blanc à Eygalières” with the musically talented Sanders Band. Ginger and Nutmeg are now sitting in silence – Tuned Out!

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August 22, 2011

Lavender Fuseaux A Dying Art in Provence

Lavender Fuseaux A Dying Art in Provence

One of the things on Nutmeg’s “Top-10” list for their trip to France was to behold the lavender in bloom. Arriving in October after the lavender season, with only the winter months ahead, it would be a long wait. The happy news is that even in January, the fields are beautiful (see below). The wait was well worth it, in the last few weeks of June when the weather is Provencal “perfect” the countryside comes alive, awash in shades of purple. The fields flower at slightly different times depending on the plant variety, the altitude, specific geographic area and of course mother nature herself. In other words, one “field” trip will not suffice. With their cameras prepared, Ginger and Nutmeg were fortunate on several occasions to witness the fields in full colour and take some of their own pictures. Click here to see the whole gallery. So what happens to all that lavender? Much of the lavender is distilled to create essential oil and fragrant water. The plants are also dried and used to create scented objects for personal use. Stores in Provence are overrun with all things lavender; soap, perfume, honey, tea, ice cream and scented packages. A majority of the product sold in stores is mass-produced outside of France and hardly artisanal. However, there are a dedicated few who are still focused on quality and are attempting to keep the traditions alive. Several cultivators are growing their lavender plants in a totally organic fashion, despite the burdensome paperwork requirements imposed on “Bio” operations. (more…)

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August 1, 2011

Monaco Grand Prix Amber Is The Lounge

Monaco Grand Prix Amber Is The Lounge

Twenty-three Formula One (F1) cars, 800 horsepower V-8 engines spooling, it’s the start of the Monaco Grand Prix (GP). Deafening! Full ear protection is essential. Within the confines of the city of Monte Carlo, the towering hills a natural amphitheatre, magnify the sound of the race circuit. The idiosyncrasies of the Monaco GP circuit truly test drivers’ skills. Cars come to a virtual standstill on some hairpin corners, head through a tunnel and then accelerate to breakneck speeds on the straightaways. If a F1 race were to be proposed in Monaco today, it would be considered unsafe. Former world champion driver Nelson Piquet described driving in Monaco as, “like trying to cycle round your living room.” Click here to watch Ginger’s video. In Monaco, track corners have their own names, such as Tabac, Louis Chiron, and Piscine. Many car aficionados only know the course by the names of the corners. Torrid action usually takes place at Sainte Devote, the turn located before the long uphill straightaway towards the Casino. This corner is named after the small church dedicated to a Christian martyr from the 4th century, whose treasured bones and thought to have protected the Monegasque locals from invasion for centuries. Not surprising given Ginger’s passion for speed that his “ European Top 10” list included a F1 race. He has had the thrill of flying above Mach 1 and has surpassed the speed limit in one sporty German automobile. Like most boys, he once envisioned driving a race car and reveling in the thrill of victory. Race car driving was not Ginger’s destiny. The next best thing was to witness a classic F1 car race, like Monaco.  Nutmeg felt auto racing was best included in the category of male bonding. Ginger needed a suitably minded playmate for this event. Who better than his brother-in-law Truffle? (more…)

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July 4, 2011

La Chartreuse Avignon’s Neighbour

La Chartreuse Avignon’s Neighbour

In Nutmeg’s books the Chartreuse liqueur is unappealing in colour (green) and definitely taste (distilled alcohol with 130 herbal extracts).  Thankfully, Ginger does not like it much either.  The production of this liqueur started in France in the 1740s by the Carthusian monks in the Chartreuse Mountains near Grenoble.  The production and sale of Chartreuse continues to support the order of monks today.  The history of the liqueur is interesting in that the production was stopped a couple times when the monks were expelled from France in 1793 and again in 1903.  It was not until after World War II that they were officially allowed to return to France.  Production today is based in Voiron and the exact recipe remains a well kept secret. The liqueur may be unappealing but Nutmeg was interested to see La Chartreuse in Villeneuve les Avignon across the mighty Rhone river from Avignon.  This beautiful mostly restored structure is now state owned and is the home of the Centre National des Ecritures du Spectacle (CNES).  It took almost 100 years for the government to buy back the majority of the property that had once made up this monastery, the last owner left in 1988. During it’s functioning time, the monastery structure and surrounding land was close to 400 acres.  The senior monks (fathers) led a contemplative life where they were physically and mentally solitary, in their devotion to the faith. (more…)

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March 21, 2011

A day with the Patrouille de France

A day with the Patrouille de France

Eight military jets performing loops with tricolor smoke over the highway can be distracting. These jets are the Patrouille de France, the French equivalent of the Canadian Snowbirds. Through an affiliation with the Canadian Air Force, Ginger was able to get an introduction to l’Armée de l’Air (the French Air Force). Ginger was ecstatic when he learned of the opportunity to visit with this prestigious team. The French Air Force was formed in 1909; it is currently the fourth largest air force in NATO with over 865 aircraft.  Within l’Armée de l’Air there are two demonstration teams, who are ambassadors of the skies for the nation. The two teams are: the Équipe de Voltige; the World and European Aerobatic Champions, and the Patrouille de France. Both teams practice out of the 701 Air Base in Salon de Provence, which is also home to l’Ecole de l’Air (primary officers training school). This French defense facility predates World War II. Base Aérienne 701 is home to a French military pilot’s first flight training which begins with non-powered gliders, and then moves to propeller driven aircraft. (more…)

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February 7, 2011

Cassis for Lunch in Provence

Cassis for Lunch in Provence

There are certainly many great things about Aix en Provence. One of the best things in Nutmeg’s books, is that fact that you can say over coffee in the morning “Do you want to go to Cassis for lunch?”.  Cassis is an easy 37 minute drive (50 Kilometres) so it is definitely doable for lunch.  One fine day in January they did just that. Cassis is located just east of Marseille and is very famous for the adjacent large towering white cliffs.  The cliffs are equally stunning as those found along the English Chanel in Normandy.  There are beautiful inlets called les Calanques that are accessible mostly by boat, or in some cases by tough hiking routes.  What surprised Ginger and Nutmeg was the significant wine growing area right around Cassis.  What they understand now is that the area is known for white and rose wines.  The area is not known for Creme de Cassis, which is actually made from blackcurrants and is a speciality of Burgundy. (more…)

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November 8, 2010

Pont du Gard and The Dreaded Shower

Pont du Gard and The Dreaded Shower

As a way of getting acquainted with Provence, Ginger and Nutmeg treated themselves to a bike tour along with a good sampling of the local food and wine!  The tour started in St Tropez with a day of biking around that area.  It was beautiful and not too crowded, as the summer crowd was long gone.  The harbour and surrounding vistas were terrific. However, for Ginger the best part was Le Club Porsche de France was in town for the weekend and he was able to check out some real fancy cars. There were over 20 in our hotel alone and likely over 300 in the whole town – quite a show! (more…)

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