A September Day in the Minervois

The Minervois, a region of the Haute Langue D’Oc famous for its wine, is so rich in beauty, history, wine and gastronomy that it is impossible to cover it one short, sweet post (or 100 posts). Instead, I will share one dazzling day I spent there last month.  The day began with a one hour drive, gradually climbing from seaside Agde to the lively market village of Olonzac with its particularly poignant WWI era war memorial.This was one of the most beautiful French drives I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken many beautiful drives throughout France.  It stunned me, truly. With the  vendage (the annual grape harvest) underway, I often found myself behind harvest machinery and trucks laden with just-picked grapes. Given the incredible scenery all around me, I didn’t mind the delays. I stopped to admire vines set in a landscape of  gently rolling vineyards interspersed with warm brown villages and church steeples for as far as one can see. At the time of vendage, the vines are so heavily laden with grapes that seem ready to burst!Lunch was in Olenzac, a salad of fresh anchovies and tapenade accompanied by a chilled rosé. The vendage machinery rumbled through the town and the smell of the harvest filled the air. The vendage is the most important time of year, and you can feel the excitement. After lunch, I drove upward to the ancient Cathar village of Minerve,  in 1207 the site of one of the last Cathar sieges and massacres. Cathars were a threat to the power of the one Church and thus were pronounced heretics. Set high on a natural rock outcropping amongst sheer, deep ravines in a gorge carved by the river Cesse, one can easily see its fortress attributes. The drive to Minerve and the walk across the stone bridge spanning a deep ravine to the village (no cars allowed) is dramatic and beautiful. Leaving Minerve, I climbed higher, entering the Park Natural du Haute Languedoc. The landscape becomes more austere. Here and there lie the ruins of communal farms abandoned long, long ago. Fencing and the occasional sight of horses or cows shows that this land is still being utilized. 

The Parc has many well-marked trails, and I spotted a few hikers . As I drove back down to the sea, I passed many lovely and graceful châteaux. Most were built in the 18th century by vintners who grew rich on the wines of the Minervois. The downhill perspective of my return was equally enchanting. This is one drive I could never tire of! 

Just Another Trip to the Grocery Store. In France. 

I am often asked why I love France so much that I have a home here (and am looking for another). I give you a trip to the grocery store and lunch in the grocery store restaurant (because it has one, of course). Keep in mind that these are pictures of just some of it (left out the boucherie, patisserie etc etc etc so as not to overwhelm my readers). Enjoy!

Shopping

And dejuener (lunch). Salade Robochon. Salad, Tomatoes, Small Roasted Potatoes, Melted Reblochon Cheese, Dried Ham dressed with a mustard vinegarette. All accompanied by local Rosé, sparkling water and, of course, bread (Reblochon is a traditional fondu cheese which is not available in the US).  Bear in mind that lunch is commonly the biggest meal of the day in France and usually takes two hours, but they also work later than in the US. 

This ENTIRE meal (which was FABULOUS!) cost 18€ or $20. I love France!

Bon appétit!

Traditional Water Jousting in the South of France

Yes, water jousting! I learned of it when I first visited Sete  in 1999. Of course, I was captivated! Sete is an important fishing port on the Etang du Thau (Thau Lagoon) in the Hereault region of the Langue D’Oc. During  July and August, Sete is packed with cruise ship passengers and French citizens on summer holiday. Come September, it returns to being just a fishing town, but a lovely one. On September 1, I easily found parking and a seat at a canal-side cafe. Both would’ve been nearly impossible a week ago 

Sete has its own very strong cultural identity, cuisine and dialect. Sete is also known as the Venice of the Langue D’Oc due to its many canals, and none is more lovely than the Canal Royal. It is here that Water Jousting takes place


Water Jousting  was probably introduced by the Romans but it is impossible to know for certain. Sete is the capital of the sport. The competitions are hotly contested amongst several jousting clubs throughout the Langue D’Oc, and the participants are true athletes. Most come from generations of jousters. Jousting is celebrated throughout the region. Check out this video of these guys in action!


The earliest written reference to  jousting in Sete dates to the beginning of the 17th century. Jousting boats resemble a cross between a gondolas and a rowboat. 


They are propelled by 10 oarsmen, all experienced fishermen, with a captain at the helm. Jousters, four on each team, mount the tintaine (boat platform) single file with the jousters first in line doing battle with iron tipped wooden spears and protecting themselves with shields.


 The aim is to knock your opponent into the water. If a jouster falls, the next one of the four moves up to take his place. I am fairly certain I couldn’t even stand on that platform for more than two seconds let alone joust! All this is accompanied by a play-by-play announcer and LOTS of crowd participation. Traditional tunes of the Langue D’Oc are played between passes.


Whatever it’s origins, it’s an fantastic spectacle and a cultural treasure of which the citizens of Sete are rightly proud. I hope you get a chance to see it some day!

Bon appétit!

Lunch with Friends in the Langue D’Oc

I was invited to lunch by a lovely French couple who have a beautiful home in Agde (lucky them!). So fabulous was this lunch that I had to share it with you.  Agde, one of the oldest towns in France, was founded by Pheonicians from Massilia (Marsailles) in the 5th century BC. Prior to that, it was a Gallic village. The Statue of the Republic in Agde is particularly lovely.  

Looking out over tiled rooftops to the blue Etang-du-Thau (Thau lagoon) in the distance, my hosts treated me to a leasurly, delicious lunch. 

We began with red, yellow and green tomatoes from their garden, lightly dressed with vinegar and oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and accompanied by a fresh, sharp pistou (pesto), pain de compagne (whole grain bread) and a crisp, cold Rosé de Bessan from the Langue D’Oc. 

I eagerly anticipated the main course being prepared by my host, Brochettes de Canard (grilled skewers of duck). The aroma made my mouth water!  

I was not disappointed when main course was placed before me. The brochette was accompanied by seared foie gras de canard (duck liver pâté) on toast and apples sautéed in butter. A Pinot Noir was poured. I was in heaven. 

Next, la fromage (the cheese)! My hosts continued to impress by presenting fresh cheese fait au maison (home made) flavored with garlic, scallions, parsley and a few generous grinds of pepper. This is a true Mediterranean dish, and the cool, creamy cheese was the perfect contrast on a summer’s day. 

Finally, the dessert…tiny, to-die-for sweet strawberries, lightly sugared. Every aspect of the menu was outstanding with the courses perfectly balanced, the wine paired so very well and the table beautifully set. I will never forget this dejuener (lunch) with the most lovely of hosts. Merci beaucoup un million de fois Bernard et Marit!

Feasting on Huîtres in the Langue D’Oc 

When people think of the Langue D’Oc, they often think of wine (for me, that’s a crisp dry Rosé on a hot summer’s day). They usually don’t think of oysters (huîtres en Francáis), but Langue D’Ocians have been harvesting and eating oysters since at least 600 BC , and ostréiculture (oyster farming) has long been both a tradition and an important part of the economy. Indeed, many villages and towns have annual oyster festivals, the best known being the annual Fete in Langue D’Oc’s oyster capital, Bouzigues. Don’t worry if you miss the Fete, fantastic shellfish is always to be found in Bouzigues! 

Me, I look forward all year to feasting on des huitres on the beaches of the Hereault, one of my favorite regions of the Langue D’Oc.  The oysters are farmed in l’Ètang du Thau, a large of a string of estuaries that run from the estuary of the Rhône River to the Spanish border.  

The French at oysters year round, and they are particularly popular at Christmas. Mediterranean oysters are considered to be at their peak from September-May because the warmer waters of the summer months are said to produce a brinier taste. I have eaten and loved them at all times of the year. My palette must not be as refined!

I love Langue D’Oc oysters paired paired with a crisp, cold Rosé.  The French eat oysters with butter, red wine vinegar, lemon and bread (just like The Walrus and the Carpenter), and that’s how I eat them when I’m here. No hot sauce!

On my way back from la plage (the beach), I often stop at my favorite magasine des huiîtres (oyster shop) for a dozen meaty, slightly briny Mediterranean oysters.

Oysters are usually eaten raw, but there are other preparations. Pictured above are Oysters aux Bechemal. The oysters are first steamed,then topped with Bechemal sauce and a sprinkling of bread crumbs and finally lightly broiled. I lack a superlative to describe how delicious these are!

Mark Twain said “twas a brave man who first ate an oyster.” Whoever that man was, he has my gratitude!

Sexy Date History!!!


It’s not quite what you think! I was in Palm Springs, California last week (it was 115 out) and visited Shields Date Farm where dates were being harvested. I ate some incredible dates, and Dan had a date shake which defies description beyond REALLY REALLY GOOD. A program called “The Sex Life of the Date” has been there popular since 1923 (imagine how daring it must’ve been to say SEX in 1923!). Before MiMo, there was a Arabian architecture in the Coachella valley, and you can still see it and towns with names like Mecca and Desert Hot Springs. Bank tellers dressed as harem maidens, people rode camels and your coffee House waitress might’ve been dressed as a Genie. Really!

Listen to this outstanding story from a few years ago on NPR’s “The Salt” (love The Salt), and make sure and look at the crazy pictures from long ago Coachella!

Bon appétit!

Eating With a Star Chef in Barcelona

 On September 3, I’m eating with Chef Joel “Papa” Sera Jr in Barcelona at his EatWith event “Tapas by Papa.” I am beyond excited! Read all about what Joel will be preparing here. I’m taking the train from Beziers to Barcelona and staying the night there. I’m hoping to find some flamenco after dinner! Papa Sera leads culinary tours in Barcelona (I would seriously LOVE to go on one), teaches classes, own a restaurant and even appeared on MasterChef! He also just published his first cookbook Papalasophy. You can bet I will be blogging about this experience!

Here’s a great interview with this rising culinary star and the road he’s travelled.

Bon appetit!