Behind the scene

Each year, most often in the spring, our choir, Les Chants des Corbières, often combines our performances with a small repast           ( repas). While concerts are usually free, we do have a small charge for the meal and it helps to pay the choirs expenses.

In this post you will see a bit of the activity that goes into preparing an autumn repas following a performance in the nearby village of Villesèque-des-Corbières (Pop: 388).  The menu was kept simple. There was Pumpkin soup, baguettes, cheeses and a variety of desserts all made by choir members. There are always bottles of wine, juices and bottles of water on each table. However, we are also well known for our generous vat (30 plus gallons) of Sangria.

One of the first things I look for each autumn as the landscape begins to run rampant with colours are pumpkins and other squashes. When I first arrived in France they were abundant but almost unrecognisable to me. Living in California, New York and a few states in-between did not prepare me for what I would find at the local markets. No longer would I carve into a round and brightly orange vegetable. The pumpkins here are not round and smooth nor are they always orange. Many of the pumpkins are a light to medium and even a dark green.  Regardless of the colour of the outside, they are all the same vibrant orange inside and quite delicious.

Villesèque foyer's kitchen in the corner with two of the pumpkins
Villesèque foyer’s kitchen in the corner with two of the pumpkins
Andrea making the first cut
Andrea making the first cut
Part of our set-up crew
Part of our set-up crew
Front of foyer before being decorated
Front of foyer before being decorated
Never too many cooks!
Never too many cooks!
Tiny kitchen, several cooks and lots of laughter...
Tiny kitchen, several cooks and lots of laughter…
Tables begin to take on the colours of the evening
Tables begin to take on the colours of the evening
Chop and peel, peel and chop...
Chop and peel, peel and chop…
Is it soup yet?
Is it soup yet?
Nothing like a lovely bowl of soup on a nippy autumn evening
Nothing like a lovely, simmering pot of soup…
Clean-up
Clean-up
Many hands...
Many hands…
If only you could hear the laughter and the singing
If only you could hear the laughter and the singing

There is often a tombola (raffle) and prizes donated by local merchants including plants, travel, baskets filled with treats including bottles of wine.

While most of the songs we sing are French, we do have a few in our catalogue in Spanish, one or two in English and a few songs from different parts of Africa and the Caribbean. Audiences always have their favourites and they will demand encores so they can join it.

The choir has accumulated a large cache of dishes, silverware, glassware and serving pieces. It is a grand mismatched collection. Unlike typical village meals, our guests do not need to bring their tableware as everything is provided. We may be exhausted by the time clean-up is finished but smiling. Leftover food is usually shared among us with some of the cakes being frozen until our next choir practice along with some leftover sangria to wash it all down with.

Bisous,

Léa

The Galette des Rois

Modified – Originally posted 29 December 2011

“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.” – Julia Child

The Galette des Rois

Galette de Roi
Galette de Roi

Celebrating the Feast of Kings.
At this time of year you will see Galette du Roi (or La Galette des Rois) in all the boulangeries in France. The Galette, which celebrates the biblical three kings, appears in the New Year around Epiphany, or the Feast of the Kings. This is normally celebrated in France on the first Sunday (after the first Saturday) in January. Despite this fact, I did get a whiff of warm from the oven galettes in the shop just a few days ago.  Being on my own, I managed to resist temptation of being forced to eat the entire thing. I have no doubt there will be plenty on offer in the weeks to come. Besides, such a treat demands it be shared with friends.

The typical Galette du Roi of the Indre is made of flaky pastry like a pie and filled with frangipane, an almond cream paste. There are regional variations, and some enterprising bakeries offer a different filling for every day in January. However, if you purchase it in a supermarket or discount store, it will be a factory made pastry with the basic filling. Inside the cake is a very small ceramic figurine called a fève ( a bean, which is what they put in galettes long ago). The person who finds the fève is declared the king (le roi) or the queen (la reine) and gets to wear the paper crown that comes with the galette.

If there is no French pâtisserie where you are, I have included a recipe. Don’t be intimidated by its origin as you can use pre-made puff pastry/phyllo dough and have great results. The photo was taken at the pâtisserie of two delightful and slightly mischievous elves known as Valérie & Nadine.

Valirie et N
Valérie  et Nadine H

Ingredients:

1/2 cup ground almonds
1 stick butter
3 eggs
1/4 cup of sugar
2 sheets puff pastry
powdered sugar

Directions:

Grind almonds in food processor
Beat sugar and butter
add two (2) of the eggs and almonds.
You now have Frangipane!
Butter a flat baking sheet
unfold thawed puff pastries and using a pie pan as a template cut into two circles
Lay one circle on buttered sheet then spread Frangipane in the center
and if you like, place a dried fava bean or ceramic figure in the Frangipane
Using the last egg, beat and paint the edges of the dough
Place the other dough circle on top and seal the edges very tight!
Brush top with egg.
Bake ~ 25-30 min at 375

The galette is quite rich and it will serve 12 people.

Bisous,

Léa

Châtaignes

Châtaignes (Chestnuts) roasting on an open fire… Actually in the small village of Embres et Castelmaure (Population approximately 150) there were several fires last night as people from the village and a few others assembled to enjoy a meal, entertainment, socialising and of course, châtaignes.

Assembling in the small foyer was a snug fit!
Assembling in the small foyer was a snug fit!

There was a good turnout and everyone showed excellent community spirit while relocating to accommodate everyone who turned out. Pitchers of a new wine, pale yellowish color, were placed on each table and a toast to the harvest.

One of our local choirs
One of our local choirs

 

One of the local choirs (made up of members of local villages) performed several songs before the meal and a few more at the end of the event.  Of course canapes, more wine (red), juice and water quickly appeared on each table.

Smiles all around!
Smiles all around!

At most every village meal I have attended since moving to France, everyone brings their own dishes and cutlery.  Organisers who have worked so hard in planning and preparing are not stuck in the small kitchen for hours with clean-up.

As the choir finished, everyone went to the serving area and got steaming bowls of soup! Perfect for a chilly evening. I’m not sure but it was similar to a butternut squash soup that I make only also had large croutons and sprinkled with cheese. It was delicious.

The soup disappeared quickly!
The soup disappeared quickly!

As people returned to their seats some of the organisers carried large platters of freshly grilled sausages and as usual, all you can eat. I want to warn anyone thinking of joining in one of these events, come prepared with an empty stomach. La pièce de résistance – Châtaignes fresh from the fires they were roasted upon and wrapped in quantities of newspaper were passed around to each table. Once again a village comes together to enjoy nature’s bounty and celebrate there community.

Nutty, creamy and delicious!
Nutty, creamy and delicious!

Much like any family meal, everyone pitches in with clearing the tables and taking them down then stacking the chairs.

Leaves from nearby provide the perfect centerpiece
Local color!

 

Villagers
Some of the locals

 

Bon appétit!
Bon appétit!
 Jöel visiting from Avignon

Jöel visiting from Avignon

It seems as one season of celebrating and festivals ends another one begins. Life is to celebrate and we certainly do!

When planning a visit to France, check out what might be available in the areas you plan to visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

Bisous,

Léa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tarte aux Pommes / Apple Tart

Revised: originally posted 24 November, 2011

IMG_4232

Tarte aux Pommes/Apple Tart

Early autumn and the fresh apples of every variety seem to be in each market. Their bright colours and crunch are just asking to be incorporated into our menus. This delicious tart is simple and if you include the Calvados, most memorable.
The longer I live in France, the more I realize that every French woman has a different recipe for tarte aux pommes. While the variations may be slight, they are there. In the past year, I have been requested to make a number of them for choir functions and other events. Since I have a tendency to get bored easily, I like to experiment with my basic recipe so what I make one time is not the exact tarte I would serve the next. Don’t let the long list of ingredients and directions put you off. Anywhere you travel in France, Tarte aux Pommes is usually on the menu. You will quickly see how fast and easy it is. Bon appetit!

Tarte aux Pommes
Ingredients

For the crust: 175g plain flour/ 6 ounces,115g /4 ounces butter, room temperature, 25g sour cream / 1 ounce

For the filling: About 6 medium tart baking apples (I prefer Granny Smith), peeled, pitted and sliced, 3 large egg yolks 145g, sour cream/ 5 ounces (crème fraise), 150g granulated sugar / 5 and 1/3 ounces, 35g plain flour / 1 and a half ounces (about 1 heaping tablespoon)

For the glaze: 160g apricot preserves or jam / 5 ounces 1 tbsp Calvados (apple brandy) Whipped topping, for garnish.

For the crust: 1) Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5 or 375ºF. 2) Place the flour, butter, and sour cream in a food processor and pulse to combine. 3) When the dough has formed a ball, pat with lightly floured hands into the bottom and sides of an ungreased tart pan with a removable bottom and 1cm sides, or a round au gratin dish. 4) Bake for about 18 mins, until the crust is set but not browned. Let cool while preparing the filling. 5) Lower the oven temperature to 180°C/Gas 4 or 350ºF.

For the filling: 1) Peel and thickly slice the apples. Arrange the apple slices in overlapping circles on top of the crust, until completely covered. Overfill the crust, as apples will shrink during cooking. 2) Combine the egg yolks, sour cream/crème fraise, sugar, and flour and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture over the apples. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hr, until the custard sets and is pale golden in colour. Cover with an aluminium foil tent if the crust gets too dark. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. When cool, remove the side wall of the pan. 

3) To make the glaze, combine the preserves or jam and Calvados. While the Calvados is not essential, it makes an amazing difference. Spread with a pastry brush over the top of the warm tart. Serve the tart warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Variations: I like to add the zest of an orange or lime and some grated fresh ginger to the custard mixture

Encore: Palavas les Flots

A very dear friend David (former professor and “adoptive” dad) had been visiting Italy and a stop here in the south of France. As usual, his visit went by ever so quickly and I returned him to the airport in Montpellier. While I had given some thought to a day in Montpellier, it was a day made for the beach.  I had visited Palavas-les-Flots six years earlier with my best friend. Rita and I spent four nights in the village and I have some wonderful memories of swimming in the sea, dining in some wonderful restaurants and exploring a most charming village. Unfortunately, this would be a brief visit but one well worth making.

 

La rivière à gauche
La rivière à gauche

 

 

Galerie d'Art
Galerie d’Art

 One of many art galleries to visit is the  Galerie d’Art – Gustave Courbet. There are also two museums for you to enjoy. The first is the Musée d’Albert Dubout, for more on his work, check out this link:  http://dubout.fr/

The other museum is le petit train. For more information on this lovely village visit the website of the office of tourism. You can select from several languages to suit your needs.  http://ot-palavaslesflots.com/

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Poseidon

 

Being a die-hard Sea lover, I can’t pass up an opportunity to take a photo of Poseidon!

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Something for everyone!

 

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Côté Café

Côté Cafe where Rita and I stopped for a coffee one morning. The smells coming from the kitchen beckoned us back for lunch and there were no regrets. The sauce was made with cèpes and we learned that the taste was as amazing as the aroma. The hotel we stayed in was small, nearby and reasonable. It was in walking distance of everything.

 

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Shops and Cafés

Anything you may have forgotten to pack is available not to mention the usual postcards and souvenirs. I must admit that the Cat below was tempting and would make a delightful sac for beach lovers with ample room to include your lotion and other necessities.

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Fun bag in shop window

 

 

Le Bianca Restaurant
Le Bianca Restaurant

 

Mme Christiane Siau (seated) welcomes you to her restaurant
Mme Christiane Siau (seated) welcomes you to her restaurant

 

 Rita and I stopped here more than once during our visit in 2008. I was happy to see Mme. Siau still running things and chose to stop here for my birthday luncheon. You cannot get fresher seafood and I know I shall return. This time, I won’t wait that long. It is the perfect place to really get away and is family friendly. Wherever you path leads you, I hope you do get the chance to stop by and enjoy.

Bisous,

Léa

Saint Pierre sur Mer

Morning market along the sea
Morning market along the sea

Saint Pierre sur Mer is a lovely village on the Mediterranean and short distance from the city of Narbonne and borders on the west with Narbonne plage. During a recent visit, Yvonne wanted to venture to the coast from her place in Carcassonne with the hope of finding better weather. As you can see in the photos, the weather was most obliging. As beautiful as the beaches are, many come quite a distance for the morning markets. Just beyond the vendors displays lies the Mediterranean. They are there most every morning through-out the year. Our visit was a simple search for the sun and perhaps a lunch near the sea?  Carcassonne had dark clouds and some rain. As you can see, we found plenty of sunshine, market vendors with their wares, a charming village and a wonderful luncheon. A return visit is certainly in order and if you find yourself in Saint Pierre sur Mer, find La Baleine Bleue and enjoy! The seafood couldn’t be fresher and everything was cooked perfectly. The Mediterranean is well know for the winds. They are frequent and at times very strong. There are many wind generators in the area and some with a more artistic flare as you can see here. No wonder it is home to such sports as Kite Surfing and Wind Surfing. However, that will be another post some time in the future.   Bisous, Léa

Huîtres et Moules! They don't get fresher than this.
Huîtres et Moules! They don’t get fresher than this.
Fresh local produce
Fresh local produce
Café - never far away
Café – never far away

 

Village across from the market
Village across from the market
Up the street and into the village...
Up the street and into the village…

 

Installation Art: Bicycle and Shells
Installation Art: Bicycle with Shells
The Mediterranean at Saint Pierre sur Mer can be quiet at lunchtime in April
The Mediterranean at Saint Pierre sur Mer can be quiet at lunchtime in April

 

View from the table with the sea in background
View from the table with the sea in background
Bon appétit!
Bon appétit!

 

L'eolienne - wind turbine
L’eolienne – wind turbine
L'eolienne
L’eolienne
The Blue Whale with L'eolienne in the background
The Blue Whale with L’eolienne in the background

 

Montolieu et salon du livre ancien

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Salon du livre ancien

It is always a delight to spend the day in Montolieu. La village du livre is small with a population of less than one thousand. Yet, this beautiful village nestled in the  Montaigne Noir is home to twenty bookshops, a massive compound where paper-making, book-making and other related crafts are taught and celebrated. Naturally, being France, artists are to be found at nearly every corner. However, that is another post. Wandering from bookshop to bookshop is not without consequences. One finds that they end up making trips back to the car with each load of books that were just not able to pass up. There is always the museum of book and paper making and the old compound that still makes and teaches the arts of book and paper making. There are also workshops and classes available for writers which bring visitors from different countries. While the majority of the books are in French, there is truly something for everyone.  I head for the poetry sections and always manage to expand my collection of French poets.

livres, livres...
livres, livres…

The Montolieu foyer was turned over to various collectors who had books to sell. This is over and above the twenty bookshops scattered around this charming village.

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et plus de livres

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Vending machines for organic produce!

IMG_0119

Fresh organic produce available 24/7
Fresh organic produce available 24/7
Fresh from local gardens
Fresh from local gardens
A variety awaits you!
A variety awaits you!

Something I have not encountered before is the automated produce system. Everything was fresh, local and organic! Just down the road is a bookshop/restaurant which is organic and where Yvonne and I were served an excellent lunch. It happens to be the same shop where we had the amazing chestnut cakes on a previous visit. If you would like to see more check out these previous posts:   https://foundinfrance.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/montolieu/ and https://foundinfrance.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/michel-braibant-museum-conservatory-of-book-arts-crafts/ Regardless of when you visit Montolieu, you will leave enchanted! Bisous, Léa