Durban Corbières

My first view of the village. (Winter)

Next month I shall celebrate my fifth anniversary of living in la belle France. I arrived on October 31, 2007. The time has gone so rapidly and so much has happened. The first three months were focused mainly on house hunting. Never did I imagine it would take so long. It did give me the opportunity to see a number of different villages and types of house. While many interested me and one in particular in Les Martys which is situated in Montagne Noir (The Black Mountain) I was not convinced. Something held me back.  An agent in Carcassonne (friend of a friend) showed me a few houses but we struck out. Then one day as I passed her office, she waved me inside and said she had a property to show me. Maryanne navigated and I drove.

Something I had not told anyone was that I had a date set when I would start looking out of the region I was convinced was where I wanted to be. That day as I drove closer to the sea than I had considered (thinking it was out of my budget) I tried to keep an open mind to what she would be showing me. It was January 16, 2008 and the birthday of my youngest son. I had been sure that I would have been successful by that date.

Maryanne read her printout from the internet as I navigated the main road then later

View of the mairie (mayor’s office) and school from my front door.

some small windy roads. The thought in my head was that even if this turned out to be the house, I would never find it again. We arrived in the village, parked and walked about waiting for the seller to arrive and let us in. We parked by the stone wall which stands between the house and le berre de rivière (the river berre). Leaning over the ancient stone wall, I saw the bridge (shown above) and felt a tug on the heart-strings.

Monsieur Pollard in the grenier

We didn’t have much time to look about when Monsieur Pollard arrived and we began our look around the house. It is a town house with small rooms and spread over four stories. The top one being the grenier (attic).

The house had been empty for over two years. The structure appeared sound which I later had verified and while small it gave me two guest bedrooms which was more than adequate. The house is over 300 years old and the original tiles remain in all the rooms and stairs.

The kitchen contained a sink (typical of homes in France) and remnants of a chimney which could be replaced should one choose to do so. Any purchaser would have to kit out the kitchen on their own.

The village itself had the requisites that I had been wanting and more. There is the boulangerie, cafe/bar, post office. Yet there was so much more. The village has a piscine (swimming pool), tennis courts, a small market, flower shop, coiffeur, notary, bibliothèque (library) even a botanical garden. There is also a man who brings in fresh seafood every Thursday and a Wednesday morning market offering fresh produce, fresh goat cheese and more. The foyer hosts first run movies each Tuesday night and often additional films especially for the children. There is even a campground with cabins and facilities for those with tents. The tourist season here is quite busy so if you think that camping is something for you, I would urge you to book ahead. If camping is not your thing you can rent a house or stay in the small hotel over the bar. There are also several chambres d’hotes ( bed & breakfast).

Needless to say, if you like a place in the dead of winter, it can only get better. I made an offer the same day and it was accepted. Despite everyone telling me that it would take over three months to close escrow, two months to the day of viewing the house I had the keys and moved in three days later when my bed, fridge, stove and washing machine were delivered. Since then I have picked up a few more pieces. That feeling that I got when I first saw the village have grown. Getting to know the people has been the icing on the cake. I have never felt so at home anywhere.

Anne in the Salle de sejour/ livingroom
Flower shop/ cafe-bar/ restaurant

Bisous,

Cuisine/kitchen

Léa

View of the chateau behind my house from my bedroom window

Castelnaudary et Fête du Cassoulet Part II

The Brotherhood of Universal Cassoulet Academy ( La confrérie de l’académie universelle du cassoulet) an organisation dedicated to promote the dish and preserve its traditions.  Each year, during the festival, awards are bestowed upon those who have contributed significantly to the ideals of the organisation and its furtherance. Oaths are made, and awards presented.

All about the center of town the bars/café’s and restaurants are in overdrive preparing for the nights festivities. Last minute preparations for feeding thousands of people each night and sound checks for the numerous stages is a show of its own. Near the main stage is a tent with emergency medical workers set to help should anyone needs assistance.

It must be a daunting task to feed such large numbers at once. There are two large venues where dinners were being served. The one I attended was able to seat over four hundred people at a sitting. Last years total served over the six nights of festival were over 50,000.

Bon appetit!

The cassoulet was served on trays which included a small black-lidded  container filled with Pâté de foie de canard, large portions of crusty baguette,  dessert- tarte de pomme and un verre de vin rouge. The cassoulet dish was yours to take home and perhaps make your own cassoulet.

Traditionally, cassoulet would consist of a mixture of 30% meat (usually duck and pork). The pots in which the dish were originally prepared were made of clay and called cassoles. Tapered with a pouring lip to assist in remove excess fat. The tapered sides were created so that the top was the largest area where a crust could form leaving the remaining dish underneath to remain moist throughout cooking.

While cassoulet sounds like a rich and heavy dish, it is healthy, filling and predominately a winter dish. It is often served with a simple salad and fruit of light dessert.

The self-proclaimed origins of Cassoulet goes to Castelnaudary. During the 100 year war, legend has it, the people of the town gathered and prepared a cassoulet to nourish the defenders with each family bringing what they could to add to the pot. After the meal the enemy was routed and the town spared. If you should dine on Castelnaudary Cassoulet today it would have pork and duck confit.

Castelnaudary Cassoulet

Ingredients

1.3 lbs. Dried Haricots Lingots (white beans)

1.8 lbs/800 gr. bacon

1 kg / 2.2 lbs boneless pork cubed

The Beatlovs

1 kg/ 2.2 lbs boneless lamb cubed

8 pieces canard confit (duck leg   quarters preserved in duck fat)

1 garlic infused sausage cubed

1 pork rind

14  oz tomatoes diced

8 oz carrots sliced

7 onions diced

10 garlic cloves

2 oz olive oil

1 bouquet garni

3 whole cloves

thyme, salt and pepper

Note: If using dried beans soak overnight and rinse well. If using canned beans drain and rinse.

Place pork rind on the bottom of casserole dish/dutch oven and spread the beans on top. Layer the bacon then onions pricked with cloves and bouquet garni, 3 crushed cloves of garlic and the carrots. Season with salt and pepper, add enough water to just cover all ingredients. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Note: If using canned beans, cut simmering time in half.

As the beans simmer, fry pork and lamb pieces in a large skillet with oil. Add 4 diced onions and two minced cloves of garlic. Add thyme and layer with cut tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add water, cover and simmer for an hour.

As the beans are done take out and discard bouquet garni and the onions (with cloves only). Remove the rind and cut into small cubes if you plan to put them back. Add duck confit and cubed sausage and all ingredients from the meat skillet and all liquid.

Mix together well and simmer for twenty minutes.

Emergency Services

Best served very hot and easily re-heated. This recipe will served eight very  hearty appetites.

Bon appétit

et

Bisous,

Léa

Headliners tonight: CALYSTA

Un Repas de Village

Apéritif

While there is something to do year around, July and August is packed with events. Even though there are hoards of tourists, village life continues much unchanged. An example is the meal I attended with friends in the lovely village of Embres – Castlemaure.

The event begins with the apéritif.  There are two tables with bottles of water, juices, wine  (of course) and even boxed wine. Being Embres – Castelmaure we were treated to the wine produced there. I would confidently argue that it is some of the finest in the region and beyond. There are also trays of bite-sized treats such as olives, pizza or quiche. The baskets on these tables hold mounds of another local favorite, Courgette Beignets. A small donut/fritter with bits of grated courgette (zucchini) that is fried golden brown. Unfortunately, they are so popular and despite the vast amounts, they were gone before I could get a photo. However, if you would like to try them for yourself, here is the recipe I use when called upon to help with food for an event.

Courgette Beignets

1 pound (about 2 medium) courgettes

1 teaspoon salt

* 1 Tablespoon lemon zest

10 sprigs parsley finely chopped

* 1 medium-large clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup flour

Grate courgettes into a medium bowl then press out as much of the moisture as possible. The easiest way I have found is to put the grated courgettes into a clean dish-towel and wring it until you get no more liquid. Transfer back into the bowl and add salt, lemon zest, parsley, garlic, pepper and eggs. Mix well to combine. Slowly add flour stirring so no lumps form.

Heat 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil in a large saute pan over medium – high heat until oil sizzles when you drop in a small amount of courgette mix onto the pan and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and turn beignets cook until golden. Bon appétit!

Note: Ingredients two marked with the * are ones I added. However, the recipes given me for the first batch I was asked to make were all different and there has been slight variations with the ones I have sampled. Each cook likes to add their own special touch. You can delete the garlic and/or lemon zest as you choose.

Paella simmering away

I choose to include the beignet recipe as Paella is a traditional Spanish dish. Yet being so close to Spain, it is very popular here in the south of France. While the Paella was simmering away everyone circulated greeting friends and making new ones. Although it was a village event and I live nearby, I was made most welcome as were the others who do not live in the village. There was a small band made up of musicians from surrounding villages. They played until the meal began.

Each table had several pitchers of wine (Rosé and Rouge), Bottles of water, Baguettes and more was supplied as needed. When the Paella was ready we took our seats and the feasting began. After the main course plates of Brie were passed around quickly followed by wonderfully ripe nectarines and peaches. Eventually we moved on to ice creams. Like all french meals, coffee was served after dessert.  A good time was had by all.

When you visit France, remember even the smallest villages have much to offer. Embres – Castelmaure . The last census in 2008 recorded the population at 150 people. I highly recommend a visit and a visit to the area demands that you check out their wines. You will not be disappointed.

Bisous,

Léa

Maison Christina at Rennes-les-Bains

Recently, when a dear friend arrived from California for her annual visit, she wanted to visit one of the local spas. On the way to Alet-les-Bains, we saw a sign for Rennes-les-Bains and since a reservation had not been made we decided to check it out.

The village was enveloped in a stunning setting and we decided to stay the night treating ourselves to a few treatments at the Bains (Baths) and a relaxing evening.

A couple we met said it did not seem to be too crowded yet and we would probably find a room.

While having coffee a few meters from the thermal baths, we noticed a sign for rooms. Good fortune was on our side as we entered Christina’s. While the establishment is small, everything was clean, fresh and most inviting. Christina herself is welcoming and quietly sees that everything is as it should be. Furthermore, her coffee is excellent!

If you find yourself in this part of France, check in with Christina and you can visit her website: www.maisonchristina.eu 

Rita and I enjoyed our visit there very much and will look forward to visiting Rennes and Christina in the future.

Bisous,

Léa

Feu de la Saint-Jean/Fête de la Musique

Le feu

The Midsummer day is merely in reference to the period  of time centered upon the summer solstice, but more often refers to specific European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice, or that take place on a day between June 21 and June 24, and the preceding evening. There can be a variation of dates between different cultures. In Estonia, Lativa and Scandinavian cultures, is it the most important holiday of the year with the exception of Christmas.

Before the flames

The French will celebrate the Fête de la Saint-Jean or le feu de la Saint-Jean, with bonfires reminiscent of pagan solstice rituals. The association with Saint-Jean was used when the Catholics adopted the tradition.

In my village, this years festival took place on Saturday June 23. The festivities were launched by a drumming group. Even though there was a DJ for the dancing to follow, the drummers stayed to enjoy the festival and to lead the procession at 11:30 around the village for the lighting of the bonfire. A number of people carried colorful paper lanterns suspended on a pole as we walked about the village.

In some parts of France, the event is called Chavande and also known as Fête de la Musique. In some parts of the world it is known as World Music Day and associated with an event that was launched here in France on 21 June, 1982 and celebrates the gift of music. While music is usually a major component to any celebration here in France, it does not take center stage at this local venue.

Dinner space converts to dance space
Apéritif?
Two members of the Drumming Circle
Two members of the Drumming Circle

The idea of the World Music Day was   conceptualized first in France in 1976 by American musician Joel Cohen who proposed an all-night music celebration to mark the beginning of the summer solstice.
The idea was taken up by French Music and Dance director Maurice Fleuret for Minister of Culture Jack Lang in 1981 and first took place in 1982 in Paris.
Since then, it has become a worldwide phenomenon with over 32 countries worldwide having their own celebrations in their own way, regardless of the season.

           Bisous,

Bon appetit!

Léa

Albas Art Show

Albas Art Show

In the 2008 census, Albas recorded a population of 77. Despite that fact, it is home to a number of artists.

Year round, France is host to shows featuring local artists. With all the beauty, there is much to inspire.

Naturally, there are larger and more frequent shows during the tourist season.

Performance Artist - Cornelis Blum: The Wake
Performance Artist – Cornelis Blum: The Wake

However, there is usually art on offer in

the manner of Expositions of one or two artists at different venues.

Work on display includes paintings, sculpture to Performance Art, there is so much on

offer.

The Wake
The Wake

Being France, you will always find food and beverages and some

forms of entertainment. This particular event included a show of old automobiles.    There is also some music such as a strolling band. Much of the art is for sale and the artists are on hand to answer your questions.

Bisous,

Léa

Repas pour la commune

Bon appetit!

Peter - Ireland - Soda Bread & Irish Coffee

The French word commune appeared in the 12th century, from Medieval Latin communia, meaning a small gathering of people sharing a common life; from Latin communis, things held in common. As of 2008, there were 36,781 communes in France. Just over 200 of these exist overseas. This is a higher number than other countries in Europe and is largely due to the division of the Country during the French Revolution. (Wikipedia) The Communes are a community of villages/parishes/hamlets with the largest often having services for the entire commune. If there is an interest, this could be the subject for a future post. Next to the individual village, it is the smallest unit of government in the Country. Our local Commune, community of villages, invited inhabitants of the Region to join in a day of cultural exchange and celebration. The idea is to all those native to France and all those from other Countries to better know and appreciate their differences.

Jiranan-Thailand-Lemon Grass Chicken & Thai Green Curry

Each participant will bring a dish (for four) of his area or his country, to share. A number of participants will provide recettes (recipes) for the food they have brought.

If you would like to turn your hand to traditional Irish Soda Bread, here is a link to the recipe that Peter used and it was perfect the first time!  http://www.dochara.com/the-irish/food-recipes/irish-soda-bread/

  Animation is ensured by the guests, volunteers, who will testify to
Corneilus- The Flying Dutchman - Trophy Winner

the artistic, cultural or traditional way of life of the country or the area of which they are native. It must be admitted that a few will take an artistic interpretation to the idea. Additionally, a few of the French will embrace another culture coming in costume from that Country and bringing food that you would eat should you visit there. There is a prize for the best costume (trophy) and prizes for others who participate in the costume portion of the event. The trophy will be returned the following year for the next winner.

Bisous,

Léa

Left: Folk Costume Normandy Region
Center: Mylène - Folk Costume Burgundy Region