The big picture

There are big pictures all over the place – murals that cover entire sides of buildings.  I’ve often heard them called muriels – have you heard them called that too??  In French, murals are often called trompe l’oeil, literally translated as “deceive the eye”.  Some of the murals in the following pictures are incredibly convincing and live up to their trompe l’oeil name!!

The first one is in Lodeve, and it is a very good example of a trompe l’oeil, as it blends real with fake – can you tell which windows are real and which are not?

The following mural is in Montpellier – the walls are pretty much flat, but the painting’s perspective makes it look incredibly 3D!The next mural is in Capestang, just right around the corner from the restaurant La Galiniere.

Beziers has a good number of murals – here is the oldest that I know of:

There appears to be a theme to the more recently painted murals in Beziers: famous artists and their works!

Here is L’Arlesienne by Georges Bizet:

Dejanire by Camille Saint-Saens:

Le Depit Amoureux by Moliere:

Jean Moulin, a native of Beziers and a hero of the Resistance, opened an art gallery in Nice as a cover for his resistance activities.  The following mural commemorates Jean Moulin and his gallery:

The mural in the last picture of this post is on a newly created square in Beziers.  The mural hides a series of what I imagine are run-down houses awaiting renovation – a pretty neat idea!

This was to be my last article of 2019, but somehow it never got posted and ended up in my drafts folder!  Since I wrote this post, Saint-Chinian has unveiled its own trompe l’oeil. It’s not quite finished yet, so I’ll post a picture of it when it is.

Shades of colour

February has arrived.  The days are getting longer, and there is a promise of spring in the air!!  Nature is showing us that renewal is on the way!  😀

This is a wonderful time of the year to go for a walk – be patient and observe, and you’ll be richly rewarded!

The almond trees have started to flower:

The mimosa trees are producing an absolutely glorious amount of bright yellow fluffy blossoms:

The red flowers of the red Japanese quince bush provide a jewel-like cheerful spot of colour

In some vineyards, the ground between the rows of plants is carpeted with wildflowers:

All these sights gladden my heart and lift my spirits!!  I hope they lift your spirits too!!

Carnival!!

It’s at this time of year that the carnival celebrations start to get underway.

The Carnaval de Limoux started on January 19 this year!  It runs through to March 29, 2020, so there’s plenty of time to go and visit!  A few years ago, I wrote an article about my visit, which you can find here.   The programme of the Limoux carnival can be found via this link.

In our corner of Southern France, the celebrations kick off with the Fete de Saint Blaise on February 1st.  On the programme are guided visits of the chapel dedicated to Saint Blaise, a tasting of the herbal tea and the elixir of Saint Blaise (probably a liqueur), a carnival procession through the town, and to finish the evening, a communal meal followed by a dance.

Details can be found via this link.

A little farther afield, the town of Albi celebrates carnival with two big processions on February 16 and 23, 2020.  The full programme can be found here.

This year, Mardi Gras is on February 25.  Narbonne holds it annual carnival procession on the preceding Sunday, February 23.  This year’s theme is Les metiers, the trades, as in jobs.

Will you be celebrating carnival anywhere??

Truffle time again!!

I’m sure you have eaten truffles – but did you eat chocolate truffles or black truffles? 🙂

The black truffle, also called Perigord truffle, French black truffle, or, to give the Latin name, tuber melanosporum, is a native European truffle, and it ranks very high on the list of the most expensive foods!

It’s been prized for its flavour since antiquity, and it was regularly served on the tables of princes, kings and emperors.  Towards the end of the 19th century, France produced up to 1000 tonnes of black truffles per year.  Prices were much lower then than they are now, and black truffles were used in great quantities in classic French cooking at that time.

Since the end of the 19th century, France’s truffle output has fallen dramatically – at times it has been as low as 20 tonnes a year!  A variety of causes have contributed to this fall in production: destruction during the 1st and 2nd world wars, deforestation, acid rain, general pollution, changes in farming methods, changes in climate…

For a very long time, the way truffles grew was not very well understood, but by the early 1970s a technique had been developed which allowed hazelnut and oak saplings to be inoculated with truffle spores.  The resulting trees could produce truffles four to eight years after planting, but the success still depends on many factors such as soil type, amount of rainfall, temperatures, etc.

Lucky for us, a good many of the truffle orchards which were planted in Southern France are now producing truffles.  If you visit Languedoc at this time of year, you are in for a treat, as truffle markets in the area take place throughout the winter months.  I’ve visited several of these markets over the years, and I have written about one of these visits here.

Below, I give you a list of the forthcoming markets in the area.  Even if you don’t buy any truffles, these markets are well worth visiting, I promise you!

January 26, 2020 : 21es “Ampélofolies du Cabardès” à Moussoulens
January 26, 2020 : 4e Fête de la Truffe” à Béziers (pourtour des halles)
January 31 to February 2, 2020 : 14e “Fête de la truffe et des produits du terroir” à Nîmes, Place du Marché
February 1, 2020 : “Truffes en fête” à Talairan
February 8, 2020 : Marché aux Truffes” et 15e “Nuit de la Truffe” à Villeneuve-Minervois
February 9, 2020 : 25e Journée Paysanne” à Saint-Jean de Buèges
February 14, 2020 : “Marché aux Truffes de la Saint Valentin” à Narbonne, place de l’Hôtel de Ville de 9h à 13h.
February 16, 2020 : Marché aux truffes” à Castelnaudary
February 16, 2020 : 12e Fête de la Truffe et du terroir” à Claret
February 23, 2020 : 4e Carnaval des saveurs et de la truffe” à La Digne d’Aval
March 8, 2020 : “Truffe et patrimoine” à Trassanel

 

So cheesy!!

Do you remember the time when fondue was all the rage??  It must have been in the dim and distant 70’s and 80’s when fondue seemed to be so sophisticated and entertaining!  And then somehow fondue fell from favour, and all those fondue sets and special plates were put at the back of some cupboard and more or less forgotten about.  That was pretty much everywhere except in Switzerland, where cheese fondue is very much part of the national identity!!

I’ve just had friends from Switzerland staying in Saint-Chinian, and we had a cheese fondue one evening.  It brought back many happy memories, so I thought you might enjoy reading about it.  In the French language, the word fundu means melted, so that is where cheese fondue got its name from.

For those of you who have never encountered fondue or a fondue set, there is a stand with a small spirit burner, on which is set the fondue pot.  There is an almost infinite variation of possible combinations as to shape and size, and these days electric fondue sets are also available!

Here are the ingredients we used for our cheese fondue:

We had to have Swiss gruyere and Swiss Emmental cheeses – the French versions of these cheeses were not an option for my Swiss friends!!  Luckily, the cheeses were easily found in the area!  We also used a dry white wine (Riesling in this case), Kirsch eau de vie, and corn starch.

To accompany the fondue, we had carrots, broccoli, small new potatoes, apples, pears, and bread – all for dipping into the melted cheese.  And we also had a mixed salad to accompany the fondue.

The cheese was cut into manageable chunks and then grated on the big holes of a box grater.

The carrots and the broccoli were lightly steamed, the potatoes boiled until just cooked, and the bread, apples and pears cut into bite-size chunks.

The stand for the fondue pot was set up in the centre of the table.  The stand would usually sit on a metal tray to protect the table, but my metal tray appears to have gone astray – perhaps it is at the back of some cupboard, somewhere??  The ceramic dish was a good substitute.

To make the fondue, the wine was heated in a casserole with some sliced garlic.

Once it reached boiling point, the cheese was added a handful at a time, whilst constantly stirring.

The cheese soon started to melt – to begin with it looked a bit lumpy!

Before too long it started to come together into a smooth and creamy cheese and wine stew!

At that point a mixture of corn starch and kirsch eau de vie (mixed until there were no lumps) was added to homogenise it further, and to add flavour.  After another couple of minutes the mixture was ready to be transferred to the fondue pot, which had been warmed with boiling water (otherwise the cheese would have cooled too much).  Note: fondue is normally cooked in the pot that it is served in.  Unfortunately, my fondue pot was not compatible with the cooker, so the fondue had to be transferred.

Below is the fondue in the pot, ready to be brought to the table.  The top was sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg!

We were all set to go!!

Everyone put a selection of goodies on their plates, and then we were ready to dip and enjoy the fondue!

It was absolutely delicious!!  Thank you to Thekla, Jean and Ueli for sharing this with me!!

Here’s the printable recipe:

Cheese Fondue

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

400 g Swiss Emmental cheese
200 g Swiss gruyere cheese (Greyezer)
400 ml dry white wine
1 – 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 teasp corn starch
2 tbsp kirsch eau de vie
freshly grated nutmeg

For dipping, prepare all or some of the following:
French bread (preferably day old), cut into bite-size cubes, each cube with some crust
Small new potatoes, carrots, broccoli, steamed/cooked until just tender
Apples and pears, etc. cut into bite-size pieces

Grate the cheese.  Mix the corn starch and the kirsch until there are no lumps. Heat wine and garlic in your fondue pot and when at boiling point add cheese a handful at a time whilst stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.  When the cheese is completely melted and the mixture starts to bubble add the corn starch and kirsch mixture, stir well for a couple of minutes, then bring to the table and put on your fondue stand.  

When dipping, make sure that you keep the cheese mixture moving!

Note: If possible, use a heat diffuser mat under your fondue pot once it is on the stand.  That way the cheese mixture is less likely to scorch at the bottom of the pot.

Winter is a perfect time for eating cheese fondue – what are you waiting for??

Bonne annee

At this time of year in France, when you see someone for the first time after New Year’s Eve, it is customary to exchange new year’s greetings. So, without further ado:

Bonne annee, bonne sante, meilleurs voeux to you all!!

This greeting is usually accompanied by a kiss on each cheek, not a real kiss but kind of touching cheeks and making the appropriate noise.  So please feel yourself virtually kissed!!

The new year’s greetings go on until the end of January!

Soon after Christmas, the galettes des rois or Epiphany cakes make an appearance in the shops and bakeries.  The tradition of the cake is closely tied to the three kings who came to Bethlehem bringing myrrh, gold and frankincense to baby Jesus.

Epiphany cakes come in one of two shapes:  there is the flat galette des rois, a frangipane filled puff pastry confection, or a ring shaped cake made with brioche dough which is often called a royaume and is decorated with sugar and/or with glacé fruit.  That same ring-shaped cake can also be found filled with cream!!

Common to all varieties is the fact that a favour is baked into them.  In olden days, the favour would have been a feve, a dried fava bean.  In France the favour is still called a feve and it is usually a tiny porcelain figure (watch your teeth!!).  Whoever finds the feve in their piece of cake is crowned king for the day.  Whenever you buy an Epiphany cake in any bakery or shop, a small cardboard crown is always part of the purchase!

Another tradition attached to the eating of the Epiphany cake concerns the dividing of the cake.  The youngest person usually sits under the dining table.  The cake is then cut into pieces, and the person under the table then calls out the name of the person who is to have the piece which has just been cut.

If you’re tempted to make your own galette des rois, have a look at this article where I give the recipe.

So, here’s to the start of the new year – let’s hope it’s a good one for all of us!!

The photographs for this post were taken at La Gourmandise bakery in Saint-Chinian.  Thank you, Carole!!