Life begins at 50…

… or does it?  Some of you may know that I recently started my 51st year, but I’ve not noticed much difference.:)  Having said that, any round birthday is a good reason to celebrate.  I was very lucky to have good friends with me to mark the occasion in a rather spectacular manner:  a trip to El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.  Girona is only a  two hour drive from Saint-Chinian, and the restaurant has been voted Best Restaurant in the World, and has been given three stars by the Guide Michelin.

I’m not really in the habit of going to three star restaurants – the trip to Girona came about by chance rather than design.  I was sitting with my friends one evening, and we were talking about how difficult it was to get reservations for El Celler de Can Roca – bookings have to be made 11 months in advance, and the tables are usually booked very very quickly!  Flippantly I said, “Why don’t I e-mail the restaurant to see if they have a cancellation over the next few days?”.  I received a fast reply to my e-mail, and the next morning we had a reservation for the following week – never in my wildest dreams had I thought that it would happen!!

The restaurant is in a very unprepossessing neighbourhood of Girona.  Its interior is very modern and pure, and the dining room is arranged around a triangular lightwell, which is planted with trees.  The tables were spacious and beautifully set with white tablecloths, starched linen napkins, Riedel glasses and silverware.  I felt far too self-conscious to take pictures of anything but the food, although the atmosphere was in no way ‘starchy’.  The staff were all very friendly and incredibly professional, and the service was smooth and unobtrusive – the restaurant was running like clockwork!!

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After we had sat down, we were served a glass of cava, with compliments of the house, while we perused the menu and the wine lists.  The choice of menu was easy – there were only two, and since this was probably a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience, we opted for the tasting menu.  Half our table ordered the wine pairing – a different wine with each course – fourteen glasses!!  Luckily the glasses were not very full!

I leave you now, with the photographs of the meal – it was a fantastic dining experience, and a brilliant start to my 51st year!

Appetizer The World

Appetizer The World

Thailand: Thai chicken, coriander, coconut, curry and lime
Japan: miso cream with nyinyonyaki
China: pickled vegetables with plum cream
Peru: “Causa limena”
Korea: panco fried bread, bacon with soya sauce, kimchi and sesame oil

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Memories of a bar in the suburbs of Girona: Breaded squid, Kidneys with sherry, Pigeon bonbon, Salt cod with spinach and pine nuts, Campari bonbon

Green olive ice cream

Green olive ice cream

Starfish

Starfish

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Coral: ying-yang oyster, seabream ceviche

Summer truffle brioche

Summer truffle brioche

Here is where the main courses start:

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White asparagus with elderflower, mullet roe, dried apricot, ginger and acacia honey hollandaise sauce

Cherries marinated on a bed of cashew, smoked eel and "beurre noisette"

Cherries marinated on a bed of cashew, smoked eel and “beurre noisette”

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Tartar of tomato and watermelon

Langoustine with cocoa bean sauce Black mole with chocolate and mantis shrimp cream with coconut and boletus edulis

Langoustine with cocoa bean sauce
Black mole with chocolate and mantis shrimp cream with coconut and boletus edulis

Baby squid with tempeh of "ganxet" beans

Baby squid with tempeh of “ganxet” beans

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Prawn marinated with rice vinegar Prawn’s head sauce, crispy prawn legs, seaweed veloute and phytoplankton

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Red skate confit with juice of charcoal-grilled pepper and rhubarb

Blackspot seabream with "samfaina"

Blackspot seabream with “samfaina”

Iberian suckling pick with salad of green papaya, thai grapefruit, apple, coriander, chilli pepper, lime and cashew

Iberian suckling pig with salad of green papaya, thai grapefruit, apple, coriander, chilli pepper, lime and cashew

Lamb with eggplant and chickpea puree, lamb's trotters and spicy tomato

Lamb with eggplant and chickpea puree, lamb’s trotters and spicy tomato

Veal oyster blade and marrow, tendons and avocado

Veal oyster blade and marrow, tendons and avocado

We are now starting with desserts!!

Turkish perfume: Rose, peach, saffron, cumin, cinnamon and pistachio

Turkish perfume: Rose, peach, saffron, cumin, cinnamon and pistachio

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Orange colourology

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Orange colourology – cracked open!

Cuban cigar box: chocolate with mil, vanilla, dried plum, tobacco leaf and cocoa

Cuban cigar box: chocolate with milk, vanilla, dried plum, tobacco leaf and cocoa

Just when we thought there was no more to come….

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Tragic events

Once again I am speechless.  What should have been a day of national celebration has been turned into a tragedy.  Scores of people are mourning loved ones, and many more have been traumatised by the events in Nice.  My sympathies and prayers go to all those who have been affected by this senseless act of terrorism.

Bon appetit!

I know that I’ve not been writing much about food in recent weeks.  This post aims to rectify that, but a word of warning: if you are hungry, then close this window immediately, and do not look at this post again until you’ve had something to eat.  Otherwise, I cannot be responsible for anything which might happen!! 😀

Over the years I’ve been to La Cave Saint-Martin in Roquebrun numerous times, and I’ve written about one of my meals there a few years ago.  I thought it was time that I shared another visit to that restaurant with you!  La Cave Saint-Martin is a wine and tapas bar, which serves a selection of more substantial food along with the tapas.  The wine selection is heavy on vins naturels, wines which have not had sulphites added.

I went there last week with a group of people, two of whom were on their first visit to Saint-Chinian.  Those two were also enthusiastic “foodies” and they were looking forward to trying as many different items on the menu as possible!  We looked at the menu and debated, and finally Raymond, the proprietor of the restaurant, put an end to our agony of choice by suggesting a kind of tasting selection – thank you Raymond!

We started with some wonderful saucisson:

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You see the bread basket by the side of the plate – the bread comes from the bakery in Azillanet, run by Stephane.  I wrote about the bakery in 2013 – Stephane is still making wonderful bread!

Just when we got settled with a glass of red wine and the saucisson, another lot of treats arrived at the table!  Here is some tuna belly:

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I’m not sure why the fish is served in the tins, with the wrappers by the side, but perhaps it’s to show the authenticity of the product?  Moving the fish to a serving plate could also make it break up, so that could be another reason?

The smoked anchovies were divine!!

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Then there were some tiny sardines, which were lovely!

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Raymond stocks a large selection of canned fish from a Portuguese brand called Tricana. The products I have tasted have all been very delicious!  Do give them a try if you ever come across them.

We also had some very tasty meats!  The restaurant always keeps some amazing Spanish Iberico hams in stock, and we had a plate with two different kinds:  lomo and lomito.

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We also had some cecina, wafer thin slices of air-dried beef…

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…and also the home-made pate de tete, which translates to “head cheese” or brawn.  Forget about the name, it tasted very good, and the pickles were the perfect accompaniment!

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Instead of manchego we ate a Dutch cheese, whose name I cannot remember, I’m sorry!  It was a cheese to remember though, the mouth-feel (awful word, but describes it well) started off like a good parmesan, slightly crunchy with salt crystals, and then turned to meltingly soft, like a really good comte!  Just fabulous!

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Have a look at the table!  We really were not short of food, but we took it easy and did eat up everything 😀!!

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So far so good – all the above was really one huge appetizer!!  No, I am not kidding!!  Raymond had had a delivery of entrecote steak from his supplier. Beef from the Aubrac region of France, which had been aged for 30 days.  Here’s Raymond showing us the steak – it’s one big piece for all four of us, just in case you are wondering!

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And here is what it looked like after it had been cooked to perfection:

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And perfection it was!  I’m not a huge meat-eater, but from time to time there is nothing that can beat a well aged and well cooked steak!!

From July 7, 2016 until August 31, 2016 La Cave Saint-Martin is open seven days a week from 11am to 11pm.  Reservations for the evening are essential!

Summer events

Summer is here at last, so here is an update to the page of upcoming events in and around Saint-Chinian:

Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 5 to 10 July 2106

Come and listen to one (or more) of the eight concerts, which are given in Saint-Chinian’s Abbatiale and the parish church. The programme is varied and offers a selection of different musical styles.  The festival opens with the children’s choir of Beziers Cathedral.  Amongst the concerts, there is an organ recital in the parish church, a tribute to Charles Trenet, a saxophone quartet playing jazz and more.  The full programme can be found on http://www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com

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Jazz a Sete, Sete – 13 to 19 July 2016

This internationally renowned Jazz Festival takes place in Sete every year, and is a must for lovers of Jazz!  This year’s festival is headlined by Diana Krall (already sold out!), but there are tickets available for many of the other performers.  The concerts take place in the Theatre de la Mer, an open-air theatre with the sea as a backdrop.  Details can be found here.

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6eme Academie Musicale, Saint-Chinian – 16 to 23 July 2016

For the sixth time in as many years, Herve Hotier and Lauranne Chastal, with the collaboration of Pierre Courthiade, are running a week of classes for flute students.  A masterclass will be given by Juliette Hurel, 1st flute of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.  The week ends with a recital at 5pm on July 22, followed by a concert by the students at 7:30pm.

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Fete de l’Olivier, Bize-Minervois – 17 July 2016

This popular fete always coincides with the Fete du Cru in Saint-Chinian.  The theme is the olive and its cultivation, and there is usually a competition for the best tapenade, among other activities.  There will be lots of food to buy and eat there, and the atmosphere is always great!  You can read about my visit to this fete here.

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Marche des Potiers (pottery market), Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres – 23 and 24 July 2016

If you enjoy pottery then this event is for you – dozens of potters displaying their wares in the shade of plane trees!  I can always find something to buy at this kind of fair!! 😀

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Fete de St Louis, Sete – 18 to 23 August 2016

The Fete de St Louis celebrates Sete’s maritime heritage and its patron saint with six days of events.  There will be over 70 street performances, and there will be a big jousting tournamen.  The jousting is done on water and in boats!!

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Fete de la Chataigne, Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres – 29 and 30 October 2016

The chestnut festival in Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres is one of the biggest autumn festivals in the area.  It is well worth a visit, whether you like chestnuts or not!  I have visited this festival many times, and you can read my post about it here.

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If you want to attend any of these events and are in need of accommodation, just drop me a line or visit www.midihideaways.com 

Fifty shades of …

… red and pink.  No this is not what you were thinking!  This is a little dip into the colourful world of flowers in my garden and in the area.  There is such an abundance of flowers at this time of year –  I thought I would try and stick with a theme for this post: flowers which are predominantly red and/or pink.

So here we go:

The following flower is a gaillardia, which blooms endlessly in my garden here in Saint-Chinian.  It needs no water and flowers until the first frost!

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Roses are wonderful this year!!  We seem to have had the right amount of rain at the right time!

The gerbera below is a relative of those expensive flowers which you can find in florist shops everywhere.

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Red flax is really wonderful, a mass of it can make for a real splash of colour!

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Here is another selection of pink flowers:  Echinacea, cistus and dicentra spectabilis. The last one is commonly known as bleeding heart.

Cosmos is another wonderful flower, needing very little care – it even sows itself in my garden!

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And to finish off, some red oleander:

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If you want to see for yourself, why not come and visit Languedoc?  I’ll be happy to help with your accommodation and travel plans.

 

A cherry classic

On one of my recent flea market forays, I found these lovely porcelain dishes – they just called out to me from their crate!  They weren’t all that expensive so I bought six!!

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With the cherries in season, it was time to put the dishes to work.  I had a feeling that they would be the perfect size for an individual cherry clafoutis.  You might have heard of clafoutis – it is a kind of flan, traditionally made with black cherries.  I had some red cherries, but I thought they would work just fine too! 😀

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The basic ngredients are very simple: cherries, cream, milk, eggs, sugar and a tiny bit of butter to grease the dishes.

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Here’s a completely gratuitous picture of the cherries in one of my new dishes:

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The cherries can be pitted or not – as you wish.  Traditionally the stones are left in the cherries, as they are supposed to release some additional flavour during cooking.  To my mind, the advantage of leaving the stones in the cherries is that it makes for faster preparation.  The washed cherries are simply stemmed and arranged in the dishes – there are 17 cherries in each dish!

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For the batter, the eggs are beaten with the sugar, then the cream, milk and kirsch are added.  Once all is well mixed the batter is evenly divided between the four dishes.

After 30 minutes the clafoutis should be nicely browned and puffed up.

Now you just have to wait until the clafoutis are lukewarm, before you tuck in! 😀  The tops can be dusted with icing (confectioners) sugar, but I prefer mine without.  Bonne degustation!

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Cherry Clafoutis

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 45 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

500 g cherries
90 ml creme fraiche
60 ml milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kirsch (replace with milk if making this for children)
butter for greasing

Pre-heat the oven to 185°C.  Butter four individual oven-proof dishes, just large enough to hold your cherries in a single layer;  my dishes measure 10cm across the bottom and 14cm across the outer rim.  You could also use a single (larger) dish, just be sure that the fruits fit snugly. A square baking dish, approx 23 x 23cm should work well.

Wash your cherries, remove the stems and decide on whether or not you want to remove the pits.  Arrange the cherries in the dishes.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl; add the sugar and beat to mix well.  Add the creme fraiche, milk and kirsch and stir until well blended.  Divide the batter evenly between the four dishes and bake in a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until nicely browned, and puffed around the edges.

Serve lukewarm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you like.  This can be prepared ahead of time, but be sure to allow the clafoutis to come to room temperature before serving.