A weekend of summer fetes…

And what a weekend it was!  It all really happened on the Sunday, but the excitement was palpable when all the tents went up on the market square in St Chinian on the Saturday – neatly aligned!

And then it began – the market stalls were all displaced and scattered along the streets, and tables had been set up in the gardens of the Mairie to feed the hungry mouths at lunchtime with a traditional grillade prepared by the rugby club.

The sugar dusted sacristans looked yummy (crispy puff pastry and almond twists), and the rude tomato was just too much!  Anyhow, on to the Fete du Cru – the 60 stands opened for business at 9am, a mixture of wine and Produits du Terroir, ranging from beautiful Mohair blankets, scarves & more by Jean Paul Dore from Sarrazo via sausages and cheeses, to marzipan fruits.  A group of local painters were showing their latest pictures and offered painting demonstrations, and another group exhibited model cars and other toys.  But I digress, you all came for the wine, didn’t you?

With all that wine where do you start? With a visit to the stand of the Cru, right by the entrance, behind that impressive arch made from barrels and pallets.  Here’s a table full of glasses, hundreds of them, all with a little attachment that allows you to hang the glass around your neck.  For 3 Euros the glass is yours and you can be off to try whatever takes your fancy.  There are also straw hats in case you get too hot, and wonderfully colourful aprons, in case you are prone to spilling your drink!Nadia and Cyril Bourgne from Domaine La Madura, in a relaxed mood before the rush of visitors! The Confrereries gathered, all decked out in their colourful robes and attended a church service, followed by an aperitif in the Place du Marche – the rose was very tempting, but it was a little too early in the day for me to start!

One of the reasons for not having a drink that early was that I wanted to take to the road – to visit the Fete de l’Olivier in Bize Minervois, also taking place that Sunday.  The “set-up” in Bize was very different, with the focus on Olives and Olive oil, but much less exclusively so.  The esplanade along the river was taken up with stands selling food and drink, and long trestle tables for the patrons to sit and eat and drink.  There were mussels (with fries) and grilled sausages (with fries), and there was another stand selling food without fries.  I loved the home-made bunting that was strung all across the esplanade – someone had made a big effort!

There were a couple of bands marching through the narrow streets, past a myriad of stalls, selling all manner of things – soaps, kitchen implements made from olive wood, clothes, more food and there was a stall selling ice cream made from sheep’s milk.  Absolutely gorgeous with unusual flavours – if you’re interested their website is at http://www.audeline.com/ .

Walking around the village I came across a gate which I’d never seen open before.  Curiosity got the better of me of course, and I wandered in.  The courtyard behind the gate is home to Domaine Saint Michel Archange and for the fete they had a duo of ladies playing steel drums.  Not your usual steel drum players, but classically trained, skilled musicians with a beautiful touch.  My video stars partway through their piece, but you’ll get the idea.  The ladies have their own website and a number of other videos on YouTube.

The river in Bize is of course always inviting for a swim or just spending time lazily sitting in the shade of the willow trees, perhaps with a book or a picnic, and if you are staying at Les Remparts or Le Figuier then all that is only a short walk away.

Back in St Chinian I got down to the serious business of wine tasting.  As you can see there were more people visiting in the afternoon than in the morning, but the vaporizers which had been strung all along the row of tents were helping to keep everyone cool, and the band kept up the atmosphere!  Oh, and that’s a car under all those stickers and posters!

I won’t bore you with a list of the wines I tasted, but I stayed with rose and I particularly liked the wines from Belles Courbes, Domaine Mont Cabrel, Domaine Maurine Rouge, Chateau la Dournie and Mas Champart.

Two wonderful fetes in one day?  Almost too good to be true, but it happens in Languedoc! 😉

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Going up with a bang!

The St Chinian fireworks were wonderful as every year, and just in case you are wondering, here are a few seconds of the finale

Bastille day was celebrated in style, with two days of partying and music.  Both evenings the children gathered with their parents in front of the Mairie to await the distribution of lampions and flags, in preparation for the procession around the village. The play of shadows on the walls was too much for me to resist – and the actors were most likely quite unawares of their “performance”.

The gardens in front of the Mairie were beautifully lit and decorated – it felt just like in a fairytale.
Marianne was watching over it all, lit up with tricolor lights!

And the colours of the French flag were present even in the red, white and blue lights strung on the main square all the way down to the stage.Off we went to the football stadium along with most of the village, to watch the fireworks.

Over the years the fireworks have gotten better and better, and now we have an amazing display, which lasted some 15 minutes!

Now for some food!  Our cookery group got together in my garden in St Chinian this week – the theme was BBQ as it was summer, and the food was eclectic and very delicious!  We started off with a salad of crabmeat, avocado and mango, followed by marinated prawn skewers, and we cooked damper bread to go with some of the food.  There were also some marinated and grilled courgettes.  I got a bit carried away with the food and missed out on taking pictures 🙂

Then came the pork spare ribs, glazed with home-made BBQ sauce.  On my last visit to Colorado, Peter Holm gave me his recipe for a spare rib seasoning mix, and Bill Law, one of my facebook friends, pointed me to a site called amazingribs.com .  A little while back I’d seen an article on using a kettle BBQ to smoke food, and was keen to explore that with the ribs.  My butcher trimmed the ribs for me and cut the slab lengthwise, to make for easier manipulation on the grill, and I seasoned them the night before.  The recipe called for long, slow cooking (3 – 4 hours) and that was worth all the effort – evident by the speed with which the ribs disappeared.

And once they were gone we grilled some Rissoles, burgers which had a medley of vegetables incorporated, making them very light and tasty. To finish we had grilled nectarines with vanilla ice cream, with little drizzle of brandy over the nectarines – just a perfect finish. And the weather… we ended up sitting out until almost midnight and as it was a new moon all the stars were out.

The recipe for the Rib Rub is as follows:

1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp granulated onion
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp coarse salt
1 teasp cayenne pepper
1 teasp ground black pepper
1 teasp ground white pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well, store in an airtight jar until required.  Rub into ribs and leave to marinate over night.

The recipe for cooking the ribs was found on www.amazingribs.com and the claim that they are the best tasting ribs ever is definitely not far-fetched!

A lady in waiting and other tales from Languedoc

I’ll start with the last bit first – a visit to Sete last night, so see Stacey Kent in Concert at the Theatre de la Mer.  The Theatre de la Mer was built on what remained of the fort built by Vauban in the 18th century – it was perfect for an amphitheater and the view from the seats beyond the stage is magical.  If you want to find out a bit more of the history of the fort/theatre have a look here.  The concert was due to start at 9pm, with a warm up by Terez Montcalm, a Canadian singer, who’s currently promoting her tribute album to Shirley Horn, followed at about 10.30 by Stacey Kent and her quintet.  The evening was great, the lights twinkling and the occasional boat going by and the atmosphere in the theater wonderful.  Of the two Terez Montcalm got the audience going much more, Stacey Kent was missing that je ne sais quoi that would have turned her performance into something more memorable.  But still….
 We had arrived in Sete in plenty of time before the doors opened, so decided to wander along the port and look for somewhere to have a bite to eat.  The romantic looking restaurant we all wanted to go to didn’t start serving until 8pm, which was too late, so we settled for a small cafe type place a few doors up.  The menu was small and the rose wine came in large bucket full of ice, and our table was right by the water’s edge, perfect for watching all kinds of boats going by!  Here’s the food we had:  an assortment of tapas (cold fish and prawns), and grilled octopus, both very delicious.

The seagull was watching our plates with a beady eye, but didn’t make any attempts at snatching morsels. It looked pretty well fed…. On the way back to the theatre we saw some youngsters training for jousting. They had motor powered boats, and really went for it. If you look closely the second picture you can just about see the splash!  As an aside – if you’re ever going to the Theatre de la Mer, bring some seat cushions with you, and don’t arrive too late.  Seating is first come first served, and it can get very packed.  At the top of the theatre are two terraces, where there are food stalls, so if you want to have something to eat you can take it back to your hard-won seats!

Earlier in the week I met with friends for a picnic along the banks of the Canal du Midi – at Capestang to be precise. There are picnic tables from where you have a great view of the pleasure boats driving by and the magnificent plane trees are still providing shade. With the courgettes starting to glut I decided I would try a Turkish recipe by Yottam Ottolenghi for a courgette frittata, to use up a fair few. The recipe was a little fiddly and lengthy (grating the courgettes, salting and leaving them to stand, then draining and squeezing them out in a teatowel) but the end result was worth every bit of effort. To go with the frittata I made humus and tzaziki, and my friends brought bread, ham and cheese. I could not resist dessert so took some poached rhubarb to be served with custard.

Now back to St Chinian – last Saturday I heard the unfamiliar sound of the clip-clop of hooves coming round a corner.  Luckily my camera was to hand to snap these pictures of a newlywed couple on their way to their wedding breakfast.

Finally, the Lady-in-waiting is Marianne – awaiting her big day on July 14! I think every municipality in France has a bust or statue of Marianne, the national emblem of France.  In the days leading up to Bastille day, our Mairie is beautifully decked out with flags and Marianne takes pride of place on the central balcony. More decorations will be going up this afternoon as the whole park in front of the town hall will be decked out with lampions, which will be lit tonight before a torch-lit procession around town, with a brass band, and all the children carrying flags and lampions.  Tomorrow night it’ll be the same procession, only we’ll end up at the football ground to watch the fireworks!

The park will be scented by the magnolia grandiflora trees, which are in flower now – I’d never paid attention to the perfume, but it is a beautiful smell with a hint of citrus.

I’m sure even the goldfish will have a good time at the forthcoming parties!!

The sound of silence

‘Tis the time of year when the cicadas start singing – one of the signs that summer really has arrived!  In places the noise can be deafening as the beasties compete with one another, but mostly it provides a very pleasant background noise, a sign that you have arrived in the South.

I taped this little bit of silence at Les Rossignols near Roquebrun this afternoon.  There is no car noise and at the height of the day only the cicadas are active – sheer bliss and of course it’s not easy to find such a quiet spot in our ever so noisy environment.

The owner of Les Rossignols had prepared a simple and informal, but very delicious lunch.  Sitting on a terrace, admiring the view of the Orb river valley, with a glass of Rose wine from Domaine de Marquise des Mures, we started with a salad of fresh garden tomatoes, a separate dish of beetroot (both home-grown), dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and some marinated olives.  Main course was pasta with a sun-dried tomato sauce.  The sun-dried tomatoes (not the type in oil) are soaked to soften them a little, and then blended to a paste with chopped onions and garlic, which have been softened in some olive oil, roasted pine nuts and grated parmesan cheese.  Warm before tossing with the hot pasta – yummy!  For dessert we had that wonderful home-made tart made with fresh wild plums and apricots – the pastry crust was very thin and crunchy so a second piece was no hardship!

At Les Rossignols I also picked up a bowl full of wild plums, which make wonderful jam and delicious tarts combined with apricots!  I’ll be busy this evening preserving that bounty.The apricot tree along the road was heavy with fruit and I wanted to show you just how abundant the crop on some trees can be.   Of course just because it grows close to the road doesn’t mean that the tree does not belong to someone, so scrumping is out of the question!  I already made some apricot jam last weekend with fruit from Barbara Cathala – last Sunday she had some very nice small apricots which were perfect and made for a very tasty result.

 

At the beginning of the week I went to L’Arbousier in Pierrerue to update my photographs. The weather was spectacular and the garden in full bloom.  You can see the results on the webpage for the house

Also earlier in the week I went for a visit to Narbonne to catch up with a friend.  Le 26 is the restaurant we tried that day, not too far from the market halls.  Great value lunch time menu and very good food. There was melon with ham for starter – almost a bit of a cliche, but when the melon is perfectly ripe and ham tender and tasty, it’s sublime.  For main course there was supreme de poulet, beautifully cooked on a bed of mashed potatoes, and served with an oyster mushroom sauce.  Dessert was glass full of strawberries with creme chantilly, not your ordinary whipped cream, but the real thing with vanilla and a little sugar….!

 

In my garden exciting stuff is happening – the first of the tomato crop is ripening!!  It started to turn pale orange and should be ready for picking (and eating) any day now!  We’ve had some rain this week (unusual for this time of year, but very welcome!) and things are growing apace.  Unfortunately not just the vegetables and flowers but also the weeds, but such is gardening life.

 

The garden at La Digue in St Chinian was looking particularly lovely last week, with the climbing hydrangea and the trachelospermum flowering at the same time as the phormium and the oleander.

A bientot!