Blues in the night

I seem to be on a roll about fetes at the moment, but my excuse is that a) it is still summer and b) that’s when the fetes are happening in Languedoc!!   This post is about an evening of music, wine and food at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  It takes place once a year, and it always coincides with the open day at the Cave Coop, as the cooperative winery is known locally.

I did not go to open day this year, since I’ve been several times before, but if you go to the next open day,  you will be able to visit the working side of the winery, which is normally closed to the public.  The inside looks not unlike a cathedral – incredibly tall, nave-like and with light streaming in through high windows at the end.  Instead of pews there are wine tanks everywhere!

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The reason I went inside the winery, before the fete started outside, was the unveiling of a picture.  Last year the cooperative winery started a project called L’Art en Cave. Under the project a contemporary artist is commissioned to paint a mural on one of the cement tanks in the winery, which is then used as the label on that year’s special cuvee. Here is a picture of the 2013 commission:

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This year Miss’Tic was commissioned to paint a mural on another tank, and there was a fair “buzz” before the unveiling, in the presence of the artist.  I’ve since learnt that Miss’Tic is an internationally recognised street art painter.

Miss’Tic has been creating her pictures with the help of stencils since 1985, and I found a few of her works on the walls around the cooperative winery, discreetly placed:

Before the unveiling there was a short speech, introducing the artist, and then a few words by the artist herself.  You can see they were having fun!

Then the moment came to pull on the string, to reveal the mural:

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And here it is:

The mural is also reproduced on this year’s Cuvee Miss’Tic

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A literal translation of the slogan on the picture would be “wine for a life without seed”, but the actual meaning is more along the lines of “wine for a life without problems”!! I’ve not tried that particular cuvee yet, so I can’t vouch for it:)!

After the unveiling there was of course a “verre d’amitie“, the all-important glass of wine. I joined my friends outside, who had found our allocated seats at one of the many tables, which had been set up in front of the winery.

The event is always well frequented by locals, and the wine grower members of the cooperative all work very hard each year, to make the event a success.  The band that evening was playing R&B music, and the food was all locally prepared.  Here’s a picture of the wine list:

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And here is the menu:

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The food on offer was as follows:

  • Mussels Languedoc style with a glass of white wine
  • Melon and mountain ham with a glass of rose
  • Grilled duck breast and sausage with vegetables, with a glass of red wine
  • Goat’s cheese with a glass of red wine
  • Pastries with a glass of muscat

With each course came a glass of wine, and you could buy a wine glass, with one filling included in the price of the glass.  You could of course bring your own glasses, which you had bought the year before…

The way it all worked is that tickets of a different colour for each course could be bought, either in advance at the winery, or on the night at a central till.  One part of the ticket would get you the wine, the other the food. For six wine tickets you would get a whole bottle.  And if you didn’t want to drink the regular wine, or weren’t hungry, you could just buy a regular bottle, pretty much at the shop price.

The mussels were cooked on great steel trays over an open fire, and they tasted absolutely delicious!

The sausages and duck breast were grilled over the same fire!

As the evening wore on, the atmosphere changed – the coloured lights started to twinkle magically 🙂 .

Cheese was followed by dessert, and by then the light was getting a little too low for pictures.  The band was playing great music, and the whole evening was just wonderful!

Don’t miss this evening if you are in St Chinian in early August!

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Looking for a little diversion, one Sunday afternoon, I found myself at the Marche des Potiers, the potters’ market, in Saint Pons. The drive across the mountains was, as always, beautiful, the weather sunny and warm, and on arrival in Saint Pons I found a perfect parking spot – what could be better!!?? 🙂

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The market had been set up on the Place du Forail, in the shade of the plane trees.  The first stand which I came to had enormous jars and vases for sale.

The tallest of these pots came up to my collarbone!!  I wondered what the marks on the inside of the pots were from – you can see them well on the light green pot.  A nearby sign gave me a clue:

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They were in fact formed over a core made from rope!!  Here’s another example where you can see the marks of the rope particularly well!  And the wooden disks are part of the framework, around which the rope is coiled to make up the core.  Unfortunately I was too late for the demonstration of the entire technique.  Next time I’ll know to get there earlier!

On my way around the market I saw many beautiful objects – and I was sorely tempted at almost every stand!!

There was a great cross-section of techniques and styles, from simple earthenware to porcelain, from works fired in an electric kiln to works fired in a wood-fired kiln, from regular tableware to very artistic pieces.

After a leisurely walk around the market I made up my mind to buy something from two stalls – any more would have been subversive of my cupboard space :)!

Fanette Castelbou’s stand caught my eye because of the shapes and colours of her pottery.

There was something about the surface texture which made me want to pick up all the pieces and feel them.  They were beautiful to touch and to hold, and surprisingly light in weight.  I bought two of the larger mugs, the ones right in the centre, with the vertical stripes.  Fanette’s atelier is called Aux Grès de Fanette and on her website you can find pictures of many of her pots.

The other potter, who I had hoped would be there, is called Fernando Gonzalez Urrejola, of Poterie de la Flayssière.  I met Fernando some years ago, at the Saint Pons pottery market, and at that time I bought some beautiful bowls for my early morning tea from him.  Unfortunately, one of the bowls got broken, so I was very pleased to be able to replace it!!  Like Fanette, Fernando works mainly with stoneware clay, but his shapes and glazes are totally different.  You’ll get a good idea of his work by visiting his website, or better still, his workshop!

So there you have it – my pottery fix for this summer :)!!

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There are pottery markets all over France, almost throughout the year.  You can find out more about dates and locations on the website of the National Collective of Ceramists.

To round off the day, I met up for drinks and tapas with a group of friends in the village of Assignan.  In early July a wine and tapas bar, La Petite Table de Castigno had opened in this sleepy village, and I was pleased to be able to try it out!

The centre of Assignan has had a complete makeover this past spring, with the roads all being paved with limestone blocks.  Where there had only been cars parked before, there are now trees, tables and sun umbrellas.

The food was imaginative and tasty, the wine nicely chilled, and the atmosphere was fun!

Everything at the wine bar has been carefully designed and styled – all the colours are based on shades of wine!  Even the toilets are amazing!

The wine bar is open every day except Wednesday from 11:30 to 15:00 and from 18:00 to 21:30.  It’s best to book as space is limited:  +33 763 265 517.

Oh, and when you go, tell them you saw them mentioned on my blog! 🙂

Summer nights …

… are perfect for spending at a concert or a show in the open air.  I recently visited a few such events and want to share two with you.  The first was a show called “Off”, which was performed in the village of Causses-et-Veyran.  Last year, that village hosted another spectacle, which I wrote about here.

This year’s offering was a mixture of mime and acrobatics, and it was incredibly touching.  But before I get started on the show, I have to tell you a little about the food.  I’d gone to Causses-et-Veyran with friends and we had left ourselves plenty of time for a bite or two to eat.  Tables and chairs had been set up under the trees, the tables decked out with brightly coloured paper table cloths.  There were three stands: La Carriole Gourmande was selling savoury tarts and quiches, the stand next door was offering grilled duck & fries, and the Caravane cafe had all kinds of drinks, with or without caffeine.

We went for quiches from the Carriole Gourmande, followed by pain perdu (French toast or eggy bread) with caramelised apples.   The children also had a crepe, and the adults shared a couple of the yummy looking chocolate cakes – they tasted as good as they looked :).

As night fell, more and more spectators began to assemble, ready to take their seats.  The stage was very simply set:  a trampoline, an upturned plastic dustbin, and what looked like a metal locker, lying on its side.

When the seats began to fill up, the atmosphere took on something very special, something that felt so much like summer!

P1110777The show “Off” was inspired by the book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat” by Oliver Sacks.  The personalities on stage all have one thing in common:  they all need to express themselves through speaking, but none of them is able to do so.  Instead, they communicate their frustrations and emotions through physical expression and movement.

The show was very intense, thought-provoking and touching.  I took a video of some of it for you (e-mail subscribers, please visit the blog website to watch the video):

The still pictures from the evening are unfortunately not all that great, because of the low light levels and the capabilities of my camera, but I hope they will give you a little flavour.

At the end of the show, the five actors were very warmly applauded;  they looked exhausted, but ever so happy, and they had every reason to be.

P1110816P.S.  in case you are wondering, the “golden” effect on the trampoline is achieved with….. corn flakes!!

Summer wouldn’t be summer for me without a visit to Chateau de Mus, near Murviel les Beziers, for one of their concert evenings.  The concerts are part of the Festival Les Nuits de la Terrasse et del Catet, which was taking place for the 14th time this year.

Chateau de Mus is a very romantic location,  and there has been a stronghold on the site since at least 800 BC.  The current Chateau was built in 1848, in the Renaissance style, and it is surrounded by a mature park with ancient cedar and pine trees.

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The beautiful facade of the Chateau is a perfect backdrop for a concert stage, and the park is absolutely perfect for a picnic!

Tables and chairs had been dotted about the park, a little away from the seating area in front of the stage.  I had arranged to meet a number of friends, and everyone brought something to share and eat.

We got there quite early, so “bagged” a great table – as you can see, it got quite busy later on!

For those who had not brought their own picnics, there were a variety of food stalls  to choose from.  We managed very well without the stalls, and in the course of the evening we ate our way pretty much through everything we had brought :).  Sorry, no food pictures this time, it all got a little out of hand 😀 !

The concert that evening was in two parts:  first up was Harold Lopez Nussa on piano and keyboard with his Trio of musicians:

 

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This performance was followed, after a brief interval, by the Shai Maestro Trio:

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The evening was perfect, the music very good, the food and company fantastic!!  What more could one ask for?

 

Making a dash for it

This year, the Fete du Cru Saint Chinian took place on July 20 – the Sunday after Bastille Day.  As the poster hinted, it was a jolly occasion, and to my mind, a fete not to be missed!  The Fete du Cru is a once-a-year happening, where the producers of AOC St Chinian wines have a chance to meet the public en-masse.  I have previously written about the “wine” part of this Fete, and you can find the post here.

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On Sunday morning, all 60 stands were manned by either wine makers or local food producers. My favourite goat’s cheese producer was there – Chevrerie de Combebelle – with a great selection of cheeses.

The Confrererie des Chevaliers du Saint-Chinian were inducting new members into their chapter, and they had invited other Conferereries from the area for the occasion.  All were attired in sumptuous robes – I can only imagine just how warm it must get under those robes on a hot summer’s day!  Each Confrererie has its own distinctive colours and the robes are generally designed to echo those colours.

Here are some details from the robes:

The Pena du  Languedoc were keeping up the festive atmosphere with music (e-mail subscribers, please visit the site to watch the video):

At noon members of the Rugby Club of St Chinian were offering a sit-down meal in the gardens of the town hall.  Everything had been prepared, the tables and chairs all set out under the trees, and people were getting ready to take their places when …  it started to rain!!! :(.  The rain wasn’t heavy, but there was thundering in the distance, and it looked as though we’d all get soaked if we stayed outside.  Some quick thinking was done on the part of the organizers, and tables and chairs were carried into the cloisters 🙂 .  We decided to make a dash for it too!

 

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Outside, the cooking continued apace, despite the rain:  huge pans of potatoes and meat were cooking over a fire, the stirring being done with a very clean-looking shovel!

Once we’d taken our seats in the cloisters, the volunteers started to get going with the service.  Everyone received a small plate with a nectarine and a piece of individually wrapped camembert, a set of plastic cutlery, and a plastic cup.  Someone else came by and dropped off baguettes.  We were waiting for the wine, until we realised that we would be helping ourselves to that.   Boxes of wine had been set up, along with a stash of clean and empty bottles, so we could draw off any colour we liked :).

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The first course came in a square dish – a salad of fresh tomatoes, tuna fish, olives and egg – very tasty!

We’d seen the main course cooking outside, so there were no surprises to find potatoes and pork ( 🙂 ) on our plates, seasoned with garlic and parsley!

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We followed that with the cheese and dessert (nectarine) which had already been served.  The whole meal was very simple but delicious, and there was a great atmosphere in the cloisters!

All the time we were eating and drinking, the wine tasting continued in the main square!

See you there next year, perhaps??

Boom bang-a-bang

Summer evenings in July are often punctuated by flashes and noise – the kind made by fireworks 😉 !!  Even small villages will have fireworks displays around Bastille day, on the 14th of July, and the displays range from OK to impressive to totally stunning.

The town of Beziers is only 30 minutes by car from St Chinian – the fireworks there are always displayed on July 13, and set off from the bridge which takes the Canal du Midi across the Orb River.  I went this year with a few friends and together we braved the drizzle, whilst waiting for night to fall completely.   When the fireworks started I found that my camera battery had run out of power, and that I had left the spare battery at home – oh no 😦 !  I was lucky though!  One of my friends filmed part of the fireworks, and has agreed to share the video with you!  Thank you, Helena!!  E-mail subscribers, please remember that you will have to visit http://www.midihideaways.wordpress.com to view the videos.

I am sure you will agree with me that the fireworks are pretty spectacular!  Since we were sheltering from the rain, our viewpoint was probably not the best, but still…  I’ll be heading there again next year!!

July 14th is the main day for fireworks all across France, and the village of Bize Minervois sends the rockets up from the footbridge across the river.  I got there in plenty of time, armed with two cameras and plenty of back-up batteries!!

The preparations looked impressive, with all the various boxes of fireworks set up between breeze blocks, and many wires on the floor.  I found a great spot on the main bridge, and set myself up with the cameras.  As it got darker, more and more spectators assembled on the bridge, and when night had finally fallen, a procession of children with lanterns (accompanied by their parents) made its way from the village across the bridge and down to the river bed.

Soon everyone was settled and eagerly awaiting the action!  The display started with a few loud bangs, and then the rockets followed.  I had set up one camera on a tripod, and was experimenting to see if I could get some interesting shots.  I’m not sure that it was very successful, I’ll let you judge for yourself.

Some of the pictures are quite “arty”, probably due to camera shake :).  To add to my problems, the street lights stayed on throughout the whole display.  Here are two brief videos of the display:

I was very lucky to catch another fireworks display this week, in Carcassonne.   No loud bangs and smoke though.  This display was of the culinary type, and was served at Restaurant Le Parc.  It was every bit as exciting as the rockets in the sky.

After we had taken our seats, we were served some bread accompanied by a phial of Picholine olive oil.  The instructions were to pour the oil into one of the channels of the dish, sprinkle some of the sea salt (from Gruissan) over it and dip pieces of bread into it.  At the same time there was also a small dish of Parmesan shortbread biscuits.

Next appeared the “amuse bouche” a beautiful platter with three delicious morsels for each person:  a meringue topped with aubergine caviar, a light-as-a-feather sponge cake with foie gras and chopped pistachio nuts, and a piece of marinated sardine on a slice of melon, topped with some flying fish caviar.  Oh my – all those mouthfuls were incredibly delicious!!

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Next came a “tartar” of tomatoes – the waiter explained that they used a variety of heirloom tomatoes of different colours – topped with mascarpone and purple basil.  The foam is a vodka emulsion.

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Next came a more substantial starter!  Beef tartar, topped with an oyster, and accompanied by a fried potato.  The tartar sat on a green sauce, which had all of us guessing, until our waiter told us that it was watercress puree.  I’m not normally a fan of raw oysters, but this was a very tasty combination!

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The next course was truly heavenly – a crouton topped with white beans from Castelnaudary and buffalo mozzarella, and finished off with shavings of summer truffle, the whole accompanied by some rocket leaves.  The summer truffles are not as pungent as the black winter truffles but their flavour is every bit as good, and the combination with the beans and the mozzarella was inspired.

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Just when we thought that it couldn’t get much better, the next course arrived.  A bowl of orzo risotto (orzo are small, rice-shaped pasta), topped with slices of blue lobster, which was topped with what looked like a piece of clingfilm.  Not in this kind of restaurant though – it was a sheet of soya, and our waiters soon came with phials and poured over some lobster stock, seasoned with soya sauce and olive oil.  The soya sheet magically shrank and clung to the lobster slices, while the risotto soaked up some of the juices.

There was no letting up at this point – the next course arrived, and it was as pretty as a picture, and as tasty as anything which had come before: a perfectly cooked piece of sea bass fillet, accompanied by some beautifully prepared vegetables, and aioli.  On the top left there is potato, topped with a poached egg, and that in turn is topped with a squid ink crisp – another divine mouthful!   The squid rings had the most exquisite caramelised taste, and the aioli was as light as a feather.

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The last of the main courses appeared next – a piece of Scottish Angus chuck steak, cooked to absolute perfection!!  The tender meat was accompanied by caramelised shallots, tarragon pearls, Iceland scampi, and a sauce bearnaise, which again was as light as a feather.

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After a short pause the cheese trolley appeared at our table.  I’ve never seen a cheese trolley like this before, they must have had it custom-made!!  it seemed ordinary enough when it pulled up, but then there were pull out shelves on either side, containing ever more cheeses!  The selection was mind-blowing, with cheeses not only from France but also from Italy.

My final cheese selection was quite modest by comparison with the overall selection, but really, who could do a cheese trolley like that any more justice, after all the wonderful food which had come before?  I had Bleu de Gex, Bethmale, smoked Pecorino, and a goat’s cheese.

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Next we started with dessert – a beautiful refreshing creation, which was all about strawberries.  On a base of poppy seed and olive cake were strawberry mousse and strawberry jelly, lemon verbena sorbet, and a sheet of meringue with black olives.  The strawberry flavour was pure, concentrated, and simply divine.

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When I expected it to be over, the waiters re-laid the table with yet more cutlery, for a second dessert 🙂 !!  This was as visual as it was tasty: on a base of orange cake were apricot puree and orange mousse, topped with blackcurrant sorbet, and the lightest and crispiest of biscuits.  The decoration on the plate was caramel, which went wonderfully with the rest!

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With coffee came an amazing glass contraption, shaped like a bee hive, with niches containing various sweets – more delicious morsels….

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So there you have it – definitely a virtuoso display by a very talented chef!