Paella with friends

You might have guessed from the title – I’ve been enjoying the annual visit of friends who have a house in Saint-Chinian. ¬†We had some wonderful meals and days out, and together we have cooked and eaten a lot of delicious food!! ūüôā I don’t know how, but I did manage not to gain a huge amount of weight in the process – perhaps it was the hot weather!?

My friends enjoy food as much as I do, and one day we decided to try and cook paella.  There is a stall in Saint-Chinian market which sells perfectly good paella, but we had a sneaking suspicion that a home-cooked paella could be at least as good if not better

On my cookery book shelf I have a book called Catalan Cuisine (Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret) by Colman Andrews. ¬†The author gives a number of recipes for Valencian paella, which is not strictly speaking a Catalan dish, but one which has been enthusiastically adopted by the people of Catalunya. ¬†We decided to try the straightforward Valencian Paella, for which rabbit and chicken are used – no seafood here! ¬†You can read an article by Colman Andrews about paella here – he also gives a recipe for a vegetable paella as part of the article.

Our ingredients were 250g rabbit, cut into pieces by the butcher, and 750g chicken, also cut into pieces by the same butcher. ¬†I love my butcher in Saint-Chinian!¬† I sometimes wonder what I’ll do when he retires! ¬†We also used some chorizo, which was not listed in the recipe, but we felt like it.

Some of the ingredients used for our paella

Some of the ingredients used for our paella

The recipe also called for one chopped onion, three tomatoes, olive oil, 500g of assorted beans (we used broad beans, French beans and a type of flat bean), a sprig of rosemary and 500g of short grain rice.  We also made up 1.2 litres of chicken stock.

More ingredients for our paella

More ingredients for our paella

If you have read Colman Andrews’ article, you’ll know how important it is to use the right kind of rice for your paella. ¬†Long grain rice just won’t do – you’ll have to find the right kind of short grain rice, or use risotto rice. ¬†Where I live I¬†I can find paella rice in almost every supermarket and grocery store – lucky me! ūüôā

Paella seems to take its name from the dish in which it is cooked, although in Spain, outside of Catalan territory, the pan is called a paellera, and in Valencia the pan is called a¬†caldero. ¬†I’m sure there are reasons for that!! ūüôā ¬†The pan is almost as important as the rice – it has to be wide and shallow, to allow the rice to cook through evenly.

Paella pan

Paella pan ready for action

We started off the cooking by browning the rabbit and the chicken pieces in some olive oil.

Browning the meats

Browning the meats

After the meat was nicely browned and had been removed from the pan, the chopped onion was added and cooked in the remaining fat until golden .

Cooking the onions

Cooking the onions

The tomatoes, which had been peeled, seeded and chopped, were added to the onions and cooked until they had softened.

Tomatoes and onions cooking together

Tomatoes and onions cooking together

Meantime the beans and chorizo had been prepared.

ingredients all prepared

Ready for action!

The beans went in first:

beans added to the paella pan

Beans ahoy!

Then came the chorizo:



All topped up with the chicken stock:



It was at that point that we realised we might be in a bit of trouble! ūüôā ¬†The pan might¬†not be quite large enough to hold all our ingredients!! ¬†The rice was next:

Adding the rice

Adding the rice

Once it was all in, the pan looked extremely full:

Almost there!

Almost there!

The meat and rosemary were tucked in, and the pan brought gently to the boil.  Somehow we managed it without making an unholy mess all over the cooker!  If you are going to try this at home, be sure to use gentle heat to avoid burning the rice.  Once it had cooked for about 10 minutes. we covered the pan with aluminium foil and turned the heat to its lowest setting.  Then we had a well-earned glass of wine while we waited!!



The wait was difficult, the smells ever so tempting.  When the cover finally came off, after about 35 minutes, the paella looked like this:

The finished paella

The finished paella

The rice was perfectly cooked and the flavour was divine.  The recipe notes stated the quantity to be enough for 6-8 as an appetizer and 4-6 as a main course.  There were six of us, and despite our best efforts there were plenty of (delicious) leftovers!

It was a truly wonderful dish, and one which I’ll be making again!!


One Peteta, two Petetas, three Petetas, more

I know the title is corny, but I just couldn’t resist it – that old children’s rhyme/song is one of those things which still sticks in your mind decades later! ūüėÄ

Peteta is the Occitan word for doll, and every summer, for the past 18 years, life-size dolls have appeared in the village of Murviel-les-Beziers, almost overnight. ¬†Drive through the village and you’ll notice them all over the village, perched on balconies or standing outside shops! ¬†I decided to investigate with my camera!!

The tradition was started in 1997 by a group of volunteers, who decided it would be fun to make life-size dolls out of straw and fabric, and dress them in period costumes.  I saw the first dolls many years ago, mainly outside shops.  They represented the particular trade of the shop.  So there was a doctor outside the surgery, a baker outside the bakery and so on.  Over the years the tradition has grown, and there are now Petetas at 57 locations in the village.  In many places there is more than one doll, so I imagine that there are around 100 dolls throughout the village.  They are all dressed in clothes representing the first half of the last century.

If you want to see them, hurry up! ¬†The Petetas¬†will disappear at the end of August, and won’t reappear until early July next year. ¬†I leave you with the pictures…

And then there’s music…

Music is as much part of the summer in Southern France as is the sound of the cicadas and the click of the petanque balls.  There are music festivals everywhere, ranging from the very large, such as the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, to the more intimate, such as the Festival Pablo Casals in Prades, and to the modest, such as the classical music festival which was organised in Saint-Chinian this past July.


The¬†festival in Saint-Chinian took place for the first time this year – a week of concerts, nine in total, and all of them free to enter. ¬†The programme was varied,¬†and the music ranged from Baroque to modern classical music. ¬†The concerts took place in two locations: ¬†the Abbatiale, the former¬†church of the former abbey, a beautiful room¬†with plenty of space for concerts, and in the parish church of Saint-Chinian. ¬†The concerts were all well attended and the next year’s edition of the festival is already being planned!

Hot on the heels of the music festival came the 5th¬†Academie Musicale de St-Chinian, a week-long programme of lessons and workshops for students of the flute. ¬†The academie¬† was based at the Maison du Parc, not all that far from my¬†potager¬†. ¬†It was lovely to hear them all practising and rehearsing whilst I was working in the garden! ūüôā ¬†Having heard all those snippets of music,¬†I was looking forward to the concert of the students at the end of the week. ¬†Ahead of the student concert, there was a masterclass with Philippe Boucly, the solo flutist from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. ¬†Following the masterclass he gave a mini recital, which was spectacular!

Here is a brief video clip of Philippe Boucly playing with Herve Hotier (flute) and Pierre Courthiade (piano).  The piece is the Concert Paraphrase of La Sonnambula Op. 42 by Franz Doppler.  E-mail subscribers, please visit the blog website to watch the video.

The concert given by the students and teachers that evening was wonderful too, and I am already looking forward to hearing them all again next year.

Walking past the open door to the parish church one day, I heard the sounds of the church organ. ¬†I walked in and filmed a little video for you – only a little taster but you’ll get the idea.

The organ in Saint-Chinian is one of only three authentic 18th century organs in Herault, and it has been listed as an historic monument since 1976.  There is an extensive article on  Wikipedia (in French) about the instrument, with lots of technical detail, and here is another article in both French and English.  The organ is not a flamboyant or extravagant instrument to look at, but it has a beautiful sound, and it fills the church perfectly.  Bruno Fraisse and Henri Barthes, the former and present organists, produced a CD of the organ a few years ago.  You can also listen to the instrument during Sunday service, or at one of the concerts which are given occasionally.  The next concert is on September 6, 2015 at 4pm.

Another concert I recently visited took place in Serignan, where I went to see the exhibition of Pierre Regis Dides – see last week’s post. ¬†The Regional Museum of Contemporary Art (MRAC) had the privilege of hosting this¬†concert as part of the Festival Pablo Casals. ¬†A Steinway concert piano had been set up in one of the galleries on the first floor of the museum, and the space was filled with chairs. ¬†Those chairs were of course filled with listeners by the¬†time the concert started.

The musicians were Bruno Pasquier (viola), Michel Lethiec (clarinet) and Yves Henry (piano).  Together they interpreted a programme of music by Mozart (Trio in E-flat major, K. 498), Schumann (Märchenbilder, Op. 113), Poulenc (Sonata for clarinet and piano, FP 184), Bruch (Pieces for clarinet, viola and piano, Op. 83) and Maratka (Sylinx).

The musicians’ love and passion for what they were playing was¬†infectious! ¬†Michel Lethiec played a solo piece called Sylinx, which was written for him in 2000. ¬†In his introduction to the piece, he reminded the listeners that contemporary music is as important now as it was in Mozart’s time. ¬†Audiences then were as little used to “new” music as we are now. ¬†Mozart is “easy” to listen to for most of us nowadays, but it was probably fairly radical to the ears of people at the time. ¬†Whilst I found the piece by Maratka to be challenging, it was also very rewarding to listen to. ¬†Here is part of it – I hope you enjoy it too!

At the end of the concert, Michel Lethiec explained that he had to rush off to his next concert, as he is the musical director of the Pablo Casals festival.  He left Yves Henry to play another piece for us, a beautiful Chopin nocturne!!  What a lovely end to a great afternoon!


Art everywhere!

In the summer there is so much happening in and around Saint-Chinian that it is often difficult to keep track of it all! ¬†I’ve been visiting quite a few exhibitions of late and want to share a few of them with you. ¬†Perhaps you’ll be able to visit some of them yourselves?

First is an exhibition by an artist who is a resident of Saint-Chinian:  Pierre-Regis Dides.  His paintings are shown at Chateau Vargoz in the town of Serignan, just across the street from La Cigaliere theatre.  The building belongs to the town and is a typical example of a 19th century mansion, having been built by a wealthy wine growing family.

The pictures are the star attraction though Рranging from the large, almost monumental to very small tile-sized paintings.  P1160689


Pierre-Regis draws his inspiration from the landscape around Saint-Chinian.  His works are highly textured and multi-layered.  The photographs give you an idea of the colours, but you really need to see them in real life to be able to fully appreciate them!

The exhibition at Chateau Vargoz is on until August 22, 2015, and is open Thursday to Saturday from 3pm to 7pm, or by¬†appointment (+33 676 656 772 or +33 675 237 795). ¬†There are several pictures which I could quite happily live with!! ūüôā ¬†More information (in French) about Pierre Regis can be found here.

The next two exhibitions I want to share with you, are currently running in Saint-Chinian.  In the cloisters of the former abbey (now the town hall) is an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Denis Carriere.


The theme of the exhibition on show is Saint-Chinian and surrounding areas, and Denis Carriere has beautifully captured everyday scenes in the village, such as the market and the river.

This exhibition is open every day until August 30, 2015 during the opening hours of the town hall.

The second exhibition in Saint-Chinian is presented in the gallery adjacent to the library, on the first floor of the town hall building.  The exhibition is named Florence or the cult of beauty and looks at the drawings of the Renaissance under the Medici dynasty from 1389 to 1574.  There is an amazing range of artwork on show by such illustrious artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli and others.

This exhibition is open until the end of August, during the opening hours of the municipal library.

Entrance to all exhibitions is free of charge!

Next up, not an exhibition but a live art event, which took place in Saint-Chinian on July 26, 2015. ¬†La Nocturn’Art promised seven hours of live art: creations, installations, improvisation, music, dance…

It all took place in the market square and the gardens of the town hall.  The road in between had been closed to traffic, creating one vast space.  The evening was balmy and many people abandoned their televisions for a look at what was going on!!



I wasn’t familiar with most of the artists, except for one: ¬†Pablo Quedad, whose work I have previously seen at the Lezard Bleu in Vieussan, and at Mons la Trivalle where Pablo lives and works. ¬†During the evening Pablo created a figure out of empty drinks cans – highly inventive!! ¬†I didn’t stay quite long enough to see the figure entirely finished; I wonder whether he would have added a head?

The lights/wooden sculptures took on a whole new dimension in the dark!

An improvised bronze foundry had been set up, with a¬†kiln melting the bronze. ¬†The casting took place¬†around midnight, when I was already tucked up in bed ūüôā



Benoit Simon of Maison Simon, the upholsterer in Saint-Chinian, was also giving a demonstration:

Another artist was working on carving a gigantic block of polystyrene! ¬†Much harder work than one would think, especially since it was such a warm summer’s evening!!

All in all a great event, and one which will be repeated next year.