It’s artichoke time!

The artichoke season is under way in my garden, and I am very fortunate with my crop this year!  I re-planted a row of artichokes last year – and I am reaping the rewards!! 🙂  Artichokes are a delicious vegetable that I never tire of!

IMG_9873

When I bought some new plants last year, I asked the vendor how far to space them.  He recommended a distance of 1 metre between plants, and added some advice: he told me to dig holes halfway between two plants and to bury a bucketful of compost.  The plants would  find the nutrients and take what they needed.  Good advice!!

What with the rain we had over the winter, and the compost, the artichoke plants are looking magnificent.  As a result of their lush growth, they have sent up many flower stalks and an impressive number of large, beautiful artichokes!!

I’ve not yet completely solved the problem of earwigs, which started a few years ago – they just seem to love squatting under the outer layer of leaves of the artichokes!!  I imagine that I could resort to insecticides, but that wouldn’t do!  I would rather live with the fact that I’ll have to shake them out of their hiding places!! 🙂

P1100030

One of my favourite recipes is called “Barcelona Grilled Artichokes” from Patricia Wells’ book, “Patricia Wells at home in Provence”. For this delicious dish the prepared artichokes are sliced, marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, and grilled – the result is totally yummy!

Barcelona grilled artichokes

Talking to other people about food and cooking is always rewarding and interesting.  One of my neighbours told me to braise artichokes with potatoes – I tried that, but the result didn’t taste exceptional.  The same neighbour also gave me the idea of adding tomatoes, so I tried cooking the artichokes with smoked bacon and tomato, which worked wonderfully well!

IMG_9878

In Claudia Roden’s “Middle Eastern Cookbook” I found two recipes I enjoyed. The first used honey, lemon juice and preserved lemons, the second paired the artichokes with broad beans and almonds. Both produced delicious dishes and I’ll be preparing them again.

IMG_9880

My overall favorite dish was the artichokes cooked with bacon and tomato and I will attempt to give you the recipe below.  Pictures of the progress are at the end of the recipe.

Artichokes with bacon and tomato

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

5 globe artichokes
200g smoked bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 large clove of garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
1 lemon, juiced

Prepare the artichokes:  Pour the lemon juice into a bowl large enough to hold all the artichokes and add enough cold water to submerge the trimmed artichokes in.  Trim the artichokes by snapping off the leaves, starting at the base and working your way up.  Once in a while dip the artichoke into the acidulated water – the newly exposed flesh can turn brown very quickly.  Once the leaves remaining on the artichoke start to look yellow-ish you can stop snapping.

Trim the top with a sharp knife.

You will probably be able to see the choke now – a mass of fine white hairs at the centre of the artichoke.  I imagine that they would make you choke and hence the name?

Remove the choke with the aid of a teaspoon, and keep the trimmed artichoke bottoms in the bowl of water.

Cut each artichoke bottom into eight wedges.

Chop the onion and bacon into small dice and cook gently in the olive oil until the onion is softened.

Add the garlic (chopped finely or pushed through a garlic press) and cook for a minute longer.  Turn up the heat and add the drained artichoke pieces.

Fry, stirring from time to time until the artichokes start to brown around the edges, then add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the artichokes are tender and the sauce is reduced.

Serve hot on their own as a vegetable course, or allow to cool, dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice and serve as tapas or an appetizer.

Note: you can of course use frozen artichoke bottoms for this recipe, which will reduce the preparation time and will produce very similar results!

Come see for yourself?

Last Friday, I was spending time with my parents and I was far away from Saint-Chinian.  Not long after I’d published the weekly post, my father told me that he’d seen something about a shooting “near where you live”.  I was deeply saddened when I found out what had happened in Carcassonne and Trebes.  The funeral of the victims of the attacks took place yesterday.  This must be a very sad time for the people touched by the tragedy, and by the families of the victims, and my heart goes out to them.

In light of everything, it feels strange to publish the post I have written for today.  But life must go on, and I will continue to live my life as before.  I will not start to avoid towns, places or events because of what might happen.  Life is precious and sometimes short.  Let’s make sure that every moment counts!


You may remember a post I wrote last year, about an article which had been published on the CNN website.  The article rated Saint-Chinian among the top 10 destinations to retire to in 2017 – it caused quite a stir in Saint-Chinian when it was picked up by the national media in France!

Live and Invest Overseas, the company behind the rating and the original CNN article, has published their list for 2018.  Saint-Chinian still ranks in fifth place, ahead of Lisbon, Budapest, Chiang Mai and Bali, to name but a few other destinations!!  You can find the whole list here – you’ll have to scroll to the end of the page for the list.

The story was picked up again at the beginning of January on the Forbes website, under the imaginative headline of “Quit Your Job And Move Abroad: The Cheapest Places To Live In 2018“.  In the article, Kathleen Peddicord, founder and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, is quoted as describing Saint-Chinian as a “quintessential French country village where everyday life is like something out of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”.

Whilst that may be a bit of an exaggeration, she’s spot on with “quintessential French country village”.  The location of Saint-Chinian and the transport links play an important role in the ranking, and the best part (to my mind) is that the people in Saint-Chinian are described as very friendly!!  🙂

Saint-Chinian does have a lot going for it – though I may be biased?! 🙂  I imagine that I take for granted some of the reasons why life in Saint-Chinian is so delightful.  All the same, I do try to remind myself often just how fortunate I am to be living in such a wonderful village!

if you’re tempted to find out why Saint-Chinian has made it on the list of the world’s best places to retire to for two years running, come and visit!  (For accommodation, have a look here.)

The following photos may give you some idea of why people love Saint-Chinian so much!

The wonderful Sunday market in Saint-Chinian

The wonderful Sunday market in Saint-Chinian

Les Platanettes - a wonderful spot for a refreshing dip

Les Platanettes – a wonderful spot for a refreshing dip

Classical music concert in the former abbey church

The village along the Vernazobre river

The Vernazobre river that runs through Saint-Chinian

Jazz concert in the cloister

Landscape around Saint-Chinian

Grape harvest in Saint-Chinian

Grape harvest in Saint-Chinian

A summer evening of food, wine and music at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian

A summer evening of food, wine and music at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian

Bastille day fireworks in Saint-Chinian

Bastille day fireworks in Saint-Chinian

Wine tasting at one of the many wineries in the village

Wine tasting at one of the many wineries in the village

View of Saint-Chinain from the Windmill

View of Saint-Chinian from the Windmill

Another view of Saint-Chinian

Another view of Saint-Chinian

Vineyards surround Saint-Chinian - they are beautiful at any time of year!

Vineyards surround Saint-Chinian – they are beautiful at any time of year!

The historic pipe organ in the parish church

The historic pipe organ in the parish church

A wild narcissus patch on the edge of Saint-Chinian

A wild narcissus patch on the edge of Saint-Chinian

Saint-Chinian town hall all decorated for the national holiday, Bastille Day

Saint-Chinian town hall decorated for the national holiday, Bastille Day

The Tour de France passing through the village

The Tour de France during one of the years that it passed through the village

It would take me too many photos to show you all of the wonderful things that make us love Saint-Chinian!  Come visit, to find out for yourself!

Party time!!

Today is France’s national holiday – a day which remembers the storming of the Bastille fortress on July 14, 1789, as well as the Fete of Unity (Fete de la Federation) on July 14, 1790.  All over France there will be celebrations of one kind or another.  In some of the very small villages it may be a communal meal with music and dancing on the day.  Larger villages can afford to spread the festivities over several days, and in many towns there will be fireworks and parades.

The most spectacular fireworks display takes place in Paris, where the Eiffel Tower is beautifully showcased by truly amazing pyrotechnics.

The festivities in Saint-Chinian will go on for three days, with bands and parties.  Here is the programme:

The 14th of July is also the start of the French summer holidays, and in the spirit of that I will be taking a bit of a break.  I hope you will all have a wonderful summer, and I look forward to catching up with you again in August!  if anyone would like to write a guest post in my absence, please let me know!

SaveSave

Food and wine

Back in January, I attended a tutored wine tasting with food pairing at the Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian (see post here).  Since then, I seem to have developed a bit of a fancy for this kind of event.  When the Maison des Vins announced a series of food and wine pairing dinners in collaboration with the restaurant Le Village in Saint-Chinian, I did not hesitate to make a reservation for the first one.  There are four more of these dinners – follow this link to see the list of dates!

The formula is simple – three courses and three wines, the whole for 25 Euros.

Menu soiree vigneronne – a food and wine pairing dinner.

The wines were presented by Elisabeth Poux from Domaine Pech Menel.  The meal started with steamed green asparagus and half a grilled artichoke heart, served with mountain ham and a mousseline sauce.   The mousseline sauce was made like a hollandaise sauce, using the Blanc de Pech Menel 2015 wine, which was served with this course.  Whipped cream was added to the hollandaise sauce just before serving it, to give it a mousse-like texture.  Mme Poux explained that the white wine was made with a blend of grenache, rolle (also called vermentino), roussanne and viognier grapes.  It was delightfully dry and crisp, with hints of honey and dried fruits.  This was the first time I had tasted the wines from Domaine Pech Menel, and I was impressed!

A starter of steamed asparagus, mountain ham and grilled artichoke heart, served with mousseline sauce and accompanied by Blanc de Pech Menel white wine.

After a little pause, to allow us to finish our wine, the main course arrived, accompanied by a different wine.  The wine was Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel 2009, a full-bodied, deeply coloured red wine, made from 70% mourvedre grapes; carignan and grenache grapes made up the rest of the blend.  This wine was a wonderful accompaniment to the slow cooked lamb, which was served with home-made fries and a medley of vegetables.  The lamb was tender and succulent, the fries were lovely and crisp, and my only criticism could be the colour of the plate the dish was served on! 🙂  Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but on the whole I prefer food to be served on white plates.

Slow-cooked lamb with home-made fries and a vegetable medley, accompanied by Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel red wine.

The dessert was all chocolate – perfect for me!!  On the plate in front of me were three different kinds of chocolate desserts: in the picture below from left to right – moelleux au chocolat, a kind of moist chocolate cake; mousse au chocolat, chocolate mousse; and crumble a la banane au chocolat, banana and chocolate crumble.  All three were delicious, but my favourite was the banana and chocolate crumble!  To accompany this dessert, Mme Poux had chosen a red wine called No Name.  This was a fairly young red wine, a 2013 vintage, made from a blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre and cinsault grapes.  It was a fresh tasting wine with a hint of smokiness, and it had a slight petillance, very different from the wine we drank with the main course, but a perfect foil to the richness of the chocolate.  No Name could be a wine for every day drinking, and could be perfect for an aperitif if served slightly chilled.

It was a great evening, spent with good food, good wine and good friends!!  Having discovered the wines of Domaine Pech Menel, I’m looking forward to visiting the winery and tasting their other wines.

Dates for your diary

Courses Camarguaises – May to October 2017

If you want to see a bull-fight, but are not into blood sports, then a course camarguaise is for you!  The bull always leaves the ring alive, and the men in the ring have to be very nimble on their feet.  I wrote about one such bull-fight here, and you can find all the dates on the official website.

European museum night – 20 May 2017

Since 2005, European museum night has been enchanting visitors every year.  It’s a free event, which gives visitors the chance to discover the treasures of museums all over Europe in different ways.  You’ll be able to find the whole programme on this site .

Les Feeries du Pont, Pont du Gard – 2, 3, 9 and 10 June 2017

The Pont du Gard like you’ve never seen it before – lit up with flames and fireworks.  It’s an unforgettable show, and I was lucky to see it some years ago!  More information via this link.

Pont du Gard

Vente de Charite, Saint-Chinian – 4 June 2017

This is a fixture on Saint-Chinian’s calendar of events – a sale of bric-a-brac, plants, clothes, second-hand household items, books and more, all sold for a good cause.  The sale takes place in the abbatiale, the former abbey church in Saint-Chinian, and in the cloisters, and it is open until noon.

Balade Gourmande, Saint-Jean-de-Minervois – 4 June 2017

This gourmet walk has become a very successful and enjoyable annual event.  I went on this gourmet walk back in 2015 and enjoyed it very much.  If you want to give it a try yourself, you can find out more via this link.

A wonderfully fragrant spot

A wonderfully fragrant spot

Fete de la Musique, all over Europe – 21 June 2017

Don’t miss this wonderful celebration of music all over France.  It’s a great occasion to listen to all kinds of music. I’ve written about some of my experiences here and here.  The official website for the event can be found via this link.

Fesitval de Carcassonne – 1 to 30 July 2017

Once again, Carcassonne is hosting an array of famous French singers and musicians during its summer festival!  For the full programme visit here.

Re-opening of the Fonserannes site, Beziers, 1 July 2017

The site around the staircase lock at Fonserannes on the Canal du Midi, on the edge of Beziers, has been given a complete makeover!  I am looking forward to when the site re-opens again in its new splendour.  The staircase lock is a marvel of engineering and worth a visit if you are in the area!

Feria de Beziers – 12 to 15 August 2017

With four days of bodegas, parties and bull fights, the feria in Beziers attracts visitors from all over.  If bull fights are not your thing, the party atmosphere in the town in the early evening is lovely to experience, with pop-up restaurants bars everywhere.  You can find out more via this link.

Fete du Fil, Labastide Rouairoux – 14 and 15 August 2017

This fete is a must for lovers of all things textile.  The textile museum will be open to visitors free of charge, there will be several exhibitions and the flea market.  Full details on https://lafetedufil.jimdo.com/

Fete de Saint-Louis, Sete – 17 to 22 August 2017

The Fete de Saint-Louis celebrates the patron saint of Sete with five days of concerts, street performances and the all-important water jousting tournament!  Full details can be found via this link.

Start of La Vuelta, Nimes – 19 August 2017

La Vuelta is Spain’s answer to the Tour de France, and this year the city of Nimes hosts the first stage of this race.  A must for all lovers of cycling!

 

 

Mediterranean delight

The village of Roquebrun is nestled against a steep hill, with the river Orb flowing at its feet.  The road twists and turns as you approach the village from the direction of Cessenon, passing the tiny village of Lugne, before crossing a range of hills.  Just past the top of the hill, as the road starts to descend again, the most beautiful panorama opens up.  There below is the Orb valley,  a lush and green expanse of fields and vineyards.  And in the distance you can see Roquebrun.  If you drive that way, think about making a stop at the little pull-in to take in that view!

The site where Roquebrun is today, has been occupied by humans for a long time.  Pre-historic and Roman vestiges have been found, and around AD 900 a castle was built, of which the tower is still standing, to protect against invasions from the south.

With the castle to protect them, people began to construct a village below and around it.  In turn this village got its own fortifications.  The medieval layout of that village can still be experienced as you walk up towards the tower, through narrow streets and passages.  The driver in the car was not from these parts.  He very nearly wrote off the car at the point  where it is in the picture below.

The passage of time can be seen in many charming ways on the streets of Roquebrun.

When early man settled in Roquebrun, one of the reasons was no doubt the microclimate that prevails.  Visit the village at the right moment – such as right now – and the air will be heavy with the fragrance of citrus blossoms.  It’s a beautiful fragrance, and there are citrus trees all over the village!

My destination was the Jardin Mediterraneen, which was created just over thirty years ago.   On the way to the garden I passed “La Rocheuse” – it’s a perfect house to rent if you want to stay in Roquebrun!

The microclimate of Roquebrun means that the plants which flourish here would have a hard time elsewhere in this area.

As you walk up towards the garden, there are signs in several places!

The garden was created on abandoned land above the village, and like most gardens it is a work in progress!  To date about 1000 tonnes of materials have been moved (stones and building materials) by donkeys and humans.  Since it’s almost at the top of the hill, your climb is rewarded with spectacular views!

Over 4000 plants from 400 odd species are being grown here!  I’ve been to the garden many times over the years, and have watched it evolve, and I feel that right now it is looking the best it ever has!

I would love to be a specialist on plants, but I still have a lot to learn.  The garden specialises in Mediterranean plants, plus cacti and succulents.  Here are some flowers:

And some plants which I would class as cacti (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong):

The microclimate at the garden is helped by the range of dolomite rocks, which store and refract the heat.

In this type of environment water is scarce, so only plants that have successfully adapted to the drought-like conditions will be able to survive.  After the spring rains, the garden is looking very lush, but even at the height of summer there will be something of interest!

Right at the top of the garden an enclosure has been built, to house two goats.  Their job is most likely to keep the undergrowth down!

From the goat enclosure I got a good view down towards the tower and the village – this was very high up!!

Several years ago, the ancient tower was restored, to stop it from falling apart.  In the picture below you can see quite clearly the square holes in the walls near the top of the tower.  These holes would have held beams which supported a wooden walkway.  The crenelations were added later.

From the viewing platform below the tower, stone stairs led down to the level of the entrance to the garden, past some lovely cistus bushes.  The bees were having a feast on the beautiful pink flowers!

The visit to the Mediterranean Garden was coming to an end, but the visit to Roquebrun was far from over.  On the way down the hillside, I snapped some more pictures!

A beautiful rosa banksia in full flower:

Another ancient door, with a marble door surround:

A well established wisteria, covering a little terrace:On Rue des Orangers, which runs along the river, is a restaurant called Le Petit Nice.  Its dining room has lovely views of the river, and this is where my friends and I had a bite to eat after all that walking!

Snails with garlic and parsley butter

Salad with smoked trout

Pan fried trout with almonds

Rabbit casserole

Pears poached in red wine

I’m not sure that we had walked off as many calories as we consumed, but I have no regrets – the meal was absolutely delicious, and the service so very friendly and efficient!

On the way back to the car there was one more remarkable sight – the esplanade which overlooks the river was renovated a few years ago, and planted with various climbing plants.  I was there just at the right time to see the beautiful wisteria flowers!  Two different kinds of wisteria, one a deep purple with double flowers, and the other with almost pink single flowers – stunning!

If you are in the area, be sure to visit Roquebrun.  It’s a beautiful and historic village with many attractions!