Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Notre Gite: Le Mas des Garennes

Today I would like to tell you about the lovely gîte touristique located right here in Saint Roman de Malegarde. It is know as Le Mas des Garennes (provencial farmhouse of cottontail rabbits) and is open year-round. Jacques and Stéphanie Kaneko are the onsite owners and operators. Their eldest daughter, Iris goes to school with Emily. Inès, their younger daughter, will begin CP at our village school in the fall. All three girls are frequently found playing on the swing set in the Kaneko's enormous yard.

A while back, Stéphanie and Jacques gave me a private tour of the lovely facilities; they keep the gîte in immaculate condition and each apartment has been tastefully furnished. The house belonged to the Kaneko family and Jacques decided to completely remodel the building and convert it to a gîte following the death of his mother several years ago.

There are two, two bedroom apartments, Gîte Genêt and Gîte Lavande, which are available for full-week or weekend rental. Each is top-notch, with cable television, modern kitchens including dishwashers, washing machines for your laundry and beautiful bathrooms. There is a boulodrome, a very nice barbeque area and a piscine for guests. The facility is registered with Gîtes de France. Pets are accepted.

If you are planning a trip to Provence, I would encourage you to consider staying here in St Roman at this lovely country gîte. Be sure to let me know when you are coming; I'd love to give you a tour of our village! For pricing and availability, visit their website: Le Mas des Garennes

Their contact information is:
Stéphanie et Jacques Kaneko
5 Route de Rasteau
F84290 Saint Roman de Malegarde
Tél.: 33 (0) 490 289 692
Port. (Cell phone): 33 (0) 679 234 303

Monday, February 25, 2008

Notre Météo: Printemps Arrive!

Printemps arrive! Above you see a spectacular yellow mimosa tree in bloom, as I see it on my daily run through the vineyards. These mimosa arbres are sprinkled throughout our village. The photos I post today show that spring has arrived in St Roman. Some of the plants were discovered on our hour-long Sunday stroll with our voisins. It was about 60 degrees at noon yesterday and we wore no vests, sweaters or jackets, just shirtsleeves.

I am thrilled to see signs of spring popping out all around. Winter is my least favorite season and I am always relieved when it is over. Our météo indicates that we have more days in the 60's predicted this week and next. We may have rain in the next several days, but that's ok; it's great for the crops.

Many folks in the village say that this warmer weather has arrived too early; we have just completed the third week of February and according to the calendar, we still have three full weeks of winter. I've looked at our 15 day forecast and there might be legitimate cause for concern. As of yesterday, AccuWeather was predicting that a cold front would move into the area around March 9th and that our lows would drop below freezing, possibly for several days.

Nonetheless, I can't help but admire all the beautiful blossoms. Armando tells me that the white blossoming trees are amandiers, while the pink blossoming trees are either abricotiers or pêcher. The dark pink blossoms of the cerisier come later, likely arriving the end of March or beginning of April. He says that when the fruit is ready, we are free to stroll and pick what we want to eat. Now I am really eager for spring!

I've just re-checked the forecast and the freezing temps are gone, at least for now. Hopefully, the highs and lows the second week of March will be in the 40's and not below. Yes, those highs will be 20 degrees cooler than yesterday, but not cold enough to destroy the delicate blooms of our arbres aux noix et arbres fruitiers.

Needless to say, should the freeze actually arrive, many of the blossoming trees would suffer damage and that might mean a loss of our almond, peach and apricot crops. Let's be optimistic that a late freeze does not happen this year.

Our marie has determined the time is right to return water to our midieval four-headed fountain. Surely this indicates that any freeze yet to come will be of no consequence. I hope so.

You can always have a look at the St Roman de Malegarde weather forecast, weather maps, temperature charts and other interesting weather information by clicking on the AccuWeather icon I have posted in the right column of this blog. On the forecast pages, you have the option of viewing the temperatures in Celsius (click the red "Metric" button at the top to the right of the date) or in Fahrenheit (click the blue "English" button at the top to the right of the date.)
Happy Spring Everyone!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Voyage en Italie, Part Two

As I reported on Monday, Friday drew to a close with champagne, courtesy of Olivier, celebrating my birthday! We stayed the night in comfortable beachfront bungalows at the Villaggio dei Fiori Centro Turistico sul Mare. This facility offers very affordable bungalows, chalets, holiday homes, camp areas, a restaurant, pizzeria, swimming pools, tennis courts and other family amusements. Since we were up late partying on Friday night, our Saturday started mid-morning with brioche at the Villaggio café. Seven euros bought us three brioche, three cappuccinos and one steamed milk for Emily; what a deal!

Upon consuming sufficient amounts of Italian caffeine and pastries, we headed to the market to buy the supplies that would fill the little trailer. Just wondering through the grocery was a special treat. It was very important to my companions that we selected products authentic to the Liguria region. Liguria olive oil is protected with the D.O.P. mark on its packaging (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). Most of the packaged foods we bought were from companies that have been in existence, supplying these products since the 1800's. I believe that these products which have withstood scrutiny for 100 to 150 years are bound to be the best!
After gathering an obscene mound of formaggio romano, parmigiano e mozzarella, D.O.P. olive oil, tomatoes, anchovies, tuna packed in olive oil, meats, sausages, pasta, bread sticks, cakes, cookies filled with nocciola, coffee and candies, we loaded the trailer and resumed our promenade through old San Remo and its open air market. As I mentioned yesterday, the market was filled with beautiful fashions, flowers and plenty of souvenirs, all very reasonably priced. We figured we could find a way to squeeze a few more things into the car.
Our promenade led us through the charming old town, called La Pigna, built during the Moyen Âge as a walled city, complete with castle, to protect the citizens from Saracen raids. There we saw an abundance of steep and narrow streets, charming squares, and passageways that are reminiscent of medieval times. Traffic is limited to pedestrians in this part of San Remo. Homes five stories high, often with shops on the ground floor, were linked across the passaggio with an array of arches at varying heights. The couloirs and the bâtiments were unforgettable. In every direction, pictures were waiting to be taken.

Tourism took hold in San Remo in the 18th century and the town rapidly grew beyond La Pigna, with grand hotels that stretched to the sea. This époque, extending into the early 19th century, brought many famous visitors to San Remo, including Czar Nicola of Russia, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, consort of Alexander II, and Empress Elizabeth of Austria. During this period and spilling into the start of the 20th century, many impressive and luxurious buildings were erected, including the Russian Orthodox Church of San Basilio.

With more time, San Remo offers tourists a number of interesting museums, churches and homes to be toured, including the one-time villa of Alfred Nobel, which he purchased in 1891 and died within in 1896. Each year the officials of San Remo send to Stockholm the flowers used to decorate the annual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony and Banquet.

A number of well known artists have ties to San Remo, including writer
Italo Calvino; Sicilian playwright and Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello who lived there a year and became artistic director of the Casino; artist and writer Edward Lear who lived and died there; Italian-born sculptor Giuseppe Moretti who lived in San Remo in his final years and died there in February 1935. Moretti is best known for having designed the world's largest cast iron statue of the Roman god Vulcan (56 ft. or 17 m.), which was erected on Red Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama. Famous actor and comedian Carlo Dapporto was born in San Remo as was Director and cinematographer Mario Bava, born in 1914.

While our group would most certainly beg to differ, the Scottish writer Tobias Smollett who traveled through San Remo in 1765, wrote in his book Travels through France and Italy, (published in 1766), “The women of St. Remo are much more handsome and better tempered than those of Provence." Huh!

We continued to stroll until we reached the beachfront promenade, lined with flowers and palm trees. The palm trees along the seaside walk of Corso Imperatrice (Empress Avenue) are there for all to enjoy as the result of the generous gift to the city made by Maria Alexandrovna, consort of Alexander II of Russia, after having spent the winter of 1874 in San Remo.

This beautiful city is nestled in a large inlet, between Capo Nero to
the southwest and Capo Verde to the northeast. This location offers calmer waters and protected beaches. The year-round mild temperatures and phenomenal growing conditions for flowers and citrus are attributed to its microclimate. The unique conditions are achieved through the combination of the location on the Mediterranean coast and the framing protection from the Maritime Alps with its highest peak, Monte Bignone, at 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) above sea level rising directly behind the city.

From the tiled walkway we had easy access to the beach, for one last dose of Mar Ligure. We practically had the sand to ourselves. Emily could have stayed there for hours, but by mid-afternoon, we worked up an appetite. We were ready for our final authentic Italian meal before heading back to France. More tomatoes and mozzarella, more pasta and parmigiano, more wine, more caffé; is it possible to have too much?

We arrived back home Saturday night; the unloading went quickly and we all settled in for a well-earned rest. Needless to say, my shutters stayed closed until noon the following day! We've enjoyed pasta, parmigiano and tomatoes every night this week and my only regrets are that I didn't manage to cram in a few more hours on our promenade and a few more treasures into the remorque!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Notre Petit Voyage en Italie

Early Friday morning we loaded into Armando’s voiture avec remorque vide (car with trailer attached and empty), for our weekend voyage en Italie. The six of us, Armando, Odile, their son Leonardo, Emily, our voisin Olivier, and I were quite comfortable in the Peugeot station wagon. We made our way to Orange and the entrance to the A7 autoroute, traveling at rapid pace past Avignon and Aix-en-Provence where we changed to the A8, proceeding beyond Nice and Monte Carlo on our way to the Italian border. The drive time was estimated at 3 hours, plus a 45-minute stop at the halfway point. We arrived in San Remo mid-day; the weather, sunny and warm, could not have been better!

After checking in for our lodging and checking out the beach that comes with it, we took off on foot through town. What a beautiful place! San Remo is situated on the coast of the Mar Ligure, just 28 km from the French border and the Côte d’Azure. It is a city of about 57,000 people and has been a popular seaside resort since the 18th century. Its reputation as la Cittá dei Fiori, "the City of Flowers" is well deserved, as you can see by the photos I’m including with this post. Everywhere I turned, there were cyclamen and other beautiful flowers in full bloom. Orchids and roses were thriving outdoors, as were oranges and lemons. It was delightful to see the abundance of color thriving mi-février (in the middle of February). Besides flowers and beautiful beaches, the city and region are also very well known for their citrus and very special olive oil.

For the French, special motivations for a weekend trip to San Remo have to include eating and shopping! We found great restaurants on every corner. In the storefront, we saw elegant fashions and incredible leatherworks. Even the open-air market had beautiful fashions and fur coats for sale. Our remorque was empty for a good reason. We were on a mission to fill it with special Italian treats that are expensive and hard to find in France. First on the list were Italian books for Greta, Armando and Odile’s daughter who is heading to university in the fall, with a major in Italian. While Armando sorted out the list of books, we found a great sidewalk café to satisfy our quest for gelato.

After we had our fill of gelato, walking and window-shopping, we enjoyed a relaxing evening and a great authentic Italian dinner with tomato and mozzarella salads, pastas, tasty local wine, cappuccinos and superbe tiramisu. We ended the night with fun, laughter and champagne in celebration of my birthday! More photos and stories tomorrow about San Remo, our purchases and the rest of our weekend…

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Before I head off to bed, I just had to post these two photos of beautiful Valentine's Day treats I saw in a pâtisserie window today in Vaison.

Today is my birthday and we have been out all day celebrating with friends. Tomorrow Emily and I head off to Italy with some neighbors for the weekend.

I will return on Monday with lots of stories to tell. I leave you with a shot of two Valentine copines enjoying lunch in Vaison...Have a Happy Valentine's Day and a great weekend!

Susan and friend, Julie Stevens

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Notre Gâteau au Yaourt

Late yesterday afternoon I decided we needed a cake in the house. I did not grow up in a family that typically had cake on occasions other than birthdays, which meant we had layered frosted birthday cake, about five times a year. In contrast, in this part of France, it is common for families to keep a homemade cake on the kitchen counter. Furthermore, the norm here includes eating cake for breakfast, as we did last week with the Gâteau Chocolat that I made for Mardi Gras. We have adjusted to these local customs...I guess Marie Antoinette knew what she was talking about when (if) she said, “Let them eat cake!”

Anyway, since I’ve given up chocolate for Lent, the Espinasse family recette for Gâteau au Yaourt seemed to be just the thing. We happened to have on hand the necessary Alsa Levure Chimique “Alsacienne” and the tiny container of plain yogurt necessary to properly prepare the cake. I love this cake recette because, besides being delicious, it has only six ingredients, three of which require no measuring: the eggs, the sachet Alsa and the 125g container of yogurt. The yogurt container is key, because the measured ingredients, the flour (x3), sugar (x2) and vegetable oil (x1) are calculé with this container! What could be simpler?

I got halfway into the preparation and realized I was one egg short; while the recipe says you can use only 2, in my opinion, 3 eggs are the way to go to get the best texture and taste. So I called my favorite voisine, Julie and walked over to borrow the egg. Forty-five minute, a cup of tea and delightful conversation later, I returned to finish the cake.

While Kristin’s recipe posted at “Au Pif” says you can use 2 teaspoons of baking soda, her beau-frère introduced me to the Alsa product, used by French families since 1897, shown in this photo. Alsace is a region in the north of France, next to Germany. I am convinced that Alsa Levure Chimique “Alsacienne” is the secret ingredient that gives the cake its spongy texture. The 11 gram packet includes pyrophosphate of sodium, bicarbonate of soda, bread wheat and wheat gluten. I suppose, with a bit of experimentation, you could get the same result combining baking powder and baking soda. Opening and dumping the little pink sachet is much easier!

Emily assisted with the mixing; it is very important to do this with a whisk to remove all the lumps. Don’t forget to grease and flour the moule before you pour in the batter.

The cake went into the oven just as our dinner came out. When the baking was completed about 45 minutes later, it went to rest on the windowsill between the shutters and the glass, so that it would cool by the night air. We ate several slices last night and took two to Julie, in thanks for the egg that make the cake possible.

We had half a cake remaining when we went to bed. Emily’s copine Mia, from Buchet, arrived at 10am this morning for a day of play. Now, an hour later, the gâteau is just a memory. Note to self: Pick up more eggs and yaourt at the marché this afternoon!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Beautiful Day for Notre Promenade

Sunday morning, close to noon, my portable rings. OK, I admit, I was still upstairs in my jammies and all the shutters were closed. Anyone passing by our house would know I had not yet started my day. A familiar cheerful voice speaks to me in French, with a delightful Italian cadence. It's my friend and property manager, Armando. "Suzanne, have you had a nice sleep?" he asks, "Odile and I would like for you to join us for a little promenade this afternoon. Stop by our house around 14h and we'll have a little coffee before we go.”

How could I resist? I ran downstairs to eat breakfast, lunch, whatever might be available in the fridge and to make sure Emily knew she would have to be dressed for a hike within the next two hours. We would be walking au fond du sac. Just after the church bells anounced the 2 o'clock hour, we arrived at the Perrone door.

"Au fond du sac" I repeated as Armando explained that we would have a short drive to our starting point and that we would take along Emily's bike. Of course, I thought, we are going to walk through "the deep part of the sack." Instantly my brain made the connection to our American use of the French "cul de sac" (bottom/butt of the sack, or dead-end loop in a subdivision) and I contemplated its phonetic relation to the French expression "cul sec," meaning "bottoms up" or "down the hatch!”

Maybe now you get a hint of how exhausting it is for an adult brain to function immersed in a language not ones own...I see in my Word Reference online dictionary there are many interesting combinations using the word cul; I make a mental note to go back and study some of the ones that may come in handy next time I need to sling a few words...

Ok, hit the rewind button; back to the story about our promenade. After a pleasant visit over coffee and a slice of Gâteau Moelleux aux Marrons that Odile had prepared the day before, we joined up with another voisine and her two children. We now had four adults, three children, a bike, a trike and a kid-porting backpack loaded into Armando's car.

The weather could not have been more cooperative; plenty of sunshine, blue sky, and mid-fifties temperatures. We stayed out until close to 18h, strolling on a delightful loop through a deep area of vineyards, stopping for a brief rest, past an occasional old stone farmhouse and a few barking dogs. A great time was had by all. I hope you will enjoy a few of the photos I shot along the way. I'd love to read your comments!