Friday, November 25, 2011

France… Food and Special Moments in the Sun…


Seafood in Saint Malo 
This post is not so much about manners, but my other passion: food.  Sometime it’s nice to write about something which is not necessarily the subject matter, but rather connected to it.

I have been back now for six weeks from my month in France;  and it’s been a busy period with television commitments with The Queen’s visit to Australia and preparations for the visit of my companion from Switzerland.

Now that I have the time, as he has departed, I have been wandering through all the photos, reliving the wonderful times…and the stunning food experiences.
I was there during the “Indian Summer” and even managed to swim in la Manche (The English Channel )on 30 September after a lovely picnic on the beach.
Simple but lovely picnic
The French were incredulous that they could swim at 5.00 p.m. in the heat; as an Australian, I was delighted to revel in the small waves, the cool water and the gentle salt of a clean sea. One with a very low tide at that time.

It was interesting to be there in September/October as I was able to see through my Australian eyes the focus on the Euro Zone economic problems; and, I must say, take advantage of the strong Australian dollar.  I was amazed at the inexpensive prices of the seafood and wine, of excellent quality, which we found not only during our days in Paris, but throughout Brittany where we spent most of our time.
Perfect combination:  champagne and a "people watching table" 
Paris was very pretty during late September.  Wandering through le Jardin des Plantes, having icecream at Berthillion and mussels at Leons in Montparnasse;  and the obligatory coupe de champagne, for me,  at the touristy but pleasant Les Deux Magots.

But it was Brittany which was our focus.  Firstly a week near Forte La Latte just near the la Manche coast.
A pretty little stone cottage, vintage French Revolution
 I revelled in my passion for cooking;  we stayed in a self catering, lovely stone cottage, close to the coastline, with abundant local produce and the end of season blackberries which my friend made for me into fresh jam. Combined with the bread and stunning pastries from the excellent local bakery in Plevenon, our breakfasts were sublime.  Because the weather was balmy, mild with gentle light in the evenings, we were able to eat outside for most of our meals…local fish, seafood, artichokes and wonderful salads.  
 Sole and salads
Unfortunately we were too early for the Coquilles St Jacques from Erquy.  But I was able to taste them later, in Concarneau…beautifully, plump, juicy and tender.

And we did have great fun, running from the incoming tide while still picking mussels from the rocks;  only to learn from our local neighbours that evening when we had a sunset drink with them that they didn’t eat them.  Perhaps too much pollution in the water they said.  What a disappointment! We decided not to take the risk.
Fresh, but polluted?  No risk taken
Beautiful Saint Malo seduced me.  The weather was again perfect, it was pleasant to walk over the ancient cobbles, to wander into chic but welcoming shops and dine on langoustine and oysters washed down with wine or local cider.
Local oysters and langoustines
And then it was down to the south to the little fishing village of Loctudy.  Once the hub of a thriving sardine fishing region it is now a shadow of its previous self, expanding with tourists in the summer, but otherwise a web of random streets and lanes which are surrounded by shuttered homes, hiding behind large stone walls.
Pretty, renovated fisherman's cottage
But there was a marvellous fish shop which provided local produce from the trawlers both early in the morning and from 4 in the afternoon.  A certain haven for a cook like me! I experimented with fish I had never heard of, and had difficulty pronouncing.  Most of our meals were a success!

We also visited the beautiful regional cities of Quimper and Rennes.  Both charming in their own way and for both of us, unexpected surprises. Wandering through winding, narrow streets, filled with 17th century houses, lived in still, with their ancient beams creaking with stories, we enjoyed the ambience of cities older than the European settlement of my county.

On our way back to Rennes we also, surprisingly came upon the village of Josselin which has the most stunning Chateau…it was to be our last picnic lunch.
A picnic in front of the Chateau at Josselin
My French language skills improved;  my friend insisted that I do the market shopping, the daily shopping and most else so that my confidence would build.  And I did with a smile on my face and a skip in my step as I wandered around the market stalls and shopping aisles.  Certainly, I am now able to read in French, much more confidently than I speak it. A skill which I appreciate when reading recipes and other correspondence.

I don’t know when I will next return to France.  But after this trip it will be with even less trepidation to live among the people.  It is my seventh trip to France in 20 or so years.  The food remains delectably fresh and accessible;  no need to mention that the wine is delicious.  And the French people…very warm, and kind, from Paris to Loctudy.  Wonderful memories of days in the sun.

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