Showing posts with label The Lot Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Lot Valley. Show all posts

10 January 2010

Homesick for a Foreign Country

Saturday was a magical day here, cold but full of small gifts. Sunshine and blue sky, the purchase of herbs at a winter farm market, a downy woodpecker in my cedar tree, a trio of pottery pieces at bargain prices at the antique shop, and a surprise gift in the mail.

Sunday was a day of dull gray sky and dissatisfaction. I found myself turning to photos of sunshine and southern France in my iPhoto files. I felt almost a physical craving to be there. Can you become homesick for a foreign country?

The photo above was taken on a sunny day in Caillac, on the north bank of the meandering Lot River. Isn't that a tidy looking building? Apparently is is a clinic for people with drinking problems.

I have long loved the sight of sun warming old red bricks. So of course I loved the sight of sun on terra cotta tiles along the road to Caillac. I would like to be those tiles, caressed by sun of the Midi-Pyrenees. It's not only cold here, but it just started to snow.


I recall being content making salad dressing for our Sunday dinner. We spent the entire day lolling around the pool and patio, knowing we had two full weeks to explore the Lot Valley. Our dinner was chicken cooked with vegetables and wine wine of some sort. It was such a warm and pleasant day, much like the days of our first visit a few springs ago.

In winter I open the blinds early, light candles against the darkness and count the days until spring. The wait is a long one in Northern Wisconsin, and journeys through sunny photographs ease my mind and also fill me with discontent.

30 March 2009

No More Winter!

Just when we think winter has lost its icy grip, it comes back in a sneak attack.

There's nothing sneaky about the snow and sleet we are due to get tomorrow, though. We are prepared for it. Meanwhile, I've been stocking up on spring jackets in pinks and yellows and scarfs in flighty floral patterns.

I crave spring.

The photo above is deceiving. It was late September near Montcuq, when we took a detour and ended up on a little road along the causses. This charming scene, a bit out of focus, captured me.

I hope you like it.

18 January 2009

Apricot-Walnut French Toast and a Visit to Albas

Entering Albas on the Lot River from the south.
Growing up in Frenchtown (which felt like home to us in a way our neighborhood on the other side of town did not), we felt closest to our French roots on Sundays. Perhaps it was the crow of the neighbor's rooster at sunrise, or the chatter of old folks in French after mass, or the long family meal at midday, or the feeling of lassitude that came over us in the afternoon.

In France, I find that feeling again, in the quiet of a rural afternoon. Sundays are nearly always the time for a late breakfast, a brief nap and a drive in the country.

One sunny Sunday last September, we set out to follow the meandering River Lot as it made its lazy way west.

First we conquered Douelle with its narrow streets. We have experienced Douelle often enough to know that Sundays are quiet there and we don't have to hold our breaths or cross our fingers or pray that we do not meet any traffic from the opposite direction.

We breezed through and set out for a more open road that took us past prosperous vineyards. Here the land looked more like Wisconsin, save for the houses and barns. We wound our way through Luzech, charmed by the feel of it. The wine country is prosperous, and Luzech seemed so. We stopped along the river, and took photos at the river's edge.

It was Albas that caught my imagination, with its narrow winding streets and its welcoming view. The sight of a village clinging to a cliff above a river is not something I see in my everyday life. My husband stopped the car at a small lookout over the river so I could take the photo above.

Fortunately our hearty breakfast kept us fueled as we explored the Lot River valley to the west of Cahors that afternoon. So many twists and turns!

Apricot-Walnut French Toast is a good use for stale bread.
Apricot-Walnut French Toast

  • 6 slices apricot or cinnamon-raisin bread
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cream or milk
  • tablespoon brown sugar
  • teaspoon vanilla extract
  • dash cinnamon
  • pinch salt

For the sauce:
  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves
  • tablespoon melted butter
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
Beat eggs, cream or milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in large bowl. Soak bread until it is thoroughly moist, but not falling apart. Place in buttered skillet and brown.

While bread is turning golden brown, heat preserves in a small saucepan over a medium burner. Add butter and walnuts.

Remove bread from skillet and smother in apricot-walnut sauce. This is delicious when served with vanilla yogurt and apricot nectar.

Like any other French toast recipe, this one is a good way to use up bread that is growing stale. Since I cannot resist buying bread while in France, French toast or pain perdu is a pretty typical breakfast for us when we travel.

18 October 2008

France: The Market in Old Cahors

Today I visited the farm market in my town to buy a pumpkin and some organic tomatoes. We have two local markets, running a total of three mornings and one afternoon a week, June through October. One of them is located in a designated market area, which offers a small covered stall. The other is sited along the water, a wonderful place even when the bay breezes are cool.

I lingered for an hour, talking to the vendors and catching up with friends and acquaintances. Because the market also offers space to non-food vendors, I often purchase quilted items, soaps, rag rugs or other locally made crafts. Today a "garage sale" element was added, so there were many other items available. Several of our local non-profit organizations also raise money by selling cider, hot chocolate, brats and hotdogs and candy.

I did not bring my camera, but I remembered it three weeks ago when we visited the Wednesday and Saturday markets in old Cahors, at the foot of the cathedral of St. Etienne. Food vendors set up shop in the cathedral square, while non-food vendors arrange their goods along streets that shoot off or even snake off to the west of the church.

I thought you might enjoy these photos from one of our visits. Aren't those grapes enticing?

I love the spice vendor. The colors and the aromas transport me to the spice countries.

Can you see why I was so tempted by these Jesuites from Lou Boulbil's stall?

The market is a prime source for these darling little rounds of cabecou.

You can also find Provencal fabrics, blankets and mats. Did I mention jewelry, woven market baskets and kitchenware?

Throughout the world, open-air markets are such a wonderful, time-honored source of good food and other intriguing sites and smells, and sometimes even sounds. There may be nothing I love more than an outdoor market.

12 January 2008

Chef Jean-Claude Voisin of Le Vinois, Caillac

It is 11 p.m. on a Saturday night and I am never going to eat again.

I have found culinary nirvana.

Jean-Claude Voisin is in town. But not for long, sadly, only two more weeks. Voisin is chef and owner with his wife of Le Vinois in Caillac, just north of Douelle in the Lot Valley. He is guest chef at my neighborhood restaurant, which - happily - is a place of warm welcomes, fine wine and exquisite food.

J-C is also a wizard. He knows how to marry tastes and textures in a way that preserves the taste of the food, sometimes finding a foil or a balance, other times playing matchmaker with flavor.

A few days ago, I tasted duck a l'orange in a sauce that was a dream of orange, of course, but of something more, something rich and sweet and deep. It was paired with thin slices of potatoes baked in cream, not cheese, that allowed the true flavors of earthy potato and mild, sweet cream to merge, then separate - a sort of pas des deux of flavors.

The dessert was two swirls of mousse, chocolate and vanilla, topped with a spiral of hard, dark chocolate set at a rakish angle and neighbored with a paper-thin fan of pineapple and a sweet pineapple-y sauce.

Alas, I have no photos. You will have to take my word that this dessert was good, and surprising, as desserts should be, and that it lured me back for more.

I was prepared on Saturday, and in the candlelit restaurant, I captured Jean Claude's artistry on my little Nikon CoolPix camera.

Last night, a snowy Saturday night with the Packers on their way to the NFC championship game, dinner was later than usual in my part of the world. We sipped a crisp and happy Viognier, while my husband ordered chicken encrusted with gingerbread and served with a medley of root vegetable strips. I chose salmon with potatoes topped with pistachios and paired with thin strips of carrot and zucchini swirled around one perfectly tart and scarlet cherry tomato.

Did I mention the first course? A thick, soupy "coffee" of butternut squash and chestnut topped with a stick of bacon surrounded by delicate pastry. Comfort food, my favorite!

Dessert this time was a trio of apple confections: A moist and spicy terrine, a crisp smoky French toast slice and green apple sorbét with a fan of fresh apple slices.

The food of Jean-Claude Voisin is presented with imagination and verve. It offers me a dream of the possibilities that exist in my own kitchen, and that recalls the seemingly careless but always artful way my father dropped a slice of this and a fluff of that on a plate to create a canvas of color and texture.

Such grace! Such flavor!

29 January 2007

France: The Lot Valley in April

Often after a big meal, my husband and I walk. We find ourselves doing this around the holidays, especially, and on the few winter nights that are considered warm by Wisconsin standards.

We don’t do it nearly as much as we should, of course.

What always strikes me about our walks is how quiet it is, especially this time of year when sound travels differently.

There is something very satisfying about silence after a meal. It’s as though eating is a ritual that requires silence to be properly digested, or appreciated.

Maybe it is.

In the tiny Quercy village we visited in France, we walked one evening. There was a smattering of rain for two days, but on the second it cleared up at suppertime. After our meal, we trekked down to the village to toss our kitchen refuse bag in the poubelle near the church.

Save for a motorbike cutting through the spring evening, the land was silent. Everything seemed to be at rest.

Somehow the quiet accentuated the oldness of the place, the old stone fences and the old stone houses, some with dovecotes, others with towers, all with terra cotta-tiled roofs.

The sun, a bit wan after the rain, infused the buildings and the countryside with a warm glow, like a benediction.

A late April night has a certain smell that accompanies the silence, a fertile, waiting smell. There was a chill, too, for even a balmy night is accompanied by a certain coldness that rises as the sun lowers.

This was the last such night, for the next day, the weather turned, and for the next week or so, France enjoyed temperatures in the 80s.

That place, that moment in time, was a gift, unmatched by the usual touristy things people do when they travel.

There is no better way to know a place than to be there and listen to its silence.

02 September 2006

France: The Worker in the Vineyard

During our stay in the Lot Valley, it was important not to rush around seeing things and taking pictures but to give in to the rhythm of the tiny village in which we stayed. We wanted to experience everyday life in rural France.

Mornings we drove down to Cahors, prowling the markets and the shops and cafés. Afternoons we preferred to stay closer to home.

The lovely house our friend loaned us after my husband’s surgery was too enchanting, with its tile floors, massive armors, comfortable sofas. Herbs and lilacs grew in the yard; everything was green and lichen-covered. Why leave? Here was sheer magic!

Nearly 300 years old, the home turned its back on the village and faced a vineyard. Afternoons while my husband rested, I sat by the pool listening to the calls of roosters and cuckoos and the droning of contented and very benign bees in the warm spring sunshine.

Looking down into the vineyards, I noticed a solitary worker, who began his task of staking the vines at about 9 a.m. each day. He worked until noon, took the traditional two-hour hour break, and went back to his vines. Between 2 p.m. and about 6:30, the sound of chain saws and tractors would ring out across the valley again, competing with the roosters and cuckoos.

The man in the vineyard went about his work, never looking up. I wondered if he could hear so strong was his attention to task. I later learned he could not.

For a week, I watched his progress. I don’t know if he ever saw me up there, but I considered him my companion on those sunny afternoons.

I sometimes think of him, when I am working at a repetitive task and giving it my full attention. I wonder if he is content with his job. Or does he merely tolerate it? Does he wish for a different lot in life? Is he happy staking vines and caring for grapes used in making the famous Black Wine of Cahors. I hope he is.

Several bottles of wine from the very grapes he tended had been left for us by our hostess. They were deep and rich and tannic and we drank from them in the evenings, once we closed the shutters and settled in. Our wine tasting was always accompanied by hooting from an owl that sat in the lilac tree each night.

Those were wonderful days and nights, the vineyard, the worker, the wine, the owl, the church bells and the smell of wood smoke and herbs. Such deep contentment!