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French Feast

The table is set

The French Muse experience Indigo cocktail dinatoire

…and so our September adventure begins. Our five somewhat jetlagged but super excited guests have arrived safely, hitting the brocante ground running with a trip to one of our favourite secret treasure truffling spots.

As our guests unpack their bags upstairs in the bastide – I wanted to quickly share some photographs of our special table settings for tonights cocktail dinatoire.

The French Muse experience Indigo cocktail dinatoire

The colours of France:

Red … berries bouquets foraged from a Provencal garden (I’ve got the thorn pricks to prove it), the deep red of the creme de cassis in our Kir cocktails and of course the very drinkable Chateau Eydins organic red to accompany the dinner…

Blue … rare antique siphons, hand dyed indigo monogrammed linens, antique printware porcelain de Gien service, faded blue shutters and of course the big blue clear Provencal sky

White …platters of goats cheese made by friends in Saignon and the homemade ice-cream from the Tinel in Bonnieux.

The French Muse experience Indigo cocktail dinatoire

Corey wouldn’t let me take a photograph of her working her magic in the kitchen – but believe me it all looks too good to eat

The French Muse experience Indigo cocktail dinatoire

I can’t wait to sit and break baguette and get to know these wonderful women who have trusted us to make an unforgettable week for them…

The French Muse experience Indigo cocktail dinatoire

Bon appetit and join us on our adventures tomorrow

x

The French Muse experience Indigo cocktail dinatoire

Last of the summers rays

Our friends Josef & Willemijn, aka ‘Our Dutch family’ as we call them, come to Lacoste every summer and ever since they installed their own pizza oven in their outdoor kitchen we relish an invite to come make pizza.

We arrive as the sun is sinking, transforming their forest garden into a mystical place bathed in warm golden rays of evening sunshine.

Life is good when we are surrounded by our favourite people and the smells of baking dough!

 Little hands are taught how to roll dough

Toppings are added, mozzarella and tomato sauce of course but also aubergine, red onions, parma ham, emmenthal cheese, endives and mushrooms

What is not to love about pizza parties?

Their home is tucked away from everyone, in the wild, ‘real’ Provence of Lacoste. Nothing here is pruned or geometrical, rather nature takes over and every inch smells delicious, thyme, immortelle, rosemary and pine warmed by the sun.

Louis’s best friend of summer 2015, artist Michael Birch Pierce. The inseperable duo – even their pizza making is a beautiful choreographed ballet.

And out of the oven they come – sliced up and devoured by hungry, happy people.

Of course it always helps digestion to partake in a little trampoling straight away after

Pizza party, Provence, The French Muse

The creme brulee debacle

The creme brulee debacle The French Muse

Oh the joys of good food, combined with the dizzying high you get from having an afternoon to spend with one of your favourite girlfriends.

It’s enough to make you lose your mind and….order dessert.

The creme brulee debacle The French Muse

Image via Corey Amaro

As the waitress brought our divine desserts to the table, a hush fell over the table for the first time in hours, we were lost for words.

If you know Corey and I, the only time you won’t hear us either chatting or laughing heartily is when we are either hunting for brocante treasure or…. before a dreamy plate of loveliness.

I was woken from my cracking caramel reverie by the mutterings of two French ladies beside us.

Quelles gourmands!”

…which roughly translates as “Look at the greedy glutons” with a look of ‘they should be ashamed of themselves’ thrown in for good measure.

photo 3(1)

Without thinking I turned to Corey and Maggie and told them we had just been called gluttons, we all laughed in agreement.

I turned to the two ladies who were still staring in shock at our calorific irresponsability and smiled as I responded “On ne vit qu’une fois”– we only live once and asked if they would like a taste.

Their shock and embarassment at having been overheard (and understood),  was nearly as delicious as scraping our creme brulée pots clean.

…just deserts and worth every calorie!

The Shepherd

BACK OF CHALET

We just spent a week 2000m above sea level, so high up that it felt like if we stood on our tip toes we would touch heaven.

Our chalet d’alpinage was a restored ruin, very much off any and every beaten track, and the only way to get from the chalet to the main road was to either don your snow boots and walk, or ski. I will admit that we availed of the luxury of a ‘moto-neige’ to get our bags and weekly food supply up the mountain at the start of the stay.  I wish I had a photograph of me sitting behind Le Berger on the ski motorcycle, my arms wrapped around Charlotte as we accelerated up the practically vertical, snow-covered mountain – eyes wide with fear and stomach knotted with adrenalin, whispering “don’t fall, don’t let Charlotte slip” under my breath until the motor slowed and we reached the top.

daniel making

Our host is a bit of a local celebrity, known as “Le Berger” or ‘The Shepherd’ as he purchased the ruins of an ancient shepherds home, perched high up on the side of the mountain overlooking the ski town of Orcieres.

A skilled and energetic 70+ year old, he has single handedly restored his home with reclaimed wood and flea market finds.

The photograph above shows him creating a storage shelf for the underbelly of the 3 ft long wooden table he had made for the terrace.  It was humbling to be in the presence of someone so self sufficient, whose very essence is about craftmanship and creativity.

kettles & stove

Le Berger can turn his hand to anything, be it woodwork, cooking a mouthwatering leg of lamb or sewing and upholstering interiors.

His home was a study of resourcefullness, every corner has been transformed to maximise storage, and space for guests. Humble and crafted to welcome, to provide shelter, be a place of friendship, laughter and feasting.

chalet d'alpinage

This image gives you a better idea of the tiny remote village of restored shepherds homes where we stayed.

Flea market ski

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So on Friday my husband and our family found our very first truffles and learned so much about the world of wild truffle hunts, armed with just a toothbrush, a stick and a smile.

One thing we have become very good at over the years is learning how to prepare and use truffles …read we are exceptionally talented at gorging ourselves on these winter treasures.  Certain friends (with a nose for truffling) bring them as dinner gifts so over the years we have picked up a few tips on caring for and cooking truffles.

So let’s say you follow my advice and you find what you believe to be a truffle, it smells good, it’s covered in dirt and maybe just a little bit mouse/worm eaten.

First thing to do – place your truffles in a paper bag until you get home from your truffling adventure, plastic bags make the truffle sweat which is not what you want.

If you are planning to cook/use your truffles immediately then skip to the next section.

Truffles, depending on their maturity and the presences of larvae remain fresh for a limited amount of time so it is really important to store them carefully. A truffle that comes out of the ground (and is essentially fresh) will usually keep for two weeks unless it is already decaying.

To keep truffles fresh – it is really important to not clean them (however much you are tempted) and to simply wrap them in a clean paper towel and place them in an air-tight container in the fridge. Find a place for them on the lower shelves on your fridge where it is less cold – you don’t want them freezing if you want to use them fresh.

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So let’s say you just can’t help yourself and you are dreaming of cooking up a truffle feast – here are some tips on how to clean these little beauties.

Take an old soft toothbrush and carefully wash away the dirt around the truffle making sure not to wash to strongly.

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I love how the truffle unveils its beautiful coarse black skin

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Once washed we decided to cut open the truffle to see exactly what state our finds were in. From the outside one  had significant worm holes, it didn’t look great and my heart sank a little. Raphael sliced into the second truffle which from the outside looked to be in better shape.

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Once sliced open it was apparent that we would only be able to use one of our two truffles. Black truffles should be a uniform black colour on the inside as you can see from the photograph above some of our truffle, especially the edges, were already too mature, and had to be trimmed.

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So our final step was to clean off and trim the ‘softer’ edges off and then we filled a jar with fresh eggs and topped them with our truffles. It’s best to place the truffles so that air can circulate around them.

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In just a few days our eggs will absorb the aromas from the truffles and will taste incredible used in an omelette or Oeufs en Cocotte. The less cooking to the truffle the better as they do tend to lose their wonderful flavour the more they are cooked.

Raphael (French Husband) caught the truffling bug four years back, when over an incredible truffle laden winter feast, a friend of ours Gabriel Sobin, hinted at the hidden art of truffling ‘a la Mouche’.  This most gifted truffler has no need for dogs or pigs, they have an exceptional nose, infinite patience, venture out only when the sun is shining and most importantly they have over the years identified the secret oak tree truffle groves scattered across the valley between Lacoste and Bonnieux.

To get one of these talented trufflers to show you where they find their jewels requires trust, garnered over many years and even then they will never show you their favourite patches.

Despite several attempts over the years, Raphael never managed to find the elusive truffle that he yearned to find and he grew more and more exasperated. It doesn’t help that around this time of year he always seems to meet a certain truffle hunter, a centimetre of dirt under each finger nail, pockets overflowing with these treasures, enveloped in a primal, intoxicating cloud of truffle perfume.

So it was a happy day when we got a call from a friend who offered to take us all (kids included) to learn the art of truffling.

cha searching

“Come on” he murmured to the ground itself, “let’s see your wings, your little wings.” His murmur, barely perceptible, was hardly more than the abrasion of one dry lip against another. “Come on,” he insisted, using what he called the old language—that now nearly extinct idiom—in addressing lei mousco, the flies. For he was begging the flies for a sign: some tiny, covert, telltale indication.”

The Fly Truffler – Gustaf Sobin

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Step 1.   Check weather conditions. One needs a clear fine day, Sunshine, No Wind.

Step 2. Pack an old toothbrush, a screwdriver, and a paper bag.

Step 3. Find yourself a slim long stick (baton) for combing/ swiping over the area. (For operating instructions see gif at end of post).

marked ground truffle hunt

Step 4. In Provence, truffles are usually found under oak trees. When we go hunting we look for oak trees which have an unusual markage around the base.

Top secret tip: Truffles are always to be found under oak trees that are ‘marked’, in french you will hear the words ‘oh ça marque’  which means this is a good place to start looking.  By marked it means the ground around the tree is very bare, the grass grows tightly if at all.

truffle tree grove

Serge, our expert nose and gifted truffler taught Louis and his son how to identify a potential spot, how to go about carefully digging in the earth around and importantly how to distinguish the smell of regular dirt from the sensual aroma of  truffled earth. truffle hunt smelling the earth for truffle montage
Serge uses the “a la mouche” technique, delicately swiping above the earth to see if there are any truffle flies laying eggs. If the small brown fly is present, it is essential to keep your eyes peeled to see where it lands, as this is where it will lay its eggs and critically this particular fly lays its eggs just above a hidden truffle.

the truffle hunting

This day, it was too cold for truffle flies, yes the sun was shining, but the temperature outside was very very cold, too cold for flies to come out and play. This was when Serges 50+ years of experience came into play. He looked out for other giveaway signs, animals burrowing for example and sure enough there was a tiny little mouse hole in the soil under the roots of an old oak tree.

digging for truffle

Serge knelt down close to the soil and peeked into the hole, inhaling deeply he released a deep hearty laugh, for at the bottom of the hole was a tiny mouse nibbling on a truffle. Treasure behold!

finding a truffle hunt

We carefully dug around the hole, unearthing the truffle which was more than heartily ravaged, but Serge assured us that there must be others hidden nearby so we carefully scavenged with our fingers. Raphaels fingers touched on something hard, he smiled, could it be? He took out the toothbrush and lovingly brushed away the fine soil unveiling his first ever truffle find.

finding a truffle on the truffle hunt montage

Even after a little brush, it doesn’t look like much, but wow does it smell amazing!

the truffle find

We find four truffles in total in this one particular mouse hole… each time we take a handful of soil to smell for truffle.

smelling the earth truffle hunting

Detail from the oak tree orchard.

oak

Charlotte & Louis get into the action.

truffling mouche stick

The trees around us are shrouded in a thin layer of frost.

moss tree provence truffle hunt

Here is a better detail of how to comb the ground for Truffle flies

 “Cabassac knew that the truffle wasn’t some kind of hallucinogenic. It didn’t belong, he realized, to the pharmacopoeia of dreams: to those potions, elixirs, that operated so faultlessly on the neurons of the dreaming mind. The power of the truffle resided in something far more subtle, refined. Indeed, it had no direct effect on one’s dream life whatsoever. To the contrary, the truffle affected one’s awakened body, one’s conscious thoughts. It reassured the senses with its warm, earthly aroma, placed one’s entire being in a raised state of receptivity. It didn’t provoke the dream so much as create the conditions—the ‘dispousicioun’ as Cabassac put it—in which the dream might occur. Consumed, assimilated, the truffle would leave him feeling perfectly disposed to receive whatever rich, flickering images those dreams had to offer.”

The Fly Truffler, Gustaf Sobin.

 

 

 

Noel 2013, celebrating Christmas in Lyon

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas break!! We just got back from three days with my parents-in-law and extended family, in Vienne (just south of Lyon) about 200 kilo heavier, thanks to the the lashings of foie gras, cured ham, truffle tapenade, buche de noel, and of course really great wine and everything in between

Vienne got its best Christmas clothes on and looked beautiful all decked out in shades of ruby, slate and ivy

My parents-in-law have a few Christmas traditions including taking out special silver trimmed dinnerware (which they recieved as a wedding present)

…and the ‘Christmas’ glassware which have little orange and red ribbons tied around the stem.

Silver antique mongrammed baby cups serve as votives and my Mother in laws favourite tiny pair of salt shakers , and as if the 10 courses aren’t enough there are also a scattering of Révillon Chocolatier papillotes to sate any sweet tooth.

Just to give you a glimpse into the indulgent Christmas Eve menu, we started with Champagne and little toasts (covered with paté, foie gras, foie gras and truffle, foie gras and fig confiture, truffle tapenade….this was just the aperitif),  then some garlic escargots thrown in for good measure.  We then waddled over to the table where we feasted on homemade boudin blanc (made using a secret family recipe which I’m not allowed to divulge here but let’s just say they are scrumptious!), then the piece de resistance a filet of beef served with a slice of sauteed foie gras (Zero calories of course), then followed by the cheese course (aged old Comte is all I can remember as I was slipping into food coma at this point) and then an iced rhum buche de noel. All washed down with several bottles of luscious Saint Emilion Grand Cru which has been aging for the last 15 years in my father in laws cellar.

 

Unlike our son Louis, Charlotte is not afraid to taste and experiment with everything, dirt, snails, and stones all get licked and chewed and more often than not digested…. One delicacy that she has just discovered which veers more on the normal scale of what is considered edible is the blackberry or mure (en francais). They are everywhere, our house is surrounded by their brambles and plentiful fruit much to the delight of Charlotte, who now mobile is well able to go off and stuff her little face.

Before the heavy heats of July, I indulged in long walks with Louis and Charlotte, down through the valley we would go, deep into the cherry orchards and past majestic old Provencal Mas, tall sheafs of wild grasses swaying hypnotically in the cooling breeze of ‘le Mistral’.  We’ve made a ritual of stopping at our secret picnic spot, hidden from the regards of others. Out comes the apple compote, the chocolate madeleines and scavenged cherries and we gorge ourselves happy with the warm Provencal sunshine on our backs.

Phew …. what a month, summer in Provence

Do you ever have a month that is so absolutely busy that you literally feel like every day is a race and that you could do with having an extra few hours per day just to get everything done? That’s exactly what August 2012 was like for me, all in all a bit of a blur…

We’ve literally had a full house since mid July, I don’t think we’ve ever had so many bodies under the one roof before. It has also been unbearably hot, the type of hot where you can’t wear anything other than a bathing suit  during the day and showering seems futile as you step outside and already have a sheen of perspiration – or a sweat mustache as my sister politely put it!

I’ve heard the local farmers, who moonlight as trufflers come truffle season, complain that the lack of rain and soaring temperatures spells very bad news for truffles this Winter, which makes me very sad as the January- February truffle feasts make the cold and dreariness of Winter in Lacoste just about bearable.

August was the month my mum and  my sister moved in, poor Raphael had to cope with all three Bradley girls for a month. It was also the month that Charlotte decided to start teething, and on the 24th my sisters boyfriend Duncan dragged her up the mountain and proposed to her….here she is all glowy and happy and showing off her new hardware.

…August is also the month of our wedding anniversary…. we will have to celebrate later in say February when our kids are a little less demanding… take a trip down my memory lane here

Lou and I dancing at the Fete votive

And if that wasnt enough, we also celebrated my mothers birthday. It was a good one, the gendarmes were called as the birthday party got a little too raucous between the shots of lemoncella, the impromptu sing-song and obligatory Irish dancing in the middle of the road outside Cafe de France. Alas no photos evidence due to too much fun being had by all!

It is a month when the tiniest circus I’ve ever seen comes to Lacoste, who needs a big top when the backdrop is the most incredible view of Bonnieux. This tiny family circus consists of a misfit tight-rope walking cat, a flying terrier, a hyperactive pony, a gravity defying, table hopping goat and hoola hooping local kids …good clean fun

We also had wonderful friends come visit and courgeously we left the wilds of the Luberon to take a day trip, en famille, down to chic Cassis. Lunch at Le Grand Bleu,  followed by some sunbathing and people watching on the beach (sardine central), cooling off in the delicious sea and then taking in the sunset on the Route de Crete…bliss

 Charlotte and I enjoying some cuddle time on the terrace

Finally August in Lacoste is the month of the abricot or apricot and we have been feasting on barbecued apricot and rosemary skewers for dessert, a recipe taken from the drop dead gorgeous cookery book, Barbecue by Stéphane Reynaud

It comes accompanied by a delicious syrup and for 18 apricots the recipe for the syrup is: 3 Tablespoons Honey; Juice of 1 Orange; 50g Demi Sel Butter, 100ml Peach Liquer (I subsituted this for creme de cassis as we didnt have peach liquer). Instructions: Combine the Honey and Orange juice and reduce in a saucepan, add the butter and peach liquer, reduce again until syrupy.