Following our dream of an extended stay in France has been a long, long road, but finally we are so close that we can feel it! Since the sale of Le Pichet in September of 2022, my time has been filled with getting us ready to move to our house in Orthez. You can imagine the nearly endless list of stuff to take care of: Visas, banking, transportation, packing, shipping, it goes on and on. We have literally had a 5-page To-Do list posted on the living room wall for the last 4 months! Every time a page was completed, a new one was added.
I think back fondly to our first move to France, in 1990, when we left Seattle for Paris so that I could attend culinary school. At that time, I was young and strong like a donkey, we packed all we could carry, got rid of the rest, and headed for Paris on a TWA flight with no real idea what lay ahead. This was pre-internet, so the tiny apartment where we would live had been rented sight unseen. It all seemed so fun and exciting and free of worries and doubts. What’s to worry about?
Obviously, 30 plus years later, the planning process was much much more involved. But all that was wrapping up by the end of January. Continue reading →
My student visa from 1990 when I attended culinary school in Paris.
Of the long list of things to accomplish before we can move to France, getting approved for a Long-Stay Visa is one of the most important. We took the first step in that process earlier this month when we made an appointment with the French Visa office in San Francisco. We had already filled out the preliminary forms on-line but the next step is an in-person meeting at the nearest office. Here we go!
The process of getting my Student Visa in 1990 taught me a couple things about dealing with French bureaucracy. First, be patient, don’t get upset and keep an upbeat attitude. Second, remember 1) when your application goes way off track and you feel like going over the counter at some annoying clerk. Continue reading →
I like this photo from a hike we took in December 2017 for two reasons; firstly because it shows the halfway point (almost) on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques between Vézelay in Burgundy and Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Secondarily because it gives the false impression that we actually hiked that entire way.
The spot, just outside Sauveterre de Béarn, is marked by a pretty little chapel dedicated to St.-Martin
Monkfish filets from the Golfe de Gasogne, artichokes, peppers, garlic and spring onions.
A rainy Sunday in Orthez with plenty of time to prepare and enjoy a leisurely diner de dimanche. Sunday dinner in France, especially in the countryside, is a late lunch that serves as the main meal of the day. The PM meal will usually be something simple, like soup and salad or an omelette.
L’heure d’apéro, in this case a glass of sweet wine from Jurançon, radishes and air-cured duck sausage.
Although fish is not traditional for Sunday dinner (un rôti would be more common, roasted chicken, for example or a roast rack of pork), I make it a rule to follow my instincts when shopping…when I find an ingredient that grabs me, the menu de jour has to follow along.
The finished main course: Pan-roasted monk fish tail, artichokes, peppers and spring onions sauteed with white wine, and brown rice.
If you have any hesitation in answering the above question with a resounding “YES!”, please check out this article by Paris based food writer Alexander Lobrano. Alex brings the old time religion, seriously thumping the bible of French culinary excellence.
And I couldn’t agree with him more.
Red muscat grapes from just north of Salies en Bearn.
In the interest of fairness and honesty, here is an update on a post from last week about making grape jam. In that post, I mentioned (a bit snidely, I am afraid) that the older woman at the Saturday farmer’s market in Orthez, from whom I purchased grapes for jam making, promised a bulk discount but then miscalculated that discount in her favor…so much for faith in human nature.
Well, hold on, because the next Saturday, when shopping at the market, the same woman rushed up to grab my arm and say how happy she was to have found me again. Evidently, after I left her stand with my grapes, she had realized her mistake fearing that we would think that she had cheated us simply because we were foreigners, had searched the market and put her fellow venders on alert to look for a “tres grand” americain. Not having had any luck, she had had to await the next Saturday market day in the hope that we would again be shopping.
She then make up for her error in calculation by giving us a big bag or grapes.
Makes my cynical old heart warm.
When arriving in Orthez, our first stop, even before our house, is always our favorite dairy, Ferme Lait P’tit Béarnais. A couple miles up the road from our house, this family-run organic farm features the output of their small troupe of 20 or so of the local tawny brown Bearnaise cows; raw milk, sometime still warm from the animal, fresh cheese curds, fresh and aged cheeses and the best yogurt I have ever tasted. This quick detour lets us avoid the horror of a completely empty refrigerator (no milk for morning coffee…nothing for breakfast…nothing at all!).
My favorite way to enjoy their yogurt? With black cherry confiture, a local specialty.
The Basque fishing port of Ciboure is only minutes from the French border with Spain, on the bay of Biscay. Because it has no sandy beaches, it has remained an active fishing port and a sleepy neighbor to big sister Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the Belle Époque beach resort across the harbor.
Each year during January, however, Ciboure fetes its patron saint, Saint Vincent, or Bixintxo in Euskara, the basque tongue. Over the course of two weeks, the town is alive with a slew of events and activities: The mayor of the town offers a aperitif and pintxo reception to all guests and visitors: The streets are filled with carnival rides, arcade games and food booths; there are concerts, dances, bals musicals; traditional basque music and dancing is performed in the streets; the Mayor of Ciboure offers an aperitif and pintxo hour free for all attendees; there is a communal dinner on the last Sunday of the month. Continue reading →
I am once again in Orthez, with several weeks of down time to look forward to…well, as always, there are things to do in the category of “household improvements”, but that is a pretty well populated category that will extend well into the future, so it doesn’t seem terribly pressing.
And as always, one of the things I anticipate most on returning to Orthez is the opportunity to cook the wonderfully fresh products found in its market. Today’s market inspiration is merlin, a flaky white fish known as whiting in English, although, being an Atlantic fish, it is not well known in Seattle. Today the local fish monger had an abundant batch of these modest fishes at a good price so decided to feature one at lunch. Continue reading →
Ouefs Plat Jambon Fromage, at A la Cloche des Halles. Bob Peterson, 2012
After reading my recipe post for Le Pichet and Cafe Presse favorite “Ouefs Plat Jambon Fromage”, Seattle based photographer Bob Peterson forwarded me these photos. Seems I am not the only one to have tried this dish at Paris Bistro a Vin and veritable institution “A la Cloche des Halles”. Bob notes that there seems to be a lot more ham on the original; my take is that the staff at la Cloche distribute the ham differently than we do and uses a plate instead of a gratin dish so the meat is more prominent. Or maybe Bob got a little extra love during his visit. Either way, these look pretty tasty.
Thanks to Bob for sharing these photos. You can check out more of Bob’s work at his website or in this earlier post.