Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Wedding Belles

I now have a sweet little television show on Shaw Television (In Canada) called 'Wedding Belles'

It's about all things wedding and I work with my dear friend and partner, Aubrey Arnason.

I can't embed the link but you can view Wedding Belles here - and in any country!


Beauty and the Beast

I am living the life of the Disney classic.


“Little town, it’s a quiet village”

“Everyday, like the one before”

“Little town, full of little people”
Well, I feel we are all the same size

“Waking up to say . . . Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour”
Check.  I love it!  Everyone greets me on the little village roads. Bonjour, Bonsoir. Why aren’t we like that in Vancouver or New York?  You even say hello to everyone when you enter a restaurant!  Just the other morning a man literally opened his robin-egg blue shutters, looked down and waved ‘Bonjour’!  I melted.

“There goes the baker with his tray like always, the same old bread and rolls to sell”

Well, no.  I have to go to the boulangerie.  But she does have the same things every morning:  croissants, croissants buerre, pain au chocolate, almond croissants, raisin croissants, baguettes, country baguettes (no idea the difference).  However, each morning she has one new offering:  vienniesse bread (will try tomorrow), anise bread, brioche

“Every morning just the same, since the morning that we came.  To this poor provincial town”
Check.  And I like it.

Seriously, that opening scene is like every French town we have been in. 

So let me get this straight:

French people don’t get paid very much money, however, they believe life is for living.  Lunches are two hours, stores close for five hours during the day, you are encouraged to drink wine at lunch, croissants are a normal breakfast, health care is amazing, maternity is two years including free check-ins who do your laundry, medicine is free, holidays are 9 weeks plus an extra week if you are getting married, you are supposed to nap, dinner is usually something with goose fat, hair salons outnumber gyms, crème brulee is a national dessert, crepes are two Euros, the countryside is full of castles and the sun shines all the time.

Why why why are we not moving here? 

Ding Dong Dordogne

I was drawn to this region for no more a reason than, you guessed it, a nice place to stay.

In my search of where to go in France, I discovered Gites, or farmhouses/barns/old houses turned into self-catering holiday homes.  It’s a program run by the French government to sustain the countryside and prevent it from falling to ruin.  They are totally affordable, and so far, all amazing.

Anyways, Dordogne is as popular as Provence.  But somehow I had never heard of it before.

Now, just an aside about Provence.  We loved Barjac and our stay at the lovely bed and breakfast.  However, we are not Provence junkies.  You hear about it again and again.  It is lovely. It’s also super crowded and overdone.  Therefore, I was afraid this region would be as well.

So far, so good.

We are located at the Gite-le-Duc in what is basically a cute gingerbread house near a village called Martel.  Martel is mentioned in the Rough Guide but not as somewhere you need to see.  I think, however, it might just be the sweetest, cutest village ever.

It’s part medieval, part 17th century – so it’s a nice break from everything being so medieval.  And it has good food.  So far I have eaten foie gras, potato gratin, some sort of asparagus that was injected with crack goodness, cream potatoes (not to be confused with potato gratin), cream veggies, and pork stuffed with sage and cheese.  DROOL.

Our home for three days is so adorable – like I said, it’s a gingerbread house.  My friends need to come here so that we can rent all the gites that are on this property.  Stone houses, a pool, dripping with wisteria and a boulangerie down the road.  Parfaitt n’es pas?

The countryside is barfably cute.  Stone cottages, chateaux along the river, green pastures, baby goats/cows/sheep/horses.  Today I kept screaming as we passed little baby farm animals with their mummies. Plus we go to sleep to the chorus of frogs and nightingales – well we would if the Engineer would let me open the windows. 

Every town keeps getting prettier and prettier. All within a half an hour!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Magic Day

Apparently when it comes to planning trips I have a bit of a problem with dates.  I was so proud of my spreadsheet that listed where we were each night, if we had paid, if there was a kitchen, etc.  It was awesome.  Until we realized I had forgotten some dates, or added an extra day.

This happened the night before we were supposed to be heading to the Dordogne region.

Luckily I checked out the spreadsheet and realized that I had missed a day.  We were checking out on the 24th, and then checking in somewhere else on the 25th.  Whoops.

But it’s mistakes like this that lead to the best discoveries.  I consulted my Rough Guide (which after this trip I am throwing out – it is made for people who backpack, not people like me who want to know where to shop) and it said that one of the top things to see in the whole region of Languedoc-Rousillon was to go to Cordes-Sur-Ciel.  Lucky for me I didn’t have Rick Steves because he tells you to go right past it.

Right, that is where we were going to go.  But how to find a place to stay at last minute?

Tripadvisor gave me an idea for a lovely Bed & Breakfast situated below the town – perfect.  And he got back to me right away with the news they had one vacancy!  Hooray!  Fate was playing her fair hand.

So we packed up and left – traveling through what has become some of our favourite countryside in France.  Through Castres, hitting the last of the market and eating paella overlooking the river.  Then to Lautrec – of Toulouse-Lautrec family fame, with it’s winding medieval streets and windmill.  Albi, for the Toulouse-Lautrec museum and some much needed shopping (not that I bought anything with the Engineer hovering about me, checking prices, but I needed to get the ‘urge’ out). 

Finally, we made our way on more winding roads, past fields of green and yellow, cows and foie gras farms, and suddenly, in the distance, we could see Cordes.  And just like its name suggests, it really is in the sky.  Surrounded by rolling fields, it sits on a hill, shining and beckoning us towards it.

Love at first sight.

We were staying at The Aurifat, a tumble-mess of a house dating from the 12th century.  It sits below the town, with a protected view of green fields.  It’s got a lovely garden, a pool and this, and I hate this word, energy about it.  Like the moment you get there you feel as if you have just come home. Plus it comes with its very own 9-month old puppy, Paprika.

The Engineer and I sat for a moment, enjoying the peace and serenity.  We really just checked our emails. 

For dinner, we made our way uphill to the town.  The sun was just starting it’s decent to slumber, casting Cordes in a golden light so the town looked as if it was dripping in honey.  Technically, this town is touristy.  Which it is.  But compared to Carcassonne or Les Baux, it is not tacky or overdone.  Just quietly touristy.  With several foie gras and wine shops (Gaillic wine is AMAZING!  Especially the rose which I am drinking now.  Hence why this is probably sounding extra goobery). 

We found a spot for dinner, under some sort of medieval canopy.  Thanks to two lovely French ladies next to us, we were able to decipher most of the menu.

The Engineer chose another tres disgusting appetizer:  goose gizzard salad.  OH GOD.  Why?  Why does he do this?  I may be the one who appreciates food, but I draw the line at meat parts that are gross.  Whereas he loves all gross meat parts.  Must be because he is ‘chinesey’. 

I had jambon. I thought is was pate because of the pays.  No.  Just ham and salad.

Then our entrees.  The word ‘aligot’ appeared on the menu and not in my dictionary.  Our new French friend told us it was cheese and potato.  We thought it was in a sausage.  She said to try it because it was delicious.  Lucky for me, the person two tables over had it just as our waiter was taking my order.  Therefore, he misunderstood me pointing to it as ‘give me that with duck confit’ as opposed to ‘is that aligot?’.  Happy ‘lost in translation’ because ten minutes later I was the proud eater of a Duck Confit and Arigot OR the plate of fat.

Recipe for Aligot here

If this were not a blog but a video, you would now see me stand up and give the slow clap.  This meal deserves a standing ovation.

So apparently arigot is a fancy French word for potatoes mashed to runny goodness with cream and cheese.  And lots of it.  So that when you take a bite, a part of you cries inside.  Then duck confit.  What can I say about this dish?  Meat cooked for a long time in fat.  It’s the equivalent of heaven for your bouche. 

In that moment, I think I was happier than when the Engineer proposed.  Okay, slight exaggeration but only slight.

The sun set, melting the gold away and turning Cordes-Sur-Ciel into a glimmering nighttime secret.  We were some of the only people.  Lamps lit our way, but we mostly had to rely on the moonlight.  As we made our way back to Aurifat, the Engineer and I both relished in the perfect spring air.  Well, I did.  The Engineer simply said ‘yes, it’s really nice’.  And for him, that level of enthusiasm should prove something.

The air was warm.  It was perfumed with wisteria, wallflowers, and, my favourite, lilac.  So much so that every few steps I stopped, took a big whiff, and fell even more in love.

We passed a house full of French and British women, of a certain age, dressed well, eating and drinking wine.  I couldn’t help but think of my own friends at home who would so love this and love having a dinner party here.  The Engineer pointed out that we do that in Vancouver.  I pointed out that it is much funner in France.  So ladies, who read this, promise me when we get to a certain age we will somehow buy houses in France and drink wine forever?

Back to my story:  We knew the night couldn’t be over, so we grabbed a blanket, two glasses and our Blanquette. Making our way to some chairs under a tree, under the moon and stars, we sat drinking until late at night.  We saw shooting stars, talked about our future, and both mentioned how wonderful it must be to live in a place like this.  BARF.

After our gin rummy tournament (yes, we are nerds), I lay in bed and thought of our hosts, Ian and Penelope who happened upon this spot 11 years ago and decided to buy it.  I would love to do that.  Just take over a bed and breakfast in the south of France, how lucky they were to find it.

During breakfast, which consisted of warm croissants, vanilla yogurt, homemade blackberry jam and honey from the beekeeper down the road, we discovered Aurifat was for sale!   AAAAAAAAAAAAH!  Ian and Penelope were finally taking full retirement. 

So now I am on the hunt for someone to buy this piece of heaven so that I can come again and again. And, if they every need someone to run it for a few summer months I know a certain blogger, and her bridesmaid T, will happily do that for them!

I asked my dad for 730 000 Euros but he said no L

The Day We Ate

The Engineer and I were finding it hard to leave our perfect little cottage in the quaint village of Caunes-de-Minervois - and not for the reasons you are thinking of. 

We couldn’t leave the other day in the morning because the house is just too sweet and perfect. 

Then we couldn’t leave in the afternoon because we had eaten too much.

Back to the first reason:  the perfect cottage.  I love it I love it I love it.  I mean just look at it!

Ingrid Hudson has lovingly restored three beautiful homes in the village and we had chosen Le Savetier.  We loved it because the house itself (an old shoemakers cottage) was three levels that allow for some much needed time apart.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the Engineer.  He loves me.  But we’ve spent nearly 24 hours a day with each other since March 28th. 

On level one we have the kitchen and the patio where we have eaten a few meals.  Plus the satellite television that gives us several hours of awesome British programming.  I realize this is wrong.  Therefore we are only allowed to watch television at night time and while making tea.  The Engineer builds a fire and we watch the telly.

We both really love British television.  You know the stuff:  ‘How Clean is Your House?’ or ‘Three in a Bed’ – the new program about three bed and breakfast owners in the UK who must judge each other.  Okay, enough about TV.

Then there is floor number two where I put all my clothes and holds the evil washing machine that I broke. 

Finally, level three and the master bedroom.  We spend most of our time here.  Again, not for why you might think.  It’s massive with a lovely window where we both sit and work on our computers (see?  Not for what you thought).  It has a vanity where I get ready (eeeee!) and a lovely enormous bathroom. 

The house is packed with books and decorated like La Vie En Rose.  Therefore we have been bad tourists.  It’s just so lovely relaxing in a French village.  Every morning I walk to the boulangerie for our morning croissants, saying ‘Bonjour’ to all the people I pass.  (Most of which are very old.  To give you an idea on the demographics of this town the other day I needed to get feminine products from the Farmacie and tampons were outnumbered by Depends 3:1).  Then to the market held every other day in the parking lot to pick up local berries and melon.  Chez Marlene by the Mairie for my milk and voila! My morning is set.

I picked some wild lilacs so that when I sit at my little table in my little white chair I can smell pretty things while writing.

And I need to smell pretty things due to reason number two of not leaving the house.

The other day, the Engineer and I devoted the day to eating French food.  So far, we had stayed in and cooked our own meals (for reason one) but I felt it was important to sample local cuisine.  We were to have lunch at the local Hotel D’Albertie then dinner up the road 10km to a family-run restaurant where there is no menu. 

Lunch was quiet at the Hotel.  It is run by Frederick, who has run it for 16 years.  But it has been in his family for 120 years!  WOW!  He apologized that it was just us but it was so nice.  He talked to us about French culture, was excited that we came from both Vancouver and New York where he listed off his favourite restaurants (Gu in Vancouver ranks the highest), and translated the menu for us.

In the first course list was ‘tete a veau’ or calf’s head/face.  He looked at the Engineer and said, ‘You from Japan?’.  The Engineer:  “Uh no, China. Sort of”.  Frederick:  “Ah, then you can eat.  You people ate anything.  You will survive.”

Even without this encouragement, the Engineer did actually want to eat the cow face.  Why?  I have no idea.  I was safe and ordered the asparagus and mushroom soup.  Plus a cassoulet while the Engineer was going to have duck l’orange. 

Well, the first course comes out and my soup is enough for a table of eight!  It came in a lovely tourine (the ONE time I don’t have my camera!) where I could help myself to all three of my servings.  The Engineer had two servings.  Along with his cow face.  You might think that because this is France, the cow face might actually look appetizing.  No.  It looked like what you think cow face would look like.

But he ate it.  All.  I tried some but all I could taste was face.  It was gross.

Then our second courses.  Dear god.  HOW ARE FRENCH WOMEN NOT FAT???  My cassoulet was massive, and delicious.  Frederick had to pack it in a special box (as long as I promised to return the dish) along with the rest of my wine and my lemon tart.

The Engineer polished off his duck and his crème brulee. 

At this point, we both thought we might just explode.  Lunch had taken nearly three hours, we were so full we rolled home, and dinner was at 7:00.

Step one:  cancel reservations.

Step two: lie on stomachs on bed

Step three:  nap.  After all Miss, this is France.
We slept and slept.  Woke up and we were still full!!!  I have never been so full in my life.  And I was full of beans.  OH GOD.

The Engineer and I finally ate the leftovers late at night.  My lemon tart was AMAZING – covered in broken meringue.  Delicious.  And the cassoulet was even better reheated.

But then we were both full of beans.  Bloated on beans. Not a good thing.  Very late at night we both regretted eating.  Ever.  The Engineer in pain over eating a face and my tummy so full of beans I looked five months pregnant.

Thank god for an open window and wild lilac.

Oh and as an aside – I asked for just a glass of rose.  But he could only give me a small bottle that I could ‘take home’.  Right.  I drank the whole thing.  Wine at lunch is my new favourite thing.  Wait; make it a rose at lunch is my new favourite thing.