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2 hour lunches, 3 hour dinners
In my 'daily' life I eat to live, in France one lives to eat. No hurried meals or eating on the run, fast foods are 'almost' a crime (although we did stop at a MacDonald's' once (it was awful!)) and like Italy, its difficult to get anything but delicious food in the most humble of restaurants. There are three things that every lunch and dinner that we enjoyed (at a restaurant) had in common.
1. Lots of wine. Wine flows like water (well, almost…) in France.
Below are by no means all of the wonderful meals that we ate, but for me they were some of the most memorable.
Lunch @ Lo Cagarol Restaurant in Aigne
Restaurant in old stone buildings, with dark brown tiles and walls painted a mellow yellow and hung with paintings by local artists are the rule and not the exception in France. The small black dog that sat near her owner's chair inside the restaurant is not an unusual sight. That the restaurant is in a quiet, picturesque village of lovely houses surrounded by miles of vineyards is as common there as the shopping malls are here. But it was new to us. And so we soaked up the beauty, the atmosphere, and the thrill of eating in a 'real' French restaurant.
The menu was daunting!
Mille feuille de tomate grappe au chèvre et caviar d'aubergine, jus de basilic eu terrine de volaille aux pistaches, confiture d'échalote et champignon sauvage in fillo.
Joue de porc confite en sauce minervoise: purée maison aux olives noires eu croustillant de lieu noir au coulis de poivron rouge grille.
Dessert du jour, ¼ de vin compris.
Luckily we had Anthony and Andreas to tell us what everything was. Now, I hate to disappoint but my diary tells me that I had wild mushrooms in filo pastry, pork, potatos, tomato, brown bread, fruit cocktail and wine. Why, I wonder does it sound SO much more elegant in French…?
Lunch @ Maison du Cassoulet in Carcassonne
It was cold the day that we went to Carcassonne and the picture of the cassoulet in the window of Maison du Cassoulet looked hearty, warm and very inviting. We ordered one of the lunch specials: Salade de Bienvenue (green salad with oil & vinegar), Le veritable Cassoulet frais de Castelnaudary prépare cuit et servi dans sa cassole (cassoulet as they make it in Castelnaudry and served in a casserole dish, uh, I think….), Coup glacee artsanale (ice cream in an amazing variety of choices: strawberry, honey nut pine, gingerbread, white peach, dark chocolate, apricot) and apertif offert (white wine), 90F.
The hot and the hearty surpassed our expectations. The waitress brought us out a heavy stone pottery bowl (I imagine straight from the oven), of a thick spicy bean soup with huge pieces of sausage and duck in it. It smelled good, it tasted good and it stuck to the ribs (everyone of them!). AND it stayed hot, very hot! (the purpose of the heavy bowl…). At the end of restaurant was a large painting of Frenchmen eating. It was placed so that it gave somewhat of an impression that it was a continuation of the room and they were there dining with you. It was not difficult to understand that a bowl of hot cassoulet was a welcome (& necessary) sight to vineyard workers on a cold day!
The brochure we picked up gives a recipe of du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary but alas it is in French: "350g de haricots blancs sec lingots (white beans?), 2 cuisses de canard ou d'oie confites (uh, duck, maybe…), 4 morceaux de 80g de saucisses de Toulouse pur porc (pork surely), oignons, carottes" etc. Hopeless for me to try to figure it out. However, I did find a recipe on the net that seems to be very close, see Cassoulet at www.culinarycafe.com/Ethnic_Dishes/FullPage/Cassoulet.html
Oh yes, I had the white pine nut and Don had the white peach ice cream. They were as heavenly tasting as they sound!
Lunch @ Auberge de Saint Martin In Beaufort
Our lunch at the Auberge de Saint Martin was served to us outside in the courtyard at Anthony's request. It was another perfect weather day (we really only had one cold day!) and the sun was bright and lovely and eating outside is always pleasant in such circumstances (especially if you are in a lovely well-kept courtyard with trees and flowers!). They brought us out a salad that was the best I'd ever had and I madly wrote down what I thought was in it: endive lettuce, ham, cheese, apple tomato, walnuts and O&V dressing. That may not be it at all, but heh, one can experiment. Pork in mustard sauce, three cheeses, and a lovely dessert of a Pear in wine sauce with an almond cookie AND to top it off Café Crème. Oh yes, it was a very nice mea
Dinner @ La Caleche in St. Chinian
La Caleche was the only restaurant in St. Chinian that we ate in. We were either out and about or we made our meals 'at home'. This was a dinner with the group however and was planned as part of our itinerary. The choices of the 1st course were fit for a king (& queen!): salade La Caleche au saumon fume (salad with smoked salmon), 6 huitres de Mediterrannee (six Mediterranean oysters, Foie Gras de Canard mi-Cuit et Muscat (home cooked foie gras served with a glass of Muscat) etc. The choices of entrees were exotic: cuisse de canard confite (preserved leg of duck), Rouelle d'Agneau aux herbes (leg fillet of lamb), filet de pintade aux crevettes (guinea fowl with shrimp), Pave d'autruche au poivre vert (ostrich steak with green pepper sauce). As I do not like either mutton or fowl, I asked for a 'vegetarian' meal. I got a cooked tomato…
Lunch @ La Chat Botte in Narbonne
I chose the La Chat Botte because it was so bright and cheerful and pretty. The two large doors were open (it was a warm and sunny day, a perfect weather day in fact) and I could see in to the bright yellow walls, the dark blue tiles and the shiny glassware set out on the tables. And besides the logo of the cat in plumed hat, swashbuckler costume and hip length boots with shiny buckles appealed to the fairy tale addict in me (ahem, "Puss n' Boots"). The only problem was that we did not understand the menu! We looked at the menu posted outside and debated. "What do you think this means?" "I haven't a clue!" and so on and so forth down the menu until we got to "Lasagne au chevre et epinards". AHA! "I bet that is lagsagna with spinach." I said triumphantly. We decided we would chance it.
It was 11:45am and as the doors were open we went in and were seated. The waitress brought us some water and the menu and then disappeared. We looked around us. No waitresses, no other patrons. We wondered what was amiss. Then at 12 noon she returned and took our order, by 12:15 every table in the restaurant was full. We had just gotten another lesson of "In France, do as the French do." I.e. don't expect to be served lunch until noon! (Oh, and then don't dilly-dally because everyone goes in to the restaurants all at the same time!). Of course, they expect you to then sit and eat for the next two hours or more. Don't expect to spend less time, as the pace of the meal is not up to you….
Picnic Lunch Along the Midi Canal
The lunch I enjoyed the most was the picnic we had on the bank of the Midi Canal the day we went boating. Andreas and Anthony had catered the picnic. All we had to do was tie up the boats and disembark with chairs in hand and eat (& eat & eat). My journal tells me that we had tomato salad, pork with cherry chutney, bread, cucumber salad, cheese and chocolate mousse. And LOTS of wine. A French meal without wine is like an American breakfast without OJ. A picnic in France without wine, well, what's the point really!
We ate and ate and kept going back for more. The cherry chutney was so good that I ate 3 slices of bread spread with it like jam. I found out that Andreas had made it and had decided to give us a treat. He certainly did that! The chocolate mousse was in a very large bowl and we were all secretly hoping that it was like the mythical pitcher and would keep replenishing itself as we kept digging the spoon in it for more. I don't know whether it was the food or eating outside picnic-style or the good comradeship (or all three!) but we were a happy group indeed.
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