Beauty on the plate

As I wrote in a recent posting,  the Greater Daglan Area was basking in beautiful late-summer weather at the end of September, when our friend Robin stayed with my wife Jan and me.

So when the three of us visited the restaurant Le Vieux Logis in Trémolat (back on Wednesday, September 24), we had the pleasure of sitting outside, under the trees. We were there for the “tapas” lunch, which refers to many small courses and not to anything Spanish.

That day,  I thought that the mix of sunshine and shadows  made all our plates look especially inviting. In this posting, I’ll keep the words to a minimum — I think I’ve written often enough about how good the Michelin-starred Le Vieux Logis is — and just show off some lovely food on the plates.

I’ll begin at the beginning, with an entrée of foie gras:

Shadows play on the foie gras plate.

Shadows play on the foie gras plate.

Then came this serving of cold poached lobster with pieces of tomato:

Perfectly poached lobster.

Perfectly poached lobster.

Then we were served this unusual dish, built around slices of artichoke hearts in a flavourful jelly:

An unusual dish built around artichoke hearts.

An unusual dish built around artichoke hearts.

The three of us particularly enjoyed the next dish, a piece of roast fish, served with a rich sauce and topped with a slice of succulent beef marrow:

Roast fish, topped with a slice of marrow.

Roast fish, topped with a slice of marrow.

For the main meat course, we were served roast veal, like this:

Roast veal as a main meat course.

Roast veal as a main meat course.

Each time we’ve eaten at Le Vieux Logis, the cheese course is far from the ordinary French serving — which is usually two or three pieces of cheese on a plate. This was a creamy, whipped dish of cheese:

Not your classical cheese course in France.

Not your classical cheese course in France.

And then came desserts. First was this amazing creation of meringue balls, swirled with chestnut purée:

A beautiful and delicate dessert.

A beautiful and delicate dessert.

Next came a refreshing sorbet with fresh strawberries:

Refreshing best describes this dessert.

Refreshing best describes this dessert.

And should you end a meal with chocolate? Well, I think the answer should be obvious here:

Nothing wrong with a small tray of chocolate goodies.

Nothing wrong with a small tray of chocolate goodies.

After lingering over coffees, we drove on to the town of Bergerac, to wander around the old area known as Vieux Bergerac. Still, it was the memory of a wonderful lunch that remained in my mind.

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The raptors of the château

At the end of September, while our friend Robin was staying with us in Daglan, we enjoyed a great spell of sunny weather. So on Friday, Sept. 26, we took advantage of the sunshine and spent a good part of our morning at one of the area’s best tourist attractions, Château des Milandes, just north of Castelnaud.

This beautiful château, built in 1489, was bought in 1947 by Josephine Baker, the Afro-American dancer and singer who moved to Paris, became famous and wealthy, and played an important role in the Resistance in World War II (among other accomplishments).

My wife Jan and I have toured the castle several times (and recommend it to anyone visiting the Greater Daglan Area), so our friend Robin visited the château by herself. Meanwhile, Jan and I walked to the back of the castle for the raptors show — an interesting and informal presentation of various birds of prey, some European and some from other parts of the world. And what follows is a quick look at what we saw.

We’ll start with the Lapland Owl, shown here with the keeper who led most of the show:

The Lapland Owl meets the audience.

The Lapland Owl meets the audience.

And here’s the owl showing off its flying skills (in return for some fresh chicken meat):

Showing off its flying skills.

Showing off its flying skills.

A somewhat smaller bird is the Northern White-Faced Owl, shown here fluttering into the audience:

The Northern White-Faced Owl makes a landing.

The Northern White-Faced Owl makes a landing.

And here he is again, this time sitting on the bleachers just in front of Jan and me:

The owl gets up close and a bit personal.

The owl gets up close and a bit personal.

To demonstrate the flying and hunting skills of falcons, a Lanner Falcon was brought into our area:

Bringing in the Lanner Falcon.

Bringing in the Lanner Falcon.

After zooming over our heads quite a few times, the falcon finally caught the piece of chicken that was used as bait, and took it to ground. There it assumed the classic “mantle” pose adopted by falcons to protect the food they’ve caught. Here it is:

Protecting the food it caught in the air.

Protecting the food it caught in the air.

Once the show was over, we chatted with one of the keepers for a while (for years, Jan was active in the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, and knows her falcons) and then met up with Robin — who came away highly impressed with the Josephine Baker story. And then the three of us drove up to Sarlat for a superb lunch at the Michelin-starred Le Grand Bleu. But then you knew that, didn’t you? I covered it in “Dish du jour — 5/10/2014.” If you missed that posting, have a look.

 

Posted in History in the Dordogne, Life in southwest France, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The tale of the tape

Suddenly, there is plastic tape everywhere. Throughout the Greater Daglan Area, or GDA, it’s been hung from post to post, along roads and driveways.

If the tape were yellow, you’d think that the most of the GDA had become a crime scene.

But it’s not yellow tape — it’s red-and-white plastic, fluttering in the breeze.

One example is a long stretch of tape hung beside the road that leads to the garbage and recycling bins behind the Daglan Rugby Club’s clubhouse. Here’s how it looked this morning:

Red and white plastic tape, fluttering beside a road.

Red and white plastic tape, fluttering beside a road.

So what’s the reason? It’s simple: The tape is marking off walnut groves, and is meant to keep unauthorized walnut gatherers away from the trees, and the nuts that have fallen to the ground beneath them.

The rule is that walnuts found on a road are fair game: They can be picked up by anyone. But the walnuts lying within the groves themselves belong only to the owners of the trees.

So in short, all the red-and-white tape we’re seeing these days is a sure sign that the walnut harvest is about to get under way. Unauthorized pickers: beware!

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Dish du jour — 5/10/2014

Two separate sets of friends stayed with us in Daglan at the end of September and beginning of October, which meant (a) lots of opportunity for fine dining, and (b) not much time for writing blog postings. I’ll try to catch up (on the blog) with some relatively short postings on a few of our rather brilliant meals.

I’ll start with the lunch we had with our friend Robin on Friday, Sept. 26, at one of our favourite restaurants — the brilliant, one-Michelin-starred Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat. (I’ve written about Le Grand Bleu so often that I’ll leave it at that. If you want to learn more, just use the “Search” box at the top right of the blog to find earlier reviews.)

Full disclosure: Although the title says “dish of the day,” I’ll be showing off four of them.

First off, here’s an amuse-bouche we received — a foie gras crème brûlée, topped with burnt sugar and a wonderful sauce of passion fruit (and yes, I did consume the edible flower):

Now here's a great way to enjoy foie gras.

Now here’s a great way to enjoy foie gras.

Ever alert to the possibility of eating more foie gras, for my entrée I ordered a slice of the duck liver served with toasts and a small glass of granita — an ice that was made with vin de noix, a local walnut-flavoured drink. It tasted as good as it looks:

My plate of foie gras as an entrée.

My plate of foie gras as an entrée.

My plat principal was, as usual at Le Grand Bleu, the sweetbreads. Since our friend Robin knew how much I enjoy them, she decided to try them for the first time — and enjoyed them a great deal. Here’s my serving:

For me, at Le Grand Bleu, it's got to be the sweetbreads.

For me, at Le Grand Bleu, it’s got to be the sweetbreads.

Finally, I had this rich chocolate treat for dessert, served on a crunchy crust and topped with a scoop of ice cream:

It's hard to beat a chocolate dessert like this one.

It’s hard to beat a chocolate dessert like this one.

It was a wonderful meal, but my wife Jan and I were well aware that our friends from Florida, Sam and Jill, would be arriving soon after Robin left us — and that could only mean more fine dining to come. Stay tuned.

 

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Two friends, three meals: Paris express

Lately my wife Jan and I have been caught up in a flurry of social events, travel and guests, so my blog postings have been few and far between. Time to remedy that, first with a look back at a fast trip we made to Paris.

Although we live in France, and love Paris, it’s still a bit of a journey to reach the nation’s capital. Most recently, we headed there one Friday morning to meet up with Donna and Dave from Toronto, who were winding up a European trip that mainly centred on Italy. They are not only good friends (and members of our cycling group, the Wild Forest Pig Contrada) but also foodies.

So our plan was to meet for lunch at — wait for it — Epicure, the gourmet restaurant which bears the maximum three stars from Michelin, and is located in Le Bristol Paris.

Getting there was just a bit nerve-wracking, because when Jan and I arrived at the station in Gourdon, we learned that our train to Paris would be 25 minutes late. Then it was to be 50 minutes late. And as it turned out, it was nearly an hour late pulling into Gare Austerlitz in Paris — just when we were supposed to be sitting down at our table in Epicure.

In any case, our taxi driver did the best he could in heavy traffic, and we arrived at the restaurant half an hour late, to find Donna and Dave patiently waiting for us. And then, of course, it was time for hugs, a bottle of Champagne, and a close read of the seasonal menu (at 135 euros per person).

I’ve already described the full Epicure experience (in the August 31st posting, “Royalty? Rock star? Or just rich?”), so I’ll keep this brief, with just a few photos of some of the more startling dishes.

First is the lamb dish that both Donna and I ordered — a sort of “nose to tail” take on lamb, since the plate included tiny sausages, a chop, a piece of loin, a piece of lamb sweetbreads, and probably a bit more that I can’t remember. Here’s my plate:

Lamb in all its variations.

Lamb in all its variations.

Jan was delighted with her main course too — a nicely cooked piece of cod, surrounded by small bites of squid. Here’s her plate:

Cod surrounded by bits of squid.

Cod surrounded by bits of squid.

After we had all eaten our entrées, our main courses, our selections from the extravagant cheese trolley, and our desserts, we were offered even more sweets from another trolley. Included in the trolley was a row of macarons, those light meringue-based cookies, in eight flavours. Here they are:

Eight flavours of macarons were on offer.

Eight flavours of macarons were on offer.

After such a rich lunch, even I could manage only one macaron, but it was delicious — and rather elegant, sitting on this beautiful plate:

My lonely but beautiful macaron.

My lonely but beautiful macaron.

For the rest of the afternoon, as you might imagine, none of us had much energy left for strolling through Paris. (Jan and I had risen at 5 a.m. that morning to catch the early train from Gourdon.) So we took a taxi back to the hotel, for some rest and a shower.

But by 7:30, we were ready to go again — so we walked over to a café we enjoy at Place de l’Ecole-Militaire and ordered wine and “light” dinners. (Okay, Dave and I had cheeseburgers and frites, while Jan and Donna wisely avoided food.) That made meal No. 2 with Dave and Donna. And the next morning, the four of us had our third meal together in Paris: a rather un-French breakfast (including fried eggs and bacon) at another café on Place de l’Ecole-Militaire.

And then our long day’s journeys began — with Dave and Donna flying back to Toronto, and Jan and I returning to Daglan by train.  Needless to say, we slept well that evening at home.

Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Paris restaurants, Restaurants in France, Travels in and out of France, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lotions and potions and notions: Oh my!

Thanks to movies and various publications, you probably have a pretty good idea of what a French café, a French restaurant, and a French château look like, even if you’ve never visited France.

But you may not have much sense of what I consider to be particularly strange places — this country’s drugstores, or pharmacies.

In fact, when I enter one, I almost imagine that I can hear the smooth, deep voice of Rod Serling, the host and narrator of that great early-1960s television show in North America, “The Twilight Zone.”

As a young teenager, watching on our family’s television in Florida, I would shiver as I heard him introducing the program, knowing that we would soon be taken into a strange world where odd — and often scary — things would happen. This was Serling:

“You’re traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!”

Now French pharmacies are hardly scary. But for me they are like a virtual Twilight Zone of lotions and potions and notions, with costly beauty products galore, big gaps in their product offerings, and an odd approach to staffing (among other things).

I will admit that I’m approaching this with two biases: One is that I’m male, and so I’m not particularly enchanted by lotions and creams in the first place; second is that I’m used to how things are done in North American (both Canadian and U.S.) drugstores. So if your experience is only with European pharmacies, some of my comments and observations may seem odd. But so be it.

To start off, let’s get oriented. Like pharmacies in other parts of Europe, French drugstores are identified by green illuminated signs in the shape of crosses. This strikes me as a good idea, worth copying in North America, because the signs help you locate a drugstore if you’re new to an area.

For the really large pharmacies (like the Lagoubie drugstore which we frequent in Sarlat), there are several such signs, and a number of them include flashing lights plus extra information such as the day, the time and the temperature. Here’s one sign:

A large green cross shines out from the pharmacy window.

A large green cross shines out from the pharmacy window.

Here’s another view of the same sign, a few seconds later, showing the date (it’s referring to the 16th day of the 9th month):

A green cross sign that shows the date.

A green cross sign that shows the date.

Once inside a pharmacy, it seems as if you’ve entered a hallowed Hall of Beauty and Well Being. You’re confronted by shelf after shelf of creams, lotions, wrinkle-inhibitors, ointments, salves,  perfumes, soaps and just about anything else that you could smear or squirt on your skin. Here’s one look at the set-up in Sarlat’s Lagoubie pharmacy:

An amazing array of products.

An amazing array of products.

Here’s another look at the range of products facing a shopper:

Yet more lotions and potions.

Yet more lotions and potions.

And finally, here’s a view of yet another typical product shelf:

Row upon row of lotions and potions.

Row upon row of lotions and potions.

I suppose that what I find most amazing is this apparent French love of “magical” lotions and creams — anti-wrinkle, anti-aging, anti-spots, anti-stretch marks, and so on. And not only does price seem no object, it often appears that prices are set at outrageously high levels as some sort of badge of quality and effectiveness.

But there are several other peculiarities, at least in my view. Among them:

The staffing. In North American pharmacies, it’s easy to tell the role of a staff member. Behind the counter where prescriptions are dispensed, you’ll find a registered pharmacist, who can offer reasonable medical advice. Other staff members may assist you, or stock shelves, or operate the cash registers, but typically don’t give advice. Not so in French pharmacies, where it seems that anyone behind the counter can (a) wear a white coat and (b) fill prescriptions and (c) offer medical opinions.

The advice. Sometimes the advice is less than brilliant. One of our friends with a holiday home in Daglan went to a pharmacy for a sore throat, loud cough, and a high temperature; she was told she had an allergy and was given some pills. Unfortunately, she continued to get worse, and when she went to her doctor back in England, she was told that she actually had severe bronchitis and was put on a heavy course of antibiotics. Recently I re-filled a regular prescription for blood pressure medication, which included the line that I should take two 20-milligram pills of the drug per day; the fellow at the pharmacy in Cénac brought out two boxes of 10-millgram pills. When I pointed out that the prescription clearly said 20-milligram pills, he argued that two 10-milligram pills amounted to 20 milligrams. After a bit more arguing, he finally saw the light and brought the right pills. (My motto at the pharmacy now: Ever Vigilant.)

The pricing. Competition in business does not seem to be a terribly French tradition, and so prices are often wildly out of hand — apparently because pharmacies don’t feel the need to reduce prices to attract customers. What we’ve learned from several years of living here is that if there are products that you buy fairly regularly — whether it’s a headache pill like Advil or a skin cream like Dexeryl — it really pays to check their prices at several drugstores. The price differences can be astounding. (It’s also worth noting that pharmacies seem to have a stranglehold on virtually all medicines, so that you can’t find simple over-the-counter medications like headache pills or cough syrup in convenience stores or supermarkets, which would make life easier — and products less expensive.)

Prescriptions and packaging. In Canada, when you fill a prescription, your pharmacist deciphers your doctor’s (probably awful) handwriting; you then receive a plastic vial with the exact number of pills your doctor prescribed, with an easy-to-read descriptive label, printed clearly with the name of the drug, the date prescribed, the recommended dosage, and so on. In France, the pharmacist simply hands back to you the original prescription (in your doctor’s awful handwriting), and one or more boxes of pills that are almost always encased in little plastic bubbles, so that you have to pop them out, one by one.

Looking for a positive way to end this bit of a rant, I will say that I think my thumbs have become stronger over the past few years, because of popping out pills. Well — it’s something.

Posted in Life in southwest France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The shutters close, the Season ends

Come September 1st in the Greater Daglan Area, it’s as if someone closes the shutters all at once. The curtains come down. The door is slammed shut.

In other words, after the two months of July and August, the Tourist Season is over.

This takes a bit of getting used to, for a few reasons. Perhaps most notably, businesses aren’t open as much, or for as long. This means we have to plan our shopping a bit more carefully.

For example, Daglan’s 8 à  Huit convenience store is now closed on Mondays, and its business hours aren’t as generous. The bio (organic foods) store in St. Cybranet is also closed on Mondays now.

There’s a similar story at the popular Fabrice Le Chef boutique in the heart of Daglan. It was open every day in the Season, and stayed open through the day, so lunches could be served on its patio. But have a look at the chalkboard out front now — there’s a two-and-a-half-hour break during the middle of the day; it’s open only a half day on Sunday (the day for Daglan’s weekly market); and it’s closed on Monday:

Closed on Mondays, as the Season ends.

Closed on Mondays, as the Season ends.

Our Sunday market is now much quieter, and as you can see in this photo, taken at about noon yesterday, it’s a bit short of actual shoppers:

Daglan's Sunday market -- but where are the shoppers?

Daglan’s Sunday market — but where are the shoppers?

Campgrounds are popular in the GDA, and account for a huge proportion of our tourists. Now the several campgrounds in the area are either closed until next spring, or emptying out fast. The tents and caravans have been packed, and the visitors are probably already back home in the U.K., the Netherlands and Belgium, with their kids in school. Here’s Les Cascades, just north of Daglan, looking distinctly quiet yesterday:

Campgrounds like Les Cascades are empty, or nearly so.

Campgrounds like Les Cascades are empty, or nearly so.

Now that we’re at mid-September, there’s a change in the air too. Actually, the weather has been just about perfect lately — with cool, almost cold nights, cool mornings, and warm, sometimes hot, days.

But I figure that the night air is just cold enough to encourage the shrubs and trees to start taking on their autumn colours. Here’s a walnut grove, next to Daglan’s rugby pitch, starting to show yellow in the trees’ leaves, and signaling that the harvest is just around the corner:

The walnut tree leaves are just starting to show yellow.

The walnut tree leaves are just starting to show yellow.

Tobacco has already been harvested, from what I can see, and the fields of corn are to be harvested soon. In fact, this field of corn looks like it could use harvesting pretty quickly, before it dies of old age:

This field of corn is ready to be harvested -- and soon!

This field of corn is ready to be harvested — and soon!

Saddest of all are the huge fields of sunflowers that are scattered throughout the GDA. At the key T-junction in St. Cybranet, north of Daglan, there’s a particularly impressive field of sunflowers that now seems downright gloomy, with dull and drooping heads and leaves that are going grey. Here’s how it looked yesterday:

A sad-looking field of sunflowers in St. Cybranet.

A sad-looking field of sunflowers in St. Cybranet.

Of course it’s not all gloom and doom. Despite the closed-for-business Mondays, I still maintain that September is the best of all possible months to visit the GDA.

Without the hordes of tourists, traffic is much lighter,  the weather tends to be good, and it’s easier to get into restaurants and various tourist attractions. In Daglan itself, the popular tea salon Le Thé Vert is open all of September (every day but Wednesday), and seems to be doing a brisk trade throughout the day, especially at lunch time.

On the home front, we are expecting two more sets of guests before the month ends, so there’s lots more sightseeing and fine dining to come.

And to end on a bright note, have a look at this little guy — proudly lighting up the area just next to that sad-looking field of sunflowers in St. Cybranet:

One little sunflower has managed to stay sunny.

One little sunflower has managed to stay sunny.

Shine on, little guy!

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Flora and fauna, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Travels in and out of France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments