Our fast-and-slow start to summer

It’s been a bit bizarre this year. We’ve had a very fast, virtually immediate jump into “The Season — Summer,”  but a very slow glide into “The Season — Tourist Invasion.”

This year’s advent of summer, with high temperatures and deep blue skies that are often cloudless, started suddenly after the most miserable spring we’ve had since my wife Jan and I moved here eight years ago. It seemed like almost constant rain, along with temperatures that were cool to cold.

On the plus side, all the rain meant that the ground has been well soaked, and it just took the hot weather to cause plant life to explode into growth mode.

Walnut trees are already hanging their branches with their fruit, and the walnut pods are already dropping to the ground. (I know, because I nearly twisted my ankle when I stumbled over one of the pods on a walk this morning. They are as hard as croquet balls.) In this photo, you can see the dark green leaves of the walnut tree, and in the distance, some rolls of hay.

Hanging walnuts, rolled-up hay.

Flowers are up everywhere, our wisteria vines are growing so fast that they need trimming twice a week, and farmers have already harvested some crops and are planting the next. Here’s a field of corn as it looked this morning:

As high as an elephant’s eye?

However, we’ve noted for some time that things seem much quieter this year than is normal. People with rental houses say their bookings are down; campgrounds simply don’t look as packed as usual (after all, we are now in July); and traffic doesn’t seem as heavy as usual. On the bike path between Daglan and St. Cybranet this morning, it appeared to me that there were many fewer cyclists and runners than normal.

A couple of days ago, Jan and I drove up to Castelnaud for an afternoon drink, and found the normally popular café La Plage virtually devoid of customers. Have a look at the terrace:

And just where are all the people?

The common wisdom is that the absolute peak time for tourists is mid-July to mid-August, so there is still time for the tourists to invade. We shall see. But what’s been keeping them away? Perhaps the generally poor spring weather in Europe, perhaps the economy. I don’t know, but the slow start seems real enough.

Coming event: If you will be in or near Daglan this coming Friday — that’s the day before la Fête nationale, or Bastille Day — you may be interested in a special dinner being held in the community hall, or Salle des fêtes. Here’s the poster, advertising the details:

An event for Friday evening.

The dinner, starting at 8 p.m., features roast stuffed pork as the main course. The bal populaire starting at 10 p.m. means it’s a “local” dance (don’t expect the Rolling Stones), usually featuring a small band with one or more guitars and an accordion. And of course the feux d’ artifices (fireworks) start at 11 p.m. and are always exciting.

You should reserve for the dinner. If you can’t read the number on the poster above, they are: for the Mairie: 05 – 53 – 28 – 41 – 16, and for the Office de Tourisme: 05 – 53 – 29 – 88 -84. And that’s Radio Free Daglan, at your service, signing out.

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Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Cafés in France, Camping in the Dordogne, Festivals in France, Flora and fauna, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Showing off our “new showcase for art”

Both my wife Jan and I like and appreciate art, and are sorry that we’ve run out of space in our home — otherwise we’d be buying paintings and sculptures all the time. (Of course, we’d also be going bankrupt.)

In any case, this fact of life was driven home once again on Saturday evening, when we attended the advance opening of Daglan’s new art exhibition (Expo Art Plastique), which runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, until July 8.

It turned out that many of Daglan’s plugged-in residents — that is, those who tend to be active in community events — were on hand for the advance showing. Here’s a look:

A good crowd showed up.

For the remainder of this posting, I’ll give you just a taste of the art that’s been placed around the Salle des fêtes.

First of all, these four paintings of peaceful  seaside scenes received a lot of favourable comments, including from Jan and me. Once again, we regretted not have any more space on the walls of our house. Have a look:

A popular quartet.

I didn’t count, but I’d guess that paintings outnumbered statues by at least three to one — but there were still a large number of carved or shaped pieces, like this one:

Just one of the statues on display.

Next come two abstract paintings by a painter in our village who goes only by his last name, Robain. (In my previous posting, on June 21,  I published a photo of his studio at the southern edge of Daglan.) And here are some examples of his work:

Two paintings by Robain.

Naturally, not all of the paintings in the expo are abstract or surreal. What would an art exhibition be without paintings of people and animals? Like, for instance, this piece of a mother cat licking one of her kittens:

Is there anything cuter than cats and kittens?

When Jan and I were talking with a friend about the show, I pointed at two abstract pieces and said they were my favourites — and our friend replied that they looked as if someone had just sloshed some paint on the canvas. Well, that’s personal taste for you. One person’s art is another person’s mess.

Personally, I like the strength of these black, dark blue and white paintings (by an artist named Jacques Croci), and would love to have a dramatic wall in my home where I could show them off. See what you think:

My favourite abstract pieces.

The most expensive piece, as listed in the expo catalogue, was Port la nuit by Gérard Remigereau, shown below. It’s on offer for 4,000 euros.

The costliest piece in the show.

Which brings me to prices. While 4,000 euros was at the top, there were a few paintings at 3,000; quite a few around 1,000; a great number in the hundreds of euros (200, 300, 400, and so on); and a fairly small number at just under 100 euros.

With most products and services, “you get what you pay for,” but when it comes to art, I suspect that personal preference plays a particularly large part. So what’s your view?

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Our new showcase for art — “plastique,” yet!

Daglan is becoming quite the home for artists and artisans. (More on this later.)

And now we’ve got a major art exhibition coming up — the Expo Art Plastique — which begins on Sunday (June 24) and runs until July 8, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. It’s in the village’s community hall (la Salle des fètes) of course.

To be honest, I had no idea what art plastique means, so I turned to Google. There seem to be several possibilities, but I think it’s likely that it simply means visual art.

My wife Jan and I have been invited to the vernissage (private showing) the evening before the expo officially begins, so I just may have a report for you on Sunday or Monday.

And now for a brief overview of our artists and artisans, starting at the south end of the village (entering Daglan from across the River Céou):

First come two artists and their galleries, across the street from each other; both create both paintings and sculptures. Further along there’s the shop (La Petite Minoche) run by the woman who creates and sells lovely hats.

Then comes La Goutte Noire (which means The Black Drop). It is both the shop and the atelier, or workshop, of a talented young woman named Sophie Arnaud; her speciality is working with fine silver strands, shaping them into earrings, bracelets, necklaces and more, and sometimes combining the silver with semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli.

Across the street from La Goutte Noire is the new shop called La Margotte, where a seamstress makes clothing (Jan has already bought a lovely dress) and sells a variety of decorative items.

Next to La Goutte Noire is an area where art exhibitions are often held, including the work of a local water-colourist. Then there’s the home of the sculptor who uses a power saw to create large statues out of tree trunks. And finally, another well-known water-colourist is having an ancient home renovated right in our quartier, just a few metres from our home, where he will live and operate his gallery.

If I’ve missed anyone, I apologize — just let me know.

And here’s how one of the artist’s galleries looks, with the Expo banner hung high on the exterior wall:

An Expo banner hangs on this studio’s wall.

This is where you’ll find the work of Yannick Robain, abstract painter and sculptor. With luck, I’ll be showing quite a few pieces of his art, and others, in a blog posting soon.

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Mexican? Well, actually, no

Regular readers with good memories may recall that in my last posting, I wrote that my wife Jan and I would be enjoying a Father’s Day lunch today (Sunday) at the new Mexican restaurant that was just opening in Saint-Laurent-la-Vallée.

Well, we didn’t. But it wasn’t our fault.

After receiving written confirmation of our reservation, I received another note from the restaurant (Maria Bonita, shown below) apologizing for not being able to accept us for lunch — because the restaurant had not yet received official approval to serve food. So initially, only the bar would be open to the public.

This is where we didn’t go for lunch.

We still wanted to have lunch at a nice restaurant, and so I made a reservation for today at Chez les Filles, the restaurant part of the hotel-restaurant La Traverse, in neighbouring Cénac. And it all went very well.

For one thing, service is prompt and friendly. We were quickly served the kir we ordered, and then received an amuse-bouche of mousse flavoured with beets and tiny chunks of cucumber.

Jan skipped the special menu and went directly for a steak served with frites as her plat principal (no entrée), and pronounced the steak very tasty and the frites nice and hot and crispy. I chose from the special menu, La Folie des Chefs, with three courses.

My entrée was this attractive plate of gravlax, served with lots of fresh dill and a crunchy fennel salad in a sweet-and-sour dressing:

As good as it was good-looking.

My plat was a serving of lieu noir (a fish similar to cod) served with a sauce vierge (olive oil, lemon juice and chopped tomato and basil), some very fine ratatouille, and a small pot of wild rice. It was all delicious, and looked good too, as you can see:

A very good mix of flavours.

For dessert, Jan had a serving of crème brùlée, while I had three profiteroles, filled with vanilla ice cream, and accompanied by a pot of warm chocolate sauce. Yummy.

And the price? My three-course meal was just 24 euros. And for everything — the amuse-bouches, two kirs, a bottle of rosé wine plus two extra glasses of rosé, my special-menu meal, and Jan’s steak plus dessert, and then two coffees to finish things off — the total came in at just under 100 euros. So this is a place to add to your list of go-to regulars.

 

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And now for something completely different

The Greater Daglan Area — like much of Europe — tends to favour local flavours. In other words, you won’t have much luck finding German, Italian, Spanish or Chinese restaurants in rural France. (Okay, there are a lot of pizza places, but not full-blown Italian restaurants.)

It’s not completely impossible, of course. As regular readers will know, my wife Jan and I are particularly fond of the authentic Thai restaurant Sawadee, in neighbouring Cénac. So are many of our friends and visitors.

Still, you can imagine that I was somewhat incredulous when I learned that a Mexican restaurant would be opening in the small village of Saint-Laurent-la-Vallée, about 10 kilometres from Daglan. Mexican? In little Saint-Laurent?

But it seems to be true, as we discovered when we drove by the restaurant that was previously Lou Cigalou, which featured traditional southwest-France fare. Here’s the front of the building, with its new sign — Maria Bonita, Le Bistrot:

Hola! It’s opening soon.

It’s opening soon (this coming Friday), and Jan and I have already reserved there for Sunday lunch. Stayed tuned for our report.

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A tale of two (very different) lunches

Regular readers of Radio Free Daglan will certainly know by now that it’s possible to eat very, very well in the Greater Daglan Area. Our experiences over the past few days have confirmed that truism at both ends of the price-per-meal spectrum. Let’s have a look.

I’ll begin with the casual lunch that my wife Jan and I had with great friends Keith and Kathy, visiting from Toronto, at Le Tournepique, the Basque restaurant in Castelnaud, about 10 kilometres north of Daglan. (I’ve written about the place quite often, so I won’t go into details here.)

As their main course, Keith, Kathy and Jan shared a serving of la potence de bœuf (beef gallows), which consists of pieces of grilled steak, hanging from a special holder, and flamed at the table. Here’s the spectacle:

Steak that’s hot, hot, hot.

As for me, I had one of my favourite dishes at the restaurant — a Basque omelette, filled with a delicious sauce made with onions, peppers and tomatoes. It’s as large as it is good, as you can see:

Perfectly made, in the Basque style.

Why is Le Tournepique one of our regular, go-to places? The food is terrific; there’s lots of choice on the menu; the place is spotless and comfortable; there’s a great view of the Dordogne River; and the service is both friendly and professional.

At the other (high-priced) end of the restaurant spectrum is Le Gindreau, which has (quite rightly) earned two Michelin stars. It’s in the hamlet of Saint-Médard in the Lot, the département south of the Dordogne. That’s a 45-minute drive from downtown Daglan, and we were there last Sunday, again with Keith and Kathy.

Because I’ve written about this restaurant often as well, I won’t go into great detail, nor show off each dish (of many). But here are some highlights to illustrate the lengths that a two-Michelin-starred restaurant will go to dazzle its clients.

We begin with a look at the creation that was brought to our table holding a selection of delicate, unusual and delicious amuse-bouches:

Quite the selection — and serving piece.

After munching our way through the amuse-bouches, we all had a complimentary bowl of soup. Then I had a complex entrée featuring, among other things, crisp pork belly and smoked fish, and then a rich dish of veal liver as my plat principal. The soup, starter and main course were all incredibly rich and delicious, but didn’t photograph well, as they were all quite dark. Instead, I’ll show off the dessert that both Keith and I ordered:

Crunchy, creamy, and full of chocolate.

As you can probably tell, it was a chocolate-lover’s delight. And then, just to drive home the point about the delights of chocolate, we received a serving tray of mignardises, with a large ball of chocolate in the centre. In this photo, I managed to capture the moment that our server’s wooden mallet was just about to hit the top of the chocolate ball (is there any chance for the Action Photographer of the Year Award?):

Down comes the wooden mallet.

And when the chocolate ball was broken, see what was inside — candied orange peel!

Choice chocolate chunks.

We left Le Gindreau a bit lighter in our wallets, but definitely happy. As my great-grandmother would have said, in her understated way: “Well, if we never eat any worse than this, we’ll be okay.”

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

Our new truffle market — Part II

Yesterday my wife Jan made scrambled eggs for breakfast, and they were particularly delicious. How so? Because she had grated lots and lots of summer truffle into the egg mixture — from a truffle we had bought the day before.

And it looks as if  Daglan’s first summer truffle market (held on Sunday morning) has started a fine new weekly tradition for the village.

To the surprise of some, the truffle market was located a bit off- piste, in the courtyard of Daglan’s primary school, rather than in the main square (where the regular Sunday market was in full swing). It’s easy enough to find, but some locals still weren’t sure. To orient you, here’s the entrance to the school yard, immediately next to the village Mairie:

 

The schoolyard entrance.

The market consisted of two long tables — on the left, the truffle vendors with their baskets and weigh scales, and on the right a table bearing various snacks and drinks. Here’s how it looked on Sunday morning:

Vendors on the left, snacks on the right.

And here’s a closer look at some of the truffle vendors,  chatting amongst themselves:

Tables of truffles — and scales.

I went to the market first, and was quite pleased to buy a reasonably large truffle for just 10 euros — something like a quarter of what I had expected to pay. When Jan found out how reasonable the prices were, she went to the market for herself and bought an even larger truffle, for 13 euros.

And what do you do with summer truffles? Well, you can slice them thinly over just about any dish you like — scrambled eggs, pasta, and so on. You can also make truffle butter, like the mixture shown below, which was spread onto slices of baguette and offered for free at the truffle market snack table:

Bread and (very special) butter.

Jan’s method of making (and preserving) truffle butter starts with softening a good amount of butter in a bowl. When it’s easy to mix with a fork, you start grating the truffle over the butter (she uses a Microplane, to get really small flecks), and then stirring it in.

Keep grating and mixing until the butter is clearly showing lots and lots of dark flecks. Then roll the butter into a log shape, wrap it in waxed paper or cling film, and freeze it.

That way, you can store it for a long time, and simply slice off just the right amount to finish your mashed potatoes, or green beans, or grilled steaks — in other words, just about anything that would work well with the mild taste of summer truffle. And enjoy!

 

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments