Where fresh comes first

One of the surprising (and disappointing) facts of life for food lovers in the Greater Daglan Area is the occasional short supply of fresh fruits,  herbs, and vegetables in our supermarkets.

Certainly there are times when stores and local markets are bursting with fresh, locally grown strawberries, melons, and other produce. But there are also  times when the lettuce, broccoli, and green beans in supermarket bins look decidedly second-hand, and herbs such as coriander are simply not available.

And that’s why my wife Jan and I, and many of our friends, occasionally make the trip to Bergerac (about an hour and a quarter from Daglan, by car) to shop at the Grand Frais supermarket. (Typically, we visit Grand Frais when we go to the Bergerac airport, to pick up or drop off friends from the U.K.)

Grand Frais is actually a rather large chain of speciality supermarkets, with stores all over France (aside from the Bergerac outlet, the closest outlet is in Brive).

The stores were founded specifically to focus on the freshest possible fruit and vegetables, and top-quality meats, fish, spices, cheeses, and so on. We also shop at Grand Frais for otherwise impossible-to-find products like crayfish from Louisiana, and fresh okra. But the stores do not offer any of the other goods that are common in supermarkets today, such as soaps and paper goods.

I wrote about the Bergerac store briefly last year (“Bergerac: A few good reasons [to visit],” Sept. 7, 2017), but here’s a more detailed view, with a series of photographs to give you a good taste of what’s on offer. Let’s begin with the store’s exterior:

The view from the parking lot.

Next, here’s an overall view of the interior of the supermarket, where there are rows and rows of goods in the centre, with shelves and coolers around the perimeter of the large space:

An overall look, inside the store.

This photo shows a sample of the somewhat more exotic produce available, including fresh ginger and a variety of peppers:

Ready to spice up some dishes.

And this being spring time, you’ll find lots and lots of strawberries on offer (although Jan prefers to shop in Daglan’s Sunday market each week, where a woman sells delicious berries from our area):

A crimson field of berries.

Greens? You want greens? Have a look at just some of the leafy vegetables lined up in Grand Frais:

A wide range of fresh greens.

And for a final burst of bright colours, how about some fresh rhubarb and lemons, like these:

Fresh rhubarb, bright lemons.

Finding the store, however, is not terribly easy, at least the first time. The address is simply given as ZA la Cavaillé, Route de Bergerac. That means it’s in a sort of industrial/commercial area, on a long stretch of road with outlets like the appliance/furniture store Conforama.

We approach Grand Frais by heading west from the Bergerac airport, in the direction of Bordeaux, and pass through several roundabouts (traffic circles) until we see the Campanile restaurant on our right. Then we turn right, and head up the street.

With luck, you won’t miss it.

 

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A lovely market-day lunch

Monpazier is a charming bastide* town about 45 minutes from Daglan, and it’s well worth a visit. For one thing, it’s rated “one of the most beautiful villages in France.” For another, if you go on a Thursday, you could enjoy a double treat.

Treat No. 1 is that Thursday is market day in Monpazier, and the central square is always filled with stalls — with vendors offering everything from vegetables to jewellery. (Okay, in the summer, it’s also filled with tourists.)

Treat No. 2 is that you could try the special lunch (served only on Thursdays) at Restaurant Eléonore in the Hôtel Edward 1, a charming hotel named for the English king who founded Monpazier in 1284.

And lunching at the Eléonore is exactly what my wife Jan and I did this past Thursday, with our good friend Joanne.

This Thursday lunch concept seems to be a new idea, and I think it’s a good one — although when we visited, we sat at one of just two occupied  tables. Previously, the restaurant was open only for dinner, and it seems like word about the once-a-week lunch hasn’t spread very far yet.  In any case, the restaurant seems well respected, since it’s ranked No. 1 in Monpazier on TripAdvisor.

Here’s a look at the exterior of the restaurant, which is located in a wing of a hotel:

The restaurant’s attractive sign.

To reach the restaurant, you walk through the hotel’s main entrance. Then take a left turn, where you’ll find a comfortable bar for a pre-meal drink, and then proceed down the hall to the restaurant entrance. Here’s the front of the hotel:

The hotel’s main entrance.

We began our three-course meal with a kir, and then were offered a pleasant amuse-bouche — a light smoked salmon spread served with thin toasts. Then came our asparagus entrée, which I described quite fully in my last posting. Here’s another look at it:

That tempting asparagus entrée.

The Thursday lunch menu is set, but all three of us were quite happy with the plat principal on offer — a perfectly cooked chop of young pork, served with fresh peas (a highly under-rated vegetable, I think) and a circle of polenta dusted with black truffle. Here’s my plate:

Perfectly cooked pork.

Dessert for Joanne and me was the one set out on the lunch menu — a moelleux au chocolat noir (chocolate cake with a molten dark chocolate centre), served with chocolate truffles and chocolate ice cream. Voilà:

Chocolate — and then some!

One sign of a really good restaurant is its ability to meet special needs. When making our reservation, we let the restaurant know that Madame Chudy has an allergy to gluten — and sure enough, she was served particularly delicious gluten-free buns with her meal.

And because she couldn’t have the chocolate cake, for dessert Jan asked for strawberries with chantilly (whipped cream). Instead of simply tossing the strawberries in a bowl, chef chopped up quite a number of them, and placed them in the centre of a plate, and then surrounded the plate with a row of vertical strawberries. Have a look:

A special strawberry creation.

Worth a return trip? Yes, and in fact we’ve already made the reservation, for a Thursday lunch with Toronto friends Keith and Kathy.

By the way, the price for such a lovely meal? Three courses for 24.50 euros. Deal!

*What’s a bastide town, you ask? It’s a medieval walled town or village, in which the streets were laid out in a grid pattern. As mentioned earlier, Monpazier was founded in 1284 by King Edward 1.

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Asparagus — two ways, two days

Good chefs love to work with fresh ingredients — like the green and white asparagus stalks that begin showing up here in France each spring. So it’s not surprising that we were served asparagus dishes as our entrées at two different restaurants on two successive days this past week.

On Wednesday, my wife Jan and I, with our friend Joanne, ate lunch at one of our favourite restaurants — the quite wonderful La Table du Marché in Bergerac, where an asparagus dish was the starter on the daily menu.

(I’ve written about the restaurant many times, so I won’t elaborate here. If you want any more information, just type “La Table du Marché” into the Search box at the top right of this blog, and you’ll be served all my previous reviews.)

Then on Thursday, the three of us lunched at Restaurant Eléonore in the Hôtel Edward 1 in Monpazier, and again began our meal with another asparagus dish. (It was a first time for us in the restaurant, and I’ll provide a full review in my next blog posting.)

Now for the food. First, here’s the entrée as served at La Table du Marché — green asparagus stalks surrounded by a sauce made of faiselle (a fresh, soft cheese) that had been blended with pistachio paste, and then garnished with grated rind of preserved lemons and curls of braised onion:

From the chef at La Table du Marché.

At Restaurant Eléonore in Monpazier, the approach was a bit lighter. The plate included both white and green asparagus, garnished with several small mounds of soft white cheese and a number of young beet leaves. Then there was the purple oval that looked like, perhaps, a grape. Nope — it was a hard-boiled quail’s egg that had been marinated in balsamic vinegar, and proved to be absolutely delicious. How clever!

From the chef at Restaurant Eléonore.

As you might expect, the three of us enjoyed both asparagus dishes. But if I had to pick my favourite, the creation at Restaurant Eléonore would win by a nose. Or a quail’s egg.

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Catching up with Tuesday (V-E Day)

This past Tuesday was the 8th of May, celebrated in France as the Fête de la Victoire, which is the anniversary of the end of World War II, at least in Europe. Because my wife Jan and I have been in a bit of a social whirl this week, I’m just getting to write my report now.

Last year, I posted “Democracy at ground level” (May 8, 2017) which covered not only the V-E Day ceremony but also the voting and ballot-counting for the French national election.

This year’s ceremony in Daglan was relatively short, with no special additions, such as school children singing or reciting poetry. I thought it was reasonably well attended, and properly sombre. And it took place in welcome sunshine.

The ceremony begins with our village officials gathering in front of the restaurant Le Petit Paris, next to the war memorial. Here’s a first look, as our Mayor, Pascal Dussol, walks briskly to his position, to begin his remarks:

The Mayor heads for his position.

And now everything and everyone are in place, as the ceremony begins:

Ready to place the flowers.

This is when two senior members of the village council place flowers at the foot of the flagpole, in front of the war memorial, assisted by a young girl:

Flowers at the base of the flagpole.

With the flowers in place, it’s time to raise the French flag over the ceremony:

The flag is being raised.

The ceremony then proceeds as it has in the past — lengthy remarks by the Mayor on the meaning of the day, singing by those assembled (which of course includes the national anthem), and a moment of silence.

And then we all walked along to the nearby playground of Daglan’s school, next to the Mairie, for the vin d’honneur — drinks and a selection of snacks, and of course the inevitable chatting in French and English about recent events. Convivial!

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The Anglophones do it again!

It’s not quite an annual tradition, but the Sunday lunch planned and prepared and served by the Anglophones of Daglan for members of the Club de l’Amitié (Friendship Club) is not just a success, but an event clearly welcomed and enjoyed by our French neighbours. Which is, of course, the idea.

For a bit of background, you can have a look at my posting of May 2, “The Anglo lunch: Take 2.”

Yesterday’s lunch at the Salle des fêtes attracted some 60 club members, which means a lot of food and drink was needed. Which in turn, meant a lot of work for the volunteers — residents who were born in countries where the first language is English, such as England, Scotland, and the United States.

My personal role was to arrange and then serve the cocktails as guests arrived, and I had chosen Pimm’s No. 1 Cup (to which I added extra gin, the requisite fruit garnishes, ice cubes, and a splash of 7-Up) and Buck’s Fizz (Prosecco, rather than Champagne, with orange juice). Since Pimm’s No. 1 is hardly known in France, it proved to be a great conversation-starter — usually beginning with something like “What in the world is this?”.

Once we got rolling, it was all good. At the start, however, I felt like the proverbial one-armed-wallpaper-hanger, as I madly tried to mix drinks as guests poured into the hall. Then a number of friends chipped in, helped organize the glasses for me, and pour and serve some of the drinks. After the drinks had been handed out, we all sat down for lunch.

Volunteers had set and decorated the tables, and it was all quite lovely. Have a look:

One of the attractive tables.

All the food was bought and then prepared by volunteers, some of whom cooked in their own kitchens, while others used the kitchen in the community hall. Here’s just one example of the care that went into the meal — some beautiful home-baked loaves of bread:

All set for slicing.

So, you’re asking, what did we eat? Good question. We began with cock-a-leekie soup (a traditional Scottish chicken-and-leek soup). This was followed by potted chicken (somewhat like a pâté), served with that home-baked bread. Then came the main course — fish pie, served with a salad.

Following French tradition, a cheese course came next — featuring English cheddar and an English blue cheese. This was a break from our first Anglophone lunch of two years ago, when we followed the British tradition of ending the meal with cheese. It turned out that this was a step too far for some of our French friends, so this time we ended the meal with dessert — a Scottish creation called Cranachan, which combines whipped cream, some oats, lots of raspberries, and a touch of whisky.

Oh, and there was lots and lots of red and white wine throughout the meal.

Now here’s a look at the hall as service was in full swing (please note the Canadian flag on the wall at the right, which came from you-know-who):

Service is under way.

And to close out this report, here’s another view of the tables as lunch continued:

Pretty much a full house.

A key sign of a successful meal is that people linger, and linger, and linger. And yesterday, they certainly did. (Okay, I admit that I got so engrossed in chatting with Dutch friends that I had to be booted away from our table, so the hall could be tidied up. Ours was the last table to be put away.)

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The Anglo lunch: Take 2

The Anglos of Daglan — those of us whose first language is English, whether we were born in England, Scotland, Ireland, or the United States — are now in high gear. Planning meetings have been held, recipes have been checked, shopping has begun.

This coming Sunday (May 6) Daglan’s Club de l’Amitié or Friendship Club is hosting the second lunch planned and prepared by the Anglophones, to be held in our village’s Salle des fêtes.

Added information: I’m inserting this paragraph (following the original posting)  because of a good question from an astute reader, who asked about attendance. Is the lunch only for Anglos? No, not at all. The point of the Friendship Club is, in part, to encourage different communities in Daglan to come together — whether English, Canadian, Scottish, Dutch, whatever — with the French locals. So, to attend the lunch, one simply needs to become a member of the club.

Our first such lunch was held two years ago, and on April 25, 2016, I reported on the event with a blog posting titled “Chuffed? C’est nous!” Here are some excerpts:

The Anglophones who live full-time or most of the year in Daglan are feeling pretty chuffed today. And well we might. Yesterday’s lunch for the Club de l’Amitié (Friendship Club) was a major success, and it was all planned, prepared and served by those of us whose first language is English. We even cleaned up the Salle des fêtes  afterwards.

As it turned out, everything went swimmingly, the result of several planning meetings, lots of phone calls and visits, careful shopping, lots of preparation, and those familiar Anglophone characteristics —joie de vivre and savoir faire.

We even decorated the hall and the tables, and it all looked pretty splendid. To give you a sense of the occasion, here’s a photo from that lunch of two years ago:

The tables looked good.

As for my role on Sunday, I’ll be creating lots of Pimm’s No. 1 Cup cocktails, tossing ice, cutting up fruit and cucumbers, and trying to keep up with our (undoubtedly) thirsty crowd. Should be fun!

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Our fields of gold

Suddenly, as April began to warm up and the rains started to slow down, the Greater Daglan Area began to be carpeted in fields of gold. Well, okay, the colour is actually yellow, but gold sounds better.

At the moment, two plants have taken a leading role in these displays. One is the humble dandelion, which sprouts up in all kinds of fields that aren’t being actively farmed. Here’s one such field, just beside the road that runs between our village of Daglan and the village of St. Cybranet, just to our north:

They may be weeds, but they’re pretty.

A much more commercial crop is the canola, or rapeseed plant, from which an excellent cooking oil is extracted. (In French, it’s huile de colza.) Here’s a large field of it, on the north side of the Dordogne River, across from Castelnaud:

Where cooking oil comes from.

Of course the real gold star of the GDA plant world is the sunflower. Later on, in the summer months, you’ll see sunflower fields all over the area. As a sort of coming-attraction feature, here’s a look at a huge field of sunflowers that I photographed a few summers ago, south of Bergerac:

If it’s sunflowers you want …

It’s just an impression I have, but I think crops of sunflowers are much more numerous now than they were a few years ago, while fields of tobacco are much more rare. Probably a good thing.

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