“All’s right with the world!”

Yes, I do know that all is not right with the world — far from it. However, that’s the first thing my wife Jan exclaimed today as we sat down for our first lunch of the year at Sawadee, the Thai restaurant in Cénac.

So while there are serious problems elsewhere on our planet, and indeed there are, at least there was a most happy couple today in the Greater Daglan Area.

For one thing, the sun has been shining, the temperature has broken through the 20-degree barrier (that’s 68 American), and flowering shrubs and trees are going gangbusters. Like this tree, in front of a large home near Sawadee:

One of the sure signs of spring.

Even better than the nice weather, however, was this year’s opening of Sawadee. In years past, the first meal (after a winter break) has been in February. But when we phoned to make a reservation, we were told that the restaurant was having work done — and that projects almost always take longer than first planned.

So, what was the work? Well, it’s quite nice — a completely new, crisp and clean bar area when you enter, which leads into a completely renovated kitchen, with all the latest high-tech cooking equipment, including refrigerated pull-out drawers.  Here’s a look:

Chef said she was delighted with her kitchen.

What counts, of course, is the food, and once again we were not disappointed. Jan had a shrimp dish that she loved, and I had my latest favourite — chicken sautéed with vegetables and cashews. Here’s my plate:

Tender chicken, and lots of veggies.

Even before I began to write this posting, I wanted to use Jan’s exclamation at lunch as my title. But when I sat down at the computer, Jan called up to me: “How about this for a title — ‘O joy, o bliss!'” And yes, that works as well. Good thing we’ve already made plans to have lunch at Sawadee with friends on Friday.

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Posted in Food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring Festival: from soggy to successful

Daglan’s Fête du Printemps, or Spring Festival, this year turned out to be almost a replay of the 2018 version — as the day started grey and drizzly, and then improved dramatically in the afternoon, with loads of shoppers strolling throughout the village and cars parked just about everywhere.

In fact, my description of last year’s event had a title much like today’s posting — “A wet fête turns sunny” it was called, on March 18, 2018.

As for this year’s event, around noon yesterday (March 17), my wife Jan and I walked up to the village bakery, where we were to meet friends Suzanne and Mark and head for a lunch outside Daglan. Here’s a couple of views of what we saw, starting with just a scattering of shoppers, carrying umbrellas or wearing hoods:

Umbrellas were a wise choice.

There’s no doubt that there was a great assortment of plants — flowers, vegetables, shrubs, vines, and trees — for sale at various locations throughout Daglan. On top of that, there were vendors selling a wide variety of wares, including various food items and  local wines. Here’s a nice grouping of flowers in the main village square:

A beautiful (but damp) selection of flowers.

In any case, we drove out of the village feeling as if the festival might not be much of a hit this year, simply because of the weather. Our lunch, on the other hand, was a definite hit — it was the second time that Jan and I had eaten at Restaurant O Moulin in Carsac-Aillac, and we and our friends had a really delicious meal.

I give this restaurant a very strong recommendation, so if you missed my detailed review, please have a look. It was called “A river runs through it,” and it was posted February 12, 2019.

After lunch, we drove back into Daglan — and were delighted to see that the sun had come out, and so had hordes of shoppers and visitors. As I’ve said before, this is a fête worth continuing.

Posted in Festivals in France, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

For lovers of flowers and other plants

If you live in the Greater Daglan Area, and you like growing flowers and other plants, this coming Sunday (March 17) would be a great day to visit our village. If you don’t meet those two criteria (GDA residency and flowerphilia) you can stop reading now.

What happens Sunday is the fourth annual version of Daglan’s Fête du Printemps, or Spring Festival, and it’s one of the area’s first festivals devoted to the display and sale of flowers, vegetables, vines, shrubs, flowering trees and other plants. The weather here in mid-March is often cool and overcast if not rainy, but there’s still lots of action.

If you’d like to learn more, and see photos, my previous postings on the festival were on March 20, 2016; March 18, 2017; and March 18, 2018.

Here’s one of the festival’s brightly coloured promotional signs that I photographed today:

Our village does pretty good signage, I think.

Also on tap for Sunday are a number of exhibitions, activities for children, and a stuffed-chicken lunch at 12:30, with a fee of 20 euros for adults and 10 euros for children. (To reserve for the lunch, call 05 – 53 – 28 – 41 – 16.) But the display and sale of plants is, for sure, the main event.

 

Posted in Festivals in France, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A trip to France’s (seriously south) South

If you’re asked to locate “the south of France,” you probably would say either “Provence” or “the French Riviera, as far east as the Italian border.” If you’re asked about southwest France (where Daglan is located), you might say “south of Bordeaux, and down to the Spanish border.” All good answers.

But now my wife Jan and I have travelled to a seriously south part of Deep South France — to Martinique, which is a département and Region of France, and has a population of about 375,000. It’s located in the Caribbean, a bit south of Dominica and a bit north of St. Lucia.

In late February and early March, we spent a warm and relaxing week at the Club Med on Martinique, about an hour’s drive south of the airport in the island’s main city, Fort-de-France.

When we lived in Toronto, we often vacationed in the Caribbean islands, from Anguilla and the Bahamas to Grenada and Montserrat, and many more. But Martinique was our first French island, where the currency is the euro and the main language is French and the electrical plugs are just like the ones we have in Daglan. Easy!

Making it all the more fun was the fact that six of our best friends — all members in good standing of the Wild Forest Pig Contrada — were there with us.

What follows in the remainder of this posting is primarily a visual record of just how warm, tropical and lovely the island is.

I’ll start with a view outward towards the Caribbean, from the beach at the Club Med:

Looking out over the Caribbean.

One of our previous concerns about a Club Med vacation was that we’d be pressured into a bunch of activities. But as we learned on our vacation at a Club Med in Morocco, you don’t have to take part if you’re not interested. So, for this dance-around-the-pool activity, we just stayed on the sidelines (in lounge chairs):

Lots of action around the pool.

Nice views were part of the attraction of our stay, whether we were on the beach, at the pool, or in one of the open-air eating areas. Here’s another look:

Lots of boats across the harbour.

Palm trees were pretty much everywhere at the sprawling Club Med property (a bit too sprawling, I thought), and this is the view from the back patio of our room:

Palm trees pretty much everywhere.

In the morning, exercise classes were held in this shelter, which I’ve photographed from the open-air dining room where I was having breakfast:

The place for exercise classes.

Water skiing, kayaking, and kite-surfing were among the available activities, and here’s our intrepid friend Keith out in a kayak:

So many destinations, so little time.

I went off the Club Med property only once, when our group of eight walked to a beach-side restaurant for lunch. But others ventured farther, into the village of Saint Anne. Here’s Keith again, with his wife Kathy, at a colourful market in the village (photo by our friend Darlene):

Talk about colourful!

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Tranquillity Base: A lunch in Paris

Several years ago, on one of our periodic visits to Paris, my wife Jan and I happened upon an elegant old hotel, tucked away behind some arches along one side of the Place des Vosges, which is located in the Marais district on the city’s Right Bank.

Place des Vosges, by the way, is the oldest planned square in Paris, and it’s worth seeing. In fact, says the Paris Marais website:  “A stroll in the Marais without admiring the Place des Vosges is like a walk on the Champs Élysées without seeing the Arc de Triomphe!”

In any case, Jan and I were quite taken with the charming hotel, known as Le Pavillon de la Reine. It turns out that the hotel was built in 1612 (Gads!), and was named for Queen Anne of Austria, who had stayed in one of the wings. Always interested in new places to stay while in Paris, we asked the concierge for a list of the room prices.

And that was the last thing I remembered before the medics brought me out of cardiac arrest.

Okay, I’m kidding about the cardiac arrest, but let’s just say that the prices (even for a top Parisian hotel) seemed a bit steep. We crossed it off our must-try list, but for some reason the hotel lingered in our memories. Then, last year, I read that the hotel had opened its first-ever  restaurant — Restaurant Anne. Since we knew we would be in Paris in February, we made a reservation for lunch.

Now here’s a look at Le Pavillon de la Reine, taken from its quiet front courtyard:

A hidden gem of a hotel.

Restaurant Anne is located in the library of the hotel, on the ground floor, and is nothing if not peaceful (hence my title, Tranquillity Base). Here’s a look at the table next to ours, with a wall of books behind it:

The table next to ours.

While the room prices seem sky-high to Jan and me, the cost of the three-course lunch menu was a manageable 55 euros. For each course, you’re offered two choices, and as it happened, we both wanted the same dishes.

Our entrée was billed as seiches grillées au barbecue, or grilled cuttlefish, served with spring asparagus and a squid-ink sauce. It was quite tasty, but I thought that the cuttlefish pieces had barely been cooked, much less barbecued. Here’s how my plate looked:

The seafood could have been  more barbecued.

Our plat principal was billed on the menu as comme un navarin, or “like a navarin,” and I’m not sure why — since it seemed to be a (very good) plate of the traditional French spring stew of lamb and vegetables. Each  dish included two nice servings of lamb (a chop and a piece of shoulder), and a delicious rich sauce. Here’s my serving:

My delicious lamb dish.

To finish, Jan and I both ordered a cheese course rather than a dessert, and enjoyed the thin slices of Manchego (the wonderful Spanish sheep’s milk cheese), served over a salad of bitter greens.  Here’s my plate:

A nice twist on the cheese course.

All in all, Restaurant Anne is a pleasant spot with good food. The obvious question is always: Would you return? And my answer would be: Probably not. But that’s only because Paris is loaded with so many fine restaurants (including those with one, two or three Michelin stars) that we haven’t tried yet. More trips to Paris, clearly, are needed.

Posted in Food, French food, Holidays in France, Paris restaurants, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A few end-of-winter brighteners

Winter is breaking up in the Greater Daglan Area, and for that we’re truly grateful. We’ve had several months in which grey seemed to be the most dominant colour. So in the spirit of the coming spring, today I’m offering just a few visual brighteners.

First, here’s a tree that I photographed yesterday (March 6) in the nearby town of Gourdon:

In full bloom, in early March.

And here’s a bright orange hot air balloon that I saw hovering above the village of Castelnaud (about 10 kilometres north of Daglan), on February 20:

Up, up and away!

Finally, here’s a scene that you probably wouldn’t associate with the Greater Daglan Area; there is a connection, although it’s fairly tenuous. However, all will be revealed in a later posting.

Meanwhile, enjoy the view:

No, that’s not the Dordogne River.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | 2 Comments

A brine too far

This posting will move swiftly along the path from a favourite food of mine (pork) to my recent experiments with a cooking technique (brining meats). Fasten your seat belts.

I’ll begin by admitting I’m a sucker for pork. When we lived in Toronto and would go out to dinner, it was a no-brainer for me to choose the daily special, as long as it was something like “A thick-cut maple-glazed pork chop.”

Unfortunately, chewing the meat sometimes was like eating “thick-cut maple-glazed cardboard.” That’s because (I think) North American pigs have become leaner and leaner, so that there is not nearly as much flavourful fat marbling through the meat.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here in France, where we find the pork generally very tasty.

Nevertheless, I thought I would have a try at brining pork, because (a) I knew it could be done, and (b) I have become very fond of brining turkey.

(You can read about my turkey-brining success in “Getting the turkey right,” posted December 26, 2018, in which I declared that my wife Jan and I thought the brined meat “was simply excellent — moist and tender and delicious. Not at all like the dry, almost tasteless turkey that is far too common.”)

My starting point for the latest experiment was the recipe for “Maple-Brined Pork Loin” from the website Allrecipes.com. As you can imagine, the salt solution — which accomplishes the brining — was jazzed up with (among other things) maple syrup, crushed garlic, chopped ginger, and red pepper flakes.

And here’s our pork roast, after an overnight brining in the salt-and-maple-syrup solution:

All ready for the oven.

For the last part of the roasting, the recipe called for basting the pork with a mixture of Dijon mustard and maple syrup. And when it was done, I think it looked fairly splendid, as you’ll see below:

All ready for the carving knife.

But of course the proof of the brining is in the eating, and both Jan and I thought the final product wasn’t really worth the effort.  I should make clear that I have no problem with the recipe itself; Jan thought the pork tasted nicely of maple syrup, while I thought it was nicely peppery.

However, the actual texture of the meat hadn’t changed all that much; I think I would have achieved a similar taste simply by basting the roast with maple syrup and Dijon mustard.

But that’s here in France. Brining might be a good technique to try if you think the pork in your country is simply too lean.

Posted in Food, Life in southwest France, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments