Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Go Nomad Article... Cynthia Bowman

A Slow, Family Weekend in The Charente, France

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Tags: Family Europe France

A countryside walk in Charentes, southwest France. Brad Bowman photos.
Walking-off the Sunday meal...

By Cynthia Bowman

An old bike with flowers. A perfect yard adornment.
An old bike with flowers...
Photos by Brad Bowman

The Bowman clan, as we call ourselves, are a road tripping family. We’re strategically based in Northern Spain for quick access into France and continental Europe. Proximity to the border allows us to satisfy road trip impulses to destinations dreamed of, but unknown.

We’ve sped through the French countryside on our way to Paris, Berlin or other parts, countless times. On these drives past fields and hilltop villages, I pin idyllic spots on my iPhone mapfor a future return. Reviewing the map one day, I noticed a cluster of pins in the same area: the region of Charente in Southwest France. With beautiful spring weather and a long weekend coming up, I planned the next family road trip.

Roadsigns in Charente, France If you Google the Charente you’ll find that geographically, it’s huge. Travel websites mention a handful of larger cities with the prerequisite “must visit” cathedral or “picturesque” fishing village.

But the Google search for information about my digital map pins in the region amounted to nothing. No landmarks, no mentions of typical travel clichés like “quaint, charming or not-to-be-missed”.

I found a cooking school in the area — an American chef in the Charente. I sent an email to this American and decided we’d pack up and spend a long, family weekend exploring the Charente, to see what all the nothing was about.

Day 1: Charmé, restless backseaters and the American

Picking dandelions, ahh, time to relax!
Picking dandelions, ahh, time to relax!

We departed Spain early to arrive at a village named Charmé by mid-morning for our scheduled market tour and lunchtime cooking lesson. 
Driving through the area I realized why I pinned it on my digital map. Green, rolling fields with geometric swaths of bright yellow flowers ran for what seemed like infinity. Winding one-lane roads flanked by tall, graceful trees led over the hills to nowhere.

The iPad battery was running low and the kids, getting progressively restless, interrupted my mental wandering. “Mom, are we there yet?” they asked. Oh, the age-old question of getting there.

Do we learn that question in preschool, along with sharing, writing our name and obediently eating all our animal cookies? “Yes, we are here!” I excitedly proclaimed. The family’s reaction was underwhelming. “This is it? There’s nothing here,” my husband said.

Nothing? The colorful scene before us had been the subject of my children’s drawings and paintings for years. Don’t kids dream of sunny days, flowers and open fields? This beautiful place is something.
Chez Gautier cooking school
L'apréro on the terrace... Chez Gautier.
The mood lightened as the winding road led us up a hill, past greeting horses and into a beautiful stone village. Driving through the narrow, walled-in village was a relief to my kids and husband. It was as if the village walls held them safely like a hug, while the open space of just a few minutes earlier, created the feeling of something alien and dangerous to avoid.
Standing in front of a beautiful stone house was an impossibly tall man — the American. As we exchanged greetings, we learned that the American’s name is Graham, founder of Chez Gautier Cooking School. Graham spends half the year in San Francisco as an executive chef and the other half in Charmé hosting food and cooking tours.
The tour started right away as we hurried off to the morning markets searching for the latest, local oysters, bread, cheeses and other artisan items to prepare back at what Graham lovingly called his “ruin”.

Cook, eat, Repeat

Local mackerel ready to grill...perfect!
Local mackerel ready to grill... Perfect!
 The ruin, a beautiful and rustic, converted 16th century stable with tall post and beam ceilings, Graham guided us through food preparation. The kids would wander off to play in the field while the adults drank beer, listened to jazz and practiced at the art of chucking oysters. The girls would occasionally 
check back to watch us pop open the oysters, more deftly each time, hoping to spy a black pearl in one of them.
The lesson, food preparation and subsequent lunch were a treat. Delicious courses came together in a kitchen lacking state-of-the-art gadgets like crème brûlée torches or electronic bread makers. We took cues from the simple surroundings to create easy, rustic dishes.
strawberries or walnuts off the tree outside. 
Shucking oysters with Chef Graham, owner of the cooking school.
Oyster chucking with Chef Graham...
In typical French fashion, lunch ambled on for several hours, with more and more courses prepared spontaneously after devouring the previous. The food of the Charente is perfect for kids. Simple quality ingredients like poultry, delicately flavored white fish, potatoes and bread are prepared and served, free of complicated sauces and unrecognizable spices. No "I'm bored!" was uttered during this slow lunch, thanks to Graham's well-timed requests for the girls to go forage for dandelion greens, wild strawberries, or "green" walnuts outside.

the good life
The good life... Poitou-Charente, France.

Pineau, Nazis and Bonbons

After the novelty of eating wore off, we took a long hike through the countryside. On our walk, we met Graham’s neighbors, Jean Moreau and his wife, Genevieve. The Moreaus live in a large manor just a short walk from Graham’s “ruin”. They own most of the land and villages in the area, like modern-day French nobility.

The Moreaus invited us into their home and served us Jean’spersonal, bottled pineau, a potent wine liquor produced from the grapevines he planted 40 years ago. The girls ate chocolate bonbons politely and in typical free-roaming-child fashion, would disappear to a neighboring farm to visit the cows and livestock.

A highlight of the visit with Jean was his story of how the German town of Baustert became Charmé’s sister city. Charmé and much of the region was occupied by Nazis in the early 1940s.

The cooking school. Although life for the villagers was oppressive and dangerous, certain Nazi soldiers were kind and kept the children and villagers safe from their more brutal Nazi comrades. Some of these surviving soldiers and their families from Baustert are guests of honor at a formal meal held in Charmé every other year.

Day 2: Aigre and Apricots

We spent the next morning in the relatively busy village of Aigre. The main road has several bakeries offering the best, oversized croissants we’ve ever tasted. Much to the delight of the girls, the season called for the croissants to be stuffed with large, ripe apricots that were perfectly sweet and tart.

We gave the kids some pocket change and let them explore the farmer’s market while we watched from a neighboring café. The girls debated whether to buy candy, but in the end returned with handfuls of 
carrots and apricots for the cows and horses.
Hiking near a dolmen
Hiking a dolmen outside of Mahle.

A villager suggested we see the ancient dolmens a short drive away. We made a final stop at a boutique called Chez Mathilde for local soap, jars of truffle mustards and enough condiments for any respectable chef-in-training, before driving off in search of the dolmens.

Dan Brown and a pile of Rocks

The ancient dolmens are giant rock tombs. They are notas remarkable as Stone Henge, but the kids were hooked on these mysterious, 5000 year old stone formations.  Curiosity ruled as we enjoyed a
 sandwich picnic under a tree while the girls climbed the slabs and wondered how humans with no power equipment were able to move and assemble the giant, heavy rocks long ago.

By late afternoon, we enjoyed a sunset at the Medeval Cemetery nearby where Templar Knights are buried. Each sarcophagus has a unique sword relief carved on the stone. The children had many questions about the Knights. Years of reading Dan Brown paid off! We were able to spin a fantastical web of Templar Knight stories about wars, treasures and the Holy Grail worthy of a novel.

Day 3: The drive Home
It was unusually quiet and heavy in the car as we left the fields we trepidly arrived at some days earlier.
Rapeseeds and sky on the N10 driving home.
Rapeseeds and sky on the N10 driving home.

An hour later, our 8-year-old asked for her road trip companion, the iPad. We realized that there were no requests for wi-fi or electronics until that moment! The kids were blissfully distracted all weekend by life itself. The twice daily routine of visits to their Charentais animal friends, wandering and eating well all day, followed by nighttime legendof Templar Knights that lulled us all to sleep left us with no time for anything else.
“Well, what did you think about our roadtrip?” I asked her before she donned her headset to wander into a private electronic universe. “It was awesome, mama,” she said. “Let’s do nothing in France again sometime!”

Practical Information

The region of Aigre-Charmé is 40 km north of Angouleme, accessed by the N-10.

There is a varied selection of hotels and bed and breakfasts less than an hour away in the larger town of Angouleme, as well as the coastal area. For a quiet, local experience, book a gite, or home, in the traditional stone facade style, for less than $100 per night. 2 or 3 lodging options we liked:

Chatelaine bed and breakfast
Git du Pin Perdu holiday rental for 2
Les Hirondelles holiday rental for a family up to 5 people

To schedule a cooking class with Graham Gathright:
pastis at the cooking school
Evening pastis... Chez Gautier.
Pineau de Charentes

Pineau de Charentes, is a local wine liqueur, similar to sherry and port, made by barrel aging a blend of local grapes and cognac. The liquer will become finer the longer it is barrel aged. Pineau that is aged more than 10 years is the most sought after and is classified as tres vieux pineau.

Available as a red, white or rosé, it pairs well with sharp cheeses and foie gras. Served chilled, the Charentais will sometimes add sparkling water to create a lighter, bubbly version. Although most pineau is consumed locally, there are increasing numbers of distillers exporting it to the US.

Cynthia Bowman

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Cynthia Bowman is a freelance writer and global traveler with a husband, two kids and a dog in tow. She lives in Spain. Follow her travels at www.joyjournist.com

Sunday, June 7, 2015

L'Apèro... Chicken Liver Pâté

 The l'apèro, that chance to catch a breath, unplug, close out the day. A chair, a glass, a nibble of something salty... In Charmé, it might be with a "Cognac Schwepp's", the marrying of young cognac, tonic, and lemon. Or, a chilled Pineau des Charentes: eau de vis, young white or red wine, and time in a glass. Pairings can be as simple as olives, chips, or peanuts, but with very little effort, a more interesting plate can be offered.
 Pâté is creamy, elegant, and easy! Made with duck or chicken livers(as seen below), this pot of goodness, along with a mound of cornichon, some whole grained mustard, and toasted baguette... Just gorgeous. All that's left is something sparkling in the glass, perhaps pink, or an icy vodka.

Chicken Liver Paté

Active: 25 Mins.
Total Time: 30 mins., and overnight to chill.
Servings: 6-8

Note: Top extra pots with thin layer of warm butter before wrapping, refrigerating. Can last up to a week in refrigerator. 

1/2 lbs. chicken livers, well trimmed
1/2 small shallot
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
Couple sprigs of terragon, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped
Fleur de Sel, or Kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
Splash of cognac
Freshly ground pepper
Toasted baguette
Whole grained mustard

 In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken livers, shallot, garlic, bay leaf, terragon sprigs, and a couple pinches salt. Add the water, bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, cook, stirring occasionally until livers are barely pink inside, about 3 mins. Remove from heat, let stand, covered, about 5 mins.
 Discard the bay and terragon. Using slotted spoon, transfer the livers, shallot, and garlic to a food processor. Process until coarsely puréed. With machine on, add butter, one smaller piece at a time, until incoperated. Add cognac and extra chopped terragon, season with salt and pepper, process until completely smooth. Scrape páté into 2-3 large ramekins. Place plastic wrap directly onto surface of the páté, refridgerate overnight, or until firm. Serve chilled.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Too Long...

It's been a while since I last tapped on these pages, never a good thing to be away for long. Life tends to get in the way when we let it. In the meantime summer has sped past, with it went many good meals had in the garden; one of the very few benefits to come from the draught that has settled upon California. Yeah, Berkeley pulled over it's foggy blanket most evenings, but the days proved consistenly clear and sunny. The plots grew well, gave readily. It's always good when you find it difficult to keep up with eating as much as your garden is offering.
"Jaune Flamme"

 Sipping the morning's coffee, watching "Squirley", the slender dusty chestnut squirrel who shares my yard shimmy down through a thatch of bamboo, persimmon thievery no doubt in mind, the first real feel of season's change sets in with a sun seemingly a bit more soft peeking through morning clouds. He/she tends to take as many as able, stashes them about various spots to get good soft and rotten. They've been uncovered every where from inside potted roses to tucked along the herb patch to simply resting in the crown of lavender plants. Suits me fine that this quest results in the figs being left alone, which now litter the turned earth, ground coffee brown and moist from last night's precious rain, where tomato plants once stood. No where near the luscious gifts from Mnsr. Jean's tree down the white lane behind Charmé's church, those being perhaps the best figs this one's ever eaten; the way something so perfect stays with you when eaten at it's best, your best. But, these small black figs, that for much of my time living here at the cottage have been dry and pulpy, are shaping up so well that the need arose to hunt down some Jamon Ibérico. Just a bit, paper thin, a lovely sheen of fatty oil on the flesh.

Les radis.
 As for the tomatoes, they weren't pretty, foliage a little thin and reedy. But they produced in a fine way, "Black Krim" and "Jaune Flamme" standing out in quantity as well as on the plate; the one place it really matters. Seldom, if ever, have the good people at Berkeley Horticulture been stumped, and stumped they appeared when presented the sad little leaves. Found myself one weekday morning with a handful of some of the smartest there are in the trade, who finally summed it up with a shrug and suggestion to "Just change tomato location next year." That and, along with the usual winter "amending", do an off-season of something like... favas. Still, didn't want for tomatoes this year though, the plants all gave abundantly. 
Garden pesto and friends.
 With most everything in except some lingering Kale and Swiss chard, there's a wait on that last push of Indian Summer heat that tends to arrive in the Bay Area about this time to encourage the rows of chilli plants now flowering. Four types: Calabrian, Jimmy Nardello, and two heirlooms scavenged from a friends previous harvest whose names escape me. My first year for this, and optimism is high despite a late start from seed. Come oooooon heat wave! Will probably happen when back in France to wrap up the house for winter. Oh, well... They won't go to waste. Wonder if Squirley has a taste for the épicé?!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bye Joe's

A quick note on change: It ain't easy. The year just past presented more than a little in the way of this, profound life changes to be sure. We've all seen them, dealt with them. "It's part of life", as they say. Maybe the only constant. Still, this past calendar tested me, made me earn it.

 So it was a couple of weeks back that I dragged a friend out to the fringe of San Francisco, to a quiet residential neighborhood known primarily for it's preserved "little boxes", perfect examples of the mid-century modern signature work of architect Henry Doelger. Joe's of Westlake, true to all the lines and angles of the surrounding neighborhood, along with heaping plates of Italian food was soon to close. Already full 15 minutes after it's 11:30 opening, the lines we're said to have begun an hour before. Squeezing in to the packed bar, Steve greeted me like a true pro, shook my hand, took my order of Manhattans Up, and spat out without hesitation the bar (Harry's on Fillmore) where I'd poured drinks some 25 years earlier. The cool bourbon struck a note just shy of noon, appropriate for a send-off. Packed like 9:00 on a Friday night, nearly everyone with cocktail in hand, Mad Men would have been proud of the booze being lifted to mouth.

 Somehow despite the hour quote, we were soon called to the podium, a preferred corner of the counter was available. We pulled ourselves away from the warm and inclusive group, handshakes all around,  with the admission from patron Mike of having eaten lunch at Joe's "everyday for 35 years." I didn't doubt him. Navigating through to the main dining room, there was no hesitation when offered the far seat right beside the "pass" by a departing silver haired man of 70-something. "Best seat in the house. Can see everything from that angle", he said, clutching a sack of fried shrimp and ravioli to go. Tight and fit, skin weathered like a fisherman, wet eyes were all he could offer in the way of goodbye when I responded to his lament of the eminent closing with, "At least we're here today."
 The angle was as good as he'd said, the charcoal grill beside us shooting flame with each slab of meat added, a parade of people lined along the Formica surface, the din of the busy room making ordering seem more like a shout. But order we did:  Chicken Caccitore with Rigatoni, Veal Piccata with Ravioli. Cheap wine of unknown origin hit the glass, and tasted just fine. The food came plentiful and it came fast, little mounds of zucchini, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower wedged in with the rest. In this golden age of Italian food taking place around the Bay Area, Joe's is more like the "other" place in Big Night. There's no salumi program on premises, no reference to "artisanal" technique. Instead, just brimming plates of hot food, and people spilling through the doorway. Quiet set in as it does when eating is the focus, smiles and nods shared easily with others beside us also dredging their plates clean with the moist slabs of sour dough that kept appearing. Butter wasn't needed, but it was there none the less, foil wrapped at the ready in case. Being well full didn't stop us from tearing into an order of tiramisu, tasting as good as the last time I'd had it, which had been quite a long while back. The coffee was weak and hot, topped off promptly before either cup got beyond half way. Lingering would have been as easy as the conversations that were started, an added benefit of being at the end of the counter where "take-out" was initiated and also picked up. No let up in the still surging crowd though had us call for the check. It came with a firm hand shake and look in the eye from the seasoned server, who thanked us and meant it. His smile never faded as he turned to top off water glasses, a prodigious middle peaking from the starched white waste cut jacket.
 Snaking my way through the throng to the cashier, the owner freely held court with two employees, explaining how they could expect their tips the following Monday, the day after closing. No secrets, no pretense. This was family, where countless birthday, anniversary, graduation, and christening feasts had taken place. I'd even been to two wakes there. Assurances were given to a couple of regulars over the sink in the Men's Room that the new owners would do a thorough and respectful job to re-create what existed now. (Rumors had recently been confirmed that there would be a reunion with Original Joe's in North Beach, once a connected entity before a split.) "Yeah, but it'll come at a price," one said, and went on to speak of how many of the older patrons would come in for a meal then eat for days after on  the left overs. "Beats cat food," added his friend. Remembering the $3.85 Manhattans, their point hit home.
 Still, we shook clean hands as they made way for their final meal, and we waded through to the door; everyone seemingly warm and happy, trying to catch your attention, no greeting was to missed today.
 Once in the quiet outside, we headed down a side street, the lot being untouchable earlier. Nothing was said until seat belts came into play, and achingly full bellies had us laughing. We sat for a beat, caught our breaths, groaned a bit more. Yeah, change does come, but may it not be at the price of spirit. You can find a better plate of pasta perhaps, but Joe's and places like it are about so much more than that. 

Chez Gautier Cooking School: http://www.chez-gautier.com

Friday, December 27, 2013

Bake away...

 Not sure why people bake more during the holidays. Don't care! People are baking, and that's excellent. Tins packed brimming, shoe boxes lined in wax paper, heaping plates and dishes, or just good old tin foil... All have been answering that mid-afternoon-with-coffee craving, or the late night call when Christmas movies have been running to bleary eyed extreme. Who am I kiddin', I'm a sugar junkie. But, that does not come without standards, my way of saying I at least eye-ball what ever is heading for the bouche. Slows me down just a beat from a continual flow from hand to mouth. A small concession, so be it.

 Whether iced or glazed, topped in nuts or candied bits, powdered or simply left to their own merits, this got me thinking of the habit, no the ritual, of baking at this time of year. Pies at Thanksgiving come close, a measured and reverent process. Yet all the prep and effort are focused on one day, where as the December baking animal has nearly the whole month to play. There's also the added element of the result of so much sugar, butter, and eggs as "gift", far superior to the sweater, perfume, or "gift card" angle. Yeah, just one guy's opinion. Still, take a second before tossing back that chunk of chocolate bark, chewey ginger cookie, or bourbon laced shortbread, and think of the one who made what fills your paw. In a warm kitchen, butter hanging thick in the air, she or he have spent long hours mixing and rolling, promptly rotating sheet trays in and out of ovens, allowing for just the right amount of cooling, product stacking up here, there, and everywhere, all the while flour coats counters, floors, and probably a good amount of the bakers themselves.

 When eventually packed for giving, a list of names checked off, a well earned glass poured... Ah, that's got to feel good. No mall rush, parking place frenzy, sale isle wrestling, shopping cart crashin'... Nah, just people making stuff for people they dig. I'm good with that. Happy holiday cookies to you.

Chez Gautier Cooking School: http://www.chez-gautier.com

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Repas CG: The Aftermath... November 22

Got together for a "night thing" recently, a chance to gather before packing bags, firing up the car, and diving into family for the Thanksgiving holiday. La Fin de Semaine hoped to put a close to the work week, escape the urge for early holiday shopping with a glass and a plate by the fire. Wood was popping and crackling when the first guests arrived, who I promptly put to "work" lighting the room in candles to counter the early darkness of the season.
 Steaming bowls of cauliflower soup got us started, mounds of Petrale sole done in a dry pan before cleaning it up with white wine, butter, and lemon were set in the center. Went with one of those bright, white things I've come to love from region south of Charmé, bearing some of the varietals used for cognac (or armagnac): Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Gros Manseng. It went well with the fish, the roasted vegetables. Another log on the fire, and on to the hen legs, stuffed with Swiss chard, garlic, lemon zest, thyme, and bread crumbs. These were sliced thick and placed on acorn squash that had been whole roasted before being scooped to plate, hit with olive oil and fleur de sel.  As an after thought, I tossed on some toasted pistachios to add a bit of crunch. Had wanted a Burgundy for this, but was steered by friend and wine guy David to an Arbois from the Jura. Same neighborhood, but the blend was uniquely obscure: Poulsard and Trousseau were blended with the Pinot Noir. Light in the glass, depth in the mouth. He'd nailed it.
 Tossed arugula accompanied cheeses from each end of the realm: thick and decadent triple-cream cow and funky, sharp goat. A cru Beaujolais from Régnié eased us along, the 100% Gamay hitting the mark. Needing something sweet, but not too heavy, I'd baked some bisquits aux noix. Thing is, I'd remembered how one regular guest loves chocolate, and it had been a while since it last found it's way to the table. So... A little kiss of chocolate ganache, and all is right with the world. Well, at least in our mouths. The fire burned on... coffee was made... cognac... A good finish to the week, a good start to the holidays.

Recipes and Wine Notes on request.

Chez Gaurier Cooking School: http://www.chez-gautier.com

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving... Dirty Trick

 Not sure about you, but when I hear the term "turkey trot" I imagine that not so graceful descent to the nearby carpet, rug, etc. while slipping into that warm post meal cacoon. So when much loved niece and nephew encouraged my presence southward for this past Thanksgiving to their "hoods", beaches Newport and Laguna respectively, it was easy to say, "I'm in!" Good grub, fine company, and a few adult beverages mixed in as well.
 It all started out well enough, as Jordan put his gifted surgeons hands to work on an impeccable cioppino. Clams, mussels, flaky chunks of  whitefish all in a broth that was... exceptional. Sour dough ruled the day, sopping up what spoons couldn't, while Cesar salad did greens proud. Crisp whites and good local beer competed for favors depending on mood, and the first round of freshly baked goods were unveiled: crumbly fruit bars and mini pecan tarts. Yep, a fine beginning. As the white turned to red, my glass finding itself as destination, it became apparent that the afore mentioned turkey trot was in fact a 10K the following morning along the waterfront of nearby Dana Point. Somehow my enthusiasm actually grew, coincidently as the consuming continued. It wan't long before I was down right inspired. 
 With the rustling of the waking house at a little past 5:00, my having seemingly just gone to bed, the initial doubts began about a run of distance for the first time in... Oh, let's say YEARS! It's not that I don't try to keep fit, but most who have run only to find themselves away from the regular practice, know well the potential for pain, agony, and embarrassment when rolling from bed to starting line with no real preparation. Buoyed by a sky stained in sunrise, a great vibe, and little to no thought of the consequences, I launched. Once your in it, as the saying goes... It was in fact pretty smooth, and quick. That was until I opened it up a bit along what appeared to be the stretch to the finish line, only to find that it was the HALF WAY MARK!!!
 Well, it may not have been a thing of beauty, but your will to continue comes on mighty strong when threatened of being passed by... everybody; especially a particularly quick and determined 7 year old. Got through it in decent fashion, and on to the parade of water, bananas, and Cliff Bars. Wasn't long following a beer and a shower that I cooked up a pâté, cheeses and charcuterie were layed out, and football games became the soundtrack of the day. While,we all contributed different dishes to the whole, it was Carol who'd trekked down with husband Monte from the Central Valley that did the heavy lifting: pies, turkey and ham, stuffing... oh, the stuffing. About anything you can imagine. So good was it all, so grateful was I. Which is the point, isn't it?The chance to sit with people that matter, sharing a bountiful table, and remind yourself of how truly fortunate you are.

Recipes and Wine Notes available on request.

Chez Gautier Cooking School: http://www.chez-gautier.com

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Repas CG: The Aftermath... November 10

 With the approach of last week's annual homage to "little birds", I had had one of my favorite butchers from the Charente in mind. He and his wife have been fixtures at the Saturday market in nearby Ruffec, arriving with their shop on wheels. When presenting that day's birds be they quail, pheasant, or pigeon, he tends to lean over the glass case with a smile, and a proud "Trois jours." or "Une semaine.", refering to the time spent aging, the better to lift moisture, increase flavor. The word "fresh" can be a relative thing, differing from interpretations back here in the States. So it was that I began my prep work earlier than normal in the week. Quail was secured, lightly salted, and set in the "frigo". There was also duck sausage to make, done with the whole bird, dried blueberries, fresh herbs, and garlic. In the latter I benefited greatly with the help of a generous and talented friend, she of the Michelin Star won at only 26, back-in-the-day. Beautiful smells would follow each time I opened the door, the strung meats hanging from fridge shelves.
 Come Sunday guests arrived to find me stuffing the last of the now boned out featured birds, fingers covered in bread crumbs, crispy lardon, orange zest, and thyme. Embraces came regardless. With Charmé in mind from recent calls with friends, just had to offer "short" glasses of pineau blanc. Toasted some almonds with a bit of the flaky fleur de sel I brought back from my last stay to balance out the richness of the port-like aperitif. Eventually, we began with a mushroom soup, toasted rounds of baguette slathered with a chicken liver pâté done with tarragon and cognac set in the center. Doing all reds for this one, a lighter Grenache was poured. The duck sausage came next, the lengths swelling when paired with the hot skillets, then placed on sliced apple and shaved red cabbage that I'd finished in butter and cognac. (Yes, cognac would play a significant role in this meal, but I've promised armagnac equal time in the near future.) Opened a Faugères for this, the blend of "usual suspects" from the Languedoc gave the fruit needed to hold up to the fat of the sausage without being too heavy for the quail to come.
 Speaking of quail... After a sear for color, and some oven time to finish, the honored guests arrived on a warm bed of lentilles du Puy and wilted red dandelion greens, lightly tossed in a citrus vinaigrette. Did a Burgundy with this, the vilelles vignes offering a depth in flavor, but there was also a silky thing going on which didn't overwhelm the delicate birds. Changed from the intended arugula to mixed greens having just had the dandelion greens, and matched them up with an earthy goat (chabichou du Poitou) and a sheep, goat, and cow venture whose creaminess was just... crazy good.
 With the persimmon tree in the garden going off in oranges, reds, and yellows, the pôt de crème was an easy call. Although the fruit came courtesy of Monterey Market, needing several of the water ballon-like hachiya, they came perfect for my needs. A change in time brought the expected early dusk, and thus candles were lit for cognac... coffee... remaining words.

Recipes and Wine Notes available on request.

Chez Gautier Cooking School: http://chez-gautier.com

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Repas CG: The Aftermath... October 13

Never easy leaving France. The light, smells, people, the day's rhythm, these are things easy to wear, hard to be without. Food can't take me back there, but it does help. The recent repas composed of flavors I'd recently left behind spoke of the village that clings to memory. Having familiar faces table side to share the meal with just made it that much better.
 Squash soup started us off, rich in fennel to balance the sweet. For texture, tossed on top some pumpkin seeds toasted with a light dusting of chili, and added a bit of crème fraîche, of course. A Saumer, 100% Chenin Blanc, provided the acid needed without lingering too long with the fruit. Remembering a neighbor's gift of an "extra" rabbit one morning in Charmè a few weeks back sparked the making of rillette. Served on toasts, a bed of lightly tossed mâche to counter the necessary fat, roasted figs were tucked in to play off the meat. Reminded me of the fig tree down the le chemin blanc behind the church, thick with figs when I departed. Can just hear Jean Moreau generously imploring to take as much as wanted, lest the birds eat them. A Grenache fat Rhône hit the glass.

Duck legs stuffed in dried cherries, sage, and wild rice came next set over a turnip purée. Just a little butter and cream were involved, along with some duck stock for good measure. Flavors come deep with duck, the cherries helping to ease. A Premier Cru Burgundy was called on, offering finesse and soft fruit.
 Went fairly easy on choosing the cheese, allowing for the preceding plates linger. So, a triple cream from the Loire and a Camembert were served. Went the way of the first with the wine, pouring a Cabernet Franc from the same region. Rustic pear tarts followed, a sprig of rosemary added during baking gave a soft scent. Coffee and cognac were passed about, the afternoon warmth betraying the season. Then again, it's the Bay Area, where summer comes late. 

Recipes and Wine List poured available on request.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pickling Of The Bean

 Anyone who's spent 10 seconds with my wife during summer months knows that she's no fan of green beans. Just can't stand 'em. An anomaly? You bet, and something that has never failed to amaze me. In Charmé, bags(and I'm talking kilos) of green beans are offered freely and often this time of year, much to my pleasure as I can't eat enough of them. Friends, however, have taken to saying tongue-in-cheek, "Ça c'est pour Katie !" when handing me sacks full of the delicate haricot verts.
 So it caught my attention recently as she, deep into the pickling season, did a round of "flash" pickled... green beans! Baby carrots I could understand. Zucchini spears, beets, chillies, assorted summer squash? Sure. Different variations of cucumber, of course. But green beans?! As this shot implies, garlic and chili played a large role, as did tarragon. The result... Well, I'm biased. She will be doing plates of assorted pickled veg on the table to go with her French take on the picnic for the next pop-up(a.k.a. repas). Got a little sting below the ear for just writing that. Vinegar on the brain.

Recipes on request.
Chez Gautier Cooking School: http://www.chez-gautier.com