Transit, Bloating, and Thank God for GPS
I am writing this at the end of the day and came to this sad conclusion. I cannot lie on my stomach any longer. From a distance, I would have the appearance of a reverse turtle with my feet and head no longer able to touch the bed simultaneously. Joyous bloating and discomfort have become my constant companions.
Beaune to Chateauneuf du Pape
I actually fooled myself into believing that I wasn’t going to eat today. I mean aside from breakfast and dinner. Today was supposed to be about driving from Beaune to Chateauneuf du Pape, four waking hours away from culinary temptations.
Somehow between the charcuterie breakfast at our hotel in Beaune and dinner, I managed to eat more. Squirreled away in the seats of our car I found the remnants of chocolate macaroons and ganache dipped in dark chocolate from one of the thousand chocolatiers we stopped at so far.
My cousin Andre bid farewell to us over an unexpected lunch at a roadside restaurant. One major difference in road travel in France is when you stop at small restaurants along the highway you tend to get a very localized cuisine as opposed to fast food found everywhere in America.
When I saw the menu I could not resist trying the Pommes Aligot with grilled Toulouse Sausage. Pommes Aligot is a potato dish I started making many years ago when I worked at a small Relais and Chateaux property in New York State. Two of my weekly guests had gotten back from France and requested I attempt this dish on their next visit. Pommes Aligot is basically the smoothest, buttery, creamy mashed potatoes you ever made it your life with so much cheese added that it stretches like molten rubber when you stick a spoon in and lift it high in the air. It’s so elastic you might even be able to tie a knot if you tried hard enough.
It became part of my regular repertoire ever since and having never tried an authentic version I was curious to see how mine stacked up. To make today’s version even more heart-healthy the Chef added a nice grilled Toulouse sausage. The car groaned under the added weight as I crawled back into our car for the final leg of the drive.
GPS on Vacation
I honestly think I would be still circling around a rotary somewhere in Paris had it not been for our trusty Garmin GPS. French streets are not exactly marked in the same way that we Americans are accustomed to. In fact, I would go a bit further and say French rental car companies should show a video to any foreigner attempting driving here.
I drove down two-lane roads today that looked more like someone’s ramshackle driveway than a proper road. There is not a chance in hell we would have found today’s castle we are staying in. Yes for those keeping track, it is castle deux.
Chateau de Varenne
Chateau de Varenne is a gorgeous Provencal castle built in 1738 by the first mayor of Avignon. It has amazing grounds with swimming pools, gardens and enough children’s toys strategically located all over to almost make Beaumont forget about the numerous fountains, puddles, and springs.
The smell of boxwoods perfumed the air while the gravel walkways reminded me of my youth at my grandfather’s Auberge in Perigord. The scent triggered fond memories that swelled in my heart and may have brought a tear to my eye.
The roads surrounding the castle are narrow for one car despite being for two and snake up and down the small hills of Sauveterre. Driving the same roads slightly loaded on the local Chateauneuf du Pape wine requires some skill and tact, though just enough wine makes you more courageous while too much makes you foolhardy. Side note: If our GPS would break now I never would be able to find my way out.
We drove to the center of Chateauneuf du Pape just in time to buy some amazing wine at Clos de Mont Olivet, one of our favorite producers here. We got four bottles of just bottled 2010 Cuvee Papet, the special reserve that Robert Parker gave 96 points for, a magnum of 1976 (Lisa and our friend Dan’s birth year) and two 2011 white wines bottled three days ago.
After the tasting, we stopped into a small wine/gourmet shop for yet another tasting and stocking up on various small sausages including a black sausage from Corsica and an olive sausage. We climbed the narrow streets to the castle ruins overlooking the town.
Have you ever walked into a restaurant knowing full well you aren’t going to eat well yet you still do it anyway? We wanted to treat ourselves and ate at one of the better restaurants in town. Everything told me to turn around and leave when we walked in. Beau’s head spun three times around, then vomited green split pea soup while screaming obscenities like the demon child in the Exorcist; empty dining room; a very cheap cheesy décor, and they lost our reservation.
It really wasn’t that the food was bad — it just wasn’t great for what they charged. A guide Michelin wannabe. The meal started with a pleasant tapenade with croutons. Beaumont helped himself to one basket of bread and two dishes of tapenade. Where does the little one put it?
As caring parents, I realize eating that many olives may not be good but it kept him quiet for three minutes and it was well worth any risk. The amuse was a buttery asparagus puree with microgreens. I started with Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with a seafood mousse, shrimp and the tenderest calamari ever while Lisa had her fifteenth plate of Foie Gras since touching down at Charles de Gaulle airport. The duck foie gras confit was delicious and served with white asparagus compote. So far so good.
The main courses were a way over-salted sautéed Loup (sea bass)served over perfectly tender vegetables and my way over-salted Filet of Charlois Beef over the same vegetables as Lisa. The flavors were good, just not great. and certainly not worth the small fortune they charged.
Dessert descended into an amateur hour. Lisa’s Macaroon with Red Fruits was very mediocre and my Tiramisu with Pistachios and Praline was just okay. By now, little Beau had forgotten what an angel he could be and began making up lost time by torturing the nerves of his parents. We took turns taking petit Satan out to the fountain in front so he could splash in the water and perhaps exorcize a few demons along the way. The night ended with both of us feeling super bloated and slightly drunk, and thanking God for GPS’s.
A recipe close to the original tapenade that was invented by the chef of the Maison Doree in Marseilles in the 1800s.
- 2 cups pitted olives
- 4 tablespoons capers
- 1-ounce tuna belly
- 8 anchovy filets
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 lemon zested
- 8 basil leaves
- 1/4 cup fragrant French olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Cognac or Marc
- Drain your olives well. Put everything in your food processor and pulse to the texture you like. Yes, it is as simple as that. Tapenade has a long shelf life despite the fact my tapenade never lasts more than a meal or two.