Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The End of Summer and La Rentree

Au Revoir - L'Ete 

It's the final week of summer - it went so fast - I can't believe it's almost over.  It was definitely a different summer for us.  In the past my kids have spent a lot of their time in the summer at day camps & we have usually only had a couple of weeks to go somewhere as a family.  This summer, we split our time between hosting visitors, touring people around, visiting my husband's family in the Dordogne and a lot of family time on the beach & in the pool.  It was so nice to have so much family time.  The older girls enjoyed a week away at sailing camp - and my youngest enjoying doing a week of French day camp.  But for me, it was just nice to enjoy being together.

I took lots of photos of some great places to visit around Bordeaux - Cap Ferret, Cadillac, Sanguinet, and of course enjoying the Parks  & wineries around Bordeaux.  But for now, it's all about getting the kids ready for school next week.  La Rentree as they call it here in France takes on a whole different meaning than just "Back to School".  The French really know how to vacation.  In August, we experienced certain stores closed, some for just a couple of weeks, others for the month.  It was even evident at the public market, as many vendors were not present - obviously off enjoying the summer!  Even our bread store had limited supply as so many customers were away.  The traffic in front of our house slowed to almost nothing.  It's just so amazing to see so much of life affected by vacation.  Just walking around the village, it was so quiet.   It's actually very nice to know that so many people are able to enjoy time off.

So this week, as my oldest is taking a French review course each morning at school, and we double check our back to school lists, do some school shopping, we say goodbye to summer -

Au revoir to those lazy days of summer, relaxing in the water, freedom of staying up late and sleeping in...
I'm excited to watch the town come back alive, get back into a routine and for me - I have a little more knowledge of how life in France works.  Look for some upcoming posts on some of our little jaunts and summer adventures - but I'll end this post with a couple of my favorite pictures of my youngest - enjoying the waves at Cap Ferret.  I love her meditative pose - watching and taking in the waves - a great memory of summer!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Haut Medoc - Chateau de Malleret...A nice find!

A Wonderful find in Haut Medoc- Chateau de Malleret

A few weeks ago, my brother, his wife and family were visiting us here in Bordeaux.  No visit to the Bordeaux area is complete without a tour of the wine region.  In reality, it's the Wine Regions - we are literally surrounded on all sides by wine production.  Medoc, Margaux, Haut-Medoc to the North, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superior, Pessac Leognan, St. Emilion just to name a few.  It's so hard to choose where to take guests - especially when you only have one day.

We decided to head North up into the Haut Medoc region - it's close by and it's just beautiful to drive through and look at all the vineyards.  It's vineyard, after vineyard of vines & grapes.  It's stunning.  Add in the beautiful Chateau at each property - a lot you can see right from the road - and it's a fun day of sight seeing.

Now, wine touring here in France is a bit different than in the States.  It use to be that one would go to a central tasting place in each region - a maison du vin.  This place (house of wine) would carry all the different local vineyards and guide you in a tasting and then of course you could purchase what you like.  A nice way to see and of course, taste a wide variety of wine but you miss seeing the cellars, the property, and even a tour of the production.  Overtime, tourism has changed here.  Now wineries or Chateaux as they are called in France are more open to the general public.  Many offer tours by appointment but tastings are always welcome as long as they are open. The Office of Tourism in Bordeaux also coordinates many guided tours of the wine regions by tour bus.  It you don't want to drive and have the time - a lot of people enjoy this way of seeing the vineyards.

We were headed back to Bordeaux when we decided to stop by one more Chateau.  On a gut instinct (love when that happens) - we saw a sign from the road pointing the way to Chateau de Malleret.  We decided to follow and check it out.  We found a beautiful property as we drove through the park & vineyard and also saw that they had horses on the property.  A nice mix of country beauty and sweeping Medoc wine landscape.  

We were graciously welcomed by the staff and asked if we wanted to do a tasting and a tour of the cellar and production.  This sounded awesome - The hostess spoke both English and French - so was very easy to understand and gave us some great information about the property and vineyard.  This property uses very traditional methods to bottle and store.  (I love the multi-colored barrels!)

After our wonderful tour - she offered us a tasting.  We enjoyed a few different wines - and could taste the difference in each year's production.  This chateaux has a Cru Bourgeois status, which they have to maintain each year by producing high quality wine and that they do.  Their wine was enjoyed by all of us.  (Now, I need to put a disclaimer here - I'm not a wine expert - I have tasted many wines over the years and I do enjoy a nice variety depending on the meal and event. - I can also tell the difference between a younger and an older wine - and one that is more complex & full - but again I know each person has their own tastes.)  There were 4 of us tasting and all of us agreed that both years had a nice full body flavor and complexity.

Here is our group below enjoying a nice conversation with the guide.  Again, as foreigners, we felt welcomed and openly invited to share in their wonderful production.  The property also includes a beautiful park and additionally, they raise Thoroughbred horses.  This property's orgins date back 450 years - it's stunning!  We did not have time to walk around the park on the property but definitely will next time!  Take a look at their website below and I'm sure you will agree - this is a very special place.

I recommend this Chateaux for anyone who is driving through the Medoc - we had a wonderful time and experience.  It's located not too far out of Bordeaux - only about 15 minutes from downtown- so an easy drive from the city - a great place to go if you only have a couple hours or have 1/2 day - you can enjoy the park too.  Of course, if you have more time - it's fun to compare the different wines at various chateaux - but this place, by far, was our favorite!  We will be sure to bring more friends here!  Not bad for a whim and a gut instinct - I love when we find places like this in our touring.

Chateau de Malleret
33290 Le Pian Medoc

Here is their website link:
Chateau de Malleret

Sunday, August 12, 2012

French Cooking - American style...Learning from each other..

Learning from the French - well sort of....

I have to say I love French food - not necessarily the nouvelle cuisine of French cooking but the farm fresh, delicious recipes - seasoned just so and served over numerous courses.  My mother-in-law is an absolutely fabulous cook.  I have always loved visiting France - but to visit and spend 3 weeks eating her cooking - DIVINE!  Her style is a mix of traditional Perigourdine cooking with newer recipes that she has adapted over the years from their time in Reunion Island, French Guiana, Corsica and even up North in Paris and the Loire Valley.  She's inventive but traditional.   She will make traditional favorites along with trying new recipes from time to time from magazines. She favors simple sauces with farm fresh food.  She carefully picks her choices at her local market and now that they have been retired for 15 years and living in Le Bugue, Dordogne - she knows many of her vendors at the market.  I love watching her cook - she measures, stirs, tastes until she feels its perfect!  She will prefer to finish cooking or frying up the main dish between courses, leaving us to sit and chat for 15 minutes than to have it sit and be over cooked.  Simply put - she could have been a professional chef!  Here are a few beauties from this past week alone...

Veal, Cepes and potatoes

Sweet potato cake

Nems with mint and lettuce to wrap
So I have always been inspired by my mother in law's cooking.  Over the years, each time I've visited France - I've always headed back to the States with several cooking magazines - along with new recipes from my mother in law to try.  Now some recipes were pretty hard to duplicate, as we just don't find the same ingredients in the States.  Magret du carnard (duck breast), gras du carnard (duck fat), gesiers du poulet or carnard (chicken and duck livers/insides) and of course creme fraiche just don't exist in the same way.  Still  I would "oh and ah" over the photos.  Even Fresh salads looked different in French magazines.  From such great inspiration, I have added new recipes to our menus over the years.  I know even in the States - lots of people look toward French cuisine and cookbooks for inspiration.  Somehow we all have this thought - the French know how to cook!  Ah, French food - delicious!

But I have had a laugh recently - Over the years, I have come to learn that Corn on the cob - as we know it in the States has never caught on in France.  To be honest, as my French in laws explained it to me many years ago (and also the family that I spent a summer with as an exchange student when I was 16) - Corn is grown for feeding animals.  It's not considered a staple food here - it's just not classy.  Now when we have had French friends visit the States in the summer - and (of course my in-laws) we would served them Corn on the cob or grilled corn on the cob (yummy!).  They did enjoy it - but aghast, - one could not serve it to guests in  France - "What would they think?".

So much to my surprise this Spring, I opened up one of my favorite French cooking magazines and viola -

Photo taken of Maxi Cuisine du Soleil - inside above edition

Leave it to the French to put a twist on it - but there it was Corn on the Cobb - grilled and ready to be served!  Right in the middle of the magazine - with other recipes that are good to grill for a barbecue party.  Now I love the (a l'Americane) as it's served with a tomato sauce for dipping.  But come on, who puts ketchup on corn on the Cobb? So maybe the French are learning a few American tricks?

Just a bit of fun on a Sunday....Happy weekend!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Magnificent Eiffel Tower....Paris!

The Eiffel Tower - 
Gustave Eiffel's Wonder 

I just finished uploading all of our photos from Paris - as I was looking at them - I realized that the Eiffel Tower kept showing up - from the first night, taken at night, viewing it from the tour bus, views from the Bateaux Mouches, the Seine, from the top of Printemps etc...A day did not go by when we didn't see some view of this landmark.  I suppose it was also destiny that we had a view of it from the front of our hotel.  

I have to say - this made my girls extremely happy - when we were planning our trip to Paris - I asked my girls what they wanted to see - of course -Top of the list was The Eiffel Tower!  For them, they thought of  Paris and the Eiffel Tower just went with it.  So I guess to see it numerous times throughout our stay there was just what was suppose to happen.

A few facts...The Eiffel Tower was opened in 1889 - built for the World's Fair held in Paris that year and stands 324 meters tall.   It took 2,5 years to build.  It was constructed to show that iron was lighter and stronger than stone. Was initially considered a monstrosity when it was built as it towered above all the other buildings in Paris - There was talk about tearing it down as it didn't fit with rest of Paris's architectural style - but was saved as it became a telecommunication tower in 1909- and this sealed it's permanent place in Paris as a landmark.  Gustave Eiffel engraved the names of 72 architects, engineers, scientists and mathematicians of the time into the tower below the first level.  The tower is repainted every 7 years to protect it from corrosion.  On a clear day one can see about 37 miles out and around Paris. Source - Wikipedia

It was very interesting to see it from various perspectives and in different lighting - each time we saw it - I marveled at it's magnificence!

Below is our first night - the first sighting...and boy, it was amazing.  I unfortunately didn't get a photo of my girls as they took their first glance - we approached the tower from the Southwest and then as we rounded the corner at the end of the park - Let's just say - eyes were large - and their mouths were wide open.   Then we had to take photos of everyone standing in front....

My middle daughter - so excited to be standing so close!

Of course, my youngest had to get in on the camera action - with my husband.

Doesn't she look so happy to be in Paris?

A family photo - why not?

One of the other fun things to see was the number of people picnicking in the park - sitting on their blankets and towels with their baguettes, wine and of course cheese!  This is France after all!  As it got darker - the tower looked brighter...and we just kept walking toward it.

Very cool to stand underneath.

And then - as we were walking back to our hotel...for the first 8 minutes of each hour - The Eiffel Tower just sparkled and twinkled!  

For a first impression - seeing it at night was definitely the way to go!  I don't think my girls (or myself ) will ever forget that first night!

But, there was plenty more views to come...

The next day from the tour bus - L'open Tour - Hop on Hop off

View coming across the Seine from the bus

A pencil sketch version.
The bus made a loop around the Eiffel Tower - first approaching it from the other side of the Seine and then looping around the Tower and stopping to let people on or off.  Again, in the day light - it looks very different.

If you look closely - below the floor, you can see the names of scientist, architects and inventors
 engraved  below the first level.

Looking back as we were driving away toward Les Invalides.

It's also fun to view the Eiffel Tower from different vantage points throughout the city.  The photo below is taken from the roof of the department store - Printemps.

A little Sepia color gives it history...I love how it looks like an old photo.
And then - on the way to the Bateaux Mouches - for our twilight cruise....The lighting and the sunset super!
Walking to the Bateaux Mouches from Place de la Concorde

View from the Bateaux Mouches

A little later from the boat

Finally as we were ending our cruise, the moon was up and the lights on the tower came on.

Of course more photos of us and the tower - From the Bateaux Mouches

But one of my favorite photos - is as we were walking back to our hotel - after the boat ride.  It was just getting dark and the moon was in the sky...Amazing -photo.

So for our last day - we headed off to Jardin Trocadero - the other side of the river - and again..classic views of the Eiffel Tower.

"Let me present to you...The Eiffel Tower!"

Maybe, it will fit in my hands..

And on the steps of the building...people were ballroom romantic!...I managed to sneak this shot before too many other onlookers gathered around...10 minutes later - there was a huge crowd watching.

And of course we walked down to the Seine for a little stroll - saw the Bateaux Mouches on it's venture down the river.

My eldest daughter just loved starring at the tower...I'm not sure how many times she said - "I can't believe I'm here!".

And finally at the carousel at Jardin Trocadero - one could spot the landmark painted right on top.

And how fun is this to ride the carousel with this view..which of course my girls did.

Finally our 3 days in Paris have ended - and we head off to the Metro and back to Gare Montparnasse to get on our TGV and head back to Bordeaux.  We will definitely have some fond memories of La Tour Eiffel!

My youngest and my husband head off to the metro..

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lazy Days of Summer - French style...

Relaxing and dining Al Fresco...those summer days 

So it's nice to be back home after spending a few days and Paris and hosting family.  As much fun as it is to have company and share the wonders of the Bordeaux area with them - it's nice to have some quiet time as a family.  Summer has finally arrived here in Bordeaux and it's been beautiful!  I love all the fresh fruit and vegetables at the market and warm evenings to be able to dine outside on the terrace.  Here in France it doesn't get dark until after 10 pm!  The girls have been having a blast just relaxing and playing with each other and with friends.  My oldest and youngest had a blast this afternoon playing fashion show.  The following are 2 photos of my youngest dressed up in a little number designed by her sister.  (One would never know her outfit is actually a skirt from her big sister's closet made into a cute dress!)

Part of summer for me is being able to eat outside - something here in France I absolutely adore!!  In Saratoga, our time outside was limited by both the humidity and the mosquitoes - here's it's absolutely divine and we are maximizing our time outside - enjoying most meals out on our terrace.  It's so nice to enjoy all the fresh vegetables and fruits of the season while dining in the open air.  It's been so fun to introduce my girls to such wonderful fresh foods - The other night we had fresh artichokes - I actually had bought 6 and it was my youngest who wanted to extra one - so she got it you can see - she was all smiles and loved eating her new found delicacy!  I love it when they eat so well!

Of course she finished it (and shared a bit with her sister too!).  While she enjoyed her artichoke, we dined on garden fresh cucumbers mixed with creme fraiche.  My husband helped make one of my favorite summer dishes - Tomates farcies - or as we did tomates, aubergine, poivrons et corquettes farcies!  (English translation stuffed tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and zucchini)  So yummy!  I always make enough for leftovers - so guess what we are having for lunch tomorrow?

I'm still sorting through all my photos from when my brother and his family were visiting - have so many neat photos of places we visited with them and of course lots of Paris!  I think I could do a photo essay on the Eiffel Tower alone!  Anyway,  happy summer to all and I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!

P.S. If anyone is interested in the recipe for this lovely dish, just let me know.

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