Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: June

Originally from Hampshire, England, James Clay is an artist and sculptor who has lived in St. Remy for almost 20 years. He knows pretty much everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink...and write...often at the same time, of course. Each month here on ProvencePost.com, James goes out on a limb for us, serving up essental gardening tips along with appropriate seasonal drink suggestions. Here's what sprang from his fertile mind this month....

Finally "Flaming June" has arrived. A lot of us were beginning to feel she wouldn't get here at all this year. But yet again we find ourselves poolside, sun drenched and happy that Provence continues to live up to its brilliant image. The lavender is in its full glory. The olive trees appear to have fruit (after such a severe winter, it’s somewhat surprising). I’m trimming hedges and cypress trees like crazy. Most men (I've noticed) love to clip, cut, trim--and when it gets to chain saws it really is party time. So this last week I found myself up and down a ladder non-stop, clipping my ‘Italian’ cypresses. These are not native to Provence but nonetheless have been here for ages. They’re the tall, thin trees one sees in gardens and formal entrances  and not the 'Provencal' cypresses that are planted for wind breaks along many of the roads and in lines throughout  the countryside. 

The best method of dealing with ‘Italian’ cypresses is to keep them quite tightly clipped so the branches don't get too big and literally fall out and start making the tree look a mess--somewhat like a good hair cut where you have the odd stray hair sticking out (or up as the case may be). 

One of my neighbors took it into her head to get her gardener to re-shape her trees in the form of what can only be described as the 'male sex organ' which has somewhat added to her reputation. The only thing that I got round to doing to mine was chain sawing off the tops (of course off the top because off the bottom wouldn't work).  I took off six feet as they had become so tall that I thought I would have to rent a light aircraft to trim the tops.

So, should you find that your ‘Italian’ cypresses are becoming too much for you, I can assure you that cutting off the tops does not harm them and, in fact, appears to strengthen the growth at the bottom. 

Here I must just mention that shears are the only tool for clipping; if you have an electric or powered trimmer, I'd suggest you throw it away as soon as possible. Like most things in life, hand-made or hand-done is the best. Power trimmers tend to gnaw and shred and lead to diseased trees and hedges.

Trimming trees and the like results in giving one a heavy thirst so it wouldn't be unusual to start mulling over the recipes for a thirst quencher.  Once you've finished for the day, store your shears--and your ladder--safely away. This is something a 'real' gardener always does when finishing work, even in mid cut as it were. There’s no difference between this and vacuuming a room; if you hadn't  finished you wouldn't leave the vacuum there overnight! 

Were you fortunate enough to have friends staying or your partner handy, they may well have started preparing the evening's 'apero' or cocktail. After a quick shower to wash off the thousands of cypress clippings which have managed to stick to you during the afternoon, you’re now ready to join them on the terrace and, if luck is truly yours, then placed in your hand would be a sparkling glass of Champagne Jen.
Champagne Jen
1 part Cranberry Juice
1 part Orange Juice
1 bottle Champagne
Combine all ingredients in an iced punch bowl. Serve cold. 

And there you have the perfect recipe for a flaming Provencal evening in June. Or, for that matter, July or August or...

Which reminds me of Lily Bollinger's famous quote about bubbly, sent to me recently by a friend who loves Provence as much as I do:

"I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty."
Pip Pip!
Watercolor by James Clay: Cypresses surround an old Roman aqueduct near the village of Fontvieille.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where Would Patricia Wells Eat?

Where should we eat in Provence? As a food writer living in the South of France, it's the one question I'm asked more than any other. So this week I turned to none other than Patricia Wells for help.  

Patricia is a journalist, author and cooking teacher, an American who has lived in Paris since 1980. Her groundbreaking "Food Lover’s Guide to Paris," which debuted in 1984, was hailed as “the book that broke the secret code to Paris.” For 25 years Patricia was the restaurant critic for The International Herald Tribune and is the only woman--and only foreigner--to serve as restaurant critic for a French publication, the newsweekly L’Express. Patricia is the author of 11 books including the memoir "We’ve Always Had Paris…and Provence," which she wrote with her husband Walter, the former executive editor of the Herald Tribune In 2011, Patricia will publish two books: "Salad as a Meal" and "Simply Truffles." 

For several weeks each year, Patricia and Walter open their 18th-century Provençal home (in Vaison la Romaine) to a small number of participants hungry to soak up the food, wine, and culture of the region. The five-day program includes hands-on cooking classes (using as much home-grown produce as possible), plus guided visits to markets, vineyards, shops, and local restaurants. Patricia also offers a truffle class in January and classes in Paris as well. 

Here Patricia shares some of her current favorite restaurants, none of them more than 30 minutes from her village of Vaison. Bon App! 

BRIN D’OLIVIER. A lovely spot in the center of town, warming décor and fireplace in winter, beautiful terrace in summer. Excellent modern food and a truffle menu in winter. 4, rue de Ventoux, Vaison.  Restaurant-Lebrindolivier.com or 04 90 28 74 79. Closed Wednesday. 

GAJUELA. New, with a simple good menu, great lamb and veggies, nice wine list and terrace. In Le Barroux (past Entrechaux and Malaucene). 04 90 62 36 94. Dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday. 

LE GRAND PRE and bistro PRÈFACE. A favorite. Great ambiance, terrace, delightful with a great wine list. On the Route de Vaison in Roaix. legrandpre.com, 04 90 46 18 12. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. 

LES ABEILLES. Great terrace, wonderful food, good wine list. The owners are Marlies and Johannes Sailer. It's at #4, Route de Vaison in Sablet. abeilles-sablet.com or  04 90 12 38 96. 

LE PONT DE L’ORME.  A nice inexpensive restaurant in a restored 200-year-old farmhouse in Malaucene. (Drive towards Malaucene and just after a row of trees, before the roundabout, turn right when you see the sign to Suzette.)  Lepontdelorme.com or 04 90 46 17 50. 

L’OUSTALET in center of Gigondas. New owners and a great terrace view. restaurant-oustalet.fr or 04 90 12 30 03. 

LE TOURNE AU VERRE. A nice wine bar...simple but good. On the Route de Sainte Cécile in Cairanne, about a 15-minute drive from Vaison. letourneauverre.com or 04 90 30 72 18. 

LA BAGUETTE (VIETNAMESE). A huge menu, inexpensive but good. In Vaison la Romaine on the Cours Taulignan, the main street perpendicular to the Post Office. 04 90 36 15 04. 

LE PRE DU MOULIN. Owners Caroline and Pascal Alonso have one Michelin star. Good food, pleasant setting. Route de Saint Cecile les Vignes in Sérignan du Comtat. predumoulin.com or 04 90 70 14 55. Closed Monday lunch. 

LE SAINT HUBERT. A very old-fashioned family bistro with great truffle omelets and a good wine list. In Entrechaux. restaurantsthubert.free.fr or 04 90 46 00 05. 

LE TEMPS DE VIVRE. New, with wonderful food, bargain menus and a good wine list. In Le Farjons, on the outskirts of Uchaux.  For the website, click here or call 04 90 40 66 00. Closed Wednesday. 

VINOE & CO. A wonderful wine bar in the center of Avignon, at 31, rue Saint Jean le Vieux. vinoe-co.com [Editors note: Michel Granier has closed Vinoe and will announce his new plans soon.] 

For more info on Patricia Wells, her books and her classes, click here.  

Photos: Patricia and Walter Wells; the memoir they co-wrote; Le Saint Hubert, one of Patricia's favorite nearby spots. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Subway to the Sud de France

Can't make it to the South of France this summer? Not to worry--you can taste it in Manhattan thanks to the Sud de France Festival which runs through July 25th.  The festival was created to make New Yorkers more familiar with the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France, which, according to festival organizers, produces more wine--and the largest amount of organic wine--than any other wine region in the world. 

Tonite and tomorrow night, for instance, there will be wine tastings ($20 per person) led by Languedoc wine expert Jamal Rayyis and others at the Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon (10 East 53rd Street). Tonite's event is 7 to 9 p.m. tonite; tomorrow night it's 6 to 9 p.m.  

All told there will be free tastings and educational sessions at nearly 60 wine shops in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, plus Mediterranean menus and wine specials at restaurants ranging from casual to Michelin starred. Participating restaurants include Les Halles, Café d’Alsace, French Roast, Marseille, L’Express, Pigalle, Le Monde, Maison, Cercle Rouge, Bar Tabac and Le Singe Vert.

Consumers can enter a contest to win dinner for two ($150 value) at any of the 51 participating restaurants. Another contest prize will be a Languedoc food and wine basket.

In July, highlights include a winemaker dinner (July 20th) at the brand new Le Pain Quotidien (Central Park and West 70th), as well as special events surrounding Bastille Day. 

On July 19th there will be a sommelier contest to choose this year’s Sud de France Festival Sommelier of the Year.

An interesting addition to this year’s festival is Le Pain Quotidien, which will exclusively feature organic wines of Languedoc-Roussillon (two red, two white, a rosé and a sparkling), alongside the wines of founder (and Languedoc-Roussillon resident) Alain Coumont. Le Pain Quotidien will also showcase a special Sud de France menu.

The Festival is an international campaign conducted by Sud de France Export, an agency promoting the wines, culinary products and other industries of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Other Sud de France Festivals are conducted in Shanghaï, Düsseldorf, Cologne, London, Brazil and Mexico. 

For complete info on the New York festival, click here.  

Monday, June 14, 2010

Free Classical Concert Friday

Acclaimed American flutist Julie Scolnik, who lives just north of Boston (in Andover, Massachusetts) and makes her summer home in Eygalieres, will perform her fourth annual flute concert this Friday June 18, in the 12th-century Eglise St. Laurent (Eygalieres) at 7:30 p.m. She'll perform with her children, pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower (with mom, above) and cellist Sasha Scolnik-Brower, in a program of works by Bizet, Elgar, Debussy, Beach, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, and Piazzolla. The concert is free but space is limited, so arrive early. For info: julscol@me.com or 06-37-40-61-86.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mr. Wind

This commercial is old--it's from 2007--but since Provence is in the grips of the vent du sud, it's the perfect time to share it. (As opposed to the mistral, which blows north to south and leaves blue skies, the vent du sud blows in the other direction, bringing clouds and usually rain.) Anyway, the commercial is funny and poignant and very well done....definitely a classic. I love Mr. Wind, his hat and his accent. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Peony Envy

I'm in Wisconsin right now and the peonies are popping like mad. They're everywhere and they're fabulous! A couple years ago, I tried to get peonies going in my little garden in France and it was a spectacular, expensive failure. (Note to Provence Post gardening guru James Clay: should I give up or try again? Is it just too hot?) Have any of you had great success with peonies in Provence? This particularly lovely bunch comes from one of my favorite gardening blogs, AWaytoGarden.com. where Margaret Roach, who writes the blog, has some great tips for how to help your peonies along.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Foodstock sur la Plage

To celebrate it's 10th anniversary, the group known as Le Fooding is hosting "Fooding a la Mer" tomorrow (Saturday) evening on the Hi Hotel Beach in Nice. The event runs from 6 p.m to midnight and 1,000 people are expected. Food is being provided by a great group of chefs and restaurants: Mauro Colagreco (Le Mirazur, Menton), Mickaël and Gaël Tourteaux (Flaveur, Nice), Armand Arnal (La Chassagnette, near Arles) and Mickael Gracieux (L'Aromate, Nice). For the apero, you'll get to try the Bécot Clicquot, a biscuit hors d'oeuvre created by Apollonia Poilâne (of the famous baking family in Paris), which will be served, of course, with plenty of Veuve Clicquot.And patissier/chocolatier Sébastien Gaudard of Delicabar will be down from Paris doing the desserts. All in all, it sounds like a fab evening...and you can be sure there will be lots of the fun foodie hijinks for which Le Fooding is known. Best of all, every centime goes to Action contre la Faim for hunger relief. Tickets are 15€ per person and you can pay right at the beach. For more info: www.lefooding.com or 04-97-07-26-26.

Illustration by Asako Masunouchi.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

This Weekend: Party with a Purpose

This Saturday night (June 5) in St. Remy, there will be a dinner dance party to benefit the Busoga Trust, which builds wells in Uganda. Since 1982, the group has provided clean drinking water for nearly a million people. Event organizer Lucy Bakr went to Uganda in February and saw firsthand the impact of these wells on rural communities; she took the photos above which show a new well and the original water source at the same site. On Saturday night, the party happens at Mas de la Pyramide from 19:00 to Midnight. There will be a bar, a DJ and an auction including framed art, travel, apartments in London and Berlin, polo lessons and much more. Tickets are 25€. To learn more about the organization, click here. For tickets, more info or to make auction donations,  contact Lucy Bakr (lucydavid@bakr.fr) or James Clay (04 90 92 49 04).