Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Have a Visitor!!!!

The 1992 Peugot 106 rolled up to the Blagnac airport to pick up my first visitor to France from America. Big thanks go out to Kerry for providing the chariot to pick up visitor.Who wouldn't want to see this guy waiting for them at the airport after 23 hours of travel from Arkansas to Toulouse. It's true, I Heart Kristen Jessup.
But, let it be known that I Heart Kristen Jessup even more in person! I enjoyed our 4 month relationship on SKYPE, but I never want to talk to my fiance through a web camera ever again! Let the adventures in France begin!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fete de Music.....Last Bike Race!

This weekend was a crazy time in Toulouse. The annual Fete de Music was on Saturday night. This event is similar to Mardi Gras, but the entire city of 600,000 people is shut down for the 1 million or so people that come into the city from all parts of Europe. I couldn't capture much as I was just trying not to get trampled by the crowd and enjoying the tunes. It was pretty much like being in a radio and every 50 meters or so, a new station would come on and you would hear some new music. Drumline, punk rock band, piano, Beatles tribute band, the Fete had everything. This pic is from the river and it only tells a little bit of the story.
I didn't get to sleep in to late after the Fete and headed out to Fonsorbes for my last bike race in France. I finally have been getting some consistent riding in and maybe even got rid of a kilo or two of all that beautiful cheese and foie gras that I have been consuming. Mapei guy and I made a 15 man breakaway and eventually broke away in the end to 2-man TT it to the finish. The weather was a balmy 90 degrees and these French guys were dropping left and right. Luckily, I am a fan of those Arkansas summers and enjoyed the salt-caking dehydrating experience more than some. But, alas, the Mapei guy dusted me in the uphill sprint and I settled for another 2nd place in France. No flowers for me, but another trophy and a box of groceries. Maybe next trip to France.......

Restaurant Review: La Gouaille in Toulouse

So, I have been scouting out restaurants in Toulouse and asked for some opinions from locals and I came up with La Gouaille. Kerry and Hilarie Campbell and I attended the restaurant and we were not disappointed. Bravo to Olivier from IFV for the suggestion. Salad du jour. Fish salad with tomatoes, cucumber, lemon zest, and a mustard vinegarette.
Travers de porc au miel. Honey and brown sugar glazed pork riblets with potato, small vegetables, and petit salad.
Assiette Vegetarienne (Hilarie's). Braised endive, tomato, vegetable tarte, chevre chaud, assorted fruits, rice, and green beans.
Camembert Roti et Son Maigre de Cochon (Kerry's). Big camembert wheel baked in the oven with some cream and spices and then smoked bacon slices and bits served with a small salad and pototes.
Nothing goes better with local French cuisine than local French wine. Fronton is a region north of Toulouse and Le Roc produces a very nice red wine to compliment any dish of this region.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Merci Beaucoup!

This Thursday, I threw a little "Merci Beaucoup" cocktail lunch for all the participants of my consumer wine testing. Thierry brought the goodies of foie gras de canard and de goose as well as the baguettes. I supplied the non-cork tainted wine from my testing. These wines were typical of the Gaillac region and included two Whites (Sauvignon Blanc, French Colombard), a Red (Fer Servadou), and a Rosé (Cinsaut) snuck in there for good measure.
To my surprise, Thierry gave me a going-away gift. My own personalized bottle of wine. Cuvee de stage translates to "Internship of 2008". LCA stands for laboratory chemistry-agriculture.
On the flip-side, the real label shows a 2000 Buzet (Merlot, Cab Sauv., Cab. Franc), another wine growing region near Toulouse. Not every good wine is made in Bordeaux, Burgandy, or the Coté de Rhone :)
Also on the gift list was this Wine Encyclopedia CD-Rom. In French none-the-less, which only makes it more sentimental. It won't hurt to brush up on my French back in America, even if it is only wine terminology!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Manade Tournebelle!

So Madame and I had scheduled a trip with her Lyon's Club a couple months ago to visit the famous fighting bull area near Narbonne. This part of France is world-famous for providing the fighting bulls for bull fights in both Spain and France. I keep forgeting that Madame's friends are all 80 years old or older and the collective age for the bus for this trip was calculated to be near 3,760 years if you included the 53 year old bus driver (Yes, I asked!).
From Toulouse to Narbonne by bus, then from Narbonne to the fighting bull farm by boat on the Canal du Midi. Notice how the silver-hair shines in the French sunlight Notice how it is 80 degrees, but the pull-over sweaters are out in full force. I love old people! The canal was a great way to see the beautiful landscape of this region, and a welcome day of relaxation away from Toulouse.
This guy hopes to be lucky enough to gore a matador someday.....................................
...........................his friend was unlucky, as I gorged myself on this Gardianne de Taureau (local bull meat marinated and cooked in wine slowly for 2 days with a secret sauce of chocolat and herbs). Throw in some pomme de terre (potato wedges) dusted with paprika and you have an excellent "Cowboy Lunch."
Don't forget it is Narbonne and we are right on the Mediterranean sea. Here are some moules a la tole. Mussels roasted and served with garlic, oil, and parsley. Throw in a little local Minervois rosé and vin rouge and you have a country-style dejuner that I will not forget for a long time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Specialties of the French Alps!

My time was short in Grenoble so I only had a brief chance to enjoy the cuisine of the French Alps. To celebrate Father's Day, I decided to go with the grilled steak option on the plat du jour at a local brassiere. Filet entrocote avec marinade de vin (sirloin with a wine marinade) and riz (rice). Accompanied with a Mondeuse Savoie. No big California Cabernet was available on the Carte de vin verre (wine by the glass menu). Not really a French lunch, but I was about to pass out as nothing was open on Father's Day Sunday.
This salad tops the Lyonnaise salad back in Lyon as my new favorite! Ravioles en Salade. Ravioles al dente with herbs, fromage de Comte, mixed green lettuce, and aioli vinagarette. Incredible. Best salad yet in France. Grenoble has a huge Italian influence and pasta's and ravioli's are as much a part of the French Alps as they are in Italy.
Gratin de Crozets aux Diots. Small pasta's broiled in cheese, milk, and cream with pork sausage cooked in wine. Think gourmet mac&cheese with sausages! I walked about 30 miles and still gained weight eating this! A very nice Jongieux Gamay de Savoie helped wipe the fat off my tongue in between bites. This cuisine is famous for feeding the locals, who fight the brutal winters of the Alps. Fondue is world famous here, but a minimum of two people must order it as it takes a lot of expensive cheese to make that melted goodness. Maybe I will have a travel partner soon and we can enjoy that experience together!
My camera is never good at taking dessert pictures because I either show off the beautiful, fresh chantilly without the flash (whipped cream), or show of the lucious chocolate tarte with a bright white halo over its crust. Dessert des peres Chartreux. Tarte chocolat, glace chartreuse, and liqueur de chartreuse with chantilly. Chartreuse is an herb-spiced based liqueur made by Chartreuse Monks in the Savoie. Taste and looks like poison Gatorade, but then again it is a digestif! Thanks go out to Les 2 Savoie for preparing all this food so fast so I could take a memory home with me before my train left in 45 minutes. Luckily it was an overnight train and I slept like a baby after this gourmand meal!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Criterium Dauphine Libere in Grenoble!

On Sunday, I caught the morning train from Montpellier to Grenoble with intentions of marking another French city off my list and checking out a Pro Tour race, finally!!! I spent Father's Day (Happy Father's Day dad by the way) roaming around the city and then heading over to Boulevard Jean Pain to see the final stage of the Criterium Dauphine Libere. The finish line had a big screen TV set up showing the coverage of the race as it made its way from the Alps mountains down to the sprint finish in Grenoble. I had to punch three old ladies in the face, kick two handicap kids, and give away my Credit Agricole free cap to a homeless man just to get a good spot on the railing at the finish line. And they say the French don't love their cycling anymore.
After the podium presentation for the UCI Pro Tour, Cadel came over to say "Good Day Mate." I don't know if he came over to talk to me or this bimbo mom & daughter pair that had bleach blonde hair, a cake make-up job, and Aussie accents. Anyway, I took the opportunity to snap a close-up pic and move on to the next spandex-clad superstar. Luckily Cadel pedaled away from Medusa and her daughter before he failed a doping control from all their Chenal No. 5 and hairspray.
Levi "I might be a Child-Stalker" Leipheimer was next on the list. Maybe it was a bad timing, but this might be the scariest picture post race ever. This American girl and her French boyfriend had made some cookies or something to give to Levi for Father's Day (he has two dogs but no children), but he shot them down, but I am pretty sure I would have too. Well, I really wanted a cookie, but I wasn't a father so I didn't ask.
Former French cycling superstar, 7-time Tour de France King of the Mountains Jersey Winner, now turned TV Analyst, Richard Verenque and his lovely former model wife just walked right through the crowd. I don't think many people recognize Richard, as he is no longer his gangly, 124 pound frame from back in the glory days.
Last on the list was the traveling Girona road show. This tight little sporty hatchback (Saab maybe) was owned by none other than George Hincapie and he was jetting back home to Girona, Spain with his Team High Road teammates Craig Lewis, Michael Barry, and an unidentified rider in the back seat (maybe Michael Rogers???). George loves Fanta and all Fanta sponsorships can be directed to . Happy Father's Day George and all the Father's including mine back in Arkansas. For my first Father's Day, I would like George's watch.

Weekend in Montpellier Deux!

I was invited by Isabelle from the ART association to visit her brothers winery in Pinet, Domaine de Petit Roubie. When people know you are interested in wine, they love to show and tell. Pinet is very close to Montpellier and the Domaine ships all over the world including America. Look for their Green Planet label in a Wine Store near you.
Everyone thinks I am some kind of wine genius, but I really am just trying to learn as much as I can while I am here. I have learned a few techniques along the way though, and I was instructed to share this knowledge with my traveling buddies, Alena and Elisa. Sniff, swirl, sniff, taste. It's that easy.......oh yeah, and enjoy!
A second winery visit was to the Chateau de Flaugergues was in order for Saturday after a long day exploring the city with Elisa and Alena. We got a tour of the garden, the House, and of course a tasting of their fine wines. White, Rose, and Red.
Remember my challenge of 100 wines and 50 cheeses in the month of June. At this rate, I think I am going to have to double that total to give myself a challenge :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ensemble KOUBAN in Fronton!

Madame Luthie and her two friends and I made the trek over to Villemur-sur-Tarn to attend an Ensemble KOUBAN concert at the Chateau Saint Louis. Once again, the cumulative age of the car was well over 235 years old, but you don't discriminate when you get the opportunity to do cool things in France. The winegrower is an Iranian man who started producing Fronton wine in 1991 and Madame raves about his sparkling wine. We would sample some and buy a case before we left.
The concert was really cool. Totally not anything I would go to back home, but sometimes you don't know what you appreciate till you experience something new. The style can be described as Russian Folk Chant Music. I think?
Mr. Mahmoudi gave us a tour of his barrel room and cellar. He is originally from Iran, and his Chateau has some strong middle-eastern architectural elements. This was one of the coolest cellars I have ever seen. I snooped and caught eye of some 1976 Bordeaux Margaux and Chateuneuf-du-Pape's hiding in the corner. Everybody's a collector here. The greatest, funniest solo ever is on my youtube page. Click it below and enjoy the head bobbing, foot tapping experience.

Monday, June 9, 2008

100 Wines and 50 Cheeses Exploration!

So as my time in France is soon coming to an end. I have realized that I really haven't tried that many different wines and cheeses since I have been here. Maybe I have, but not really when you consider France is famous for having a different cheese for every day of the year (365) and probably 15 times that many different wines! Therefore, for the month of June, I have stated that I wil try 100 different wines and 50 different cheeses. Budget permiting, I will have to resort to anything and everything to make this challenge a reality. 1) Wine shops typically have weekend degustations (tastings).
2) Special wine tasting events. Here at a natural wine store called Vinea, they had 12 winegrowers who only produce wines using natural process that are similar to those of ancient times. No chemicals, no chemistry, just natural science of the vine.
I am pretty sure I knocked out close to 30 of the wines off my list just this day. Some natural wines are incredible and have a dynamic profile that is far different from the characteristics of normal, production wines. For all those back home who are getting concerned, these are "tasting" events, not "drink the entire bottle" events. I have close up pictures of the spit buckets if I need to prove that I am not an out-of-control, raging French wine drinking alcoholic :)
Resources to try 50 cheeses have primarily come from visits to my 5 favorite markets every Sunday morning (Blvd Jean-Juares, Victor Hugo, Carmes, St. Aubin, and "One Behind my House that I Can't Remeber Name Of The Street "Market). The fromage mongers put samples out on the counter to promote the cheese of the week that is on sale. I can usually knock 3 or 4 cheeses off the list at each stop. Of course their is the buy and eat method, which is the most enjoyable and the commonly used steal a chunk from your roommates and landlord when they are not in the kitchen method that has proven very budget-efficient. As I read what I write, I don't think this is really going to be much of a challenge........................Cheer's and Bon Appetit to me!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dinner with ART

I started a new job as an English tutor for the lady who run's the ART association which places students in housing here in Toulouse (including me!). Isabelle had invited me to dinner with her family to spend some time with her 17-year old son Vincent who leaves for a summer job at a restaurant in Scotland. My name is Scott, I speak English, and I love to eat so I took her up on the offer. Her family is from Montpellier so her cooking mirrors the Provencal style cooking methods that are oh so healthier than the butter and duck fat cusine of Southwest France. Ratatouille! Finally some fresh, nice ratatouille that isn't from the school cafeteria. Casserole of courgette (zuchinni), oignons (onions), aubergine (eggplant), crushed tomates, green peppers and olive oil baked and presented in earthenware.
The plat principale was a hollow puff pastry filled with cabillaud (cod) and crevettes (shrimp) with a white wine cream sauce. Remy, her husband, loves the fact that I am interested in wine so he presented a very nice 2001 Bordeaux Grave sec blanc (white) to accompany our meal. I didn't take a picture of the tarte tatin (upside-down apple pie) with creme anglaise (egg yolk, sugar, and cream), but I have to leave some things to my readers imagination.

This probably could have been left up to your imagination but it tasted so much better than it looked. Basically a stew of lamb (or mutton), potatoes, carrots, and I am sure a little bit of southwest France butter. Looks terrible, but tastes superb. Paired with a Cahors Carte Noire (black wine, Malbec grape) that I won at my first bike race!

Restaurant Review: Chez Fazoul in Toulouse

I had dinner at a restaurant in Toulouse with the American Campbell family. Kerry, his brother Kelly from Philly, and his wife Hilary. The dinner was excellent and the company was great. We even had a band set up on the street corner next to the restaurant playing American rock oldies. Not a bad way to spend the evening. Salade de Fazoul. The salade de maison (speciality of the house) with magret fume (smoked duck breast strips) and geisiers (bird game meat pieces), and tomatoes in a vinegarette.
Confit de canard with petit pomme de terre (small potatoes) and haricots verts (green beans) in a mushroom sauce. The skin of the duck was the crispiest I have ever had it, and I prefer it to be slightly softer.
Profiterols. I have been wanting to try these for a long time. Sweet puff pastry, stuffed with glace (ice cream), topped with chocolat sauce, and served with chantilly (whipped cream). FINALLY!Supplement of 2 euros to the menu, but it was well worth it!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chef Peter Leppin

This is Peter's last week in Madame Luthie's house so he decided to make us an authentic German dinner as a farewell.
First Course: Salad with a creamy German home-made dressing. I bought a Grand Cru Reserve Vin d'Alsace Riesling (13 Euros) that was a beautiful wine, and went great with the meal. Slightly sweet, with a dry bite, and tons of floral flavors. The most expensive wine I have purchased in France and it blew my socks off. I better hold the wallet in check cause maybe I have found a whole new experience with expensive French wines that I can't afford :)
Entree: Madame Luthie provided a Potato Soup with creme fraiche and saucisse confit. The saucisse was rillette of porc cooked in duck fat (shredded dry, pork).
Plat Principal: Saumon fillet with a herbed cream sauce, creme epinards (creamed spinach), and riz (rice).
Dessert: Broken pieces of meringue (stiff egg whites and sugar), framboise (red raspberries from ML's garden), and chantilly (whipped cream). Way to go Peter, tres bonne! See you in Berlin soon for a repeat performance. A'bientot.