24 May 2007

A special thank you

On the Saturday before Sylvia and Sandy departed, we had a fabulous dinner at the restaurant l'Auberge de la Croisade about 8 kilometres from here. And this dinner was made possible by an old acquaintance of ours in Perth (W.A.) who decided that three old friends should have a memorable meal together in France – and memorable it was indeed.
We chose a set menu - seven courses. Surprisingly two of us managed six of them (had to miss out on the cheese course), and one managed all seven! - a stirling effort. It was an unforgettable meal – so I’ll list the courses and the dishes we chose, and just say that each and every course was delicious and faultless.
An Amuse-Bouche (Little Bites That Delight Before the Meal Begins!): in this case, a small bowl of mushroom soup.
Starter: smoked salmon mouse on warm potato cakes with asparagus.
Fish course: a white fish in filo parcels with a pesto sauce.
Sorbet: sweet basil flavoured
Main: (i) Fillet steak (ii) fillet of pork – both with garlic mash and vegetables
Cheese: assortment
Sweets: (i) Crème caramel (ii) bowl of ice creams and sorbets
And then to finish, we had liqueurs and they were served with bonbons! Like we needed them ….
A very big thank you for a wonderful meal and night out.
But it’s interesting that when the food is served over the evening, and each course is a manageable size, that you don’t feel overly full at the end. Having said that, I still find it surprising when I see tiny French women the size of sparrows, putting away HUGE meals and many courses, and thinking nothing of it. I just don’t quite get it.
And here we are, onto the coffee and liqueurs. Not one of us remotely like a sparrow, but having a damn fine time.

We managed a trip through to Montpellier – a beautiful city and a nice day out. There is a little tourist train operating in the Place de la Comedie in the summer months, and we jumped on and had a 30 minute tour of the sights – a good deal.

And shopping heaven for everyone but me – who hates shopping. In this case though, window shopping only.

21 May 2007

Coal-fired barbie

My first barbecue for the year was an interesting affair. The previous owners had left an old wooden box in the barn filled with what I thought were heat beads. So we decided to have a few people over and fire up the bbq that’s built into the summer kitchen – a neat affair with an open grill. We didn’t get back from Narbonne until 4.30 and people arriving at 6. Sylvia and I hit the kitchen running, and Sandy was on outdoor duties. Plenty of fire lighters and much work on the old bellows later, and she had the ‘beads’ glowing a treat. But they had a strange smell. When Patrick arrived at six (minus Sandra who had come down with a cold), he informed us that we had in fact fired up the barbie with compressed coal, and that he’d never heard of anyone barbequeing with it! Oops. Fortunately he went home and grabbed a bag of BBQ charcoal and we started all over again. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing after that. There was a copious amount of smoke and many jokes about turning the summer kitchen into a smokehouse.
And here’s Sylvia doing her best to cook the sausages in the gloom.

Also I’d decided to do a starter of my old squid recipe that I used to make at Cheyne Beach. But I couldn’t get the size squid I was used to. In fact the only ones I could fine were whole little ones that I had to clean when I got home. I might be a fisherman’s daughter, but this was a first for me. But actually those little heads and tentacles just pull right off! Pas un problème. Cuttlefish seems to be more popular here, and you can get all sizes – from tiny ones complete with the cuttle bone through to thick white strips that have obviously come from monsters of the deep. A slight problem also with the cooking - couldn’t get the fire hot enough (no more than 15 seconds or so on each side on a REALLY hot fire is what’s needed) …… but despite all that, the sausages eventually cooked up a treat and the currently very open-plan barn turned out to be a great spot for the inaugural outdoor meal. It was a bit windy and a few spots of rain so we went under cover.
…. and note the burgeoning fig tree in the foreground that I only chopped down a few months ago.

17 May 2007

The Yellow Train and Spain

Sylvia and Sandy arrived into Carcassonne on the 4th and we haven’t stopped since. Out and about just about every day, including a trip to the Hat Museum (!) just a short drive from Bize-Minervois. I’ve always meant to go and have a look, so it was a good opportunity. Not surprisingly, an awful lot of hats.
And another place I’d been meaning to visit is the Combebelle goat cheese farm just a few kilometres from Bize-Minervois. We timed it so we arrived just at milking time, and came away with a few of the cheeses.
On the way down to Spain, we did a trip on the Yellow Train, departing from Villafranche de Conflent, an overnight stay in the ski resort town of Font Romeu and returning in the morning. Stunning scenery in the Pyrenees and a trip I would highly recommend to anyone.

Left France the next day and headed into Spain. A side trip to Collioure on the coast just this side of the Spanish border – a beautiful little fishing town.

And then on to Barcelona - my second visit, but what a great city to return to. Well, when we finally got there that is. My mobile phone didn’t work in Spain (a problem with my contract – but that’s another story) and I was meant to phone the owner of the hostel when we hit Barcelona and he would make sure he was there to meet us. And it seemed (as we found out later) that there were several streets with the same name, and I’d put the wrong one into the GPS system. So peak hour afternoon traffic, going around and around a one way street system …… and getting nowhere fast. After nearly an hour of this, we figured we were close, parked in a 24 hour car park and hit the streets looking for our hostel. Which fortunately turned out to be fairly close, and a beaut place to stay (small 3 bed, open plan apartment, small kitchen/living area). In a pedestrian street, a few minutes walk from the Ramblas. So a few hectic days in Barcelona – we bought a 2 day jump-on jump-off bus pass – the perfect way to do it. Great weather, food and sights.

Moving sideways

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