Dijon

Last week I told you about the cooking class that we did in Dijon with Alex Miles. If you missed it, you’ll find the link here.

I ran out of time to talk about Dijon itself. To begin, it’s about more than mustard – although mustard is, of course, part of the Dijon story…as is wine.

History

The history of this part of France is mind-blowing. We’re talking all the way back to Julius Caesar, the Gauls and years ending in BC.

Slightly more recently than that – between the 11th and 15th century – Dijon was the capital of the duchy of Burgundy. There was a particularly golden age during the 14th and 15th centuries when the Duchy challenged the power of France itself. These years were full of stories of assassinations, treachery, back-hand dealings, illegitimate children and power-broking. It’s the stuff that entire mini-series could be written and produced around. Just imagine – sumptuous costumes and tapestries, tales of treachery, treason and lust.

But, I digress. There were four Dukes of Burgundy in these golden years: Phillipe-le-Hardi (Philip the Bold), Jean-sans-Peur (John the Fearless), Phillipe-le-Bon (Philip the Good) and Charles-le-Téméraire (Charles the Bold who later became known as Charles the Reckless). At this point, I’m wondering what I would be known as. I’m thinking a play on my maiden name. Joanne-le-Lion au Coeur.

Each of the Dukes married extremely well and their courts were sumptuous indeed – full of the best in tapestries, music, sculpture, gastronomy and fine arts. At least, that was until Charles the Bold managed, unbelievably, to milk dry Burgundy’s extremely wealthy coffers…but that’s another (long) story.

In any case, it’s this history that makes Dijon so interesting now. The wonderful medieval and renaissance buildings are a direct result of the golden years of the duchy as the finest painters, sculptors and architects were brought to Dijon.

The pics

This is a fabulous city for walking around – and not just for the architecture.

Don’t forget to check out the details.

We had eaten way too much to sample any of the excellent food Dijon has to offer…maybe next time.

Sadly we spent only a few hours wandering this city – we could have spent days.

We visited Dijon as part of a longer stay in the Burgundy region. If you want the details of where we stayed, check out this post.

 

 

 

 

Cooking with Alex…

When we first planned the itinerary for this road trip, a cooking class was on each of our wish lists. And preferably in Burgundy. But not a commercial cooking class, we didn’t want one of those. We were after local food, local markets, and a small group. Something personal with real stories about eating and living in France. Our day cooking with Alex Miles was all of this. And more. But I digress.

We meet Alex outside Dijon Railway Station, near some coffee shop or another. We had no idea how we’d know him, but he came straight up to us. Obviously, we looked as though we were waiting around to meet a chef for a day of cooking in Dijon…

Alex, a New York pastry chef (amongst other things) in a previous life, has called Dijon home for the past 30 years or so. Over coffee and home-made mini muffins that he produced from his bag, we chat about food and cooking, and life in Dijon.

Onto the markets – which are, as an aside, fabulous…but, of course, I’ve already told you about them, here.  Alex seems to know everyone and at every stall, after he’d made his purchases, a muffin comes out of the bag for the proprietor. Alex has a smile, a bonjour, and a muffin for everyone.

Dijon Markets

Back in Alex’s apartment, we head into the kitchen to start preparing lunch. Before I tell you about lunch, a few words about Alex’s kitchen. Aside from having my dream stove (check it out in the pic below), there is not one inch of space in this kitchen that isn’t utilised – and absolutely nothing is wasted.

I asked about the dark powder in one of the spice jars. It was, Alex told me, vanilla powder. When he’d extracted the seeds from the vanilla pods, he dried the pods and ground them into this deep, fragrant dust. In his words, the amount of garbage most of us have is insane.

The spirit of the leftover that we talked about the other week – remember when I told you about the savoury cake? – is continued here. Bones and leek tops are reserved for stocks and leftover vegetables become soups. The base of the pate we’re served with our kir (blackcurrant liqueur in white wine) is another example of nothing going to waste. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 part leftover chicken or duck
  • 1 part sausage mince
  • 1 part liver
  • 1 part veg

It’s all then bound together with eggs and flour and cooked in a loaf tin

Also on the appetiser plate is jambon persille – essentially a ham terrine with parsley. It, like the crème de cassis we have in our wine, is a Burgundian classic. The persille we’re eating was bought at the markets, but in the name of research, I’m going to have a go at making my own…but that’s for another day.

As we chop vegetables for our spring vegetable starter (I’ve already blogged the recipe – you’ll find it here) Alex prepares the rabbit in mustard sauce – Dijon mustard of course. Alex has sent me the recipes and given his permission for me to share them, so I’ll do that over the next few days. Oh, if you don’t like rabbit, this mustard sauce works really well with chicken as well.

Next, we prepare the Crème d’Amande or Almond Cream for the tart – Alex has already made the crème patisserie and the Pâte Sablée aux Amandes or sweet almond pastry. Treat the pastry as you would a woman, he says.

Finally, it’s time to eat – and drink…so we do. First, the spring vegetables…

Then the Lapin a la Moutarde, rabbit in mustard sauce…

Local cheeses,

and finally that perfect pear tart.

In order to walk off at least some of that fabulous food, Alex leads us on a walking tour around Dijon and presents us with a praline brioche – another classic of the region. It’s the perfect way to finish a fabulous day.

this photo was taken in Lyon

 

If you want to know more about cooking with Alex Miles in Dijon, you can email him at alexmiles47@gmail.com or check out his website here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Burgundy

I adored Champagne as a region. We had some memorable meals, dranks some memorable bubbles, and had some memorable experiences. If I was pushed for my favourite of the regions that we travelled through though? It would be Burgundy.

I enjoyed Beaune and, although I haven’t yet shown you any of Dijon other than Les Halles, it’s a beautiful city.

Burgundy seems somehow greener, the hills more lush and rolling. There’s definitely more livestock, and the cheese tastes different. Not better, not worse, just different.

Chateauneuf was easily the most beautiful village we visited, and the lilacs everywhere took my breath away.

Not to forget the wisteria, of course…

As for the food? It was richer and heavier than what we’d had in Champagne – more typically French, perhaps – but full of flavour. Yes, Burgundy was everything I’d hoped for and more.

We stayed in a gite in a small village called Marigny-l’Église, in an area known as Parc Naturel Regional du Morvan. Our closest shops were about 8kms away in Quarre-les-Tombes. After a day of touring, we were happy to call in at Quarre and grab a baguette, some cheese and top up our wine supplies and eat at home.

As an aside, we did have one great meal at a restaurant in Quarre called Le Morvan. Two courses 24 euros – excellent service and fabulous food.

kir royale

Marigny-l’Église had one bar/restaurant, but it was only open limited hours and also doubled as the local post office – also open limited hours. Not that it mattered – Quarre was close and we planned ahead.

The gite itself was quite unassuming from the outside but was super clean and had a real cozy charm inside – with everything you need to be comfortable.

We loved bringing our picnic dinners back to eat in front of the log fire – and were grateful that the evenings were cool enough for us to light it.

The best part though was the garden.

Sitting outside in the late afternoon spring sunshine with a glass of wine and a book, well that was pinch-me-I’m-dreaming stuff.

The gite was across the road from the local church – whose bells chimed on the hour from (I think) 8 am until 8 pm.

We found this gite through Air BNB. The link is here.

 

Beaune

Hotel-Dieu, Beaune
Hotel-Dieu

We knew that the weather had to break sometime – and that time was on a Monday morning in Beaune.

I’d been looking forward to visiting this town – the wine capital of Burgundy in the Côte d’Or. I remembered that we stopped here on that bus trip way back in 1995 – although I don’t recall much other than the gloriously coloured tiles on the roofs. This style – known as Burgundian tile – initially covered the great cathedrals of the 13thcentury, then the royal residences in the 14thcentury, and finally became available to the waelthy urban bourgeoisie of the 15thcentury.

On this rainy Monday morning, however, their brilliance was dulled. As was that of the town. Not only was it raining, but it was also Monday – so very little was open.

Wine tasting

We couldn’t visit Beaune without a wine tasting in one of the caves. For 10 euros we got one of these little silver tasting spoons and were pretty much left to our own devices down there, ie free pours.

I loved the bottle display showing the bottle sizes. A standard 750ml bottle is the second from the left. You can imagine just how big a Balthazar is…no? It holds 12 litres or 16 bottles. I also think I might name a dog in one of my books Balthazar. Just thinking aloud.

Marche aux Vins also housed an amazing art gallery. We marvelled over the three-dimensional hand-carved wooden sculptures and the massive cow, calf and bull – the Charolais of the region.

Mostly though, I loved where the plaster had peeled to reveal some of the frescoes beneath it.

Where we lunched…

At Le Cheval Blanc – the White Horse.

We all chose the 2-course lunch menu – I can’t remember how much it was, but 17E rings a bell. F had the oeufs en meurette – essentially eggs in a red wine sauce. It’s a Burgundian specialty that I want to try for myself at home. Hubby and I chose the escargots (snails) which were fantabulous with plenty of garlic, parsley, butter sauce for mopping up afterwards. All three of us had the Boeuf Bourguignon – Beef Burgundy – when in Burgundy…

boeuf

What wowed us…

Hotel Dieu – Hospices de Beaune

If hubby is asked what the best place was that he visited on our trip to France, he says here. And not just because of the artwork and tapestries here – which are magnificent – but what it represents.

Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, founded the Hotel Dieu, or hospital, in 1443 as a place where anyone – regardless of whether they were rich or poor – could come to be treated. In fact, this place was intended to be a “palace for the poor”. It was a concept way ahead of its time.

A self-guided tour took us through the Salles des Povres, with its sculpted and painted ceilings, the chapel, and through to the kitchen where meals were prepared (as an aside, apparently those who could afford it paid more for white bread rather than rye).  My personal fave, though, was the apothecary with its mortar and pestle and huge pots for mixing lotions and potions.

Hotel Dieu even has a vineyard, the product of which is still auctioned off for charity each November.

What else?

Before we left and headed off to look at Chateauneuf, we bought some cheese and rillettes from this fabulous shop to graze on around the fire back at our cottage in Marigny-l’Église.

Châteauneuf…the village in the sky

Chateauneuf

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? No, I can’t remember the rest of the poem either – although I do know it was written in 1786 by Robert Burns and that rather than going awry, the schemes tended to gang aft a-gley…a phrase that I think has quite a ring to it.

Where was I? Yes, about to say that very often the best plans when on holiday are the ones that you don’t make. Accidental tourism we call it. It’s those finds and experiences that are the ones you talk about for years after.

Like Châteauneuf. It was raining heavily on our way into Beaune, so we missed it, but coming back later that afternoon we saw it – sitting high above the Burgundy Canal on its rocky spur.

This pic was taken from the car window – hence the poor resolution

Of course, we had to go up for a look.

Most Beautiful Villages in France

Châteauneuf – or Châteauneuf-en-Auxois – is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France). There are 157 villages in the list, but that doesn’t take away from the sheer gorgeousness of this one. We loved it so much that we were this close to forfeiting our remaining two nights accommodation in Marigny-l’Église and finding a place to stay here.

The History

High on a hill between Dijon and Autun, Châteauneuf held a strategic position in the area. It was also ideally situated at the meeting point of three economic regions: the vineyards of the Beaune region; the timber and charcoal from the mountains; and the agriculture of the Auxois plains.

Trade flourished through the middle ages as wealthy Burgundian merchants, and members of the entourage of Philippe Pot, Governor of Flanders moved in.

The village was also a popular stop on one of the pilgrim paths took to go to Santiago de Compostela. I don’t think I would have welcomed the climb required to walk up here at the end of a long day walking – but that’s just me.

Today there are remnants of architecture dating back to the 14th century, although most of the oldest houses still intact are from the 15th century.

The Chateau

Châteauneuf is dominated by its 15th-century château. It’s one of those fairytale style castles with towers and keeps – the sort where you can imagine medieval maidens letting down their golden hair.

The Gardens

Oh, the gardens. Wisteria, lilacs, roses, tulips…everything was beautifully in bloom. There was a garden for sale, but hubby (quite unreasonably I think) said no.

Did I mention the lilacs? I decided then and there the title of my next novel The Lilac Queen – now I need to come up with a plot. That garden that was for sale, perhaps?

The Burgundy Canal

When hubby and I first came through this region 20 something years ago, we decided we’d return one day and do a canal cruise down the Burgundy Canal. Ok, so we haven’t done that yet, but we did drop in and have a look at it on our way back from Chateauneuf.

One day…

Burgundy Canal

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Sentence a Day… May

Banks of the Seine
The banks of the Seine

The first week of May saw a continuation of our France road-trip and the final stage – in Paris.

Then it was back home to work – and save for the next adventure!

What else? I got the structural notes back from my editor and somehow managed to finish the rewrite this month. This book is determined to write – and rewrite- itself.

Anyways, here is May in a sentence – sometimes two – a day.

Le Marais
Exploring the Marais district

1. It’s a public holiday here in France for May Day. F dropped us off just outside of Paris and we caught the metro in. Spent the afternoon exploring Le Marais – where we’re staying – and the banks of the Seine. Love this city.

2. Lots of ticks in boxes today: Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co bookshop, the Left Bank, Latin Quarter, a cruise on the Seine, Galeries Lafayette.

3. A great first half of the day with the markets at the Bastille to start, a walk to and through Pere Lachaise Cemetary (with the world’s funniest accidental guide). Second half not so great – a wander from Champs Elysee through the posh part of town and down to Place de la Concorde. That part of town is really not me – too much money, too many people and too many pickpockets.

Bastille Markets
Bastille Markets

4. Paris redeemed herself today with Promenade des Plantees, the artistic viaduct, flower markets and ice creams at Ile St- Louis. I’m in love with this city again. It’s not goodbye, it’s a bientot.

5. Off to the airport at 7.30am this morning and on our way home.

6. Saturday and Sunday spent on planes. Finally walked through the front door at around 7 pm. Why does Australia have to be so far away from everywhere?

7. It’s our 24th wedding anniversary – and a public holiday for Labour Day. The two are not connected. Spent the day washing clothes.

8. Back to work – do I have to? Oh, that’s right, I have the next adventure to save for. Stood on the scales & rather than the OMFG moment, I had an OMG moment of a different sort – I’d lost half a kilo…in France! There could be something to this French paradox…

9. Mammogram this morning (all clear) followed by work.

10. Craving pho so indulged at lunchtime.

11. Hairdresser this morning (greys be gone) and a good start on the rewrite of One More Dance/HappyEver After/Book No. 5. (My editor’s notes came back last week.)

12. Markets followed by brekky at Jimmy’s. Life all back to normal.

13. Mother’s Day and lunch at Corbins – yum cha with a difference.

14. Back to work Monday and finally some blue skies for this morning’s walk.

 

15. Take yesterday and repeat.

16. Some good progress on the novel rewrite in the best office in the world.

17. Managed to sneak a walk in before work and before the rain started.

18. A stormy morning cleared to a fab Friday. Back to the Surf Club for more words.

19. Markets this morning, house-cleaning & the Royal Wedding on TV. Saturday taken slow and easy.

20. Relatives from Gloucester (UK) called in today. I made a lemon and thyme cake in the bundt tin – the recipe is a keeper and will make it into the next novel I think.

21. The day is so beautifully blue it seems a pity to be inside working.

 

22. Mum and Dad here from Sydney for the rest of the week – hoping the good weather holds.

23. Canal cruise in Mooloolaba and a drive up and down the coast to show Mum and Dad around.

24. I had to work so hubby and daughter took Mum and Dad out to the hinterland for a look around and a picnic.

25. Lunch at Sum Yung Guys for a friend’s 60th.

26. Markets this morning & then whipped up a batch of lemon lime & bitters scones (the recipe is here) for morning tea before taking Mum and Dad to the airport – we’ve had a great few days.

27. Astro club at Golden Beach followed by lunch at Woombye Pub. Parmy and rissoles – you can’t get much more old school than that.

28. Do I have to go to work?

29. I repeat, do I have to go to work?

30. Noosa to buy some gifts, lunch with hubby at Betty’s Burgers, and work on the novel this afternoon.

31. A beautiful morning with a pod of dolphins playing just offshore. Another big day in the day job. In other news, I finished the rewrite on One More Dance/ Happy Ever After/Book No. 5 tonight.

Ok, that was my May – how was yours?

Ruinart Champagne House and Reims Cathedral

Ruinart Champagne House
Ruinart Champagne House
Ruinart Champagne House

I’m continuing my travels through France. Today we’re back in Champagne. If you want to catch up on the destinations so far, you’ll find all the posts here.

Ruinart Champagne House

Ruinart, established back in 1729, was the first ever Champagne producing company. Like the Moet story, there was a monk involved. In this case, it was Dom Ruinart who learnt all about the “wine with bubbles” that was becoming popular with the young aristocrats of the time.

It was 20 years after his death that his nephew Nicolas Ruinart founded Maison Ruinart. Before this young Nicolas was in textiles – in fact, the family wealth had been built on textiles since the 15th century – but once the King (in 1728) passed a law allowing the sale and transportation of wines in bottles, Nicolas saw the potential and made the switch.

As a tasting and visiting experience, this one was very different to Moet – and also markedly more expensive. More on the cost later. The primary difference here was in the art and the crayeres – ancient tunnels dating back to the  Roman times and dug deep into the chalk under the city of Reims.

The Crayeres…

Ruinart was the first of the champagne houses to utilise these old chalk mines for wine production. There are 8kms of these galleries under Ruinart, with the largest cavern being 40 m underground. Down here it’s a constant 10C.

Aside from wine production, these old mines were a haven for the people of Reims during the 1914 German offensive. Down here the city functioned as it had above ground.

In WWII the French resistance used these tunnels to hide allied airmen and soldiers.

Ruinart and art…

From the start, Ruinart has been close to the art world. The photo above is from their very first advertising poster – one of France’s first advertising posters. The artist was unknown at the time, but his style became known as Art Nouveau.

Ruinart

Since then Ruinart has worked with artists to promote champagne and the brand. The gallery room was a highlight of the tour, and my favourite was the melted chandelier (above and below) – a chandelier which has spectacularly fallen and “melted” on the table and onto the floor.

Ruinart

Another favourite was the Ruinart fresco (below). This one is cleverly designed to show the wine-making process using balls. If you want to see it animated, check out the website.

Ruinart

The tasting…

Ok, at 70 euros a head this is an expensive 2-hour tour, but both the tour and the tasting are special.

Ruinart

Not only did we taste our chosen cuvee (non-vintage blend) – blanc or rose – but we also had a full glass of the vintage version of choice. It was the first time I’d been able to compare the difference – and yes, there is a difference.

Oh, a note on the bottles. They look different to most champagne bottles and the chardonnay or blanc is in clear bottles – something which makes the wine even more fragile – but is unique to Ruinart.

Ruinart

Reims

Aside from Ruinart, other les grandes maisons calling Reims home are Pommery, Taittinger, Mumm, Veuve Cliquot…and the list goes on.

Reims is another city that has been meticulously restored – after both WWI and WWII –  and aside from the champagne houses, the highlight is Cathedrale Notre Dame.

As well as being the third or fourth (seriously, what does it matter?) largest Gothic cathedral in France, it was here that many kings of France were crowned – including Charles VII with Joan of Arc at his side in 1429.

The history is interesting, but it was the windows I was most interested in – in particular, the windows by Marc Chagall. I could have stood in front of them for ages. And the astronomical clock – that too…although I didn’t get a pic of that.

Reims Cathedral Chagall
Stained glass windows by Chagall

Where we ate…

Anna S – La Table Amoureuse in Reims.

Hubby had smoked salmon and white asparagus in puff pastry with a lime hollandaise and I had tartare of fish with quinoa. The black lacy thing is squid ink.

Hubby also had the dessert tasting plate…I had another glass of bubbles.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Perching Bar, Verzy

Who says that tree-houses are just for kids?

What if I told you there was a champagne bar seven metres above the ground in the heart of the Regional Natural Park of the Montagne de Reims in Verzy? A bar that you could only reach by a series wooden walkways and suspension bridges?

Interested?

Yep, I was too.

The place is the Perching Bar and your admission fee includes a glass of the bubbly stuff.

All around is the whoosh of zip-lines of varying heights for zip-liners of varying ability (and courage) but up here in the trees sipping on a glass of Bollinger (bolly… sweetie) all is grand with the world.

The view’s not bad either.

I love what they do with the corks and the top thingies.

Want more info?

The Perching Bar is open from April to mid-December and as only a certain number of people can be up here at any one time, reservations are recommended.

Check out their Facebook page here.

Oh, there is a bit of a walk – don’t worry, it’s nothing too strenuous – up a hill on a dirt path, so wear shoes that are ok for walking up a hill on a dirt path.

Also, children under 12 years are not permitted.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Aupres de l’Eglise, Oyes, Champagne

Imagine if you will, fields of golden canola glistening in the late afternoon light, a long table dressed for dinner in a sun-drenched courtyard, the buzzing of bees as they flit from blossom to blossom, aperitifs in amongst the birches. Now take that image and pop it into a quintessentially French village in Champagne on a sunny Saturday afternoon in spring and you have dinner at Aupres de L’Eglise.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Aupres de L’Eglise is in Oyes, Champagne. Oyes is a village – or commune – near Sezanne and about 29 kms from Epernay. It’s perfectly situated for all that Champagne has to offer. We stayed here for two very comfortable nights. Our hosts – Kiwi expats Glenis and Mike.

To get here we drove through acre after acre of sprawling canola fields – or colza as they call it in France. From a distance, it appears as though the yellow has been painted into the green. When we get out of the car to take a photo it’s almost as tall as me – which, admittedly, probably doesn’t mean a whole lot…

The house…

The property itself is full of surprises – a wall left unpainted except for the mason’s scribbles, a dividing wall comprised solely of bookcases, an arrangement of daffodils beside a publication from the late 1960’s titled “The New Zealand Gown of the Year.”

The four of us had the run of the big house – which was way larger than what we needed, but a treat indeed.

Downstairs is a large double room, a smaller room with two single beds, a bathroom and a large open plan kitchen, dining and living space. All of us said we’d have loved to be there when it was cool enough to have the log fires going. As it was the weather was so great we were in t-shirts and thongsjandalsflip-flops.

Hubby and I had the upstairs rooms.

A large space divided by a clever wall of bookcases, an alcove -for tea and coffee making, and a well-designed bathroom overlooking the church.

The church over the back fence only has services once a month, so the bells don’t chime – the only noise in the morning being cockerels in neighbouring yards.

 

The highlight of a stay at Aupres de l’Eglise – as an aside, the literal translation of the name is “near the church” – is the evening meal.

What we ate…

We started with an aperitif of local champagne drunk in the courtyard under the birches.

To go with this Glenis had made a “cake” of cheese, peppers, eggs and herbs. It was sort of like a cross between a frittata and a loaf cake. I’ve asked her for the recipe, so watch this space.

Also on offer were bowls of pink radishes and butter mixed with salt flakes. Radishes served with butter and salt is apparently a very French hors-d’oeuvre – and one that I’m borrowing for a scene in my current novel. It’s simple, but really tasty – and perfect with champagne…although isn’t anything?

We moved across to the table and then the food arrived. So much food – all of it home-cooked and from produce that’s as local as possible.

First out was a quiche made with local cheese, perfect pastry – I really must practice making pastry – served with sun-dried tomatoes and rocket.

Mike and Glenis joined us for our main course – served platter style. There was a Moroccan style lamb surrounded by broccoli and peppers spiced with chilli, bowls of oil-brushed potatoes roasted in their skins, carrots glazed in ginger and coriander, and a celery, walnut and cauliflower salad with pomegranate molasses dressing.

Cheese followed, and to finish was a baked cheesecake that Glenis had covered in cream and scattered with plump blueberries. Sadly I’d given up trying to fit anything else in my tummy after the cheese!

It was a fabulous dinner, with great food, great company and lots of conversation. Speaking of which, I need to email one of the other guests with the recipe for Annabel Langbein’s Strawberry Cloud Cake (if you’re interested you’ll find the recipe here). I also need to ask Mike for the details of Careme’s banquet that took place in one of the villages near to here. I think it was Montmort-Lucy…although I could be wrong.

Then there was the story about how thousands of taxis in Paris were commandeered to bring soldiers to reinforce the army facing the Germans in what became known later as the Battle of the Marne. France needed troops brought in – and they needed them fast. The trains were already full, but the taxis weren’t.

It’s a fabulous story that I really must research a tad more. Like most great stories, I suspect there’s a reasonable amount of myth interspersed with the facts, but isn’t that what makes a great story?

More information…

 

Anyways, where was I? About to tell you how you can find Glenis and Mike if ever you’re looking for great accommodation in Champagne.

We found them on Sawdays and Air BNB, and the link to the website is here. You can also find them on Facebook.

Around the village…

We wandered around the village and through the canola fields before brekky – speaking of which, if it’s in season you must try the tomato and basil compote on a fresh baguette. The village is small but pretty, and worth the stroll.

A few kms out of town is Mondemont- Montgivroux and the monument to the Battle of the Marne. At over 35 m tall it can be seen for miles.

Ok, I get that this was a very important battle, but the best that can be said about this monument – locally referred to as La Carotte, on account of its colour and shape – is that it’s large and ummm more than a tad phallic.

It is, however in a gloriously photogenic spot, so all other visual offences are forgiven.

Next time – Another 24 hours in Champagne: Ruinart, Reims, and a treehouse bar.

OEuilly

The capital O and E together is not a typo. In French, it looks as though the two letters are joined. I’m typing in English, though, so you’ll need to trust me on that.

This dinky little town might be difficult to pronounce (it’s something like wee-yee) but it’s seriously cute in a grey-stone quintessential French village sort of way. It’s one of those towns that make you want to see what’s behind the shutters, what’s on the kitchen tables, why there is fake grass used as fences. Yes, fake grass on fences. Bunnings is missing out on a whole market there.

There’s a well and a centre of town that I like to imagine was just like the tiled pictures in the photos below.

OEuilly has a 13th-century church that sits on the top of the hill and has views all down the valley. In the churchyard are five white marble gravestones – for RAF airmen who died on May 4, 1944. They must have been in the same plane or the same formation. There was the pilot, two gunners, the air bomber and the wireless operator.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.

OEuilly is located on the Vallee de la Marne Champagne Route (you’ll have to imagine that the accents that should be over some of these letters are actually there) it’s about 13kms from Epernay and 27kms from Reims in the heart of Champagne.

The town also has plenty of champagne producers and a museum devoted to wine-growing – the Economusee d’OEuilly. Again, you can put the accent thingies over the “e” yourself. Early in the morning as we walked through town, these strange tractors moved from field to field. They looked like monster trucks but in an agricultural form – so designed to be able to drive through the vineyards without damaging the vines.

Although we came to the region for the champagne, it’s not why we were here in OEuilly. OEuilly was the first stop on our foodie road-trip and we were here for Jean-Eric’s cooking. Well, not just Jean-Eric’s cooking…but it’s as good a reason as any.

road-tripping

L’Oeuillade en Champagne

This charming little gite in the heart of Champagne was to be our home for the first night of our road-trip – and it didn’t disappoint.

Choosing accommodation for 3 people when 2 of them are a couple (me and hubby) can be a tad difficult – as well as we get on together, we do also need a certain amount of our own space.

L’Oeuillade had plenty of living space and 3 good sized bedrooms. If we’d been inclined to cook, we had all the facilities to do so. Cooking, though, was the last thing on our minds.

What would be on our mind? Champagne, of course…in the garden.

We’d dropped in for a sneaky bubbly tasting at Epernay on our way in – to pick up some supplies for the evening – and this is where we settled…pretty much for the night.

And why not? It was a glorious Spring evening and we had plenty of champagne, portable speakers, comfy chairs, and views like this.

Best of all, because we’d reserved dinner in-house, Jean-Eric, our host, and his lovely wife brought our meal to us. Bliss. Great food with no washing up. Their house was across the road, and that’s where they brought each course of our meal from.

We started with champagne which Jean-Eric had hubby open sabrage style – with a champagne sabre. The video was on Instagram, but essentially the sabre breaks the neck and the cork of the bottle away. It’s all very dramatic.

not the bottle we opened with the sabre

The meal that followed was one of the best we had in France. It was, without a doubt, the best value one we had too.

What did we eat?

Parmentier de Foie Gras sauce au vin – sliced potatoes with pate and a red wine sauce. I would never have thught of this combo in a million years but it worked.

Papillote de Rouget au Champagne – Red mullet with champagne sauce cooked “en papillote” ie in paper. THE best fish dish we had in France. I’ve found a recipe I’ll be experimenting with, but I doubt it will be as good as this one on a warm Spring evening in Champagne with champagne.

Sorbet au Marc de Champagne – the marc is a brandy made from the discarded skins and seeds in the process of making champagne. It was poured over the sorbet as a very tasty palate cleanser.

Joues de Porc à la Bière de Marne – pork cheeks cooked in local beer. Sorry, no pic…but very yummy.

Assiette des Trois Fromages – a selection of cheese. I especially loved the cream cheese which was similar to the cervelles de canuts that we would later taste in Lyon.

Sabayon de fruits et ratafia – a sabayon served with berries and a glass of the local ratafia, a spirit that is essentially a fortified grape brandy.

And all washed down with the “supplies” we’d purchased in Epernay. It was the type of meal that memories are made of. And all for 35 euros a head*

If you’re heading to Champagne and want to know more about L’Oeuillade en Champagne, you can find Jean-Eric’s website here. We, however, found him on Air BNB. Hde and his wife were brilliant hosts.

*Price was as of April 2018.

Next time: A Day in Champagne…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.