Friday, August 30, 2013

We Are Just a Figgy Family

I must be one of the luckiest, food lovin' ladies in the world right now. Even though the days are getting shorter, which makes me sad, and the temperatures have cooled off dramatically- especially at night- which also makes me sad, there are now ripe figs.
   Figs have long been my favorite fruit. My Mom has an incredibly high producing tree in Maryland. So, if I time my trips to see her right, I get my fill. Sadly for my fig obsession, it  has been years since I have been there for the late summer harvest. Needless to say, they do not survive the winters in Colorado.
   All around our house in France are fig trees. There are yellow figs growing wild, there are brown figs that are cultivated. They grow out of rock outcrops, along lakes, on the side of the highways- they are everywhere. They are just getting to that sticky, sweet stage of perfect ripeness. I am trying to dissuade the children from picking the figs underripe. They can hardly contain themselves- scaling an idyllic  climbing tree and picking fruit? Well, I can hardly blame them for proudly bringing me samples of their daily fig catch. As a true fig snob, I just can't eat them under-ripe, though. Oh well, I toss them into the yard where I know the wild boar will clean them up as soon as the sun goes down. This weekend, I plan to grill some figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in proscuitto. For this evening, all I had was blue cheese to go with the figs, and more rose, of course.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Miserable Mussels in Marseille

   Marseille is a big city- the third biggest city in France. It is only an hour, thanks to the rapid speed limit(or lack thereof) and a large highway. Descending the small mountain range into all of these coastal destinations is fabulous because you drive over a crest in the road, and all of a sudden, there is the sea. You know how much we love water, don't you?
   Surprisingly, getting to where I wanted was a breeze, then we set off on foot. We wandered around the Vieux Port where there are multitudes of restaurants and shops, more boats than I have ever seen and a smattering of street performers. We found a row of merchants selling fish straight from the Mediterranean. How I wished I had a kitchen to go back to and make a fabulous seafood lunch. Instead, we found a cafe off the main tourist area, thinking a few blocks up might be the ticket for an authentic Marseille, seafood lunch.  I was taking the chance to stumble upon something memorable. Oh, what a mistake. The first sign should have been when Youngest Child tried to put his napkin in his lap(good boy) and it was stuck to his menu with chewing gum. (seriously- the place looked reputable and was packed.) Oldest Child was ready to run for the door, but I convinced her to calm down and we might be pleasantly surprised. We were surprised, but with stinky mussels that I would not eat, nor would I let Oldest Child eat hers. The waiter was very considerate, offered another dish but at this point, I was ready for a change of scenery. They thought the mussels smelled fine- that was normal- they smelled of the sea- NO WAY!!! What a disappointment- I am so ready to be served a fabulous meal. Alas, the search continues.
   I know there are several expensive restaurants in Marseille that sound excellent. I will return, maybe not with three kids in tow, but I will return. And I will have that bouillabaisse I have been dreaming of.
Wait, is that Popeye???

Gorgeous Fresh Fish
I wish I could Have THAT for Lunch
Soap merchant

Fun Exploring

From the Notre Dame

Kinda Freaky Mime

Palais Longchamp

Beautiful, Old Buildings with Ironwork Railings


Sunday, August 25, 2013

We Are Wired for Now

   Oh, I have so much to tell you! Internet capabilities have been intermittent at our house for the past several days. A repair man promptly came out the first day of trouble and got things up and running for a few hours. Then, it went off again. A storm passed through with lots of wind(could that be the mistral Southern France is so famous for???) so I blamed the lack of modern technology on that. Give it a little time, I told the kids..and myself. A reprieve from the web would do us all good.
   Unfortunately, the kids had a Skype date wit their Dad that they did not want to miss, so I found a cafe in town with wireless-there is one- and off we went for an appertif and Skype. While waiting to contact their dad, the kids Skyped another family friend and it was fun to see their faces. Big Sis abruptly ended that Skype as it was time for their Dad Skype, then the internet in town went out, too!!!! A very expensive phone call followed, but at least they got to hear each other's voices, if only for a few minutes.
   We came home, the kids hanging their heads low with missing their Pa and the internet was back on- a quick Skype arrangement and everyone got to visit electronically and a happy end of the day ensued. We woke up the next day to no internet again, though. Now, hours later and a fun day behind us, it is back on. I am typing fast....
2 green lights=good
   As I mentioned earlier, we love a couple of quiet days, but I vowed to not let it go too long, as we all start to irritate each other and it just gets ugly so I cracked the whip this morning with a plan in hand and fun to be had. We went for a long walk along a nearly lake, picking enough ripe blackberries to make dessert later in the evening. The temperatures have cooled dramatically, making a hike, even in the sun, thoroughly enjoyable. Afterwards, we heading in an unknown direction, and came to a village called Cabasse. It is another small, ancient village with wandering, narrow streets and hidden passageways under stone arches. Beautiful fountains appeared after turning a corner, the best one was dripping with mosses under the flowing water. We had a rather formal lunch- it was the only place we found open- that served classic French fare with Alsatian specials. Molly and CLay both had Daube Provencale. I described it as Pot Roast- it was delicious and Molly has not eaten that much in the past fews days combined. Emma had a Gallette de Pomme de Terre avec Salmon Fume- a fried potato cake with smoked salmon- very nice. I had a Salade Nicoise as I new if anyone did not like their meal, they will always eat salad. Everyone shared and were rewarded with a delicious Apple Streudel.
   We all agreed that our outing was a great success and every second was worth leaving the house for. Next stop-Marseille.
Cabasse town center fountain

Streets lined with hanging baskets

A hidden courtyard with passageways to main streets

Many town houses have impeccable flower decor

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Skol!!!! Here is to New Friends

   My house is located on a piece of land with 2 other rentals on it. They are all short term vacation homes with great, rustic, provincial charm. The house closest to us was inhabited by the matriarch of this property, but she has since moved into assisted living.  A wave of creative aura flows out of the house as you approach. Even though the house is fully equipped- in a minimalist way, the outdoor area is so inviting for sitting with friends, gazing over the olive trees, rolling acres of grapes and big sky. I would imagine most people that stay there do little inside other than sleep. There is even an outdoor shower!
   I know the house so well because the current renters have become wonderful friends and we are all either at their place or mine, with a combination of 5 children, sometimes 6. Introducing...the Belgians. They have been coming to this property for several years. I am so lucky to have met them on their first day here as they are only here for 1 week this summer. I can not even remember how our relationship started. All of the houses have small pools which are used constantly by the children. With that comes lots of screams and laughter. Needless to say, kids gravitate towards these joyous sounds. Probably my kids were shrieking, their kids came over and it is all history now. Their children do not speak French or English, but somehow through sign language, smiles and giggles- they pal around constantly. The adult Belgian's are a joy for me, too. We have shared many meals, hours gazing at the country side, a trip to St. Tropez and many, many glasses of rose.
   A couple of days ago, we went to the coast for some beach-time. The Belgian's just happen to have some friends who recently relocated to St. Tropez so after a full day of sand and sun, we went back to their house for a look around which turned into an appertif which turned into dinner, loads of fun and a late night.
   Last night, Papa Belgian made a big homamde pasta dinner. All afternoon was spent with the kids making dough, rolling and cutting pasta. In the evening, he made several different sauces. I contributed some appetizers, salad and apricot clafouti. Mama Belgian attended to a constant flow of chilled wine and fabulous company.
   I feel so fortunate to have met this family and now have another country to visit during our year here. One of the things that I love about "maturing" is that you know very quickly when you have met someone you want as a good friend. In only a few days, I have succeeded to do this. I will miss them as neighbors, but look forward to future visits.
A day at the beach with the Belgian's

The Belgian friends' Belgian friend's house

Lots of Belgians....and Me

Papa Belgian making pasta

Forget the laundry-let's dry pasta

Bon Appetit!!!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nothing Can Only Go On So Long

   We have been home for days,  doing a whole bunch of nothing. Sometimes, this is exactly what we need and I am thankful to be able to partake in all of this nothingness, but then kids start bickering, too much screen-time happens and I- the mother- loose it.
   Last night after a perfectly lovely evening chatting with our uphill neighbors, two of my darlings came home shoving one another which needless to say, led to screaming and tears. Now I must admit, it was late, they were hungry and tired, but at what age does this end? Is there a reason kids can not grab a quick snack for themselves if they are nearing the point of collapse? I blamed the breakdown on too much time doing nothing so vowed we would be doing something the following day. Whine, whine, whine- they wanted to stay home again the next day. "ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!" I said.
   After tutoring and running a quick errand the next morning, we were off to the Cascade de Cotignac. A kilometer walk along a shaded path led us to a brilliant waterfall with crystal clear water cascading down a beautiful canyon - AND the walk is right in town! It is amazing how many sights are so close. We could spend the whole year within a 100 kilometer radius, and never go to the same place twice.        Alas, we are off to the coast again tomorrow for another day of incredibly salty water, effortless floating and beach time. Nothing can only go on so long...

They swam to the falls and back- it was a bit brisk...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

And a-Shopping WE Will Go.....

   Who would have thought this small town in rural France would have such inviting shops. I expected the boulangerie, patisserie,  fromagerie, boucherie and of course, the merchand de vin, but Cotignac also has lovely boutiques for housewares, antiques and fashion. There is a fabulous card shop with an amazing display of postcards. Inside, there are adorable tins and retro wall hangings.

card shop
The kids and I love this other little shop at the top of a windy, narrow street that has unique decorations for the home. They are certainly not locally crafted, not French at all, but tastefully cute and a nice selection of affordable gifts.

There are several shops with chic clothing. Women seem to live in sundresses in the summer so there are plenty of those, but also, there is a shop selling kimonos. Not something you would expect in Provence.

   It seems like every village has a couple of these original shops. No two places have the same things. This sure makes shopping alot more interesting. Funny thing is though, that when I am actually looking for something specific, it is really hard to find. Today, I really wanted some pieces of fabric. Nothing fancy or expensive, just some pieces for crafty projects for the kids. I did not need it badly enough to drive to Brignoles, a 30 minute trip, but was convinced that one of the village markets or hardware stores would have some. No, it was not to be found.
   The other thing I really want is a wooden reamer. You know, the simple wooden tool used to juice lemons and limes. I can't find one. I look at every hardware and kitchen-y store I stumble upon. Someday, one will just be staring me in the face- I know it will.
one of my favorite boulangeries-really good bread

fun shop with random things
The bean selection at the supermarket

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Our House, Is a Very, Very Fine House

   For those of you that are familiar with my housekeeping abilities, you know cleaning is not my forte. So, getting pictures of our house has been procrastinated as I never seem to have it looking tip top shape to spread around the internet. Lucky for me, my domestic short comings can rest even longer, as most of our time in France is spent outside. The natural beauty of our surroundings as well as the charm of our 200 plus year old house is best enjoyed from the yard.
All of our meals are eaten outside because:
1)  there is better light.
2) The aromas of wild rosemary, thyme and mint seem to make every meal all the more appetizing.
3) Gazing through the fields of olive trees from our outdoor table, looking for wild boar, seems to keep us entertained well into the evening.
Add caption

   As it has been swelteringly hot since we have been in France, the kids spend hours a day in our bassin- a small pool, plenty big for cooling off in and splashing about, shrieking with summer enthusiasm.

    When the heat of the day sets in for a few hours in the afternoon, we retreat to our nook. It is the best seat in the house for reading and a cat nap.
   The kitchen is simple. For now, this is fine as meals typically consist of salads, cheese, bread, and tapenades. As my kitchen in Colorado is fully equipped with appliances, convenient gadgets, space, get the point, this is a bit of an adjustment, but I will prevail.

   I considered a house in the village when we were planning our great adventure. I am sure we would have enjoyed the action of daily life in town, since we have never lived in a town(as a family), but I so appreciate our rural life.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Just Call Him Buzz

Little Boy got his first, French haircut. the style for boys seems to be short, really short. This is what he wanted..a buzz...with a design shaved into the side of his head with an electric razor. There just happen to be a boy in the chair before Little Boy who was getting exactly this cut. And he was getting a pyramid on the side of his head. No, No and No is all I had to say. And even though Clay's hair is so short, he was a little peeved that I would not agree to  having his whole head shaved.
We have been taking some neighborhood walks. I am so glad we decided to live in the country rather than in the village. For one thing, the kids practically live in the pool and if we were in town, what would be do? It is so nice to walk out your door, and just be able to go. Of course, you could do this in town too, but to wander through vineyards and rough, country paths is more pleasant for me. We always take a camera as you never know what you might see. Today we noticed how much the grapes have darkened in the past week.

This could be your Provincal remodel..

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Practical Recycling

   Another interesting and incredibly practical thing that we have found in France is that many grocery items are packaged in reusable containers. The mustard comes in little wine (or juice) glasses. The Nutella, something that we go through alot of, comes in water glasses. I love it. We tend to save alot of this packaging as we do not have tupperware or other receptacles for leftovers. To dispose of our garbage, we drive down the road- any direction is okay- and toss it into any public trash bin we want.  Did I tell you this I where we got oldest child's bed? Our closest trash bin is in front of the dump, and as they do not have thrift stores here, the dump is the next best thing. Pretty funny.  Recycling is a bit further. Of course, there is glass recycling at most of these trash bins, as so much wine is consumed. Recycling is a little more of a hunt, but we have found one in Salernes, about 12 kilometers away. It is a nice town, a little larger and made famous for its ceramics.
Coming up next....Clay's first French haircut.....

Friday, August 9, 2013

Les Baux to Avignon

   Les Baux de Provence is  a couple of hours west of Cotignac. It sits atop a rocky hill and is an ancient, walled city.  It has been magnificently restored and the tour is very interesting and informative. They do a mock sword fight - entertaining but all in French which I could not understand. I expect it was a good history lesson that we could have used. We missed it, but there are also catapult demonstrations that were surely entertaining, as well. The castle remains are really impressive and we all enjoyed exploring every inch of it.
   After a quick lunch, we walked into the village to see an art installation set up in an old limestone quarry now named Carrieres de lumieres. The present show projects images from Monet, Renoir, Chagall and more impressionist artists on the walls, pillars and floors, set to music in the cool, quiet atmosphere of these old quarries. This was a real pleasure and we all absorbed the magic of this show, gazing around the huge area, for over an hour. As it was nearly 100 degrees outside, it was a huge temperature relief, too!
   Later that day, we headed to Avignon to check into our hotel, wander the narrow streets and have a very pleasant dinner at a streetside brasserie. The old nursery rhyme/song led us to find the bridge first thing in the morning which was great as the crowds were thin and yes, we did a little dance sur la pont. Pont d'Avignon was build over 800 years ago. It no longer spans the length of the river, but hand held audio tours offered alot of interesting info. The kids version was the best as it was slightly briefer then the long winded tour I got. My choice genre was disco (good thing since there is so much of it in France) while the kids leaped skyward in a sort of Heavy Metal/Rock dance move. It was a great way to start our tour day of Avignon.
   We then headed to the Pope's Palace for a self guided, non- tour - not a good idea - as the line for the audio tours was WAY too long. Most of the placards are in French, go figure, so it was tough to learn much. But, I bought a small book in English so we can read about what we saw now that we are back. It was quite a sight. The palace is immense. It was fun to imagine what it looked like furnished and what the grand meals must of looked like.
   We are safely and happily back in comfortable Cotignac. Where our next adventure takes us, we do not know. Everyone is happy to sit back and relax...for a few days anyway.

An old windmill
Narrow streets within the walled city of Les Baux

Terrible picture, but shows the size of video projections 

Huge quarry walls with impressionist works shown by video

Pont d'Avignon

Inner courtyard - I think these were the maid's quarters - of Pope's Palace
View of Pope's Palace from outside the walls