01 February 2009

Imagining Avignon

Joan over at Foodalogue has been hosting a wonderful food event titled, "A Culinary Tour Around the World".  Each week, she and participants travel virtually to other countries through the food.  They "meet" people along the way as they dine their way through the country.  Joan started this event not only to satisfy her traveling bug, but to bring awareness to organizations that help fight hunger such as BloggerAid and World Food Programme.  I am so honored that Joan asked me to join their group in France this week.  I had so much fun imagining myself bicycling through southern France and sitting at farmer's tables, that I plan on joining them again.

When Joan and the others caught up with me, I was in a little town in southern France called Avignon.  Avignon has a long history, however, it is probably most famous for the Palais des Papes.  In 1309, Pope Clement V declared Avignon to be the residence of the Papacy instead of Rome.  Seven popes eventually resided in Avignon, however when Gregory XI moved the papacy back to Rome in 1376, a schism occurred in the Catholic church and a small band of cardinals declared a second pope, an antipope, in Avignon.

The Palais des Papes

Today, Avignon is a beautiful town, perfect for wandering through, and a base for exploring Provence.  It was here that I "met" my wonderful guide, a gardener named Michel.  He was the caretaker of a small castle in a little town called Charmes sur l'Herbasse.  It was an hour or so drive to the north, so I settled into his little Peugeot and watched the countryside pass.  The fields of sunflowers and lavender were in bloom (in my imagination, it is always summer) so the time passed quickly and I used it to get to know Michel a little better.  Michel's castle was owned by a rich Parisian couple who spent two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter in Charmes sur l'Herbasse.  The rest of the year, Michel and his wife, Aurelie, cared for the castle and it's grounds.

When we arrived at Michel's home, Michel's brother, Benoit, and his family were also there for Sunday lunch.  Benoit gave me a two cheek kiss in greeting and invited me to join a game of petanque.  As he looked like he took it very seriously, and I am not really a sporty type, I politely declined to see what Aurelie was up to in the kitchen.  Aurelie was preparing a simple sandwich called Sardines Grillees Croutes on homemade baguettes.  I found an approximation of her recipe in Rick Stein's French Odyssey.

Grilled Sardine Croutes adapted from Rick Stein's French Odyssey

Serves 3

1 tin sardines, in olive oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 chunks of baguette
3 romaine lettuce leaves
1-2 nice tomatoes, cut into very thin slices
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
6 anchovy fillets, in olive oil

1.  Open the sardine tin.  There should be three small chunks of sardines inside.  Open each chunk up by cutting down the middle.  Put the sardines on a cookie tray and broil for 3 minutes.
2.  Begin assembling sandwiches.
3.  Open up each chunk of baguette.  On the bottom halves of the baguette chunks, lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Lay romaine lettuce leaves, tomato slices, red onion slices and roasted red pepper pieces on in that order.  Top with sardines and anchovies.
4.  Serve top half of bread alongside.  Also serve with 4 hard boiled egg quarters.
5.  Eat with a fork and knife.

For dessert, Aurelie unwrapped a chunk of Saint Andre cheese, a triple creme cow's milk cheese, and placed it on a communal tray with some prunes.  We also had Aurelie's freshly made yogurt alongside.

After eating, we toured Aurelie's garden.  She had lots of raised vegetable beds, fruit trees, and even a bee hive from which Michel extracts honey in the fall.  It was a very pleasant day in the sun.  We eventually settled in watching Benoit and Michel play a couple of very serious rounds of petanque while sipping on a nice Burgundy.

All too soon, it was time to head to the big city of Grenoble for my flight out of France.  Joan and her travel buddies are off to Portugal next week.  I had been planning on meeting them in Ethiopia in three weeks, but I had so much fun on this adventure that they may see me before that.  If you are interested in joining Joan and crew yourself for their culinary tour, just click on the Foodalogue badge above.  Until then, A bientot!


FOODalogue said...

I had so much fun reading this post, I actually believed it was happening. Great job! Looking forward to seeing you in Ethiopia, if not before.

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

Great post. I like the pictures. Have a great day!

Chef E said...

What a beautiful post...I dream of going there one day...

Elizabeth said...

I'd love to go back to France someday! :) I'm glad you had a good virtual trip.

Anonymous said...

How fun travelling virtually! Your description of Avignon brings lovely memories of my honeymoon. That Saint Andre cheese looks delicious!

Finla said...

Wonderful post, i had the feeling i was bycycling with you :-)

Dee said...

What a wonderful post. I especially enjoyed the history tidbits of Avignon. I actually felt like I was there. The food has such a simple elegance. I love the manner in which people throughout that region share & share alike. The food & style there has given us all so much.

Katherine Roberts Aucoin said...

I enjoyed your post it was lovely. You made me want to go to Avignon!

Robin said...

Joie I loved this post- so creative! I felt like I was there with you. I guess we can dream of being somewhere warm and wonderful even though it is freezing here!

Tangled Noodle said...

What a wonderful blog event! Your post was so evocative and the croute is amazing. Food and imagination are the ultimate passports!

Tina said...

That was a nicely written narrative and I would love to expereience that trip.
Haven't had sardines in a loooong time - Have you tried this one, broiling the fish? How did you like it?

Varsha Vipins said...

That was a great Post Joie.really enjoyed going through..:)

Beth (jamandcream) said...

Love this post. I've been there, but quite a few years ago. Will have to try and re-visit

Unknown said...

I could almost smell the lavendar perfumed air....aww....I have been to Provence once. We were in Aux. Gorgeous, gorgeous. Thank you for the winter repite.


Sara said...

What a great post - I've never had grilled sardines before, it sounds quite good though!

Anonymous said...

Just after finishing reading this post, I'm sure I'll go on dreaming. Thank you for this nice post and great pictures.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Thanks for visiting My Carolina Kitchen. I love your blog as well as the name - describes the French perfectly.

Avignon is a beautiful walled city and I know you must have enjoyed it. We stayed just south of there in St. Remy de Provence. Avignon was our closest large city and where the TGV station is to catch the French high speed train to Paris.

Love the French and their cheese.