June 2007

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At the moment, cherries are everywhere here in Switzerland. Roadside signs proclaim "Kirschen" or "Chriesli" (the Swiss-German dialect for cherries), luring you to farms and fruit groves and farm stores. They're on sale at the Migros supermarket too, for the busy person to pick up in a hurry.

When I get started on cherries, I can't seem to stop until I've had my fill, and I do mean fill, of that sweet, dark juice with a hint of sourness. Fresh cherries are so good that I just can't bring myself to do anything more than pop them in my mouth one after another, methodically spitting out the pits. I know there are numerous cherry recipes out there, but as delicious as things like cherry pie and cherry clafouti are, there's really nothing to beat the naked, unadorned cherry.

I am gradually catching up on the Daily Grind, which includes some recorded or downloaded TV shows (yay Lee won Joseph! OMG Katie really got her just desserts, the biatch! (only UK readers will know what I'm talking about)). I've watched the first two episodes of Top Chef 3 (aka Top Chef: Miami), plus the Season 1 vs. Season 2 smackdown. I enjoyed the smackdown episode a lot - it was fun to see old favorites again. Wasn't Stephen's new maturity impressive? Dave hasn't changed at all! Tiffani looks sort of like a female version of Mario Batali. And god, Ilan was awful. Etc. etc.

It's fun and all that still, and the season 3 contestants look varied and interesting, but I just can't bring myself to recap and analyze each episode of this show any more as I did with seasons 1 and 2. (Judging from the email, I guess a few people will be disappointed...sorry!) It's a bit of work to assemble screen shots and things, and analyzing TV cooking shows isn't really a focus of this blog after all. And to be honest, Top Chef is nowhere near being the best or most interesting food-related TV show any more. Plus, the constant, in your face product placement that I complained about during last season is even worse now! It's really hard to bear. (I also got an email from some PR person wanting to 'work with me' on 'promoting Top Chef', and well, I'm really not interested.)

When I started doing recaps and reviews of each episode back in season 1, I was one of the few doing it - I thought the show had a lot of potential, coming as it did from the producers of Project Runway. Now there are a zillion blogs and forums doing this - Bravo TV's site alone has about a thousand of them. The best, by far, in my opinion is from Season 1 favorite Lee Anne Wong, who also cooks the winning recipe for each ep in The Wong Way To Cook, still a horrible title but the video itself is nice. So there are plenty of places to get your Top Chef fixes.

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While I was away, the new Summer 2007 issue of Alimentum arrived in my mailbox. I've written about this little quarterly journal previously; it's dedicated to "The Literature Of Food", and it's a pure delight for anyone who is interested in reading and food, especially when they go together. The web site has some samples from the current and past issues - be sure to check them out.

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monsegur-lostsign.jpgThe sign that is no more.

As we approached the tiny hilltop village of Montsegur-sur-Lauzon in northern Provence, my mouth was already watering in anticipation of the bread at the one and only boulangerie (bakery) there. I'd been looking forward to this for months, ever since last November, when we'd made one last stopover to load up on bread to sustain us for the long drive back home and a couple of days beyond.

I've written about my love for this boulangerie before. The bread there was the best I've ever had - bursting with flavor and character. Even when the loaves turned a bit stale after a couple of days, they were still so good. I was convinced that if the baker, Monsieur Metaud, was in Paris, he'd be world famous.

It was a Sunday, and there was a small queue of people waiting for their bread in the tiny store. Neither of the two people behind the counter, a young man and a middle aged woman, were Madame or Monsieur Metaud, but that didn't concern us - they had other people selling bread there before, especially on weekends. But as we shuffled closer to the front of the line, something seemed a bit off. The collection of exotic teas that used to line the wall shelves were gone. The pretty display of confections was quite pared down.

I'm back home from Provence, both in the physical sense and the interweb sense. I actually lost Net access for the past two weeks (we thought we had something more convenient but it turned out we needed to drive 30 minutes one way to get to a WiFi spot, and well...other things sort of took priority). What I need to get into my head is that in this day and age, being offline for so long is not a good thing. It's sort of like being MIA, for a lot of people that know me. Yes, I confess I didn't even check my email for two weeks. So...if this affected you in relation to your food related questions and so on, I apologize. Next time I go away I'll make sure I can at least get online once a day.

I'll have a lot, lot more to say about my trip later on, but in the meantime, here is a little mystery. Can you identify these? (Click on the image to get a bigger view. RSS readers will have to go to the site to do this.) I'd never seen them in this state before.

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While the food in Provence is glorious - the freshest vegetables and fruit ever, tons of fresh garlic, and delicious cheeses, fragrant herbs - I really, really missed Japanese food. I did bring a (very small) bottle of soy sauce with me, but no rice or any other ingredients. (Curiously I found nori and soy sauce at the local hypermarché, but no Japonica rice, or most other needed ingredients. So I'm not sure what rice the people of Provence make sushi with.)

Last summer, I had to make an emergency stop at a small Japanese-Korean restaurant in Aix-en-Provence to take care of the withdrawal symptoms, but this year I toughed it out for three whole weeks. But anyway, the first thing I did when we got home last night? Make a potful of rice and have a bowlful with an umeboshi. I think the older I get, the more Japanese I'm getting. If my long term plans to Get A Place In Provence work out, I'm definitely going to have to sort out the Japanese food supply situation.

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The comments on the post about whether vegetarian restaurants should only be reviewed by vegetarians have been really interesting - if you haven't read them yet, please take a look here. This has made me decide to do a small experiment. I'm here in Provence for three weeks, and I'll be cooking most of our meals (that's why we like to rent a place with a kitchen whenever we come here, as I wrote about last year). So, I'm going to make all of our meals in-house vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarian to be precise, since not having any of the delicious cheeses here would be too much of a sacrifice and the self-proclaimed 'bovo-vegetarian' in house will rebel before we've even started. We will be giving up eggs though (a hardship in itself since I love eggs), and meat and fish. (We might have a bouillabaise once at a restaurant.) I'll also try to stick as much as possible to locally produced food, though I'm not going to be as strict there. (E.g. I will use spices and things like lemons from elsewhere.)

Admittedly, here with all of the glorious locally produced fresh produce it should be a breeze. I doubt it will change my palette much but it will help me concentrate on coming up with different and tasty vegetarian dishes. The better results will be posted here of course!

We drove all day on Saturday and arrived late at night to a place that is quite close to my idea of Paradise.

We're in Cassis, a small jewel of a town on the Mediterranean coast of France. Quite close to Marseilles, but worlds away in all other ways. Chic yet a lot more laid back than the Cote d'Azur.

(warning: big photos below)

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