A group of friends staying at Chez Maison Bleue in May have expressed an interest in taking some art classes. There are a number of galleries in nearby Mirepoix so when shopping at the market yesterday, we called into one, “Association Art Mania” (determined by the sign in the window saying English spoken) and met Bob, one of the resident artists. The gallery is well established in Mirepoix and offers bespoke instruction in all painting media for all abilities. Depending on the season, classes are held in the studio or in the open air – at astonishingly beautiful locations in the vicinity. Rates are more than reasonable, individuals and groups up to about 6 can be accommodated. If this is something you are interested in then please let me know, we can liaise with the gallery and make arrangements prior to your visit.
Archive for month: April, 2012
“Lovely house, fabulous hospitality, can’t wait for our next visit!” These guests were staying at Chez Maison Bleue while house hunting in the Mirepoix area. Our child friendly accommodation offers toys, books, games-scooter and fishing nets particularly appreciated by the 2yr old twins.
The hills around Sonnac sur l’Hers in the south of France offer a myriad of opportunities for all levels of fitness, after 6 years we are still discovering new routes. From the back door of our holiday cottage, a steep but short climb up the GR7 is rewarded with striking views of the Pyrenees in all their splendour. We walk this route regularly but this morning, instead of turning towards Chalabre, we walked further into the hills to Col de Bac, through forests and meadows of wild flowers, the cuckoo and the woodpecker keeping us company. Returning along the old railway track, a tiny red squirrel darted out from under our feet and up the nearest tree. We have seen red squirrels before in this exact spot, what a treat. April – June are lovely months to visit Languedoc, nature in all her glory as the warm spring rushes towards the baking heat of summer.
2 stages of the Tour de France go through Languedoc in 2012:
Stage 13, July 14, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Le Cap d’Agde 215 km (road stage)
Stage 14, July 15 — Limoux – Foix 192 km (high mountain stage).
Limoux is half an hour from our holiday cottage and B&B, although the race comes much closer – through Puivert only 7km away. The Tour is a great spectacle and cause for many celebrations in the towns and villages, lasting long after the riders have disappeared round the mountain! We offer cyclist friendly accommodation and whether you wish to follow the riders up the twisty cols, or prefer cycling for softies through vineyards and along forest tracks, Languedoc has something to offer. If you wish to follow the Tour or any other route, we can provide short distance support (transport, food, etc). Bike hire is available locally and can be arranged prior to your visit.
Detailed routes of the Tour in Languedoc on Cycling Languedoc website.
Flights from Stanstead into Carcassonne during May, £44 return, from Liverpool, £36. Fields behind our holiday cottage filled with wild flowers, alfresco dining on the square. A perfect time to visit the south of France, avoiding the crowds – and £100 reduction on weekly rates for our holiday cottage. What are you waiting for…
Extensive programme for the Jazz and Big Band celebrations (en français) in Limoux, 26 April – 1 May. Limoux is about half an hour from our holiday cottage in Sonnac sur l’Hers, a lively, very French town deep in the land of the Cathars. Combine a trip to the Jazz with a tasting at one of the Blanquette caves, we collaborate with Antech (en français again) and lunch on the square to the sound of the water splashing into the fountain, a perfect way to assure some R&R in the spring sunshine of the south of France.
The trouble with having worked in the UK and then moving to France is the need to sort out quite complicated tax rules. So I had to bite the bullet and visit an accountant. It was whilst getting stuff ready to take that it reminded me that I needed to do a blog about cookbooks.
As a chef I have a passion for cookbooks, I can happily just read them and browse through them. Here in France it also helps improve my language and gives insights into the culture – in France they sometimes use as a measure a cuilliere a cafe (coffee spoon) where English books use a teaspoon.
So how should you choose a cookbook? In his book Considerations sur la cuisine, Pierre de Pressac advises, “Which is the best cookery book? The one you like best, and which gives you that confidence that cannot be called forth to order but which is instinctively felt.” One master French work is Larousse Gastronomique by Prosper Montagne published in 1938. He was a master chef here in the Languedoc and although working at the top of his profession never forgot the regional cookery which had been practiced within his family for generations. Another great French chef who never forgot his regional roots was Escoffier and his great work Ma Cuisine published in 1932, when he was 88, contains many famous Provencal dishes. At Chez Maison Bleue I always try to follow one of Escoffier’s greatest maxims “Faites simple”
In terms of great English cookbooks many people often refer to “Mrs Beeton” forgetting that her work is really about far more than cooking being, to use its title, a “Book of Household Management”
I suppose moving to the modern era many swear by Delia, I tend to swear at her because I find her recipes a bit verbose and sometimes unnecessarily complicated. Jamie Oliver produces some good recipes as do many of the celebrity chefs. However as a good foundation basic cookbook I reckon that the Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cookbook takes some beating.
For a real insight into French cookery everyone should read French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David. This book first published in 1960 is more than a cookbook. Although containing some classic recipes it also gives fascinating cultural and historical information and is an interesting read even if you never follow any of the recipes.
So what books do I use, well loads actually. If I want to try a new dish I will read as many different versions of the same thing and then make an amalgam of them picking what I consider to be the best bits. I would never rely on just one version. I share the view of cookbooks expressed by Pierre de Pressac with whom I started this piece. He went on to say, “For myself I like those books which are not too complicated and which suggest ideas rather than being minutely detailed handbooks.” Although fans of Heston Blumenthal would probably not agree with de Pressac’s comment, “Mere freakishness is no passport to glory. It is not even to be recommended”.
A sure sign of Spring is the proliferation of antique fêtes and vide greniers (literally empty attics) in Languedoc in the south of France. I have blogged previously about buying antiques in France at auction; the fêtes and vide greniers are a far less formal means of sourcing quirky items or genuine French antiques at often sensationally low prices. We are looking forward to a major salon antiquités (antiques fair) in nearby Limoux 14-15 April. Combined with lunch on the lovely old square, and perhaps even a visit to one of the Blanquette caves, a fabulous, and perhaps even profitable day, is guaranteed.