Archive for month: April, 2012

Painting in the south of France

A group of friends staying at Chez Maison Bleue expressed an interest in taking art classes whilst in the south of France. There are a number of galleries in nearby Mirepoix so when shopping at the market yesterday, we called into “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 various, beautiful locations. 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.

Beautiful, medieval Mirepoix, the best market in the region (Mondays)

A major exhibition in July by Slawa & Viktoria Prischedko and in October by Marc Folly.

Guest book comment

“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.

Wildflowers southern France

Surrounded by wildflower meadows, our holiday rental in southern France, what a treat…

A few steps from the back door

A few steps from the back door

A joyous time of year for exploring the natural beauty of Languedoc and the Midi, nature in all her glory as the warm spring rushes towards the baking heat of summer.

Surrounded by wildflower meadows

Surrounded by wildflower meadows

From the back door of our holiday cottage, a short, steep climb along the GR7 is rewarded with striking views of the snow-capped Pyrenees. We take this path as often as we can, through woods and wildflower meadows, stupendous at this time of year, sounds of the cuckoo and woodpecker keeping us company. Returning along the Voie Verte, from Chalabre, a tiny red squirrel darted from under our feet and up the nearest tree. We have seen red squirrels before in this exact spot.

A few steps from our holiday rental

A few steps from our holiday rental

Tour de France in Languedoc

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.

Cheap flights into Carcassonne

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…

Sandy beaches and swimming at Lac Montbel

Jazz Festival Limoux

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.

Cooking The Books

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

a simple desert

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”.

Antiques sale Limoux

Quirky finds at the Salon Antiquites, Limoux

A sure sign of Spring is the proliferation of antique fêtes and vide greniers (literally, empty attics) in Languedoc in the south of southern 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 very low prices. Limoux is a centre for salons antiquités (antiques fairs). Combined with lunch on the lovely old square, and perhaps even a visit to one of the Blanquette cellars, a fabulous, and perhaps even profitable day, is guaranteed.