25 January, 2012


How are you?  It's, um, been a while. 

A couple of holidays have rolled by, and I just can't seem to have the kind of spare time I had in the countryside.  But here are some images to give you an idea of what I have been doing.
I did spend Christmas and New Year's in France, but we had absolutely no access to internet the entire time we were there. Five different France Telecom technicians came to the house, to no avail.  Grr.
It was pretty frustrating, particularly since I actually did have time for a change, between seeing friends and cooking.  But at least there were these pretty Dutch amaryllis to admire.  I coulnd't decide whether I liked the flowers or the curling stem ends better.  Don't those look spectacular?  Reminds me of Martha Stewart and her ilk soaking sliced radishes to turn them into roses...
I visited Arles, with its Salon de Santons (an expo of handmade figurines made for Provencal themed Nativity scenes), its Roman ruins, and its van Gogh postcards.
(And yes, it was this beautiful pretty much my entire stay in France.)
The decorations were all still up, of course, even though a good number of the restaurants were closed for the holidays.
There was still lots of fun browsing to be done, including at a well-regarded bookshop filled with  exquisite literary editions (lots of poetry) and witty, well-designed children's books: Actes Sud. The bookstore, with its over 40,000 well-chosen titles is also the headquarters of a well-regarded  publisher.  Definitely worth dropping in, even if you can't actually read French, as they have scads of lavishly illustrated art and photography books.
I spent hours just wandering, with no particular goal. 
I resisted buying the tourist claptrap, even though these soaps did look as though they would make nice gifts.  I love the Dutch word for crap and clutter, it fits here: prullaria, pronounced like an aria.
After this we headed north toward Eparnay, center of the sprawling Champagne region. 
We stayed overnight at a lovely chateau. As one does. 
After the dining, time for the wining.  Or rather the stocking up of wine.
The highlight of our visit was to L Huot Fils, whose entry-level Champagne has been gilded with three stars (the highest possible rating--as well as a coup de coeur title) by the discriminating reviewers at the Guide Hachette.

Their three-star Champagne, the Carte Noire Reserve, is all the more impressive considering it goes for well under 15 euros a bottle. 
We were given an in-depth, personal tour of the property by the owners, with detailed explanations about the history, exacting process and stringent requirements for making Champagne. In the image below, the bottle is being held up to show the sediment gathered at the bottom and yet to be removed.  Above, the wine bottles are minutely turned the old-fasahioned way, but they also have machines these days: finding enough skilled labor is increasingly difficult.
These third and fourth generation vintners were as charming and welcoming to strangers as one could possibly imagine.  We were able to taste the full range of their wines, in between swapping jokes and stories.  When you go to this region, by all means, visit a big-name producer, but don't miss out on the smaller, well-regarded spots such as this one.  They are making exciting, accessible, affordable wine, and all it takes is a call a day in advance...for a highly enjoyable morning.
After that, all you have to do is open the Champagne you've bought, and celebrate with finesse and no end of pleasure.
I wish you a happy 2012--newly become the Year of the Dragon.


  1. Happy New Year! I was going to ask you what the curly things were above the amaryllis, but you answered that question. How lovely! Who knew that's what happens to their stems. I bought one a long time ago and just leave it in its pot when it blooms.

  2. chúc mừng năm mới, WC! Aren't the ends of the amaryllis stems pretty? When you have cut amaryllis, only put a bit of water, a couple of inches, that is what the florists here say. Cut flowers and plants are relatively inexpensive in holland, but I guess that is not so surprising given that some 3/4s of the flowers in flower shops worldwide come from here.

  3. Hello, I am Gabriel, an Italian student in Lecce (Salento), and I am working on a project concerning the Italian style food programme. May you please tell me your email address? I'd like to invite you to a food festival we are organizing in late may 2012. Thank you very much.


  4. I saw you comment on someone else's post re: yogurt pots. (The little petite ones) I live in the states and have been searching for the pots for the past 2 years and would love to find a way to have some sent to me. Is this something you might be able to do? I could send you money for them. They are the CUTEST things & I wish someone here in the states would take a hint and start to sell them!! Please email me if its a possibility. Thanks!!!

  5. Hello Gabriel and Merritt,
    I thought I actually responded to you, but apparently i only thought about doing so! Sorry about that. Will do so now...


Thanks for visiting my blog and joining in the conversation!

Related Posts with Thumbnails