Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The kindness of friends

For the last week of the trip we enjoy the company and hospitality of friends - first with the Vikings in Axat, a small village of approximately 900 people snuggled in the Pyrénées, close to the border with Spain. Then we drop Bella off and kiss her good bye before flying to visit the Celts in Paris, a large city of approximately 2.5 million and a brazen sprawl
The house in Axat sits directly, and I mean directly, on the River Aude, which has its source in the  Pyrénées and runs east into the Med, carving a most attractive and highly navigable waterway (raft or canoe, no barges or super-yachts).  It is serene, sitting on the terrace enjoying a glass of something medicinal, the church bell marking each passing hour, and otherwise only the whoop the occasional kayaker to disturb.   All in all it is a supremely relaxing place to be and the few days saunter by in a rhythm of eating, drinking, walking, drinking, and a little adventuring - and drinking.
Axat: the view from the terrace
Sermon on the mount -fresco in the church
One intriguing adventure takes us to Rennes-le-Château, which at first flush appears to be yet another cute hilltop village with a church in the vein the French do so well in these parts.  However..... dark secrets abound.  The whole story is too long to recount here, but the history provides inspiration for the conspiracy theories  of the 1982 book Holy Blood Holy Grail, in which the authors hypothesise Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a family.  This was revisited more latterly in that simultaneously gripping and turgid tome The Da Vinci Code. ( I galloped through the first half of that book and then became annoyed and bored by it, so my memory of the story is dim.)  François Bérenger Saunière was parish priest from 1885 to 1909 and within the space of a few years renovated the Church (St Mary Magdalene church is highly ornate and very beautiful), presbytery and other buildings, and created ostentatious projects in the parish, raising questions as to the origin of the funds. The rumour spread that he had found a treasure.  However the Bishop of Carcassonne thought otherwise and drew up and Ecclesiastical Bill of Indictment . charging  Saunière with "Trafficking in Masses, Disobedience to the Bishop, and Exaggerated and unjustified expenditure to which fees from Masses that have not been said seem to have been devoted".  Given the means the Catholic church has used to gather its vast wealth, I would have thought he would have been praised rather than indicted.
  
Lemon verbena mousse with
raspberry sorbet
We repair for lunch at an elegant chateau and enjoy a delicate and delicious three course lunch: a trio of tomato, being three different varieties, with prosciutto; Brandade (a puree of salt cod and olive oil that tastes much better than it sounds) on herby potato; and a light lemon verbena mousse on a crisp sable biscuit with zingy raspberry sorbet.  What a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a day: history, culture, intrigue and good food.


Every car should have air con in the glove box




It is sad to say goodbye to Bella at Perpignan airport as it signals how close we are to the end of this trip.  She has served us well and we only exchanged a few bitter words over GPS directions. One of Bella's most attractive features is the air conditioning in the glove box, which serves to keep the essentials of life cool.  Every car should have this as standard.


We take an Air France flight to Orly and fetch up to our Scottish friends' apartment. They have been living in Paris for five years now, but we first met when they lived in Wellington. 
Poultry is presented with all its bits including gizzards 
They live in the 10th arrondissement, which borders the canal and is lively with restaurants and bars. I read a column that also describes it as boho, as in a mix of bohemian-bourgeoise.  On Sunday we walk down the canal to the seemingly endless street market and our host selects fruit and vegetables, cheese and meats.  Everything is fresh and there are many, many producers, so competition keeps prices in line.  I particularly approve of the country of origin labelling. 

The Sunday weather precludes much except a lazy lunch at the corner bistrot.  While the other three order an attractive avocado and shrimp dish, I opt for Salade de Gésiers - yes that is chicken gizzard salad.  It sounds like something Jed Clampett would eat. The fried gizzards come atop of a pile of salad greens, and are crowned with a poached egg. They are not unlike bacon, which is a surprise, and rather delicious.  A good choice after all.

When the weather improves we mooch around the Parisian streets and wander through the Luxembourg Gardens.  Paris is quite well served for parks and areas providing respite from the insane traffic.   A quartet of skilled and competitive boules (petanque) players absorb our attention for a good while.  There is evidence of considerable technique as the three men and one woman flick the weighty boules with precision: they either land just near the target, or conversely squarely smack the opponents boule and sending it skittering away.  
Soupe a l'oignon
Lunch - delicious onion soup - comes from the charming madame running a little caravan cafe. She asks us to sign her Livre d'Or, her Golden Book, in which visitors from all over the world sing the praises of her crepes and soupes.  All from a gas bottle and a couple of burners.


And so our trip draws to a close. I head to London to catch up with friends and the h-g stays a couple more days with our kind Celts before he returns via Dubai, where he stops over to see his boy.


We are home now - it's raining. The first rain we have really seen (aside from one drizzly Paris day) in seven weeks. Welcome back.