We awoke to the sound of the bells of the Chartres Cathedral. How’s that for a lovely memory?
Our charming French hostess brought breakfast to our room and it revealed that she is not only a talented decorator, but also a great cook. We had poppy seed madeleines with lemon curd, caramel custard, yogurt with nuts and cranberries, apricot and apple compote with pepper, and some assorted breads with homemade jams. (We didn’t eat lunch today.)
We headed north to Giverny. Yes, it’s a touristy village, but one look at Monet’s willows and water lilies and you get weak in the knees. It was really is as pretty as a picture. http://giverny.org/
There was much more blooming in the garden behind his house than we expected. We determined that being a gardener in Monet’s garden would be a top-notched resume item.
Our B&B is on Rue Claude Monet and this evening we walked down the street into “town” and had our last galettes and cider of the trip.
We sat outside on the restaurant patio overlooking the Seine valley and reflected on this experience. We fell in love with Normandy, were delighted by Dinan, fascinated with Loire, stunned by Chartres, and captivated by Monet’s garden. There were no regrets, no we-should-haves, and no “if-only” moments. We head home tomorrow with more memories than we can ever count.
Thanks for traveling with us and please excuse us if we stare into the distance every now and then as French Frolic thoughts reemerge.
Today felt very French. We headed to the local market this morning with our cooking instructor and the dog to pick up a few items we needed for cooking class. We stopped at Sinead’s favorite vegetable farmer who still plows his field using a donkey. We bought some lovely yellow and green mini-eggplants, a zucchini, shallots, and tomatoes.
We then went to the fishmonger for mussels, fish fillets, and shrimp.
Of course we had to stop by the cheese guy for some aged goat cheese and a slice of his cheesecake. Home to cook.
Today’s menu seemed rather ambitious, but we dove in. When the dust finally settled a couple of hours later we had the most amazing lunch. The first course was a Parmesan shortbread under a vegetable medley and tomato chutney topped with aged goat cheese.
The main course was a seafood stew with Jim-made fish stock, curry, cider, vegetables, and three types of seafood poured over a harissa crostini.
For dessert—get ready for this one—we had a coffee and walnut meringue roulette with whipped cream and mascarpone. We felt very proud of ourselves.
While this week has certainly been a cooking experience, it has been more about looking at the relationship between food and culture. The people, stories, and laughing have helped make the food a more minor part of the enjoyment—which is saying a lot because the food has been off the charts.
For any of you who were concerned, the teurgoule bowl has been located. Sinead went into the store that we four Yanks visited on Wednesday, and she was sold several of them. Perhaps they just didn’t want them to be sold to outsiders. One bowl is going to find a welcome home on the prairie.
Our dinner tonight may become the source of legends. We went to the home and part-time restaurant of the man with the bread oven we met on Wednesday http://www.auberge-bunehou.com/. On the first Friday of each month, he hosts a pig roast. We arrived at 8:00 (dinner is eaten late in France), and noshed on some starters, including chicken/pork/rabbit terrine (delicious!), savory bread with sausage, blood pudding (can’t get enough of it!), and aperitifs.
Then we moved upstairs (with 40 or so other guests) for the feasting. But first, Francois asked for four strong, intelligent, good-looking men to help him carry the roasted (whole) pig from the oven to the tables. Jim was drafted and served as a litter bearer.
We made friends—despite language obstacles—with two other couples at our table. They were neighbors of the inn, and, as Francois’s favored guests, they were awarded the head of the pig. So we got to sample some of the tastiest (read: grossest) parts of the pig to start the main meal.
After that, more pork arrived, along with roasted veggies, more pork, followed by a little more pork. Although stuffed, we were offered a cheese course, and then for dessert, France’s finest teurgoule appeared, and was promptly devoured. Tears of joy were shed.
If the evening had ended there, it would have been a highlight, but we were then escorted downstairs where a jazz band was playing in the style of Django Reinhardt. Wow. It is some of the happiest music ever written.
We stayed until the end, then drove home to our inn. It will be so hard to leave tomorrow, though we know that more adventures await us.
Whew! For those of you with maps, this will be a fun report since we were on our own today to tour more of the peninsula. We headed into Les Pieux and then south to Carteret.
We drove out to the cape where we could walk along the wall by the lighthouse and see Jersey and Guernesey (the Channel Islands) in the distance. The rising and falling tides here are legendary and it was out when we were there. The beach was easily three to four hundred yards wide, but you could see where the high tide would be. The boats in the harbors were leaning over and on muddy ground waiting for the return of the tide.
We then went to Lessay to see the abbey that was built in the 11th century. Well, let’s say that we went to the spot where the 11th century abbey was until the Germans put fifteen mines and three bombs inside of it and blew it apart. It has been rebuilt, but the theme of churches and how they fared during WWII carried on throughout the day. http://www.normanconnections.com/en/norman-sites/important-norman-buildings/abbey-of-lessay/
Our next stop was Coutances and its huge 13th century cathedral. Large photographs of the aftermath of the war were visible here as they have been in many of the places we have visited on this trip. Unlike Lessay, the cathedral in Coutances was not destroyed during the war, but there wasn’t much left standing around it. Coutances is a lovely, vibrant city.
On a whim, we decided to head east to St. Lo. We were both familiar with St. Lo from movies and books about the war, but neither of us expected what we saw. It was an ancient walled city with ramparts, and much larger than either of us expected it to be. The cathedral was heavily damaged during the war, but rather than reconstruct it in its previous style, the damaged portions of the building were left as is and a new, cold, modern building was erected to fill in the damaged sections—you now see a hybrid building, partly old and partly new, but with the unmistakable damage of war. It was quite sobering. Jim’s Uncle Mark wrote that he “fired many missions for the infantry around St. Lo being stubbornly defended by the Germans, including a parachute division.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROQmFOX5lkg
We weren’t out of whims, so we decided next to go to Valognes, which was once considered to be “the Versailles of Normandy.” More pictures of destruction and more signs of an almost completely rebuilt city. They handled their cathedral rebuild differently. It is a very modern building with bits and pieces of the old cathedral mortared into certain parts of the walls. There must not have been much left to salvage.
We tried to buy glaceed fruit—a local specialty—from the nuns of Valognes’s abbey, but they were on vacation for a week. Hey, everybody needs a break at some point.
The day ended with a walk on the beach near Les Pieux (the beaches here are simply vast) and then a dinner of gallettes.
Tomorrow is our final cooking day followed by dinner at the auberge of the baker who cooked our dinner on Wednesday.
There are three words that sum up today. BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER. There is no question and other birthdays need not apply.
We started cooking right after breakfast this morning to prepare for tonight’s dinner. We made a marbled savory bread with three kinds of olives, a caramelized leek tart, a pork roast with Camembert and apples over roasted vegetables, and teurgoule. Our instructor, Sinead, is just a stitch. She’s Irish, her husband is Belgian, and their two teenage daughters, who were born in France, speak French and English with an Irish accent. She has the best stories you could ever hope to hear. We laugh so hard that it is hard to not mess up whatever we’re cooking.
We broke for lunch and our host suggested a little lunch spot http://www.leptitbourg.com/ in the nearest town of any size, Les Pieux. The special today was a cheese and endive tart, roast pork over pasta with cheese, and a praline millefeuille (one with a candle). I’m not doing any of these items justice because describing them might make you starting licking your computer screens.
After lunch we went to use the wood-burning bread oven of a friend of our teacher. His place is about fifteen minutes away down narrow roads with lots of turns. The oven is large enough to hold three whole pigs. He showed us how it works and put in our roast from this morning, the teurgoule, and we each formed a loaf of bread and placed it in the oven using his long paddle.
He baked everything, brought it up to “our place,” and joined us for dinner. On Friday evening he is having an event at his place with jazz music, a whole roasted pig, and a bunch of French people. Jim and I were invited to attend. That should be fun, but I hope we get easier driving directions or we may never make it home.
One of the unique experiences at dinner tonight was blood pudding. Cindy had two helpings and Jim had even more. While we tried it to be polite, we have to admit it was tasty if you just don’t think about it.
Then we went shopping and tried to find the big bowls used to make teurgoule so that we could bring one home, but our inquiries resulted in shrugged shoulders—our limited French met its match in small-town France. Oh well, we shall live to bake another day. Tomorrow we are off to the western coast of the Cotentin Peninsula.
We have arrived “home” in the outskirts of Les Pieux after an exhilarating, educational, delicious, moving, and joyful day. For those of you marking your maps, we headed north from Les Pieux to Cherbourg, then west to Barfleur. Barfleur is on the east coast of the Cotentin Peninsula and is where William the Conqueror had his personal longboat built for the trip to England, We are quickly learning that the phrase “William the Conqueror did x, y, and z here” is the French version of what we know as “George Washington slept here.”
From Barfleur we headed south to St-Vaast-la Hougue to find a famous grocer named Gosselin that we had learned about in our research. Oh my! This place was a rabbit warren of goodness. We bought a half-round of small-batch Camembert, a jar of lemon and ginger confit, and some other little treats. We spent lots of time wandering and pointing. Our eyes were rather sore from focusing on all the amazing items. They have a virtual tour on their Web site that shows part of the shop. http://www.maison-gosselin.fr
We continued south toward Utah Beach. We stopped about a kilometer before the water to have lunch at a place our teacher recommended. It is a small inn with a restaurant. http://www.legrandhard.fr We sat outside in the sun looking at the beautiful stone wall and watching one of the horses grazing in the pasture next door. Serene and scrumptious. We each had a Norman salad and ciders. The salad was made with the freshest baby greens, perfectly matched matchsticks of apples, paper-thin smoked ham, a poached egg, and toast with melted Camembert. As we look back on today, in the dead of a cold Chicago winter, we know that thoughts of sitting in the warm sun having a perfect lunch will still make us smile. Thanks, Candy!
Off to Utah Beach. We have certainly done our share of studying up on D-Day history for this trip, but when you see the difference in the geography of Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, you just know the Omaha Beach troops drew the short straw. This beach has a gentle slope compared to the steep grade that faced the soldiers at Omaha. The soldiers at Utah went on to fight in the hedgerows, but the geography for the landing certainly was more promising. You could see Pointe du Hoc, our next destination, from Utah Beach. http://www.utah-beach.com/museum/?lang=en
As part of the anniversary, an artist created wooden frames through which one can view Utah Beach. Veterans who returned for the 70th anniversary were asked to add their handprints to the frames. Note the arthritic handprint of a veteran who had been there all those years ago.
Again, geography makes the difference. Pointe du Hoc sticks out into the channel and has a view of Utah and was within big gun range of Omaha. The point is on a cliff that rises 130 feet from the water.
Ponte du Hoc is the only battle site that has been left as it was. The rolled barbed wire we looked past was there seventy years ago. You would expect barbed wired defenses, but nature also put up obstacles. It seemed that all the plants growing between the German positions and the allies had thorns on them! There were wild roses and fern-like plants with barbed needles on them. The craters left from the bombs are a stark reminder of the importance of this spot for both sides.
We made a stop to visit the town that Jim’s uncle had written about. The town remembers. The walls of the local ciderie were lined with huge posters made of photos from 70 years ago.
We also went to Ste. Mere Eglise. Those of you who saw The Longest Day will remember that this is where the paratroopers landed and one was caught on the church steeple.
The museum here was very powerful and is located on the spot where the house was on fire that night, thus causing the Allies to lose the element of surprise. In part of the exhibit, they make you feel that you are in a the airplane about to jump and then you are walking on a glass platform with the machine gun fire on both sides of you and bomb flashes below you.
Our room at Wilde Kitchen has its own kitchen area, and we are so happy to have a refrigerator to store our various treasures. We had a couple small glasses of the homemade cider from Cambremer, some fresh goat cheese from the goat farm, and a couple figs from the market before heading across the driveway to our first assigned activity. We enjoyed some warm croissants from the local bakery as we heard about the market we would be visiting this morning.
Bricquebec is a Norse town with part of a castle still standing. The knights’ hall is all that wasn’t destroyed in the war, but parts have been reconstructed. http://www.castles.nl/bricquebec-castle
The market is sizable and it was such fun to have a knowledgeable person to tell us what the unusual vegetables were and which vendor is best for cheese or pastries. We picked up some sheep cheese for ourselves and the group gathered the supplies for our cooking activities. Gina, the wire-haired dachshund, went along for the ride and escorted us through the market.
Back at the kitchen the work began. It started with cutting up the chickens. Removing the head and neck was the first step. You get the picture I assume without any need for additional details.
We made a splendid layered vegetable timbale with eggplant, tomatoes, olives, caper, basil, shallots, and zucchini. It won our vote for the best dish today, which surprised us both.
We also made Poulet Valle d’Auge with chicken, onions, flamed with Calvados, and baked with cider, apples, mushrooms, and cream.
For dessert we made apple tarts with a cream and almond layer. What an impressive feast for a Monday lunch.
While a nap might have been a welcome option, we all went to visit an organic cider and Calvados maker. http://www.leperemahieu.com/cidrerie-le-pere-mahieu.php#_=_ They walked us through the juicing, fermenting, and distilling process – the tasting that followed confirmed our opinion that different cideries have very distinctive tastes to their ciders (we still like the one from yesterday at St. Laurent-sur-Mer the best). We purchased a bottle of apple juice for breakfast.
We then went on a walk to visit the orchard from whence the apples were picked. The paths we took were between some of the countless hedgerows that were involved in the D-Day fighting. The roads don’t just have rows of hedges on each side, but are also sunken below the grade of the fields. We were told that this is traditional and the livestock were penned in these sunken areas during bad winter storms. The backroads around here are so jumbled and similar in appearance that you can image some of the confusion paratroopers, many of whom were dropped far from their targets, must have experienced.
We have planned our excursion to the eastern side of the Cotentin peninsula for tomorrow and are preparing our light dinner of cheese, bread, and fruit. We’re hoping to get to sleep early tonight in preparation for a long day tomorrow.
The days can’t continue to be perfect can they? Well, we don’t know yet. Today started with a farewell to our hosts outside of Cambremer and being given a gift of a bottle of apple juice from their apples. I guess we praised it so much they knew we would enjoy some to take along. It was such a kind gesture.
For those of you with your maps, we left Cambremer and took the back roads to Caen and then to Bayeux.Yes, it’s back to the William guy again. The tapestry was thrilling and the museum telling the behind-the-scene story was beyond interesting. Our favorite quote was by an English lady to her friend as we were going toward the theater to see a little film. Now put on your best indignant British accent as you read this. She said, “Well, that tapestry was very pro-French wasn’t it! There was nothing about Stamford Bridge at all. Harold must have been exhausted.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtGoBZ4D4_E
Bayeux was a lovely town and the cathedral was very close so we stopped in. A WWII veteran was there on a visit from Mississippi and was greeted so warmly by people — many of them quite young — in the church. He told them he was in the Pacific, but nobody cared. It was beautiful to see.
We drove to Colleville-sur-Mer to see Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. The beach is much longer than we had expected and when you know that Pointe du Hoc (at one “end” of the beach) was one place the Germans were firing from, it gives a different perspective. Pointe du Hoc looks very far away. It was a little shocking to see beachgoers frolicking on the beach—lots of beachgoers. https://www.abmc.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Normandy_Booklet_4-8-2014_508.pdf
The cemetery, on the other hand, was just as we pictured it. Peaceful, immaculately maintained, and staggering in the number of gravesites.
We left Colleville-sur-Mer to get to our new home outside of Les Pieux. Those of you with maps, go south of Cherbourg and take out the magnifying glasses. You might see Bricquebec. We’re sort of close to that. We are staying at Wilde Kitchen http://www.wildekitchen.net, and our first cooking class is tomorrow morning.
This evening we had a light dinner of cheeses, bread, salad, and desserts as we met our fellow students.
There are going to be lots of laughing in our future for the next few days. Two are from Australia, one from Utah, and one from San Diego. The instructor is Irish. Her husband is a veterinarian and the family animals include a blind German Shepherd, a three-legged cat, and a wire-haired dachshund who likes to flop on his back and have his tummy rubbed (don’t we all?). Tomorrow we start early with a visit to the local market so we’ll stop for now.
At one point today when we were walking in Bayeux, I stopped and had to give a name to what I was feeling—joy, pure joy.
Remember that William fellow we mentioned yesterday—the guy with the large castle? This morning we went to Dives-sur-Mer where his minions built the fleet that sailed to England. Our visit had to do with, as you can guess, history and food. There is a market in Dives-sur-Mer that been on this spot for centuries. The Halle Dives-sur-Mer has outgrown the “hall” itself, but it is a work of art and engineering. The 16 pillars that hold it up were replaced in the 1500’s. I bet someone complained that there was nothing wrong with the old one.
The market that spills out of the building in all directions is a mix of the sublime and a Sham-Wow commercial. The cheeses, sausages, seafood, and baked goods fight for your eyes with striped sweaters and keychains. We purchased some tergoule, a small onion quiche, a cider sausage, and a local specialty that is a one large cream puff filled with chocolate cream, topped with a small cream puff filled with chocolate cream and decorated to look like a church. Let’s just say that one certainly needs to give thanks after eating it.
We then headed to Honfluer with is a harbor town on the coast.
It was market day, and it was packed with venders and customers. Pans the size of hot tubs were making fresh paella with the local seafood. The smells were just sinful, but since we were still doing penance for the church-like cream puff, we decided to keep walking. We walked up and down several streets just soaking in the culture. Enough of that, let’s have lunch. We decided on a place recommended on TripAdvisor. http://creperie-lacidrerie-honfleur.com/ We had buckwheat crepes (galettes) that were as thin as newspaper, but as big as a manhole cover. Jim had mushroom and cheese, and I had goat cheese and ham. Jim had a bowl of cider. Yes, his cider was served in a bowl.
We decided to take the adventurous drive home and were richly rewarded. We remembered a reference to a patisserie in Pont L’Eveque in a food blog we had read. The writer said that the croissants were so good that he decided to spend the night here so he could have another one in the morning. We expected a fine croissant, and it certain was, but we didn’t expect to fall in love with the town, which we did. Throughout the lovely town are large photographs of what the town looked like during and after WWII. We stopped in at the tourist office and were warmly welcomed by a lady who loved her hometown and wanted everyone to understand why. We walked around for a while and marveled at how beautifully it had been reborn. This was a highlight for today.
The travel office lady who sent us off with detailed maps, suggested that we drive toward “home’ via Beaumont-en-Auge which had a lovely view toward the channel. Another picture-perfect French town. There is nothing boring about that.
Our innkeeper suggested a place for dinner in a nearby village. Jim had his cider in a coffee cup this time. It tasted just fine that way. He had a lovely salad and a duck and potato casserole that was a big hit. Cindy had a salad and four giant gambas (shrimp) that had been grilled with Calvados. Oh my!
We came home for dessert of pain chocolat from the shop in Pont L’Eveque and Calvados cream.
Tomorrow we change homes. Get those highlighters and push pins ready.
This was a day filled with history and food. Where to begin? The highest highlight of breakfast this morning was fresh-squeezed apple juice from the apples here on the property. Just glorious!
We then headed to Falaise, the home castle of William the Conqueror—back when “I’m master of all I survey” really meant something.
The castle was equally thrilling as the interpretative experience. We were each given an iPad upon entering and in each room there was a medallion that when scanned launched a “virtual” version of the room. When you roomed the iPad around the room, you could see what it looked like during William’s time. There were also hot spot on the screen that when clicked would give you more information. It was just wild.
They also had projected period interpreters on the wall who were telling their stories. It was such an unexpected marvel. We went to the top of the tower and completely loved watching the rooks (birds like crows) dart in and out of their nooks in the castle walls. Kings, queens, knights, and peasants in a castle with rooks outside? We were just two bishops short of a chess set.
Falaise also witnessed and suffered through some horrific damage in WWII. They were not liberated until August of 1944 and that liberation lead to the near destruction of the entire town. We spent a good bit of time in the church nearest to the castle and they had many photographs and reminders as part of the seventieth anniversary commemorations. The town lost over 500 citizens, and that was AFTER the town was supposed to have been evacuated by the Germans.
We sat in the park and had a lovely little lunch and marveled at the stories that town could tell.
We headed back to Cambremer and stopped at a shop our innkeeper recommended to pick up some of their sausage that contains bits on Camembert cheese. We then forged on to a spot that Cindy has been eying for over a year after a chance Internet encounter—Co-Pains Boulangerie.
We urge you to look them up. They make bread the older-than-old fashioned way. We arrived 40 minutes before they opened for the afternoon. The baker welcomed us and showed us everything while he made some apple tarts for a special order. There was a gentleman from Sweden who was there for a few weeks to study with him. They could not have been more kind or more interesting.
Next, more cheese was needed. Since local = good, we drove a few kilometers to a goat farm. Rather than simply buy and leave, the farmer invited us to watch as she called the goats in from the field, lined them up in the barn, and then milked them. They were happy, well-fed goats and they helped ensure that we would be happy and well-fed during dinner tonight!
Now, let us tell you about our dinner tonight. Sit back. Relax. Here goes. We had a little picnic here at the inn. Walnut bread and a baguette from Co-Pains, fresh herbed goat cheese from the goats we watched being milked, raspberries the innkeeper picked from her garden this evening, Liverot from Graindorge (we visited yesterday), the Camembert sausage from Cambremer, pastries from the shop in Falaise, and pear cider from the Huet cider maker that we visited yesterday. Pinch us! This is exactly the day we have been dreaming of.
We have arrived in France and all has gone beautifully. The customs folks had obviously been waiting for us and just stamped our passports and waved us through. The rental car company gave us a mini-van rather than the smaller car we had expected. We have named the car Norm. He’s a little rotund, but friendly. He’s sort of like a pickle barrel on its side. Jim thinks he is rather keg-like.
We made great time getting to Normandy and managed to have a couple of adventures already. We visited the town of Livarot, which is very proud of its cheese tradition. We strolled around the street of town (not a typo) and found a walk-in-closet-sized shop with the most amazing display of meat pies, quiches, sausages, and meats of all descriptions. A few steps away was a little bakery with more tasty morsels.
After a little nosh, we headed to Graindorge. Graindorge is a high-volume cheese maker using a mix of modern and traditional methods. We made our first cheese purchase. (It’s rather like the first gift of Christmas to all you Polar Express fans,) We have a raw milk Liverot and a Liverot soaked in Calvados. Do you hear the ringing of bells?
We then headed to Beuvron-en-Auge which is charming on steroids.
After soaking in some charm, we headed to Domaine Dupont to check out the local libation. http://www.calvados-dupont.com/ There might have been thirty or more variations of squeezed apples—everything from apple juice to Calvados that was over fifty years old. Such fun. Calvados is a bit too volatile for us, but the cider and something called cream Calvados were mighty fine.
We had enough time to stop at another spot that had a pear cider that was joy in a bottle. We have plenty of liquid for a picnic very soon. http://www.calvados-huet.com/fr/
This part of Normandy is sort of Wisconsin meets Napa. Rolling hills, plenty of trees, and beautiful food make for a delightful spot. It is VERY rural, yet the roads are as smooth as that cream Calvados. Amazing. The B&B where we are staying is on a hill on the far outskirts of a two-street village of Cambremer (rural to the max).
Our new home is called Les Marronniers, and the view is beyond words. You can see the English Channel from our room. Now students, if you check your maps, Cambremer isn’t very close at all to the English Channel. So we’re sitting on quite a perch. http://ww.les-marronniers.com
They cook the meat over an open fireplace in the small dining room. A kir Normand was a giant hit with sparkling wine, cassis, and Calvados.
We also had a Normand salad with fresh goat cheese and apples.
There also was the world’s most perfectly ripe melon with thinly sliced ham. Jim had a steak that was deliciously smoky as well as an assortment of local cheeses. Cindy had fish with a curry sauce and tergoulle for dessert. Tergoulle is one of those magical foods—just rice, cream, sugar, and cinnamon. Nothing special until you bake it for eight hours and the texture becomes ethereal and this caramel-ish crust develops. Comfort food for the gods.
They aren’t big on streetlights. Leaving the restaurant we could see the Milky Way. The drive “home” was more by feel since there were no lights along the road. Just a superb first day!