Monday, July 27, 2009

La Frahhhnce: Part Deux


No knitting content today but plenty o' food pr0n!

Why we went to France: Daughter #1 had just finished her study program in Dijon through her college. We "had" to pick her up ;-). Since Tom and I hadn't been to Europe for a couple of decades, we decided to treat ourselves to something very special: a walking tour of the prehistoric cave art of southwest France.This is how special the trip was: Tom actually bought a jacket to wear in restaurants. It's Burberry (ah-hem! and thank you to Palo Alto Nordstrom's for their men's sale a couple of weeks ago).

Our itinerary: Chicago to Dublin to Paris via Aer Lingus. Great fares, nice airline but, wow, Dublin Airport is wacky. Train to southwest France where we met up with the walking tour.

The walking tour: Everything great about France is abundant in the southwest of France. On top of the hills and down in the patchwork of sunflower fields and walnut groves are castles and villages. This is France's food heaven, the home of foie gras, truffles, lots of wines. Humans have lived here for millenia and the caves peppering the hillsides contain cave paintings by early humans.

The brochure of the walking tour used words like "amble" and "easy" and "compact walks". Ha! One day we walked 9.8 miles, most of it uphill (omg) and that wasn't exceptionnal. The guide was super knowledgeable but also super driven. It wasn't what I had pictured, although there were great surprises, too. For example, we met the truffle master Monsieur Édouard, who taught our daughter how to hunt truffles with his golden labrador retriever, as blogged about here last week. The tour lasted six days. The food and hotels were truly fabulous.

Best meal of my life: Before we met up with the tour, we spent one night at Castel Novel, a château that used to belong to the writer Colette. If you know the movie "Gigi", you know her work. So, we're on the grey stone terrace as the sun is setting. An exhuberant riot of flowers is in full bloom over the castle walls and in the garden below. In the distance, sheep and cattle graze and swallows flit in and out of the castle's turrets. Photobucket

The waiter comes out with the mixture of cassis and champagne called kir royal and a surprise gift of assorted hors d'oeuvres: smoked salmon balls, eggplant wontons, foie gras foam in a tiny glass with a tiny spoon, and homemade potato chips.

Then comes the appetizer we ordered: a large prawn in a pool of green avocado purée and red pepper purée, followed by a foie gras tasting done three ways: with tomato jelly, in tiny cubes, and with truffle. We tried it; we ate it; we didn't love it, which leaves all the more foie gras for those of you who do love it.

For the main dish, Tom and I had lamb, which was served with a tiny lamb brain (I ignored that as much as I could), quinoia, and the tiniest baby carrots. Our daughter had a fish called St. Pierre, a tiny artichoke, and handmade macaroni with shaved truffle.

Now for the cheese course. You can choose as many of the local cheeses as you want. I told the waiter to choose mine, since I didn't know them. He carved off six different cheeses, some hard, some soft, cow, sheep, goat. Mmmm.And for the most important part of the meal, dessert: first came a plating of three strawberry desserts for each of us: strawberry with homemade marshmallow, homemade pistachio ice cream with a burnt sugar sail and a strawberry and a homemade graham cracker with the best whipped cream you ever tasted and strawberries.

Then another surprise! The waiter brought a tray of tiny strawberry milkshake shots with vanilla foam, chocolate truffles, Turkish delight, and tiny raspberry and ginger tarts.

So we're sitting there in the afterglow of this perfect meal, when splat! something landed on the lapel of Tom's new Burberry jacket. Yes, the swallows had given him a gift.Which the waiter hurried over to dab off. Who doesn't love a laugh with a perfect meal?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sideways Grande Hat

Laura Irwin's book, Boutique Knits has two standout hat patterns, both 1920's-inspired cloches. A cloche is an insanely romantic shape. Put one on, turn up the collar of your coat, and suddenly you're Clara Bow.

Not feeling the 1920's yet? Visit the Madeleine Vionnet: Puriste de la Mode retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, then see what you think. Two floors of perfection await you, Safe for Work

"Why don't movie stars wear gowns like these to the Oscars?" my daughter asked. We were standing in awe before one of the beaded numbers. That is an answer with many parts, of course, the main premise being that Vionnet's 60- and 70- year-old gowns look red-carpet ready today.

Same goes for this little 1920's knit cloche. It looks as funky fresh today as it did 75 years ago. The yarn is Misti Aplaca Chunky 100% baby
alpaca, light as a cloud, in a deep plum,
2 skeins. Sometimes part of the fun is where and how you picked up the yarn. In this case, the Los Altos, CA store Full Thread Ahead was closing out its bricks-and-mortar to run an internet-based store. 50% off all stock, bay-bee. Looks like there's a nice sale going, only quality stuff.

The Sideways Grande cloche is knit flat on four (!) sizes of needles: 10, 9, 8, and 7. If, based on the chunky yarn and the big needles, you're guessing fast knit, you're guessing right! You could cast on and finish off this one in a two-movie evening. (Thanks to Thomasina for posing in the rain, hence the drops on her front.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July Trip to France I: Truffle Hunting avec un chien

No knitting content today but lots of doggie content with bonus food pr0n.

Monsieur Édouard, truffle master, lives in such a tiny village in the southwest of France that he is related to everyone, except one. He is a charming, twinkly-eyed gentleman with a passion to educate all of us about the round black mushrooms he finds and ships off to the finest restaurants in the world. Among the things he wants us to know:
-Chinese truffles are no good. Black French truffles are fantastic but the best are the white Italian truffles. The Italians search for their white truffles by moonlight. This is only because they don't want anyone to know where they find them. Lately, black French truffles are being successfully grown in Oregon.
-Cook a truffle and kill the taste. This is why that little bit of truffle in a pâté tastes like nothing. Instead, shave fresh truffle over rice, pasta, potatoes, or eggs. It has a delicate, easily overwhelmed taste that pairs with neutral foods.
After the truffle lesson, it was time to meet the truffle dog, Ti-Touffe. The French also hunt with female pigs. Dogs have the advantage of never eating a truffle. You can find truffles without a pig or a dog, however. Just look in a likely spot under a likely tree to see if there are any truffle flies. Yes, there is a species of fly attracted to the beet-like smell of truffles. Monsieur Édouard encourages the dog by saying over and over in the gentlest, kindest voice, "Je ne la vois pas. Elle est où? Cherche, Ti-Touffe, cherche." (I don't see it. Where is it? Look for it, Ti-Touffe, look for it.) Here's a video from the internet of Monsieur Édouard's dog in action. Safe for Work.

When Ti-Touffe indicated a truffle, Monsieur Édouard asked our daughter to dig it up. Here's what she found:Photobucket
After, we were invited to the garden to eat ravioli with the truffle shaved over it and bread with truffle-infused butter.Photobucket

Monday, July 20, 2009

When Life Puts You Knee-Deep in Crazy

"You know," a friend told me, "I always think people will mellow on their deathbeds, sort of like Lionel Barrymore in that movie where he chased death up a tree. Apparently I'm not the only one to find that doesn't happen."

This weekend knitting was my salvation. When I knew Tom and I would be spending a lot of time in a hospital waiting room, I grabbed the most beautiful yarn in my stash (Melody Superwash in color MS28) and the most frivolous pattern (Peacock Tail and Leaf Scarf). I cast on Saturday morning, thought beagle thoughts, and knit my fingers off.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Summer Vacation

I do have a good excuse for not blogging. I was eating my way through ... wait, you guess. Hint: we went truffle hunting with this man and this dog.

Eh oui, la France. More about that and the truffle dog in a few days when I have the photos sorted out. For now, let's look at what came in the mail while I was gone:

It's the last installment of my year's subscription to the Knit Purl Sock Club, perfectly presented, as per always. An aspect of Portland, Oregon inspires each installment. This time it's their Saturday market. Whether or not this colorway looks like an outdoor arts and crafts market held on Saturdays, whatevah. It's a lovely, soft, wearable group of colors.

The pattern is "Tessuto Sock". I'm tinkering with this one. The slipstitch pattern is nice, very nice but, to me, this sock needs ribbing. Also, phooey on the toe-up, Turkish cast-on on two circular needles. That's nonsense, meaning I'll be keeping my dpns and working top-down from a conventional cast-on, as Nature intended, the Queen God bless her, harrumph.