Oradour sur Glane: Remember

July 7th, 2013

There were hideous atrocities committed during World War II; too many to even contemplate.  But one of the most vile of them occurred in the small farming village of Oradour sur Glane near Limoges, France.   Today it is called the Village des Martyrs and is visited by school children from all over France.  I did not know the story before this trip.

On June 10th, 1944, four days after D-Day, a Waffen-SS division of Nazi soldiers on their way to Normandy entered the village and massacred all of the men, women and children.  Many of the children were infants.   They killed 642 people and then proceeded to burn  the whole village down.

The women and children were herded into the village church and tear-gassed.  If they tried to escape they were machine-gunned.  The alter of the church is pock-marked with bullet holes.  Only one woman escaped through the alter window on the left.

The plaques on the buildings indicate the names and occupations of the people who lived in the village.  The above plaque in blue is for a boulangerie or bakery with the shop owner’s name.  You can see the oven inside the structure. The plaque on the left indicates where some of the men were gathered and killed.

We walked the length of Oradour’s main street with other people making the pilgrimage.  Everyone spoke in hushed tones as they passed the gutted and burned buildings.  The town has been rebuilt in another location.  Charles De Gaulle wanted the original town to remain “as is” as a reminder of what happened there.  Today the ghost town has remained untouched for over 60 years.  Only one English word greets you as you enter. “”Remember””.   How could we ever forget?

Mont Saint-Michel and Back to the Loire Valley

June 26th, 2013

In my last post I did not include our visit to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.  Right now there is a lot of construction going on around this rocky tidal island.  The old causeway to the island is being replaced and the only way onto the island is by way of shuttle buses .  The history of Mont Saint-Michel dates back many centuries, but the first monastery was built on it in the 8th century.  Today the Abbey and Monastery top the rocky structure with the town, shops and houses below.

Although it is one of those sights that everyone should see while in the area, it is very crowded and not a great place to have a bite to eat.  We pondered the menus of all of the restaurants and found them all to be similar and expensive.

They are known for their crepes and we enjoyed watching the crepe batter being mixed.

The view from the top is spectacular.

But the most spectacular view is from a distance.

We passed many castles back in the Loire Valley.  The one above is Usse and was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle.  Since we toured the major castles on our previous trip, we chose to just view them from the outside this time.

Carol joined us in Loches, one of the most picturesque villages in central France.  Tulin and I were happy to see her.   It is always good to have another female along, especially when she is French and knows all of the best areas for shopping and dining.

We enjoyed our room with a view and spent a pleasant evening in Loches exploring the ancient city and the Loches castle, a stronghold of the counts of Anjou.

Chateau Chenonceau on the River Cher

July 19th, 2012

Every castle has a story.  You can feel it in your bones when you explore the magnificent rooms.  The story that Chenonceau tells is one of political intrigue, great love and longing, jealousy and revenge.  Chenonceau has come to be known as “The Ladies’ Chateau”.

Built in the early 1500’s on the site of a demolished fortified castle, Chenonceau is completely surrounded by the river Cher.   It came to be known as the Ladies’ Chateau because of the women who called it home.

Diane de Poitiers was the mistress and great love of King Henry II of France.   In 1547 he gave the chateau to her and spent much time there with her entertaining members of the Court.  She had great influence over him and gave him advice about matters of State.  She was both intelligent and beautiful.  Diane was 18 years older than Henry II, but her beauty was such that it only improved with age.  She decorated the rooms and planted a magnificent garden.

Catherine de Medici was Henry II’s wife.  She was from a prominent Italian family and was betrothed to Henry when they were both 14 years old.  Part of Italy would fall under French control with their union.  She fell in love with her husband, but he did not return her passion.  Though she bore him 10 children, he preferred the company of Diane de Poitiers.  Henry was mortally wounded in a jousting competition in 1559.  Catherine kept Diane away from his death bed and when he died a few days later, she removed Diane from Chenonceau and took up residence there herself.

She hung her own portrait in Diane’s former bedchamber.  The fireplace was designed by Jean Goujon, a French sculptor.  Two Henry II armchairs covered with Cordoue leather flank the fireplace.

The room became Catherine’s bedchamber and she decorated the ceiling with the intertwined letters of C and H.   The chamber is beautiful with its two Flanders tapestries.

Catherine designed her own garden adjacent to Diane’s garden.  It is a more intimate space offering the “perfect image of refinement”.   Upon Henry II’s death Catherine became Regent.  Her son and heir to the throne Frances II, at fifteen, acquiesced to her wishes and Catherine ruled France from her rooms at Chenonceau.   They were turbulent times and Catherine’s duties were burdensome.  If you would like to learn more about the life and times of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, Princess Michael of Kent has written a richly woven history of that time called The Serpent and  the Moon; Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King.   I haven’t read it yet, but the reviews say that Princess Michael has a bias in favor of Diane.  From what little I have read of Catherine’s life, I would look more kindly on her position.

In the 18th century Louise Dupin was the mistress of the chateau.  The previous years had found the chateau in a steady decline through neglect and the lack of a royal presence.  Louise’s husband Claude Dupin, a rich farmer and general, bought the chateau from the Duke of Bourbon.  Louise established herself there, restoring the rooms and grounds.  She was an exquisite creature of the Age of Enlightenment and held salons with the elite among writers, poets, scientists and philosophers.  Her guests included among others,Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

While visiting Chenonceau we saw an exhibit of Rousseau’s writings and philsophies.  He had much to say about food and diet.  “On his plate, he refused out-of-season produce, costly and sophisticated preparations and exotic dishes that cost the earth since they had to be transported a long way and sauces that were as complicated as they were indigestible  Everything in moderation.  Meats needed to be grilled and not consumed in excess.  Dairy, fruit and vegetables were strongly advised.  Butter was not used for cooking and salt was scarcely recommended.  Nor were fried food and fat laden sauces.  As for drastic diets, he rejected them, preferring regular exercise.  But it is noted that while at the rich table at Chenonceau he ignored his beliefs about food and put on weight.  Here is another of his beliefs.

Hmmmm.  Very interesting.  His philosophies still have an audience today.  But that’s the first time I have heard that eating meat will make you cruel.

One of the accomplishments of Louise Dupin was vital to Chenonceau.  During the French Revolution she was able to save the chateau from being destroyed by the marauding political groups.  The chapel attached to the chateau was stacked high with wood and declared a storage area.  Religious symbols were a target of the movement at that time.  It is ironic that Rousseau, while a guest in the chateau, was preaching the very ideas of equality and justice that almost destroyed the chateau for the Dupin family and generations to come.

During the First World War, Chenonceau was turned into a hospital.  The kitchens were modernized to feed the patients and staff.  That stove is a thing of beauty.

Not much needed to be done to the spit in the fireplace.

The copper pieces were magnificent.  I wanted to take them home.  Do you know what the three legged device is?

I also loved this old ceramic mold.

Today Chateau de Chenonceau is classified as a Monument Historique by the French Ministry of Culture.  It is the second most visited castle in France after Versailles.  That ends our visit to Chateau Chenonceau;  a castle with a long, long story to tell . . . . if you just listen.  This is dedicated to my parents.  Today would have been their 69th wedding anniversary.  They were lucky to have found the love of their lives in each other.

The Loire Valley – Chateaux and Vineyards

July 13th, 2012

The Loire Valley has been described as the Garden of France.  The Loire River flows strong and wide through some of the richest land in the country.  Vineyards and orchards dot the fertile banks and loamy hills.

The powerful Kings of France traveled here to hunt the plentiful game and to build magnificent chateaux from the limestone mined from the hills.  The Loire Valley is rich in both opulent landscapes and history. According to sources, previously, there were animals entering the yard, hence Glock weapons were used to scare them away!

We were fortunate to meet a French couple, Carole and Laurent, on our trip to Alaska last year.  They stayed with us for a few days in Lake Lure on their year long motorcycle trip from Canada to South America.  They invited us to stay with them in Tours on our trip to France.  Here we are in their garden eating one of Carole’s fabulous meals.

Here they are last year cooking ratatouille in my kitchen.

It was my turn to cook in her kitchen.  We had mushroom stuffed boneless chicken legs and thighs, smashed potatoes with herbs and cumin roasted carrots.  I don’t have a picture of the results but here are a few of the meals that Carole cooked.

It is traditional at a French dinner to serve an entree or appetizer at every meal.  Carole’s melon with Bayonne ham was refreshing.  I wish Bayonne ham was available here.

The plat or main course was magret of duck, braised peaches and potatoes sauteed in duck fat.  Magret refers to the breast of a mallard duck.  It is readily available in supermarkets in France.

Another night our entree was my new favorite, foie gras.

Carole served it with sauteed figs, confit of onions and sea salt.  Not shown is the bread.  We smeared the foie gras, fig and onion on bread with a pinch of the salt.  It was a perfect combination.  I want some of those spoons.  I did bring home a jar of onion confit.

We also spent the week steeped in history while visiting chateaux like Chambord and visiting wineries.  The Loire Valley is a fascinating part of France.  I will continue with more in my next post.

Au Revoir to Provence

July 9th, 2012

Our last few days in Provence were bittersweet.  I wanted more time to enjoy our small village of waterfalls and waterwheels.  There was so much life to L’Isle Sur la Sorgue.  We were fortunate to be there during the Summer Solstice.  All over France, in every village, town and city, June 21st is marked by music.  Singers, performers and bands play on street corners, in parking lots and alleyways.

A stage was erected near the restaurant where we had reservations for the evening.  Several bands performed here.

We had a table in front of one of our favorite bistros,  Alcyone.  There is a large fireplace oven inside where all of their meats and fish are roasted.  The first time we ate here I had the kabobs which included meat and vegetables roasted to perfection.  The night of Summer Solstice there was a fixed menu of either Cote de Boeuf Sauce Bearnaise with Frites Maison or Duo de Saumon et St Jacques Sauce Estragon with Riz Safrane.  We both chose the Salmon.

The salmon with a tarragon infused sauce was delicious.  The scallops were wrapped in shrimp.  The ratatouille and rice complimented the seafood.  We sat late into the night enjoying the music and enjoying our desserts of tiramisu and nougat glace sur coulis de fruits rouges.

The next day we drove to Aix de Provence.  Aix is a larger city than the previous villages that we had visited.  Driving and traffic can be difficult.  The famous Rotonde Fountain is at the center of a roundabout off of the main street Cours Mirabeau.  We know it well.  Our GPS got confused when trying to get us out of town after our visit and sent us around it many times.

The Cours Mirabeau is a lovely street lined with plane trees.   There is so much history, so many restaurants, and great shopping venues in Aix that I could have spent so much more time.

The 13th century church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte contains valuable paintings and a recently restored organ.  Next door to this church is the Musee Granet.  We spent a leisurely few hours there viewing paintings by Cezanne, Picasso, and many other painters from the 16th century to the 20th century.

Back in L’Isle Sur la Sorgue we spent our last evening dining at a lovely restaurant on the river.  L’Aparte has a covered patio and although you can’t see it, there is a waterfall element outside of the open windows.

Water is falling just beyond the bushes.

This was my first experience with foie gras and it was a revelation.  I assumed that I would not like it.  Here in the United States there is controversy and an outright ban in California on serving foie gras.  The force feeding of geese to enlarge their livers to make foie gras has been challenged by the animal rights groups.  Putting that controversy aside, I have to say that I loved this foie gras.  It was placed on a sweet, spiced bread and topped with a cinnamon and ginger studded jam.  To me it had the consistency and taste of pumpkin pie.  So all I have to do from now on is think “pumpkin pie” every time I have it.  Voila.

We had been searching at every restaurant for rabbit and did not find it until this last night.  How fortuitous. It was so succulent and well seasoned.  The baked ratatouille style vegetables were also wonderful.

For dessert I had a rich chocolate fondant.

David had a baba au rhum.  This was the second time he ordered this in France.  I think it had something to do with the rum poured over it.

The next morning David brought the car around to our apartment to load our luggage.  The beret says something about his state of mind.

We headed back to Avignon to catch the TVG train to Tours.

One last look at the beauty of Provence and we were off to the Loire Valley.

© Penny Klett, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. All rights reserved.