Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Village Life

The main square, La Roque sur Pernes, mist in the valley
Driving down the street to the house

Horses in the valley, view from the house

Jacques, Monique and Jim on our hike
La Roque sur Pernes

Mass at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul,
Festival of St. Antoine
Our terrace overlooking the valley
 A car drove by our front door. We both jumped up to look. Because it doesn’t happen that often. Yes, we have left behind the fast-paced city life of Aix-en-Provence for the tranquillity of a hill-top village in the Vaucluse, La Roque sur Pernes, in the house of our Winnipeg friends Sandi and Ron. We are only an hour north of Aix, but life couldn’t be more different here. Aix is so animated, mainly due to the active student life. At any time of day or night the streets are teeming with people, the cafés are full and lively. Here in the smaller communities of the Vaucluse, we’re finding many (in some cases most!) restaurants and businesses completely shut up for the winter, or at least for a month or so.  In our village there is no café, no boulangerie, no bar.  There is a school, an 11th C chateau, which has been converted into a hotel, and there is a library, which is open six hours a week.  I have taken advantage and applied for a library card.  I have now signed out my first book, an old Provençal cookbook, with all of the recipes offered in both French and Provençal. However, living in a small village has its benefits. It is friendly enough that you can stick your head out of your window and say hello to your neighbour, as Edith did upon our arrival. “Do you know where to find the key?” she asked, which made us wonder if everyone knows where the key is. I noticed a car idling outside the door just as we pulled all of our bags in. It was Geneviève, from just down the road. “Are you the Canadian looking for a French teacher? I know someone. I’ll come back with her phone number.” Our neighbours, Monique and Jacques, invited us to dinner on the day of arrival and we have become fast friends. Every few days they knock at the door to go for a hike in the countryside. We have a doorbell, but people prefer to knock. On our first hike we weren’t very far along when Monique, having discovered my love of herbs, bent over and plucked a beautiful sprig of wild thyme for our kitchen. Since then we have enjoyed numerous hikes in the countryside with them. A couple of weekends ago it was the Festival of St. Antoine, the patron saint of this town. In the past this festival marked the day when they killed the pig, then roasted it. M. Pantagène, whose grandfather was mayor of the town many years ago, has been reinvigorating the festival in recent years. His enthusiasm for the history of the region is indefatigable. If only he would tell us his stories in French, rather than in Provençal. The festival started with a mass in the old church, up a steep set of stairs in the centre of the village. The church was absolutely packed, with the very good choir from Pernes-les-Fontaines taking up the front pews. After the mass, which included a baptism, the choir re-formed to give us all a mini concert. All of the music was composed by their director. We all then descended a few steps to the reception room of the mayor's office (mairie) for an apéritif. As I mentioned in the last blog, the tradition is to hang around and chat until everyone finally arrives. M. Pantagène said a few words of thanks, followed by the mayor, then we dug into plates of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. This was followed by lunch in the community hall. We had decided to bow out of this event, as it seemed everyone else knew they were to bring a dish, which we hadn’t prepared. But M. Pantagène’s niece talked us into it. So we trotted down to our house to collect plates, cutlery and glasses (we had to bring our own) plus a couple of bottles of Vincent’s wine, Domaine de la Crillonne, and joined in the festivities. It was a slice of life we could never experience anywhere else. M. Pantagène encouraged us to try the salad picked from his own garden, dressed with anchovies. We sampled various home-made quiches for the entrée. Then we were served roasted pork (probably not slaughtered that day) but served with the traditional tian of white beans. Our companions at our table regaled us with stories and traditions about the region and then we circulated and chatted with almost everyone there. But I have to sign off now. I hear voices outside the window. I have to go see who it is. QUAINT THINGS ABOUT VILLAGE LIFE
Welcome to La Roque sur Pernes
-The burly firemen (pompiers) who bang on the door at the start of the New Year, decked out in full gear, selling calendars (in which they are pictured fully clothed). -The enthusiasm for Super Loto (bingo), especially at holiday time. -The gendarme who saluted us as we approached him to ask for directions. -People who enter a restaurant or store and greet everyone “Bonjour Messieurs Dames” and then do the same when they leave. -Our French teacher, Brigitte, who makes house calls. - Vincent, our winemaker friend, who would prefer we come by his winery down that winding road rather than visit a caviste in town. -People who poke their heads out of the window to chat. -Waking up to the cockadoodledoo of the roosters (except sometimes they wait till the crack of noon... country time). -Hearing the donkey bray down in the valley while we are eating lunch on the terrace. -Listening to the clip-clop of horses sauntering down the street in front of our house. -Admiring the amazing stars at night. RECIPE OF THE WEEK: BRAISED PORK WITH CÈPES AND CHESTNUTS This earthy and wintry recipe combines elements of two great dishes we were offered, one by Monique here in La Roque sur Pernes the night we arrived, the other by our friend Louise in Paris. If you have time to make this a day ahead and reheat it on serving day, all the better. The recipe also includes juniper berries, which we find here in the woods. For four people, start with 650 grams or so of pork shoulder, cut into fairly large chunks, around 4 cm square. Brown them in a large pan over medium-high heat in some olive oil, turning them only when they release easily from the pan. Do this in batches, if necessary. Remove them to a plate. Season with salt and pepper. Pour out any excess fat from the pan, leaving enough to sauté the onion. Meanwhile, soak 30-50 grams dried cèpes (or porcini mushrooms, in Italian) in a cup of water to soften. Crush 25 juniper berries on a chopping board with the side of a knife (or in a mortar and pestle). Thinly slice one onion and add it to the pan. Add two bay leaves and a handful of chopped fresh sage, if you have it. Cook over medium heat, stirring until softened. Add a dash of red-wine vinegar to the pan, then one cup of white wine. Bring to a simmer. Return the meat to the pan, preferably in one layer. Add the juniper berries and one tablespoon of herbes de provence, stirring to coat. Cover and keep the mixture at a gentle simmer. Lift the cèpes out of the water, rinse, and then chop them a bit. Add them to the pan. Strain the soaking liquid through a thin tissue (thickness of a Kleenex or double cheesecloth), leaving behind any grit. Add the liquid to the pan. Cover and continue simmering until the meat is very tender, around 1+1/2 to 2 hours. During the last fifteen minutes, add about 250 grams of chestnuts, either from frozen state or a jar (not sweetened). Remove the lid and simmer until warmed through. 
VIllage scene
 Remove the meat to a serving platter. If the juices are still watery, raise the heat and reduce them to the consistency of a sauce. Pour over the meat. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Louise served her version with creamy polenta and Monique served hers with purée of celery root (celeri rave). Both were delicious.
A la prochâine,


Sandra said...

How are you EVER going to live in the 'peg again after all this luscious and delightful wonderful treatment you are being given from the gens de la belle France?
Your blogs are so splendid.

Randy Kohuch in the Peg said...

Wow! It's nice to see you have the option of becoming a writer or a chef after you return from paridise! While it makes me totally jealous, it is nonetheless truly a delight to read of your adventures! Merci!!!

gil said...

Very tasty reading! Your adventures are delicious to read about.