We joined a land tour along with about 40 other people of a “certain age” all trying our best not to look like tourists. Along with the famous landmarks familiar to all of us in France, I was longing for “real” country French fare, which necessitated leaving the larger cities and seeing how the farmers ate.
We arrived in Avignon in a light rain which didn’t reduce our delight in the old homes and the charming winding streets which beckoned a traveler to explore a little more. Our exploration led us to the palace of the ancient popes.
I love the quiet moments in a trip, so as we left the palace , staggered by the concept of the immense power they wielded even in the Middle Ages, we were thrilled to come upon a lone flutist who was sitting alone in the middle of the huge square and filling the air with the glorious sound of Mozart! Truly a memorable moment.
We took the back roads through the countryside quietly listening to lovely French music on our way to Arles. We were all lulled by the warm sunshine and the music, when the bus came to a sudden stop, and as we looked through the windows we saw a large herd of sheep with a grizzled old shepherd keeping them in line as they slowly crossed the road to the other side. Memorable moment number two!
The wondrous light in Arles, so beloved by Van Gogh and Cezanne, proved to be hiding its glory behind a few clouds during our entire visit, so I packed away the paints and brushes and dragged out the camera. I could “wing it” with the light when I got home. Not quite the same, but still OK.
Still not a taste of “real” country cooking, but we soon came to the Dordogne River and La Rogue Gageau with its quaint houses clinging to steep rocky cliffs. The shops all front onto tiny cobblestone streets, which would be disastrous for a fashionista in sky-high heels. We found a cute little cafe advertising its menu on the front, and there in white chalk on the blackboard was Cassoulet! Oh delight! But by the time we were served, they had removed it from the menu!
Feeling like a wounded warrior deprived of a victory, we bought some great bread, meat and cheese, and a bottle of red wine at the next door shop and walked until we found the river. An old willow tree beckoned us to shelter beneath it while we had the nicest lunch so far on this trip to France. A small boat with a young couple slowly sailed along in front of us. Memorable moment number three. (I bring this moment out quite often while sitting in a dentist’s chair.)
When we boarded our bus once more, a fellow tourist complained about the cassoulet at the cute little restaurant: “Why, it’s just French Baked Beans”!
For those of you who are not familiar with this marvelous country dish, it is made with large white beans, ham and several types of sausage all cosily nestled into a stoneware crock with garlic, wine and a few tomatoes and left to languish in a warm oven for a few hours while it drives the hungry diners wild with anticipation. It can contain any number of meats; duck goose, game, etc. In the Toulouse area it must include among its meats some goose. After all, somethng must be done with all the geese which housed the foie gras!
“French Baked Beans” it may be, but I make a 30 minute version which goes pretty well with a loaf of homemade crunchy French bread and a bottle of red.