Friday, May 15, 2015

Redneck Gourmands (Or, It's All in the Butter)

You've seen those crazy food writers on TV who eat their way around the globe. True gourmands (definition: fond of eating, often indiscriminately and to excess), licking their lips over cockroaches, anteater tongue, and anchovy cake. Usually plump.

We're not like that. We're the redneck variety: seeking out the cheap lunch counter, picnicking on plain bread and cheese, eating bran flakes in our hotel room. In France, however, I intended to splurge on good food and wine.

At first, we were very disappointed! When I left home, I could only pack loose, unfashionable jeans and dress trousers because of the weight I had gained while nursing a broken foot. Here, the fat came off quickly as we skipped meal after meal and failed to find restaurants we liked. The food was mediocre, and vegetables were scarce. At one meal, Pope's pork dinner was served with green beans, but when I ordered "vegetables" ("des legumes"), I got only potatoes and rice! I lived on bread and cheese, while Pope's face lil up every time he saw the golden arches.
As we moved north, though, our diet improved as the restaurants became more promising. Once again, I am struggling with my zippers (mostly because of the butter; see below). Pope discovered Brittany oysters, and by adding seafood to my diet, I enjoyed some very satisfactory meals. Below is a photo essay of food we really liked--and some dishes that were just plain beautiful!
Oysters fresh from the sea at Cancale, eastern edge of Brittany; "tastings" (degustation) of the day's catch available right at the end of the dock. We watched as boxes of seafood were lifted out of the boats by a small crane at high tide.
Creamy goat cheese--a specialty in Dordoge--baked with eggplant and carmelized onion. Yum!
 "Crudites"--simple raw vegetables with light vinagrette, but a very welcome sight after weeks of menus with very little besides duck, duck duck!
Appetizer on the English-speaking island of Jersey, just off the coast of Normandy: very fresh canchre crab, probably caught the same day. Served with ripe, luscious, succulent melon and strawberries--nothing like that stuff you get in supermarkets!
It's all in the presentation! The only really good meal we had in the Dordogne region was served on an outdoor terrace laced with purple wisteria, on the bank of the Vezere River--a gorgeous spot and gorgeous food: Pope's canard (duck) with foie gras and my river trout with egg custard.

Thick steaks of John Dory, a local fish, on a bed of zuchini and broccoli--finally, vegetables so welcome to my taste buds! Served with local muscadet wine, which is dry, not sweet. This was our most expensive meal so far, in the 100-dollar range, and the prices are only going to go up from here!

Confession time! That 100-dollar meal was at a goumet restaurant in Saint Malo. It came with a complimentary appetizer of tiny shrimp served with fresh radishes. Then, they brought a basket of bread and this platter of.....BUTTER! Yes, each of these is a different flavor, including lemon, vanilla, herb, caraway, pimento, and anchovy butters. Delicious. I confess, I stuffed myself as if I didn't know where my next plate of butter would come from! 
Finishing touches: the desserts have consistently been more rewarding than the meals, and they are continuing to please. I am a creme caramel connoisseur, and the best I have ever had was in a small country restaurant in a tiny hamlet in Dordogne that otherwise served mostly duck. Several versions of panna cotta, including one with passion fruit, have been delicious. Above, creme brulee as eye candy; here, a plum cake in Brittany called Far Breton.  I can feel the pounds packing on!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. And all this time I thought of Isle of Jersey was an offshore banking outpost just beyond the pale rather than a refuge from a south of France peasant diet. How the tables have turned!

    Wasn't it in "Down and Out in Paris and London" that Orwell mentioned plates of meat as a reference to feet? I can only wonder what he'd have done with butter, though we know what T.S. Geisel did with it.

    But those juicy fish steaks…yer killin' me this morning. (I may have to make time to read ALL of those earlier blogs.)

  3. I stayed at the Grand Hotel in St Helier, Jersey, in 1990 (with someone who had ties to offshore banking) and will never forget the sumptuous French sauces, delectable desserts, and fine wine. Not to mention fish 'n' chips wrapped in newspapers (which is no longer allowed). Have waited all these years for a chance to return, and it did not disappoint. Worlds above England or Scotland in cuisine. On Jersey I actually found vegetables!