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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Missing in Action, Part 1: The Return to France Begins

Yes, it’s been a while since my last post—serious writer’s block some would say. In all fairness, I’ve had a lot going on the last two months or so: house hunting; house buying; and house moving. Yes, I have decided to give up the downtown hipster thing and move into a house—the two-car garage, lawn-to-be-mowed, gutters-to-be-cleaned gig. I didn’t go far. I’m hardly in the ‘burbs—downtown is only a 10 minute's drive away. The new house has a great kitchen, and I’m looking forward to many dinner parties down the road. 

I had grand plans for my first “real” meal in the new house. It would be something special; something that Julia Child may have made when she first moved into her house in Provence. But my new grill beckoned. Laura, my friend Jim, and I sat out on the deck during a warm spring evening and complained about the never-ending election, while I grilled marinated chicken and asparagus. In retrospect, not a bad start.

And if you thought that I’m settled in and everything is unpacked, ship-shape and Bristol fashion, you would be seriously mistaken. I have boxes packed within boxes, with half of those boxes labeled “kitchen.” I love books, including cookbooks, until I have to move them. But the craziest, most insane, thing about this whole thing was that Laura and I left for France the day after I moved. 

It was not supposed to be this way. I was going to use the week that my kids would be in Puerto Rico for spring break to unpack, organize, and get settled in. But after spending two weeks packing and schlepping boxes over to the house, Laura, during my birthday dinner at Highlands Bar & Grill, implored: “I’m tired of packing; can we return to our original plan and visit France for spring break?” So, within a few days, we had plane tickets, a rental car, a house in Burgundy, and reservations at some great French restaurants. 

Our foodie vacation started off with barbecue at the Jim ’n’ Nicks in the Birmingham International Airport (international in name only, though a flight to Mississippi could be considered a trip to another country). We figured this would be our last taste of home for over a week.

©2016 Chris Terrell
Nothing like an ice cream sundae at 35,000 feet!
After a quick layover in Chicago, we were off for a seven-and-a-half-hour flight to Paris. We flew first class, so the food wasn’t too bad, but United’s signature ice cream sundae cart is, as Larry David would say, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

We arrived in Paris on Easter Sunday, so dining options were limited. After a late breakfast at the hotel, a short walk, and a nap, we were ready for an evening in Paris before hitting the road for Burgundy the next day. Laura’s great find for the evening: dinner at a local cafe and a baroque music concert at Sainte Chapel. Dinner was in a jewel-box, art deco cafe right out of central casting.

©2016 Chris Terrell
The meal was your basic bistro fare: green salad, frites, and boeuf Bourgeon. And while the cafe may have been a bit touristy, it made no difference. It was perfect spring evening Paris and waiters were friendly and efficient.

The concert was not long, and so there was time life in the evening for a night cap at one of Paris’s most famous bar: the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz. The Ritz has been under construction for several years now, but we convinced the taxi driver to take us there, insisting that it was open. We should have listened to our taxi driver. The Ritz is…still…not…open. We then looked defeat in the eye and decided to try the Bristol, another landmark hotel with an equally beautiful bar that knows how to make real, American cocktails. I had a couple of damn good Manhattans and Laura, an equally well-made French 75.

At this point it was getting late, and we had a full day of driving the next, so we headed back to the hotel and called it a night, falling asleep to the iconic sing-song sound of Parisian police cars. 

The next day, Monday after Easter, is a national holiday in France. (I’m seriously starting to wonder if the name “France” in ancient French really meant “land of the three-day weekend.”) But today, I welcomed having a shut-down Paris because it made the drive from Hertz at the Gare de Lyon back to our hotel much easier than it otherwise would have been. (Paris  traffic is infamous and rivals Rome for shear insanity.) After stuffing our over-stuffed bags into our little Renault Captur, we were off. Pretty soon we were zipping down the A6 on the way to Auxerre, our first stop.

We had originally planned on eating at the Rendez-Vous, a restaurant mentioned in an episode of No Reservations but it was closed (French holiday), along with most of the other restaurants in the town. We finally come upon Le Bounty—the chef/owner certainly had a thing for all things nautical. It was crowded, and we were not sure if this was because it was good or it was the only place open. That we were the only ones speaking English was a good sign. We were not disappointed. It was good—sturdy Burgundian fare with good, yet inexpensive, wine. After touring the town a bit, it was time to hit the road.

The fields of Burgundy grew more green and beautiful as we traveled farther south. The landscape was slightly rolling with the fields meticulously divided by hedgerows. Every now and then we would come across an old Chateaux and tall, stark white windmills rotating calmly in the mist. Old and new France in the same scene.

We were staying near the small village of Nolay in an even smaller village called Saisy. It is about 30 minutes west of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. Thankfully I was aware of our cottage’s geographic location. I became increasingly worried as our GPS (dubbed Agnes because of her British accent) took us farther and farther south of Beaune. Eventually, we pulled over. I went old school and pulled out my Michelin map of Burgundy.  I’m not sure what happened, but Agnes obviously wanted to go to the French Riviera. With Agnes re-set, we were back on our way but not before a different problem kicked in.

Because this was a national holiday, and because we were in rural France, the chances of Finding a supermarket open, much less a restaurant, became a real concern. Thankfully we had the advantage of driving on one of the great road systems in the world. And as part of this system, it is required that every 20 kilometers or so, there must be a lair  which is a fancy rest stop with a gas station, a place to eat, and a handy-mart. But not just any handy-mart because you can actually put together a pretty good meal. This one happened to have a Carrefour, a ubiquitous, large supermarket chain in France. Here were found everything we needed for a light French dinner. They had several different varieties of cheeses, fresh fruit, baguette (of course), and Burgundian wine. Laura even found a packaged salad complete with a twee knife and fork and vinaigrette dressing in little plastic vial. 

We finally arrived at our cottage just before sunset. The owners of the cottage had left us a bottle of crémant, Burgundy’s answer to Champagne. And as we sat there at the kitchen table enjoying our wine and cheese and baguette, listening to the cows and mourning doves in the field behind us, we knew that even greater things awaited us in this beautiful part of the world. 

Stay tuned for Part 2…

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