Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The archer, the baker, the vinaigrette maker

Lunch laid out

We’re staying in a house built into what remains of the metre-thick walls of the Twelfth Century town hall. The steep, narrow staircase to the terrace is carved out of city’s ancient ramparts, complete with arrow slits where Languedocien archers kept watch over the plain towards Sète and the sea. In the 1600s, less grandly, it became the stables of the Maison d’Estella, home to the Counts of Agde. You can still see the archway in the kitchen, beneath which the Count’s horses nudged and snuffled. Later still, in the Eighteenth Century, it became a boulangerie.

C18 baker's oven

The Eighteenth Century baker’s oven, from the days when the house was the local boulangerie.

Half an arch

The archway, a reminder that the pretty sitting room was once home to the Counts’ horses.

Candle'd arrow-slit

An arrow slit in the wall on the way up to the terrace.

When we opened up the house, it smelled bosky, musty, slightly foxy, the centuries of damp creeping into the stones over the winter, claiming back the sleeping house. Today, after a couple of days, it smells of coffee and garlic, fried onions and the pot of basil sitting on the kitchen counter. I bought some ‘room cleansing’ incense cones from the man in the market who, when the days are hot and slow, takes a nap behind his stall, his cinnamon mutt stretched out beside him on the warm pavement.

Radish, salt & butter

I haven’t cooked much. I’ve arranged pâtés, saucissons and cheeses on the heavy chopping board, laid out radishes with butter and crunchy sea salt, steamed a bit of asparagus, roasted a chicken, tossed a few heads of lettuce in mustardy dressing. So I’m embarrassed. All I have to offer you is vinaigrette.

Steaming asparagus

Salami & Medjool dates

Vinaigrette

This is my basic, everyday vinaigrette. Sometimes I mash a small clove of garlic into the salt before whisking it into the vinegar; sometimes – to go with steamed artichokes, for example - I leave the vinegar out all together and use lemon juice instead; often, depending on what I’m serving, I stir in some freshly chopped herbs at the end.

1 tbsp white or red wine vinegar, or cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
A good pinch of sea salt
3 tbsps olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard and salt until the salt has dissolved - salt won’t dissolve once you add the oil, so if you don’t you’ll be left with crunchy crystals in your dressing. Slowly trickle in the oil, whisking as you go, until you have a beautiful, silky emulsion. When I dress lettuce, I spoon the smallest amount of vinaigrette into the bottom of the bowl and then turn over the leaves gently with my hands until everything glistens with the merest slick of oil. It’s just not very kind to overwhelm sprightly young leaves with too much vinaigrette. If you wish, dress them sparingly and serve extra vinaigrette in a little jug on the table so people can help themselves.

Nearly all gone!

The view from the terrace…

Rooftop View View from the roof

View from the roof

View from the roof

Rooftop Lichin

10 comments:

  1. thank you, thank you for taking me with you on your holiday

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  2. And I see you made eggs for your mum! What did she think of the poached ones?
    Oh, how I envy you! Arrow slits even! Will wonders cease?

    Love wearing a bib,
    Karen

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  3. i cannot even begin to tell you how jealous I am of your vacation...it is cold and Rainy in our nation's capital. Drink some lovely summery wine for me and I will enjoy vicariously

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  4. How wonderful! And, we have "cheeseboard" for dinner frequently--love it!

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  5. Love your pictures. Wonderful post. I need to catch up on your blog. I notice that you like Edna Lewis - me too.

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  6. Lady P - You're welcome!
    Karen - Mum is yet to enjoy Turkish eggs - we are rather distracted by asparagus, artichokes and strawberries...
    Marty - I most certainly will! Wishing you better weather, and a big glass of rosé.
    Catherine - Isn't it great? I love cheese but sometimes don't have an appetite for it at the end of dinner. It's lovely when it IS the dinner, with perhaps a little salad, so you can focus on its seductive flavours and textures.
    Penny - I have so enjoyed reading Edna Lewis while I've been here. The south west of France may seem like a long way away from Virginia, but her passion for simplicity, seasonality and flavour holds true across time and place.

    Bisous a tous,

    Debora

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  7. Can't help but be envious of your life right now. This is exactly the kind of holiday experience I dream about. How wonderful to feel the history in a place like this. And do not be embarrassed for the vinaigrette; the simplest things in life are often the best. Gorgeous photos by the way.

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  8. Mariana - I'm pinching myself. It is intoxicating to be in a place where 500 years is but the blink of an eye.

    My lovely Sean took these pictures, so I can't claim the credit, but I'll tell him you liked them and I'm sure he'll be delighted!

    Dx

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  9. I came across your blog on Foodie BlogRoll. It is absolutely delightful; lovely recipes and photography. I enjoyed reading about your holiday and your friend Karen's visit. When we were living in Nottingham, more often than not, our guests would pick up some germ on the plane and spend at least half of their holiday with us carrying around a hand full of tissues.

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  10. Hello Karen - Thank you so much for visiting my blog; you're the first person to come here and leave a comment after I joined the Foodie BlogRoll! And thank you, too, for your lovely comments.

    I do long for the days when air travel was a glamorous and elegant thing. Now, if the in-flight catering doesn't get you, those warrior germs will!

    Dx

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