Wednesday, July 9, 2014

France: Burgundy - A Lost Weekend…Maybe Not and Penne with Peas and Prosciutto

     "Why don't we go to Burgundy?"  Dear Husband knew the mention of a French town would get me interested.  We were planning a series of long weekend trips "sans enfant".  He went even further.  "We can get an apartment and do some wine tastings.  In the evenings, let's cook.  It has been a while since we've cooked together."  I was hooked.  A weekend alone with my husband, in one of my favorite areas of France…sampling wine and cooking.  How good can it get?
     We left at 5:00 a.m. after a fitful night of sleep.  Knowing that I have to get up early, I never sleep well the night before and it did not help that we were monitoring the phones for news of Dear Daughter's arrival in the States.  However, we were out the door by 5:30 and six hours later, we were at our first destination.  The Cassisium, a museum dedicated to all things cassis, is located in the wine town of Nuit St. George, just south of the capital of Burgundy, Dijon.  Cassis is black current and in Burgundy, they make all kinds of products.  We have mustard blended with cassis.  You can buy cassis ice cream in the grocery store.  In restaurants, a favorite aperitif is a kir--a blend of cassis and Aligote, a Burgundian white wine.  I have made seared duck breast with a cassis sauce.  But our mission was to buy Marc de Bourgogne, a digestif from the region.  We entered the Cassisum and went directly to the gift shop where we promptly told the sales girl that we wanted 12 bottles of Marc and 6 bottles of Creme de Cassis.  She didn't quite know what to do and after consulting a colleague, our order was boxed up along with an extra bottle of each given to us…gratis…for the purchase.  We were giddy upon leaving.
     It was lunchtime and our plan was to drive towards the village where our apartment was located and stop when we saw an interesting restaurant and have lunch.  Just south of Beaune, we passed signs for the village of Meursault.  "Are you ok?"  Dear Husband was teasing, I think.  Meursault is the village of my favorite chardonnay and the second purpose of this visit was to purchase a case or two.  It can be an incredible wine, named for the village where these vines grow and in the States, the cost can be prohibitive.  "Let's keep heading in the direction of our village."  After such an early morning, my stomach was giving the directions more than my heart.
Fabulous Burgundy Snails


     Two villages later, we came across a small restaurant with outdoor seating and it looked perfect.  As we walked through the sleepy town to the restaurant, we came across numerous small wine houses, many of the last names the same.  I could imagine generations of wine producers continuing to live in old family homes.  At the restaurant, we settled into chairs outside and ordered kirs while we investigated the menu.  Wanting escargots, another burgundian speciality, I ordered the three-course menu while Dear Husband settled on Beef Tartare.  Our host recommended a local white wine that was bold enough to stand up to the snails and the beef.  We washed off the stress of the drive and discussed our plans for the weekend.  Tomorrow, we would head to Beaune for an appointment to sample wine…only chardonnays.  Then on Saturday, we would head to Puligny Montrachet to visit Domaine Leflaive.  Two years ago, the vitner himself gave us a tour of his vineyards and bottling facility before we had a tasting lunch at his daughter's comfortable hotel.  We were skipping the outdoor activities and had a tasting lunch reserved for 12:30.  We were anxious to fill the trunk with a case or two of his whites.



     Following our leisurely lunch, we resumed the drive to our apartment.  About ten minutes later, we entered a small village and off the main road, took a very steep and narrow road to our place.  I heard voices in the garden as I obtained the keys from the lock box.  I opened the gate and came across a middle-aged British couple.  She was lounging in the sun while he was under the canopy of their porch sipping a glass of wine and working on a crossword puzzle.  They looked disturbed at seeing us. We briefly introduced ourselves and asked them if they knew the location of our entrance.  "It's down past that gate but your entrance is around the other side.  You can use this entrance while you unpack." Then, they went back to their activities.
     I was a bit confused.  I knew that I had rented an apartment that was part of a larger house but I was under the impression that there was a shared garden space.  I didn't give it much more thought.  We unpacked and rested a bit before heading out in the late afternoon to investigate a nearby town and find a bakery.  When we arrived back at the house ninety minutes later, the British guy was watering the plants while preparing the barbecue.  It was a strange site watching a renter water the garden as if he owned the place.  "I say there," he started.  "It was fine for you to use this entrance to unload your things but this is our garden and you have your own entrance."  I felt anger boiling up from my stomach---and in a near explosion…I managed to calmly get out, "No, I believe you are incorrect.  This is a shared garden space.  The other entrance is on the main road and we do not feel safe using it.  We do not plan to be around much over the next few days but we would like to have our dinners out here and perhaps use the bikes that belong to the properties."
     This did not go over well.  We were told point blank that they had been coming there for years and loved it for its privacy.  Our property did NOT come with rights to the garden space nor the bicycles.  I raced down to our Hobbit House, as Dear Husband was now calling it and called up the property on the website.  Yes, it indicated that we had shared garden space. I marched back up, nearly tripping on the top stair and triumphantly showed him my IPAD (ignore that my hands were shaking).  "Oh well, it is clear as day.  You do have rights to this.  But how are we going to manage sharing the barbeque and bikes," he whined.  His wife came out and hearing this, rushed back inside and secured HER agreement which indicated that the apartment had NO garden.  We were back at square one.
     Except that we knew that at this point, there was no use in staying.  We tried numerous times to reach the booking company to no avail.  We finally found the owner (in England) and she indicated that the apartment normally wasn't rented out individually and she would refund our money.  We discussed trying to find another location for the remainder of our trip, but it just didn't seem worth the effort.  After another fitful night of sleep, we were driving away…back to Belgium at 6:30 in the morning.  Just before we hit the Belgian border, the booking company finally called us - offering us another property and asking us to turn around and come back.  Nope, we were going home.
     Exhausted and feeling almost jet lagged, we collapsed on the couch, watched movies and let the day pass by us.  The next morning, we could not remember dinner nor the movie but we were better rested. However, what were we going to do with two days.?  We thought about going to Paris.  We thought about visiting other locations in Belgium.  The thought of getting back in the car was not appealing.  After a long breakfast, we decided to visit a nearby town and see what their Saturday market was like.  While we were there, it was only a short drive to the duck farm to buy some foie gras.  The market was great and we walked away will all kinds of treats: peppers stuffed with feta, two different types of cheeses that were new to us, boudin blanc stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, and fresh farm eggs.  At the duck farm, I couldn't resist two legs of duck confit and a small slice of foie gras.

I wonder where the duck farm is???

     We had our own wine tastings over the next two days; sampling wines from our modest collection and trying new ones.  We dined on our purchases and made plans to meet friends in Brussels to see a World War I exhibit the next day.  It wasn't Burgundy but it was relaxing and we experienced a few new things.  In the meantime, we have been offered a free weekend in Burgundy and will be refunded all of our money - so perhaps at the end of the weekend, all was not lost.
     I harvested the remainder of the peas this weekend and made a pasta dish that we have not had in more than a decade.  I remember that when we used to make it, I picked out the peas before eating.  This time, I wiped the plate clean!


Penne with Prosciutto and Peas

Penne with Prosciutto and Peas

3 oz prosciutto, cut into strips
1 cup fresh peas, blanched
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup heavy cream
Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper
Penne

Cook the penne according to the instructions.  In a saucepan, saute the onions in olive oil for two to three minutes.  Then, add the prosciutto and cook for one minute.  Add the cream, salt and pepper and reduce slightly to a sauce consistency.  Add the peas and cook a minute or so to warm them.  Add parmesan cheese and then add the pasta into the sauce.  Serve in pasta bowls with added parmesan and black pepper.
      

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