Field Trip: Le Somail and the Canal du Midi

June 21, 2013

At the top of my things-to-do-before-leaving-France list was to head south to see Hazel on the Canal du Midi, my favorite part of France, the place that made me want to move here. So I took three days off this week and hopped a train to Narbonne, arriving with only a one hour delay in the the sunny, beautiful country of the Languedoc region. Life doesn’t get much better than it was over the last three days. I got to play with a cute dog, who happens to be the mom of my little Mac back home. Here she is sporting the new Swiss jewelry I picked up for her in her hometown of Appenzell, Switzerland.

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I got to hang out on a boat, on a UNESCO world heritage site. They haven’t yet cut down the trees on the bit of the canal that curls through picturesque Le Somail, so the winding green waterway is still shaded and scenic. (Check out a video interview of Hazel about the Fandango and the Canal du Midi at the 20 minute mark on TF1 here!)

photo 4_3 I got to go running in the morning through vineyards, next to eleventh century churches, and through circular hilltop villages.

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I got to play Scrabble, even though I didn’t get to win. I got to buy olives at l’Oulibo and drink rosé with grapefuit syrup, grocery shop at Métro (a sort of miniature Costco for French restaurant professionals), and spend a few hours reading about cheese.

photo 2_3I got to help cook. A lot. Hazel and her chef Katie were recipe testing for the weeks to come, so we brainstormed and shopped and whipped up everything from mackerel rillettes to a chocolatey hazelnut dacquoise. There were pizzas, caesar salads, peach cakes. There was bourride and fried monkfish and pasta with tomato sauce, brown bread and croissants, potato salad and smoked trout rolls, salmon with buerre blanc, spinach from the farm, cherries from down the road, and risotto with fennel and chestnuts. We bought brindade de Nimes and tarragon plants, and Katie even got the hang of driving on the non-English side of the road. Daniel took a break from tending his new vines to come share some champagne and an apero, and we drank a lot of coffees accompanied by dark chocolate and caramel Michokos. For more on the dacquoise and the rillettes and the cooking that’s to come on the Fandango this season, check out Katie’s blog: http://madamoisellekatiesfoodandtravelblog.blogspot.co.uk/

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Fennel and chestnut risotto in the works

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Produce shopping with Katie in her chef’s whites

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Chocolate hazelnut dacquoise, from a Rick Stein cookbook

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Getting our dacquoise in a row

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photo 2 Rillettes de macquereau, to be Mediterranean-ized on the next go with olive oil, anchovy, and black olive

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Fried monkfish and tartar sauce

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Hazel’s famous pizzas in the making. This one was eggplant, cured ham from the mountains, black olives, and arugula.

The three days flew by. And you know what? My little taste of the south almost made me want to stay in France forever. The consolation: we will definitely be back.

The source of the "Cant' Wait Cake," slightly modified by Hazel to make peach "Hurry Up Cake."

The source of the “Cant’ Wait Cake,” slightly modified by Hazel to make peach “Hurry Up Cake.”

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