Sancerre in the Fall – Fields of Golden Vines

É in the country | egg & dart blog

Hello again! It seems I haven’t mastered the working/being a mama with baby at home/having a life balance yet. Has anyone? Ha! But that seems like a post for another day. I wanted to pop in with a couple glimpses of the beautiful Sancerre region of France I took this weekend because, well, how could I not share this?!

Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog Creek adventuring with Papa | egg & dart blog

We went for what felt like a super short visit to R’s grandparents because usually we get to take advantage of a long weekend at this time of year as November 1st (All Soul’s Day) is still a work holiday for a lot of French people but this year both Halloween and All Soul’s fell on the weekend. Dart! But we had two frankly balmy (near 70°F!) days and we tried to soak up those views as much as possible.

Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog

We also climbed to the attic and investigated some of R’s old toys for É which was so sweet – like opening a time capsule that, I’m sure, feels like it was just yesterday for both of us. This little guy was quickly adopted and I love his glowing red wheels with the pumpkins in this shot.

Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog

Despite it being only two days, we managed to squeeze in a bit of adventuring an visiting new-to-me places and seeing them in another light for R. The country roads – I don’t even know how to resist wanting to see what is just around every bend!

Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog

Sunday afternoon ended on the hillside among the vineyards looking back at the town of Sancerre as the evening’s shadow swept over it. It changes so fast at that time of day but for a few brief minutes, the fields turned an almost iridescent violet that I would have loved to drink in for a while. I only caught the tail end of it here.

Sancerre Autumn | egg & dart blog

There are even more images over on instagram because of course I couldn’t help from overgramming.

Here’s to November! I can’t believe it is here. But I’m trying to get myself into the holiday season gear because here it comes!!



Food & Recipes, Life

Sancerre Afternoons and A Cake with Hazelnut Flour

I have another recipe from our trip to the Sancerre region to share. Something a little sweet this time. It started with one of my favorite stops when we visit R.’s grandparents: the nearby oil mill. Just in the next town over, we always make a stop in the little shop and mill run by just two people. They process hazelnuts and walnuts, shelled and brought in by locals in exchange for a relative quantity of oil, on the original old stone table and mill wheel in a cramped room with only one window and an old guardian dog. When they are producing toasted (traditional) walnut oil by heating the nuts then grinding them, the smell is divine.

R.’s grandmother uses the toasted walnut oil in her signature vinaigrettes but I always get one of each oil (hazelnut and walnut) and use them on anything that seems willing: salads and tartines, even risotto with blue cheese and apples – divine. And when we were back for this trip, my stock was very low and I was eager to visit the mill for some new bottles. But this visit, while I was investigating the oils, pottery, and knives offered in the little shop (the room next to the mill room) I came across little bags of hazelnut and walnut flours. “We are trying to use the nuts completely,” the owner explained to me, “so we grind the nuts further into flours, now.”

Before she even explained I had picked out one of each and was greedily trying to decide if it would be enough. “The toasted walnuts are too dry after pressing to be used for flour,” she went on, motioning to dark brown pressed blocks of the toasted walnut grindings, “but the untoasted hazelnuts and walnuts have enough moisture left to make very good flours.” I couldn’t wait to try them out. She pulled out five or six copies of recipes for cakes and breads but my mind was dreaming up too many possibilities to try them first. I’ll have to get back to those some one of these days.

As the afternoon went on, we traversed the hills of vineyards stopping at every beautiful spot we came across but the path always leads to Sancerre. Perched on a steep hill overlooking all those rolling hills, Sancerre is an ancient town that serves as a hub for the nearby villages. R.’s father and uncles went to high school here as did his grandparents. The stones are thick with his family’s history. We park near the top and walk the steep streets to the center of town and poke around the same little path, here the well lit from below the ferns growing on its sides, here the church, here the bookstore, everywhere wine shops. But, especially in the fall and winter when the sun fades early on and the air cools quickly, what the two of us always want is a cosy café with tea and maybe something little sweet. Something to warm us for the ride back to the farmhouse. But Sancerre sleeps early in the off season and we don’t usually find what we are looking for.

When we got back to Paris, I considered what to try first with my flours. I feel the need to use them carefully until I can get back and get more (read: hoard them)! But with some deep colored plums waiting to be finished, I knew what I’d love to try first: a cake. The kind of treat that we might like to have with a cup of tea after an afternoon of exploring the vineyards. Something full of flavor and just a little sweet. So here is that little cake for the cool afternoons of autumn made with the flour of the season’s nuts: Brandy Roasted Plum & Hazelnut Cake.

Brandy Roasted Plum & Hazelnut Cake

makes one 6″ cake

7 plums

1 tbsp. brandy

90 g / 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 c. lightly packed brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. hazelnut flour

1/2 c. all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/3 c. buttermilk

1/2 tsp. demerara sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 425°F. Cut the plums in half lengthwise, remove the pits, and lay them face up in a baking dish. Sprinkle the brandy over them and roast until juicy, 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

2. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of the 6″ cake pan. Butter the pan and lay the parchment on the bottom then flour the pan. Preheat the oven, or reduce the heat from the roasting, to 170°C / 325°F.

3. In a mixing bowl beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light. Add the egg and beat well until combined and fluffy. Fold in the flours and baking powder until starting to combine then add the buttermilk and fold until all ingredients are just combined.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and tap gently to level the batter. Arrange the cooled, roasted plums on top of the batter then sprinkle them with the demerara sugar. Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into the center, about 25 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes then remove to finish cooling on a rack. Have a slice with a cup of afternoon tea.



Food & Recipes, Life

Sancerre Vineyards and a Taste of Tradition

Last weekend we escaped. Escaped Paris for the countryside surrounding R.’s grandparents’ farmhouse. They live in the Sancerre region in the center of France. It is a beautiful place and I was especially excited to get there at this time of year when the vineyards are being harvested and the light is golden. I could spend weeks exploring and taking photographs out there. “Tell me when you want to stop.” R. said as we took off in the car to climb the hills and enjoy the views. I tried not to tell him to stop every few feet. It seems I could photograph vineyards all day.

Last year we made a visit at the end of October and the leaves had burst into reds, oranges, and golds and not many grapes were left after the harvest but we were early this year and everything was wearing a vibrant green and thick clumps of grapes clung on the vines. The rolling landscape is blanketed with that green everywhere you look. No slope seems too small for planting. It is a rich landscape.

The garden and farmyard back in the grandparents’ village are rich too and we are fed abundantly from their production when we visit. “Pace yourself.” I warned my parents on their first visit. But you have to experience it to believe me. R.’s grandmother cooks traditional French meals that she prepared in years past for all the workers on the farm when it was still in operation. A starter, soup or vegetable salad,  main dish, often a roast, a green salad, cheese, fruit, dessert – this is how it goes and it is all so good that it’s very hard to be sage (wise) and not take too much from each course. I often joke to R. that he’ll have to roll me home.

While he doesn’t run a farm anymore, R.’s grandfather keeps three garden plots in the backyard and spread around town. He grows tomatoes and lettuce, potatoes and chard, squashes, including some American varieties from their trips to New England, zucchini and leeks. Leeks which are left in the ground through the winter, pulled up when needed in the kitchen, and tied to a stake with string to dangle in the stream and defrost. I love that.

On this trip, we had a traditional starter with lunch on Sunday and I would have been happy with only that: Leeks Vinaigrette. It’s a perfect and simple little meal with a dressing of local walnut oil and minced shallots and parsley. Served with hard-boiled eggs, it is a filling lunch. When we got home I called R.’s grandmother and asked her, “How do you make poireau vinaigrette?” “It’s so simple,” she said “and good isn’t it? I just had some for lunch.” So here is the recipe, so you can have a taste of French country meals, the flavor of our visits to the Sancerre region, for lunch, too.

Leeks Vinaigrette

serves 4

5 medium sized leeks, dark greens trimmed

1 shallot, minced

1 handful curly parsley, chopped

4 hard-boiled eggs

1 small handful chives, chopped

6 tbsp. walnut oil

6 tbsp. sunflower oil

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a big pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Salt the water. To prepare the leeks: slice the root end off very close to the roots. If you cut too much off, the individual leaves will not stay together but will all separate. Cut each leek in half lengthwise and then each half in half again. If you have tiny leeks, you can simply cut them in half and not bother quartering them. Rinse them thoroughly under cold running water making sure to get all the grit out from between the outermost leaves.

2. Once the water has come to a boil, put the leeks in the water bending them gently to fit inside the pot. Allow to gently boil for 30 to 40 minutes until they are tender throughout. Remove them from the water and let them drain and cool throughly in a colander.

3. Slice the hard-boiled eggs in half and arrange them on a plate then sprinkle with the chopped chives.

4. To make the vinaigrette, combine the walnut and sunflower oils, the vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in a small jar, cover with a lid, and shake well to emulsify.

5.  Serve the leeks warm or at room temperature sprinkled with the shallot and parsley and with the eggs on the side. You may have leftover vinaigrette but that is never a bad thing.

Art, Life, Paris

Monday and Friday

The weeks have been busy around here and the end of last week was no exception. On Thursday evening, the Musée d’Orsay hosted a fashion show of pieces by young designers from the Studio Berçot. They had worked on designs inspired by the musée’s new exhibit: Impressionisme et la Mode (Impressionism and Fashion). It was a packed night with many designs that were interesting and thoughtful applications of more than 100 year old fashions and I always love these kind of current day events in museums that seem to bring a whole new life and dimension to the art on display. These are just a couple glimpses of what the night included. With such a packed house, getting pictures wasn’t easy!

I tried and tried to get a post about that event up on the blog on Friday but fate had other ideas for me and I had to finally give up when we arrived at R’s grandparents farmhouse in the countryside of the Sancerre region and no internet signal could be coaxed from any of the technology we brought with us. I was so excited to be away from the city, in that beautiful place and at this time of year, that I have to say, I let go of the frustration pretty quickly. I’ll be back on Wednesday with lots of pictures to share from that trip (oh, it was too short!) but here’s one peek:

Happy Monday!