Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Cooking in Les Arcs - Part 2

A meal from the cookery class. Photo: Curt Dennison
Last month I wrote about my friend, Karen, who will be running cooking classes in Les Arcs-sur-Argens in March and April next year.

Karen is a qualified chef who runs her own restaurant, The Eagle’s Nest, in Missouri, USA.

Her Scandinavian grandfather, Axel Blumensaadt, trained with one of France’s leading chefs, Auguste Escoffier, in the late 1800s.

For her classes in Les Arcs, Karen combines her grandfather’s recipes with modern French cuisine and although I've not done a class, I have enjoyed Karen’s delicious food. One of our most memorable luncheons began at midday and didn’t end until after 8pm!
The Guard House next to the clock tower.

Karen has let me know that she has a couple of places still available in April.

Her classes are intimate affairs – just two people at a time – and run from a Saturday to Saturday. Karen will collect you from Nice or Les Arcs' station and you will stay with her at the Guard House beside Les Arcs’ medieval clock tower.

Mornings are spent shopping and cooking and on free afternoons, Karen will take you sightseeing, to markets, local wineries and an olive mill. It also includes lunch at La Terrasse restaurant and a final meal at the award-winning Logis du Guetteur restaurant in the château high above the town.

‘The classes are tailored to the couple and so is the sight-seeing,’ Karen says.

Just the second and fourth weeks of April are still available, so if anyone is interested, please contact me and I will pass on Karen’s details.
Tarte au Citron. Photo: Curt Dennison

One of Karen's favourite desserts - and mine too - is the Tarte au Citron. As she says, ‘It is light and refreshing any time of the year and settles the stomach after a heavy meal or hits the spot after a light meal of salad and cheese’.

This recipe is from her book, A Culinary Legacy: from Escoffier to Today, written with Max Callegari, executive chef at the Logis du Guetteur.

Tarte au Citron
A prepared sweet pastry crust
4 eggs
1 cup superfine sugar
½ cup soft unsalted butter
5 tablespoons heavy cream (I used plain yogurt and it was delicious)
Juice of 4 lemons
Zest of 3 lemons and zest strips from the other for garnish
Pre-heat oven to 190’C.
Roll out pastry and line tart pan, pressing into the crimps around the edges. Cover with baking paper and fill with baking beads or dried beans and bake blind for 15 minutes. Remove beads, lower temperature to 160'C and bake a further 5 minutes to dry crust base.
Mix butter and sugar together, add cream and blend well. Add eggs one at a time, and again blend well.
Add juice and lemon zest, blend together, then pour mixture into the tart crust.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the centre is set and looks slightly bumpy. Cool completely before cutting or refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
Place lemon zest strips in iced water to gently curl and drain on paper towels before garnishing the top of the cooled tart.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Walk the Var coastline

Agay - the coastal path begins just this side of the columns.
The Var has a long, extensive coastline that reaches all the way from just past the departmental capital of Toulon in the west, almost to Cannes in the east.

It winds past salt plains and rocky calanques - or inlets - and the exquisite bays south of Les Maures to the wide beaches like the Pampelonne south of St Tropez.

Driving along the coast road from Ste Maxime through Les Issambres and St Aygulf to Frejus, I feel like a 1950s movie star - except my car is a little Fiat instead of a sleek cabriolet.

But at the eastern end of the Var, bordering the spectacular red earth Estérel hills, is a perfect little coastal pathway that is a treat to walk.
Bathers shelter beneath beach umbrellas as they hug morsel of sand between the rocks.

This coastline - between Cannes and St Raphael - is one of the highlights of the train journey from Nice to Les Arcs-sur-Argens.

But to walk the coastal path, you need to take a train from Les Arcs to Agay.

Don't forget to take bathers and a towel, so you can cool off during your walk in one of the perfect little bays that highlight the pathway. You will need plenty of water, sunscreen - and your camera!

Once you step off the train at Agay, cross the railway line to the line of columns above the foreshore and you will find signs leading you down to the walking track.

Here you come across lots of red earth, rocks and driftwood.

Following the path, you can choose to walk all the way back to St Raphael - about 10 kilometres - or you can choose to break your walk and cut across to the railway stop at Le Dramont or Boulouris.

The semaphore at Le Dramont.
There are snack bars or a couple of good fish restaurants along the way and plenty of chances to catch your breath - or the sun - with a laze in a sandy cove or a dip in the turquoise waters.

At Le Dramont, there is a high, conical hill to skirt around - or if you are feeling energetic, you can climb to the top for spectacular views.

This is where the GIs landed in August 1944 to begin their liberation of Provence during World war Two. There is still a semaphore on the top of the hill.

As you round the corner of the hill, turning back into the stony beach, you get a close-up view of the Ile d'Or just off the coast.

It is a long trek across the pebbly beach down to Santa Lucia, but once there, you are almost in St Raphael, where the beach becomes sandy and it is flanked by a wide boardwalk and some terrific restaurants just across the road.
The fort on the Ile d'Or with St Aygulf just visible in the distance across the bay.
The station is only two blocks back from the sea, and it's a 20-minute journey back to Les Arcs.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Never forget - N'oubliez jamais

Poppies growing wild along the roadside to Taradeau.
There was an illustrated child's book on the counter at the Maison de la Presse in Les Arcs-sur-Argens this year. It recounted the experience of World War One - La Grande Guerre - in the Var.

I meant to buy it, but then it skipped my mind and I didn't. I hope it will still be available next year.

This week I am remembering World War One - and particularly the Armistice, signed at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month.

My father, L/Cpl Tom Durbridge.
It has particular significance for me, as on that date, my father, Lance Corporal Thomas Durbridge, was incarcerated in a German Prison of War camp somewhere near Hamburg.

He was just 21 years old and at 45 kilograms, had lost almost half his body weight in less than a year.

He was taken prisoner, together with a number of others from the 48th Battalion, near Dernancourt in early April 1918.

Five months later, his older brother, Levi, who was involved in the battle against the German Army's last push towards Amiens, sustained a head wound and died. He is now buried at the Australian War Cemetery at Villers Bretonneux.

I write this not to glorify war, but to the remember the sacrifices made by these two young farm lads from South Australia who travelled to the other side of the world and gave so much for freedom.

There are hundreds of thousands of stories from that war - on both sides - that show how much it cost emotionally and physically, not only to the soldiers themselves, but their families and future lives.
Poppies by the old railway lines at Les Arcs.

It affected the people in the Var - a long way from the front line - as their men left the fields to go and fight.

It affected my husband's French family, where Marcel never knew his father, who was killed at the Front not long after his birth.

I think about my father-in-law, Leslie, one of only a few to survive after his destroyer, the SS Martin was torpedoed by a U-boat during the North Africa landings in World War Two. He was in the oily water throughout the night as rescue ships didn't dare to stop for fear of more U-boat attacks.

I think of my brother-in-law, Peter, who served in Vietnam and the great distress of that war.

I wear my Flanders Poppy proudly, and remember the French wear the blue cornflower at this time.

But it is the Poppies I see along the roadsides and railway tracks when I visit Les Arcs - or the tiny red petals that peep from fields of wheat as I walk the road from Villers Bretonneux to the war cemetery - that remind me that the tragedy of the 'war to end all wars' was that it didn't succeed in doing just that.