Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sorry Ella and Frank..

It wasn’t a foggy day in London town, nor has the British Museum lost its charm..  with a complete day on our own in London we decided a late wake up was warranted, and eventually we went down for breakfast.  We sat next to a couple of ladies that were here for the Vikings/Steelers game..  when we fessed up we were from DC, we decided our table was 0 – 9..

Anyway we finally decided that you can’t not go to the British Museum, so that was our first choice.  The tower, the bridge, the Palace will have to wait for another visit.  So as we started, we were confronted by a pack of Vikings, complete with King Viking and his fans

(Adrian was a big hit)

Enough of (sports) Viking lore, we headed for the museum (and the real Vikings) and found that we were not the only ones with culture on our minds

We joined the cultural herd, and soon were immersed in wonderful antiquities from centuries ago.  It continually astounds me that humans that predate us by thousands of years still had an eye for beauty and created things of wonder

We even saw the first ever baseball cap  (ha ha)


Anyway, museum fatigue eventually set in and we decided to take lunch in the third floor dining area which is supposed to be above the “café” stuff below.  And indeed it is, a nice setting with several options for food


They are closing the space tomorrow (!) to refurbish it, and so hot items were not available. But no matter, since we were planning on early dinner (stay tuned) a lighter lunch was called for.  The menu offered several choices from the buffet above, and all were assembled by staff to order.  I finally settled on a board of Jamon Iberica, and MFO took a heirloom tomato salad.  I watched as my ham was carefully carved from the leg, and MFO’s salad created on the bar..

(with Cornichons of course)
what colorful tomatoes!

The ham was so good, and the shared tomatoes were just right.  A glass of French Viognier went well..  and of course dessert is called for, in this case a couple of pieces of Stilton

And a lovely cake with (that wonderful) clotted cream for MFO

Quite nice food from an institution, and our server was very friendly.. as we have found throughout our travels..

After that, we visited a few items from early Egypt, marveling at the craftsmanship and effort to honor their dead.  Don’t expect the same for the Bottom Feeder..…

Finally full of history and wonder as well as good food, we wandered back to the Hotel, and kind of gathered ourselves for dinner..  Next time!!

Tomorrow an early getup, and on the bus by 0700.   Uncivilzed.. but we’re a trooper and will be ready tomorrow night in Yorkshire….



Saturday, September 28, 2013

London Bridges...

appear not to be falling down... as is the internet connection here in London.  so am finally able to check in on the blog side of the world.. For those of you that have been following on the FaceBook side, you've found some photos and roughly monitoring our progress

So far we have had two great meals, and a couple of pretty nice meals in the hotels in which we have stayed.    we've been to multiple churches, castles, manor houses that are important to Maryland history, following the Calvert clan (not appropriate, but I can't avoid alliteration),

Anyway, we started out on the airplane with reading material and sustenance..

after we endured leaving CDG airport, we did a tour of Hampton Court, where Henry VIII had wife troubles

The kitchens were quite something, they had fires going

and table set

so started our journey,,, and more to come..

and yes, we are always


Sunday, September 22, 2013


Well, I’ve stuck you in Normandy.  Time has gone by and we’re leaving tomorrow morning for the last of our international trips for 2013.  We’ll be going to England to trace the roots of the Calvert's, who founded the colony in Maryland.  While the first two (France) trips were food centric, this one will be mostly devoted to history.  Of course I have done some research, and have found places that serve respectable food, so hopefully reports will emanate from the UK.

I resisted the temptation to do a whirlwind wrap up of Normandy because there are still wonderful stories to tell.  For instance there was the day we started out with a trip to a small fish market in the town of Grandchamp – Maisy

home of many working boats which bring in all sorts of the sea's bounty:


and our old friends

Freshly caught, eyes still shiny and bright, a wonderful variety from the sea..  real food...

After that we visited the famous Bayeux tapestry, (watch this if you have time) a stunning relic of the 11th century chronicling the Norman invasion and conquest of England.  It is amazing..

Then off again to visit an orchard that produces another famous (non-cheese) product of Normandy: Cidre, Pommeau, and Calvados!  All made from the noble apple

We were given a tour by the owner of the property, a classic French gentleman who explained the processes to us

We then adjourned to the farmhouse and were treated to a wonderful al fresco luncheon

of local meats and Charcouterie.. how beautiful is this? 

Finished with the product of the orchard

We then blearily boarded the bus again and went to the small town of Le Cambes and visited their local bakery.  This wasn’t a touristy place, but a real working boulangerie for a small town.  We spent about two hours where the owner/baker told us about all phases of baking, from the flower to completed product.




And Voila!!

Isn't this gorgeous?

It was warm, even hot in the kitchen, and he does this every day, generating some 700 (!!) baguettes for the population of 600 some odd souls.  You have to love your work to do this.  Passion, yes, but long hard work everyday.. this isn’t Iron Chef crap it’s real honest to God food work.  Where it’s done..

Then it was back to the Manoir for a cooking demo by Chef Loic

following which we were ready for dinner and were



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Up the Mont... or not

Next course…

We left the copper cookware place with spirits high (and pockets lighter) and headed for Mont Saint-Michel, and the ancient abbey.  It has been a stronghold throughout history and naturally a tourist destination.  So our coach was one of many, and we were just one of several other groups.  Sightseeing loomed, but the first order of business was….. Lunch!  Several of our party went into a place that featured Moules, but MFO and I along with another couple selected another place with a unique menu item.

On the way, our guide Loic said that the area around the Mont was quite tidal with lots of marshes.  On these marshes, sheep are raised, and due to the tidal action, the vegetation has a high salt content.   This is reflected in the meat and “salt meadow lamb” is considered a regional delicacy.  We found a restaurant across from the mussel place called “le Pré Salé” which features such lamb, along with local seafood and the famous Mont Saint Michel Omelet .  So we split from the group, went over and were pleasantly surprised to find it a pleasant white tablecloth, quiet place with crystal glassware (for wine).  We settled in and ordered some welcome beverages.

Time was a bit of a factor so we just had main courses (it was lunch, remember) of a warm goat cheese salad (Salade de Chévre Chaud), Millefeuilles de Rilletes of Scallops, and the male contingent went for the salt meadow Cotes d’Agneau.  Charger plates were removed, bread, proper silver delivered (sharp knives, fish knives, forks, etc), and soon the food arrived, the lamb

Along with the scallops

The lamb indeed did reflect the salt meadows (not overpowering) but it did require you to sort of sort out the meat from the fat. Following the meal, a sweet tooth couldn’t be denied and a dessert was ordered.  It was quite a production.

Incidentally, we found this extravagance on dessert to be fairly common.  This in the land of tarts and patisserie..  interesting.

Upon exiting we rejoined the group, in front of one of the local statuaries.  No explanation, but interesting..

We boarded a little courtesy bus that took you “close” to the Mont.  After that it was on foot.

Now, one will note that there is a lot of “vertical development” to the Abbey.  As with all of these ancient fortifications, height is a distinct defensive advantage.  This of course turns into (at least for us) a distinct disadvantage for the visitors. Once the group was inside, we were joined by a charming guide who explained that there were many, many,  many steps involved in getting to the top.

It was at this point that the feeder had a decision to make.. tough it out knowing that the knees would object to the trip down, or realize that you can't do things you used to do easily.  In probably what will become a more regular decision, I reluctantly decided I would not join the group.

So, off they went

(hut, hut, hut)
Or rather, “up” they went, and I was by myself feeling slightly guilty.  The Mont is not only the home of the abbey,  but it contains a small city of narrow streets


Which contain not only the usual kitschy little shops but also a lot of purveyors of food and drink

Menus are displayed in the streets, and by now, I would hope you could figure out at least the main dishes on this one

It turns out that there is a very famous place within the walls: "Mère Poulard opened her inn on Mont Saint Michel in 1888 and created the famous omelette that is known in France and throughout the whole world". People go in to have the omelette at a hefty price of about fifty Euros (it's big enough to share).  Current reviews of the place are not kind, but of course you go to say you did it and for the ambiance.  Anyway, I sought it out

They have kind of an open kitchen where you can see the famous egg dish being prepared and made

open wood fueled fire with several omelettes cooking
And to come full circle, you know where all that copper stuff came from?  You guessed it.

Eventually the group descended from the heights, we re-gathered and headed back to the Manoir.  So it was a good lesson for me, realize what you can and cannot do, and you can find rewarding things to do within yourself....




Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Atelier du Cuivre...

Time is marching on, so maybe we’ll adopt a “small plates” approach and dole out little bites instead of a complete meal….

One of the places we stopped was in the little town of Villedieu – les – Poéles, because of a particular place there.  A hint is apparent on the town square

In particular the

Quick French lesson;  Atelier translates as “Studio” or “Workshop”, and Cuivre is “Copper” ; So you go down the little tunnel to the little shop

and upon entering, you are presented with a dizzying slice of culinary heaven

Anybody who studies about or does serious cook, knows that copper is the ultimate material for cooking equipment.   This place is one of the oldest fabricators of copper cookware still in operation in France.  You appreciate it not only for its obvious beauty, but mostly for its cooking properties (which we’ll talk about that in a bit). Just look at those things.  Enough to make you swoon! (as are the price tags, but who cares).  You pick up one of the pans, and the first thing that strikes you is how heavy they are.  Beautiful things.

We were given a tour of the workshop, preceded by a very informative introductory talk, from a lady who was a Brit, so language was not a problem

She talked about the reason that copper is the preferred material for cookware is because of its superior heat conducting properties.  For instance, when a pot is used made of another material with less heat transfer properties, the temperature of the (sauce pan) decreases the farther from the heat source.  That is, as you move toward the top of the pot, it gets cooler.  In a sauce with say, butter, the fat will migrate away from the hottest part to the cooler, resulting in separation and breaking.  She claimed that with copper, the temperature remains pretty much constant from bottom to top.  Said you could leave your sauce overnight on heat and it would never break.  That’s what she said. Their pots are lined with tin, and now they are making some lined with silver.

After the demo, we moved into the workshop.   One might say we also moved back in time


The pan starts its life as a disk of copper that is mounted to the lathe (above) and gradually formed into a vessel

No automation here, it is all in the hands and skill of the artisan.  After the pot is formed, it is moved over to another station for more hand work.  You know when you look at some bowls they have dimples on the side?  She explained how they do it

For the size of pan he is working on, there are about 4000 strikes of his hammer

Ping! rotate… Ping! rotate… Ping! rotate… Ping! rotate... Ping! rotate… Ping! rotate… Ping! rotate.. Ping! rotate… Ping! rotate…  repeat this four thousand times and you have a finished product. Oh, and they were all in neat rows, evenly spaced.  Amazing process.  All by hand for the most part.  Besides the cooking products, they also do art pieces, we saw a complete bathtub, which she said was around 250,000 Euros.  I was struck by the fact that the two workers we saw were not young.  I asked if they were working younger apprentices into the business and she said it was hard.  Nobody wants to do that anymore.

Their cookware is famous; it has its own registered watermark, and is used in kitchens throughout France.  And MFO made sure that it will be used in kitchens throughout the Digs..

What a unique opportunity.  Another reason why we like to visit France.
On our way back to the little bus, I ran across this sign

With my expert command of culinary French, I assumed the “derriere” was a reference to the anatomy of the swine (with Andouille), but alas, our guide informed me that it meant something like 100 meters behind there is a store that makes sausages..  Oh, well..

Our next stop was Mont Saint-Michel

wherein the Feeder learned that the knees are weaker than the brain...but I think we’ll make this our next course.
Bon Appétit!