We decided to leave early, before sunrise. Boys were sleeping, snoring quietly in their car seats. The day welcomed us, when we were driving through the breathtaking Burgundy vineyards. Somewhere around noon we've noticed ginger colored cows and veals of Charolaise and Blonde d'Aquitaine breed from Auvergne prairies. When the light turned into soft and velvet afternoon, we left the highway and climbed up the ocher hills, we dived into the green land of Languedoc. We let in the warm air through the open windows. Cicadas were singing a welcoming song. Mr FLR took of his foot from the accelerator as we were impregnating our eyes with olive tree groves and vineyards bending from the deep purple grapes from carignan and grenache variety.
At the end of the day we arrived to the old house, hidden somewhere in Languedoc mountains, covered with dazzling massifs of bougainvillea in deep copper color and light pink laurels, surrounded by unbelievable high and wide fig trees, covered with still green fruits.
We were welcomed by Famous Writer's Wife. She wore this highly annoying skin shade, indicating that she already spend few weeks here, where the sun almost never goes down. But she offered us a glass of rosé wine so we quickly pardon her this detail. We sat under the wrought iron pergola, covered with white roses and intensely working bees and others flying insects. The air were filled with some beautiful scent I didn't recognize first.
"It's rosemary. The rosemary smells like that" - I heard a shy voice coming from the laurel bush. A small boy showed in front of us. His knees were covered with bruises. He kept a butterflies net in one hand and a piece of bread in the other. He reminded me Mowgli from "The Jungle Book". It was Gabriel, one of Famous Writer's three kids. He was the same age as our Sacha.
"Let's go to the river " - he said. And they went to the river. It was Sacha's first real friendship. They become inseparable, they had their ups and downs, adieus and coming backs. They share the same passion for ice creams and falling down from trees. Gabriel played also my guide at the surrounding land. He knew where the wild mint, oregano and thyme I needed for grilled sardines grow and he showed me the place where local farmers meet to fishing the delicious trout, talking about politics or the inappropriate dress of widow Marion.
Soon after we arrived, we throw unpacked travel bags into a deep old armoire and we decided to greet our host, The Famous Writer. The small path leaded us to the old house through the huge rosemary's bushes, mentioned by Gabriel. We passed a small grey stone swimming pool. It took me five seconds to decide if I should jump in. Green, slightly cloudy water washed away from my body the memories of a rainy Spring that didn't existed this year.
After another glass of rosé I sat on the bank of swimming pool. I wanted to read the last Elle issue but it appeared to me to trivial . I recall that in one of rooms in our house I saw some bookshelfs bending under the books covered with dust. I already forgot where I left my espadrilles so I went barefoot to grab some book to read. The cold stone floor chilled my feet. I picked up "The Collected Works" from Beckett but after few first lines I found him too rainy in his Dublinese narration. My second choice went to Umberto Eco. The book was edited in German. Well, apparently the Universe was trying to tell me it wasn't the time for reading.
The Famous Writer invited us for dinner. I heard the voice of our oldest son coming from nearby. He was somewhere there, in this wild bushes but safer than ever.
The house of Famous Writer and his Wife was hidden at the backyard. Overgrown with twisted branches of kiwi tree, looked like asleep. We passed through the dusty living room, filled with books, Nina Simone and time that stopped forty years ago.
I wanted to photograph this house many times. Each corner, each shelf, each unwatered plant in clay pot, cave with cheeses, crystal chandelier covered with spider's web would make an amazing bohemian photo album. But those images will remain in my mind, warming me up during the Autumn's cold mornings, when sunny days will be only a distant memories.
During the dinner, I spotted my oldest son's blond head. We arrived there only few hours earlier but his hair was already lighter and his skin touched with July's sun. Our youngest son played quietly, seated on knees of German nanny, snacking raw onions. Mr FLR and Famous Writer went into a deep discussion about local vineyards. Famous Writer's Wife passed me a plate filled with tomato salad. Actually, they were only tomatoes. Unbelievably ripped, sprinkled with olive oil from the local mill and rosemary from the garden. This salad become a part of every our meal, so as the rosé wine.
The midnight passed the door, when the nanny carefully laid Aiden in his bed. He fell asleep, lulled by sough of fig trees. Sacha, looking already one year older, hugged his father. They still like that for few minutes an I barely could hold back tears flowing on my heated with happiness cheeks.
We woke up in a room filled with sunny light. I've noticed, I got some tan as well the last evening. I went downstairs to the kitchen. I opened huge windows, letting in the morning air, rosemary's scent and song of rested cicadas. I wanted to make some coffee but it appeared to me to heavy for this light morning. I went to the garden, picking up the fresh rosemary to make some tisaine, wondering if it's too early for a glass of rosé. We had tomatoes salad and watermelon with roquefort cheese for breakfast. Usually, a meal like this would twist my stomach but in this circumstances, I couldn't imagine anything else.
Mr FLR and boys took some huge bath towels and spend the whole morning at the swimming pool. From this day our oldest son turned into Jacque Mayol, diving with passion into the Deep Blue of chill water.
I sat at the balcony. I took my laptop to write some words. But the laptop didn't really matched the surrounding atmosphere. I reached for forgotten, in my willow panier, Cartier's quill pen, found many years ago on parisian pavements. It revived instantly, like those rusty years never existed. I started writing. I didn't write for many months. I will tell this story another time. I put on paper some beautiful words, beautiful memories about taste of France and family meals. Thirst woke me up from writing oblivion. I found some chilled rosé in garden's kitchen. On my way to swimming pool I picked up some jasmin flowers. My fingers effortlessly make a crown from them. I wondered why the hell I took with me my hair drayer, if the flowers, wind and sun are the only things my hair really needs.
We planned to do some grocery shopping, just once. We wouldn't spend too much time in the kitchen, feeding our selves with pasta and cheese sounded enough. On the way to the supermarket I spotted a sign "local cheeses". We stopped just to have a look. We never managed to get through the grocery store but we came back with baskets filled with ruby tomatoes, huge courgettes, purple aubergines, two liters of olive oil from the nearby mill, juicy peaches covered with velvet red-orange skin, goat's cheeses, chick pea's flour, five litters of rosé and rosemary-olive bread.
I spend more than half of our holiday in the kitchen, discovering the amazing local cuisine. I recalled the passion for cooking, I had few months ago, cooking local dishes: Cevenne's sweet onions pancakes with chickpeas flour, totally addicting olive oil biscuits from Sète, aromatic squid tourte, velvet potage Bajana from local chestnuts, mackerels grilled over the rosemary, smooth gazpacho from red bell peppers from neighbor's garden. I was applauded by Aiden, who's using his palate with two teeth, tasted grilled squid with spicy sauce rouille, marinated artichokes with saffron, lemon-lavender ice creams and many other dishes the child at his age shouldn't eat away.
Our holiday's life turned around meals at indefinite hours. We stopped counting glasses of rosé, little lizards warming up on the stone stairs, payed attention to singing of cicadas. We discovered fields where the wild mint grows. Sometimes we were swimming in Orb river. We wanted CharlieTheDog to be a part of our escapades but he remain the only dog in this world who hates water.
We visited local vineyards, growing on the slate ground, giving amazing red wine Saint Chinion, with harsh taste of red fruits. We managed to listen to the amazing piano concert, played by Natalia Morozova, in the hippie village of Bardou, lost in the Orb Valley hills.
One day we payed a visit to a local olive oil mill. Light silver leafs whispered stories about land. It was the place where I discovered for the first time small little biscuits zezettes de Sète, that stole my culinary hart. Delicates, made from the best quality olive oil, they become my must have. Lighter than those buttered ones from Brittany, matching perfectly the sweet local white wine from the small village of Frontignan. I also couldn't resist to the pancakes made from sweet onions from Cevennes, covered with chickpeas batter. Deep fried in olive oil, they stole the palate of Famous Writer's family as well.
I don't remember the exact moment, after which glass of rosé we realized this place feels like home. Unconsciously, we started to look at real estate ads about houses to sell and making plans about this land that will write a new chapter in our family's story. Perhaps, in few years from now, we will sit under the wide fig tree and eating tomatoes salad, we will play games with our sons. And if some of you, dear readers, will write "hey, Ewa, it would be nice to pay you a visit, we're heading to France for this holiday", we will put on the big oak table another plate found at brocante, waiting for you and sipping another glass of rosé.
OLIVE OIL AND MUSCAT BISCUITS (ZEZETTES DE SÈTE)
40 - 50 pieces
100 ml of best quality olive oil
100 ml of sweet white wine Muscat
Beans from one vanilla pod
100 g of brown sugar + 3 tbs for dusting
220 g of all purpose flour
1 tsp of baking soda
Heat the oven to 180°C. Mix together olive oil, wine, 100 g of sugar and vanilla beans. Sift together flour and baking soda. Add liquids on and mix well. The dough should have the consistency of Play Dough. If it's too liquid, add some flour. If too dray, add some wine.
Divide dough into small portions (size of 1 tsp), roll conical, flat biscuits (I should put some short film on You Tube to explain it live, what about some cooking channel? Just thinking...). Cover baking tray with baking paper sheet. Put biscuits on the tray, spacing them for about 2 cm. Bake to golden for about 15 minutes.
Those biscuits taste heavenly warm or cold, dipped in sweet white wine. Apparently, they can be keep in metal box. Apparently...
PANCAKES FROM SWEET ONIONS FROM CEVENNES
3 large sweet onions
120 g of chickpeas flour
100 ml of tap water
Handfull of rosemary leafs
Pinch of spicy paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil to fry
Peel off the onions and cut them on half. Chop into thin slices. Add flour, water, herbs and spices. Mix well, so the batter totally cover onion slices. Heat the olive oil in frying pan. Put a tbsp of batter and fry pancakes to golden on both sides. They should be eaten warm. I like them straight from the pan...