I’m such a lucky gal. Yup. Sure am. My parents rock and I’m so eternally grateful for them. They really are a girl’s best friend. I work really hard so I can comfortably take care of them when the time comes (and pay them back, of course, for all their loans).
They sacrifice all things extraordinary to provide an exceptional life for my siblings and me, even now as adults.
7 years ago, I was atop the Eiffel Tower celebrating my birthday with my parents. Just the three of us. They took me to France to wine and dine. A “do all that you want” 3-week trip. Dinner for 5 was a whopping $1,000 the night of mi cumpleaño in Paris. They rented a top-of-line Mercedes and we drove 10 hours to Monaco for a 6-day stay there.
We meandered the French Riviera, visited Nice, Cannes (where I bought my first Louis Vuitton–irresponsible way to spend $900) and St. Tropez, where it’s exclusive and trés chic! Also, where where we paid $8 for a single shot of espresso.
(The most beautiful building to stand under. And on top of.)
A few days before my birthday, our host, Miguel (a Cuban expat living the life in Paris and my dad’s best-friend), took us to Lye (Le Val de Loire), 2 hours South Central of Paris. There, he has a bad ass little mansion of sorts. He calls it “Château Marianao” (the neighborhood in Havana where I was born).
The place is a.m.a.z.i.n.g.!
If I recall correctly, it’s from the 17th century, close to 300 years, old but well-mainainted. It’s nestled in the middle of nowhere with a tree-lined entrance and massive front “yard.” It boasts 8 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, servant quarters, and a kitchen only those reading this could really appreciate. It wasn’t heavily decorated, simply holding the bare necessities to live. The doors and entry ways were exceedingly high, making my 5’1″ stature seem more like a 2′ tall kid.
No detail was left unnoticed, especially the antique headboard in the bedroom where I slept, the wooden toilet with a manual pull and crank, and the lovely ivy creeping up the exterior walls of the house. Oh, and the natural meandering stream in the backyard which was our morning setting for reading the local paper after enjoying a Franco-Cuban breakfast.
(Modest living in Lye, France — Miguel’s home away from home)
We went castle-hopping for three full days (about 5, which I’ll soon be sharing with you in a separate post), visited a cow farm where we enjoyed fresh fromages de chèvre, walked a bucolic mile every morning to buy baguettes from the only bakery in the town, played dominoes while sipping on Cuban espresso and Armangac, and paid a daily eve visit to his neighbor’s house (pictured above on the left) to roast chestnuts at the fireplace. It was a cold November, after all.
It was all so dreamy and so perfect. It was the life for three days.
(Dairy farm in Lye)
Of course we ate, too — a combination of Mami and I cooking in the large country kitchen while the fellas sparked the fire to offer us sexy warmth. Pan Cubano, guayaba con queso, and baguettes with olive oil and tomato were our go-t0 staples. That was at “our” château. Every bit of it was delightful as early morning sun shined in through the French windows overlooking the stream.
Eating out was also beautiful in that it was very simple. Nothing like the anticipated $1,000 birthday dinner a few days ahead back in Paris. It was quite laid back and unassuming. You might think that translates into burger and fries type of food.
Oh, our experience couldn’t be further from that idea. As I’m attempted to revive my mouth after losing a favorite earring at Château Valençay, where we’d just visited, the familia is debating where to sit inside a mostly empty bistro. I ordered and walked back to the mansion to beg the tour guide’s assistance. He kindly traced back my entire path.
(Mami, me, Miguel, his son Alejandro, and Papi)
And they say I’m OCD. They didn’t find it so I hastily went back to the food post to find the most gorgeous tomato on my plate. Sweet Jesus, You are awesome! The natural things You give us to harvest, I’m so thankful for!
Look at this lamb dish with real potato au gratin with roasted tomato. Need I say more?! I think mom, dad AND Miguel ordered the same thing, it was so attractive. Alejandro, being 15 at the time & lacking a discriminating palate, ordered bistec avec pomme frites.
(Roasted tomatoes and potato gratin)
I will most always forgo main entrée for dessert. Case in point: the warm fruit bed cooked in wine
These are the things life is made of. It was every bit of seductive and inviting.
Back at home, and soon after our return, I had a pending dinner date with a friend. I was working on the menu, mostly internationally-inspired, and it dawned on me that I could do something similar to what I had enjoyed during my three weeks in France. Food is, after all, a great way to keep memories alive.
The warm fruit I had in that quaint restaurant right outside of Valençay came to mind. I mean, dessert always comes to mind first. Dinner was great but dessert was far better. It always is. Always.
The one I had in Lye, France was just so incredible (pictured), I had to find a special occasion to recreate it and invite someone special to experience a little bit of central France through my interpretation. The pictures really don’t do it justice, though. There, it was served with a succulent cake, while the fruit was drenched in wine and sugar–I can’t remember for certain–with cinnamon and maybe cardamom. Who knows and who cares! The stuff was great!
Orgasmic kind of great.
(Apple pound cake with warm fruit and crème Anglaise)
That trip was fabulous. I found my earring after all (the great lunch inspired a skip back to the castle for another walkthrough which turned to be successful). And then I even considered moving there and finding myself a French man. He’ll take me shopping and I’ll cook for him. Maybe even a trip to the Alps to nestle ourselves in a lodge were I recreate the night of chestnuts on an open fire. And conjure up new ones.
I travel a lot. And though my recent vacation to Spain was amazing, nothing like it has topped that trip in 2006. I want to share more of that adventure with you. So maybe sometime in the next month I’ll post pictures and more stories on eating in France. I’m sure you want to know why we paid $8 for a single shot of espresso. Ridiculous.
In the meantime, enjoy the recipe of the warm fruit dessert. I swear it’s to die for. And even better, it’s super fast and easy. I was working off memory, so I modified it and added some of my fave liquor, different fruit, and used honey instead of sugar. Oh, and I’m certain they didn’t have cloves in theirs either–something I love!
*I first published this post in November, 2008, just 11 months into launching Flanboyant Eats. How time flies. It’s been edited and updated to include some missing details and information and for accuracy. And the pictures have been duly edited. It also serves as a pre-cursor to additional upcoming stories from that very trip. Surely three posts can’t tell the tale of three weeks spent anywhere. Especially France.
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.
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DRUNKEN WARM FRUIT RELISH IN WINE & HONEY
- 1 cup strawberries, sliced in half
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 cup green apple, chopped
- 1 cup green grapes, peeled
- 1 cup peaches, chopped
- 4 cups good dry white wine
- 3 splashes Grand Marnier
- 1/2 cup honey
- powdered sugar
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 3 whole cloves
- pinch of salt
- a few mint leaves
Add wine to a large saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add fruit, all spices and cloves. Turn heat to medium and reduce for about 10 minutes or until fruit is almost tender. Add honey, Grand Marnier and pinch of salt and stir. Cover, lower heat and cook for 5 minutes. Serve immediately in bowl and top with whip cream or confectioners sugar! Garnish with mint leaves. Serve with bread pudding or pound cake or anything you like. Serves 6.