In The Weeds

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The large group of students have finished their course and left the school. Classes are now smaller with students of a similar standard. Not as frantic as when we first arrived.  My class is making bread this week :


Fougasse with tomatoe and basil;




Feuilletage; (a sort of puff pastry)


Flan Parisien;


Levain ; the sour dough mix use instead of yeast.




Traditional Baguette;


Traditional Baguette with seeds mixed;




Pate sucree;


Chocolate Cake;


My guess is we are going to be busy.

My class now comprises 9 students of 8 different nationalites. Communication is sometimes interesting.  This morning we completed baking baguettes and shaping the croissants. The kitchen although less frantic, is still like a beehive with students mixing ingredients, rolling dough and trying to understand each step of chefs franglish.   There have been some spectacular culinary disasters, the most spectacular was the exploding syphon that covered the elephantine student user (and the ceiling) from head to foot in Crème Anglaise.  Even our staid chef was helpless with laughter.


At the beginning of each week students draw names of out a bowl to see who they will be paired for the week and to see what part of the kitchen they will be cleaning.  I draw Laura, a twenty something who has no kitchen experience and who is terrified of our Chef. She’s from Honduras and speaks quite good English except when questioned by the chef when she turns bright red and reverts to her native Spanish. She’s scared of her own shadow and will do very simple tasks but anything complicated she gives to me. She has no idea how dangerous that is and how little I know. Strangely this odd “partnership” seems to be working; our baguettes turned out great and our croissants are FANTASTIC.

My croissant recipe will have an unusual downside. Consume them regularly and they will force you to trade in all of your fancy slim-line shirts.


Christina is as busy as I am, we pass like ships in the night. She prepared escargot, stuffed artichokes, frog’s legs and a large slippery octopus today. The frog’s legs were excellent just like tiny chicken leg popsicles with more than just a soupçon of garlic.  Her partner, Mickey, ran out of the kitchen once he saw the days “menu” never to return. There is a Zimbabwean, Nyasha, in Christina’s class.  Nyasha turned green when she saw the snails “vomiting” in the sea salt and vinegar before they were cooked and totally refused to even touch the octopus.

Christina got busy with her knives!

Christina brings back little treats to our apartment for me to sample. Yesterday it was a little block of pate de Foie Gras that had been soaking in cognac for a week.  This was served on small crackers made of blended caramelized popcorn with a sauce of red wine and chocolate.  Delicious? Oui!

The schools social life is damaging my liver. Students gather very regularly for spontaneous parties. Just one drink we say. Yeah Right. A bottle of whiskey later and its after 11 pm. Thank god it was a slow day in the morning. Last Friday was a double whammy…  we drank steadily from about 5pm talking with a sommelier student about, well… wine and then went to a birthday party for a “short while”.  We stumbled the 50 yards home after midnight.  The party went on into the wee hours. These people are made of much sterner stuff than we are.

Cap d’Agde is a small coastal town on the Mediterranean just west of Marseilles.  When we first arrived it was a small slightly scruffy and sleepy town.  The weather is changing all of that. There are now teams of workers mowing, sweeping, painting and hedge cutting. The town is waking from it winter hibernation, preparing for the summer invasion of five gazillion northern Europeans, that migrate every year to the Cote d’Azur, to pee in the sea.  Storefronts are being refurbished, the windows cleaned and more and more shops and restaurants opened.  The hundreds of fancy oceanfront apartments that line the beaches have, until now, had their shutters firmly locked. Slowly we see the apartment shutters are blinking open as owners arrive to prepare for summer.  There are a myriad of tiny knickknack shops selling beachwear, hats, ice-creams, ladies sexy undergarments, jewelry and food. Then there are the bars. We have found a good one, Mangos, situated in the center of the beach that is 5 minutes from our apartment. It is a very accurate replica of a Cuban beach bar. Simple wooden chairs and tables with beanbags scattered as extra seating.  Our host is Matuis, an amiable Dutchman. The menu is simple, the wines and beers are inexpensive and ice cold.  While Christina was in class yesterday I spent a very pleasant 2 hours quaffing beer and people watching while sprawled in the warm evening sun.  A delightful little French girl of 3-4 was giving a birthday party for her imaginary friends. She carries a “birthday cake” made of a bowl of sand and discarded sweetie wrappers. Oblivious of my presence, she carefully places the “cake” on the table in front of me and sings happy birthday to you, in French, with sheer joy.  She blows out the candles, doesn’t work, she has another crack at it, then claps her hands, gives 3 loud BRAVO’s and tries to feed her “cake” to a nearby dog.


At another table a happy couple is sipping one of the Languedoc‘s many Rose’s. Their children, a girl and boy of about 10 or 11 play a sort of beach ping pong with each other and then with each parent. The parents are very coordinated despite the numerous glasses of wine they have consumed and despite the dubious cigarette they share. The family is tanned and relaxed. They must spend a lot of time at the beach. Mum has a supermodel body and flaunts it by discarding her tiny bikini top.  The ping pong becomes more interesting.  The barman continues to calmly deliver a steady stream of banter, drinks and snacks to their table.  The barman doesn’t freak, her kids don’t shout “gross mom put some clothes on” and nor does anyone else.  It’s all very civilized.

We are after all, in France (eating foie gras with a spoon).

Vive la France!


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