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I am a home cook, serious eater, and adventurer. Please join me on my quest for tasty food while in local and exotic locations.

Roasted Marrow Bones with Pickled Shallots

roasted marrow bone plate

Serves approximately 4

Ingredients

6 shallots, trimmed, quartered lengthwise with some root attached

1 cup of champagne vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

1 dried bay leaf (preferably Turkish)

1 dried chile de arbol

4 to 5 marrow bones

¼ cup parsley, roughly chopped

¼ of a lemon, sliced

flaky salt, such as Maldon’s

8 or more fresh slices of baguette, preferably homemade, toasted

 

For the Pickled Shallots

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool for about 30 minutes.  Once cool, slice the shallots into julienne and place in a bowl with some of the pickling juice.

 

For the Marrow Bones

Preheat the oven or toaster oven for 450°.  Line a rimmed sheet pan with foil.  Stand the marrow bone upright with the widest end of the bone on the bottom.  Roast for 15-20 minutes.

Scoop out the marrow onto toasted baguette.  Sprinkle with flaky salt, lightly dress with lemon and top with  pickled shallots and parsley.

 

 

Hookers and Wine

 

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We’ve been buzzing along here in ‘The Cap’ kind of like a plastic sac in a swirling wind.  Mostly due to the frequent swirling in our very own verre de vin (wine glass).  This weekend was the wine festival along the waterfront aptly named VinoCap, stumbling distance to our apartment.  There were close to 90 wine booths, each offering a white, a rose, and a few styles of red, so using new math, that’s about  450 dégustation de vin!  Hic!

French wine tasting is more of a family affair.  Even children were seen holding familiar looking stemware with the telltale logo of the event.  That may explain one sighting of a little person in a grey hoodie curled up like a koala on top of his father’s shoulders.  His bobbing head and rouge stained drool was a dead giveaway.  ‘A’ for effort little one, ‘A’ for effort.  Most people held their own.  There were no brawls or miss-stepping in to the quay.  Actually it was all very educational.  We tasted many varietals unfamiliar to us, such as pinot meunier, picquepoul, cot, and tibouren.  It all sounds made up.  It makes me wonder how wine varietal names come to be; I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.   Another discovery we enjoyed was smelling a wine and then tasting something completely unexpected.  There was a Muscat Sec at one booth.  It smelled…..well, ‘muscat-ty’.  It was floral and sweet smelling, but when we tasted it it was clean and dry and not sweet at all.  We have come to realize that we have many hours of homework ahead of us.  It’s all in the name of education.  My poor liver.

Cooking has been going well, although I may have dropped French at exactly the wrong time.  I was transferred to the morning cuisine group, a fairly amiable bunch and as luck would have it, mostly French.  I really wasn’t ready for emersion, but  that’s basically what’s happened.  My partner was a vociferous older mademoiselle, who felt if she spoke enough French eventually I would miraculously become bilingual.  Sadly, no.

To top it off, Chef tossed a blank piece of paper at each team and said, “Use these 4 ingredients minimum (basil, mozzarella, tomatoes, & vinegar) and I don’t want to see any caprese salad!! No traditional plates!  Allez!”

“Shit.” I said.

“What was that?” chef asked.

“Thank you, Chef.” I replied.  People sniggered behind me.

After copious gesticulations and rudimentary sketches, my teammate and I rallied together and started on a dish.  I tried to make basil alginate that was a complete flop.  Georgia, my teammate, attempted to sauté some tomatoes and then cut them into little circles; they weren’t going to cooperate.  Finally we plated some very attractive panko crusted deep fried mozzarella towers.  Chef gave us the thumbs up.  Whew!

Next week the chances of me teaming with another French cook are pretty high; I just might know a phrase or two before the end of the course…more than ‘ce goût de merde’ and baiser!

Truly, one of the reasons I left the French course was a crowning conversation that I’m still trying to see as amusing rather than beyond embarrassing.  My last day in French class…

What better way to learn more about all things French than from a Frenchman?

It went down something like this:

Me: Stephan, do you like putain?

Instructor: excuse me?  Can you say that again?

Me:  do you like putain, ya know, with the balls?  I’d like to learn about it. What are the rules?

Instructor:  I don’t think I understand you.

Me: You know PUTAIN!  You have balls and you take turns!  I’d like to learn about putain to play with my husband.

Instructor:  Do you mean petanque?

Me:  PUTAIN, PETANQUE?!  What’s the difference!

Instructor:  Well, a putain is a hooker.  Are you wanting to learn how to be a French hooker?

Hopefully Steve is having an easier time in pastry?

They Say it’s Your Birthday, Well Happy Birthday To Ya!

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Whew!  It’s a riotous time here in our little Gastronomicom World.  Many parties are taking place.  Some people have finished there allotted time and are having going away get togethers, others party because it is Friday after all…or is it Saturday.  Then there are the spring babies.  One of those celebrating a spring birthday was Steve.

We thought we’d be clever and have an afternoon party.  That way people would attend knowing that partying into the wee hours with a pig under one arm would be highly unlikely.  Yeah….right.   It started off quite civilized, but don’t all parties.  We had blinis with smoked salmon and caviar, seared duck breast with Dijon mustard of course, spicy hummus, a savory puff pastry and many bottles of champagne and wine.  Most people did what we so cleverly thought they would do, and left to go make their dinners and whatnot.  But then we were 6.  Six brave, hardy, energetic, loaded soles.  The sun came out.  That was in itself enough to spontaneously morph into yet another reason to celebrate.  MANGO’S!!  I remember yelling…like it was some kind of religious awakening.

So off to Mango’s we went, some arm-in-arm to hold each other up.  The walk was indeed sunny and pleasant.  But sadly it wasn’t nearly long enough to sober us up in the slightest.  The proprietor at Mango’s graciously served us a few beers and tolerated our unnecessarily loud discussion about topics supremely hilarious that we can’t remember.  And why the hell were we so loud – there was no one else there; it wasn’t as if we were struggling to be heard over ambient noise.  That should have sealed it; a few beers at Mango’s and then to our respective houses.  But no.  We felt compelled to crank our old school playlist sporting numbers such as ‘Car Wash’ and ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ and dance like people possessed for hours back at the apartment!  I’m sure you have the imagery – air washing cars, and bizarre karate moves….you know….yeah, yikes.  We managed to only break the sofa and take a few incriminating photos, so the deposit is still in good standing.  As for our livers…

I have made an executive decision that my liver is indeed the enemy and must be punished.  So I have quit French (I can hear the sigh of relief from my instructor) and have signed up for the Sommelier course!  I actually talked Steve into joining me; I saw he was experiencing a moment of weakness and I took advantage.  So we will be swirling and sniffing quaffable French wines during the week and on Wednesdays we will have field trips to surrounding wineries.

Sounds far less painful than conjugating irregular reflexive verbs or putting my personal pronoun in the right place.  Swirling I can do.  Drinking…I think I have an MBA in that already.  So stay tuned for our reports on all things grape related here in the south of France.  Santé!

The Marche’

 

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The open-air markets, or les marches, are very popular throughout all of France.  Rain, sleet, hail and 30 mile an hour winds are no match for the social shopper.  Our assumption is that the weekly gatherings must be more for gossip than the necessity for cheap, tacky knock-offs from China.  Really, how many rhinestone studded belts does one person need….more on that later.

There are some products sold at the markets that are worth a look and a sniff.  Most stall owners encourage us to taste their produce. The stalls selling Fruits et Legumes have hiding among everyday greens, piles of sweet, orange melons and mounds of asparagus spears, both white and green. There are a few delicious looking cheese stalls, we stop at the first and walk away with two hunks of creamy well-aged cheese.  There is charcuterie for sale of all shapes and sizes. A simple sign above one charcuterie stall hints at the ingredients, Porć, Cepes, Herbes, Poiver, Fumè, Noir, (pork, mushrooms, herbs, pepper, smoked, nuts).  We purchase a fist size, firm, cured ham and a delectable lean salami.  There is also, a very popular butchery wagon that mysteriously has a queue feeding deep into the parking lot.  What IS that guy selling?!  How can it be any different from the stuff that’s sold in the ‘regular’ butchery or any other butcher shop?  We’ll have to investigate further next Saturday…when the weather is better.  Standing for an hour in line with frigid wind ripping at my scarf while waiting to ‘grunt- point’ at something I don’t know the name of, nor how to cook, does not excite.

Steve has managed to up the level of accessorizing his chef uniform with a little number from the marché in the form of the above mentioned belt – a big purchase.  It evolved out of necessity, really.  His pants didn’t fit properly ( Steve says because he’s is a Little Bit Fat) and the area in which we currently live isn’t spoiled for choice in Big and Tall men’s wear.  We went to a few shops looking for a long belt that was thin enough to go through the belt loops on Steve’s pants.  No luck.  While in the market, where apparently all the ladies don’t sport a 20 inch waist, we found thin LONG belts that would fit Steve.  None of them were understated, however.  We purchased the plainest one possible, which just happened to have two rows of very sparkly rhinestones the entire length of the belt!   Sexy.  Steve says in his defense; the belt is merely adding chef bling to what was otherwise a very boring uniform and I’m sure the stones are diamonds! Either that or I’ve been ripped off  €20.

Christina is besotted with fresh herbs. Wherever we are in the world, we try to have a constant, fresh supply immediately available. When we first arrived in Le Cap d’Agde she badgered me to visit a garden supply center where she made an armload of purchases. Our balcony now boasts a small herb garden complete with edible flowers and Christina’s tiny kitchen provides an endless stream of scrumptious meals.   Tonight’s dinner will be fresh shrimp from Les Halles with angle hair pasta with herbs from the garden.  Simple and tasty.  The wind has settled and the sun is shinning, so we are off now to shop and drink a few beers at Mango’s!  Santé!

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;

 

Croissants;

 

Feuilletage; (a sort of puff pastry)

 

Flan Parisien;

 

Levain ; the sour dough mix use instead of yeast.

 

Baguette;

 

Traditional Baguette;

 

Traditional Baguette with seeds mixed;

 

Cookies;

 

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!

 

New Adventures

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I left Cap d’Adge 15th March homeward bound.  I arrived on Lopez Island in bright sunshine.  Despite having being away for 20 days the cold March temperatures meant little had changed. The daffodils and wood hyacinth were still hiding but spring was in the air and a myriad of chores beckoned.   Before leaving for France we had increased the vegetable garden by the addition of 4 raised beds. These still required filling with soil, normally a herculean task with a wheelbarrow. Well I thought,  “I have 70 days before Christina returns from France…more than enough time to get the farm sorted”. Our neighbor Ken brought in three loads of topsoil with his enormous John Deere and very quickly the vegetable beds were groomed into submission. Taking advantage of the sunshine I planted out 250 onions 50 leeks, 50 fennel bulbs, numerous lettuce, beetroot, spinach, swiss chard and snap pea’s.  Last year the bastard robins in their never ending search for earthworms, got the better of us and pulled out more than half of our onions. This year I made light movable netted covers for each bed, which will hopefully ensure Christina has all the onions and spring onions that her kitchen requires. A trip was taken to the mainland to buy a boot load of culinary herb and edible flower starts.   Culinary herbs and edible flowers have always been be a focal point in our garden but this year we also have the addition of a cut flower garden. All the new herbs plus sweet peas, stocks, dianthus, violas and nasturtiums were planted before I got the call: Come back to France!  There’s an opening on a French Pastry Course. Was I interested? 60 days of learning how to make breads and breakfast pastries, chocolate confectionary, ice-creams and sorbets, French cakes and tarts, chocolate, sugar sculpture and decoration. . . On the coast of sunny Southern France. With wine and my lover. Close to a nudist colony?  Tough decision.

I left in a hurry.

Things started swimmingly when Delta gave me an upgrade to Business class, even without a winky winky.  Then the train station ticket booths in Charles De Gaul airport refused to print my train ticket nor would it recognize my credit card. Each attempt failed and my departure was getting closer and closer.  Repeating the mantra: please speak English, I stood in line to obtain the ticket from a real live person.  The mantra worked and this made communication easier for the both of us. Soon I was aboard the high-speed train heading for the sunny Cote d’Azur . Where it was raining cats and dogs.  It was in fact just like Lopez Island in March but with more wind.

I crawled into bed and slept for a week.

Christina has a break until Monday 8th. I start class on Monday too.  We plan to visit the walled city of Avignon that is situated on the left bank of the Rhone River and more importantly, located just South of Chateauneuf-du-pape. Which to any oenophile means wine country! Increasing, therefore, the probability of finding one or two very good restaurants.

Christina’s online search indicated that the restaurant to target was Christian Etienne, known as the pope of Avignon cooking.  It seemed like a good place to start our Provençale gastronomic adventure.  We checked into a small Masion et table d’hotes (B &B) just off the enormous cobbled square of the Palais des Papes  (Popes Palace),  a fourteenth century fortress castle where one of the previous Popes is buried.  Not the most appetizing location for a restaurant in my opinion, but what the hell.  To our left was the bridge over the Rhone that all English children sang about (Sur le Pont d’Avignon on y dase tous en rond).  In elementary school I was a Union Jack waving wild colonial boy and clearly remember singing this French ditty.

The short walk to the restaurant is decidedly chilly. The restaurant is in a 12th century building attached to the Palais des Papes.  It is charmingly simple with a great terrace overlooking the main square.  It’s early (7.30p) but there is already a table of eight seated so we are not entirely alone. There are 3 set price menus to choose from- we select the chef’s suggested spring menu.  This is definitely nouveau-cuisine.  There are no heaps of gold fries, mounds of mashed potatoes or slabs of steak here. Instead the waiter delivers a constant stream of exquisitely arranged food in tiny dishes. The first to arrive are three small tastes of what is to come. A cucumber jelly topped with salmon roe, a popsicle of steak tartar with a dusting of parmesan,  a tiny glass of parmesan mousse topped with baked flakes of parmesan cheese. The sommelier suggests a bottle of the Chateauneuf-du-pape 2010 “ La Crau”, a white. It would be rude to disagree, and really, what do we know about French wine?  Nothing, I assure you. The next to arrive is a small glass of pureed baby spinach topped with toasted buckwheat seeds and tiny slivers of pancetta.  Next is a black slate bearing asparagus done three ways: Julienned with lemon and olive oil, blanched with pastry chips, in a mousse with very tender chunks. The sommelier is attentive so our glasses are kept filled. A white plate arrives – a small roll of Flounder with Thai spices resting on a bed of tender snap peas and foamed spring pea accompanied by a parmesan cheese straw. Then artichokes in a light garlic foam with a herbed bread soldier. The chef /owner calls at our table and asks if we are satisfied with the meal so far. The stupefied look on our faces gives the answer and he moves on.  No language barrier there.

Our waiter places a plate containing a 2 inch chunk of succulent Lamb filet on a bed of very young broad bean and spring carrots, a meatball of ground lamb roasted garlic and onion. The sommelier suggests a red, this time. A grenache from the Luberon? Oui! He pours and soon all memories of being cold earlier fade as our internal furnaces kick in.  ‘Cannelloni’ pastry stuffed with ricotta on a chickpea base with tiny golden oil caviar pearls on the side. The sweet dishes start: orange ice-cream with a twist of orange meringue and little cream caramel on the side and tiny squares of sweet jellied celery topped with candied celery leaves. Perhaps Monsieur and Madame would enjoy a wine that more compliments the desert? Like this little Syrah from Domaine des Masques? Fromage? A trolley containing 20 or 30 handpicked cheeses is wheeled to the table and we choose blindly. Seriously how can you choose wisely out of 30 unknown cheeses, some stinky but all delicious?   Christina’s internal furnace is now super efficient, so much so that she walks out  bare shouldered onto the open terrace into the freezing cold and suggests I do the same.

Perhaps it was the jolt of fresh air, the barrage of excellent food or possibly an effect of the muscular red wines of the Luberon. All of a sudden we felt very sleepy. Christina suggested strongly that unless I intended to carry her home we should leave. Quickly!   I called for the check. Our waiter was desolate, No Chocolate? No Coffee with treats No digestive.  No Marc…

God no, just bed please. Perhaps the loan of a wheelbarrow? We staggered home oblivious to the cold and incapable of speech. Christina staggered more than I because of her 4 inch heels and the cobblestones.  Or so she says.

The 4 inch heels: Christina is a practical person, the ideal partner for a life of living on a small farm, on a small island on the rugged North-west coast.  She is happy splitting wood, mucking out chickens, collecting eggs, planting and harvesting her beloved vegetable garden. Although she grumbles about it she will also pick up (very large) rocks, roots, plant fruit trees,  mow the farmyard and drive our John Deere Tractor. We seldom dress for dinner on Lopez, but we do, on very rare occasion, don finery when eating out in Seattle. Christina transforms herself from farm girl to lady, rapidly. Little black dress, black slutty 4 inch heels, a little shawl, a lick of make up which she never wears and Voila…  Madame delicious!   Now we are back in our chef jackets ready for action…. we’ll keep ya posted!

 

 

 

Gastronomicom et Cap d’Agde part Deux

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We had our first French test last week, and most survived – although, the instructor was fairly forgiving of our cryptic frenglish.  Some students have dropped off the edge.  Many rumors have surfaced, but like the stories of the supposed stalking burglar in the complex, no one really has all the facts.  Apparently the programs offered here aren’t for everyone, but it’s a shame those details weren’t sorted out prior to them signing up, paying tuition, and travelling all the way to France!

 

We’re all still bumbling along in the kitchens as well.  I blame the chef (he’s not here) because as everyone knows, they are unpredictable at best.  To be honest, so far chef has had the patience of Gandhi.  There was only one time last week where I saw him lose it when some younger students were acting up.  I kinda missed the crux of it, but it was clear he’d had enough.  We had one assignment in cuisine where we were meant to implement the techniques we learned thus far with the ingredients for Boeuf Bourguignon.  “Allez, allez!” Chef said.  We stared at him blankly.   Without our handholding instructions, we were like frightened deer in the headlights.  Slowly it clicked that we did actually know some stuff already…but now we had to make boeuf bourguignon, well, pretty.  This is normally a very rustic looking dish.  And to make it even more challenging we had to use beef tongue in place of the usual cuts, red wine, lardons and mushrooms.  Other ingredients could be added, but the dish needed to taste like boeuf bourguignon in the end.   Some student balked at even being in the same room with a giant mammalian tongue wagging on the table.  And after cooking it for 24 hours until reaching a lovely shade of grey, skinning it and lastly the chef slicing it up with a fervor, seriously pushed some culinary envelopes.

 

I was teamed with G-how from Malaysia.  He’s a good guy, and handy in the kitchen but he did have his own plan and insisted on trying to do everything, and of course is ESL.  Well, after our trials and tribulations I suggested we do tongue ‘Carpaccio’ and mash potatoes with duxelles and red wine sauce.  It came out fairly monochromatic on the plate, and I’m not sure I would serve it outside our little kitchen, but Chef gave us the ok during presentation so we took that as a good sign!

 

Currently we have a break for what is meant to be spring, however it’s raining, windy and about 50f. So Steve and I are huddled in blankets planning a trip to nearby Avignon.  It is supposed to be a lovely little city, full of history and hopefully sunshine.  We’ll let you know if our travel plans prevail!  Until then…