Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mary’s Cream of Asparagus Soup – August 3, 2014

Hello, everybody.  Welcome to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary’s and Brian’s blog about wine, food, culture, and people.   Here’s a post in a series of occasional articles about simple French-inspired dishes and delicious wine pairings.  Today’s post is cream of asparagus soup, what the French call velouté d'asperges because it’s so velvety.  
Asparagus comes into season where we live in Michigan in late spring and continues through the summer, so it is fresh and abundant.  It was in season while we were in France recently, so it was a common first course dish.  Mary’s going to be the primary author of today’s post to talk through the ingredients and preparation.  I’ll be back with the wine at the end. 

On our last couple of trips to France, Brian has raved about fresh asparagus soup.  Brian is a soup guy, while I usually order salad. This year, I decided I would try asparagus soup if it presented itself.  
It was the special seasonal entrée (first course) the night we went to the Auberge Saint Martin in Bouilland, a small village near Beaune.  
We both ordered it and it was fabulous, so delicious and pretty!  When we returned home, I made an attempt at it as a first course.  It turned out to be delicious, probably not quite as wonderful as in Bouilland, but pretty good for my first try.
First, we made a trip to our weekly farmer’s market here in Plymouth to find the best and freshest ingredients possible.
The ingredients are fresh asparagus, chopped white onion, chicken stock (I make my own … maybe a post on that later), butter, whole wheat flour, salt and pepper, whole milk, crème fraiche, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.  You can use sour cream instead of crème fraiche, but Brian makes his own crème fraiche from scratch and it is so, so much better than store bought sour cream.

I started by chopping the asparagus in lengths of about an inch or so, both tips and stalk.

The asparagus, onion, and some of the chicken stock went into a saucepan and simmered until the asparagus is nice and tender.
Brian was perched on a kitchen barstool while I cooked and snapped a couple of photos of the kitchen counter.  Here’s where we throw wine bottle corks until we figure out how to recycle them.  We’re still working on that.  Brian’s brother, Phil, made a cork trivet for us, but we have way too many corks to do much of that.  I wish we could recycle them somehow.
This picture of the glass of white wine?  That is often the most important ingredient … cooking wine (wine for the cook!).

The cooked asparagus, onion, and chicken stock go into the blender to puree.
I use the same saucepan to melt butter and stir in the flour and seasonings.

After that is blended well, I whisk in more chicken stock.
When the mixture starts to boil, I stir in the pureed asparagus and milk.

I put the crème fraiche in a small bowl by itself, or just a one cup measuring cup like this, and ladled in a little of the hot soup to get the crème fraiche to a pouring consistency.

The cream mixture is added back to the soup along with the lemon juice to freshen it up and add a little acidity.  At this point, it’s just stirred and allowed to come up to serving temperature.
Garnish with a couple of steamed asparagus tips and a little crème fraiche and get ready to enjoy.  Wait!  Brian has to talk about the wine first!  I don’t know how he chose this particular wine to serve with cream of asparagus soup, but it is a match made in heaven!
Brian here.  I chose this wine because it is light-bodied, very fresh tasting to go with the flavors and textures of summertime cooking with fresh ingredients, and has refreshing citrus and mineral qualities. 

Muscadet Sévre et Maine is an appellation in the Loire Valley of France, in the western part almost to the Atlantic Ocean.  The grape is Melon de Bourgogne and the producer is Domaine Bonnet-Huteau.  The “sur lie” that you see on the label means the wine was aged on the dead yeast cells before bottling, which gives it a fuller, creamier quality.  Drinking this wine makes you almost feel the sea spray.  It has a clean, almost saline quality to go along with a lemony citrus aroma and flavor.  At only 12.0% alcohol, it won’t leave you feeling dragged down or lethargic after sharing a bottle with someone you love.  And the best part?  It’s only $13.

A few fresh berries and a dollop of crème fraiche would not be a mistake.
There’s Sonoma in the background, supervising the production and hoping for a little leftover crème fraiche.

That’s our post for today.  We hope you found it interesting and appetizing.  We’re already planning our next blog post, so keep checking back for more wine, food, and cultural adventures at Cépage et Cuisine.  In the meantime,



Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day – July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day, everybody!  Welcome to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary’s and Brian’s blog about wine, food, and culture.  And for our readers in France, here’s a serving of American culture for you.  July 4 is a holiday when Americans celebrate our independence.  It usually includes parades, picnics with traditional foods, and families getting together to have fun.

Mary and I began our day by attending the July 4 parade where we live in Plymouth, Michigan.   It’s a classic small town American event on Main Street, a combination of patriotic and quirky.

Here is a series of photos and short videos from the parade.

Plymouth residents waiting for the festivities to begin.
Lots of kids on bikes to literally get things rolling.  
Click on the videos to enjoy.

Here’s Uncle Sam.

And behind Sam is the Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps.
Unicycling club.

Paws is the mascot of the Detroit Tigers.

Bagpipe band.

Rosie the Riveter was honored since the famous Willow Run bomber plant was nearby.  Willow Run produced many of the B24 Liberator heavy bombers during World War II.  
Here are a couple of Rosies who actually worked at Willow Run.  Once again for the benefit of our French readers, Rosie the Riveter is a term used to describe women who worked in munitions factories during World War II while many men served in the military.

Our favorite part of the parade was the Boingy People.  Yes, that's what they're actually called.  This definitely falls into the quirky category. 
Steve King and the Dittilies performed vintage rock-n-roll.
Every Independence Day parade has a beauty queen …
… and a marching band.
Our own picnic lunch was on our deck at home.
Beautiful weather, nice temperatures, blooming flowers.  

Quite a contrast with this image taken from the same spot back in February.

Lunch was a delicious collection of cheese, charcuterie, melon, and a refreshing rosé.  
It wasn’t exactly all American.  The prosciutto di Parma and soppressata are Italian and the Comté and Doux de Montagne are French.
The wine was La Vieille Ferme Ventoux rosé 2013, a refreshing blend of Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah from the Southern Rhone Valley of France, aromatic of roses, berries, and melon.  In the mouth it is brisk and racy with light flavors of orange and grapefruit citrus, raspberries, strawberries and melon.  It’s beautifully balanced, surprisingly complex, with a medium finish.  At $8 it’s a terrific value and widely available.
What’s July 4 without something grilled?
Grilled burgers, red onions, Roquefort or Jack, and the fixings, Mary’s homemade potato salad, and a Napa Valley Syrah was the ticket.

The wine was a Lagier Meredith Syrah Napa Valley Mt. Veeder 2005.  

Our back yard on July 4, 2014.

Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith grow Syrah at their mountaintop estate on Mt. Veeder.  Relatively cool growing conditions produce a wine that has the boldness of a New World Syrah, but still some of the savory and peppery notes of the Old World.  
This wine has exuberant blackberry and blueberry characteristics with a spiciness to keep things more interesting than just another fruity California red wine.

That’s our post for today, a heaping helping of American culture along with a little help from our culinary friends in France and Italy.  We hope you enjoyed it.  Keep checking back for more wine, food, and cultural adventures at Cépage et Cuisine.  In the meantime,



Sunday, June 29, 2014

France Adventure – Saturday, May 31, 2014 – Hand of Man or Hand of God

Hi, everybody.  Welcome again to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary’s and Brian’s wine and food blog.  Today we travel back home, back to the USA.  We’re ready to go home, ready to be back in our house, ready to see our kitty.  Up early and off to the airport, we departed from Bordeaux-Merignac to Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

With time between flights, we relaxed in the Air France lounge, a partner with the Delta SkyClub.  I must say, the Air France lounge is much nicer than the SkyClubs in the U.S.  
A nice selection of hot food for breakfast and lunch is a good start.  For example, here at Air France, they offer duck Périgourdine.  At the SkyClub in the U.S., they offer olives and carrot sticks.  Here at Air France, a selection of very fine wine is on ice for your convenience.  At the SkyClub in the U.S., a glass of Chalone Chardonnay is $10 per glass on top of the membership fee.

It’s all fine.  We were glad to see the Delta logo and our plane being prepared to take us to Detroit.

We happened to get a look at the Air France Airbus A380 outside the window of the lounge, the largest passenger plane in the world, two decks the length of the plane, a maximum passenger capacity of 850.  What a mammoth airplane.  Only seven airports in the U.S. can land the A380.  It was quite a sight to see.

You know, the world is just not as big a place as we used to think.  I thought France was way over there.  In fact, it’s just right over there.  You get on the plane, it takes off, you have dinner, you watch a movie, maybe two movies, you sleep, then you’re there.  It's only a couple of hours more than a coast-to-coast flight in the U.S.
We landed in Detroit, got home by 4:00 p.m., picked up Sonoma, and pretty soon decided we were ready for dinner.  Five o’clock in Plymouth is 11:00 p.m. in France, so we were past dinnertime.  We went into town at the very un-French hour of 5:30 p.m.  Remember all our posts about how we were always the first to arrive for dinner at 7:00 or 7:30?  Not so much, here at home.  Here’s the patio at the Box Bar & Grill in Plymouth at 5:30 p.m.  In France, they wouldn’t even be open at this hour.

Inside, we were ready for good old American food … nachos!

Here’s a vivid reminder of American restaurants.  I ordered Diet Pepsi with dinner.  It came in a pitcher, not to pour into a glass, but with a straw in it.

Here’s our Home Sweet Home in Plymouth, Michigan.

As we reflect on our France experience from the perspective of typical Americans, I would say the French have a more profound sense of place than most of us, in ways both good and maybe not so good.
French culture, cuisine, and wine are very, very traditional, steeped in hundreds upon hundreds of years, and not easily adapted to new trends.  Decent coffee in the boulangerie is a fortune waiting to be made, I tell you!  They practice a general rule of what grows together goes together.  If you know the regional dishes, it’s a fair bet that the wines of the region will be delicious with them.  

For example, this cheese is available in Burgundy, but not Bordeaux.
Smaller restaurants and wine shops in the small towns of France provide regional products almost exclusively.  When we see all the empty bottles of wonderful wine at Ma Cuisine in Beaune, they’re all Burgundies.  Very few wines of other regions are available and there was no American wine whatsoever.
American visitors like us love this regional specificity.  When we’re there, we know where we are.  Every region has a definite uniqueness and style.  Foods and wines that are available in one place are completely different from another place.  In contrast, an American wine shop has an enormous diversity of wines from different regions of the world.  As with all other products in the U.S., Americans expect a diverse selection and lots of choices.  For example, take a look at the selection of mustard the next time you go grocery shopping.  Really, how many choices of mustard do we need?

Americans are fascinated by celebrity.  Maybe that’s true everywhere, at least to some extent.  But take a look at this American wine label.  What’s the most prominent information on the label?  It’s the name of the producer.  
Now look at this French wine label.  What’s the most prominent information?  It’s the name of the place.  The name of the producer, Domaine Fourrier is in small type down at the bottom and the name of the grape is not on the label at all.  There are exceptions in both countries, but in general, this is the pattern one sees.  The emphasis there is the place, not the man, the expression of the earth, not the stylistic bent of the producer. 
When I taste a wine from Gevrey-Chambertin, I think it tastes like Gevrey, or at least Burgundy.
But it’s not unusual to taste an American wine and think, "That tastes like a wine produced by so and so producer."  That doesn't mean it's not a fine wine to be enjoyed.  We have lots of American wines in our collection that we enjoy.  

In a broad sense with many exceptions, though, I would say it’s the Hand of God that gets top billing in France, not the Hand of Man.  

It's the place, not the producer.  It’s sort of like the difference between listening to a performance of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Wild Cherry performing Play that Funky Music White Boy.
What else can we learn?  First, and I’ve said this before, it really helps to go there.  When one stands among the vineyards, separated only by a narrow dirt lane or a stone wall, and think that those vineyards, only yards apart, produce very different tasting wine from the same grape, I can only marvel at nature.
Burgundy is not a big place.  There are some big companies, to be sure … Bouchard, Louis Latour, Jadot … but most producers are family names, owned and run by the family.  When you visit them, they may be kicking the mud off their boots to take the time to show you around.  
The typical domaine is a small building or even their home.  Most of them are not wealthy.

Bordeaux is big.  Really big.  The vastness is hard to comprehend until you see it.  It’s not simply that you can stand in the countryside, such as at our gite, and see vineyards to the horizon for 360 degrees.
 It’s that you can get in your car and drive for hours and still be in Bordeaux.  It’s that there are 9,000 producers, many with estate sizes over 100 acres.  The history of Bordeaux and its proximity to the Atlantic made it easier to ship its wines to the world and to build fabulous wealth.  So you see so many châteaux like these.

France is beautiful and so is America.  Mary tells me a story about her German relatives who visited her years ago and saw national parks and the Golden Gate Bridge and wondered why Americans are so interested in traveling to other parts of the world when there is so much to see and experience here at home.  You know, they’re right on one level.  But traveling abroad is an enlarging experience.  It helps us to know other people, other ways of living, other ways of perceiving the world around us.  I think it makes us better citizens.

Speaking of being better citizens, we Americans need to be polite when we’re traveling.  The French welcome tourists, it’s a big source of business income, but I don’t think we always make a good impression.  We encountered lots of Americans in France and too many of them are 1) loud, 2) demanding, 3) making no attempt to understand French customs and culture, 4) making no attempt to speak French, even easy basic expressions such as please and thank you, and 5) flashing around lots of money as if it’s their passport to anything they want.  We tried to speak quietly and, whenever possible, in French.  We took a few lessons before going.  I would say I speak a little of what I would call travel French.  If you make a sincere effort, they appreciate it and they will use their own limited English to meet you more than halfway.  Our experience with French people is that they are kind, reasonably friendly, and willing to help.

I asked Mary to comment in her own voice about her impressions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  Here she is.
What I love about Burgundy, besides the wine, is the beautiful countryside.  I love our drives up and down narrow roads that make you think you must be lost, but around a bend, a village appears with a church in the middle.  
Suddenly you are driving over cobblestones past centuries-old buildings and just as quickly, that town is in your rearview mirror and you are in the middle of a meadow again.

The wines of Burgundy pair so beautifully with the local foods: boeuf bourguignon, Bresse chicken, Charolais beef, Coq au Vin, escargots, jambon persillé.  

And we love Burgundy cheeses: Abbaye de Cîteaux and Époisses.

This was our first time to visit Bordeaux.  We had heard it has many beautiful châteaux, and it does. We had heard it is huge, and it is.  

What surprised me is that despite its size, visiting a winery could feel intimate because of the friendliness and warmth of the people we met.  

What I love about Bordeaux is the beauty of the vineyards around villages and towns large and small.  

The vineyards are dotted with rhododendrons and rose bushes, which bring back memories of California.  I thought the vastness of the place would somehow diminish its beauty, but it really multiplied it.

When I compare my impressions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, I think they are both wonderful places with much in common: beautiful countryside, fantastic wines, and delicious food.  Burgundy is charming in a small-town friendly way.  Bordeaux is bigger and bolder with its beautiful châteaux and sturdy wines.  I would love to return and explore it more.
I love my wife.  Spending this much time together makes me appreciate her all the more and deepens our relationship.  We shared the experience, of course, but we also depended on each other and supported each other, which is really important when traveling in a foreign country.

People are people.  We seek out vacation rental homes, a gite, instead of hotels or bed and breakfasts.  We want to interact with families, the people who live there and own the property.  
We have visited in the home of Marie and Yves Zecchini in Magny-les-Villers for three years straight.  
We have a relationship with them.  We’ve met their children and grandchildren.  When we had dinner at La Ciboulette, Madame Isabelle asked us if we wanted the same table as last time.  It all makes the travel experience that much more authentic.

I do not believe for a minute that French culture or traveling in France is inherently superior to ours or traveling in the U.S.  It is clear, though, that we can learn from each other and that we are more alike than different.  They want the same things for their families and themselves that we want.  They have the same tribulations and the same sources of satisfaction and contentment that we have.  For me, it’s nice to see that up close.
Until next time, la belle France.

That’s our post for today.  We hope you enjoyed it.  We’re back home and hope to keep the blog going with posts every so often about wine, food, and cultural experiences right here where we are and where we travel in the future.  Thanks again so very much for reading us.  The comments and “likes” we got kept us motivated to write and post.  Keep checking back for more adventures at Cépage et Cuisine.  In the meantime,