Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cuisine de France

On the day of our arrival, we had reservations for dinner at the hotel at 7:45. The restaurant offered a la carte, degustation menu (with wine pairings), or a gourmand menu. We chose the gourmand menu which consisted of five courses: appetizer, fish, main, cheese, and dessert. The wine menu was two inches think. We didn't even open it. We just asked our waiter to bring something that would work with fish and a variety of mains. He brought a lovely, medium Chinon red--smooth and supple with playful but not overwhelming fruit. We had to ask for a few clarifications on the French menu, but were able to order without any huge surprises.

Our meal started with a trio of tastes: a shot of gazpacho, a bite of cheese and a mini bacon tarte. The gazpacho was particularly tasty. We thought the trio was the amuse bouche, but our bouches were to be further amused by rillon (similar to bacon) and caramelized shallots. Our appetizers were generous with an entire slice of stuffed fois gras for Bill and a healthy portion of smoked salmon with salmon mousse for Andrea. I had crab and langoustine (mini lobster) and Kevin had white asparagus and ham-on-a-stick (it sounds more elegant in French).

For our fish course Bill and Kevin had pike, I had sea bass with olives and pine nuts and Andrea had turbot. I didn't enjoy the Mediterranean preparation of my fish as much as some Asian versions I've had. Bill enjoyed his first pike, especially the crispy skin, although his favorite part may have been the fresh spring peas.

Our hosts did not skimp on our main portions either. Andrea and I had veal, Kevin lamb, and Bill pork. The veal was Andrea's and my favorite course. The morel sauce was delish. I think Kevin's lamb was also his favorite. Bill preferred his pike over the pork; he found the tenderloin a bit overcooked and the sauce a little salty.

Then came the cheese! We are huge fans of the cheese cart. (I was tempted to roll one out of the restaurant on Tuesday night.) We tried a number of cheeses and found a few new favorites. In particular, Maroilles, a buttery, rich cow cheese. The local chevre was also nice. I was intrigued by a red, cone-shaped cheese. "Ah, Madame! Very Strong!" the waiter said when I pointed to it. I was not deterred. He said he would have to throw away the knife after cutting it and expressed sorrow to my dining companions. I took his advice and tried the scary cheese last. It didn't stink too much, but it was boldly flavored. For a second I thought it was bubbling on my tongue. It tasted like a strong blue to me. The waiter disagreed with my assessment. "Oh no, blue cheese is good. That is not even cheese!" Turns out the cone cheese, Boulette d'Avesnes, is made from the remnants of Maroilles, which are mixed with spices and typically rolled in paprika. Recent research has revealed that the cheese is known as suppositoire du diable. Yes, that's the devil's suppository. Nice.

As with any meal event, we were exhausted by the time dessert arrived. Andrea and I decided to trade our chocolate bombe and orange souffle (but not until I had tasted the bombe, coffee ice cream and vanilla custard--really good). The souffle was warm and airy and huge. I think it was my first souffle and I liked it. Bill also had the bombe with accompaniment. Kevin had
strawberry something (details possibly lost to history).

After such a hearty meal, we were dismayed when the waiter brought four shots of passion fruit mousse with orange cookies. We surely gave it a go, and it was lovely, and then our dinner was truly complete.

Our waiter was a lot of fun. We think he was one of the owners of the lovely hotel. We were the last party to leave the dining room that evening. The gourmand menu was €49 per person. So 5+ courses for four, 200 quid with a €26 bottle of wine (not bad!). When you think that burgers and pints for four at a Dub pub can be €80, our meal was wonderfully affordable. It was a great start to our French adventure.


Our first morning in France (Monday), we took a taxi into Tours to pick up our car. After some searching and an enquiry at the Office de Tourisme, we discovered that Europcar is nowhere near their purported location. (They purport to be near the Office de Tourisme, and we were not the first to so enquire.) Following the instructions from the helpful lady de tourisme, we took a bus to a small train station and found the car office, just as it was closing for lunch. In case you were wondering, Andrea can say, "If we hadn't been led astray by your faulty directions, we would have been here before noon" in French. It had little effect on the madmoiselle with only one hour for lunch.

C'est la vie! Let's eat lunch! Conveniently, there was a cafe next to the Europcar. By the time we finished lunching on a variety of lunch items, including lots of frites, the office was open and we procured our Renault Clio. With Bill at the wheel and Andrea navigating, we headed West for Villandry.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Down Kerbey Lane

With Kevin and Andrea in town, we've rhapsodized about Austin eateries more than usual. Tonight, Bill made a Dublin version of Kerbey Lane Eggs Francisco. Mighty good grub. No hibiscus tea, however.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Journey

Our journey to France started early Sunday morning. Our fears about sleeping through alarms were for naught, as the taxi kindly started calling at 4:15AM. He was a wee bit early. Bill arranged for him to return at 5:15. The Dublin airport is madness at 6AM on Sunday morning, but most of the hubbub was for flights other than ours, and we easily checked in and passed security for our 7:05 departure. We flew to Ryanair's Parisian outpost, Beauvais, and boarded a bus for the hour ride to Paris. After spotting the Tour Eiffel popping above the skyline, and driving along some wide, leafy streets, we were dropped off at the Metro, which we took to the train station, and waited for our TGV to Tours. We ate tasty sandwiches and some little fried mini-churro type things, and drank Orangina.

After speeding through the French countryside, we disembarked and boarded a little, creaky train into the center of Tours, the coeur de ville. We got a taxi to our hotel, the lovely Chateau de Beaulieu. We were shown to our chambres, and given keys attached to tassels that belonged on the ceremonial dressage harness of the mightiest steed in history. Large tassels, is what I'm saying. We had been traveling almost 12 hours by this time, so I opted for a three-hour nap. After I awoke Bill and I wandered the grounds for a bit. We had reservations for dinner for 7:45 at the hotel. Dinner, of course, is a story unto itself.

Indy-Texans in Dublin

[Editor's Note: We love having visitors!]

As I was walking home from work on Thursday evening, I spotted an attractive couple walking toward me on Watermill Road. Could it be? Yes, it could! (Especially since I had just spoken to Andrea on the mobile and said, hey keep walking up Watermill and I'll meet ya.) Their first words after our exuberant greetings were, "Where can we buy a cornetto?" We proceeded to the costsaver, and ate our cornettos while walking home through the park. Bill was home soon after, and cooked us a tasty, meat lover's Irish Breakfast.

Friday the Bockelmans met me for a Carvery lunch near my office, before taking the city bus tour to see Dublin's Oldest Pub, and Dublin's Smallest Pub, and the house where James Joyce wrote The Dead (although the tour guide didn't mention that!) and Phoenix Park and U2's hotel and the statue of O'Connell. Bill came into town and met Kevin and Andrea at the Liffey and then I hooked up with them for a tapas dinner in Temple Bar.

Saturday we hit the road in the mighty Polo with stops at Ardgillan Castle and Monasterboice. Ardgillan is an 18th century Manor house and gardens that look out on the Irish Sea. The Taylors of Ardgillan would have socialized with the Talbots of Malahide Castle. We toured the house with a charming gentleman who at the end of our tour, overcome by a fit of beleaguered honesty, said that he thought the tour was overpriced and that he felt you could get a better tour at another home! Well, sir, we were quite pleased with our €6.50 tour! Why, at Malahide you're just listening to a recording. I think there is a lesson here about believing in yourself and having a positive attitude.

Monasterboice was unchanged from our last visit with Peggy in May. I really enjoy visiting the crosses and high tower.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Teaser Shots

Hello everyone,

Here are a few pics to keep you checking back to learn more about our trip to France.

-the mgmt

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

To the Chateau

It's Tuesday morning in France. We've just completed our breakfast of yogurt, baguette, croissant and tea or chocolat or cafe au lait. Yesterday we visited two chateaux, the names of which escape me at the moment (they're French). Today we plan to visit two more and a winery. We have also been eating quite well. It's wonderful having Andrea to translate. Bill is driving back on the right, with Andrea as navigator. Kevin and I provide what entertainment we can from the back seat. Yesterday it rained, but today is sunny so far.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Long Days of Summer

When I was a child in Texas I sometimes had to go to bed while it was still light. I guess this was toward the end of the school year. I'm sure we didn't keep a 7:30 bedtime in summer! I remember once proffering that the ambient light conditions were not conducive to sound slumber. My ever-prepared mom whipped out a book and read the following:
In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candlelight.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?
Indeed. If Robert Louis Stevenson can survive an early bedtime, so you can you. It was also an introduction to the important lesson that life may suck, but then you can write a poem about it.

I hope parents in Dublin are armed with this instructive verse, as the days are incredibly long here. Today the sun rose at 4:59 AM and will set at 9:46 PM. The civil twilight, where the horizon is distinct, started at 4:09 and will end tonight at 10:36. We're finding the long days trick us, and it's always much later than we think it is. We're staying up until dark, but the early dawn is hard to deal with! We're waking up way too early.

This is a picture from last night around half ten.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

County Wicklow

Last Monday, June 2, was a bank holiday and Bill and I spent the long weekend in Avoca in County Wicklow. Every year our church spends the June bank holiday weekend at a retreat center called Ovoca Manor and we were blessed this year to have splendid weather. I managed to get a gen-u-ine sunburn (on my left arm only). The Manor itself is an Edwardian home build in 1909. In the '30s it was purchased and placed under a trust that required that it always be used for "the spiritual and moral improvement of young people." After many years as an orphanage, the home was acquired for IR£1 by a Christian organization called Scripture Union. The lovely 21-acre grounds contain additional housing--Bill and I stayed in a hotel-style room with an en-suite bathroom. Yea!--trails, playgrounds and something called an assault course, which I think is the same as an obstacle course, but I stayed away just in case.

The weekend away was wonderfully laid back. While the kids and teens had a structured curriculum, the adult time was almost completely free form with a few set times for worship and interaction, and evening activities such as a table quiz (third place!) and a talent show (enjoyed purely from the audience). The facility does not provide meals, so we each were involved in meal service for at least one meal. Bill and I worked Sunday lunch, he in the kitchen and I in lunch lady mode. The food was fantastic all weekend. We're much impressed by K & M's planning and execution to feed over a hundred folks for three days. We were asked to bring "traybakes" and as expected, the Irish love Texas Gold Bars.

Much of the time was spent gazing at the beautiful surroundings, from either the sunny picnic tables outside the manor, or from the forest trails. As you may know, our church is comprised of three congregations, so we enjoyed meeting folks from the other congregations, as well as some from our own. The church didn't meet at all in their normal locations on Sunday morning. I won't say the staff got a break necessarily--many of them were very busy at Ovaca--but giving focus on the body being together in a different way than the typical Sunday service was cool, and very refreshing.

On Monday Bill and I took a scenic path back to Dublin. (Although you'd have to work pretty hard to avoid scenery completely!) We were a few kilometers from Avoca village, the mother ship of the Avoca stores we like so much. We stopped by for some lunch and also to watch the hand weavers at work.

We then drove to Glendalough, the Glen of the Two Lakes. This glacial valley was home to a monastic order founded by St. Kevin in 6th century. A man of hermitic tendencies, he chose a stunning location to retreat from humanity. The area is now a National Park with various levels of trails and camping options. We spent about 2.5 hours walking the easy trails to the second lake and back.

We returned to Dublin through the rocky terrain of the Wicklow Gap. We expected to hit Bank Holiday traffic on the way home, but traffic was fine, as a matter of fact one of our better drives up the M50.