Monday, September 26, 2011

The Battle of my Bulge

After a rather long respite from writing, I've decided to come back...strangely enough to write about a journey away from food.

I have taken a path towards deliberate weight loss.  Something that my body needs, my vanity demands, my age requires and my family is excited about...well, OK, I'm excited too.

My Cohen Lifestyle eating plan, tailor fit for me based on my body type, size and blood profile, was given to me about 2 weeks ago and I started the journey last week.  For someone as food-obsessive as I am, it's been a bit of a challenge.  I have tried making it more exciting by trying other cooking techniques and processes.  But it seems there's only so much you can do with 140 gms of protein and  105 gms of vegetables, no artificial seasoning, no soy sauce, no wine, no sugar, no oil...the highlights of my past week were poached egg on a bed of garlic spinach and a shrimp sinigang soup soured with lemon - life has become soooo exciting.

I was told my hunger pangs should be disappearing soon as my body adjusts to my less than generous food quotas...."in a few days."  I'm on week 2 and "in a few days" has never felt so long.

I continue to watch the Asian Food Channel, Food Safari..I continue to read my cookbooks and magazines.  But I keep myself from getting too emotional and teary-eyed like I was remembering some dear departed loved one.

I am slowly (and painfully) beginning to appreciate the value of each calorie and wonder what eating and cooking will be like when I commence my "re-entry" plan.  I am already developing plans on what I'd like to eat on my first day, second day, third day after re-entry.  I have just decided what to have on my 228th day and feel I am far from finished.

Challenged?  You betcha.  

Hungry?...... OMG!!!! Yessss!!!


If I am to believe our (less than accurate) bathroom scale, I have lost 18 pounds the past week.  Pants that I couldn't even close last week, slip on and fit quite comfortably.  Let's not get overly excited now.....I am not (yet) a lean and mean fighting machine with bulging biceps and six packs on my six packs....thirty six packs for the number-impaired. 

So if week 1 is indicative of what will happen, then bring it on!!!!

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Free the baby Pawikans

"What will you name your turtle, Papa?, " Lucas asked as we drove to Bataan, excited about the prospect of participating in a Pawikan release activity in Anvaya Cove.

"I'm calling mine Pokerface, Iya's calling hers Jelly, Ate will call hers Pesto, and Mommy's will be called Wikan....what'll you call yours?"  I thought for a moment and said, "I'll call mine 'Goodbye.' "

The day of the release activity, we went to the beach and there was a small crowd, mostly seated waiting for the ceremony to start.  It was sunny but the oncoming summer's stifling heat had, thankfully, not yet arrived. There was a light westward breeze and a whisper of excitement in the air as Moms and Dads, kids of different ages eagerly awaited the arrival (or departure?) of the little turtles.  It was an event we thought might be educational and fun....and we were NOT disappointed.

After the customary greeting by the designated hostess for the event, the main speaker was introduced  - Mang Manolo Ibian, who was part of the Pawikan Sanctuary of Morong, Bataan.  He was a simple man, with a simple the turtles.

There are 5 varieties of turtles in the Region -  Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Olive Reedley and Loggerhead.  In Bataan, the Olive Reedley was the local species.  The egg laying season starts in November and ends in February.  Each turtle comes back to within 20 kms of the original beach from which they hatched and went out to sea.  Each female will lay about 100 to 150 eggs during the season and will not do it again until after 2 years.  Studies have shown the probability of turtle hatchling survival to full adulthood is 1 out of 100 owing to many natural predators as well as  one unnatural one...yes his name is Man.  

All this information can be found on the internet but what we found really educational and inspiring was the story of the men and women who volunteered their time and effort to ensure the continuity of the program and perhaps the species in this little corner of the world.

During the entire egg-laying season, volunteers walk along 7 kilometers of coastline twice a night, checking for nests.  When they find a nest, they have 2 hours to transport it to their protected sanctuary and 'plant' them in protected nests to develop.  After 2 hours, the turtle fetus begins to develop and locks in on the magnetic coordinates of the place to ensure they will know where to come home to lay eggs.  If the eggs are not 'settled' within 2 hours, the egg will likely abort.  

The volunteers make sure that half of the eggs are exposed to the sun and the others are protected by a layer of sand or are in the shade.  Apparently temperature dictates temperatures beget females and cooler climates beget males...hence the expression 'you're a cool-headed turtle boy.'

Over the past 10 years this particular pawikan sanctuary has been in existence, the volunteers have covered a distance equivalent to the distance from Manila to Sao Paolo, Brazil and have successfully released close to 57,000 turtle hatchlings.

So I thought about walking 14 kilometers a night for 4 months, sometimes finding eggs, many nights coming up empty handed but just the same, caring for the eggs and ensuring they are protected.   But why?  Well, why not?  What a life, what a calling.

The lecture finished with an open forum which Mang Manolo ably managed, answering questions with the relaxed and confident certainty of a man who has affirmed his place in Mother Nature's commando army.  Applause and congratulations were followed by careful instructions on how to hold the hatchlings (with the fingers on either side of the shell, firmly but carefully)...before gently putting them down on the sand, facing the horizon.

We all lined up behind the roped off area on the beach beyond which our little friends were to scurry across the sand and swim out to whatever or wherever their energy, the current, the wind would take them.  The little ones were in styrofoam ice chests....  ..the same kind, ironically, that fishermen used to store their fresh catch.  We took one turtle (turtlet? turtling?) each and, as instructed, held them gently and, for a few seconds, we all hoped for some maternal, paternal or fraternal imprint to register in the the tiny creature's brain before we were encouraged to put them gently down on the sand, facing the sea.

The hatchlings scurried out, at what appeared to be varying levels of excitement and enthusiasm.  On one end were the laid back dudes, enjoying the scenery, relishing the trip and on the other end, the Type A turtles...sprinting in a race to the water.

Everyone then began to individually encourage their little wards. Isca and the the kids were shouting out to their own little turtles..."Go Poker face!.....Let's do it, Wikan....Move it, Pesto....Move, Move, Jelly"

Me?  I was just saying..."Bye-bye, Goodbye, Goodbye,  Goodbye" until he reached the water.

He was a 'he'..I'm sure...  Cool, like his father.....and his father's father.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Starbucks, my name is XANDOR!!!

Flashback to the opening of the first Starbucks' store in 6750 Ayala.  The crowd had thinned by Day 4 and I decided to finally give it a try. Spanking new interiors greet me and the scent of coffee permeates the air.  

'Good afternoon, sir..welcome to Starbucks," chirped the barrista behind the counter.  'Good afternoon, yourself," I responded, surveying the menuboard for my caffeine fix of choice. 'I'll have a grande latte, please.'

'A grande latte..very good about a pastry to go with that, sir,' she said, in her memorized spiel. ' Not today, thanks,' I replied.'

'May I have your name for the cup, sir?' 

'Why not?,' I think to myself.

What followed was a back and forth dialogue which has been repeated perhaps hundreds of times in many different Starbucks branches across the Philippines.

'My name is Roddy.'




Didnt she hear me?...... 'Roddy.' 


What's wrong with this girl?......  'Roddy.' 


What the...bisaya?!!....... 'Roddy!' 


This is unbelievable!......'RODDY!' 


At this point, I crossed my arms, raised my eyebrows and in the deepest voice I could muster, I said, ' name is Batman...but don't tell anyone.'  

I eventually get my drink after we both have a laugh about it.  The barristas in this branch eventually get my name right...only because I would stop by everyday before going to work.

But as I said, the situation has repeated itself many, many other times.  I've come up with a variety of responses to this same situation which, at least, provide me some amusement and compensate me for the  mangling of my name.

In my best supervillain voice, I exclaim....'MY NAME IS XANDOR.....X-A-N-D-O-R!. ....XANDOR!!!    I think twice before adding a 'mwahahaha' in the end.


'Jose Rizal'



On one occassion, as I was waiting for my drink, the barrista shouted over the counter,  'Grande Mocha Frapuccino for....POGI!'  There was a middle-aged causcasian lady waiting beside me who, apparently understanding what the name meant, smiled and looked at me, 'yours?'  I smiled back and replied, 'you think so?'  We both had a good laugh but didn't hang around long enough to check who this mysterious person with a good-looking name was.  Maybe he waited 'til the coast was clear lest he be charged with false advertising.

I realized soon after it made more sense to order the drink under a simple pseudonym which was easy to understand and not likely to be misread, misheard or misspelled.

I settled on 'Bob.' Simple, short..3 letters..what could go wrong, right?  Wrong.

While this Starbucks-pseudonym worked most of the time, there were 2 occassions which made me question my judgement.

One was in Starbucks Tarlac...Hacienda Luisita..'Small name is Bob.' 

'Thank you sir'

A few minutes later the on deck barrista announced..'Small Americano for MAV!'

Hard to believe...misspelled, misheard and mispronounced the simple name of 'Bob'...not even one correct letter.  Besides, what the hell kind of name is 'Mav?'

The second incident was in my previous life -  a regional meeting where we had a senior executive visiting from headquarters.  I walk into the meeting with my daily grande americano, labelled with my Starbucks name on the side.  I sit down and in walks our bigshot guest, who sits down beside me and says...'Gee..thanks for getting me coffee, Roddy.'  Wouldn't you know it?..his name is Bob L.  There's a little giggle and then a pair of red faces try to tiptoe through the situation..

So..I stutter....'It's actually my coffee, Bob...even if it has your, I wasn't trying to be cute...did you want us to get you coffee?..because we can...'

On his side, the embarassed Bob also sort of trips all over himself..'Oops sorry I didn't realize and no, I didn't mean I expected you to get me coffee but if anyone's getting one, I wouldn't mind....'  

My Starbucks alter ego was put to rest that day.

Nowadays, I take pains to make sure they hear and write my name correctly or I just say my son's name...'Lucas.'  Now who can go wrong with 'Lucas,' right?  

I shouldn't speak so soon, I know.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chefs for a night...our Perfect Pairings adventure

I recall getting the phone call from our good friend Angie....asking me about the idea of a one night only event at The Stock Market restaurant in Bonifacio High Street.  'Just one night with a fixed  menu...with you and Isca as featured chefs.'  Sounded simple....after all, we could pull out dishes from what we knew we could do and do well, put them together and serve them up, right? Wrong. 

While I do enjoy cooking, doing a sit-down for a paying audience in an actual restaurant made me nervous and anxious but oh so very excited.  I immediately told Isca about it and she felt exactly the same way.  As chefs for the night, we would get a share of the night's purse...something that barely registered and we immediately agreed between the 2 of us that our share would go to our parish's church construction project.  So we agreed.

There were about 6 weeks to prepare and we needed to come up with menu options for what was initially a 4 course dinner - salad, appetizer, main course, dessert.  Scouring our memory banks, we came up with a template containing various options for each course.

We met with Angie, the restaurant operators/chefs and the Ad Agency that was handling the event's PR to discuss the menu options and timetable.  Ideas were exchanged and some excited views on food were tempered with the reality of having options that were appropriately costed  and would set up the kitchen to properly prepare, plate and churn out each item on the menu.  

The next steps were refining the recipes, the cook and taste test.  Options had been narrowed for the final selection and we excitedly put together a market list.  There were high hopes for a porchetta, which we had served at dinner parties before. The phyllo-wrapped tenderloin, however, I felt would be the winner....the ingredients were simple, they could be assembled and prepared in batches and I had not prepared it in a while so there was an air of mystery about it.  The week-end before the taste test, I tested and put together the recipe for a leek-potato gratin.  We were ready for the cook and taste test.

As we visited the kitchen and prepared the food for tasting,  one of the kitchen interns was assigned to help me.  Being addressed as 'chef' for the first time was both embarrassing and, I'll admit, flattering.  Having spent done a short course at a culinary school, I sort of knew what it took for anyone to be addressed as 'chef' in a working kitchen.  I did try to correct him initially but as the day progressed, I just let it slide.

We prepared the dishes for the tasting - The appetizer and salad choices - grissini with parmegiano, arugula wrapped in prosciutto, 3 crostinnis -  gambas, chorizos and dulong on sun-dried tomato cream cheese and finally, caesar salad.  Entree choices were porchetta, scampi e funghi cream pasta and a tenderloin steak, topped with mushroom duxelles and boursin, wrapped in phyllo pastry

After the taste test and a lively discussion, we decided to have an all seafood appetizer plate, a soup and a fish option for the entree.  I suggested a tuna tartare, a roast capsicum and potato soup and a roast halibut with Isca's mediterranean style topping of tomatoes, capers and basil.  The beef tenderloin was selected as the other main.

Isca and I were particular about specific aspects of the dishes  and while we had help from the staff on the prep work,  there was stuff we did ourselves - the gambas, salad dressing, soup, mediterranean topping for the fish, assembly of the phyllo wrap and the tuna tartare.  We also oversaw the preparation the staff did for the rest of the dishes, following our recipes.

For a while, it truly felt like standing at the helm of the kitchen,  making choices and decisions as the food was prepared and cooked.  Isca took care of the front of the house, preparing a brief training plan for the servers, sharing details about the dishes and telling them how to manage greeting, serving, payments and questions.

The press releases, I think understandably, thrilled us and helped publicize the event.  Not a few people have come up to us since then assuming we own the restaurant.

On the night itself, as people came in, we were all over the place, meeting and greeting our guests, spending a little time with each person and going in and out of the kitchen to ensure things were going smoothly.

It was hectic, nerve-wracking, fast-paced but above all, it was SO MUCH FUN!  Just a few people we spoke with indicated they were not so happy with the food for one reason or another. But this was a tiny, tiny minority compared to the complements we received from many, many others.

At the end of the night, when the last guests had left, we applauded the wait-staff, the kitchen staff, the restaurant operators...hugs and kisses and thanks for Angie who thought of the evening and made it all possible.

Would we do it again? a heartbeat.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Callos in the land of typhoons

Whiling away the time post-Ondoy found me trying to deal with the stress that the news carried and thinking about how lucky we were with our own situation, with nary a drop of water causing any damage.

As I finished watching yet another public service program, I turned to the net and found an earlier Callos post in the 80 Breakfasts blog.  I realized I had decided to give this recipe a try and in fact had a few packages of good-looking ingredients in the freezer.  (I once again realize how food-obsessed I am when I regard frozen meat as 'good-looking.' ....just like prawns can be sexy and tomatoes, voluptuous. But the meat was, in fact, just that...clean, neatly packaged NZ tripe and oxtail...good-looking)

Until then, I was still a callos virgin but I was determined not to die as one...picturing myself on my deathbed, whispering in a hoarse voice,  a lone tear rolling down my cheek...'my one regret in the kitchen is not giving myself the opportunity to cook a good pot of callos.'  The priest looks on sadly and continues the sacrament he's there to perform.  Rather morbid, this scene but I'm happy to say it exists only as a faded recollection of what might have been...I have seen the light, sliced the tripe and simmered the first attempt was, if I may say so myself, in my own inimitable and humble way...FANTASTIIIIQUE!!!

Years of eating it, reading recipes about it, tasting wonderful versions of it (our friend Boyong Baytion's version stands out) and scoffing at terrible attempts at it, have culminated in the 3 day version I just made and enjoyed.  The inspiration came from the post I mentioned above plus the many years of side comments Isca has let loose on how much she loves the stuff.

The callos of my mother was the template in my mind.  Tripe with ox feet simmered in a tomato-ey broth, chorizo, bell pepper and chick peas swimming amongst the meat, we would eat it with a dash of tabasco and a cucumber salad on the side.  Again, one of those comfort food meals we remember fondly.

Well, I've waited this long and wanted to make sure I got it right the first time.  In the spirit of Total Quality I started the process that took 3 days to complete before it starred on the dinner table.

There were, I thought, several flavor boosters which I noted in the post that I read on 80 Breakfasts.  There was the slow cooked and reduced broth..the same broth used to soften the tripe and oxtail, getting an additional kick of flavor with the addition of Majestic (ham) hambones.  It also called for a load of roasted and peeled bell pepper which added another layer of smokey flavor in the background. Cayenne pepper was a surprise - then I realize it saves time instead of putting tabasco yourself, haha.  This warm spice wasn't obvious in the first sort of subtly crept up behind the familiar callos taste melange, lending a pleasant and gentle nudge of chili.  Then the familiar paprika, tomato, chorizo combined with the textures of well-cooked (good looking) unctuous tripe and oxtail as well as garbanzos. Very well put together.

On the second day, I felt it was going to be a homerun so I prepared a batch of pain a l'ancienne dough...which I baked the next day as the pot simmered on the stove. 

Aahhh, the land of typhoons, or anywhere, for that matter.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Food Memories

I grew up in a home of good food and my food memories are quite rich. While we did have the staples of sinigang and adobo, mechado and pansit, there many other dishes which, when I mentioned to friends back then and even today, would elicit wide-eyed questions about our family's culinary habits.

Let me go through a top of mind list of what were 'typical' fare that we had along with the staples mentioned above. The food is circa late 60's through to the 80's.

Tapadera - thinly sliced beefsteak, seared after a marinade in maggi and then arranged in a baking dish with upright slices of beef layered alternately with mashed potatoes mixed with sauteed bell pepper.

Red beans and mayo - boiled red kidney beans which was spoomed over rice and then topped with a dollop of mayo. This was eaten with a breaded beefsteak, seasoned on the table with Lea & Perrins.

Summer salad - back when only iceberg lettuce was available on the supermarket shelves, we would have Sunday lunches with nothing but salad and fixings - cheddar cheese cubes, sliced picnic ham, frozen peas, sliced tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, canned white asparagus all tossed with mayo and eaten with garlic bread. This was a family favorite.

Chili con carne - Beans and ground beef in a slightly spicy tomato-based sauce, eaten with bread. A later variation to this had no beans spooned over hamburger buns, eaten with pickles and fries...sloppy joes.

Tacos - when the only tacos available then were 'Tito Taco'in Uni Mart and the ones served at Nina's Papagayo, we would have tacos at home with shells from the PX store and ground beef, onions, cheese, onions, hot sauce and cabbage.

Corned beef casserole - This was a PX canned good fantasy and one of the first dishes my mom taught me how to cook. This was simple - a can of cooked Hereford corned beef, sauteed with onions, a can of Libby's sweet corn kernels and a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. These would be layered in a casserole pan - corned beef, corn and cream of mushroom, like a lasagna..and baked in a warm oven for 10 min. Mixed with rice or eaten with toast, this was a 'hit the spot' meal.

Eggplant parmiggiano - Fried eggplant and sauteed ground beef layered alternately with parmesan and mozzarella cheese and then baked in an oven...delicious hot or cold.

Langlang - This was a recipe from my grandmother...a sotanghon soup on steroids...loaded with black fungus, carrots, chicken, shrimp, meatballs...a meal i itself.

Roast Chicken with bread stuffing - We'd have 2 chickens, roasted and stuffed with a very dense, very flavorful stuffing made from white bread, milk, celery, chicken liver and served with a pan giblet gravy - again a special Sunday meal.

Dolores Macaroni - A recipe originally created by my grandmother's cook, Dolores.  This was baked macaroni with chorizo bilbao, chicken, nestle cream, cheddar cheese - dense, flavorful food that was omnipresent for our birthday parties.

Roast Beef and Mashed potatoes - I don't know what cut of beef my mom used but we would have roast beef cooked, as I recall, well done or overdone but we didn't care and didn't know any better. It was dry in the middle but had a rim of crisp, flavorful fat on the edge of each slice. Served with buttered beans, mashed potatoes and a rich pan gravy, it was another special meal that yielded no leftovers.

Pizza - I already mentioned in an earlier post pizza day was a happy day in our home. Swift's beef pepperoni and Che-Vital cheese on top of a Del monte tomato sauce base..all washed down with Pepsi from Pedrong Kuba in the corner store.

Baked beans - Our baked beans were canned pork and beans amped up with a touch of molasses, catsup, onions all mixed in a casserole dish and topped with strips of bacon. We typically had this before Christmastime, when my mom would be baking fruitcakes, the dining table would be full of either fruitcake ingredients or fruitcakes cooling from the oven. We would eat baked beans and beef tapa on our own little TV trays.

Sukiyaki - Glass noodles, thinly sliced beef, carrots, chinese cabbage, black fungus, tofu swimming in a sweet'n soy broth.  Eaten with a raw egg broken into individual bowls.

Cabbage rolls - ground pork, seasoned with just salt, rolled up in wilted cabbage leaves together with carrot and potato slivers.  This was simmered in a broth and eaten with soy sauce and calamansi and for some reason, was served side by side with fried fish.

My parents like to host parties and also served up what I thought was atypical fare that grew more complex and varied as I grew up.

We sort of developed a rather sophisticated palate  as other dishes were added to the home repertoire - beef stroganoff, lobster or prawn thermidore, mock chateaubriand, smoked pig's knuckles, cannelone, paella, roast turkey with oyster or chestnut stuffing, cabesa de javali (a mix of pork face, chorizos, vegetables encased in aspic), ox tongue many ways -  estofado, pastel, con setas, coquilles saint jacque (scallops in a white wine and cream sauce), boulliabaisse. 

The food memories are endless, varied and memorable.  They became the basis for our preferences growing up and also instilled in us a curiosity to want to taste and cook more. We also learned to appreciate, be curious about and crave for a wider variety of food from a simple sinigang to a well-made shrimp bisque.

Food memories are different for everyone....mine have cut across the boundaries of home-cooked and expanded beyond to places I have seen or want to see.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A week and a day in Provence II

Market days in Provence are very much like everywhere in France with purveyors gathering on a designated street, square or park once or twice a week. In preparation for this, we got hold of a few books, "The Markets of Provence," by Patricia Wells and "Provence and the French Riviera" by Rick Steves. Wells' book provided a daily guide of Market days in each of 7 towns in Provence - Monday in Cadenet, Tuesday in La Tour d'Aigues, Wednesday in Saint Remy, Thursday in Aix en Provence, Friday in Bonnieux, Saturday in Apt and Sunday in Isle Sur la Sorgue. Rick Steves provided a more in-depth guide of the famous as well as the out of the way places to visit in Provence.

Driving from town to town, in and around the Luberon valley and the surrounding hills was a pleasure. Well paved, with ample signage that made it easy to get around and, best of all, no traffic. It's not a surprise to me that Ducati chooses the South of France when it releases new models for test drives. What I would give to ride a Ducati along these plane tree-lined roads...well, someday. But I digress.

We arrived on a Saturday and between settling in, stocking up with Super U supplies and our first home -cooked meal (we had just spent a week in Paris), we didn't get to our first market until Sunday - at the village of Isle sur La Sorgue, in the last few hours of market day.

Merchants were packing up but we did meet Johann, an artisan (and you'll hear that word a lot in Provence) nougat maker. He had huge blocks of handmade nougat - lavender, chocolate, vanille, which he sold by weight and cut with a huge 2-handled knife. The nougat was excellent - chewy, sweet but not to sweet, the main flavor lingering in the back of your mouth instead of greeting you full-on.

The next stop was Provencal linens....jacquard table clothes and napkins in Provencal colors and designs. After an excited purchase, we continued exploring....crafted leather, some white asparagus and other vegetables, purple garlic until we found a place to stop for a late lunch - braised rabbit and linguine for Camille, a seafood salad for myself, Croque Monsieur for Lucas and Iya and, upon the suggestion of our charming waiter, a sausage andouilette for Isca.

The rabbit was tender, flavorful, braised in a red wine and thyme-based sauce....a new experience for Camille, who had (perhaps understandably) never had rabbit. I told her what to expect- a combination of veal and chicken and I was glad when she validated this with her first bite. My seafood salad was, with the exception of the generous and fresh portion of mussels, octopus and prawns, OK but not exceptional. The 'surprising' discovery was the waiter-suggested sausage andouilette. 'Surprising' can be taken many ways, mind you. This was one of those 'HELLO GUESS WHAT I'M MADE FROM' dishes that is not shy about its ingredients and their unique taste. The sausage is made from tripe and maybe other cow parts, seasoned lightly with garlic and herbs and, I suppose, cured before being pan-fried. I could not help thinking of a less-seasoned and 'tripe-ier' tasting callos madrilena in sausage form. Certainly not a winner in our books, but memorable nevertheless.

The next few days, we went to the other markets in St. Remy, Lourmalin, Gourdes, Aix en Provence, Le Beaux as well as visits to Rousillon, Le Beaux, Avignon and Nimes.

The markets were similar and, as I mentioned, we saw many of the same merchants selling their wares, moving from town to town. The produce was amazing! Huge cherries, heirloom tomatoes, purple garlic, white asparagus. There were artisan bakers, cheesemakers, charcuteries, a stall that sold nothing but foie gras products; fresh and cooked. There was a chicken rotisserie on wheels, olives and other preserves. It was a wonderful, appetizing and totally confusing place to be...what to taste, will it keep, can we finish it - all questions asked in quick succession.

It was also in St. Remy where we visited the sanitorium that Van Gogh was confined and, strangely enough, inspired to do a lot of his finest work....many of his now famous paintings were actually painted based on scenes around the estate. What a sad story of a brilliant artist...the kids recognized reproductions and the inspiration of the originals we had seen just a week before at Musee D'Orsay in Paris. The hospice was actually a very pretty albeit gloomy place, perhaps not helped by the life and tragic death of its most famous patient.

For most of our first few days, we had spring rains and when we had our first day of sun, we immediately planned for a dinner on the patio with a view of the pool, the forest and the valley. With a well-stocked larder and an equally well-equipped kitchen, we whipped up an excellent dinner of barbecued ribs, cheese pasta, Coke, baguettes, white wine and ice cream. The weather was great, the company, incomparable and the food, satisfying.

The visits to Provence's big cities and other sites were also exciting. Having spent the past few days in little towns, it was a sort of country mouse feeling, walking the more crowded sidewalks of a city. A bit overwhelming to have longer, wider streets, buildings, higher than 3 floors and traffic lights on every corner.

In Nimes, we saw a Roman Coliseum; a remnant from the days when Provence was an extension of the Roman empire. Today the colosseum is still used for bull fights. Nimes is also the place where denims originated - the cloth from Nimes or 'de Nimes." Unfortunately for Nimes, it was an American, Levi Strauss who cashed in on this fabric during the gold rush in San Francisco.

There was an excellent food find in Aix en Provence - this extremely good, extremely rich, nice and chewy and apparently very popular cookie made from almonds and sugar...calisson...wonderful. We chanced upon a cart selling this confection..surrounded at this time, by a hoard of japanese tourists - I guess it was in their guidebook...not in ours, this one.

In Marseilles, sampling onion and meat pastries from the Arab quarter served to sate our hunger in preparation for dinner's main event. While in Marseilles, we couldn't refuse the opportunity to have a taste of bouillabaisse.....which we did. It was good, yes, but not entirely memorable. The broth is served up first, with toasted baguette slices and cloves of whole garlic, to be rubbed on the bread. These were then topped with a dollop of rouille and set afloat on the broth, to add texture and an additional layer of flavor to the already complex flavors of the soup. The fish and shellfish were served next...flavorful but frankly, I've had better. It was all about the experience, I suppose...if one could choose a place to have bouillabaisse, where else to have it but in Marseilles, naturellement.

On our final night, we figured we needed to clean up our pantry purchases. We invited M. Peuch, the local realtor's representative, who ran the office that took care of summer properties of the out of towners. He seemed hesitant and reluctantly agreed to come. We prepared osso bucco, grilled pork chops, butter-fried potatoes, baguettes and salad. To start, we had foie gras and a headcheese terrine and we finished with cheese, ice cream, coffee and fromage blanc. We had beer before dinner, a Chateneuf de Papes red with dinner and M. Peuch brought a bottle of champagne to have with dessert. So while our guest, who arrived at 6:30pm on the dot, started out the evening a bit formal and reserved, as the night wore on and the bottles were killed one by one, he warmed up, smiled, ate (and ate everything, by the way), laughed and had a good did we. The night ended at 12:30am, a fitting end to a lovely week and a day in Provence.

All in all, our stay in Provence was one of the best trips we've had. We dream excitedly of our next visit and hope it won't be too long before we can go again.