12 October 2010

In Tartiflette We Trust

We spent this past weekend with friends who live in the mountains near Grenoble.

They told us it had been cool and rainy just before we arrived - perfect weather for hunting fungi.

"Make sure the kids don't touch the mushrooms," they cautioned us. "They're dangerous".

Wandering up into the pasture behind their house, we found some of those "I am a bunny" mushrooms, also known as Amanita Muscaria, or Fly Agaric Mushrooms.

It was the first time I'd actually seen them in the wild. My college buddies who collected them in the forest behind our dorm used to swear they were magic, not dangerous.

I quickly learned that anyone intimate with Fly Agaric simply called them 'shrooms. Like friends on a first-name basis.

For lunch our hosts made Tartiflette, a specialty from Savoie. The basic ingredients are potatoes, onions, bacon cubes, fresh cream and reblochon cheese (sorry, no 'shrooms in this recipe).

After one bite, or several, it's easy to see why this dish is popular with people who spend their winter days skiing or climbing mountains.

To make a tartiflette, peel and lightly boil 1 kilo of potatoes, then cut into thick slices.

Sauté the onions and bacon cubes in olive oil.  In a baking dish, layer the potatoes, bacon and onions, then cream.

Cut a full wheel of reblochon cheese in half laterally and place face down on top of the potatoes.

Bake at 200° for around 20 or 30 minutes, or until the cheese forms a golden crust on top.  Serve hot.

 A pre-cooked tartiflette.

Hot Tartiflette right out of the oven.

Tartiflette has been described by some as the greatest comfort food in the world. I'm sure it has something to do with the combination of fat and carbs.

Others say it's part of the French patrimoine (heritage) and that you really don't know France until you've experienced Tartiflette.

In any case, it's a dish worth trying at least once. Already tartiflette has made its way onto our Christmas Eve menu - two and a half months early!

08 October 2010

Cerdon Perks

What do English lessons and sparkling wine have in common?

Not much, unless your student has a massive guilt complex for never having done her homework.

Yesterday was the last lesson of a 30-hour course for "Brigitte", a project manager who works for a local IT company.

Each week she had a homework assignment

                                (photo: www.lingot-martin.fr)

to complete. And each week she'd arrive with apologies of all sorts.

So five minutes before the end of yesterday's class, she excused herself from the room only to come back with a chilled bottle of Cerdon sparkling wine.

We drained half the bottle in record time, discussing the beauty of this hilly and picturesque region halfway between Lyon and Geneva on the western edge of the Jura (Ain Department).

We talked about visiting the caves, walking through the verdant canyons and touring the vineyards that produce this wine.

I first went to Cerdon in 2008 to climb the rocks towering over the valley. You can find out more about climbing in the region from the book Roc'in Bugey

that you can buy on-line here.

It was a day of firsts, then - never before had I indulged in the bubbly during a lesson, but it went down too cool and refreshing to stop, like sipping sweet, liquid rubies.

And never before had I stayed so long after the end of a lesson. I'm usually very draconian about leaving exactly on time.

But as the makers Lingot-Martin say of their sparkling wine, its aromas of red fruit and subtly sweet bubbles make it a drink of delight and celebration.

Who wants to rush away from that?

If only more students offerered wine or the equivalent when they don't do their homework, I might be forced to re-think my opinion about teaching for a living.