Afar, France, From the Archives, Home

Nostalgia

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I always catch a bad bout of nostalgia at this time each year. There’s something about the cooling air and changing winds that stirs up memories—not just images and words, but scents and feelings as strong as they were the first time around. It’s a beautiful, moving and troublesome sensation that never fails to leave me restless. It’s not exactly a yearning for times past, but rather the slightly overwhelming feeling of so many recollections arising at once. As my memories become more potent, my dreams become more vivid, and I find myself yearning for some intangible quality that falls somewhere between wanted to experience again and wanting to experience anew.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

This morning alone I’ve been back at my childhood home as warm sunlight comes through the windows, I’ve been putting on my school uniform, and pouring cream into my coffee. I’ve been wandering the cloisters of Mont St Michel, and exploring the standing stones at Carnac, walking through the gardens in Rennes, swimming in a chateau moat, rolling in the fallen leaves in Central Park, wandering the ruins at Tintern Abbey, and the climbing the stairs of Broadway tower.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I’ve met a variety of old lovers and forgotten friends, I’ve wandered the quiet streets of Oxford and the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, walked along Aldeburgh beach, fled from a herd of charging buffalo, rested by the fire at Barnsley House, and even revisited old dreams in new ones. I’ve nodded to a variety of past selves, and feel content that they’ve more or less resolved into who I am now (with a few inevitable outliers).

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

But then, this morning I’ve also woken up next to my husband, ground coffee, written a letter or two, and watched a misty sunrise over the California hills. I image these moments will also flavour future memories when they arise unbidden decades hence.Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

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France

Pauses in the Palace

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Beyond the crowded bustle of the palace and halls, Versailles has a thousand hidden corners. The grandeur of the place is remarkable, but the little places where light and shadow fall over marble, where the pastel frescoes are a little faded, or the morning sun glints over the chandelier are more beautiful still. I love spending moments by the fountains in the gardens, or in the quiet halls of the Grand or Petit Trianon. Rest by the water or against the cool columns of the Temple de l’Amour. Look up at the ceilings and out of the windows. Arrive early in the morning and spend the whole day lingering where no one else takes the time to pause—in Versailles, in your own home, anywhere.

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

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Food, France

Dehillerin, Paris

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

[A Note: Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to William, who will be contributing the occasional guest post to the blog.]

I feel ambivalent about eating in Paris, with its discourteous waiters and tourist-trap bistros, but my enthusiasm for the Dehillerin kitchen store is entirely unreserved. Dehillerin was founded in 1820, and crossing the threshold is like stepping back in time. It’s immediately apparent why the store exercises such magnetism over celebrated chefs, from Julia Child to Joel Robuchon—as well as an awed succession of tourists and culinary pilgrims. Copper turbot kettles, duck presses, and other paraphernalia seldom seen in a modern kitchen are all around. Everything from sauté pans to oyster knives displays an old-fashioned, over-engineered solidity. All that planished copper is undeniably beautiful, but it isn’t for decoration: this is kitchen kit designed to be used. Consider the series of K Sabatier knives, beginning with a paring knife and increasing by increments, culminating in a ten inch chef’s knife. The blades are high carbon stainless steel, which takes and holds a great edge; you have a choice of rosewood (my favorite) or stained beech handles; and their balance is impeccable—all for disconcertingly sensible prices. Knives made for cutting, not for display. But the same observation might be made about any of Dehillerin’s utensils and appliances. Visit next time you’re in Paris. Come with a shopping list, but expect to find something you didn’t know you needed.

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

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France

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles www.bluemesablog.com

Beyond the palace, the canal and the sweeping gardens, further than le Grand Trianon and le Petit Trianon, rests the quiet Temple de l’Amour. Since I always seem to find myself at Versailles with a raging fever (or perhaps always insist on going even when I have a raging fever), I will forever consider le Temple de l’Amour as a place of respite. There I can recline on the sunny steps, rest my forehead against the marble, and recover from the journey through the visual feast that is the palace, and the long walk through the majestic gardens. So peaceful is that place that I’ve even been known to doze off beneath the state of L’Amour.

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles www.bluemesablog.com

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles www.bluemesablog.com

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Food, France, Texas

Duck a la Presse

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

There are only a few places in the world that serve Duck a la Presse, including La Tour d’Argent in Paris, Otto’s in London, Daniel in New York City, and my house down in Texas. My father bought the duck press some thirty years ago. Last time my husband and I were home they brushed off the brass, ordered ducks and about 50 lbs of duck fat from D’Artagnan (www.dartagnan.com), and started pressing. I can’t boil water, but I can watch, so as follows (vegetarians be warned):

The process actually begins some few days prior to cooking. We liquidated three ducks and reduced the stock down to about one cup, to which we added Marsala, Brandy and Madeira.

The day itself you begin by partially roasting a whole duck. We scored the skin and cooked it for about ten minutes in our wood-burning bread oven. You then chop it up (carnage will ensue—I’m still cleaning duck off of the ceiling) put the breasts aside to finish roasting, and put the rest into the press. You twist the wheel to extract the juice, and may need a few hands to twist the press, hold it and catch the juice in a pan. You add the juice and, traditionally, the duck liver to the sauce to thicken it, reduce it further, and pour it over the finished breasts to serve!

It may not be a process for the faint of heart or the short-of-time, and a duck press may not be your average kitchen utensil, but the effort is more than worth the product. We served it with puffed potatoes cooked in duck fat. The sauce was good enough to drink.

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com      Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

Duck a la Presse www.bluemesablog.com

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France

The Château de Chambord

The Chateau de Chambord www.bluemesablog.com

The Château de Chambord is just your average 440-room, 282-fireplace, 84-staircase hunting lodge, with grounds larger than Paris. Suitable for weekend boar hunts, illicit affairs, and elaborate displays of royal power, this little lodge is the perfect retreat for you and several hundreds of your closest friends. Its sheer size and intricate detail compensate for its deficient security. Leonardo da Vinci is reputed to have designed its double-helix staircase, and its roofline boasts more minarets than you thought you wanted.

The Chateau de Chambord www.bluemesablog.com

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