Winter in Provence has been a very quiet time of year. The temperature hovers around freezing (32 F/0 C), which is holy-cow-it's-freaking-freezing for this wimpy family from southern California. As far as we can tell, the culture here is built around the sun and outdoor living. During l'hiver people seem to flee public spaces and the cold for the warmth of family and home.
Unlike the rain-culture of the UK where we could always find a cozy pub with a roaring fireplace, Provence is an outdoor culture. Most of the little villages are built around tourism, and without the summer crowds fueling the local economy, the shops simply shut down until it warms up. Even in our village of Bédoin, which is active year-round, about 70% of the shops and restaurants are closed until spring.
But staying at home 24/7 gives us cabin fever, and if you've seen The Shining you know how bad that can get. So we were thrilled when our friend Madeleine Hill-Vedel invited us to join her cooking class for a couple of days in Avignon and Arles. Madeleine is an accomplished cheese-maker, cook and runs a winter cooking school that includes visiting goat farms, truffle hunting, wine tasting, outdoor farmers markets, and of course cooking delicious meals.
On Friday evening we joined Madeleine and her friends at her home in Avignon for our first class. On the menu was fresh pasta with truffles and foie gras, baked squash with lardons and onions, duck breast, a cheese platter and a delicious homemade ricotta cake. We also prepared a terrine of duck, pork and foie gras for the next day, and stuffed ducks' necks with a mixture of duck confit, pork and other decadent and delicious ingredients!
Vegetarian and vegan friends, this wasn't the meal for you.
Our first evening of cooking ended with a delicious meal, and the good company of Madeleine's client and her friend (and fellow blogger) Julie Mautner. We had spoken to Julie shortly after arriving in Provence, and it was a delightful surprise to finally get to meet her in person.
Saturday morning we met Madeleine and her client in Avignon and headed 45 minutes south to the huge outdoor market in Arles. The Saturday market in Arles is the largest in Provence, and the winter chill and a bit of rain certainly didn't deter the hundreds of food vendors. We bought fish for Soupe de Poissons, bread, baclava, some greens, and just strolled the walkways and enjoyed the ambience of this beautiful Provençal city.
After the market we gathered at the home of Erick Vedel to prepare a lunch of Soupe de Poissons, fresh oysters, fried mackerels, the duck terrines from the previous day, and of course wine and dessert.
After lunch, Madeleine was off with her client to tour the Roman museum in Arles, but we had a long drive home and everyone was ready for a little rest chez nous. The Roman museum will be there for us to return to another day, and now that we have "discovered" Arles we are excited to go back again soon.
But maybe when the sun is out.
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