Stéphane’s Calamari in Red Sauce

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When I first met Stéphane, it was April of 2014. My daughter and I visited him for an action-packed four days in southwestern France.

If you’re not familiar with Stéphane Gabart, he is the author of My French Heaven, the beautiful blog that emanates his love for all things food, wine, and France. You immediately grasp his passion and joie de vivre through his stunning photography.

His business, which he has secretly told me is more fun than work, is called Your French Heaven, because one can basically customize a visit. In our case, my daughter and I went mostly, not surprisingly, for the food experience.

We visited a different farmers’ market every day, so that he could cook fabulous meals for us. Can you imagine! Four farmers’ markets in close proximity to your home?!! Not to mention bakeries and patisseries!

Because my daughter is a pescatarian, we ate a lot of seafood, which was wonderful!

Of course Stéphane also had the perfect wines, champagnes, Lillet, and Sauternes.

And bread and cheese, of course.

I’d include photos of the countryside we visited, along with castles, villages, fortresses, vineyards, and even a brocante, because we did do much more than eat, but I need to keep this post about Stéphane and the calamari he prepared one evening for my daughter and I. These are photos from that visit. I’ve never had calamari quite like it.

It’s calamari rings, sautéed, flambéed, then cooked in a red sauce until the sauce is deep and rich. The sunshine beaming down on the calamari just make them glow!

Here’s the recipe, as generously emailed to me by Stéphane.

Calamari Rings in Red Sauce

Sear bacon, shallots and onions in a cast iron pot.

In another skillet, sauté the calamari in olive oil. Flambé with cognac.

You then dump your seafood in the pot and add your bouquet garni. Add 125g of tomato paste for each pound of fish.

Darken the sauce on medium heat and wet it as you go along with a big glass of white wine.

When your sauce is dark enough, you add fish stock to level. Let the whole thing boil on low heat for a good 2 hours, adding liquid as needed.

When the sauce has reduced enough, add some garlic, a pinch of paprika and some cayenne pepper.

Let it all simmer very slowly for about 15 minutes and adjust your seasoning.

Then thicken your sauce with a bit of white roux.

And voila!

I made this calamari dish for Christmas eve, served with white rice.

It was exquisite.

Merci, mon ami!

 

 

French Markets

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I don’t profess to be an expert on markets in France. In fact, I’m not at all. In the past, when I visited my family as a child, I don’t remember markets. I do remember walking to shops with my grandmother in her village, getting milk, then cheese, then meat, and so forth. I don’t think I remember seeing a farmers-type market until I was much older. I also remember my mother commenting on how much prettier all of the produce is compared to the U.S.

Fast forward to married life, when my husband and I have, luckily, traveled in France and many other European countries. Because we always wanted to see the countryside, we’re typically on the move. We’ve never rented a home, spent a week, and cooked.

So it wasn’t until I visited Stéphane from the blog My French Heaven, that I really got to see markets and experience them.
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In 2013, when my daughter and I went, the three of us went to a different market on four days in four different towns! But I know that the one Stéphane frequents is on Sunday in Libourne, where he resides. Which is why he refers to it as his church.
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In France, as it is in many European countries, markets aren’t like a visit to a super Wal Mart. It’s about planning what to cook, seeing what’s in season, visiting with friends. It’s almost more of a social institution than just buying groceries.


After three trips to visit Stephane, I’ve been to the Libourne market many times now. I recognize his favorite butcher, who blushed when my girlfriend gave him a hug for a photo. I recognize the old curmudgeon of a foie gras guy. And there are the cute young ladies who sell seafood. And so forth. Can you imagine having such a relationship with a cheesemonger? I have none of that where I live.

If you’ve never been to a French market, please read Stéphane’s post, entitled “My Market is my Church.” It gives you tips on how to navigate a market, how to talk to the vendors, and also what not to do.

I thought this was such important information because if I’d never had guidance from my mother, I could be one of the ugly Americans, touching the beautiful produce, asking for samples, perhaps yelling when a Parisien butted in line in front of me.

That doesn’t happen in France. In fact, you keep your hands to yourself and you remain calm. Farmers are proud, and they’re not selling any strawberry or green bean that isn’t perfectly ripe. There might be dirt on the carrots and potatoes, but that’s the only thing that an American would consider imperfect. You tell the vendor you want a half a kilo of mushrooms, and he/she will place them in a bag for you. Payment is in cash.
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Farmers markets are also not like our food festivals in the US. They’re not giving out food samples to draw you in. They’re too busy doing what they should be doing anyway. If you want one of their cheeses, ask for it, or move on.


There are counterfeit farmers. In Stephane’s post, you’ll read that if you see stamped eggs, for example, or if a “farmer” has baby-bottom soft hands, chances are you’re not dealing with a true farmer. They’ve most likely stopped by the French Costco equivalent and are re-selling at the market.

When my husband and I visited Stephane recently, we spent a couple of days in his home town. This was at my request, because as much as I like traveling and eating out, I can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like spending time with Stephane at his home, shopping with him, sipping the wine he’s chosen for you, and being served perfect food prepared by him.
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For lunch on our first full day in Libourne, he served my husband and I steaks with a green peppercorn cream sauce, and sauteed potatoes. Followed by a platter of cheeses.


We had purchased all of the ingredients that morning at the market.

In the evening, just for me, along with my Lillet, I enjoyed cured duck filled with foie gras.
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Then Stephane made us a dinner of his famous prawns in a Jack Daniels cream sauce.


How nice it must be to have a relationship with people who really understand their food, who have raised it, caught it, cooked it, and are proud of it. It’s wonderful to have trust in these vendors as well, and know their reputations. These people are so knowledgeable that they will tell you how to cook the eel they’re selling, still wiggling, of course, or even how best to prepare a cut of lamb. This is also a part of what makes shopping at farmers markets so meaningful.

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

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The translation for non, je ne regrette rien, which is a French song title, is essentially, “I regret nothing.”

Made famous by Edith Piaf, the song came to mind when I was discussing the matter of recently “eating” my way through France.

Food is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Of course, my highest priorities are my lovely family and fabulous friends, but beyond those, my life revolves around food.

My husband and I took a two-week trip that began near Bordeaux, continued easterly through Provence, and ended on the Riviera. Our itinerary was custom-designed by Stéphane, from the blog My French Heaven. Because our French vacation was essentially a road trip, we ate at restaurants. I know – heaven! So I thought I’d put together some of my photos showing what we ate.

Even with a basic knowledge of French, menus in France can be challenging. But with Stéphane’s skill in menu interpretation, my husband and I always got exactly what we wanted, and also tried some locally traditional as well as new foods. Below is a shot of my husband seriously contemplating a menu, with Stéphane’s help.
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So when I was thinking about all of the food I enjoyed in France, about that second croissant I enjoyed one morning, with butter, of course, about the abundance of octopus I ate until they were practically crawling out my ears, that eclair that I was really too satiated to eat, but I did anyway… I realized that I enjoyed every bite of food and had no regrets.

Like the few bites I took from this nutella calzone. Be still my heart. But not too still.

Stéphane worked hard to find restaurants we would enjoy the most, whether in a village plaza, on the ocean, or in an alleyway en plein air. As much as upscale restaurants are fun, I much prefer what we call in the US the hole-in-the-wall types, with crooked floors, leaning stairs, and the bathrooms about 1/2 mile walk.

On our first day’s drive, we stopped in Castelnaudary to have traditional cassoulet. It was at a small restaurant off of a side street filled with locals. Always a good sign. All they served was cassoulet, but you could request your choice of meat. I chose pork and sausage. It came out bubbling hot, of course, so we had a chance to enjoy a local red wine and people-watch the regulars.


Here is the town as you enter it:

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If you want to read a humurous post on cassoulet, which includes a recipe, check out this blog post here, by Serious Eats.

Then we headed in to Provence. The region is known for its olives, and so it was common when ordering an aperitif to be greeted with olives, toasts, and tapenade. At one bistrot, we enjoyed the bright green Picholine olive, which even Stéphane had never experienced. Crunchy and buttery. I’m still trying to get my hands on some!


The countryside was full of the beautiful grey-green olive trees and we even visited a working olive orchard – Bastide du Laval.

In France, it’s common to order from three groups – typically entrée, plat, and dessert, whether it’s a lunch or dinner menu.

At a tiny restaurant in old Aix en Provence, I ordered octopus salad for my starter, followed by curried cod. Both were magnificent. Especially paired with a Bandol.


I felt somewhat obligated to accept a dessert, because it was part of the price. I shared it.
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I actually lived in Aix as a child. I remember nothing! But it’s beautiful.

Our next destination for 5 nights was Le Bastide de Boulbon, in Boulbon. I offer a photo of the hotel, because we ended up eating in their beautiful dining room 3 nights in a row. Their chef was inspired and the menus changed daily. Plus it ended up being our favorite hotel.

One night we drove to a recommended restaurant called Bistrot du Paradou. It was a large, bustling bistrot, with red and white checkered napkins on old wooden tables. Every night they served only one main, and on this night it was rotisserie chicken.


Stéphane and I started with ravioli, and my husband had pistou, which he said could have been his whole meal. The chicken doesn’t look like much, but it was excellent.


The first photo, above left, shows the chef’s table in the kitchen, with the rotisserie chickens along the back wall. The other photos shows the mafia members who filled the table near us. They don’t know where I live.

On another day, we traveled up over 3,000 feet to visit the Gorges du Verdon, which is like the French Grand Canyon, except really small. We climbed to the top-most village called Rougon for an enjoyable few hours in the sun. At possibly the only restaurant in “town” – a crêperie, with one of the best views in France, my husband and I ordered pizza-styled crêpes, which were delicious.

In Cassis, on the coast, we stopped in a seaside restaurant which has the highest rated boullabaisse, according to Stéphane’s research. The whole experience was really fascinating.
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They first cook up all of the fish and potatoes for the bouillabaise, and present it to you on a platter. Then a waiter ladles a thick rich broth that is more like a bisque into your bowl. You place the different kinds of fish and other goodies into the bowl. To finish, a spicy aioli is spread on toasts, which are placed into the bouillabaise. According to our very engaging waiters, no one has ever finished a meal of bouillabaisse!

One day we drove to old Avignon and visited the Palais des Papes. I’ve never seen cobblestones quite like here.


It was one of the two times it rained on us in France, so we enjoyed a long lunch, in order to stay dry, of course. I ordered l’escargots cause, well I could. They’re such a great excuse to eat bread!

Stéphane and I ordered veal toes, called pieds paquets. They were fabulous. Just don’t think about it.

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On another day in St. Tropez, I sardines for lunch. It was in a beautiful seaside restaurant.
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And then there was a very special meal in Menton, which was my favorite of the cities along the Riviera.


It’s actually closer to Italy than Nice, and the colors of the buildings are striking, similar to those in Vieux Nice. But what came as a surprise to us was the wonderful Italian lunch we had off the beaten path, sitting outside, of course. Not having had my fill of seafood yet, I chose squid in a red sauce. The boys had pizza, and we all enjoyed everything.


Along with Tiramisu and my nutella calzone, the cutest glasses of limoncello I’ve ever seen, plus the tall, dark glass of water that was our waiter, this was a lunch that I will always remember, and never regret!


On our last day before flying out of Nice, we spent the morning exploring vieux Nice, and shopping at its market.

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At lunch I tried socca, which is something that’s always tempted me. It was in the form of a crepe, served with a Niçoise salad. I also had a Niçoise salad on another day. When in Nice…

There were many more restaurants, many more villages, miles walked, and a million laughs – especially listening to my husband attempt speaking French! Then it was over. We had to say au revoir to Stéphane, who is the best friend and guide a person could have. We already have two more trips in the works!!!
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Tuna with a Vinaigrette

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This recipe was inspired by a meal Stéphane made my daughter and I when we visited him in France last year. If you’re not yet familiar with this culinary wizard and photographer extraordinaire, check out his blog at My French Heaven, and his business website for his custom food and wine tours at Your French Heaven.

We only had four full days in our French heaven in April of 2014, but oh, they were four of the best days of my life. We visited chateaux and castles, walked the countryside, sampled Bordeaux wines, and ate lunches and dinners prepared and served by Stéphane himself. Can you imagine?!!! You don’t even have to lift a finger. Unless you want to.

Every morning the three of us visited farmers’ market in four different towns, and planned the daily meals then. One dinner created by Stéphane was based on a lovely sea bass he purchased on one of these mornings.

As you can see in the photos, Stéphane baked the fish in a salt crust. Then he prepared a simple, yet obviously unforgettable pine nut vinaigrette to go over it. And that is the reason I’m making the tuna today – just as an excuse to create a similar vinaigrette.

I didn’t pay attention to his exact recipe, and if I had I wouldn’t share it with you! But it’s one of those that can be altered to your personal taste in any case.*


I love sea bass and other white fish. However, if I had to choose my favorite fish, it would be tuna, with salmon as a close second. I think I like the stronger flavors of these, although there’s also nothing more fabulous than delicate white fish when it’s cooked perfectly. And Stéphane’s was perfection.

The ingredients of this vinaigrette are fairly basic, and not too subtle to pair with the tuna.

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As I typically do with recipes, I’m only listing the ingredients I used; the amounts are up to you.
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Tuna with a Pine Nut Vinaigrette

Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Capers, drained
Minced garlic
Toasted pine nuts
Chopped parsley

Ahi, thick steaks preferably
Olive oil

Begin by adding equal amounts of olive oil and vinegar to a small bowl. The overall amount depends on how many you’re serving but trust me when I tell you that this vinaigrette stores well in the refrigerator! Add a handful of drained capers.

Add the garlic, the pine nuts, and then the parsley. Stir well and set aside.


Meanwhile, sear your tuna steaks to your liking.


Serve the vinaigrette at room temperature.

I poured some over the tuna steaks, but also served extra on the side.
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It’s just that good!!!

* It’s obvious from the photos at the top that Stéphane used shallots instead of garlic, and dill instead of parsley. This just shows how versatile the vinaigrette is!!!

Je ne sais quoi

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I’m sure you’ve heard the French expression “je ne sais quoi,” that something you just can’t put your finger on, that something not easily described. That is the country of France to me – my favorite European country.

Experiencing French culture requires an open-mind and adventurous spirit. And if you need help to embrace everything French, you need to visit Stéphane Gabart of My French Heaven, who lives in Libourne, outside of Bordeaux. His business is customizing culinary tours in France. And that includes him cooking for you in his lovely home!

I have two posts on my blog about visiting Stéphane with my daughter in 2014, here and here. Because of my wonderful experience last year, I knew I would be visiting Stéphane again. And I did.

Last month, my girlfriend Gabriella and I visited Stéphane for 8 fun-filled days. My friend had been to Paris, but she’d never experienced French villages, which is to me quintessential France. The hamlets with the cobble-stoned alleyways, the little bakeries, tucked-away restaurants, and the farmers’ markets. Oh, and also the vineyards and the chateaux and the castles.


What I love about having Stéphane as a personal guide and chef is that you can plan exactly what you want to do and eat. Days spent with Stéphane are called his foodie days. You plan what you want to eat, go to the market with him, and then watch him do all the work! You can choose half days as well, but if you did, you’d miss out on Stéphane’s great humor and joie de vivre.

But your visit doesn’t have to only be about food. For one thing, there are Stéphane’s artistic photography skills. Whether you’re passionate about photography, or only own an iPhone, I can attest that his expertise is inspirational. Look at his blog and you’ll see what I mean.

And, there is sightseeing, of course. You can travel with him to any area of your choice. My husband and I have already booked a trip with Stéphane to Provence. My husband is my favorite traveling partner, but he has hesitated coming with me to visit Stéphane because he thought Stéphane and I would force him to eat foie gras and snails! But the trips are custom-designed for exactly what you want to experience!

Gabriella and I spent a day in Cap Ferret and Arcachon on the Atlantic coast, and also a few days in the Dordogne region. To show you the variety of our daily activities, check out our travel itinerary here!

So why do I love France, you ask? Je ne sais quoi!

I mean, we have doors in the USA also.


And we have roses.


We have cheese.

There’s produce at our stores and markets.

And of course we have food…

Obviously I’m being tongue-in-cheek here. I’m not trying to compare what we have in the states to France, because there is no comparison. It’s not that only good food and wine is available in France. But to walk into an abbey from 4 A.D., to visit a village built in the 14th century, and to gaze upon a chateau from the 15th century – such as Chateau Filolie in the featured photo – is to experience what I love about Europe. The food and wine only add to the experience!

Merci, Stéphane! (that is obviously my look of pure bliss!)
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Heavenly Food

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My life revolves around food, sadly. But that’s just the way it is. I get excited in the morning when I decide to make myself a special breakfast, like an omelette with mushrooms and Fontina. It’s a simple pleasure. I get excited about a fine-dining experience at a restaurant. That’s an extravagant pleasure. Or a picnic in perfect weather, no bugs, with cheese,charcuterie, bread and wine. That’s an experiential pleasure, because it’s so much bigger than the food itself.

And I love to discover new foods. Typically when we travel, my husband and I stay at hotels, so my food discoveries are at restaurants. That’s how I learned about samphire, in London, served alongside seared scallops. Such a great discovery!

But because of restaurant dining, I miss out going to a local market, and cooking all the wonderful and fresh ingredients. I don’t complain, ever, because I also enjoy the break from being in the kitchen.

However, when I was visiting Stéphane in France, it was quite the opposite for me, because I was actually there to shop and cook with him. And I got to learn about some of the seasonally local foods and experience them. It was a food immersion of sorts, and there were plenty of foods with which I had no previous experience.

One of these was fresh fava beans. Now many of you who live where I don’t already have eaten these, but I can’t buy them fresh. I’ve only cooked them dry. So I was very excited when Stéphane suggested that we get some fresh favas to munch on before lunch.

He showed us how to peel the fava beans, then dip them in a little salt and devour. It was a wonderful way to spend a little time before lunch, especially sitting outside in France!

Another lovely experience my daughter and I enjoyed for the first time were les petits Bigorneaux. Essentially sea snails that are boiled, then served at room temperature. This was yet another fun appetizer that we enjoyed sitting outside in the sun, pulling the stubborn snails out of their shells.

I could swear that some of my snails were still alive, because they would pull away from my toothpick. But Stéphane assured me that they were fully cooked, and had died for our enjoyment.

I always remember my French mother telling me about langoustines. I was probably a little appalled about the part where you suck the innards out of the langoustine head after you ate the body. And maybe perhaps for that reason I avoided them over the years. Until now.

They’re more like a mini lobster than a shrimp. You could try to get the meat out of the claws, but the claws are so small that it would take all day.

For this beautiful lunch, Stephane made a fresh chive aioli to go with the chilled langoustines, and it was a perfect pairing. I hope Stéphane didn’t notice that neither my daughter or I sucked out the head meat.

Before I left for France Stéphane asked me if I’d enjoy making a foie gras terrine. I think my heart skipped a beat. I’ve sautéd foie gras, I’ve made paté de foie, and I’ve made coarser meat terrines, but a foie gras terrine??!!! Mais oui! I was so excited.

It’s a family recipe and I will not reveal it. I was probably talking too much in any case to pay attention. But you essentially smother the lobes of foie gras with a spice mixture, and then press them into a terrine.

After an Armagnac bath, the terrine is sealed with pastry and cooked slowly in a bain marie. Then it chills for four days. Stéphane served it to us with Sauterne, and toasted slices of Briochette, which is a cross between brioche and French bread. It was certainly a gourmet highlight of our trip.

Then there were new mushrooms to experience – cèps, to be exact. They’re large and meaty. Stéphane sautéed potatoes in duck fat for our meal, then added the cooked cèps. Stéphane then served the potato-cèps mixture, seasoned with a walnut parsley pesto of sorts, along with duck confit for us, and eggs for my daughter. I was very happy to discover a new mushroom!

Lastly, the cheese. There was one spectacular cheese that was a standout for me.

It’s called Saint Felicien, made from raw cows’ milk in the Rhones-Alpes region of France. It was a lovely discovery, and along with the Camembert and Epoisses that Stéphane also served, went really well with the black cherry jam. The cherries in the jam are the size of blueberries. Another wonderful discovery that I should have brought home with me if I had been thinking.

There was so much more I experienced for the first time during my visit with Stéphane, but these were the standouts for me.

French Heaven

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As many of you know, especially those who have seen the photos of beautiful French food that I’ve been posting, my daughter and I flew to Bordeaux to spend four days with Stéphane. He is the author of My French Heaven, his blog, and Your French Heaven, his business.
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As soon as he picked us up at the airport, we knew we were in good hands. Stéphane is so likable. Lovable, in fact. He’s funny, smart, and slightly irreverent, which suited our personalities to a tee.
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I’m not here only to promote Stéphane’s business; it needs no help from me. But for a little explanation in case you’re not familiar with it, he customizes your visit to the part of France where he was born and raised, based on your likes and desires and how many days you have to spend.

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Of course for me and my daughter as well, our daily plans revolved around shopping for food, cooking it, and eating it.
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But we also got to see the stunning countryside, enjoy the local wines, and see some sights for the benefit of my daughter and her specific interests in the world of art history.
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We also shopped at a brocante, which was a new word for me. It’s a combination of an antiques shop and flea market.

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This blog post could easily be a book because of how much we packed into each day.

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I’ll keep most of the details to myself as cherished memories, because Stéphane designed our time together just for us. He will most likely never duplicate these days, because of course all of the food we prepared together was based on what was fresh and available at the daily markets.

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Some people may not want to have the same extreme foodie days as we did!
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As much as I enjoy meat, we wanted to focus primarily on the lovely seafood available in that corner of France.

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My daughter and I stayed at Chateau Saint Jacques Calon, near St. Emilion, which is the B & B that belongs to Stéphane’s family. That is not mandatory, but it added to the magic of our holiday.

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In fact, the weather was so perfect on 3 of the 4 days that we took breaks and sat by the beautiful pool.

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After a generous breakfast every morning, we drove to a different market.

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No matter where we went in the area, everybody seemed to know Stéphane. It was lovely hearing him chat away in his native French.
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And speaking of that, Stéphane’s English is perfect. I had moments of remembering French words and phrases, as French was shared with English in my home as a child, but mostly I let Stéphane do the talking.

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Stephane always had a general menu in mind for the day, but it all depended on what was available at the market, of course.

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On the first day together, I got to get my hands “dirty” when I helped prepare a foie gras terrine that was planned for our last day.

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That first evening, we walked to a local restaurant, owned by friends of Stephane, and enjoyed a wonderful meal as we watched the sun set.

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The most exciting thing for me was the walk through the French countryside, with grape vines just popping new leaves, and flowers showing off their spring splendor.
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The one good thing about hanging out with another blogger is that it’s okay to constantly take photos. My daughter was often the focus of our photos, because of her innocent beauty. She might have cared, but she didn’t show it, which is a testament to her calm and patient personality.
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She was often my model.

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As well as my hand model.

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Every morning we went to the market, and also stopped by Stéphane’s favorite bread baker for fresh baguettes.

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Then we’d go back to his house to prepare and enjoy lunch, typically outside because the weather was so perfect.
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One day we visited the beautiful village of St. Emilion.

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Which is where we also went to a wine tasting.
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Stéphane also showed us a beautiful part of Bordeaux.
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I’ve never been to this corner of France before, so everything was new to me. The expansive vineyards are quite impressive, especially along the Dordogne.
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Stéphane made sure we always sampled the many different regional wines, and kept us well stocked.
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He also made sure we enjoyed some of our favorite cheeses, as well as experience a few I’ve never heard of before. Fabulous!

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On our final full day with Stéphane, he put out a variety of cakes that he’d ordered from his favorite patisserie in Libourne.
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Both of our birthdays, mine and Stéphane’s, are in April, so we celebrated Easter as well as birthdays!
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I even got a birthday candle!!!

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For our final dinner together, we began with the foie gras terrine paired with Sauterne. Life just doesn’t get much better than that!
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It was bittersweet leaving France, but at least I got to spend a few days with my daughter in London, before leaving her behind and returning home. But we both shared fun, beautiful, and delicious experiences, thanks to our host, Stéphane Gabart.
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And I didn’t have to do dishes!!!
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Au revoir Calli!
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