Today is New Year's Day, 2010 and it got me thinking about all the other New Year's Eves that we have spent in Provence and one in particular stood out.
A few years ago, when we were still living in the UK but had bought what we now refer to as 'Little House' (as opposed to Big House which we now live in), we decided to spend Christmas and New Year in Tarascon. We spent Christmas with some English friends who live outside St Remy, but we didn't have any plans for New Year's Eve. Our friends, who I had known for at least 15 years, said they would be spending the evening with their American friends and suggested we have dinner in a restaurant in St Remy and go round and join them for a glass of champagne around midnight to see in the New Year. This seemed rather a long way to go for a glass of champagne and we didn't feel like sitting on our own in a restaurant waiting for the hour to go round to their friend's house. So instead, we decided to stay in Tarascon and a few days before, went to the Restaurant, Le Theatre, to try and make a reservation for New Year's Eve. We had been there a few times; our Portuguese Builder friend, Joachim, had introduced us to the owners Papou and Fabrice and we had always had a good time. They told us they weren't open but, (as the story goes in the many retellings of it) they felt so sorry for us seeing the disappointment on our faces that they invited us to meet them for a drink in Mausanne. Mausanne is a little town in the Alpilles. very Jean de Florette, and there is a bar there called La Fontaine, which then had a classic bistro look with black and red floor tiles and marble top tables, where the locals used to go (it is now a rather chichi place that looks like every other 'designer' place with a chrome bar and matching stools and a large flat screen TV tant pis!).
New Year's Eve came and Joachim arrived to pick us up in his BMW (why do Builders, Plumbers and Electricians always drive fancy cars? Rhetorical question). I think we had already been drinking at lunchtime, and the Artist had slightly overtipped the balance of his wine consumption and wasn't making an awful lot of sense by the time we arrived at La Fontaine Papou and Fabrice were already at the bar and looking very glamourous and drinking Champagne (Papou is the daughter of Charles Demery, creator of the fabric and clothes design label, Soulaeido) when we arrived. They apologised and said that nothing was happening at La Fontaine after all and asked us if we would like to go to their house to eat instead. They had also invited some other friends and we all piled back into cars and drove down the road to Paradou (try saying that with a US Southern accent!). Then, as if by magic, Fabrice served the most delicious supper of oysters, smoked salmon and lobster washed down with Champagne and wine; I never thought to ask how he happened to have a few lobsters lurking in the fridge on the off chance that some people might want to come back to theirs after the pub, but thinking about it, Papou's brother had a restaurant in Mausanne at the time and maybe he went and borrowed some from him.
Anyway what followed was one of our most memorable New Year's Eve parties ever and Papou and Fabrice didn't bat an eyelid at the Artist doing his Napoleon impersonations with a cushion pushed down on his head like a tricorn, or indeed when he finally fell asleep on the floor next to the sofa (still wearing the Napoleon cushion on his head!)
We left in the early hours of New Year's Day and that was the beginning of our friendship with Papou and Fabrice. They are now what the Artist refers to as 'Family'. And the English friends from Saint Remy? Never see them.
Happy New Year!!
And for those looking to purify their bodies after a week of indulgences, here's a recipe for garlic soup. Ideal for the day after.
2 Heads of Garlic,
2 Leeks, finely chopped
2 Large potatoes
1 Tbls Olive Oil
1 1/2 litres Chicken Stock
A sprig of Sage, Thyme and Parsley
Break the garlic into cloves and blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and remove the skin. Place in the oil with the leeks and cook until soft (about 10 minutes). Then add the chicken stock, the herbs and the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are done (25 - 30 minutes) and then whizz everything up. Add salt and pepper if you like, but the whole idea is that the soup is fairly bland.
Serve the soup in a bowl with crusty bread or toast! You can also add some grated Parmesan if you like.