Thursday, July 7, 2016

If It's Love, There's Dancing

I can already see that bread withdrawal is in my future.

Never in my life have I had so much fabulous bread and it keeps coming at breakfast, lunch and dinner. For that matter, the butter is also extraordinary and I'm slathering it with abandon. And don't get me started on the cheese.

Breakfast at the chateau means being up by 10:30 (not gonna lie, it takes some effort) for a meal eaten in the elaborately traditional dining salon surrounded by door sized windows and views of trees and sunlight.

Outside, we hear the chateau peacock and church bells on the hour.

Today's road trip in search of a castle took us to Chateau Villandry, not nearly as showy as yesterday's Chenonceau, but with far more impressive and often symmetrical gardens: the sun garden, the water garden, the kitchen garden and - I'm not making this up - the love garden.

I find this particularly charming since I'm only here because the love of my life brought me here as a birthday gift.

According to the creators of this exquisitely manicured ornamental garden, there are merely four kinds of love and each was represented in plants differently. There's tender love (the young, no doubt), flighty love (the fickle, I'd assume), passionate love (dancing is involved) and, sigh, tragic love, where the flowers are red, symbolizing bloodshed for love.

I have many opinions about love's variations, both at home and here in France, but they all involve the man I'm traveling with.

In line to get tickets for the circa 1536 castle, a snotty young Brit whined because he'd not thought to apply sunscreen despite today's gloriously sunny weather. Even after his Mum said she'd get him some for tomorrow, he announced to his family, "I'm not terribly keen to see another castle interior," and walked away, abandoning the queue.

We were hoping it was for good, but, alas, he reappeared in the garden, describing the allee as "an amuse bouche to the garden," and cementing our opinion once and for all that he needed nothing so much as a good slap on the head.

Today's castle barely held a candle to yesterday's (except for the garden views), a statement that could probably only be made here in the Loire. Still, it's always enjoyable to see Goyas casually hung on the wall.

After climbing all the way to the uppermost level for a stupendous view of the property and gardens, we made our way back down dangerously precarious curving stairs to exit behind a man with a mullet. We're talking a serious party in back.

In no time at all, we were at Chateau de Miniere, a family winery with 150-year old Sequoias, multiple wooden hammocks and a chapel filled with gardening supplies.

I know this only because the tasting room pourer insisted we use her handy guide to tour the property before she poured us so much as a sip. By the time we'd fulfilled our touring obligations, the tasting room was empty and we could step right up to the counter.

Tasting through Roses, sparkling Roses, Reds and a sparkling red, our engaging pourer spoke of 20-30 year old vines as young, which they were compared to the 50-60 and 90-100 year old vines that produced some of the others we tasted.

It's like my Scottish friend said about U.S. architecture when she first came here, "You guys really don't know old." Grape vines, same thing.

Here's the beauty of the Loire, okay, there are many, but here's one. You barely finish sipping a glass of Bulles de Miniere Rose when a short drive deposits you on the steps of Chateau Langeaise with miniature quiche Lorraines and cookies for lunch.

Life is good in the Loire.

And sometimes, so accommodating that all you need to do is nap, shower and mosey down three flights of stairs at the chateau where we're staying for a candlelit dinner in the formal dining room.

I wore my best Rousseau flowered dress for the occasion.

We were greeted in the lobby by a new face, David, who took off in search of our apperitifs (sparkling Vouvray) and returned to find us ensconced on the front patio. The dear man had brought not just bubbles but also amuse bouches and answers to our questions.

A traveling chef (son of two chefs) and professional surfer (as soon as he said it, we could see it), he'd spent time in Australia (tell-tale sign: he used the descriptor "heaps") and Canada (where he'd met his girlfriend) before returning to his motherland. Tonight he was our genial chef, gracious server and, in some ways, third conversationalist, as we ate our way through another outstanding Loire meal.

Our table was set up in front of open doors with a view of the valley and the faintest of breezes wreaking havoc with the candles' flames. We were the sole diners, making for romance with a capital "R.".

Jokingly announcing our first course as surf and turf, he put lidded Mason jars in front of us, insisting that we guess the ingredients. As delicious as it was unlikely sounding, these jars of bay scallops and foie gras with shredded zucchini and carrot was like nothing I'd ever tasted and I mean that in the best way.

Rosy pink duck breast with cranberry sauce shared the plate with Mediterranean grains, a hearty course paired with a Chinon red made for such a meal.

After taking our time with all that, David brought out a cheese cart and let us pick from cow and goat cheese options to go with two kinds of bread.

When he said that the red-rind Boulette d'Aveysne was the strongest flavored of the bunch, I said yes, please, but in reality its bark was worse than its bite and assuming you could get beyond the distinctive barnyard floor aromas (David said many can't), the cheese itself wasn't half as strong.

Explaining that there are two kinds of people, those who eat Reblochon with the rind and those who eschew the rind, I had to know who I was. Rind and all, it was not only my kind of cheese, but my love's as well.

The only thing missing was a sweet element to our cheese plates, but David winningly procured some boysenberry jam to provide a little sweetness for our overload of cheese, but only after lamenting that the French didn't usually do sweet with cheese.

Even the French make occasional faux pas.

Full as ticks and still lounging by the open doors, we welcomed Madame and David with the final course, a dessert of fruit- strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon and one perfect cherry - with whipped cream between crisps studded with poppy seeds, which she'd made herself. Tiny malted milk balls completed the appealing riff on a classic flavor combination.

We're not terribly keen to leave the Loire - we could quite happily never leave - but Paris calls us back.

The good news is, that means my bread withdrawal will have to wait a few more days.

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