A Year in Provence — what a wonderful idea. I’m not sure how I would manage to get you all over there, together with my books and all our picnic goodies, however, so instead I’ll share our recent picnic inspired by Picnics in Provence.
Just up the road from us is Weir Farm NHS, once the home of the American painter J. Alden Weir, one of the founders of the American Impressionism movement. While studying art in Paris as a young man, he attended an exhibit of the works of Monet, Renoir, and other Impressionists, many of whom spent time in Provence trying to capture the light and views with a paint and brush. But his reaction to the new idea was negative, and he referred to the exhibit as “a chamber of horrors.” Later, however, after moving to this “hunting lodge” in Ridgefield, Connecticut, he slowly shifted his style to one which used muted colors and the techniques of the Impressionists to capture the beauty of the countryside and family life. Today, artists can be seen every day in the fields here, standing at easels or propped on the numerous stone walls.
Now that we’ve had our art history lesson for the day, it’s time to enjoy our picnic!!
We planned to hike down these paths, stopping to see the gardens and views along the way.
Over this stone wall and just beyond the cosmos was our destination.
But first we needed to get past the National Park Ranger.
Well, we didn’t quite make it. Oh, the picnic basket was fine, as was the camera. But our pique-nique needed to continue without the bottle of wine I had chosen because it was from Provence and had a gorgeous label. “No alcohol,” Mr. Ranger exclaimed. “But, Mr. Ranger, sir,” I pleaded, “I’ll just use it as a photo prop.” His instant reply, “No ma’am, this is federal land!” brought visions of federal prison (not the cushy ones) to my mind, so I reluctantly returned the wine to the car. The Perrier and limonade would have to do, and besides, I knew I had a special little something tucked away to add to our dessert.
The evening before our adventure began I prepared the famous provencal sandwich, a pan bagnat. I marinated and steamed fresh tuna so that it would be tender and juicy. After creating a little trench in the bread loaf, I added the tuna, basil leaves, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, red peppers, capers, and, on one end only, anchovies. (I don’t mind them crushed and pureed, but something about the hairy, slimy little things makes me shudder!) Then I doused it with lots of olive oil.
But instead I wrapped it very, very tightly in glad wrap, stuck it in the fridge with a huge and very heavy rock (wrapped in foil!) on top of it, and left it overnight to squish together. The next morning I packed up our baskets with several other delicious items.
~~~ limonade from France, with champagne grapes ~~~
~~~ a jug from Provence filled with flowers from my yard ~~~
(the Ranger also reminded me that there was no picking flowers at the Park!)
~~~ goat cheese and brie with champagne grapes ~~~
~~~ and there’s that special little treat, hidden in the mini jam jar ~~~
Once we were cleared by Mr. Ranger we proceeded to our chosen shady site, under some huge trees near some of the many old stone walls. And while I prepared the feast, Mr. Fun had a little fun of his own trying out the free art supplies available to visitors. He’s not going to like this …
We enjoyed this picnic earlier this summer, but as I recall this delicious food I am planning another outing with the same menu, or perhaps a meal at home with this dessert adapted for a dinner table. The combination of the fruit and liqueur and chocolate from the cookies was so memorable, and I’m dreaming again about that pan bagnat!
I’ve only been to Provence once, and yes, it is indeed a beautiful place with scenery and light to inspire anyone. Go if you can, but in the meantime have a picnic of your own, with inspiration and recipes from the Novel Bakers!
p.s. Mr. Ranger was actually a very sweet and knowledgable man. But the quotes are real. 🙂