Personal Journey: A French repast Dad would have loved

The cheese stand at the weekly market in Vaison la Romaine, Provence, where the writer bought food for her picnic.
The cheese stand at the weekly market in Vaison la Romaine, Provence, where the writer bought food for her picnic.
Posted: August 10, 2014

My father considered himself a Don Juan, although it's questionable if he really was that much of one, since he was married to my mother for almost 35 years and to his third wife for 30 more. But, like the literary Don Juan, my father also redeemed himself from the grave.

He died four years ago and I find myself appreciating his most endearing traits. For example, I love to travel and I know it's because when I was a little girl growing up in Madrid, I treasured going with my dad on his Vespa motorcycle to some historic Spanish towns: Toledo, Segovia, Ávila, Salamanca. But I think of my father most often when I'm contemplating what to eat, since food was one of his passions.

This spring, I was in a beautiful Provençal town, Vaison la Romaine. I loved the view from the terrace of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains, dotted with country villas, orderly vineyards, and dark cypress trees. I also loved to sit in the garden of the hotel, Le Beffroi, smelling the roses and herbs - lavender, mint, chervil, oregano, thyme - that filled the parterres and would flavor the evening's meal.

Nothing compared, though, to the exhilaration I felt during the weekly farmer's market. If I were serving a meal to my friends there, I would start with an amuse-bouche of Provençal gazpacho, followed by sauteed artichokes as the first course. The piéce de résistance would be tiny lamb chops served with a carrot mousse. For dessert, I'd make a cassis parfait topped with creme fraiche and a dollop of chocolate sauce. My father would have loved this meal, too. I could invite him as well, since in the classic play, Don Juan invites his dead friends to the macabre banquet.

Even though I couldn't cook for my friends, I began buying food in the Vaison la Romaine Market for an impromptu picnic. First was the skinny saucisson, which I quickly started munching on as I walked through the stalls, then the cracked olives with garlic from Nyon. I chose some delicious local cheeses: one was Cantal, cheddarlike, and a softer one, Cremeux du Ventoux, also goat. I found the olive-oil brioches that are typical of this region at the boulangerie.

I walked down some old cobblestone stairs to the River Ouveze. I sat in a shady spot. I heard the water rushing and smelled sweet, pungent jasmine growing in a nearby garden. Mostly I tasted my small feast with relish. The olive-oil brioche went perfectly with the cheeses and olives. The saucisson was quickly gone and I wished I had bought a couple more.

I felt my father's closeness, I thought of him with an open heart. He would have loved this picnic. He would have eaten these simple foods with as much gusto as I was doing right then. I found myself smiling, thinking that, Don Juan or not, my father was a real character.


Concha Alborg lives and writes in Center City.

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