Sunday, 7 April 2013

Falling in love in Normandy

We've been a while a wandering...

The remnants of the 'flu plus the realities of everyday life gave me no time to visit my blog (or anyone else's blog for that matter) in the days following my last post - and then, before I knew it, we were packing our bags and heading off for a couple of weeks holiday!

Paris was the first stop on the agenda, followed by a week in Normandy with some friends of ours.

Given that we would be four people, with suitcases, we decided to hire a larger car than we normally do. Going through our usual agency I chose a Mercedes Benz E class.  
Arriving to pick up the car I found that while I had ordered this:

This image comes from Wikipedia.
I was getting this:

The reason given was that there were only two cars left for hiring at that time of day (9am in the morning).  We could either have a small two seater Fiat or the nine seater Opel Vivaro.
I had no choice but to take the Vivaro which turned out to be lucky when I see the amount of 'stuff' we bought back with us!  Still, it is not the sort of vehicle that I am used to driving and I felt as though I was driving a number 5 'bus...

So off we went.

We stayed in the outer suburbs of Paris for four days and had a good time once I had navigated the Vivaro through the narrow streets. . .
A couple of trips into Paris and then a day trip to the delightful town of Senlis.  It was there that I began to have, what one might call, a dalliance. . .

It all started at a local patisserie.  It was market day in Senlis and having visited the fabulous Cathedral and wandered about taking photographs and buying things for lunch, we ended up at the shop of Yvon Berthelot (patissier, chocolatier, and glacier).  AGA loves eclairs and was busily eyeing them up and down.  I meanwhile saw 'it' and was immediately enamoured.
I was calm.  I said little but made sure after the purchase, that I held the cardboard box containing the 'goods' safely in my hands.  We walked past the cathedral and into a little park that contains the remnants of some medieval buildings including a chapel built for King Louis VI:

Sitting on the bench I had a lovely view of the old buildings and the tower of the cathedral.  I also had a lovely view of this:

AGA's caramel eclair lay on it's side while my choice reclined in creamy voluptuousness!  Before I knew it I had taken it out and was taking a big bite.  Picture this: a large slab of meringue upon which was laid a generous serve of Chantilly cream into which several ripe raspberries have been pressed.  Add more cream and then another big slab of meringue.  Turn it side on and pipe more cream along the top edge.  Finally press four fat raspberries into the top and there you have it - the latest love of my life...
(AGA said that his eclair was the best but secretly I scoffed.  I knew that is was no match for my Rubenesque extravaganza.)

The days passed.

We drove to Charles de Gaulle airport, met our friends and then motored down to Normandy for the week.  We stayed in Lower Normandy near the little town of Vassy.  It was delightful but rather cold as the wintry weather does not seem to want to let go.  
Memories of my patisserie visit remained with me and I recounted in some detail the whole affair to our friends.  AGA then announced that he was going to eat at a different patisserie every day and we decided that we would do the same.

One of our number had never been to Mont Saint Michel and so an expedition was mounted.  
Leaving early we motored down there.  Things had changed somewhat since the last time AGA and I were there.  The old car park is all gone and you get to the island by a shuttle bus along the causeway while they construct some sort of huge I-don't-know-what for ease of access all year round.
It was bitterly cold there and we were told that it was the coldest Easter period they had had at Mont Saint Michel for the past twenty years at least.  But at least it was sunny and the sky was blue:

Our patisserie visit that day consisted of some fairly basic flan (thick custard tart)which we enjoyed but which was rather ordinary.  
For the duration of our time in Normandy we had rented a small manor house which meant that we could eat at home on local produce rather than going out for meals every day.  It also had a very nice large fireplace and was well stocked with wood so that we had a roaring fire every night.
AGA bought a very nice pear tart that we had with cream on our second evening there. It was delicious but I hugged myself with the thought of that delicious meringue and cream creation - nothing was going to take its place in my heart.

A couple of days later and things got a little more serious...

We were en route for Falaise, birthplace of William the Conqueror:

It was a cool day and we had stopped at a patisserie for our latest box full of goodies:

Caramel eclair for AGA, coffee macaroon for S and a pistachio macaroon for C.  I meanwhile had a raspberry millefeuille creation: 

Seated regally on a gold piece of cardboard, it oozed a lusciousness that was hard to resist.  And the taste?  The earth certainly moved but . . . a little too tart.  
When it came to the crunch, it was not in the same league as the previous meringue cream and raspberry sensation...

A couple of days later and we were in Bayeux - and that's when everything was turned on it's head.

I had never been to Bayeux before.  AGA and S had been there many years ago and enjoyed seeing the famous Bayeux tapestry.  C said she had not been but would like to go and so it was decided.  A lovely sunny day, blue skies but an icy wind that cut like a knife!  
Luckily we always seemed to be lucky when it came to finding a car park for our huge 'chariot' and that day was no exception.  
Once again it was market day and we wandered about the town (which like Senlis, is very pretty), sampling goods and buying a nice jar of apple and cinnamon jelly.  We then went to buy our patisserie.  We decided to go to the patisserie Ordioni and this was what we chose:

Chocolate eclair for AGA, pistachio eclaire for C, A comma shaped coffee creation for S (I think it had the name sambuco in the title - or something similar) and for me?  A raspberry macaroon.  It looked very nice and I was drawn to the cream and the raspberries...
As we handed round the box, we were laughing and joking about which creations we had enjoyed thus far but when we each began on our latest choices a contented silence fell upon us.
I distinctly recall S announcing 'oh my goodness' as he ate his.
As for me, I was in patisserie heaven:

A soft yet crumbly macaroon:  One half having been spread with thick custard into which plump juicy raspberries were set.  Then covered in Chantilly cream before being topped with the other macaroon half.  I realised that my Senlis affair had been mere childish infatuation.  This was the real thing.  

Not even the tartelette framboise I had the following day could equal the culinary and gourmandising pleasure to be had in the consumption of that raspberry macaroon.  Each of us agreed that we had just sampled the best patisserie we had ever had the pleasure to consume.  
Others may disagree but we don't care.  
We knew what we liked and we liked our choices very much.

And as for me - I had come to Normandy and fallen in love and the next time I am in Normandy I shall be making a beeline for that patisserie...


  1. I've missed you, Kirk. What a wonderful post, I don't know what to choose, "Cakes" or "Castles" "Cakes or churches", "Cake or wonderful houses in wonderful streets" . What a wonderful post!


    1. Why thank you Marina, that is very nice of you.

      If I were you I would choose cakes, castles churches and wonderful houses!

      With kind regards,


  2. It seems that you had a wonderful holiday in France! The photos are wonderful,the castles,the churches show their greatness. But! The sweets with these wonderful colors, and I can imagine the taste, are so tempting! I agree with you that you enjoyed this sweet experience! I could taste all of them ! Have a nice week !

    1. Thank you Olympia,
      I love patisserie!
      I will share some more photographs another time as it was a lovely holiday.

  3. This post brought back delightful memories of touring around Denmark with Fritz and stopping in at virtually every patisserie we came across. We were so impressed at the quality and imagination of what we saw and (liberally) sampled compared to the crude glop that passes for pastry here in the U.S. Thank you for the pictures--they are miniature works of art.

    1. Thank you Will,
      I know what you mean. We were only talking about how the French patisserie is infinitely better than the type you get in Australia too. I want to lean how to make macaroons and those wonderful meringues!

  4. Oh Kirk....the car....from sleek to soccer mom....I couldn't help laughing at the thought! Sorry! And those bakery weakness for sure! Paris and Normandy?? I am one jealous girl. I am glad a fun time was had by all.

    1. Dear ND,
      When we were strolling through the carpark wondering what an Opal VIvaro looked like we were saying things such as 'is this it?" 'I hope it's this one'. . . But we passed them all by until there was only that big ol' soccer mom car sitting all by itself. . .
      If I wasn't a librarian I think that in hindsight I would like to be a patissier!

  5. Oh my goodness, you are killing me with those pastries! We have macarons here, but I've never seen one split like that with custard and raspberries. And I'll be dreaming about that pistachio eclaire.

    Welcome back! You've been missed.

    1. Thank you MW,
      That is very kind of you.
      C told me that the pistachio eclair was the best she had ever had and she wants to learn how to make them.
      Cream+Custard+Raspberries+Macaroons=gourmet happiness!

  6. Hello Kirk

    You had me on the first meringue and raspberry concoction. We share the same taste in pastries and I would have happily allowed you to purchase for me daily. I would have been a bit nervous driving such a large vehicle on narrow roads but you handled it all so well. Wishing you a week of joy

    Helen xx

    1. Dear Helen,
      It was hair-raising driving that car at times - both in Paris and down some of those winding, narrow, Norman roads while we were chateau-spotting!
      The good thing about the patisserie tour was that one day we missed out (due to various things) and so had to have two on the following day!
      Bye for now

  7. Welcome back Kirk and AGA - What did Marie Antoinette say "let them eat cake" - now we know what she was talking about - little pillows of pink and white delight, but most definitely to be eaten out of doors and from a cardboard box.
    During the times when you were not eating patisseries it seems as if you had a lovely holiday.

    1. We did have a nice holiday thankyou Rosemary, but it was bitterly cold. I expect it is chilly in your part of the world too?
      The words 'let them eat cake' were, I must admit, bandied about wit some abandon during this holiday!

  8. Dear Kirk, I should have known better than to read this fun posting before my breakfast. It made me salivate, and then I had a bigger meal than I might have otherwise. If I've gained weight today, it's all your fault! Incidentally, raspberry would have been my choice, too.

    1. Dear Mark,
      A man after my own heart. Raspberry anything will always get my attention.
      And I made you eat a bigger breakfast? I am sure there are some elderly aunts out there who are nodding approvingly!

  9. Hello Kirk, Sometimes when traveling I grudge the time for a formal meal, but sampling local pastries is an allowable diversion. Besides, the terrain looks quite hilly there, so you needed the energy.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. And it was cold so we needed to feed the inner fire to keep warm. In fact we were rather Spartan in our approach - we should have been eating at least three or four of those little delectables every day!!

  10. Oh, Kirk - I am currently green with jealousy. Everything looks so delicious. I love these sorts of pastry. Heaven. If I ever visit France, I'm making a beeline (too) to that patisserie. Dream on, Yvette. Well, it does no harm to dream. :)

    Thanks too for the wonderful pix of your trip. It sounds like you had a wonderful time - and on top of that, the pastry? It's almost too much for me to take in. Thanks again, for sharing. :)

    1. Thank you Yvette for your kind comments.
      We did have a wonderful time and what's more, patisserie-hopping is a lovely (and satisfying) way to travel!

  11. Hello Kirk,
    You could have dropped in for tea! You can understand why I buy more cake than I make!! Happy to hear that you all had a good time and yes, wasn't it so very cold this Easter! Nice bus BTW!!!

    1. Dear Ivan,
      It would have been lovely to drop by for tea! Next time I might just do that, if you are free.
      Yes, I can see why you buy more cake than you make: I think if I lived there I would be doing the same although I am going to see if I can't make macaroons myself so that I can have them 'on tap' as it were. I am investigating...

  12. I'm in awe. And totally jealous! LOL! Wonderful wonderful, thanks for sharing. Paris is on our bucket list someday. Can't wait. And welcome back, you were missed!

    1. Thanks No. 1,
      I am glad that Paris is on your list. It is such a beautiful city!

  13. It seems you ( and the wicked AGA ) are living for food, Kirk! I don't myself have a sweet tooth, but I could well imagine driving through France tasting the cheeses. It sounds like the flu's well and truly vanished!

    1. Dear Faisal,
      I didn't mention the cheeses but they were also high on the list of we travelling gourmands!
      It is remarkable how a few patisserie treats make one think: flu? What flu?

  14. Welcome back, Kirk!
    I've read your post and was pity that I had not yet had dinner. Saliva sweated when I saw the first box of pastries. Castles are great, I think you had a lot of fun and pleasure traveling in Normandy.
    Have a nice week!

    1. Thank you Nadezda,
      We did indeed have a lot of fun. We had a lot of laughs with our visitors as well as food and fun and travel!
      I hope you have a nice week too!

  15. Hi Kirk, What an interesting post and love the pictures! Great! John

  16. Hi Kirk,

    Your post was a delight to read, from the beginning to the end. It made me laugh out loud. That car......:-) Sorry!!!! It must have been fun driving around with it!

    I thought I had a sweet tooth, but you and Aga are worse :-) The eclairs, the macarons it all looks delicious, but I must say your raspberry macaroon beats them all!

    Happy to hear you and Aga had a good time! Welcome back!!


    1. Hi Madelief,
      Thank you for your comments.
      I have to say that it was fun driving the 'bus' - I felt a bit like a truck driver! Plus it was easier to find in the carpark as it stood much higher than all the others...

  17. Hi, Kirk!!! Welcome back. Seriously? All those? I feel so sorry for you and AGA. They look awful :(

    You should have met up with Ivan. I'm sure he can whip up some eclairs for AGA.

    Thanks for sharing your trip and goodies. Gotta run...going to Starbucks to buy so-so American sweets :(

    1. All those and then some more Loi.
      We revelled in their creamy, sticky, sweetened goodness!

  18. dear Kirk, what a lovely, delicious post. Funny as well as interesting. (I want to go to Mont St Michel now). I never realized pastries were so photogenic. I'm with you - give me the combo of custard and fruit, esp. raspberries, and I am hooked.

    1. Dear Catmint,
      Thank you for your kind comments.
      Raspberries are among my favourite fruits - I used to go raspberry picking with my uncle and aunt when I was younger, back in England. It was a case of pick one eat two. . .

  19. Be still my heart - ah chantilly! We too have been sick with flu and sundry bugs, but your post has restored my appetite. But what? You went to paris and found no crystal boxes??