Sunday, November 20, 2011

Un Bon Vin Chaud

I wrote this article for a magazine last year, and seeing as we are in the season again, I thought I'd share it here.  --Le Capitaine

Warm the Soul
Christmas in Beaune. Photo: Tiaré Ferrari.
 By William Widmaier

A few years ago I was walking in the center of the old part of Beaune, France, heart of the Burgundy wine world. It was the middle of December and the cold was getting to me despite my long coat. The strong breeze that snaked through the narrow cobblestone streets drove the cold deep into me, sinking into my bones. As I walked past a café, there in the window was the hand scrawled sign I was hoping to see. I walked in, stepped up to the bar, “un vin chaud s'il vous plait.” Salvation was at hand.

The first time I had vin chaud was at Yosemite. We went camping in those quasi-cabins they have there, where the walls are made of canvas and only enclose 3 sides plus a roof. It was early spring and much colder than we expected. Patches of old dusty snow were still on the ground here and there. I was around 7 years old. We loved going camping and Yosemite, back then, was a favorite, but this day I was cold. And the cold was sinking deeper. “Papa, j’ai froid.” My father turned to my mother, “Colette, et ci tu nous preparé un peu de vin chaud?” She made some on the camp stove, and when I drank my small half-cup the warmth spread throughout my little body, and I was happy.

January in Paris –not a time that inspires love songs about the city of lights. Coming out of the subway it was so cold you had to watch your step to avoid patches of black ice. Paris is like New York in that you routinely walk, un-intimidated by distances that in other cities would demand a car or the calling of a taxi. But today it was cold and after a mile or so I began checking out the café windows, looking for that hand written sign or a plate-du-jour chalkboard with those two magic words. It didn’t take too long. This time I was reminded that not all vin chaud are created equal. “What the heck is this in my cup?” Whoever had prepared the vin chaud thought that corn starch was part of the recipe. No, I don’t think so. The thick sludge I encountered at the bottom of my cup did quick work to kill my joy. But at least I was warm.

Saint Remy de Provence. Home of Nostradamus, Van Gogh, a wonderful Provençal hand thrown pottery store in the heart of the old town, a fantastic candy and chocolate maker, an awesome take-out pizza joint, and a half dozen restaurants to languish in. It was Christmas and we’d been shopping at the farmer’s market, then in the multitude of shops among the small winding streets in the center of town. Sure, we were in Provence, but it still gets cold in the winter. And that cold eventually works its way from the cobblestones, through the soles of your shoes, to your tired feet. That’s when you know its time to call it a day. Then again, maybe it’s the perfect time for a nice vin chaud? We entered one of those great café restaurants. “Avez vous du vin chaud?” This time it was quite good, though with the dry edge of a southern French wine. I wondered, “Did he use a Cote du Rhone, or a Baux de Provence?”  It didn’t matter. Sitting in the café, sipping away, warmth spreading out from my belly, all was right with the world once again. I held up my cup to the bartender, “Merci.”  He gave me a knowing smile “Je vous en prie.”

Los Angeles. A cold night – yes they do have them on occasion in Los Angeles. I’m at the Los Angeles Petanque Club playing against the young and very French sous-chef of L’Hermitage Beverly Hills. It’s not uncommon for club members to bring a little something to share amongst players during the night games. Tonight, my opponent brought a large thermos of vin chaud, and damned if it isn’t the best I’ve ever tasted. “Oh la, c’est bon!” There was that mischievous smile you get from chefs when they know they’ve got something good. Now, most chefs never give away their secrets, but seeing as he was beating me in the game at hand, I had the benefit of using both age and winner’s guilt. After some cajoling he gave up a secret or two.

Here’s my recipe, with a few of those secrets included. It never fails to cheer, especially when shared amongst friends.

      1  750ml bottle of French red wine, either on the lighter side, such as a Beaujolais Village or pinot noir, or for a dryer edgier feel go with a Cote du Rhone.
      1/8 cup orange liquor, preferably Grand Marnier
      1/8 cup Benedictine
      1 large orange
      1 tablespoon of honey
      1 tablespoon of brown sugar
      6 cloves
      3 teaspoons vanilla extract
      2 cinnamon sticks
      1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
      3 shakes of aromatic bitters, such as Fee Brothers or Angostura Bitters

Slice the orange into 1/4 inch thick slices, leaving the ends whole. Put slices into a large pot, squeeze all juice out of Orange ends into pot and discard ends. Add vanilla, honey, sugar, cloves and ginger. Muddle a bit to break up orange slices and get everything acquainted.

Add the bottle of wine, cinnamon sticks and the bitters. Turn heat on medium, stirring occasionally. Do not let it come to a boil.

Have a large thermos ready if you plan on transporting, or a big heat-resistant punch bowl or similar container if serving immediately.

Put both the Grand Marnier and Benedictine in the thermos or punch bowl.

As soon as the wine mixture is too hot to touch, but before it boils, transfer it into the thermos or punch bowl, blending it with the Grand Marnier and Benedictine.

It is now ready to serve, and warm the soul.

January 3rd, 1940, vin chaud is being distributed free to French soldiers a few months before the Battle of France, where things go very poorly for La Belle France.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kimberley Lovato: A Feast For Many Reasons

I first met Kimberley when I asked her to sign her award winning cookbook Walnut WIne & Truffle Groves. Since then we have corresponded more than a few times -- kindred spirits in our love of Provence, food, writing and the good life.

Today she wrote and article in her popular blog that is so much more than a review of my book A Feast at the Beach - it is a moving glimpse at her own childhood, grandparents and love of St. Tropez and Provence. I suggest you give it a read. I think you'll enjoy it.

A Feast for Many Reasons

A la votre,
Le Capitaine

Monday, July 25, 2011

A recipe through an Open Window

As many of you know my book A Feast at the Beach was published late last year and has had, and continues to get (thankfully!) quite a few wonderful reviews.

But recently I discovered a wonderful blog called Open Window that posted one of the recipes (with multiple pictures) from the book and was tickled pink at how much they liked it, and have also enjoyed the comments from others who have tried the recipe as well or who plan to.

Give it a read: Open Window

Bon appetit,
Le Capitaine

Monday, July 11, 2011

Provençal Style Sandwich

Photo by Tiare Ferrari

I’ve been thinking about a Provençal style sandwich I made on the fourth. It was quite good. You might want to give it a try. It’s not hard…

Provençal Style Sandwich
I’ve left the exact proportions out because this is not complicated and you should be able to adjust depending on how many people you are feeding, but for purposes of shopping you can figure loosely, per-person you will need:
1 sausage, 1/2 a red bell pepper, 1/2 a small hot red pepper, a quarter sweet yellow onion, and a tablespoon of Provençal aioli.

Alor, la preparation:
Slice the large red bell peppers into wide strips, taking the seeds out.
Do the same with the small, ripe, hot red peppers.
Follow with slicing the onion into big fat slices.
In separate bowls marinate each in just balsamic vinegar and olive oil – basically a very simple vinaigrette drizzled over them.

While they marinate, whip up a bowl of Provençal aioli. You can find this recipe in my book A Feast at the Beach.

Lay the peppers (large and small) and the onion slices on the BBQ grill. Reserve the marinating bowls and the vinaigrette left in the bowls.
Roast the peppers until they blacken about 30% on both sides (yes, you will need to flip them).
Grill the onions, flipping and stirring as needed, until they soften and start to brown.
Return each ingredient into its original bowl and toss them lightly with the leftover vinaigrette.

Put some fat sausages on the grill. On the fourth I made a variety for the different guests, including mild chicken Italian, hot pork Italian, and a pork bratwurst. I liked the bratwurst best, but all were good.

When the sausages are ready, slice open a baguette length wise four fifths of the way through so that it makes a V.  Slather both sides of the cut bread with aioli, drop a sausage into it then stuff with some of the sweet roasted bell peppers, a couple slices of the roasted hot peppers, and good bunch of the grilled onions.

Eat accompanied with your favorite Rhone or Provençal wine (red or rose).

Warning, it may be a bit messy, but in a good way.

If you give it a try, tell me what you thought.

Bon apetit,
Le Capitaine

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Exquisite Tastes

At the corner of Bodega Highway and Bohemian Highway, in the tiny town of Freestone are two of my favorite stops in West Sonoma.

The first is a very small store called Enduring Comforts.

I don’t usually go for roadside nick-knack stores. Over perfumed gift shops filled with frilly things that often really have no use and despite the country location sport a Made in China sticker on the bottom.

Enduring Comforts is not like that at all.

First off the owner has exquisite taste. I don’t say this lightly. She has rare and beautiful items that you’ll want to own crammed into her tiny store. Even better Enduring Comforts has the best collection of hats I’ve ever seen. The collection is so good that almost every time I’m in the neighborhood I stop in… and buy another hat. My collection at this point is made up almost exclusively of hats I’ve picked up there.
Yours truly, the owner and her son. Photo by Tiaré Ferrari.  

And then there are all the items my Lady has picked up there too, from scarves to bonnets to earrings. You would think with all this shopping we would have spent a fortune. Nope. In addition to exquisite taste come reasonable prices. That doesn’t mean everything is cheap. Solid silver carving knives or hand carved bone corkscrews don’t come cheap, but nothing I saw was ever over priced.

The best thing about Enduring Comforts is the owner and her son, who helps run the shop. They are the nicest people you can hope to meet in a roadside store. They give solid advice – they won’t tell you a hat looks good on you if it doesn’t – and they’ll make you feel comfortable shopping. Never rushing you and willing to give you background on any item or just talk about the weather.

Stop in, tell them I sent you.


Next door to Enduring Comforts is Wild Flour Bakery.
Young interns cuts butter  the old fashion way.

They make great breads from scratch using organic flours, all hand kneaded out in the open and baked in a wood fired oven.
An intern mixes dough by hand.

The ladies behind the counter at Wild Flour are always ready to smile, maybe tease you a bit, and load you up with delicious breads.

As nice as all that is, it’s not the reason I stop in whenever I can. I go to Wild Flour for the biscotti. They make the absolute best biscotti I’ve ever had. My favorite being the hazelnut chocolate biscotti. Basically a bunch of hazelnuts held together with a little flour and some chocolate.

Good God are they good.

Je vous souhaite de bonnes routes et le beau temps
Le Capitaine

Thursday, February 3, 2011


There’s this restaurant on a stretch of road called Bodega Highway, just as you head west out of Sebastopol, heading towards the ocean. I’d past it a couple times thinking it was some sort of coffee house because they had a sandwhichboard sign out front saying they had cappuccinos.

Then some friends invited us to dinner there.

What a nice surprise!

It’s small and intimate, and on a Friday or Saturday night you had better have reservations.
The kitchen is open – always a good sign. The staff was quite friendly, not pretentious at all, and skewed young. Almost like they were playing at “fancy restaurant” but having too much fun to take it seriously.

For appetizers we had beet salad (good) and these little cornbreads with rosemary butter that were inhaled quickly they were so good.

We brought our own bottle of wine because when you are in this part of the country the chances of getting any French wine in a place are fairly slim – even in so called French restaurants. So along came a 2001 Croze Hermitage. The waitress happily decanted it without comment (I’ve had waiters in Northern California do the nose in air sniff of disdain when they see I’ve brought a bottle of French wine).

The menu is eclectic and not very long. We had chicken and waffles, which I only sniffed (smelled very good) as my lady guarded them carefully. It was not a large portion, but no bigger then it really needed to be. I had steak frites because I was in the mood, and while the steak was well seasoned I have to admit it was a solid medium rather than the rare I’d asked for, but I was so distracted by the absolutely amazing frites that I failed to mention it. The frites are skin on and definitely have a little something added to the oil.

For dessert we had a most interesting lemon pot au crème, and a very unusual caramel bacon ice crème cookie thingy that I had to try and could not make up my mind if I truly liked. It was good, but I kept finding myself with bacon bits in my mouth after a bite and wondering, “Do these belong here?” I was grateful for the opportunity to explore this unusual concept.

The quality of food and service far exceeded the prices charged.

Which may have lead to this…

I was planning on returning again soon, until I discovered that they closed as of January 31st and are desperately seeking a buyer. So if you are looking for a turn key restaurant that has a name, menu, staff, its own private organic gardens, and built in following included take a look at the P30 website.

You see, I want to go back and try the waffles and fried chicken!

A bientôt,
Le Capitaine

P30 Restaurant web site