Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Diet - Montignac Deconstructed

As I mentioned yesterday I think that both the books and the website make the Montignac Method seem to be more complicated than they actually are. After all in a nutshell the Montignac Method is: Eat no simple carbohydrates. That's it fundamentally. There are, of course, various tricks, tips, subtleties and other minor factors, the heart of the method is: Eat no simple carbohydrates.
The main simple carbs are: sugar, white flour, white rice and potatoes. Carrot, parsnips and beets also fall into this category as does Malt (sorry beer drinkers) Its all to do with the so called glycémic Index which you can read all about in the books or better yet get listed on the website. So, you don't eat any of these things. This only leaves all of the meats, fish, eggs, cheeses and a whole host of vegetables and fruits that you can eat. Not exactly restrictive is it.
I will mention some of the subtleties as I go along since none of them are essential to success, but may help a bit.
Tomorrow is for real. We've just come back from a nice dinner at friend's house. Although it wasn't bad as far as Montignac goes I would have had to change the way I ate this meal had it been tomorrow.
I'll weigh in in the morning and publish that weight, my target weight, what I ate during the day and roughly what I did during the day tomorrow in the evening my time. (Exercise isn't a part of this method from a weight loss point of view, but I do think it helps one's well being in general so I'll be doing a bit more than I have been.)

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Diet - Montignac & me.

D-day is only two days away so I've been re-reading my old copy of Montignac's Dine Out & Lose Weight. This has reminded me of how much blather there is in the book to explain what is essentially a very simple concept and way of eating. There's all kinds of repetition and scientific gobbledygook. Even an old engineering type like me gets bored with it. I'll give you my condensed version of the diet later (or at least my interpretation.)

About me, however, there's not a lot to say. I'm a 70 year old American who has been living in rural France for the past 5 years since my retirement from the business world. Food and cooking are passions which I now have the time to indulge in. I've slowly been putting on weight because I have not been following the Montignac method strictly enough over the past few years. Its time to get it off. Also, I just had complete blood tests and for the first time in a long time my carbs are out of whack - got to get them down.
I first got into Montignac in about 1989 when I was living in England. My job (head of marketing for a division of Xerox) took me all over Europe on a very regular basis. Knowing that I liked good food my colleagues and business contacts were quick to take me to good restaurants spread around the 14 main countries we worked with. With that plus regular trips back to the states & frequent trips to Japan,the weight piled on! My wife, Linda, read about Montignac and bought me a copy. I read it, it made sense to me so I tried it. 8 pounds in the first week! I was amazed and delirious! So I kept it up and pretty quickly got down to my target weight of between 180 - 185 pounds. I then stayed there for years as I was good about following the maintenance phase of the diet. I started drifting upwards as I neared retirement due to NOT following the method. Then France with too much good food, too many visitors who like to eat & drink, too many good dinners (ones I cook or elsewhere) and without question too much wine. So here I am too fat and determined to get back to where I should be.
The Montignac Method is the solution for me. It has worked for me in the past and I'm confident that it will work for me this time. So long, that is, that I follow it carefully & fully. That's why I've been re-reading the book. I want to make sure I'm remembering what I need to do correctly. I've also been looking at the Montignac website to see how the method has been updated over the past few years. I think I've got it. And I think its far simpler than either the book or the website make it sound.
That's why tomorrow my blog will be about My interpretation of the Montignac Method and how to follow it in both of it's phases.
Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting chapter!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Its diet time in rural France

First an apology for the funny font sizes in the last post. I can't seem to get rid of them no matter how I try to edit. I'll try not to do it again.

November 1, 2007 is D-day. I will start my diet this Thursday. What I'm going to do is a weigh in Thursday morning. I'll then publish my weight each morning thereafter along with a description of what I ate and drank the previous day. I'll also include an account of my day in terms of exercise or lack thereof.
I'm going to put up a post or two on eGullet announcing my intent and inviting others to join me in trying to lose weight. Not a competition; more of a mutual aid group. I reckon that going public is a great incentive for keeping with the diet. It certainly will be for me.

I will be using the Montignac Method because I've used it before. For those interested here's a link to the website: Montignac website There has also been considerable discussion about Montignac on the French forum of eGullet. Here's that link: French Forum Link

In the past Montignac has worked for me and I've found it pretty easy to follow. I bit difficult during the phase 1 weight loss time, but pretty easy in the phase 2 maintenance period. Last time I did this seriously I lost just over 20 lbs in a couple of months. I don't think I have that much to lose this time, but I'll announce my present weight and my target on Thursday. The Montignac method is sort of a thinking man's Atkins. No simple carbs; sugar, white flour,potatoes, white rice or alcohol during the weight loss period then in moderation afterwards. Its not about calories, you eat as much as you want within reason. Cutting out my wine will be the hard part for me I know, but I've done it before.

Tomorrow, I'll talk a bit more about Montignac and myself in preparation for starting on Thursday.

Meanwhile - Think about whether or not you might care to join in.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Winners & Losers in the culinary stakes

We're in the midst of a succession of visitors so this will be short. I was going to title this post getting fat, but decided to briefly describe what we're getting fat on instead.
The heavy duty eating started when our second lot of visitors arrived on Tuesday. We were invited up to our friends for dinner so there were 9 of us in all. We had salmon mousse with hollandaise, roast lamb with lots of vegetables, cheese and Apple tart for dessert. Great wines to go with it.
A definite Winner!
Wednesday was my turn and I did a roast pepper with oil, vinegar & caper dressing as a starter. The main was to be slow roasted belly pork with garlic mashed, green beans & caramelized carrots, but the pork smelled funny! Looked good & tasted good, but smelled funny so out it went. The larder came to the rescue I was able to open cans of pate, rillets and roti that I had made last spring when I did the pig. A near disaster, but a reasonable recovery.
Our guests wanted to cook dinner on Thursday so I took them to Villefranche market and let them loose. (I did help with translation) We had beautiful tomatoes with mozzarella as a starter and a veal roast with veggies to follow, then cheese and finally a great rustic plum tarte. A true winner!
Yesterday we went to Le Vieux Pont in Belcastel for lunch. Superb as always. Amuses galore, a 'ravioli' with foie gras & oysters starter, breast of cannette as a main , farmers cheese with walnuts & honey and apple beignets for dessert. Plus extra desserts & just the right wines. A steal at 27 euros per head. Never been let down here yet. Michelin star fully deserved!

Today its me again. Its casoulette Saturday; we'll be 14 for lunch. A very simple salad to start followed by my casoulette; I've made two. Lemon brulee with plums as a dessert.

World Cup Rugby final tonight. England vs South Africa. Be great if England can pull off the upset. Don't know if we'll stay home of go up to the Salle des Fêtes to watch. Probably stay home as everyone in the village is pretty glum about France's defeat last night.

I will go on my diet come November. I promise.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Oldies Dinner - Great again

This week saw another oldies lunch with our club.. To give the club its proper name it is: "Club des Aines de Castanet". Aines are elders in French so we're the elders club. Our nickname is; "Los Castanhares. This is all part of what the French refer to as Le Troisieme Age; the third age after childhood and adulthood. We always have a good time whether its a lunch like the other day or an outing (the outings also include a meal. Our French friends know how to live.)

The other day there were roughly 60 of us in the Castanet Salle des Fêtes sitting at four very long tables. Its nice now to know quite a few people and to exchange greetings. The French are very polite in this way and will make sure that they greet every acquaintance individually. As we now know a substantial number of our fellow members it took quite a while for us to work our way across the room to 'our table'. (More about that later.)

I think that I'm finally getting the hang of French greeting; who to kiss, how many times and who to shake hands with. Guys are easy; you just shake hands with perhaps a shoulder slap if you know the guy well. Women are harder. Mostly, I play it safe & shake hands unless I get a clear kissing signal in which case I do; kiss that is. If, however, I've been to that woman's house on a social occasion then I'll initiate a kiss; normally three in our area, but only two with many of the 'foreigners' - Except with Collette who is a good friend and who although born in the village lived in Paris for many years. She insists upon four! I sort of half think that its not really a Parisian custom, its more that Collette likes to kiss. In any case I haven't been slapped lately so I can't be too far off.

As expected we were fed well for our 10 Euros. We had a Kir aperitif with some nibbles to munch on before our soup. The soup was a hardy country soup of vegetables, lardons and chicken, very nice. Next came a salad with ham, cheese and garlic croûtons over mixed lettuces with vinaigrette dressing. The fish course was a puff pastry 'pie' filled with mussels, shrimp & scallop in a very tasty sauce. Our main course was fillet of veal, roasted with a mushroom (ceps) sauce served with aligot. ( Aligot is a local specialty made of potatoes, fresh tomme cheese and garlic. The potatoes are mashed then everything is heated together and stirred until fully mixed. Its very good, but also very filling) We then had the cheese platter (selection of 4 cheeses) followed by the dessert which was a lemon souffle with a mixed berry topping. A very nice lunch all things considered. Time was taken serving it and seconds were offered for almost every course. Hard to beat. Wine throughout, naturally.

With the coffee came the singing. There were a few nice solos and group songs. Then came the reason 'our table' was mentioned earlier. All the English speakers had sat together (not our normal habit) so that we could sing. Well, I don't sing as I'm incredibly awful, but everybody else did. Andrew had downloaded some song lyrics so for once we knew all the words. I think our French friends appreciated the effort. In the past we English speakers have suffered from not knowing the words to the French songs let alone the Occitan ones and by not knowing enough words to our own English songs to make a good showing. The French, of course, seem to know the words to all of their songs no matter how many verses. Honor was satisfied and we all felt better about our participation. Even I who was with my English speaking friends
only in spirit; lacking any kind of voice.

As the party broke up I got several invitations to watch the France- England World Cup semi-final that Saturday at the Salle des
Fêtes in Parisot. It was nice to be asked even though I suspect there was an element of wanting to see how I reacted to the, they thought, inevitable defeat of England. That's a different story, however. I've given up reminding all of our French friends and neighbors that I'm America, not English. Ah well its sort of like the D-Day party our American friends hold every 4th of July. The misconception is harmless and its just better to go with the flow.

Friday, October 12, 2007

October lunch - Welcome Hannah!

Our friend Hanna arrived today. I went down to Toulouse to pick her up. The flight was on time, the bags came quickly and we had a nice chat on the drive home. We're both into cooking so quite naturally the topic of food and in particular the food bounty of the autumn came up. We're both lovers of mushrooms so we talked about the plenitude of wild mushrooms around us and the dearth of wild mushrooms around Chicago where she lives. Hanna was saying that where she grew up in Germany they virtually lived on mushrooms this time of year.
We decided to have a light lunch so I popped up to the local boulangerie for a loaf of bread. On the way I was thinking about mushrooms and how I hadn't picked any this year even though the conditions looked right. I bought the bread & decided just to try a local field where I've had good luck finding mushrooms in the past. I was in luck as you can see above. And to the left.

Linda quickly did the cleaning while I heated some butter, chopped some garlic and thre
w it into a pan. While the butter melted & the garlic cooked I roughly chopped the cleaned beauties then threw them into the pan.

I turned the heat up and started tossing. Meanwhile Hanna cut the bread and Linda set the table out on the veranda.

Voila! Virtually instant lunch.

The cheeses were; cabecou, cantal entra-deux and roquefort. And, oh! there was a modest chardonnay as well. Welcome to France Hannah!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pictures from our wanderings

These are some pictures from the trip to Montpellier. Interestingly, we didn't take any pictures in the city itself, but a number as we wandered through the countryside.

This first is of the river in Castres. It was a dull day, but you can still see how pretty the town is.
The restaurant we went to is just out of the picture on the right.

Here we are in a small village with an amazing artist in metal. These fantastic animals are just by the road side.

We didn't ask prices, but may well go back when we want something for the garden.

Great aren't they?

Moving on to another village we find this. If you look closely you can see the bull behind the horses & in front of the young man in the black t-shirt.

This is the man in charge

The charge! All three bulls & all of the riders coming up the street at full tilt.

And off they ride we know not where!

Great show. Everybody, even the bulls, seemed to be having a great time.

Wish we could have stayed for the 'bandito' that evening. Not sure what it might have been, but I bet that it would have been fun.

I do love this country! Where else do you find things like this just by wandering around?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Gosh; another year has gone by

I was looking back over some of my posts on this blog when I realized that yet another year had sped by. Time flies when you're having fun; to coin a phrase. And we are having fun. Its been a great year. I do love France and the living here. We're looking forward to an influx of friends who are coming to visit. Three more groups, we've just had new friends for a couple of days, starting on Friday. They're well trained and know that October is probably the best time to come.

Fall is definitely here, the leaves are changing, the wild plums & the blackberries have finished and the roads are quiet again. An unusual year this though; I've had to keep mowing the lawn (well. meadow grass that I mow & pretend is lawn) ever since April. Normally the grass quits growing & turns brown in late June, but not this year. It has stayed green right through & is still growing. Still the nights have drawn in and we'll go off of summer time soon. Temperatures are milder and I'll soon start using the wood burner for the ambiance in the evenings.

Importantly, I've seen field mushrooms twice so far, no three times as I saw some this morning. Didn't pick any as we're going out to a repas today, but I'm hoping for tomorrow or Friday so I can cook some for our first arriving friend. Friday afternoon Michael & I are going walking with rucksacks we'll focus upon apples, quinces and mushrooms plus, maybe, a few pears. Next week we think it will be about right for walnut gathering. Right now some are dropping from exposed trees, but others (like our own tree) aren't quite ready.

Since I wrote the above yesterday it has rained and that has caused our walnuts to drop. Roop & I scrambled for them and I got a good basket full. We need more so maybe Michael and I will move our gathering expedition up a week. No mushrooms this morning even though I thought the conditions should have been right. I'm still hoping for tomorrow when our friend arrives.

In any case I'm enjoying autumn and looking forward to our friends visits over the next weeks. More soon as I must write about yesterday's repas.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Picture taking in French Restaurants

I promised to shut up over on eGullet where the debate about this topic rages on, but I'm free here on my very own blog to be less polite and more direct so I will be.
As those of you who have read my posts on the subject of picture taking in restaurants, particularly here in France, will know I'm strongly against it.

Its just plain rude and not done. It annoys everyone else in the restaurant, is embarrassing to one's fellow diners and is normally done only by those who don't know any better.

The bloggers use the fact that they're bloggers as an excuse, but I don't buy it. If you can't adequately describe your meal in words pictures aren't going to help. Not to mention the fact that the majority of amateur restaurant food photos are of pretty poor quality or are so digitally manipulated as to be not a true representation of the food they purport to show.

This photo taking behavior seems to go hand in hand with the whole attitude of I'll do whatever I want wherever and whenever I want. I see far too much of it these days. Whatever happen to the common sense approach of observation of behavior by the local populace trying to follow that, fitting in and enjoying the differences in the various cultures? I know that I'll never truly be French no matter how long I live here, but I can try to fit in and be regarded as a polite member of the local social scene rather than a typical picture taking tourist bore.

I keep hearing "well nobody complains when I take pictures in the restaurant" Well of course not; the French are far too polite to call attention to one's gaffe's. The restaurant staff regard you as a customer so you can get away with most anything. People like myself just try to make sure we stay out of your way. I also notice the slightly apologetic attitude. "I'm unobtrusive" "I don't use my flash" I have a small camera" Why bother? Could it be that deep down you know this is really not appropriate behavior?

Please please put your cameras away, enjoy your food, enjoy the ambiance of a good restaurant and, above all, enjoy sharing a meal with your companions.

As I said over on eGullet when the French start taking pictures in restaurants we guests in their country can as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Montpellier Ho! - part #2

After our wonderful & stupendous meal at Jardin de Sens we slept in a bit then met our friends at about 10:00AM. We wanted to see a bit of the coast so headed for Sete. We wanted to see the place where they joust from boats.

What a waste. Not a nice town at all. A very over crowded provincial sort of place not redeemed by its waterways. We continued West along the spit of land between the Med & the lake. It has a very nice beach on the Med side; could be good in the summer if not too crowded. At the end of the beach area we stopped at a large open air brocante. Lots & lots of junk, but you have to have a look just in case you find that special piece. In fact our friend found a whole large waste basket full of old pewter. No good, but ideal for melting down into new pieces. Hard bargaining got the price down to 40 Euros.

Next we decided to head for Aigues-Mortes to the East. This town used to be on the coast, but is now a bit inland due to being in the Bouche de Rhone area. Its famous for its intact city walls built by the order of King somebody or other before he went off on crusade. Turned out to be an interesting place despite being filled with tourist shops. In amongst the junk were some nice artist's shops, a good glass shop and a shop selling bandito gear.
Before arriving at Aigues-Mortes we stopped at le Grande-Motte for lunch. This town is wall to wall apartment blocks which have appalling architecture. We choose the busiest restaurant which turned out OK. Pretty hard to spoil fresh oysters, brandade and moules frites. They did manage to mangle Linda"s cod. Definitely not a meal to remember.

Anyway, back to the hotel for a rest before getting ready for the rugby match. The match turned out to be great fun with a super crowd atmosphere. There were about 40,000 people to watch the USA & South Africa play. For those of you who don't know rugby suffice it to say the South Africa are one of the best teams in the world; USA are part time college kids. The inevitable happened, but the USA put up a good scrap & had their moments. We throughly enjoyed ourselves. We also admired the efficiency of the Montpellier tram system which got us home in quick time. A nightcap at the hotel & off to bed.

We had planned more exploration of the Black Mountains the next day, but the weather had turned foul so we headed for home. As always the viaduct at Millau was totally unbelievable. From there we took the D19 through lovely, sparsely populated countryside to Villefranche. Did a bit of shopping there and got home to a rapturous greeting from Rupert.

A nice weekend and good learning experience. (pictures as soon as I get time)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A weekend to savour - Montpellier ho!

We'd planned this weekend for quite a while. The 'event' was the Rugby World Cup match between the USA & South Africa. It was also a break for us between a very hectic summer and an October which will see four separate sets of friends coming to stay. The October is going to be great fun, but a little time off was needed beforehand.
We started off at about 10:00 Friday morning leaving Rupert with the dog sitter; much to his disgust! We drove down through Albi and stopped at Castres which we had previously driven through, but never explored. Castres turns out to be a very attractive small city with lots of nice buildings, squares and a river running through. We had coffee and explored both the town & the markets that were on that day.
By now its lunch time, but we're both saying something light as we're booked to have dinner at our hotel that evening. I'm for an eat as you go sandwich ;Linda's for sitting down. As a compromise we sat down, but I choose where. I found a small restaurant off on a side street, but which overlooked the river. Le Medieval by name. It was a lovely old vaulted cellar which had been nicely done up. The 2 course lunch was 11 Euros. As it was Friday both the entrée & plat de jour were fish. Wanting something light we chose both fish courses. What a treat! The entrée was a crab & white fish terrine that was absolutely perfect. Beautifully balanced. (I lucked out;Linda in her quest for a light meal gave me one of her pieces of terrine before she'd tasted it. No way was she getting it back despite begging!) The plat was a large fillet of Merlin just cooked through with a thin crispy coating; delicious. This came with nice assortment of fresh vegetables. What a nice lunch. I want to go back in the evening to try their casoulette.

Onwards we went checking out Beziers (Not particularly nice) and Penzas (nicer, but stuffed with Brits) as we wended our way through some nice villages. We reached Mergan where our hotel was to find it a very nice village with a superb château. The hotel was nice enough and the room was Ok. We took a stroll though the village admiring the architecture - beautiful.
Dinner was not so hot. They were trying hard with the food, but it didn't quite come off. L's starter was gazpacho which was OK, but too heavy on the tomato. Mine was a layered cup of tomato puree and puréed eggplant with a fromage blanc layer in between. Again the execution was heavy handed. The lamb shoulder with rice that Linda had as a main was a disaster. My fish lasagne was Ok, but spoiled by poorly done vegetables. Linda opted for their dessert buffet which looked good, but had soggy pastry . My cheese was good. Ah well; you can't win them all. At 110 Euros for the bed, breakfast, dinner & wine one couldn't complain about the price.
Next morning we headed North-east to Clermond-Herault passing Villeneuvette where we had stayed before very successfully. Wending our way into the mountains we went through a succession of interesting villages (one had a sculptor who did fantastic outdoor animals; another had several potters; another had super views to the coast.) before reaching St-Guillaume de Desert. Although touristy this village is well worth a visit. The monastery was founded in 804 and is a wonderful place to enjoy. The town square has the most enormous plane tree we'd ever seen. We drove on up the valley & back out onto the plain, again through nice countryside & villages.
Just before lunch time we reached St-Jean-de-Felix. The road into the center was blocked off, but we could see a crowd of people. Had to park & see what was going on. Turned out that the locals were engaged in running the bulls! There were about a dozen horse men & women. They charged up the street & came back with a bull sort of sandwiched between their horses and the local lads running along trying to grab the bull's tail. Meantime lots of firecrackers are being set off. The bull is chased into a covered truck. This happened three times then the riders gathered at the back of the truck, the bulls were forced out & the whole gang charged up the street. Fascinating. We found a little pizza place for lunch. (young couple, newly decorated by IKEA with simple, but nice design and top quality pizza.)
Onwards to Montpelier. We found our hotel, Les Arceaux, easily. Its a very nice small hotel & our recently redecorated room was very well done although quite small. We'd recommend the hotel as the staff were very friendly & competent. We drove the car down to a secure garage then walked into the town centre. Montpelier is a great place, very crowded last Saturday what with university students, the rugby crowds and locals. We had a nice walk around & then went back to the hotel to meet our friends. We had tea with them then went up for a rest as we wanted to be fresh for dinner that evening.
Dinner was at Jardin de Sens a Michelin 2 star which is well known and has been responsible for training many of the best chefs in SW France. The main restaurant is one very large room surrounded on three sides by glass walls looking out into the garden. The dining is on three levels and the whole adds up to a very pleasing ambience. After much debate we all opted for the shorter of the two menus. (125 Euros). Its a good thing we did as I doubt that any of us would have made it through the long menu. The wine list was good as one would expect if a bit over priced. We were treated to a succession of amuses, extras and courses that could not be faulted. Presentation was flawless and the meal flowed perfectly from course to course. It was not, as can be the case, a progression of individual dishes, but a meal that made sense. Highlights were the lobster course, an amazing chestnut & mushroom soup, the superb veal and a pre-dessert of sorbet with fresh pineapple which was an ideal palate cleanser before the main desserts. A truly wonderful meal, impeccably served. ( they didn't turn a hair when we asked them to slow up our service so we'd have more time between courses. This was done and from then on the pace was ideal.)

I observed what I though was a nice touch and showed the class of this restaurant. The table below us had a French family of four (mom, dad & grown up children) They were having the same menu we were, but were about one course ahead of us. I was enjoying my 'preview' until after the pre-dessert they got an extra course. This was a small cake with ice cream on a beautiful plate. On Dad's plate Happy Birthday had been delicately written in chocolate. He was delighted. No fuss, no bother, no singing waiters, no cameras. Just a nice subtle gesture. I do love the French!

The rest of the weekend will be in another post as this one is too long already.