Tag Archives: onion soup

Easy Morning into Ardèche

No rushing about today. All activities on shore take place in the latter half of the afternoon. We breakfast at 9:30, seated at a lively table of Americans. After breakfast there are French lessons and then a chocolate tasting (Valrhona) in the lounge. So during this slow period, drifting along the picturesque Rhone River, enjoying the swans and little towns,  I will note some observations about Viking and River cruising for those considering it.

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This is a very pricey trip. There are a few ways to make it way more affordable. Book your own air travel. Viking is first class all the way and will take care of it for you. They don’t price shop and you will fly first class, the most expensive way to get to Europe. Roughly half the cost of this trip was for airfare. We are also staying in the second most expensive cabins on board. They are spacious. Other passengers have told us that their rooms are quite small. You can view dimensions online. Our cabin features a sitting room (about 8×12) with a chair, couch, desk, fridge and tv. The bedroom (about 8×10) features a second tv, closet and space to stow two suitcases out of the way. The narrow bathroom (about 10x 3) is attractive and well designed. We also have a lovely and private balcony off of our stateroom. No complaints here about space.  First class cabin all the way.

But… do you want to pay for it, when the very comfortable bar and lounge, quiet library and sun deck are merely steps away? It’s not a huge boat. I takes 30 to 45 seconds to walk to the lounge, sun deck or dining area. I would guess that the the cabins furthest away might take 2 minutes to get anywhere. There are always seats and tables available in these areas, unlike on the massive oceanliners where you have to stake a deck chair out in the morning and actual fights over said chairs erupt between passengers..

Alcohol though not complimentary in the lounge, flows freely at lunch and dinner (wine) and you have a bottle of sparkling wine waiting in your cabin when you arrive (may only be in first class). You can also purchase a premium drinks package. Depends on how much you drink. I’m fine with paying for the occasional beer or cocktail but you can bring your own as well, especially since we are in the heart of French wine country and you are in town frequently.

If you are a photographer, take the leisurely walking tours offered as opposed to the regular tour. All of the infirm or very old passengers will be in the group and you have plenty of time to duck down alleyways and explore and return to the group without missing a beat.

The only other advice I have heard and can pass on is beware of booking in the spring. Rivers run high with rain and  waters pouring down from the Alps and are unpredictable. The cruise last week remained in port at Avignon for the entire week. It did not move. Some passengers went home and received a partial discount and the people who stayed, were bussed from town to town for their excursions and then returned to port in Avignon. Very disappointing I’m sure for those imagining themselves floating serenely down the Rhone. As a result of these high waters, our ship, the Hermod did not make it to Avignon to receive us this week. Her sister ship, the Buri was sent instead. In regards to that, tomorrow morning we are meeting up with our original ship, the Hermod, in Vivviene and transferring over. Other than packing our bags and leaving them outside our stateroom by 8 am tomorrow, we are not required to do much else. Minor inconvenience.

Today our afternoon excursion took us by motor coach to the countryside of Ardèche for a steam train ride through the valley. The trip is an hour long on an open car train and the ride is quite dirty from the coal used to power the train.

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At the half way mark the engine is manually turned on a turntable and we head back. The valley is beautiful and features many ancient stone bridges over the River Doux.  Acacia trees bow with their lightly scented waterfall pannicles, and daisies, pink soapwort, white yarrow and mauve meadow rue fill out the colour palette which has considerably reduced now that spring has given way to the summer heat in Provence. Lavender is about to bloom.

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Perched high on the stony cliffs are neat rows of vineyards with a look down at nude bathers taking advantage of the cool, clear waters at the bottom of the valley.  Soon  we are returned to the station where a lovely snack of croissant and apple cider await.

The coach departs the train station and deposits us back at our ship docked at the small town of Tournon. I decide to grab my camera and take my own tour of the little village whose pastel face looks towards the steep vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage across the Rhone.

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Dinner, served a little later this evening, consists once again of many choices but the Chef recommends her coq au vin we we choose. The chicken, stewed in a rich wine sauce over two days with bacon and mushrooms does not disappoint especially accompanied by a local merlot. I however find the French onion soup appetizer thick and unappealing. Our waiter steers us clear of the orange dessert souffle, saying it is too dry, and we instead choose the mascarpone and cherries, pretty to look at but very sweet.

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Back to our room to pack for tomorrow’s transfer at Vivienne in the morning and then onto Lyon.

Good-bye Austin!

It’s 28 degrees and sunny on our last day in Austin and we head to Walton’s Fancy and Staple for breakfast. Sandra Bullock, who lives in Austin, owns this establishment among other spots. Arriving and lucking into a parking spot right out front (there is a curious lack of traffic and an abundance of parking in downtown Austin), we are greeted by a very old-timey building with gold leaf signage.

Inside this elegantly restored historic building is a quaint granary, with rustic floors and tables, exposed brick walls and beamed ceilings. Small items like vintage style candies, baking cook books and coffee are for sale. The store boasts an in-house florist and a bakery with both unusual bakery items items like golden eggs (small nutmeg cake rolled in cinnamon and sugar) and traditional items like cream filled cupcakes, squares and whoopie pies.

The main part of the business is  a soup-salad-sandwich and breakfast bar. The hand scrawled chalk board has enticing items under the breakfast section such as grilled shrimp and grits.

Tempting, but oooh…it’s 10:30 and the lunch menu also looks very good. In the end I choose ham and cheese on a pretzel bun with a cup of onion soup, and Rob orders the pastrami with spicy potato salad. Walton’s uses organic local meat without injected preservatives and hormones.

I expected the usual run-of-the-mill deli ham but, no: the ham was thick sliced and oven roasted. Truly delicious paired with emmental Swiss cheese, crunchy leaf lettuce, dijon aioli on a soft, chewy, salted pretzel bun. The onion soup had great beefy depth and was very rich with cheese. A cup was enough. The sandwiches at Walton are substantial. Think about sharing if you want to order a side.

Rob’s Pastrami was very good: mild, well-made brisket pastrami with grainy mustard and Swiss on large pieces of grilled light rye bread. He did remove a bit of the mustard as it was over powering the meat, but once adjusted it was excellent. The potato salad was exceptional. Made creamy with a mustard-tinged mayo and kicked up with sliced jalapenos.

We also shared a golden egg out of curiosity. It was a light and delicious nutmeg cake concoction that, although baked not fried,  rolled in butter and sugar, still manages to taste like a very cakey, yet refined doughnut.

Walton’s was the kind of shop you wish they had back home — great sandwiches and other preparations, perfect for breakfast and lunch, a lovely bakery and a keen eye on quality.

Walton's Fancy and Staple on UrbanspoonOur early afternoon was spent walking Austin’s historic 6th Street and taking pictures in the lovely February sun. Soon we were hankering for a margarita and headed back to our favorite watering hole, Guero’s. Seems like everyone else had the same idea and we could not get a seat outside. Not wanting to waste the precious sunshine, we drove around looking for a patio. Seems there is not a lot of patio action in Austin in February, despite it being 28 degrees. Eventually we settled on a craft brewery, Uncle Billy’s Brew and ‘Cue, only because it had a patio. It’s not worth mentioning other than the beer was just okay, the margs below average and the queso…well, lets stop there. Better things await.

After spending an hour or two blogging and posting photos, we headed to Driftwood, Texas, about a 30 minute drive. In about an hour the sun will set on our last day in Texas. We are headed to The Salt Lick BBQ, another iconic Texas joint noted for open pit BBQ. After a leisurely drive through hills and valleys, we come upon the massive parking lot of the Salt Lick and its many out buildings. This is an impressive organization. We park and head over the the Salt Lick cellar, a pretty little building residing beside a still napping vineyard, and surrounded by rail fencing entwined with thorny rose canes. The Salt Lick is BYOB but sells wine and beer in this separate business on site. We saw the more prepared among our species lugging coolers.

After purchasing the minimum 6 pack on ice (Shiner Light Blonde), we headed inside the main building which houses the open pit, some seating, the cash and the requisite sauce and T-shirt “store”.

The Salt Lick is one of the only BBQ places that uses this open-pit style of smoking the meat, cooking it on a grill above a hot fire, constantly repositioning it to keep the temperature regulated. All of the meats they serve are cooked her at the same time. It’s quite a feast for the eyes to see this open pit in action.

We are quickly lead to the pleasant covered patio, with it’s warm, yellow Texas flagstone floor and lacquered wood tables and benches. The lighting is cheery and there are two trees growing through the canopy.

The staff is friendly and helpful. Our young waiter arrives and takes our order. We decide to eat family style which is all you can eat but brought to you by your server. Self serve is so wasteful. We were actually brought a perfect amount for us but our waiter was attentive if anything looked like it needed refilling.

We ordered moist brisket (choice of lean or moist), pork ribs, Texas link, beans, potato salad and coleslaw. Pickles, onion and white bread accompany the meal. Two creamy, tangy, mustard based sauces are provided, one sweet one with heat. They were unlike any other sauces we had tasted across the country The sauce is perfect for the meat, sweet how I like it but it allows the smokey flavours of the meat to come through.

The brisket is merely good. We were totally spoiled by the brisket at Kreuz. This mild brisket needed, and was rescued by the excellent Salt Lick BBQ Sauce sauce.

The pork ribs are meaty and well smoked to the bone with a good, thick bark. The Texas link is juicy and delicious especially eaten with the wonderful, soft white bread provided and the pickle which is much like a half sour deli pickle. Sides are also pleasing here at Salt Lick. The tangy coleslaw is crunchy and well dressed. Beans are of the unsweet cowboy variety of which I’m not fond, but the potato salad was excellent, creamy with a mustard-vinegar dressing which must have been poured in when the taters were still steaming hot. The dressing permeates right through the spuds instead of being a gloppy mess of mayo sitting on top. Addictive.

We had to push it away as the promise of a blackberry cobbler demanded it. Salt Lick offers peach and blackberry cobblers for dessert. We chose blackberry. Ice cream? Of course. The warm cobbler, dark with rich berry flavour and sweet with excellent vanilla ice cream was a perfect end to a great Texas day, and our final day in Texas.

The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

 

 

Classic French Onion Soup

Growing up in the seventies we didn’t eat out often, but when we did French onion soup was usually on the menu, especially in finer establishments. At home, my dad would make it for company. I guess that’s why I view this very rustic soup as elegant and special. It was also memorable because my dad would prepare my bowl with extra cheese and forgo the bread because I didn’t like mushy bread.  Now older and wiser, I have learned to appreciate the crusty baguette soaking in the rich, beefy broth.

Essential ingredients

I haven’t had onion soup in a very long time. Restaurants rarely feature it any more and when they do it’s usually a salty commercial concoction that I find disappointing. I was going through an old family recipe book the other day looking for some comfort food when I spotted my dad’s nearly 40 year old recipe. Paired with a crisp salad or a warm winter roasted tomato salad and a soft zinfandel, it is a perfect mid-winter pick me up meal.

This recipe is classic, simple, and delicious. Rustic yet over the top elegant when flambéed, it is true comfort food.

Cognac makes it better.

 

 

Dad found this recipe he recalls, in either a magazine advert or brochure for OXO flavour cubes. It contains a secret ingredient: instant coffee granules. The coffee lends a rich, beefy quality but remains unidentifiable in the final dish. Dad tweaked the recipe a little with some booze, and since I’ve never had it any other way than the way he prepares it, the tweaks are no longer listed as optional.

Dad’s Classic French Onion Soup
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
3 chicken bouillon cubes
3 beef bouillon cubes
1/4 cup butter
5 cups boiling water
1 cup Dubonnet (sherry or Marsala can be substituted)
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. instant coffee
4 slices toasted or stale baguette
Mozzarella cheese, sliced to cover top of dish (gruyere can be substituted)
Parmesan, grated to sprinkle over top
4 tbsp brandy or cognac

Saute onions in butter until tender. Dissolve the bouillon cubes in two cups of the boiling water. Add the bouillon, remaining water, Dubonnet, pepper and coffee to the onions. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle into individual oven proof bowls. Place a slice of baguette on top of each bowl. Cover with a thick layer of mozzarella. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place under the broiler for one minute. Remove from oven. Pour a tablespoon of brandy over each bowl and flambe. This last step is both an elegant presentation but necessary as the brandy adds a bite and another essential layer of complexity to the final flavour of the soup.

Serves four

Click HERE to download the recipe.