Who can resist the whiff of Mediterranean cuisine? Rosy red peppers, speckled green courgettes, deep purple aubergines, fat bulbs of garlic and golden onions all sautéing in olive oil, alongside huge vibrant red tomatoes and that intoxicating aroma of basil.
Today we had my favourite quiche of all – a delicious concoction of all those Mediterranean vegetables with the addition of squash and fennel, topped with blobs of pesto - heaven in a dish! A combination like no other, that reminds me of long, hot summers spent in the South of France. When my children were small, my sister Norma, upped sticks and moved with her husband, to a village in the mountains of Provence, called Correns, I couldn’t believe my luck! She had previously lived in Canada so I hardly ever saw her and now she was virtually on my doorstep, in my favourite holiday destination. We had so many wonderful holidays there, soaking up the sun, enjoying the food and absorbing the inimitable atmosphere of Southern France. I’m not sure how she felt about us descending on them every year, but she never complained!
One year we travelled to Les Baux de Provence, a picturesque medieval village between Arles and St.Remy-de Provence. My niece, Meredith, aka The Blue Jean Chef, was training in the kitchen of the very famous restaurant and hotel there, Oustau de Baumaniere, a favourite of royalty and film stars. That expression sounds dated now, but I don’t think we called them Celebrities then and Influencers were yet to be invented!
I remember thinking Meredith was very brave working there. She was in her twenties, and the only girl to be taken on as an apprentice. Quite a feat in itself, and from the tales she told, sounded terrifying. Whilst I don’t think knives were actually thrown, I believe it was close...hot temperatures and hot tempers!
It was at that hotel that I first saw how beautiful lavender in a garden could be, and the germ of an idea formed for my own garden. We had an old cattle yard at the rear of the studio barn and being walled and thus sheltered, it was a perfect spot to grow this aromatic plant. It worked beautifully and has given so much pleasure over the years – the perfect spot to sit with a cuppa, inhale the scent and listen to the bees. Even weeding it is soporific!
The land of Provence is covered in vines that I spent many an hour sketching and painting. This resulted in the paintings I’ve been doing the last few years, inspired by the wonderful colours and textures to be found in vineyards, especially as the grapes ripen. These works get bigger every year. Some of the vines around Correns were extremely old with gnarled and twisted trunks. The challenge has been to replicate those textures and that has led me to experiment with mixed media. This latest one is 1.5 x 1metre and I was trying to capture the effect of the morning light peaking through the leaves.
At last Summer has arrived with an explosion of heat in contrast to the cold, wet Spring. Whilst we may not be able to travel to France this year, at least I can close my eyes, breathe in my beautifully scented lavender and cook those vegetables releasing their aromas and those wonderful memories.
Enjoy your summer, wherever you are!