Posts tagged Julie Mautner
If You Love Lavender...

Heading to Provence in Search of Lavender? Special guest writer, Julie Mautner, gives us an insider's view on lavender in Provence. If you  have never seen fields of Provence lavender bursting in bloom, a trip to Provence could be in your future.

Food and travel writer Julie Mautner has lived in St. Remy de Provence on and off for more than ten years. Prior to running off to the South of France, she was the executive editor of Food Arts Magazine in New York for ten years. Today she freelances for food and travel magazines, and sites in the US and UK. Julie's popular blog, The Provence Post is a written pulse on Provence. Her first book, The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook, will be published by Clarkson Potter in November 2010...VintageGardenGal

Driving or biking through Provence in mid-summer, you’ll see lavender fields of every size and hue. The main growing area is the triangle between Sault, Banon and Sederon, and another prominent area spreads out on the other side of Mont Ventoux, north of Nyons. But pretty much all of Provence is radiant with the famous Blue Gold, as lavender is known, throughout the month of July.

The first lavender distilleries began production in the 1880s, and by 1929 there were 47 stills around the town of Sault alone. Today, the tiny town of Sault is still considered the lavender capital of Provence and its three distilleries are open to the public. The Sault Tourist Office offers seven guided tours of the principal lavandicoles or growing sites. In the town of Coustellet, you'll find a small museum devoted to lavender production, complete with a collection of copper stills dating from the 16th century.

If you time your trip right, you may catch a village lavender festival, like the ones in Sault and Valreas, or the biggie, the four-day Corso de la Lavande, in the mountain spa town of Digne-les-Baines. Held the first weekend in August, the festival offers lavender for sale in every form imaginable, edible and otherwise, and a parade of large flower-decked floats. A municipal truck leads the parade, spraying the roads with lavender water and leaving the entire town awash in the distinctive summery scent.

Don’t feel like going it alone? A lavender-themed tour is a great way to get the experience. This year, for example, an Australian company called Aroma Tours has organized five different Provencal trips including a Lavender Tour to be held July 23rd to 30th. Provence Reservation and City Discovery both offer one-day lavender tours from Avignon while others book similar half and full day tours out of Aix-en-Provence. Whichever tour operator you choose, rest assured you’ll be knee deep in lavender before well before lunch.

Around Provence you'll find scores of edible lavender goodies being made and sold, in shops, open-air markets and even larger grocery stores. In St. Remy, the cookie and sweet shop called Au Petit Duc sells little tins of crystallized lavender seeds, to be nibbled after garlicky meals, and biscuits à la lavande. Next door to Petit Duc, patissier Joel Durand sells homemade chocolates flavored with lavender, rosemary and other botanicals.

Lavender tea is a soothing drink thought by many to have medicinal qualities. But if you want something with more kick, you can get that from lavender too. And for that you don’t even need a passport.

Lisa Averbuch says her favorite flavor of all time is—wait for it—lavender. So it makes sense that her company, Loft Organic Liqueurs in Emeryville, California, turns out a killer lavender liqueur called Lavender Cello. (The whole company was inspired, she says, by the famous lemony Italian digestif. They also produce liqueurs made from lemongrass, ginger, raspberry, blueberry and tangerine.) Available year round, the lavender liqueur has all the floral aromas and smooth flavors you’ld expect, without any additives, preservatives, artificial flavors “or other items you would find in a Twinkie,” Averbuch says.

If you’re heading for France and plan to hit the lavender trail, there are many resources that can help.

The French Tourism Development Agency, also known as Atout France, offers an online guide for lavender lovers. To download it, click here France Guide Brochures, and scroll down to the publication called “Rhone Alpes: Lavender Routes 2009.”

The Association Grande Traversée des Alpes, ( also offers useful info about lavender and “La Route de la Lavande.” On the site you’ll find suggestions for the best drives and hikes, plus distillieries, lavender-themed activities, hiking, workshops and more.

And you’ll find more great lavender info on these two sites:

Sources and Resources Hint: To call from the U.S., precede all phone numbers with 011-33, and drop the first 0.

*Tourist Office, Sault., 04-90-64-01-21

*Tourist Office, Valreas., 04-90-35-04-71

*Tourist Office, Digne-les-Bains., 04-92-31-50-02

*Musee de la Lavande. Route de Gordes, Cabrieres d'Avignon, 84220 Coustellet. 04-90-76-91-23. Fax 04-90-76-85-52.

*Au Petit Duc, St. Remy, 04-90-92-08-31,

*Joel Durand Chocolatier, 04-90-92-38-25,

*Lavender Cello is made by Loft Liqueurs,Emeryville, California,,

*Lavender Tours are available from many companies including:

City Discovery (

Provence Reservation (

Aroma Tours (

If You Love Lavender...concludes our "Encore Provence Series" with special guest writers Julie Mautner and James Clay. Many thanks for their delightful writing and armchair travel to charming Provence. Please share your comments.

Encore James Clay

Chateau de Roussan Watercolor by James Clay Recently James Clay wrote about his "secret garden" experience in Provence, and the first time he discovered Chateau de Roussan, outside of St. Remy. James Clay is an incredible artist, sculptor, writer, and accomplished gardener. James shares with us his recent watercolor painting of the remarkable Chateau de Roussan.

James Clay is also a regular contributor to Julie Mautner's, The Provence Post, writing the "Cocktail Guide to Gardening" column. If you didn't get enough of James Clay's witty writing, here is a stash of his previous monthly columns. Hint, you can catch a glimpse of James and his beautiful Provence garden in the September column.

Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, March 2010 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, February 2010 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, January 2010 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, December 2009 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, November 2009 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, September 2009

Last, but not least, because this is such a gem. James Clay has a "Garden House" rental on his beautiful property. From April to October each year, this garden house is available to rent. Click on Garden House Rental in Provence for more info and a fabulous photo tour.

 Provence in Watercolor by James Clay

A Secret Garden in Provence

Chateau Roussan, A Secret Garden Please give a warm welcome to our second special guest writer, James Clay, in this "Encore Provence" series. Originally from Hampshire, England, James Clay is a world traveller and what I call a renaissance man.  James fortuitously settled in Provence over twenty years ago.  He calls home, a one hectare of garden Eden he has lovingly created over time,  just outside the town of St. Remy de Provence.

James is an incredible artist, sculptor, writer, and accomplished gardener. His Provence garden is filled with fruit, palm, pine and olive trees, plus many varieties of rare bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James also writes the witty column "Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening" each month on Julie Mautner's, The Provence Post.

Today, James Clay shares with us his discovery of, in his words "the most romantic garden in Provence." Chateau de Roussan, has been lovingly restored by its long time owners, and has been recently transformed into an extraordinary hotel...VintageGardenGal

I found my ‘secret garden’ just down the road, in fact a short bicycle ride away. Years ago, I was cycling home from the village and thought it would be an interesting idea to try to find other ways back so, with this in mind, I turned down the next lane and continued due west. Rounding a corner, not much further along, I had to stop so I could take in the beauty of all that was before me. As in some Arcadian landscape painting of the 17th century, there was a shepherd guarding his flock of sheep which were grazing in a large meadow; an avenue of ancient, stately plane trees were reflected in a bassin in which a pair of swans were gliding among the shadows; and there set back, almost unseen, stood a glorious Chateau. This was one of those moments in life of sheer contentment.

Glass House at Chateau de Roussan

No doubt about it, I had to investigate. Abandoning my bike, I headed off on foot toward the bassin to get a closer view of the Chateau and its surrounding park. I could make out some massive bamboos in the distance and a structure that the sunlight seemed to dance around and through. Following one of the streams that fed the bassin, I made my way eventually between the bamboos and entered into my very own 'secret garden' and there in front of me stood an old abandoned glass house with many of its panes smashed or missing, the sunlight darting and dazzling as it played on the fractured glass. Pushing open the rusty, hinged door, I stepped inside and instantly felt the heat roll over me. Some cacti had decided to make a break for it and were heading off out through the broken roof. I was reminded of a song written by Gilbert and Sullivan where the lines run,

'There's a fascination frantic In a ruin that's romantic.'

In the song the ruin is one of Gilbert’s elderly, ugly ladies but here it was the building that appeared to ask, “Do you think I am sufficiently decayed?”

Outside again, I could hear water gushing away and made toward it, passing through more giant bamboo. I came upon another bassin, this time stone-edged with crumbling statues placed around it. Carp were cutting through the water at speed in every direction as if wanting to say to me “Look at us! Aren't we the fastest, smartest fish ever?” Beyond the bassin, at the end of an overgrown path, lay the Chateau, so complete in its surroundings that it appeared to have grown there rather than to have been built. Mellow stone, roman tiles, peeling ox blood red painted shutters, the main door of wood in golden rich yellows through ochre. One could only imagine all the people over the centuries that had passed through it. To the left of the door, up high on the wall, is a sundial, below which is carved the motto/phrase 'HORAS NON NUMERO NISI SERENAS'. In English it may be translated as 'I count only the serene hours.' Now there is food for thought!

Enchanting Pool at Chateau de Roussan

It's almost twenty years since I discovered my own 'secret garden' and the pure delight of finding it remains with me to this day as it will until I shuffle off this mortal coil! (Hopefully to Acardia but somehow I doubt it).

As with everything, nothing stays the same. In this case, I have only good news to report--the Chateau de Roussan was recently reclaimed by its original owners (of many years standing) who have lavished time, care and good taste in 'conserving' their beautiful home and gardens. Its doors are now open to us if we care to go and stay. Yes, it may be a hotel but, believe me, it is a very special one.

For more info on the newly opened Chateau de Roussan, please visit Telephone from US: (011) 33 4 90 90 79 00. Telephone from France: 04 90 90 79 00.

Chicken with Black Figs and Lavender

Fresh Garlic at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market

Half of the fun in Provence is enjoying the incredible local food and wine. Fresh seasonal foods are as visually beautiful to look at as they are delightful to taste. In fact, fresh fruit and vegetables at Provence markets approach art form.
Special guest writer, Julie Mautner recently wrote about many ways of cooking with lavender. Below, she shares with us one of her favorite lavender recipes, Chickens with Black Figs and Lavender, created by Chef Linda Gilbert.
Food and travel writer Julie Mautner has lived in St. Remy de Provence on and off for more than ten years. Prior to running off to the South of France, she was the executive editor of Food Arts Magazine in New York for ten years. Today she freelances for food and travel magazines, and sites in the US and UK. Julie's popular blog, The Provence Post is a written pulse on Provence. Her first book, The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook, will be published by Clarkson Potter in November 2010...VintageGardenGal
Chicken with Black Figs and Lavender
Serves 4 generously.  By Chef Linda Gilbert, Broadway Catering and Events.

Caterer and cooking teacher Linda Gilbert, loves this rich, comforting dish on a chilly autumn evening. For both the figs and lavender, she says using either fresh or dried form is fine.

3- 1/2 lbs chicken, cut into pieces
2  tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
3/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup fresh black figs, stems removed, quartered, or 6 oz dried
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons garlic
1-1/2 teaspoon fresh lavender buds, or 1 teaspoon dry, reserving 1/4 tsp for garnish.

Saute the chicken in 1 tablespoon of the oil until golden on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside. Without cleaning the pan, add the other tablespoon of oil and saute the onions, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When onions are lightly browned, add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Add the chicken cook slowly until done, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to serving platter. Turn up the heat and reduce the sauce until it is thick. Pour over the chicken and serve immediately. Bon Appetit!

Broadway Catering Events
601 Broadway, Sonoma, CA  95476
(tel) (707) 938-0301
Provence on a Plate

Dried Lavender on Market Day Special guest writer, Julie Mautner, shares with us her thoughts on cooking with lavender, assisted by a generous dollop from some of her favorite chefs. For those of you who miss Provence, or simply must feed your inner Provence fix,  you will be charmed by her travel and food blog out of Provence, The Provence Post.

Julie Mautner has lived in St. Remy de Provence on and off for more than ten years. Prior to running off to the South of France, she was the executive editor of Food Arts Magazine in New York for ten years. Today she freelances for food and travel magazines and sites in the US and the UK. Her first book, The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook, will be published by Clarkson Potter in November 2010....VintageGardenGal

Here in the South of France, lavender looms large. You see it everywhere in summer and you smell it in the breeze. If it weren’t for lavender, the postcard and poster people might very well go broke. It's the rare gift shop that doesn’t sell lavender sachets or soap or sweets or something.

Provence produces nearly 80 percent of the world's lavender and the famously alluring flower blankets the countryside every June and July. Harvesting continues through September and is mostly mechanized although, in some areas, lavender is still cut by hand and collected in cloth sacks slung over the back. Today, about 20,000 acres of lavender flourishes annually in Provence, although most of it is reserved for the making of cosmetics and perfumes.

The early Romans and Greeks bathed in lavender-scented water and, to this day, most people associate the flowery scent with soap. The word lavender, in fact, comes from the Latin "lavare," meaning to wash. But lavender has always had its place in the kitchen as well. In the days before vanilla became available and affordable, cooks used a variety of different fruit and flower flavors. Lavender, for its part,  was popular in teas, cakes, meat dishes, quick breads, biscuits and beverages. All lavenders are members of the Lamiaceae family, to which most culinary herbs (including mint, basil, oregano and sage) also belong.  While English Lavender (Lavendula officinalis or angustifolia) is most commonly used for perfume and soap, it's usually French Lavender (Lavandula dentata) that's found in the kitchen.

Cook with lavender as you would with most herbs: go lightly at first, then add more as needed. The darker the blossom, the more intense the flavor.

“Use restraint,” cautions Joe Simone, chef/owner of The Sunnyside Restaurant in Warren, Rhode Island, just outside Providence. “Lavender is extremely potent. Using too much will make whatever you cook taste like your grandmother's lingerie drawer.”

“I love lavender and used to grow a bumper crop back when I still had a garden,” says Nick Malgieri, director of baking programs at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. “It has always been a small element in herbes de provence and I think this is the key to using it in cooking and baking - a pinch or two along with other aromatic flavors, rather than a full-on assault of lavender alone.” Indeed the most common use of lavender flowers is in the seasoning mixture called herbes de Provence. To this blend of thyme, savory, basil and fennel, lavender adds a perfumey and slightly musky taste, along with a hint of citrus, which makes it ideal for use with fish, grilled meats and stews. Chefs also use it in red sauces for pasta or pizza, and it makes a good garnish on salads and entrees.

Throughout Provence, you'll come across lavender on many restaurant menus, in dishes both savory and sweet. At L'Hostellerie du Val de Sault, chef/owner Yves Gattechaut loves the taste of lavender with lamb. One dish he loves is a lamb carpaccio with homemade lavender vinegar, served with beignets d'herbe. He also makes lamb cutlets topped with a sauce that's been subtly tinged with lavender. "If you visit this region in summer," Gattechaut says, "you can't possibly ignore the color and smell of lavender. It is blue and gold everywhere you's absolutely inspiring."

In the village of St.-Remy, at the restaurant La Serre, chef Serge Gille-Naves serves monk fish in a daube or a fricasee, lightly perfumed with lavender, or he'll wrap the fish in parchment and bake it along with lavender, lemon and butter. Using a recipe developed by his grandfather, the famed patissier Gaston Lenotre, Gilles-Naves adds lavender to his pain d'epice, along with anise and orange, to give it a depth of flavor not usually found in a simple spice cake.

Lavender has found favor with American chefs as well. Chef Joe Simone likes to drop a few grains of it into his marinades and dry rubs, and he uses it for "pickling" certain vegetables. (For instance, he’ll marinate paper-thin slices of fennel in simple syrup and rice wine vinegar, with just a touch of lavender.)

In North Miami, Allen Susser of Chef Allen’s loves to serve lamb with a fennel-and-lavender crust. To make the crust, he toasts the fennel seeds, along with cumin and black peppercorns, and then crushes them when cool, along with lavender and a little fresh garlic. “The aromatics complement each other,” Susser says. “The lavender adds a rich, flowery depth to the earthy anise flavor of the fennel.”

At the Milwaukee Country Club, chef Olivier Bidard loves the subtle taste of lavender with fish and seafood, but stresses that it's important to use a sweet, meaty fish. With fresh sea scallops or arctic charr, for instance, Bidard will make a beurre blanc-type sauce using white wine, shallots, butter, a dash of lemon and lightly blanched fresh lavender. (Dried lavender is fine too.)  "The taste and smell of lavender with fish always reminds me of summer at home in France," he says.

Desserts, however, are where lavender is most lovely. A lavender-tinged creme anglais is delicious, hot or cold, over cake, fruit or any other dessert. Add a pinch of lavender to sugar cookies or a simple frosted cake, or use it to flavor ice cream. Patricia Wells' offers up a divine lavender honey ice cream in her book At Home in Provence, while Amanda Hesser suggests a simple lavender sorbet, inspired by Jean-Michel Bouvier, chef/owner of L'Essential in Chambery, France, in The Cook and The Gardener.

“Lavender’s aromatic strength pairs well with lemon zest and vanilla in anything custardy,” offers Nick Malgieri. “And a small amount added to cracked black pepper and orange zest for poached pears would be perfect.”

Indeed lavender pairs well with fruit, especially raspberries and blueberries. Joe Simone loves to toast angel food cake and serve it with a syrup of summer berries and lavender.

Simply take a bowl of fresh berries, adds a little superfine sugar, a pinch of lavender and a dash of orange blossom or rose water, then refrigerate for a few hours. (Orange blossom water and rose water can be found at gourmet groceries and Middle Eastern markets.)  Then slice the cake, broils it until golden and serve topped with the berry syrup.

While Simone prefers to buy his lavender from a local organic farm market and dry it himself, he says a high-quality store-bought product is fine.

“I spent the most marvelous week in Provence a few years ago,” he adds. “And when I’m feeling a bit of withdrawal, I’ll break out the lavender in my kitchen. All those amazing tastes and smells just come rushing right back to me.”

Please share if you cook with lavender. Please share  your experience with lavender in Provence.

If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mums

Market Day Flowers in Provence

Please give a warm welcome to special guest writer, Julie Mautner. Julie  Mautner is an American food, wine and travel writer living most of the year in the South of France. She was a founding editor of Food Arts Magazine in New York and was executive editor for ten years.

Resigning in 1998 to freelance, Julie has produced hundreds of articles for top magazines and websites including Travel & Leisure, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Gourmet,, Conde Nast Traveller UK, Elle Décor UK, Financial Times, New York Magazine and House Beautiful. She also handles a wide range of writing, marketing and culinary projects for international cruise, hotel and restaurant clients.

Since 2008, Julie has been publishing a popular blog about France called The Provence Post. Her first book, The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook (co-authored with Lee Schrager), will be published by Random House/Clarkson Potter in November 2010....VintageGardenGal.

All of a sudden, the stores were filled with mums. Every market, every roadside stand, every huge supermarche parking lot--overflowing with mums. Fat, healthy, brilliant mums, just 35 francs per pot (roughly $5 at the time). It was early November and my little front yard was calling out for color.

Having left New York for Provence, France, just four months before, I was over-the-moon ecstatic about having a house. And not just any house but a house in Provence, with shutters and a tile roof and terra cotta floors and wood beams. With neighbors who rap at the gate, bringing bowls of homegrown grapes. And best of all, for the first time in my life, a garden.

So I called the family’s guru of greenery, my dad in Wisconsin, to talk about mums. Though not a mum fan himself, Dad got behind my plan in a big way. “If that’s what the stores are selling,” he said, “then it’s a good plant for the season. They’re cheap. Put a bunch in and see how they do.”

Just to be sure, I called my friend Carol, another American living in St. Remy. Was this the right time to plant mums? Would they make it through the winter? How deep should I plant them, how long would they bloom, how much water did they need? Off we went to the garden center, and after much deliberation--such beautiful colors, such variety!-- we settled on three rosy pinks and three striking whites. Into the ground they went. Monsieur and Madame Blanche smiled as they strolled past and other neighbors paused to chat. I couldn’t understand a word of what was said, but was touched by their smiling show of support. I had a house. I had a garden. This ridiculous escapade of mine—quitting my really nice job, subletting my Upper West Side apartment and running off to the South of France--might just actually turn out ok!

The next day, I found my new friend Philippe standing in my yard, staring at my new garden. And smiling. Literally, Philippe was just standing and staring and smiling.  I’d already grown accustomed to his teasing about my American-in-France faux pas, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what was so damn funny about mums.

“Did you notice that the stores had mums for just three days?” he asked, “and that they disappeared as quickly as they’d arrived?” I confirmed that I had found that odd, and that I was thrilled to have slithered through that narrow window of horticultural opportunity just in the nick of time.

“Yesterday was Toussaint,” Philippe explained. “You call it Memorial Day.”

Mums, it seems, are the traditional French flower for graves. All those lovely mums had made their way from the supermarket shelves to the cemeteries in and around St. Remy. Save for the six in my garden, of course.

“You might as well hang out a sign,” giggled Philippe. “Americans Live Here!”

That first winter in Provence was particularly mild and my mums, however inappropriate, thrived. I decided that the garden would be a memorial to those I’ve loved and lost: my grandmothers Mary and Bertha, my grandfather Harry, my oldest brother Bill. All were buried in the family plot, 4,500 miles away, but my little patch of mums somehow made me feel their presence—and smile.

When the famous mistral blew down from the mountains and took St. Remy in its grip, my mums held their ground. My shutters slapped my solid stone walls and soon the pretty plants disappeared under a mountain of crunchy leaves. Then it snowed, and I left the country for a time, and that was pretty much the end of the mums. When I returned in spring, I planted lavender, rosemary, solanum, plumbago and other other politically correct plants. Now my garden looks just like everyone else’s. I blend.

But every year when Toussaint rolls around and the stores fill up with mums, it’s hard not to grab a couple pots in the most vivid colors possible. They look so fresh and healthy and bright and all for just €5 pr €6 per pot….

Please share your comments.