Wednesday, July 27, 2011



Twenty-four years ago we experienced a month of July so similar to this one. It rained and it rained and it rained. Every single day. I was desperate and disheartened for I was planning my wedding. I had visions of disaster, rushing through a downpour to get to City Hall and arriving there drenched. No lovely bride in a flowing white dress, hair perfectly coiffed, gorgeous bouquet of roses and lavender would stroll into the Grande Salle to be joined to her dashing Frenchman. No, I saw ruined shoes, the beautiful violet suede matted and smeared. I could almost feel the silky material of my coat soaked through and bunched up in an unattractive mess, the uncomfortable dampness clinging to my skin. I was horrified at the thought of my masses of thick, curly hair frizzing up into a great black billowing puff around my head, the size of a mushroom cloud, framing a face flushed and splotchy.

Yet I woke up bright and early on that long ago July 23rd to a magical, bright Thursday morning. I allowed the sun to pull me out of bed, an ersatz mother of the bride come to awaken me. We were to be there at 11:00 sharp in that grand golden room, married in the rays of light filtering through the windows. Laughter filled the streets as we, a mere handful of family and friends I had never before met, walked, danced, trotted happily in the warmth of a midsummer day, weather fit for a bride, worthy a marriage day. As I walked alongside my soon-to-be husband, I glanced up at the sky in awe and wondered how I could have been so lucky as to deserve the one sunny day an entire month had to offer. How could I have foreseen this break in the weather those weeks ago when I had stood at the counter in the dark office of City Hall and selected a date to be wed? Luck or destiny or just a mere whim of nature, I have ever appreciated and never forgotten this gift.

Twenty-four years later and the same July, the same grayness has hung over the city for weeks like a shroud, the same rain spattering down angrily day after day. As my wedding anniversary approached, the same miserable thoughts flit through my head, the same dejection colored our plans. Although no ceremony was planned, no invited guests or fancy outfits to be ruined by a downpour, nonetheless, we were in the mood for festivities. A few days before the date, JP asked, mischievous grin playing on his lips, if I wouldn’t enjoy an anniversary lunch at La Mare aux Oiseaux. He suggested we make a day of it: a drive out to the country, a stroll through Le Jardin du Marais and lunch at this much-talked-about one-star restaurant in the middle of the marais, La Grande Brière, the marshland to the west of Nantes. Now I had long dreamed of eating at La Mare aux Oiseaux ever since I had attended last year’s Les Goûts Uniques and seen the young, talented chef demonstrate not only his talents, but his passion, his philosophy. And a garden? I would have to give him that if he was to bring me to this great gastronomic lieu.

But it was raining and raining every day. We had already been so lucky as to have a break in the weather for our bike trip. Who was I to tempt the forces of nature, to dare request benevolence twice? Each time the sun had broken through the clouds or we had awoken to luminous, blue skies, as soon as we had slipped on our shoes and stepped outside, the gray came rumbling in, clouds dark in anger at our brazen assumption that the day was ours to trifle with as we pleased. And it would begin, once again, to rain. Yet that Saturday morning broke brilliant, a radiant sun wishing us great joy and promising a glorious anniversary day.

As you know, I rarely do restaurant reviews, but La Mare aux Oiseaux was everything we had imagined and deserves to be talked about. Tastefully decorated in cream and chocolate with touches of jade reflecting Chef Eric Guérin’s passion for nature, the dining room was at once bright and airy, subtle and calming. The staff was young, friendly, knowledgeable, accessible and professional, the perfect balance not often found in restaurants of this caliber; there was nothing staid or invasive, no hovering or condescension. The dishes arrived one after the other, each astonishing in their presentation, but this we expect nowadays in a starred restaurant. But each mouthful startled and amazed; the selection of ingredients is at once clean, sharp, natural in its simplicity yet the combination of flavors was utterly astounding, spectacular, completely uncomplicated yet abounding in creativity and imagination, showing both thought and ease. Who would ever have expected the cheese course to be a luscious combination of mascarpone and Forme d’Ambert blue cheese sandwiched in between paper-thin layers of white chocolate crowned with a dusting of truffle? There is absolutely nothing chi-chi about Chef Guérin’s cuisine; his is based not on some trendy mélange of spices or herbal concoctions, there are no puddles, foams or beads of unrecognizable contrivances. Rather he turns to the beauty of nature blended elegantly with his artistic bent. Although each dish surprises, nothing shocks, nothing jars in discord. Whether a dish is traditional or absolutely contemporary, his food, the combination of ingredients is understandable, showing an absolute respect for nature and a search for the best products she has to offer and combining those ingredients to bring out and highlight each. Truly one of the best meals either one of us has ever eaten. (Chef Guérin's menus can be found here and photos of a selection of dishes here)

(please excuse the quality of the photos; they were taken with an iphone)

A perfect lunch to celebrate, we left entirely content, brimming over with compliments for the young chef and his staff, enamored of his cuisine and even promising ourselves to return for a romantic dinner and a night in his small hotel upstairs from the dining room. We even discussed the possibility of bringing Clem and Simon for a family lunch. That’s how much we loved it.

But the day was not yet over. Barely 3:00, we strolled through the village and along the water’s edge as our meal settled, not wanting to hop straight into the car and drive away, savoring the flavors that lingered on our lips and the wonderful experience. The sun was now blazing and we slipped off our coats as we walked hand in hand, enjoying the picture-postcard quaintness of the thatched roofs of the homes huddled together looking for all the world as Breton as they were. We finally headed back to the car and off in search of our next stop, le Jardin du Marais.

Nestled in the marshy zone of the Grande Brière outside of Nantes, the vegetable and ornamental gardens of Yves and Annick Gillen are certainly a sight to behold and a must to visit. Fervent environmental activists, they began their completely organic gardens and self-sustained, natural lifestyle over twenty-five years ago. This passionate couple live not to control nature, but to live in rhythm with it, respecting it and its forces. Energized by solar panels, windmill and zeal, they plant, tend, create in a space dense and green where nature reigns, coaxing up peaches, apples, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, roses and hydrangeas from the earth in joyful union. We spent a delightful, informative and incredibly inspiring afternoon with Yves as he led us and about twenty other souls through the different areas of the garden, soaking up every word with relish as he explains in his spitfire fashion, arms waving, eyes glinting, how everything works, the organic way to garden and to live, how we all, working together, can better the world. His passion and excitement ooze out of his every pore and we are swept away, his humor and emotions infectious. We finally duck out just before the talk on compost in order to dash home to Marty who had been home alone all day.

All in all, it was a perfect 24th wedding anniversary and we were happy, tired and well pleased with the entire day. And thrilled that the weather had been so kind to us, a gentle yet well-appreciated gift from the heavens.

And a little, tender gift to my husband who has stuck by me through thick and thin, taking the brunt of the worries on his slender shoulders. In exchange, I try and make him laugh everyday and bake for him as often as I can before he cries “Uncle!” 24 years and counting: I swore to him that we still had at least 30 more together.

Ce soir j'attends Madeleine
J'ai apporté du lilas

J'en apporte toutes les semaines
Madeleine elle aime bien ça
Ce soir j'attends Madeleine

On prendra le tram trente-trois

Pour manger des frites chez Eugène

Madeleine elle aime tant ça

Madeleine c'est mon Noël

C'est mon Amérique à moi

Même qu'elle est trop bien pour moi

Comme dit son cousin Joël

Ce soir j'attends Madeleine
On ira au cinéma

Je lui dirai des "je t'aime"

Madeleine elle aime tant ça
- Jacques Brel

(nota bene: Although the sun was shining on that long-ago wedding day, the breeze warm and gentle and not a drop of humidity was to be felt, the bride’s hair did indeed frizz up into a great black billowing puff around her head, alas, much to her chagrin.)

La Mare Aux Oiseaux, Parc National de Brière - 162, Île de Fedrun
44720 Saint Joachim FR - Tél. +33 (0)2 40 88 53 01

Le Jardin du Marais, Hoscas - 44410 Herbignac Tél : 02 40 91 47 44
Open from mid-May to mid-September/Ouverture : mi-mai à mi-septembre

I have adapted this classic recipe from one in my December 2010 issue of (French) Saveurs

This recipe makes about 60 mini-Madeleines (1 ¾ - inch / 4 ½ cm at their longest point).

9 ½ Tbs (135 g) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
Scant ½ cup (1/2 cup – 1 ½ tsps / 90 g) granulated sugar
1 Tbs (30 g) liquid honey
Scant ¼ cup (1.35 fluid oz / 40 ml) milk
1 cup – 2 tsps (135 g) self-rising cake flour
1 vanilla pod
Pinch ground cardamom (optional)

Prepare the Madeleine batter the night before baking:

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Continue heating until the butter turns a dark hazelnut brown color and smells nutty. Remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, honey and the milk until homogenous. Using a small, thin-bladed, sharp knife, split the vanilla pod down the center and scrape out all of the seeds. Add the seeds to the batter. If you don’t have a vanilla pod, simply add about a teaspoon of liquid vanilla extract.

Sift the flour onto the batter and whisk to blend. Whisk in the melted brown butter: try not to add the dark dregs the settle to the bottom of the pan.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare the Madeleines:

Preheat the oven to 410°F (210°C). Lightly butter the shell-shaped cavities of a mini-Madeleine mold (the easiest way to do this is using a pastry brush and either softened or melted butter).

The batter right out of the refrigerate will be thick and easy to work with: simply place about half a teaspoon (if using bigger molds, simply fill each shell no more than three-quarters full) in each shell cavity.

Place the Madeleine tin directly on the oven rack and bake for about 8 minutes. Do not overbake the Madeleine or they will be dry: take them out when puffed up and the center forms a large bump, the edges are golden but the center is still pale.

Once out of the oven, very gently lift the Madeleines from the molds using a knife and place on a rack to cool.


Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris said...

Happy anniversary !!! Is that the house you live in? Wooww!!! Beautifully written (as always!) I have to check that restaurant!

A Spoonful of Yumm said...

loved reading every bit of that post ! you have a way with words...yummy pictures :)

Jamie said...

@Cristina: No that's not our house (we live in an apartment in Nantes), this is a typical Breton thatched-roof house in the village down the street from the restaurant. Beautiful, right? Thanks for the wishes and for visiting!

Barbara said...

Jamie what a lovely day of celebration. I am intriguied with the cheese and chocolate dish.

Your post has me thinking about my next anniversary. We were married on 29th February and only celebrate every four years.

Happy anniversary.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What a great place! That meals must have been wonderful.

Your Madeleines are so tempting! I'd love to have one right now, with my tea...



Eggs on the Roof said...

What a happy story. Huge, huge congratulations on your anniversary - here's to many more. And I'm sure your hair looked wonderful xx.

Baker Street said...

What a lovely post Jamie! Wish you and JP a very happy anniversary.

WiseMóna said...

What a beautiful life you have Jamie. I love reading your love stories and listening to your voice ;0). We have a house full of kiddies (again!) this week and I'll bet they would love the Madeline's.

orangemonk3y said...


The food photos look sumptuous matched with an entertaining writing style. :)

Anh said...

I loved all the pics of yours! :) And Happy anniversary!

A Thought For Food said...

Such a sweet post. Thanks for sharing all of that with us and the pictures... oh I would eat a whole plate of those madeleines. But they're mini so it's ok, right?

Maureen said...

Happy Anniversary! 24 years is a long time! One more year and you get covered in silver. :)

Who doesn't love madelines?? These look great !

Sanjeeta kk said...

I love your description of how you wished for the rains to stop for your D day, and the amusement you and your hubs had when it didn't rain really! I was walking alongside both of you during the whole post. Love this line the most " not to control nature, but to live in rhythm with it, respecting it and its forces" You inspire a lot to live life a King size.
Wish you both many many years of happiness, baking and living together. Tight hugs.

Mary said...

Happy Anniversary, Jamie. What lovely memories you've shared with us today. Thank you for sharing them and those lovely madeleines with us. Hugs and blessings...Mary

Neil Butterfield said...

Some beautiful pics here. Thanks for the recipe.

bunkycooks said...

This had to have been a perfect way to celebrate your anniversary. There is nothing better than a delightful meal with a talented chef. I hope you have many more anniversaries to celebrate this way! :)

Nuts about food said...

Very sweet! Happy delayed wedding anniversary

Emma said...

Ah, madeleines, my favorites!

How fortunate that the sun broke on both of those July 23rds. From one frizzy-haired individual to another, I know just what you mean about having your hair explode on you.

What is the pink ring encircling your dessert?

Sippity Sup said...

as you say you rarely do restaurant reviews, and I rarely leave comments. But as I sit here imagining you as a frizzy haired bride I can't help but note how you artfully weave your thoughts on dining and marriage together so well. this is much more than a review. GREG

Jamie said...

@Emma: always so glad to meet fellow frizzy-haireds! The red circle was candy. We tasted it but didn't eat it.

OysterCulture said...

Happy Anniversary! What a fun read. Your weather situation sounds a bit like mine when I got married.

My wedding took place in October in the midwest so there is always a chance of crazy weather - sure enough the day of my wedding it drops into the 30s with flurries. The weekend on either side - sunny -mid sixties. Wouldn't trade it, well except for the tractor heather they added to the tent to keep us warm - loudest thing there was.

Great recap of what sounds alike a magical day and I love madeleines so they sound tremendous!

Nicole said...

Glad you made such a wonderful celebration of your anniversary. I love that (and all) Jacques Brel songs!! I remember them from my childhood :)

Barbara Bakes said...

Congratulations on 24 years! That's very impressive these days. Glad it was a wonderful day. Your Madeleines look scrumptious.

Pavithra said...

Awesome place .. beautifully written and those honey vanilla madeleines looks very very cute.

Aimée W. said...

Always such a lovely story to accompany your lovely recipes! Must, must find me a madeleine pan... I'm still nailing down a menu (it changes every day - sigh) for my brunch-themed dinner party next week, and these could be a great addition!

I completely feel your pain on the fuzzy hair front.

Congratulations on your 24 years together, and wishing those next 30 to be even more wonderful, joyful and fulfilling!

Gail said...

Oh Jamie, what a beautiful anniversary celebration! The day, the lunch, the garden!!

I wish you and JP not just 30, but 130 more!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a beautiful tribute to your husband Jamie and Happy Anniversary! May we be celebrating your diamond anniversary with you! :D

Jamie said...

@Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella: someone mentioned that next year is silver. But I am always happy to receive diamonds, Lorraine. And maybe I'll have a big party next year for 25... will you come?

@Gail: I think you and I are just big, mushy romantics. 130? Sometimes I feel like that is already how long we've been together (smirk).

@Sippity Sup: Thank you, darling Greg and I do miss you...

@Oyster Culture: oooh I think snow flurries would be the ultimate in romantic, lucky you!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

Here's to the next 30 years! Yours is an unconventional but fated to be love story. Happy Anniversary.

girlichef said...

Even though I can't be there physically, you totally took me on a little vacay. Everything looks lovely and your words are the loveliest of all (as always). Sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate your anniversary :).

tasteofbeirut said...

Here we are wishing for a day of rain! Happy anniversary, laughter is the best cement of a relationship, I think. Anyway, the madeleines and the house and restaurant look darling and make me wish I lived in France againl I used to hum this song of Jacques Brel all the time! (one of a few of his repertoire that did not make me cry!)

Eliana said...

There is a simplicity about Madeleines that makes me fall in love with them all over again every time I see them. And these look just perfect to me.

Jane-Anne said...

A lovely, evocative post, with beautiful photographs and a killer recipe: well done! And congratulations on your anniversary, Jamie.

Carolyn Jung said...

What a sweet, romantic post. Happy anniversary to you and your hubby. I'm glad you got to share such a perfect, memorable day together to celebrate.

asiangrrl said...

Oh, Jamie. That lunch looks so yummy 9as do your mini madeleines). Congrats to you and your handsome fella for so many years of bliss together. May you have treble the times more.

koshercamembert said...

Um, where can I find myself a nice frenchman???? Love the poem and the madeleines.

Pia @ Peppercorns in my Pocket said...

I love the art in your words, Jamie. Your stories are as sweetly baked as your madeleines.
I always enjoy coming back to your blog, just because it's such a happy slice of life.

Jamie said...

@Pia @Peppercorns in My Pocket: Thank you so much for the lovely words, they really mean a lot to me. You are always welcome in my humble space...

shaz said...

What a beautiful post Jamie, happy anniversary to you and JP :) And I'm sure you would have made a stunning bride no matter what your hair did. My wedding day was the one sunny day in between 9 days of rain! Lucky eh? The food at the restaurat looked divine, esp the desserts.

Radhika @ foodfor7stages said...

Felt like traveling on a time machine. I went back 24 years in time and then came back to the present. I am so glad that you and your husband had wonderful time together on your anniversary.
And those mini Madeleine look fantastic.

Kris Ngoei said...

I was always intrigued by madeleines but never get into baking them... Your madeleines are wonderful and deliciously convincing, I think I might actually give it a shot!

Lazaro Cooks said...

What a heartfelt post. Very happy for you.

I cannot properly express how much I love madeleines. Just heaven. I'd take about 3 dozen of yours.

Be well

5 Star Foodie said...

La Mare aux Oiseaux restaurant sounds wonderful! And your madeleines look so perfect, I love the addition of cardamom. We just got a madelenes mold and looking forward to making some very soon.

Nancy Baggett said...

A wonderful post! And I loved the pics. Reminds me that I celebrated our 40th at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia! I'd been warned that it was not as special as it once was, but that was wrong! Our dinner was perfect and our room was charming. Bonne anniversaire! Which may not be spelled right, but you get the idea!

Nancy Baggett said...

A wonderful post! And I loved the pics. Reminds me that I celebrated our 40th at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia! I'd been warned that it was not as special as it once was, but that was wrong! Our dinner was perfect and our room was charming. Bonne anniversaire! Which may not be spelled right, but you get the idea!

lisaiscooking said...

I too have issues with humidity and my hair! What a perfect wedding day and anniversary day. The cheese course sounds amazing. And, your mini madeleines couldn't be cuter. Wishing I could taste one now.

Junglefrog said...

Well that weather breaking so nicely both 24 yrs ago and again this year.. is no coincidence; it's because you two lovely people deserve that ray of sunshine!! I'm glad your day was such a hit and that restaurant sounds great too. As do your madeleines!
Btw; I have the opposite when it comes to humidity. My already straight hair starts to be as flat as can be and look absolutely horrible! :)

Heavenly Housewife said...

Wishing you a very happy (belated) anniversary. I just adore madeleines but I think my hubbs would be upset if i tried anything other than my Daniel Bolud version.
Wishing you another 100 years of happiness together!
*kisses* HH

Maria said...

I loved reading your memories of your wedding day - I'm excited about mine and fingers crossed it won't rain! ;-D These madeleines are beautiful! I love the flavour!

Sukaina said...

Happy anniversary Jamie....and I look forward to your post when you celebrate your 50th! Looks like you had a memorable meal and stroll through some beautiful gardens.

Jeanne said...

Happy anniversary sweetie! Everybody thought I was insane getting married in Autumn in the garden with absolutely no Plan B in case of rain. "What are yo ugoing to do if it rains?" asked everybody. "It's not going to" was my only response. And it didn't. But the following day it POURED! ;o) Fortune smiles on the brave hahaha! Love these madeleines, and your anniversary celebrations :)

Jamie said...

@Jeanne: so I guess since fortune smiles on us I can go ahead and plan 3 more vow renewal ceremonies? You make me laugh!

Mansi said...

Happy Anniversary! and those madeleines are perfectly gorgeous!

I'm hosting a giveaway on my blog and this would be a perfect addition to the roundup, if you'd be kind enough to send your entry in!

Thanks, and I hope you can participate in the event!


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