Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cade, Cats, and Camaraderie

One lesson learned while living in France is that nothing is permanent. From simple things like the weather (why, oh, why won't it stay sunny and warm for more than 48 hours at a stretch?) to more complex matters that include personal relationships, everything, apparently, is transient. Get used to it. (No! Well, OK; I'm trying.) If anything, accepting this truth has been good for cultivating coping mechanisms for those all-too-frequent existential crises. Which is why it's fitting that, just as I'm beginning to feel settled here, the friends I consider to be more than merely good ones are hatching their escape plans.

They're each planning to leave France for different reasons; Lee, a dog-walking client turned entertainment-outing friend, is in the fortunate position of being a stay-at-home husband of sorts to his partner, Nick. They're both Australian, both very intelligent, and possibly because we're all products of 1980s upbringings, our life experiences overlap on multiple levels. This makes for good conversation punctuated by Kylie Minogue jokes and explosive laughter. The fact that Lee's a vegetarian doesn't hurt, either. But Lee and Nick are set to move back to Australia soon, after Nick's current work contract expires. They have no desire to return to Sydney, but it's looking more and more like they'll be leaving before year's end.

is another friend who's shipping off to potentially greener shores. She's already made one huge move from Finland to France, where she's lived for the last nine years, but early next month, she and her French husband are moving to Quebec City, Canada. Sight unseen. On a whim. What kookiness! What bravery! Don't leave! So, when Susa invited me to spend one last bonding weekend with her in the sunny south of France (at her belle-mere's roomy house on a hill in a quiet suburb, with easy access to the Mediterranean and my own bedroom), there was only one way I could possibly respond: Hell, yes! When do we leave?

Chez Bernard, on a quiet hill 10 minutes from the super salty Mediterranean sea

Bright, cheery, and likely very delicious beans at the Saturday marche in Toulon

Outdoor sculpture on a rocky Mediterranean outcropping

Cicada-shaped sweets in a chocolatier's window

Falafel, frites, and friends at the harbor (and yachts)

Why yes, that does say "Jeggings." What a relief to know it's the same in French and in English.

La Finnoise et le Francais

Just what, exactly, do "dicksongs" sound like, I wonder?

A corner saint, illuminated

Toulon architecture

Big-eyed kitty kitty

Big-ass croissants (those are standard issue pastries on the right)

What better place to realize the need to work on my posture than at the brilliantly blue Mediterranean?

A pale princess with swirly kookoo eyes

I want to stay here forever and ever and ever, swimming and sunning. Really.

Still-life with oranges.

Another cinematic sunset at la plage

Now, Susa--as you might notice--is a very slender girl. She's got her issues and she's working through them, but it's a process and to ensure success, she's taking her time. I, on the other hand, am a manic eating machine, known to Hoover up anything and everything that didn't originate in the animal kingdom. Toulon was a good place to exercise my glutton muscles. Why? In a word, cade.

I didn't know that Toulon has its own version of that Nicoise delicacy known as socca. In Toulon, they call it cade. In other parts of the Mediterranean, it's called farinada, and in Tuscany, it goes by cecina. By any name, this omelety sort of snack food has its origins in Italy, and historically was the food of the peasant class. Today, it's a still a cheap and delicious staple one could easily build each and every meal around, and fortunate for me, the ingredients are both vegan and unbelievably simple: Chick-pea flour, water, olive oil and salt.

At the Saturday open-air market in central Toulon, I happily stumbled upon a stand selling cade for €1.30 a serving. Like the socca I first tried in Nice with my friend Jen last February when doing research for my book, cade is cooked in a large, circular pan, and served with just a dusting of pepper or cumin powder. The major difference between the two treats is that socca is crepe-thin, while cade is the thickness of a waffle or very thick pancake.

Special, indeed

As I sprinkled pepper over my cade, madame said "Hey! Leave some for the other clients!" Mean.

Gone in 30 seconds

Not long after discovering one edible treasure, I veered straight into another as we strolled a pedestrian promenade toward la gare, from whence I'd soon board a train back home to Paris. I'd hoped to find something to nibble on for the nearly-four-hour trip back, and rarely do my snack-tracking senses fail me in times of need. All it took this time was the word "Ital" on a shop sign and within, like, two nanoseconds, my it-might-be-vegan alarm bells were clanging on code-red heightened-alert mode. The shop's proprietor stood in the doorway talking to two customers, noticed me eyeballing the menu, and says, more or less, "Sorry, this is a vegetarian restaurant. We only have vegetarian food."

Uh, and why so apologetic?

"C'est merveilleux!"

He looked a little surprised. I asked if he could make me something without cheese. He said of course. I said get down on it, s'il vous plait. He said coming right up. The results were divine.

Pretty basic: Tomato, lettuce, and faux meat on a tortilla, which was then grilled, panini-style, to crispy perfection.

No more apologies, Paco

Wasabi snacks procured at a gargantuan Auchan supermarket. This was "dessert" after the ital sandwich.

My seatmate's kitty companion. Not a peep from this travel-wise critter in nearly four hours of train travel!

Back home in Paris, it's wet and gray, with an added dose of drama courtesy of a twilight show featuring flashy lightning bolts and rumbling thunderclaps. At least it's not cold. If I close my eyes, I can still taste the salty, aqua-blue Mediterranean water on my tongue, and feel the sun burning into my skin as I float on my back in the cool water. Heaven. And that delicious aroma wafting out of my oven? Another reminder of summer's last seaside hurrah: Cade. If the home-made stuff tastes half as good as it smells, I'll post photos and a recipe, tout de suite.