“Cet endroit est tout simplement incroyable !” (This is just an incredible spot!) I tell my brother Benoit as we put our picnic basket on the black iron table near the pond.
We are standing next to a pond with willow trees, colorful wild flowers, apple and quetsches trees, raspberries and summer vegetables, and many other plants of which I don’t know the name–but I know my brother does–all looking healthy and gorgeous. There are cute chairs, benches and tables in different corners of the garden. Lots of comfortable and cozy spots for us to rest and take the time to breathe.
And maybe I should start with the beginning, and tell you how we happened to picnic in such a magical place.
My brother is a fantastic gardener. An amazingly skilled one. At the back of his house, he and his wife keep a large garden with more than four hundreds plants I think, and trees, that he looks after the way a caring mother looks after her young children. He is excellent at it and it shows. Everything looks beautiful. Behind the outside kitchen and covered open patio, they even have a Swedish-in style pool and a little further, a narrow stream where frogs like to gather runs through the garden and divides the space into a few adorable sections.
His garden is a real haven of peace that I always feel lucky to enjoy when we visit my home village in France.
One day after we arrive at my parents’ house, we are enjoying a tasty dinner of black rice cooked like a risotto with roasted vegetables when my brother says: “On pourrait aller pique-niquer dans les jardins de l’abbaye d’Autrey, non ?” (Shall we picnic in the gardens of the abbeye d’Autrey?)
“Où ça ?” (Where is that?) I ask, intrigued. I’ve never heard of the name before.
“Dans les Vosges. A une heure de route,” (In the Vosges area, one hour drive away)” he adds.
“Je préparerai le pique-nique,” (I’ll make the picnic) Geneviève goes on after him.
I cannot refrain from showing how much I love their idea. I know it will be delicious and lovely all the way. Because Benoit constantly surprises me about how much he knows about gardens. Because Geneviève’s food is of the kind I could eat every day, without ever tiring of it.
The Abbey of Autrey with its magnificent gardens are located in a small village in the valley of Mortagne in the Vosges department, at only forty-six miles outside of the city of Nancy.
Founded in 1149 by Étienne de Bar, the Bishop of Metz, at the return of the second crusade, the Abbey of Autrey is sold during the French Revolution. It becomes a seminary in 1856.
Taken up by the State in 1905 to be transformed into a hospice, and then a hospital during the first world war in 1914, it becomes a seminar again from 1931 to 1975. In 1911, the church is also classified as a historical monument.
In 1982, the Catholic community of the Beatitudes answers the call of Saint-Dié Bishop and comes to occupy the premises. Today the Abbey remains the only one of the kind in the area where a community of monks reside and devote their time to prayers and meditation. They also maintain the gorgeous park and gardens surrounding the church.
The park covers four hectares of beautiful land with a botanical garden that offers over 3,500 species. I don’t remember the last time when I feel such enchantment from taking a walk through a garden. Every plant looks like it belongs there. That it’s been planted in the best spot possible. And that it receives the best care possible.
Everything breathes calm and serenity.
When we arrive shortly after 11 AM, we are the first ones, and I am also thankful for that. Apart from a friendly nun, a young couple, and the nurseryman, we see no one else.
I am delighted to see my brother so excited.
He walks from one plant to another, from hydrangeas, old roses and rhododendrons looking more beautiful the ones than the others. He tells us the Latin name of everything he recognizes. His face expresses a look of innocence when he walks by a plant he doesn’t know, the way a child expresses curiosity when discovering something new. It’s really sweet to watch how his passion shows. Knowing him so well, I know that the first thing he will do once home is to search for the names of the plants he doesn’t know.
Everyone of us finds a piece of their favorite things to do. You have to go if you happen to travel nearby.
Lulu, in particular, enjoys the open green space. The cutest playground with greens and farm animals she’s seen.
When we walk by raspberries and blackcurrant bushes, she helps us to sneak a few in our mouths. She runs from one corner of the garden to another. Then sits with us under the apple tree. She squeals with delight when she catches sight of the cute chicken and donkeys we discover along the way. She enjoys looking at her reflection in the pond and climbing on rocks and small wooden fences.
Geneviève has packed a beautiful picnic for us. She’s baked my chocolate cake and a savory dried tomato cake. She’s prepared a quinoa salad with shrimp, tomatoes, zucchini and herbs from her garden. With it, we eat delicious ham and blueberries and yogurt. We drink Mariage frères green tea.
And we eat a loaf of buckwheat and nut bread.
“Comment tu l’as fait?” (How did you make it?) I ask her right after I eat the first bite. It’s so good that I want to swallow it quickly to help myself to more.
“Oh tu sais, je n’ai pas trop mesuré,” (You know, I didn’t really measure anything) she answers.
She never does.
“Dis-moi juste approximativement,” (tell me approximately) I go on. We love to share recipes.
“Sarrasin, oeufs et noix.” (Buckwheat, eggs, nuts)
My face lights with a thank you smile.
I, too, know exactly what I am going to do when I return.
I particularly love to slice the bread finely. I like it toasted or not. Eaten at breakfast, with slices of sheep milk cheese. Or spread with soft goat cheese or sun-dried tomato tapenade, served to accompany a drink before lunch or dinner.
Delicious all the way, no matter how you decide to accommodate it.
- 1 cup (100 g) pecans
- 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare your mold (mine is a silicone mold so no need to butter it).
- Using your food processor, grind the pecans finely.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the buckwheat flour, pecan meal and almond meal. Add the salt, sugar and baking powder.
- Beat in the eggs.
- Transfer the batter to the mold and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes and unmold. Slice and eat toasted, or not, with the topping of your choice: cheese, butter, jam, tapenade. Options are endless.
- 100 g de pécanes
- 40 g de farine de sarrasin
- 50 g de poudre d’amandes
- Pincée de sel de mer
- 1/2 càs de poudre à lever
- 1 càs de sucre roux
- 3 gros oeufs
- Préchauffez le four à 180 C et préparez votre moule (le mien est en silicone, donc inutile de le graisser.
- Réduisez les pécanes en poudre fine dans votre robot.
- Dans une jatte, mélangez la farine de sarrasin avec les poudres de pécanes et d’amandes. Ajoutez le sel, le sucre et la poudre à lever.
- Ajoutez les oeufs et mélangez bien.
- Versez la pâte dans le moule et cuisez pendant environ 25 à 30 minutes. Laissez refroidir pendant 5 minutes avant de démouler. Servez en tranches fines, grillées ou non, avec la garniture de votre choix : fromages, beurre, confiture. Les options sont nombreuses.