We couldn’t have Faith visit Rouen and not see the city’s two most famous and most wonderful sights, Rouen’s Notre Dame Cathedral and the Gros-Horloge. And we also couldn’t have her come and not take to our favorite lunch restaurant, La Rose des Vents Snack! Well, we covered all those bases – and more – on the second day, Tuesday, of our week with Faith.
Rouen’s Cathedral is truly an incredible building. I know that when people think of French cathedrals, Rouen’s may not be one of the first ones that comes to mind. The fact that it is filled with so much extraordinary beauty is just a testament to the vast treasures of sacred buildings that are still standing in France. And when I say “still standing,” I am not just using a stock turn of phrase; for Rouen’s Cathedral was struck not once but twice by Allied bombs during World War Two, and yet remains here for our enjoyment and edification (the damage done by those bombs is still in the process of being repaired).
Let me give you just a couple of categories of things that impress me in the cathedral. First, there are a number of free-standing statues arrayed in front of the chapels toward the back of the church, with faces full of character and emotion. They may represent saints and angels, but they are incredibly human, and I just so enjoyed seeing them.
Much of the stained glass is missing in the cathedral, but what remains is wonderful. Several windows have the kind of deep blue glass seen in abundance in Chartres Cathedral. One window depicts the story of Saint Julian the Hospitaller, and was given by Rouen’s fishmongers, who are represented in a panel at the window’s base.
Before we move on from the stained glass, we have to talk about the rose windows. The window over the northern portal has glass in the window itself (of a very delicate quality), but no glass in the section immediately underneath. Meanwhile, the glorious “main” rose window, over the west portal, was a casualty of the World War Two bombing, and has only recently had its stone reconstructed, and as of yet is completely empty. Even without any glass, though, it is still quite beautiful.
I have nothing further to say about the cathedral, except to reiterate how fine and worthy of study it is. We spent a couple of hours there, and I could easily spend several more. Here are some more photos to show you some of the things that caught my eye.
We could’ve lingered for a while longer at the cathedral, but we had a lunch reservation at La Rose des Vents Snack to head to! Once again, they created a dairy free version of one of their dishes especially for me (yay!) – in this case, they left the sage butter out of their pork chop, and just seasoned it with sage.
And of course the accompanying Sicilian-style caponata (a recipe adopted from Frederic’s Sicilian cousins, I gather) was completely dairy free and scrumptious. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we even had dessert, an apricot and almond/ginger paste tart with berries on top (there was a tiny bit of butter in the pastry, Frederic warned me, so I ate around that).
I will go on at greater length about this fine restaurant in another post. I will just leave you now with photos of the idiosyncratic interior and exterior.
After lunch, of course I could’ve taken a nap, we were so full! But Faith and I pressed on, visiting the Gros-Horloge, the medieval clock in the center of Rouen’s most famous street. Therese, who visited the clock with me two years ago, elected to meet us later at home, knowing that the visit involves lots of stairs.
And there are many levels with lots of steep stairs – while during the visit, you do get to walk behind the faces of the clock, most of visit takes place in the tall narrow tower next to the clock where the clock-tender traditionally took care of the clock (and the clock’s mechanisms reside).
For me, part of the joy is getting to see the clock close up – for example, all the references to the lamb, the symbol for Rouen (at the same time a reference to the city’s reliance on the wool trade, and to Jesus Christ in his dual roles as the “Lamb of God” and the “Good Shepherd” who looks after his lambs (that would be us)).
Also, you get great bird’s-eye views of the Rue du Gros-Horloge, one of Rouen’s main (and therefore most touristy) streets.
The lower section of the face rotates every day of the week to show different scenes from classical history. And above the face is a round ball that is silver on one side and black on the other that rotates to display the phases of the moon.
The Gros-Horloge was so fun, except for the stairs as I said. And the worst of that is at the end – after climbing to each level on the way up, on the way down you walk from top to bottom in more or less one go. Hard on the knees! Oh well, the rest of the day I could put my feet up and relax back at Au P’tit Robec.
Or could I? After seeing the incredible apple meringue tart on display at Le P’tit Bec the previous day, I had to try my hand at making one. With this large tart pan that was in the cabinet, I could make a nice big one, that would provide the three of us with dessert for most of the rest of our week in France! Using a recipe from Taste of Home as my template, I went to town! But since this was a big tart pan (I didn’t measure it, but I bet it was at least 12 inches in diameter, maybe even 14), I made one and a half times the recipe.
And for the pastry, I decided to bake blind so it wouldn’t come out under-cooked or soggy underneath the apples and custard. I went with a fairly classic ratio of flour to fat – at one and a half times the recipe, it came out to about 2 cups of flour, 12 tablespoons of margarine (more on that in a moment), 1-1/2 tbsp. sugar, 3/4 tsp. salt, about 5 tbsp. ice water.
For the ice water and the margarine, I put them in the freezer for a bit to get them really cold. While the St Hubert Soja Margarine I used while we were in France (which was the only completely dairy free margarine I found) worked pretty well for most applications, it was incredibly soft and began to melt almost immediately after you removed it from the fridge.
Slicing it into tablespoon-sized chunks and laying those on a plate in the freezer seemed to be the best way to insure that the pastry would come out right. So that’s what I did!
I baked the crust by itself, using the docking method (pricking it with a fork), since I had no pie weights available. Then I baked the apples/custard in the crust, and wow, the little electric convection oven in our apartment did a great job, getting the apples all browned.
It looked so beautiful already, that we could’ve eaten it just like that, but I was determined to go the whole way and add the meringue (it only takes another 15 minutes of baking to finish off the meringue, so that’s not so bad). And I’m glad I did, because that made it a truly memorable dessert. We were so full from lunch, that all the three of us had to eat that night was slices of tart (so sad, right?).