"It's just not fair having a birthday half-way between Christmas and New Year's!" Can you see me stamping my little 8-year-old foot as I say that? I certainly didn't think it was fair to have a birthday then when I was a child. It wasn't fair that I never got to take cupcakes to school to celebrate my birthday, because it always happened when we were on Christmas break. It certainly wasn't fair that most people thought it was okay to give me only one present...'for your birthday and Christmas!' Of course, as I got older, things seemed not quite so bad, but having a birthday on December 28th still means that I don't often celebrate it. Most everyone is totally 'celebrated out' after days...weeks...of Christmas parties at school, at work, at church, with the neighbors, etc. This week between holidays is the time to rest and gear up for another round of celebrating New Year's Eve, New Year's day, football bowl games, etc.
This year, however, I decided to host my own tiny celebration. I invited friends in for coffee, mimosas and sweet treats. They didn't know it was my birthday until we raised our first toast when I thanked them all for coming and helping me celebrate this day.since. This was probably my most international birthday ever as my guests hailed from England, Poland and Holland! We ate, drank and visited for a good long time, and I felt very fortunate to share this birthday with such a nice group of friends. Life suddenly feels like it's a whole lot more fair!
A computer that works! Sorry about being off-line for so long. My computer was infected with a really nasty virus that required a real 'computer doctor.' It was 'way beyond my ability to fix it, so off it went to the shop in Villefranche. Just got it back this morning. Once I wade through all my emails, I'll be back with more stories about life in the Lot.
I had Jean and Ankie for lunch yesterday as a thank you for all their help when I bought my car. Jean transported me back and forth to Cajarc several times and Ankie translated Stephane, the garage guy's rapid-fire French, so I could actually evaluate the car and negotiate the deal. Chicken with apples, Calvados and creme fraiche was on the menu along with potato-leek soup and an apple crisp for dessert. Vegetables, though, were a dilemma. It's a bit tricky to decide which ones to serve as a lot of people never venture beyond potatoes and green beans. I took a chance and did a platter of roasted winter vegetables....carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and turnips. Roasting is my favorite way to fix veggies, and it's so easy. When I went into market last Saturday, I stopped by our local farmer's booth first. Jackie is famous for her veggies, and there's always a long line at her stand. What could be better than locally grown vegetables? And when I say local, I mean really local. The dogs and I walk past one of Jackie's fields every morning. Most days she's out before we even get there tending her rows. She picks and plucks, trims and packs them up for market. She covers and uncovers the more delicate greens and hand-weeds and cultivates.
As I moved up the line to pay Jackie, I saw a big basket of the most beautiful brussel sprouts by her scales. I immediately added them to the luncheon menu. I know... I used to feel the same way about brussel sprouts. Then I found a recipe that totally changed my mind. You braise the tenderest, youngest brussel sprouts you can find in butter and bits of sauted bacon. By blanching the sprouts before you cook them and finishing the dish with a squeeze of lemon or vinegar, the bitterness is completely gone. All the veggies for lunch except the sweet potatoes came from Jackie grown right here in Cadrieu. They were absolutely yummy. That makes me happy!
Dessert was apple crisp, but I decided to take a pastis out of the freezer as a second choice. We were too full to eat any of it. So, I had a piece this morning for breakfast. You might remember a couple of blog posts from last winter about making this local specialty. The women of Cadrieu make several every year to sell at the annual Telethon--a fund-raiser for neuromusccular disease. I bought one this year, and as I savored each bite this morning, I smiled. I know the hands that peeled the apples and kneaded the dough. I know the hands that pulled and stretched, folded and layered it with sugar, apples and a sprinkling of marc. I know whose arms gathered it up to place it in its baking dish. And it makes me happy to know I'm eating something made by my village friends.
Things that make me happy...friends, yummy local vegetables, and pastry made by the hands of village friends.
Saujac is the village I can see across the river from my east facing windows. I can hear its farmers and see them working in their fields along the river. I can see cars slowly moving up and down its tiny rues. At night its illuminated church steeple anchors a few house lights. And it was my first stop yesterday afternoon as I began my explorations 'juste en face.'
Saujac's flowered lavoir sits right on the road into the village.
Typical village houses in the Quercynois style.
Here's the church steeple I can see at night from my window and whose bell tolls the hour and half hour every day.
This faded monkey and his monk adorn a wall of the very dilapitated and long-closed Epicerie Buvette next to the church. You may ask what monkeys have to do with this tiny village deep in the heart of France. Ah...that's a story for another day!
Just across the Lot. I've been hankering to go there since last winter, but even though it's only a couple of kilometers as the crow flies (or by boat!) to get 'juste en face,' without a car it wasn't happening. Until today, that is! The clouds and fog cleared by mid-day, so I decided to begin my explorations of the area. Map, camera, a couple of CD's to keep Lucie and I entertained and the adventure began. This is how my village looks from the other side of the Lot. Once you cross the river, you're in the Aveyron, another department of the Midi-Pyrenees. To access this road, I had to drive to Cajarc, cross the river, circle the round-about in Salvignac-Cajarc and head back to the bridge I just crossed. Right before the road becomes one-way to access the bridge, there is a small road that veers off to the right. Take it, and you meander along the left bank of the Lot towards Saujac.
And this is what my little train house looks like from 'juste en face.' Can you see why I feel a bit over-shadowed by the Chateau? There's more to share from my afternoon of exploration, so be sure to check back.
Buying a car in France has been quite an adventure! With the help of several friends, though, it's all gone smoothly. Jean and Ankie helped with translation and transportation to and from the garage where I bought my car. Christiane and Jackie at the Mairie helped me by filling out the registration paperwork and sending it off to Cahors. Greg helped by putting me in touch with his guy, Trystan, who sells car insurance. Yesterday, I put the final piece of this 'buying-a-car-in-a-foreign country' puzzle in place. Newly issued carte grise in hand, I went to my garage in Cajarc, and they made and installed my new license plates. Seems funny to me that the dealer actually makes the license plates, but hey, it's not my system to criticize! The red box indicates my region, the Midi-Pyrenees and 46 is the number of my department, identifying my car as living in the Lot. I'd like to think the E stands for Evelyn! Ya think?
You might remember in one of my first posts from my new house that I only had two photos ready to hang over my couch. They were the two that I had printed on canvas last spring and left here for Laury's vernissage in past August. I picked a third photo to have printed and stretched soon after I arrived here in late September. Not until I bought my car, though, did I want to hassle with getting it into Figeac to be finished. I finally got that done and picked up the final result last week. All three photos were taken here in the Lot...one of the river, the bottle at Jane and Yves' house, and the sparkly spider web was decorating Jean's big front tree one morning last winter. The trio is finally complete!
I hosted my first dinner party in France last night, and I'm very pleased with how it all turned out. It's difficult to cook and entertain in a kitchen outfitted by someone else. Since I rented my house furnished, it also came completely stocked with dishes, glasses, flatware and cooking utensils. So the only things that are truly mine on this table are the blue table runners and my grandmother's silver which I shipped here last summer. Dinner parties and aperos are the social events in this village; I've been invited to many of both, and it's time to start paying back those invitations! I decided to start small, though, and invited Laury, Jean and Greg for my first attempt. Since my oven is very tempermental (gets too hot, stays too hot and I have to turn it off and open the door to keep the right temperature) I wanted guests who I knew would be happy to eat mac and cheese if I cremated the roast. I also knew they would be honest and tell me if my dinner party was up to French standards, so I can invite my French friends next time. They were all fine with being my guinea pigs!
I set up my bar on the little kitchen trolley I bought at BUT. On offer...red wine, kirs, and cinzano.
Pre-dinner 'nibbles' on the coffee table in the living room. Lucie's taking a nap while she waits for the party to start.
We gathered at the table after drinks. First course was stuffed tomatoes, celeriac remoulade and a taboule salad, followed by the main course of turkey breast roasted with sliced red peppers and shallots, a side dish of carmelized carrots and fennel, and a potato/cauliflower gratin. We sipped a nice minervois with dinner which also paired nicely with the cheese course: a brie, a slice of gouda, and a tomme with plum chutney. Dessert....slices of a fromage blanc cake (much like a pound cake) topped with some of my clementine preserves and either creme fraiche or cream. I also put out small slices of the pastis that I bought up at the Telethon. Coffee, more wine and water to close the evening. The verdict? My guests gave me a thumbs up, and said I'm definitely ready to invite the French!
It was a fun evening...good friends and good conversation. And a nice way to say 'a bientot' to Laury who left this morning for two months in Holland.
It's been a really busy week. Laury arrived home from the States late Tuesday evening and the rest of the week has been filled running errands with her to Figeac, Cajarc and Villefranche, an apero party, a dinner party and then last night, the annual Telethon. In between all these things, packing for her work assignment that begins Monday, closing down her house for two months, and catching up with Dali and Sam cuddles, Laury somehow found time to decorate the living Christmas tree that she bought prior to leaving for the States. She wanted just a little Cadrieu Christmas before she leaves as she'll be spending the holidays working in Holland. So...since she's turning off the utilities at the Chatette, she decided it would be easier for me to water her tree if it spent the next two months at my house. This morning in a drizzly rain, we made the transfer. Gathering gloves, the wheelbarrow, a big plastic bag and her trusted side-kick (me), Laury began by carefully lifting the decorated tree down her stone steps...
Next she put it up into the wheelbarrow...
and covered it with a big plastic bag to protect the ornaments and keep them on the tree for its ride to my house.
While Laury balanced the tree, I pushed the wheelbarrow down the street and 'round the corner to my back gate. I can just hear the villagers wondering 'what are those crazy American women doing now??'
Voila! Here it is in my house lending a very festive air for tonight's dinner party to say good-bye to Laury!
How do you move a Christmas tree? Very carefully and with a lot of love!
Had I known the true nature of the invitation to Jane and Yves' house for lunch on Friday, I would have definitely taken along my camera. As it was, I had no idea of the surprise in store for me and left my camera sitting on the kitchen table. (The first rule of being a photographer is to ALWAYS take your camera...duh!) So, you'll have to be content with last spring's photo of Jane and Yves taken when Laury and I visited them. In honor of American Thanksgiving, Jane put together a yummy traditional Thanksgiving lunch for Jean and I! Our meal started with Jane's signature garlic soup and was followed by roast turkey breast and legs, a potato-cauliflower gratin, roasted sweet potatoes, English bread gravy, regular gravy and a jar of cranberry sauce contributed by Jean. In typical French fashion, the next course was cheese and bread. Jane baked a real pumpkin pie for dessert...real as in not made with canned pumpkin, but with real pumpkin that she cooked and blended for the filling. Wine, a warm fire, good conversation and good friends made the afternoon complete. I couldn't have asked for a better Thanksgiving in France! And true to my goal of 'melanged magic'....our meal was truly a melange of French, English, and American foods and traditions.
I did confess to Jane and Jean, tho, that I felt a trifle guilty celebrating our American holiday with them. After all, those thankful English pilgrims eventually became those contrary American revolutionists just a few generations later putting an end to England's rule of her colonies. Oh well...there were no hard feelings evident at lunch!
While you were enjoying turkey dinner with all the trimmings yesterday, I made the trek to Toulouse to obtain the residence sticker for my passport. This goes with my long-term visa and identifies me now as a temporary resident of France. Yay, me! This is acutally a collage of the sticker...didn't think I wanted all my official 'numbers' out there on the 'net. I had read that this part of the process was almost a non-event, but I was still anxious about not only the visit itself, but also finding the office. Indeed, finding the OFII building was tricky even with good directions from Google. I've found that if I take a wrong turn or miss an exit here, it's difficult to turn around and re-trace my route. Too many years living in the flat Midwest, I guess, where everything is laid out in a nice grid ...nothing is organized like that here, so I try to get it right the first time and not have to struggle with angled streets, impossible-to-find alternate routes, confusing round-a-bouts, etc.
Once I found the office, though, the process couldn't have been easier. Everyone was very nice, it went quickly, and before I knew it, I had my sticker and was out the door! The dogs were happy that I returned home only a half hour late to serve them their dinner. I was happy...and grateful...to have this last big thing checked off on my 'move to France' to-do list.
This is kind of my week at a glance. From the right...Tuesday found me in Cajarc mailing the signed insurance contract for my car along with the yearly premium. I also bought stamps at La Poste. The black folder contains all the paperwork for my car along with the manual for its radio/CD player. You see, the radio requires a code to activate it, and of course, I don't have the code. So, papers in hand I went back to the garage where I bought the car and managed to find enough French to ask if they had the code. Stephane worked magic on the Internet, found it, and even programmed it into my radio.
Wednesday...I'll take the Maeve Binchy book back up to the library and see if they have anything else in English I might like to read. The English shelf only has about 10 books, and I've already read half of them! I also made a trip back to Cajarc this morning to retrieve the radio manual that I left at the garage yesterday. Does anyone know how to say 'Duh!' in French??
Thursday...while you're eating turkey dinner with friends and family, I'll be in Toulouse for my visa appointment with the Office of Immigration. Seems really funny to have an appointment scheduled on Thanksgiving day. Hopefully, I'll be able to find this place. The blue folder contains all my visa paperwork and also a folder I call my "proof that I exist" folder. In France, every official transaction from opening a bank account to registering your car to getting your visa requires that you prove you exist! While they want to see your passport or your carte d'identite if you're French, les fontionaires also want proof that you exist in the real world. This requires that you show them a rent receipt, a purchase contract for your house, your electric bill or your phone bill. I keep all this together in a folder, so I can take it with me when I do anything official. If you're a homeless person, does this mean you don't exist in France? Kind of makes you think, huh?
Friday...if I have the energy after living in French all week, I may make something 'turkey' just because. I've never seen turkey on a restaurant menu, but it's quite popular in France and there is lots on offer at the grocery store. Not whole birds, tho. Mostly rolled breast meat to roast and legs. I think a nice roast with shallots and maybe a potato/cauliflower gratin? Not exactly a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, but as close as I'll come this year.
I fell in love with clementines last winter.Somehow they taste so much sweeter here in France than I remember from the States. They're such a healthy, easy snack; I buy them by the bag-full. So you can imagine how distressed I was to see the ones from the bag I bought last week starting to spoil right before my very eyes. I probably lost almost a third of the bag before I decided to see if there was some way to make jam from the good ones left. Christine Ferber to the rescue! You'll remember that I sent over a few favorite cookbooks this summer in preparation for my move here to France. Madame Ferber's book, Mes Confitures, is one that made the trip. She's the queen of French jams and jellies, and sure enough she had two different recipes for clementines. She uses her own homemade apple jelly instead of store-bought pectin. Not something I wanted to do, so I called my friend, Jean, who makes excellent jam.
I asked her where she buys her pectin and was surprised to learn that she never uses pectin! She thought there would be enough natural pectin in the lemons that are added to make the jam set. To be sure, she suggested buying 'confisuc,' special French sugar with a gelling agent especially for making jam. I decided to give it a go, as my Brit friends say. Now, my cookbook says to remove all the white part of the clementines. I hope you're not offended, but that just didn't happen. How in the world do you get all that off those tiny segments? I boiled the fruit, sliced lemons, sugar and a bit of cinnamon together and then let the mixture rest overnight in the 'fridge. My kitchen smelled heavenly-all cinnamon-y and citrus-y.
This morning I drained all the liquid from the fruit and brought it to a boil again. It boiled until it started to set; then I added the fruit back and cooked it a bit longer. I ended up with these three jars plus and a slightly larger one. While I would have liked a bit more firmness, the jam set up fairly well. And the taste is yummy...kind of a cross between marmalade and Christmas. I'm happy that most of my clementines didn't go to waster. Next time I must remember to check the bag to see if it carries a 'sell by' date!
Time for the celebration of this year's wine harvest! I treated myself to a bottle of the very young, very raw beaujolais. Yes..it's more about the party and definitely less about the taste of the wine!
And it's that time of year for the fire department's annual calendar distribution/ fund-raising visit. Unlike last year when I was so very puzzled over why I had two fire fighters knocking on my door, this year I knew exactly what they wanted. My donation ended up being twice what the bottle of beaujolais cost me, but was so much more worth it. Who doesn't appreciate two cute, young firemen at your door who wish you a bon weekend as they leave? I figure since Laury is gone, my donation should cover both of us!
I feel kind of like a teenager...the first time Dad gave me the car keys to my very own car. (Can you believe it was a 1963 Nash Rambler? OMG!) I am now the proud owner of my very own French car...a 2006 Clio. It's a diesel, 5-speed manual transmission and has AC. Not a luxury car, but very utilitarian for errands and a bit of exploring. The back seats lie flat, so I'll have plenty of room for Lucie and groceries and luggage when I have visitors. Diesel is cheaper than regular gas here in France, it gives better mileage, and a diesel engine lasts longer, so I think this was a good choice. Although I bought it on Nov.4th, I only took possession this morning. The garage where I bought it changed out several things, checked everything over and cleaned it up nicely. Waiting for it to be ready was good lesson in learning patience--very important when one lives in France as nothing gets accomplished quickly here.
There are still some loose ends to tie up...finalizing insurance, getting to the Prefecture in Villefranche to have it registered and buying the obligatory green reflective vest and triangle placards that every car in France is required to have visible in the car (not in the trunk!). But already I feel as if my world has opened up a bit. I can run into town for groceries when I want, and I'm really looking forward to loading up Lucie, getting out my Michelin map and wandering around the countryside.
Yesterday during the 11th hour, people all over France took time out to commemorate lives lost for their country during WWI, WW II, and the Algerian War. Even my tiny village had a commemoration event. We began gathering in front of the church at 11:45am, about 40 of us in all, villagers and ex-pats. Christiane read a short piece while everyone listened solemnly. Three children then laid a wreath of flowers at the foot of the war dead memorial. Madame Gentou, the mayor, spoke a brief prayer and then began slowly reading each name. After each, the crowd intoned 'mort pour France,' Died for France. War and the toll it takes on life is not an abstract idea here; it is very personal. War was fought right here during WWII with the French Resistance being very active against the occupying Germans. Right across the river from where I sit and high on the causse, Belgian prisoners of war were executed. Had I been sitting here at my computer that day with my windows open, I might have even heard the shots. Each person lost from this little village left a huge whole in the lives of all. Each was someone's son, a husband, a beloved brother, a good neighbor. It's not a bad thing to set aside time to remember that war impacts real people and to pray that it never happens again.