"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!