Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More from the Market...

As intrigued as I was with the truffles yesterday, I also did a whole lot of people-watching as the market progressed. As the clock ticked down the minutes to the starting bell, people continued to gather along the truffle tables...
maybe a couple of hundred at the height of the buying and selling.
The sellers talked prices and weather...
while this old French buyer strained to get a better look at the truffles.

This woman in her red beret, purple and black skirt and knee-high boots with her distinguished-looking husband and tiny dog kept Laury and I fascinated as we drank our beer and nibbled on our fries. But when she pulled on long, fingerless red gloves...I knew I needed a photo!
This tall gendarme strode purposefully through the crowd. I'm sure with the amount of euros changing hands as the truffles were purchased, he was keeping an eye open for any illegal activity.
Some market-goers were just nice to look at. If this is your husband or significant other, know that he was appreciated!

There were some other nice-looking attendees at the market. More of them another day.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Marche aux Truffes

What looks like lumpy potatoes or clods of dirt are actually a fungus more precious than gold to gastronomes. Every Tuesday afternoon from the first of December to mid-March, people from all over France converge on Lalbenque, the largest truffle producing area in the country, to buy truffles. Laury and I were among them today. I've been wanting to see the market all winter, but between my bad knee and the icy cold weather, today was the first time it really seemed feasible to make the 40 kilometer drive. It was a perfect afternoon for truffle and people-watching in Lalbenque...warm enough to sit outside and have a biere pression and share a plate of frites while we waited for the bell that signalled the beginning of the market. We watched the buyers and sellers eye each other across the ropes stretched to keep them apart until it was time to negotiate.
We intentionally arrived early so we could take photos and relax a bit before the action began. According to what I'd read about the market, the buying/selling only lasts a short time. If you're late for the opening bell, you miss out. It was fascinating to watch the crowd gather. You could tell just from observing the buyers that many were not local. The sellers lined up basket-to-basket the length of long, narrow tables. The buyers piled up several people deep against the restraining rope. At the bell, rung precisely at 2:30pm, the rope dropped and the sniffing, pinching, scraping, and negotiating began. As I understand the process from reading the internet, buyers must make an offer of a price per kilo (even if they only want a much smaller amount). The seller then says yes or no. I guess half the fun is negotiating an agreeable price. At prices that can go as high as !000 euros per kilo, buying truffles is not for the faint-of-heart! I watched a man and his family buy a little bag of 3 small truffles and hand 70 euros to the seller.


By 3pm most of the truffles had disappeared, but most of my questions had not. I'm intrigued with the entire process. I want to know more about truffles and how people use. them It appeared that those truffles that weren't bought went home with the sellers...how long do they last? do they bring the same ones back next week if they don't get a price they are happy with? how do you buy just one? could I afford one? I definitely want to make another trip and try my hand at truffle-buying, but it will have to wait until next year, I'm afraid. This year's season is almost over.

There will be more photos from the truffle market, so be sure to check back!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a quintessential French dish. There are probably as many 'authentic' cassoulet recipes as there are French cooks! Everyone thinks theirs is the best, most authentic, etc. I found my recipe over at Life on La Lune. (You can click on the title to find the blog post with the recipe) While Vanessa admits her recipe is 'faux' cassoulet and one that wouldn't find favor with French cooks, I think it's perfect; it's easy, yummy good and made with ingredients I have on hand most of the time. However, before you try to replicate it, be aware that in my opinion, the secret to its yumminess is this: haricots lingots cooked in goose fat. The goose fat adds a depth of flavor, richness and texture that plain ol'  butter beans won't, I'm afraid. Where has goose fat been all my life? It's an incredible flavor enhancer. I'm so glad the French aren't so obsessed with their cholesterol that they've eliminated such lush ingredients as this...and duck fat...and butter...and cream from their diet!

I invited Laury down to be my culinary guinea pig and critique the cassoulet. We enjoyed a lovely light dinner of cassoulet, salad with my raspberry dijon vinigarette, fresh baguette and a nice Bergerac. She rated the dish with four and a half stars. Not five stars, so as to give me room to experiment and make it even better. And she recommended that I serve it to our French friends in the village. Are you kidding me?...I'm not that brave!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday

I went into Cajarc yesterday for groceries and a stop at the Wednesday morning market. I also paid a quick visit to the church to light a candle in lieu of attending a service and receiving the imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday. It's become my practice to light a candle here...in a side chapel of the church dedicated to the memory of a Carmelite nun, Sister Mary Henrietta of Providence. Born Mary Annette Pieras (1760) here in Cajarc, this nun was one of 16 Sisters, lay and extern Sisters guillotined in 1794 during the final days of the Reign of Terror (French Revolution). Their execution took place at Place de la Nation; their bodies were buried in a common grave with other persons executed during the Reign. Referred to as the Martyrs of Compiegne, the bravery of these Sisters is credited with helping to bring the blood-bath of the Revolution to an end. It certainly seems as if a candle is an appropriate way to honor this brave woman and her Sisters.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paperwhite Update

The paperwhites are loving the warm, bright sunroom. One is blooming...it smells heavenly!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Social Media

I have very ambivalent feelings about social media and networking that way. I've had a Facebook page for a couple of years that I've taken down and put up again...twice. When I talked with my daughter-in-law via Skype the other evening, she mentioned that my 17 year old grandson has a Facebook page. So, I've taken the plunge and again activated my page. I figure that may be the only way grandma will be able to be in contact with her social media-conscious grandson! An added plus is that I can link each blog post to my 'wall.' I guess avoiding social media is impossible unless I want to be considered an old fossil! So, friend me!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Light Supper With Friends

I took this photo of Jean and Laury in 2009 when we visited the Limogne Sunday market. It was a beautifully clear, but cool morning, so a coffee at a local cafe was welcome. Last night these two friends joined me for a light supper at the Little Train House. Jean and I had tried a salade paysan (country salad) at Le President a few weeks ago, and I wanted to see if I could replicate it. I started with a base of fresh butter lettuce (from Jackie's booth at the Cajarc market) and then topped it with a spoonful of chicken livers sauteed in lardons, shallots and a splash of red wine, a spoonful of mushrooms sauteed in butter, a poached egg, and a warmed and runny Rocamadour cabecou (round of goat cheese) Accompanied by fresh bread, a few pieces of leftover pizza contributed by Laury, and a glass of red wine, it was the perfect meal. And of course, we finished with some goodies from our favorite patisserie...an opera, a citron tartlette, and a confection of coconut and apple all divided into small pieces so we each had a taste of all three. Friends, Friday night and fun food...could be anywhere in the world, but made all the better because it was here....in France!

If you're new to Melanged Magic, you might notice that I occasionally link to another blog: Musings From Red Bell Farm. That was my original blog. If you're interested in how I got from Iowa to France...that's the place to find out!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Waiting for Spring

Between my funky knee and the funky, freezing weather, I haven't done much exploring the past few weeks. So, even my trip into Figeac for a doctor's appointment seemed a treat! As I walked down the main street towards old Figeac and le Halle, the exterior display at the flower shop caught my attention...shelves of spring bulbs to force! I made it a point to walk back to my car the same way, so I could stop and buy a bit of spring. I'm tired of waiting for it to arrive! These paperwhites are soaking in the light on my dining room table. I'll keep you posted on their progress.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Maquis in Ambeyrac

When I pulled back the big bush partially covering the plaque on the side of the Ambeyrac church that honored Belgian refugees, I found this plaque above it. It commemorates a famous Corsican Resistance organizer who obviously organized in Ambeyrac as well. Most of my online research about this man centers around his work done on Corsica. He was, in fact, killed there by Blackshirts in late 1943 during the Liberation of Corsica. But before that he organized a Resistance cell in the Aveyron. Instead of trying to tell you the story myself, I'll simply use his words as recorded in a history of the Resistance in the Aveyron written by history professors, Christian Font and Henri Moizet.
Dominique Vincetti  - The establishment of the Ols maquis in Aveyron.

“First we had to figure out where to set up the maquis. During the first days our investigations led us to the limestone plateaus of Ambeyrac; there we were, three Frenchmen. We went to see the plateaus, which, according to our intelligence, seemed to meet our needs; if our information was accurate, Ambeyrac would soon be the main base of our maquis. We reached the plateaus at around four o’clock in the afternoon, coming from the Naussac railway station on little dirt roads winding through fields in order to avoid the villages of Naussac, Gelles, Foissac; a stranger in those little places would stand out right away. Every afternoon we explored the plateau in every direction and at night we decided to go down to Ambeyrac where our friend Louis knew the schoolteacher, Marty, who was sent there by Vichy. We didn’t reach the village until around midnight; it was as though we were in a maze where every house looked exactly the same and every grove looked alike. The people in the village were still up; even though it was midnight, folks living in the countryside don’t want to have any official time. It was around midnight when we reached Marty’s house and asked him if we could spend the night. We exchanged our impressions around a little fire. We talked about the organisational possibilities; everything seemed to be what we needed. In the morning our two comrades left before daybreak: they were regional leaders. The same day Marty introduced me to Monsieur Vernet; he’s a typical Aveyron farmer, gruff and very plain-speaking. I realised  that you had to talk straight with this man, that there was no need to beat around the bush or make up stories. I straightforwardly explained to him why I was in the area, the goal of my visit, my mission. He listened very carefully. Our friend had several young children and was supporting his old grandfather, but patriotism, chained France, he said, was more important than family considerations and his duty was to help break those chains. He owned a little house on the plateau. It was neither a flower-bedecked chalet nor a lavish country villa where people who had gotten rich on collaborating went on holiday, but a simple little barn, a shelter for livestock in bad weather. He unhesitatingly gave us the keys but that wasn’t all. In a few days, he told us, some young men would come to stay at our ‘villa’ and we’d have to find something for them to eat, at least for the first few days. ‘When those young men arrive of course you have to feed them,’ he said. ‘No chicken but potatoes, bread, beans, lard and even a little walnut oil.’ One more thing, we needed a little straw to sleep on. ‘We’ll find some,’ our friend answered. ‘You won’t manage all alone, we’ll have to find somebody to help you,’ he said. Don’t you think there are some people in the village who’d gladly help the maquis? But Vernet was wary, a little reluctant, he didn’t want rumours to start circulating about the birth of the Maquis; people might talk and spill the beans.”

I found this information at a very informative website: STRUTHOF, the former Nazi concentration camp in the Alsace. Photos courtesy of Google images.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Water Woes

What do you see flowing from my fully opened kitchen faucet? The correct answer is NOTHING! My water worries began mid-afternoon yesterday when I suddenly lost water pressure. I still had flow, just not very much. With the continued very cold temperatures, I was afraid that perhaps ice was forming in the pipes and impeding full flow. So, I called Christiane first to see if perhaps the water company was doing work on pipes in the village that might impact water pressure. The answer was no, so she sent Jean-Paul to have a look at my pipes. He fiddled around a bit, turning taps on and off, scratched his head, and called Patrick, my landlord. He zoomed down and agreed that this was not normal water flow. He and Jean-Paul worked the rest of the afternoon trying to thaw potentially ice-impacted pipes. Actually, I think it was a good excuse for them to play with Patrick's walkie-talkies as there was brisk French conversation from my kitchen down into the basement! But, they never managed to improve the flow. Patrick put a portable heater in the basement in an effort to warm up the pipes, but told me I didn't need to leave the taps open a tiny bit through the night (which is what I'd do in Iowa when temperatures would plummet).
I woke up about 1am and checked the faucets; the flow had decreased dramatically, so I left one open all night. This morning around 7am, the flow stopped completely! I'd prepared for this by running a bucket of water for the toilet and several pitchers and pots for kitchen use, so I wasn't too worried. Inconvenient, but do-able if necessary. Around 9am the phone rang. It was Greg with news from Christiane (who becomes our 'communications centrale' when there is a village crisis). Indeed, there was a leak in one of the large water pipes that serves our village and SAUR was working on it. Thus, no water!. Within an hour or so, the problem was fixed, and the crisis was over. I now have full water pressure....and several pots, pitchers and buckets of water sitting around the house!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Still Cold in the Lot

It's still cold in France. Temperatures have not risen above freezing all week. Jean's water is off because she has a frozen valve; Laury returned from her work assignment to frozen pipes in the Chatette. Every afternoon about 4pm the 'bucket brigade' arrives at my house, and I supply coffee and washing up water to both Laury and Jean. Not having water is not much fun! I looked at the weather forecast just now and don't see much improvement for the next few days. Temps may rise barely above freezing, during the day but will then plunge into negative numbers at night. Not the best weather for thawing pipes!

Monday, February 6, 2012

How Cold Is It?

The cold weather has been all the news for the last few days in France. Four people have perished in the cold, two of those homeless men. In a country of really old buildings and with so much built with stone, the cold is very intense even for those who have homes. Then yesterday, it snowed. Here in Cadrieu it measures under an inch, but that's enough to slow everything and everyone down. And in Cahors where the snowfall measured 6 inches, it was enough to strand Laury when she arrived by train yesterday from Paris. I wasn't driving in it, and the buses weren't running...and still aren't today. Temperatures are predicted to fall even more tonight with lows predicted to be -10 Centigrade ( 14 degrees Fahrenheit). I know...that certainly isn't Midwest-cold, but it's colder than people are prepared for here.

And I know you're wondering why less than an inch of snow kept me from driving into Cahors to pick up Laury. Let me just say...you need to experience the river road from here to there before you scoff and call me a chicken. It's beyond narrow and winding, difficult even in perfect weather conditions. Laury stayed the night with a friend, and I stayed safe and warm here at home!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Rest of the Story

I know from corresponding with Tom Natan over at First Vine that many of you who read my blog clicked over to his to read the story of his father's life as a Jewish refugee in France during World War II. Tom has just posted 'the rest of the story,' and it's pretty amazing. Again, I encourage you to stop by and read it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Looking Up...Looking Down

When I wander through medieval villages, I'm often looking up. I love to snap photos of half-timbered buildings, bell towers, church steeples, pretty shutters and stone carvings. I'm particularly fond of the little niches you see on the corners and sides of old stone houses that shelter statues of saints. Like this one of Joseph and baby Jesus...at least that's who I think it is. The Virgin is also a popular subject....
But as I wandered through Cajarc last week taking photos of the dog pooping places, I was reminded that I should also be looking down. I was amazed to see this in a tiny square that I've walked through many times and never noticed...
(you thought it was going to be 'crotte de chien,' didn't you?)