Friday, September 28, 2012
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Sunday, September 23, 2012
One of my favorite summer memories is of Granddad and I sitting on his back door stoop with a salt shaker and a basket full of big red tomatoes. We’d laugh about what we were getting ready to do, and then we’d open our mouths wide and take that big first juicy bite. I never escaped having seeds and juice running down my chin, but Gramps was an expert back porch tomato eater, so no mess on him. After that first bite it was a shake of salt, more bites, more salt. Not a snack to be eaten in proper company, nor even in the house, but this back stoop treat was the perfect way to savor summer.
Turns out I’m not the only one that sat in a special place on a hot summer day with her grandfather “eat’n like heath’ns”. As soon as I mentioned home grown tomatoes to an English friend she started in with the same story that I thought belonged to only my Granddad and me. Her memory was sitting in her grandfather’s greenhouse on an upturned plant pot, a tomato in one hand, salt shaker in the other, her Grandfather on his own upturned pot. She also gobbled up strawberries sitting in the middle of the strawberry patch, and the same with peas in the pod.
Now here in France I watch my neighbor’s grandchildren sitting on the patio with their grandparents, a basket full of colorful tomatoes on the table and a salt shaker in each child's hands, seeds on their cheeks and juice spots all over the table.
The French are crazy about this fruit that came over from the New World. We can find just about any variety that we used to have in our garden in Vermont. This spring I was able to find plants of 4th of July, Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple along with several varieties we had not tried before. They have thrived in the summer heat and continue to produce now at the end of September, something quite remarkable to a former Vermont Gardener.
In the late 1800’s the “phylloxera plague” (another introduction from the New World) wiped out 90% of the vineyards in France. Tomatoes rose in production as it was hoped that this would become the cash crop to replace the lost grapevines. Ketchup replacing wine?! The farmers hopes were raised with the arrival of the train system that could carry produce quickly from the Dordogne to the markets of Paris or London. But then came along Dutch tomatoes, ripened at all times of the year with natural gas. The French farmers were once again out of luck.
Nowadays in the Dordogne the king of tomatoes is tomate de Marmande. This variety is the work of hybridization done in various horticultural centers in the Dordogne between the two world wars. It won all sorts of agricultural fair prizes and has proven to be a consistent favorite ever since. It ripens early, is a beautiful lively red, has a true tomato smell and a slightly sugared taste. It’s a lot like a beefsteak tomato.
Here’s a delicious recipe that my neighbor shared with me the other day.
Tomatoes de Marmande Farcies
Stuffed Beefsteak Tomatoes
Select 4 large firm tomatoes
Cut the tops off making a hat.
Scoop out the largest seeds. Salt and pepper.
Place the tomatoes in a pyrex dish, lightly oiled
Heat oven to 350
In another pan sauté 1 diced onion and several diced garlic cloves to taste and ground beef or ground sausage cooked until brown
In a small mixing bowl beat 1 egg, add salt and pepper, a pinch of hot pepper, a small handful of parsley finely chopped and add to the meat mixture.
Stuff the tomatoes.
Cover with herbed bread crumbs.
add a cut of butter and a sprinkling of grated cheese of your liking.
Put the hats back on and bake for 30 - 40 minutes. Frequently baste the tomatoes with their pan juices.
Serve hot with a salad of roquette and walnut oil.
(Editor’s note: Our apologies to any heathens who might take offense.)
Friday, September 21, 2012
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
OohLaLa OohLaLa OohLaLa. Various tones of this classic french expression rippled up and down the train platform. Each person expressing this classic french “oh my” in their own distinctive voice. From high pitched to deep guttural and even some with a few extra la la las added on. OoLaLa la la la la......
From the moment “my” five beautiful, spirited, curious American women descended the steps of the French high speed train it was ‘OohLaLa’. The energy just flowed down the steps of the train with them - along with an amazing amount of big heavy suitcases. Heads turned on track #1 as I greeted three woman that I have know for 25 years and two that I was just about to get to know. This excited moment of hello kisses while wrangling up large, heavy luggage created a lot of curiosity among the reserved, quiet French travelers. You could tell they were asking themselves what could these women have in those enormous bags and was this really 5 handsome women traveling together ? Where were the men?! And this was just the beginning of being noticed wherever we went and the infectious joie de vivre they brought to every experience. We were off on a seven-day exploration of the secrets of the Perigord Vert and into an unexpected immersion into a world where the French are humorously horrified and fascinated with the boisterousness of the American spirit.
At our first night’s dinner it took about half a minute for our waiter to realize that the more he teased us the easier his job was. Teasing in english with a french accent is just more than a one can stand so the laughing spilled out into the refined French atmosphere.
The next night it took about a minute and a half for things to get rolling. When asked to take a photo of the group the waiter asked “Where is the button?” and then without a moments reflection he said “Men are always looking for the button.” - did I translate this or not - but of course!! and there we were off on a howl.....
The next day started off well, a quiet breakfast at home, calm drive over to Brantome’s Friday market - and then the gang descended on the market vendors. Every vendor at the market was hoping this whirlwind of women would visit their stand because there was some serious shopping going on.
Leaving a lot of smiling merchants, we headed off to an afternoon picnic and cultural tour - yes, we did have some serious adventures as well. It’s hard to believe, but our group was the calm one at the lovely picnic spot. There was a party of about 20 French people next to us and throughout their meal they would break into song, then laugh and hoot at each other. So far we remained poised and correct, but how long could that last.... and as I packed up the car I suddenly heard “Happy Birthday to You, Happy..... “ All five of my girls were gathered in front of the french merry-makers singing away to a French birthday girl. Next thing I knew there was champagne for all and a lot of funny english french/french english ’conversations’. All this because one of my girls had asked “Anniversaire?” Way to go brave girls!
Singing seemed to be the groups theme, well and a few other themes that will stay locked in the bosom of the group. After a morning of more shopping and happy vendors at the antiques market in Bourdeilles we were having coffee in the center of the village, and suddenly the gang broke out into a medley of theme songs from T.V. shows of the 60’s and 70’s. You have to understand that even though we were sitting at one cafe they were actually serenading all 4 cafes and most of the village center. Later Tom was stopped in the village and asked “Do all American women sing wherever they go?”
We won’t even go into what commotion 5 American women cause at the horse races, but we did have a grand time at this beautiful course which unfolds from the shadow of the Chateau of Madame Pompadour. If you ever have the opportunity to go there watch out for Gaston! (Code word for “Girls, that man is allll French!”)
It says a lot about the joie de vivre that emanated from my gaggle of women that they were welcomed, teased and embraced in such a variety of settings. As I piled the gang back onto the train I could sense their fellow passengers starting to get in to the groove as they were recruited to help heft those enormous bags from the platform to the train car and asked to be sure that they helped the girls know when to start moving that crazy luggage to the exit so that they didn’t continue on to Brussels and test another culture’s sensibilities to that big, embracing, and infectious American esprit.
Dates for 2013 to be posted very soon www.oohlalafrance.com
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
There will be no pictures today. Feelings, beliefs and souls can not be captured and shown by way of photography.
The bells began to ring out wildly. A hush fell over the gathering of friends and family standing outside of the church. One could feel the weight of the deep, resonant sound of the great bells. A weight that we already felt in our hearts and now was sounding out for all the world to hear. A peel into the bright clear day of sorrow, of remembering, and of saying goodbye. We fell into place and entered into the church surrounded by the embracing sound of the bells.
These bells had sounded out just like this the day before. I had just gone into the yard to hang the laundry when the great clanging began, washing over me on my little ridge. One can tell these are not bells that are ringing the hour. There is a wild insistence to the sound carrying over the village. An announcement that we have lost a neighbor, a friend, an ancient soul. They toll on and on and on. I knew that these bells tolled for a friend, a special friend to all of the village. Those bells brought me to a stand still, a gasp as I could physically feel the grief welling up, tears brimming in my eyes. The bells created a lovely place and time to sit with this sad feeling. The sound of the bells washing over and up, up into the endless blue sky. It was a private space and moment where I could reflect in my own way the shared experiences with this friend. I also realized that I was in communion with the entire village. I wanted the bells to go on and on and to get crazier and crazier releasing all the emotion that was built up inside me.
Here in the church we were all gathered under the great sound. The priest's voice finding the rhythm of the bells, speaking sing song, saying something that I could not quite catch. Then he said, “Our friend will be at the gates of heaven” - and the bells stopped. It took my breath away. Suddenly there was an image that was so concrete. I had not realized how the bells would transport my friend to a place that I have heard of, talked about, debated, and that was now suddenly a ‘place’ completely clear and real. A place that rested just on the edge of where the sound could carry. Carrying along a soul with it.
Then the bells started up again and we knew it was time to move on, let our friend go, envision him with the great wildness of the bells. He’s free; free.
And now again our village bells carry on their daily duty of giving rhythm to our lives. They are wonderful bells and wether heard in grief or joy they are a part of life here in France. Except now I envision myself hanging from the bell-pull expressing my emotions with the swinging and clanging of the bells radiating out to the great beyond.