Monday, January 31, 2011

Delicious Smells

Lunch time with Tom and Susan.
Free from the threat of invasion by Romans, Visigoths, Barbars and Vikings, American village homes sit comfortably apart from one another.  Huddled together in mutual defense against the aforementioned guerellous passers-through, French villages ressemble small urban enclaves, all the homes sharing the defense of the village by sharing a wall.
So, when one goes by Mrs. Brown’s house,the smell or her meatloaf is long gone by the time one gets to Mrs. Smith’s and the smell of her pork roast.  And it is quite a ways farther until your feet take your nose to the source of Mrs. Smith’s pork roast-- Farmer Johnson’s pigs.
Our French village is a place where smells waft about in layers, fight for aromatic dominance, and blur the lines between town and country.  
They also announce the time of day as well as a clock.  We awake to the indescribable smell of the river fog. You know it is there, it envelops you, but there is no describing the odor or the way it makes the morning seem to begin as if in a dream.
A dream that has you sleepily entering the bakery wondering which type of baguette has most recently come out of the oven so you can pop that smell right into your awaiting taste buds.
On leaving the bakery one can already smell the preparations for lunch at the retirement home next door. The aromas of a rich onion broth float just above a hint of sweetness that hints at cakes.
By noon we are drooling over the smells wafting over from our neighbor’s kitchen. Because we have stuck to our American routine of dinner, not lunch, serving as the day’s primary meal we have no smells to compete with those coming from the neighbor’s kitchen. We are enticed by the rich smell of lunch preparations that waft over the wall from our neighbor. She fixes lunch every day for herself and her family. It takes every bone in my body not to invite myself on over. What could she be cooking today? Hmm, I discern cabbage, garlic, a hint of walnut oil, and could that be pork cutlets or lamb stew? Will they have couscous or little pasta stars? Any chance they want to share the leftovers? And that is just my immediate neighbor. Imagine the narrow streets of our village at noon. One could feast on the odors. A new concept in dieting.

One day I could smell apples simmering, lots of them. The next day my neighbor came over with a jar of jelly and a bowl of fruit paste. They had both been made out of quince fruit, not apples after all. And so I learned a new smell. One that I will associate with lovley neighbors as I watch the fruit ripen on the quince tree next summer.
Life is full of smells that evoke a place or time or person. It’s fun to be sniffing out new odors. These too will be added to life’s experiences and illicit an ‘oh! remember.....’ when least expected. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday's Petite Aquarelle

Poppies and Wheatfield
aka Winter Escape

Monday, January 24, 2011

Standing on a Rock

With five generations of furniture out of the house there have been a ‘few’ unexpected discoveries. The most obvious was the bounce in the floor of the den. There was fear that if Tom jumped one more time it would simply give in under him and he’d land in some deep pit.

The fact of the matter was that the floor was so rotten that you could cut out the boards with a No. 2 pencil. And one would never fall to China because the floor rested directly on the rock outcropping that the house is built on. 161 years of sitting on a damp outcropping. Hmmm, wonder what that does to wood?

Tom decided that a concrete floor would be just the thing to prevent further problems. He enlisted a friend to help and they spent the morning pouring a new floor. In their pursuit of the perfect batch of cement, they were quite pleased with themselves as they constantly changed the proportions of sand, cement, and water. Tom came home glowing at a job well done.

The next day I made it a point to admire the new floor. Hmmm, it seemed pretty obvious that there was something amiss in this concrete slab. Dropping a bag of marbles into this room would cause a melee of motion.  There were enough hills and valleys to keep the marbles careening around for hours.

And what about that great big swale in the center? Yes, Tom said the floor did seem to have changed. Mysteriously, it was not the perfect level and flat floor he left yesterday.

That very afternoon I happened to be at a birthday party and mentioned the wavy floor to my host, who is a stonemason.

So here’s what I found out that Tom should have found out before he found himself floundering on his concrete floor:  if each batch of concrete doesn’t have the exact same proportions of ingredients, what you end up with is a roller coaster of a floor.

Nothing that ten bags of floor leveler won’t fix.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Sketch

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Monday, January 17, 2011

Oh no....

We didn’t mean to. It wasn’t budgeted. Never crossed our minds. But 6 months before we moved to France full time we fell in love with a strange house on the outskirts of Bourdeilles.

Actually I had been in love from the very first time I walked past it years ago. It’s a house you can’t miss and it drives you mad to see inside it and know what it is all about. A house that is more Tunisian than French. A home covered in roses in the summer. Clearly a home loved by who ever lived there.

We found the house listed for sale one morning in the window of a local real estate agency. We were just glancing in to check on land some place in town for a studio for Tom. 
You could have knocked me over with a baguette. 

We made inquiries and met with the family of the home. 

We knew as soon as we set foot in the house that we were going to make this place home. The rooms have a lovely scale and are so flooded with light that there's little room for anything else. Plenty of space for living and working. 

Adding to the experience was meeting and negotiating with the 92-year-old owner, Monsieur Bazinette, AKA “le patron” (the boss), “le Chef” (the chief), or “Pepe” (pronounced ‘peh-pay’, meaning grandpa). If charm was a flower, this gentleman  is a garden.

A quick tour of the yard sealed the deal. Old fruit trees and roses all around. Perennials that we’d never been able to have in Vermont. And a great big space just waiting for a studio and gardens to surround it. 

So much for downsizing and living the simple life. What kind of mischief was our magical mischievous ‘travel genie’ up to that day?!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Sketch

Festival at a Chateau

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Our French Stove

Monday, January 10, 2011

A stove is a stove, right?

Things you take for granted about your stove.
When you push a button or turn a knob it comes on.
The oven has a thermostat and it is accurate to within a degree or two.
Years ago, when I selected a stove for this house I chose the smallest and probably cheapest oven-cooktop at the local appliance store. At that time we were only here for a few weeks at a time and I figured a stove was a stove. My priorities were that it fit in the funny little galley kitchen and that it could be installed quickly. That seemed straight forward enough.
Shopping Village, Brantome

Shopping Street, Rue Puy Jolie

A day or two later the stove was delivered. They wheeled it down the sidewalk that leads to our home. Popped it into a corner of the kitchen where it could be connected to a gas tank. And voila, time to get cooking that fancy french food!
Tom and the installer stood back admiringly and I stepped in to check it out. I turned a knob on the stove top. Nothing happened. I looked around at Tom and the technician. How do I turn it on? Well with a match of course. A match?! Ever since I played with Grandma’s matches and almost burned down my favorite motel I have been afraid of matches. Now add gas to the equation and I was completely flipped out. And there was more to worry about.
The oven also has to be lit with a match. Now putting my head in an oven, trying to get enough gas pooled, and then get it lit was way more than I could handle. Loosing some eye brow does get you a lit oven, but it doesn’t get you the temperature you want.  Neither of us noticed that our itty-bitty, low-cost, white-enameled unit doesn’t have a thermostat. The temperature range is: on, not really off, and off.
How had this happened? How could the appliance store carry such a stupid oven? Why would anyone even manufacture something like that!?
My favorite appliance store. Just need to remember to check out all the parts.
Do I hear you saying cheap, impatient........or was I thinking I may have found the latest in French Country chic?
PS-- I now cook by smell and never even think about temperature and time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Syrup vs Truffles

Monday, January 3, 2011

Vermont LOVE

Love. One can love more than one child at a time. One can love many many friends. And one can love more than one place.

We love the states we grew up in. We love France. But the other morning we spent a bit of time remembering that we love Vermont. A state so full of special places, interesting characters and delicious flavors.

New Year's morning we wallowed in the glorious flavor of Vermont. The world’s best flavor. The flavor of Vermont Maple Syrup.

Imagine our surprise recently when a large package arrived on our door step. Not being patient people we opened it up right then and there, no waiting for Christmas. And in that box there were two quarts of ‘farm fresh' Isham Family Farm Maple Syrup, maple crème (no French dessert will ever match this!) and a lovely note of friendship. What could better represent Vermont and what life there is about.

In the past we have shared a holiday breakfast with our Isham Family Farm friends. This year we would have to have our favorite way to start the New Year with out them. And yet they were with us every bite of the way.

Yes we love France, but mornings with a plate of French toast and REAL maple syrup make us long for the love of Vermont. Way to make us ‘home’ sick Mike!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas Menu

Granddad wants mashed potatoes with lots of butter. Brother Charlie wants sweet potatoes with marshmallows melted on top. Aunt Sue wants fresh off the stalk brussels sprouts. Dad wants his mother’s Christmas pie. Every holiday dinner has its old standbys and new fangled ideas.
Last week we found ourselves planning the Christmas dinner menu with French friends. Potatoes, check. 
Vegetables, check. 

A big bird, it would be a chapon, which is a castrated rooster....?!, check. 
Nothing too different so far. (Knowing nothing either way about turkey eunuchs)
Then my brain sprung, we are living in France. What do french people have after the meal and before the dessert?  Cheese. Oh my glorious day. 

I took advantage of our french host and asked him to help me with the cheese selection. Off we went to a well stocked cheese counter. We had to start with a cheddar for Tom. This got the cheese vendor off on a funny foot. She said she often sells cheddar to foreign shoppers and finally had to ask what do you do with this hard, dry, flaky cheese? Imagine that conversation to the ears of a Vermonter. Then we poked and prodded an Epoise. This needed to be ripe, stinky. I was to gently push the packaging to see that the cheese would dimple with a slight push. Did it have a bit of a reddish, orange tint to the surface?  It certainly had the stink. Ahh, then it will be perfect on Christmas evening. And then back to the cheese vendor. How about a really good Roquefort?

Here the conversation turned to the very high price. This is a cheese to be savored. It will set the pocket book back but it is worth it - just be sure to have guest that appreciate the effort. Now the Roblechon......

You get the picture. This was an adventure in how to find a food at its perfection. How to find tastes that stimulated the palette yet were subtle and divine after a full meal. Cheeses that would be savored one small bite at a time. Enhanced even further with a good wine.
Now that was a Christmas menu!
And to top it all off our friends made a Christmas pie  (Isle Flotant -- Floating Islands) just like my father’s mother. My grandmother that loved all things French.
Well a lot fancier than Grandmas, but a taste that took me back to childhood Christmas dinners.

Saturday, January 1, 2011