Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Getting in the Groove

Oh, the complications of French life…. understanding when to greet someone with a kiss or a handshake, how to drive fast enough on go-cart wide roads, figuring out just what documents you will need to apply for anything. But, returning from an extended stay in the US, the biggest one for me when I am getting back into my French routine is how to organize the grocery shopping.  I’m not saying that life is tough, probably not even really complicated, it’s just that getting into the groove of another way of doing things takes some patience.

When I get back to France it’s usually not the “right” day to get back into the usual routine. It doesn’t help that even if it was the right day I’d have to be up in time to get to the market. The first jet-lagged week home I don’t get up in time for anything. So after being away for practically 4 months the first grocery outing was to Aldi, the german chain of stores popping up all over France. Shame on me for not shopping local, but the Germans stay open at lunch. Tom had managed to budget his coffee, toilet paper and paper towels to the very last second of my absence.  Aldi was my first stop to restock cleaning and paper products and all the junkfood we eat-- cookies, peanuts, chips, etc. It is a shock to my jet-lagged brain that I have to bag my own groceries.  Very quickly! To keep the line moving, Aldi’s counter space after the cash register can be measured in micrometers. Bag it fast or pick it up off the floor!  Oh, those kooky Germans!

The second stop was Carrefour Market, the regular (French) grocery store. As a re-entry shopping experience, Carrefour is uncomplicated. I can go there with a list and be sure that I will find everything I need. Of course my Americanized brain always forgets that I have to weigh my own fruits and vegetables before I get to the checkout, and I will surely underestimate the amount of shopping bags that I have to bring from home. 

As my American fog starts to lift I get back to the daily routine of planning out what I need for the day. When I am better organized I can walk down to the corner grocery. (One of Bourdeilles’ groceries closed while I was away. I am crushed.) Shopping locally means being more creative about what we are going to eat. I can’t just pull out a recipe and know that I will find the ingredients down at the corner store. I can however count on great fruits and vegetables, a chance to catch up with folks in the village, a rose bush for sale, a small rack of affordable clothes, or an off-brand flat screen TV that has been sitting in the window forever. 

All is well in the kitchen when Sunday morning comes back around. My jet lag has cleared and I am ready for my favorite challenge. Hunting and gathering at Bourdeilles’ Sunday market. There are two vegetable vendors, Paola and Vincent, one bread vendor, Marie Anne, one traveling “organic” products van, Cecile, and one cheese vendor, Louise. The cheese stand is easy. I can buy anything there and be happy. What I buy depends on how much of last week’s cheese is still smelling up the fridge. The bread is easy too. It’s always a brioche unless it’s already sold out. Her olive bread will be a nice change of pace from baguettes and croissants during the week. The vegetable stand is where my brain has to kick in. Veggies are the base of our meals. The thing is that there is just no telling what one is going to find. It can be a once-in-the-whole-year appearance or it could be the same selection for weeks on end. Yesterday was a jackpot day. Both vegetable vendors had a nice array of choices. The trick was to stand on the edge of the market and try to scope out what Paola had that Vincent didn’t and vice versa. That way I support both of them, but don't double up on fava beans or more rutabaga than we can eat. Judging how much to buy so that there is no waste can be a bit tricky. There is the chance that later in the week I won’t feel inspired by these fresh, tasty treasures that look so tempting this morning. Thank goodness that often the best thing is to just gently steam the vegetable and have it accompany a small piece of meat or fish. I am the queen of one pot dinners so there is often a very strange mix of veggies with different spices to mix up the flavor sensations. Even though none of it is goulash, that is what we call all of these mystery dishes.

So after a week or two of hovering between two continents I have returned to the rhythm of keeping the cupboards full. The fridge has just the right, slight smell of goats cheese. One can go to the toilet without fear of no paper. Shopping bags are always in the car. Now the biggest complication is adding in the extra time it takes to do the shopping as one stops along the way to visit with the neighbors.

Here is a link to a cooking school not far away in our region: https://maisontravers.wordpress.com

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