Friday, April 24, 2020

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thank You Big Little Store

Our big little store isn’t so big, but lack of space doesn’t mean lack of merchandise. On the contrary you can find the most amazing array of items here.
To start with there is no shortage of toilet paper. There is a regular supply of eggs, flour, butter, pastas, and fruit juices. You can still purchase cleaning supplies with bleach to calm your anxieties.

This little store is not small because it is a gourmet specialty shop. This is a rough and tumble country store that caters to a wide range of culinary tastes. Yet sometimes gourmet it is. We can purchase farm direct goat cheese, yogurt, cassoulet, duck confit and foie gras. The fruit and vegetables selection is a bit limited because they only sell things that are seasonally available, but what they have is top quality. Imagine our excitement when this past week strawberries showed up for the first time since last October. Strawberries from just over the hill. Strawberries bright red and oh so sweet. All year the bananas are different every week —different countries, different sizes— but they always have a delicious creamy banana flavor. The meat selection is a bit “French” for me, but it too is sourced locally. Back when deliveries were less complicated there was fresh fish every Friday.
In addition to to all of that proper food there are baking ingredients for the most exacting baker, Italian flavors, Oriental flavors, Mexican flavors, an organic section, sodas, beers, and, what a wine selection! (mostly regional of course - and inexpensive/cheap). This store even has hardware and essential household goods. Last year they had, and sold, a television.

I’ve listed this plethora of essentials one can buy and yet what the big little store is most full of is concern and commitment to the community.

The most important ingredient of the big little store are its owners, Monique and Pascal. 

Monique and Pascal work hard.

Lately they have risen to the challenge to work even harder. It started way back when President Macron stated that confinement in France would start the next day at noon. People flooded into the store in a small village version of a tidal wave of panic buyers. Pascal likes the shelves of his shop to be totally stocked at all times and he watched breathlessly as things were flying off the shelves faster than he could refill them.

Ever since then Pascal and Monique have been running - well sort of in place, but pretty much exerting the same energy as a marathon.

One morning a few days into the “long duration,” the little grocery had the uncomfortable task of telling the morning regulars they had to have their morning coffee as take out. They drank their brew in front of the store. This led to a visit from the gendarmes, coffee consumption moved to around the corner of the building, and the placing of tape on the sidewalk. The tape shows where folks can stand in relation to the front door and to each other. 

Monique and Pascal have also added tape to the floor inside so we know where to stand to check out and they have added plastic windows between us and them. Poor things still have to deal with all of us. Our request, our payments, our therapy sessions. So far they have been able to continue to joke and tease.

Now a days one overhears Pascal on the phone pleading with his vendors and reaching out to new ones. He is doing whatever it takes to keep our big little store well stocked. He is succeeding. Honestly there is not one thing coming up short and the selection is as good or better than ever. 

One day when he wasn’t sure when the next supply truck would arrive Pascal was teasing me about Tom running out of Corn Flakes. He finally said. “Susan, look behind the other cereal boxes, I hid the last box of Corn Flakes for Tom.”  Another panic Pascal had was when he knew he had sold the last package of hotdogs. And it wasn't to Tom. Monique and Pascal are convinced that Tom lives on hotdogs and Corn Flakes and two bananas a day. I don’t know who they think eats all the other items I buy - they don’t have time to think about that— but they do have time to tell me on the way out the door “we’ll have hotdogs again soon - promise.”

Except for Pascal, no one is in a rush any more. If there is already one person in the big little store you wait patiently outside. Depending on the temperature you might wait on the sunny side of the street or the shady side. Monique keeps an eye out on the queue and chatters to us from her perch at the register, calling us in when the coast is clear. It’s been a good time to catch up with a few folks I haven’t seen all winter (confinement isn’t really much different from normal Bourdeilles hibernation). Some folks you just nod to and stand next to for a long quiet time. It’s funny how it’s the dads that show up around 11:45 to pick up missing things for the midday meal. I guess it is worth standing in line for awhile to get away from cooped-up children.

As shoppers we all come and go as quickly as we can. Monique and Pascal are there all day. I don’t know how they do it. I worry that one of them will get sick. They are truly irreplaceable to our small village. I can not thank them enough for being there. It’s little but we get more than can be imagined from the big little store in our small village here in a funny country corner of France.

Some fun foodies to check out:
Majorie R. Williams Exploring the World of Food, Antiques and Crafts -

Susan Herrmann Loomis On Rue Tatin - it was the caramelized oranges that inspired me recently....

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

February in April

Since the first of March the weather has been glorious here in our far flung corner of France. But, saying that— it still feels like February to my poor brain. Suddenly it’s the beginning of April and I’ve lost the plot to what month we’re in….
Way back in January I introduced you to Victoire de Montesque and her book How to Live Your life to the Rhythm of the Days. Many weeks ago I started to write to you about what she says is important for coping with the short, gloomy month of February —-then the world sort of blew up around us and I haven’t been able to get a hold on how or what to write. 

Outside the weather keeps getting nicer and nicer but somehow it’s still February. I can’t shake February. The observations and projects Victoire writes out for that gloomy month seem to fit my current mood, where even under the bright cheerful sun, a silent malaise wanders about our worlds.

It turns out that even Victoire finds it hard to to be enthusiastic about February. The first sentence in this chapter is positive. She calls attention to the beautiful, crisp, lengthening light of February, but by the second sentence she is already backtracking when she says “well maybe that light might just be too bright for our eyes still accustomed to the gloomy days of winter.” From here on, our Victoire just gives up. She spends the rest of February’s chapter giving us strategies for keeping up our morale during this short, but fickle month. Her counsel is more a pep talk for how to keep the blues at bay.

She acknowledges that getting through February needs some intentional effort.  Focus on little signs of change, the faint light on the horizon when one opens the shutters in the mornings, birds singing a livelier tune, tiny green shoots of wheat sprouting in the fields, taking the end of the day walk later and later as the days extend. Remember if you find a sunny spot in the shelter of the house, soak up the warmth because by the next day you might wake to frosty rain battering the window panes. 

Victoire shares her mental tricks for how she strives for a positive attitude. Do whatever it takes to trick those lurking gremlins into thinking that you are out of their reach even though you see their little noses poking around in the shadows.

In the section about our homes she gives a long lecture on how we should take a good look around at our surroundings, take time to deliberately observe if there are spaces that need refreshing “in a house, the light is one of the secrets of happiness”. Be careful that you are not living with shabby, mismatched furniture that you have chosen to overlook. How about those lampshades? Do they need to be dusted? Replaced? Is your lighting deliberate and beautiful - or just thrown up and then ignored. Trivial in the scheme of things, but details that might affect your unconscious feelings about your home, your daily attitude. Take advantage of these inside days to tidy up and make note of things you would like to brighten up in the future.

I laughed when it came to the section on February food. After that long lecture on the home there are just three sentences on what’s good to purchase on this month’s forays to the market (back when we could go to the farmer’s market). Eating locally limits our choices to the valiant vegetables that grow in the face of cold short days. Celery, cabbages, maybe pumpkin, and root vegetables boiled up in a pot au feu. Be sure to add a little color and vitamins by eating your citrus fruits. February is the time to go out and pick dandelion greens for salad — when’s the last time you did that?!
Even with the lengthening days, winter fatigue still weighs on us. Some days it’s hard to leave the refuge of bed. There’s the fact that nobody really wants to go out unless they have to. There might be a few days of spring-like weather, but then we are back to cold that freezes the spirit and the body. She admonishes us that even though it takes extra effort, get out for a walk, plan interesting meals, picture holding the sun in one hand and sending it through your body to the other hand. Practice taking clues from nature and take energy from the emerging spring. Pleasure, optimism, and sensuousness are fabulous generators of energy - find these in the simple act of breathing and stretching each morning.  Don’t forget lots of dark chocolate and music that makes you move.(Victoire’s list: Mozart, Vivaldi, Rossini, Ravel, Debussy) (mine: Earth Wind and Fire, Waylon Jennings, Duffy, Aretha)

She’s really big on not just letting things go - push yourself. Be self aware, wether that is about your thoughts, your activities, or how you present yourself - even if you are just presenting yourself to yourself. I particularly like her prissy concept of how we dress for our private moments at home. She’s all about sublime fabrics for our nightwear and expensive cashmere slippers. Her point is well taken about keeping our spirits up with the simple deceptions of a splash of lipstick and a crisp pair of pants. These gymnastics of the spirit will become automatic. This doesn’t mean you have to be a PollyAnna, just make a little extra effort to be optimistic in your realism.
The chapter ends with a section of reflections on the peace of heart and life with others. For February Victoire’s observation is that life is an adventure. Prepare it, experience it, and keep on going - always searching for a little of the elixir of happiness.
The last sentence for February is upbeat again….. ‘Demonstrate to all, no matter the situation, respect and consideration. Share simple politeness around you: Bonjour, s’il vous plait, merci, bonsoir, avec plaisir.

Be well, do good things - stay home!

**I know we all are living more reality than we want to, but I want to add a cautionary tale from a creative, strong, fellow blogger.  The piece I am sharing is titled “To Hell and Back with the Coronavirus.” Like I said, more reality than we want - but very important to “hear”. 

Old fashioned recipes for February:
Dandelion Salad
preparation 15 minutes - not counting the time to pick your greens if you don’t feel like paying for dandelions at the farmers market!
200 g of young dandelion leaves
125 g of diced bacon
1 lemon
olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper
Fry up the bacon. 
Wash the dandelion greens.
make a vinaigrette with lemon
When the bacon is cooked and still hot mix in with the greens. 
Pour on the vinaigrette
A poached egg goes well with this salad.

Insomnia Cocktail
chopped lettuce
cooked beets
mix in a blender and drink just before going to bed