Friday, August 25, 2006

Le Repas - A community dinner.

We went to community dinner the other night in Castenet, a nearby village. This one was arranged by the local petanque club. (petanque being also known as boules & being a game much adored by the French.) We as members of the troisiemes were also invited. (The troisiemes are a club for the over 60's. We go on outings, have lunches & enjoy life in general.) Of course, everyone else came along as well so we had a crowd of about 60-70 people ranging in age from a few months to over 90. Not bad for a rural area.

We paid our entry, 16 euros, and got our aperetif outside as the evening was nice. Met up with several good friends & also started chatting with local people we didn't know. This got us into how the relationships worked in the area. It seems that everybody is related to everybody in the area; cousins twice removed or whatever, but it does make for a closly knit community. The nice thing though is how welcoming everyone is to we 'etrangers'; people make a point of being nice to us. A modicum of French & a smile is all you need to be accepted.

Shortly the entertainment arrived. An accordianist & a one drum drummer. We had music from then on out. The 'experts' none of whom were under 60 years old had the fires going for roasting the meat. None of this charcoal stuff, real logs & branches. The ladies were working on the rest of the meal inside. (I have to explain that in France almost every village has a "salle des Fetes" this is a meeting hall with, normally, cooking facilities, a dance floor & various other equipment for having parties. Most of the 'salles' are very nice & have been subsidized by the government. They're sort of the French equivilent of the school gym in small town America.)

We moved inside for the meal. The hall was set up with a number of long tables & everyone sat where they wanted. We sat with friends with French people we knew from the troisiemes on either side. Two proud grandmothers took turns holding the baby as the baby's parents made the rounds of friends. The noise level rose as we all started on our wine & as the children got more more excited. The band moved inside & the children had a great time trying to dance.

The first course was a cheese soup; delicious! It was a chicken stock with garlic & herbs laced with melted local tomme cheese and with lots of country bread soaked in it. I had two big helping & would have had more except that I knew there was lots more to come. Next we had a big slice of locally smoked & cured ham. (I need to point out that bread was on the table as was mineral water & bottles of red wine. All three were continually replentished.) This was followed by fresh coco beans cooked in stock with ham cubes & garlic. The meats came just after this. Roasted Lamb steaks & home made duck sausages; there were seconds & thirds & more available. After this came the cheese; a nice chunk of Mont d'Or. Finally we had a choice of three different ice creams. All of this took about 2 1/2 hours as there was lots of conversation between each course.

About midnight the band started up again & the Eau de Vie started passing around. Having had a disasterous encounter with Eau de Vie in the past I declined. The dancing commenced with everybody getting onto the floor. Some of the dances are 'regular' modern dancing, but several are complicated local dances handed down from generation to generation. That was certainly true that night as our youngest dancers were about 3 years old & the oldest well over 80 years old.

We eventually departed, fully, slightly tipsy and very contented.

We do love France & it's people!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dinner the other night

Sorry, I promised a write up on dinner the other night them got busy & didn't do it.
Here goes.

We were 11 people for dinner as we were catching up with friends. I started with an appetiser of Garlic roasted eggplant which was cut into strips & sort of woven together for contrast as I'd used both black & white eggplant. Over this I spread strips of red bell pepper which had been sauteed until soft then blacken a bit. On the side was a generous dollop of aoli with piment de Eschobe. Went down pretty well & all the aoli disappeared even though I'd put a good sized extra bowl of it on the table.
The entree was pasta (rigatoni) with a sauce of fried salmon cubes, large shrimp, finely minced sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil and lots of parmesian. The trick with this is to sear the salmon you've cut into cubes very quickly then take it off heat; put lots of heavy cream into a large frying pan, bring it to the boil & add the tomatoes. Give it a couple of minutes then add the salmon, then the shrimps, then the parmesian, finally the basil leaves. Pour immediately over the pasta. This is really good, really simple & really quick.
Next came a 'French' salad. Just beatutiful fresh lettice, two kinds, some fresh herbs & a light vinagrette. That's it! Clears the palette.
Next was the cheese as described in the previous post.
Dessert was roasted nectarines with a pistachio filling (finely ground pistacios, powdered sugar & butter all processed into a paste.) Just cut the nectarines in half, deseed, fill the cavities with the paste & roast at 380 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature with creme fresch or ice cream.
We also drank a bit of wine to wash this down.
A nice meal with lots of good conversation and one that was pretty easy on the cook.
If you need/want more detail on any of the dishes just let me know.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Found a new cheese vendor yesterday who had some really interesting stuff.

This was at one of my favorite markets, Caussade every Monday. Yesterday being both August and part of a 4 day weekend in France the market was really really crowded. Great fun though & with everything coming into season the shopping was incredible.

Anyway, I noticed a cheese stand that I'd never stopped at before.
Wow! 20 Euros later I left with what you see below: user posted image

Two of the cheeses, the brie de mieux (perfectly ripe) and the St Augur blue (one of our favorites even if it is a 'factory' cheese.) are pretty standard stuff. The other two & the fifth cheese not in the picture aren't. So here's some detail.

As you can see the cheese is called Rouelle, its raw goats milk & comes from the Tarn (just South of us.) It looks very similar to the cheese Bleudauvergne posted on eGullet.. Don't know if its the same or just that thry're both the same shaped & ashed. In any case its mild, slightly chalky in texture and a little different from most chevres.

user posted image

This one is called Pechegos. Another raw milk goats cheese, but with an entirely different taste. Much stronger and a very creamy texture. Note that they're from the same maker, "Le Pic". Questioning revealed that this is a cooperative down in the Tarn; quess where I'm heading soon.

The real gem, however, is pictured below. This is Bouysset chevre. A raw goat's milk brie! I'd only ever found this cheese once before & even this time it was not labeled. The seller wouldn't say where he got it from, but he did say that it was only made at the height of summer.

user posted image

It tastes wonderful, like a brie, but at the same time not like a brie. Sort of hard to describe. I can tell you that our dinner guests made short work of it. Sharing is hard sometimes.

Living in France is so hard.

Ps:See next post for a description of dinner.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Is anybody in France 'normal'? Part 2

A while ago we wanted to put in a new kitchen. After a lot of looking we hadn't been able to find kitchen cabinets that we both liked & could afford. We got a tip on buyng standard IKEA kitchen cabinets then taking the doors back for a refund. You then could buy custom doors made or have them made. This started a new hunt. The doors you could buy were OK, but the quality wasn't much. Jacques to the rescue!

He had a friend who would make kitchen cabinet doors for us. Enter Gerard! Gerard showed us all kinds of different woods he could use plus a number of door designs. After much thought we choose some light oak as the wood & a fairly traditional design. Gerard then gave us a final 'devis' or quote. A good price & we'd saved a lot of money overall.

True to his word & schedule Gerard started showing up to fit the doors. His level of craftmanship was astoundingly good. As is our practice we gave Gerard lunch while he was with us. (our theory being that if the artisans stay on premises for lunch it will be shorted & more work will get done. In any case its good for our French.) As we got to know him it turns out that Gerard's true love is his falcons & hunting with them. The cabinet making is merely a means to make enough money to live on.

Gerard started bringing us small food presents. One time it was hare pate made from wild hare that his falcons had caught & that Gerard had made. Another time it was squab stuffed with fois gras. The falcons, again, having caught the squabs. Yummy stuff & a good friendship developed.

Just as he was finishing the kitchen (by the way he did a superb job, on time & on budget) he tols us that his male falcon had badly injured one of his talons & that it had become infected. This could have been a real tradegy as without a talon the falcon can't prech properly ot catch prey. Fortunately we had a tube of antiseptic cream from the states that isn't available in France. We gave this to Gerard & it did the trick. The falcon healed quickly & was as good as new.
So, if you want great cabinet making just find your Gerard & you may get a real bonus as well.

By the way we did go to visit the falcons & they are truely beautiful. Gerard's house is so far out into the hills that you need a diving rod to find it. Its nice to meet a truely happy man living the life he wants.