Shopping, Eating and Exploring

Come along with me and discover some off-the beaten paths in Southwest France

Friday, October 30, 2009

Someone pointed out to me that when people travel, there is a certain "transition" time. You are plucked out of your familiar surroundings. Then, deposited on unfamiliar territory. Who hasn't woken in the dark of night and had to take a minute to figure out where they were? It can make some people cranky. You can't understand the language, food is different; in fact nothing is really the same. Don't you just love it? If you have been away from home for a long time, you might also experience transition time coming home.

The French are different. They drive cars the size of Altoid tins, they hang their clothes on laundry lines after the 60 minute wash cycle, they garden and compost, they don't shop on Sundays, or after 7pm on any day, they still take a two hour lunch on weekdays, they turn off lights when no one is in the shop, they burn big piles of garden waste, they hunt, fish, and forage in the woods. They also have smaller beds, homes, and Christmas lists. Breakfast is only cafe, croissant or bread, and maybe juice.

Here in California, I am nearly mowed down by a neighbors car the size of a moving van, my laundry is done in forty minutes; start to finish. The gardens in my neighborhood are beautiful, but don't produce a thing to eat, I can shop 24/7, drive through a restaurant to pick up lunch, and wolf it down while I am driving. Lights in all the office buildings are on all night, you are fined $400 for a second offense if you use your fireplace on a spare-the-air night, my friends husbands fly to Montana to go hunting, I have a king sized bed....well, you get the idea.

So, when people ask me what I do with my time in France, besides shopping for antiques, I don't really have to search for an answer. I am making jam, knitting, visiting with friends, and enjoying the time to do the things we never have time to do at home. And I think this is where the French have gotten it right. Sunday lunch, the most important meal of the week, is a family/friends affair that lasts all afternoon. Imagine, just sitting and enjoying a wonderful meal with people you care about.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Packing up and Getting Ready to Go

I hate packing up. I hate having to say good bye to friends, and I really hate the thought of the brocantes and vide greniers that I will be missing. Also, I'll miss the cepes that are just coming in, the truffles next month. So, I pack as much as I can into the last few days.

As this trip draws to a close, I stop and savor every view. When I am home in California, on one of our perfect sunny days, I can close my eyes and see the stone buildings, the endless rows of vines, and almost feel a little part of France.

Besides the things I buy to bring home, I always seem to pick-up something a little more intangible to carry home. Last spring, I came home and started a compost pile. All my neighbors and friends in France do this; not because it's trendy, but because it would be silly and wasteful not to have one. All of our French neighbors hang clothes on the line. My neigborhood in California, sadly, doesn't allow clothes lines. Now that is silly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Life of the Brocantuer

There are a lot of reasons that I have made part of my life in France, but a big one is brocanting. Brocante, literally used household goods, but for many people it means seeking out the treasurers of everyday life that someone has discarded or left behind. The French have an historically high standard of design for decorative arts that carries over into almost every product manufactured or hand made since Napoleon legislated it. And let's face it, there is just something about French stuff that sings to a lot of people.

So, cut to 6am, it's dark, drizzly and my friend, Lisa and I are getting up in some small village in the Sarthe to find our way to the Parc Expositions for the monthly market in Le Mans. We give a bit of thanks to Joan, a neighbor who lent us her TomTom GPS finder. How did we find these markets without them?

At 8am (still dark) The men at the gate are checking business cards or other ID, as this show is only for professionals. The set up starts about the same time, so people are unpacking and setting out as" le monde" push in. The show shuts down at noon, there are between 800 and 1,000 dealers, so a lot to see, in a short time. The pace is a bit frantic.

As the sky starts to lighten, the drizzle continues. Not a really downpour, so no one is too worried about covering up their stuff. There is an inside section, but a lot of dealers are outside, exposed to the elements. The market draws a lot of buyers/sellers from Paris and the prices reflect that. A lot of art, furniture, decorative smalls, industrial, nautical and wonderful things. Some prices were over the moon, some much more reasonable. After slogging through for four hours, we meet up for a lunch of steak frites with friends, to compare notes. Everyone saw the adorable child sized mannequin. The seller was firm at 300euros. That is $450, before shipping. William pointed out that yesterday, at the show in Chartres, there wasn't a stain on the mannequin, but it hadn't stayed out of the rain. We all passed on that one. Katie scored a couple of old handpainted tamborines, I bought a tall, stacked wire bin, painted green, William did find a great adult sized mannequin at a more reasonable price.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Well, it did warm up today, but the morning started off at a frosty 29 degrees. Brrrrrr! Since we were siting outside last Sunday in the blazing sun in Bordeaux, this is quite a change. The unexpected frost has turned some of the vines brown, by passing the fall colors. Oh well.

I drove down to the Lot yesterday to have a knitting session with my Ravelry friends. Rowena's husband, (who really should get husband of the year award) cooked Sunday lunch for us. A roast, brussel sprouts, corn, roasted carrots and potatoes, mashed potatoes, and, be still my heart, Yorkshire pudding!!!! Fabulous! Also, congratulations on Mabel, the newest member of the family, born a few days late.

Debbie and Rowena are both inspiring knitters, turning out one dazzling project after another. They inspire me, as well as translate French patterns, pick-up my drop stitches, and otherwise enhance the time I spend over here. We missed Karen yesterday.

The drive down into the Lot takes me through vines, into prune and orchard country. Towns are small, rustic, and largely unspoiled. Rowena's and her neighbors raise chickens, organic beef, one makes goats cheese, another sandals. It is really a place to discover what is important.

Today, I have been packing up to go to Le Mans and meet William who will take everything back to California for me. (and for only $5,000) We will get a chance to make some purchases at the huge show in Le Mans on Wednesday. Saturday is the Nouveau Vin et Brocante Foire in Bordeaux.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fruits of the Harvest

On Monday, the warm weather seemed to disappear and we welcomed a cool evening and brisk morning. Today it just felt chilly. As I headed to the market for some supplies, I could really see the changes in the vines. The harvest has just concluded, and already the vineyards are turning the yellows, reds and golds.

A few days ago, my friend Lisa made some suggestions for the surplus figs and pomegranates. "Pomegranate jam is just the taste of Fall". She sent me her recipe, which I will put at the end of this post. I've made a lot of different kinds of jams and jellies, but never pomegranate. Lisa starts with 31/2 cups of pomegranate juice. Have you ever opened a pomegranate? How do you juice those little seeds? After a little experimentation, I came up with something that doesn't require a juicer, or pectin, which I couldn't find here in the market.

Three or four pomegranates, seeded. Here is a trick from my friend Imeileen; seed them in a bowl full of water. No pink spots on white shirts, and the white bits float to the top. Drain most, but not all of the water.

Measure how much water and seeds you have. Now here is the tricky part, French markets sell a zillon different kinds of sugar, including one that says "Special pour Gelees et Confitures". I used not quite 2/3's of the volume of seeds to sugar. Add some lemon juice. Bring to a boil and wait till it thickens a bit. Strain and pour into properly prepared jars. Viola!

The color is brillant, I controlled the sweetness, and used up the pomegranates!
Here is Lisa's recipe, which I will try on my pomegranates in California.

3 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin (2 oz)
4 1/2 cups sugar

Prepare 3 pint-sized jars. In a large kettle, combine the pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and pectin. Over high heat, bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and stir to blend. Bring to a second rolling boil, then boil for exactly 2 minutes. Remove jelly for heat immediately when the time is up. Let stand a minute to allow foam to form, then carefully remove the foam. Pour hot jelly quickly into hot jars, filling the jars within about 1/8 inch of the tops. Carefully wipe off the rim of the jar. Put lid on each jar as it is filled, screwing band on as tightly as you comfortably can. Cool jars away from drafts on a towel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Early Flights Out

Michael is headed home this morning. Flight leaves Bordeaux at 6am, so counting backwards; he needed to check-in at 5am, the drive is an hour, so leave the house at 4am. In other words, 3:15am wake up call for us.

The last day, whether it is for Michael, a house guest, or me is always flavored with a little bittersweet taste. We all look forward to getting back home, but there are always one or two things left undone on any great trip. For Michael and I, it is often the "find" left undiscovered, or the meal we missed. After lunch yesterday in a nearby village, we wandered around, admiring the views and architecture, decided to take a drive. Since it was his last day, direction was all up to him.

We headed south, going through St Foy, stopping at the factory outside of Duras that sells prunes dipped in chocolate. From Duras, it was due south towards Marmande, hanging a right at the river, and following it west. The weather has turned cooler the last couple of days and the air was crisp.

A vintner had told me that as soon as the grapes are harvested, the leaves on the vines give up, and start turning gold and red. The change of colors in the vineyards is almost over night.

I have a little over a week left, and a lot to finish up. Tomorrow: adventures with Pommegrante Jam.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Brocante, Brocante, Brocante!

If it's Sunday, it's must be flea market day. While most of France sleeps in after a late Saturday night, antique dealers and collectors are on the hunt at an early hour. The market in Bordeaux takes place every Sunday morning, starting before it's light, with vendors packing up when the noon church bells start ringing.

While Bordeaux is a lovely city, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Place Meyard, where the market takes place is a rather seedy area. An ethnic melting pot that attracts upscale and homeless alike. Every visit I have made in the last ten years has been marked by the crazy guy who tells his tale of woe from the top of his lungs to the taunts of nearby vendors. He is obviously a fixture.

The nuts and bolts of the market are the vendors and their inventories. Today there was more junk than usual, but a nearby, three day fair may have pulled some dealers who would normally be at the show. I did score four wicker cafe chairs, a wonderful crown, transferware plates, and a shell frame to list just a few items.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Back Home in France

After a week on the road visiting Normandy, Loire, and Paris, it's nice to be home. It was raining when we left Paris and quite cool. After driving two hours south, the sun broke through and it was much warmer.

It was really nice to be back at the house. Jim and Sally, my partners here, are here for the first time in a couple of years so we are spending some time catching up. Weather has been warm and we have had dinners out in the garden with our neighbors up the lane. Unusual for October. The vendage is well under way. The narrow roads are clogged with trucks filled with grapes, or with the the waste left after the grapes are crushed. They dump the waste back in the vineyards to be turned in for mulch. The air is filled with the smell of fermenting grapes.

We are looking forward to some serious antique shopping this weekend. The Grand Brocante in Rauzan is this weekend and that is always a great show. Let's hope the weather holds!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jambon et Brocate

Ok, Fall in Paris can mean many things; Fashion Week, the running of the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, the International Auto Show, or the Jambon et Brocate. Jambon is ham, in all it's wonderful guises, and brocante is literally; used household goods (ANTIQUES!!!!) When you put the two together, you have a two week show (twice a year) in a Parisian suburb. You can walk the aisles searching for the perfect champagne bucket to the smell of roasting pork. Only the French would think of putting these two together.

I love this show because the variety and quality of goods is fabulous, but the prices, oh la la! I did find some country hand-loomed linen corn sacks, and Patti scored a table cloth out of the same material that is 30 feet long. There were three of us, and we were loaded down as the got on the train to return to Paris.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Honfleur, Normandy and now Paris

We stayed two nights in lovely Honfleur. Tall, narrow buildings line the waterfront. People were taxed on the width, not the height of the buildings so they went up quite high. The town is at least 1,000 years old, and somehow escaped the bombing during World War II.

We all drove down the coast to the American Cemetery across from Omaha Beach. The scope of the landing expedition is hard to take in. Walking up the cliffs to the old German embankments, you realize a life was lost every foot. If isn't an easy hike and hard to imagine doing it under enemy fire.

On the drive to Paris, we made a stop at Giverny, to take another look at Monet's garden. Lovely even on the first of October. Nice lunch in a small cafe, and no one mentioned the dead mouse under the next table.

Getting into to Paris wasn't too eventful. Just imagine, Louis in the front seat, not able to see the map; my two friends, husband and the dog in the back. It's nice when you are merging into traffic, that is coming at you from all directions, and everyone has an opinion on which way to go. The good news is we found the hotel, and I am still married.

Today we did a small vide grenier and the Jambon et Brocante....more on those later.