We so-recent-townies have been enjoying the novel sensation of being food growers as well as consumers, as you will have gathered from earlier ravings about green beans, rocket and beetroot. However the cabbage seedlings which our neighbour Madame Laine gave us and which have fattened nicely have not really engendered the same enthusiasm. It was only this week, when the smell of decaying outer leaves made our little garden smell like the huge cabbage fields around Broadstairs (minus the associated smell of rotting seaweed), that we decided that Something Must be Done. John manfully set too with a huge chopping knife and cauldrons of boiling water, whilst I went off to sniff (and apply) more blue paint. The vegetable freezer in the second barn now smells like Broadstairs in winter, with a tray full of blanched cabbage (21 one-litre ice cream tubs). There will be intermittent southerly winds this winter, comments John! However, combined with some of the windfall apples, onions, an spices some of the cabbage made a tasty (and not too smelly) accompaniment to a pork casserole.
We mentioned in the last newsletter the prestigious International Geography Festival in St Dié (and were delighted that one of our correspondents had just read a newspaper article about the St Dié monk who first put America on the map). We were puzzled as to how the great chefs would work the Festival’s theme of Religion and Geography into their demonstrations. The last two managed magnificently. One, who was programmed to prepare three Mediterranean dishes, explained that they would nourish the heart, the spirit, and the soul (nice one!) and the second chef, from Alsace spoke of amity and love between Alsace and Lorraine and the marriage of ingredients of each, the trout of the Vosges (in Lorraine) and the horseradish of Alsace. (Such orators, the French!). At this point the compere (a well-known presenter of TV cookery programmes, we deduced, who was there, we presumed, to chat during the quiet bits, though he interrupted constantly and even talked over the chefs at times), demanded an explanation of where horseradish came from – obviously not much used in Paris cuisines. It was pointed out that horseradish was a root but that no-one prepared their own as it was so strong (as John knows, being an obviously rare regular horseradish grater). It was also interesting to see how as a Parisian, the compere struggled with how to pronounce local place names we once found difficult like Xonrupt Longuemer (ending sounds like “mare”), the home of the first restaurateur, and Liepvre, home of the second chef. The audience soon put him right though. And he thought he had got it all sorted after his errors with Gérardmer the previous day (ending sounds like “may”) (not sure how the American war time guide would have put them phonetically).
The trout and horseradish woman was very vivacious, and had lots she wanted to tell us, but at this point, onto the stage wandered M. Emil Jung, renowned chef/owner of the Crocodile at Strasbourg (one of the three-star restaurants that was John’s birthday treat a couple of years ago). He seems to be highly regarded by all the up and coming chefs. “You wait, he’ll get a spoon and start tasting everything” whispered John, who’d seen him test out previous chefs’ dishes. Sure enough, M. Emil started rummaging, though the spoons were well hidden by now. Most of the chefs listened humbly when M. Emil pronounced and suggested improvements, but Mme Horseradish was not to be deflected “No, no lemon juice”, she said firmly, “that would alter the flavour I wish to achieve”, and she set him to making some more béchamel as if he was a mere underling. Meanwhile the compere was chatting to the audience and sending a boy round with tasters “No. don’t take it near that dog!” Frantic barking. Later the boy was induced to play the recorder (rather well, fortunately). The final bow was taken by the horseradish chef, the famous TV presenter, the renowned Crocodile chef, the recorder player, another boy who wanted to be a chef with M. Emil, and the dog barked even more loudly. Who would have imagined cookery demonstrations could be such fun! (And the food samples tasted good too).
The scene in our own kitchen was almost as much fun on Thursday, the day after I’d collected five buckets and one wheel-barrow full of windfall apples. We had the kitchen table at a rakish tilt. At the lower end was the fruit press which we’d bought for a farthing (well, not exactly, but a very satisfactory fell-off-the-back-of-a-lorry price) at the Corcieux flea market, which needed to be at the tilt for the apple juice to drain into a bowl. At the upper end was a chopping board and the Kenwood Chef, with an assortment of attachments. John experimented with blender and various other bits and settled for the shredder, whilst I washed and chopped the apples. We ended up with 10 litres (also in litre ice cream tubs) of juice in the freezer from the apples in buckets, lots of pulp on the compost heap, a permanently dyed formerly white sack and a very sticky kitchen floor (and we still have a wheelbarrow and a bucket to do!). The wheel-barrow full will be done next week – and we may have to start making cider as freezer space is limited.
It’s been interesting how many of you have commented on our new-found interest in flea markets, as it was never a passion in the UK. I think part of it is a form of voyeurism. You get to experience a cross section of all these tiny villages you’d normally drive straight through. Often the big barns are opened up, and all the stalls are discarding the bric a brac of yesteryear, – they’re like little time capsules. There’s a lot of chat going on between stallholders, and some of them team up to produce Sunday lunch. And of course, there’s the occasional real bargain to celebrate, like our apple press, some silverware, and the pleasure of our slowly expanding French library. Flea markets seem to have some seasonal items – in the last few weeks there has been a selection of cross-country and downhill skis for sale (usually for 5-10 euro) .
The flea markets are also our weekly treat after a week of hard (?) labour (another reason for regretting their imminent demise – or rather, hibernation). So what have the labourers done this week? John has built a wall across the hayloft incorporating some of the wooden trusses, so that the main part is over the barn extension and half of the farmhouse and is illuminated by the three Velux windows. He opened his fourth (or is it fifth) box of 1000 plasterboard screws – thanking whoever invented the portable electric screwdriver! A small room remains on the other side, which needed a dwarf-sized door (because of a horizontal beam above it which could not be removed) to gain access to this storage area over the farmhouse sitting room and “children’s” bedroom. In the end John bought a full-size door and cut the bottom off, so the handle is low down (it will be even lower when the floor level in that bit of the attic is eventually raised 25cm to match the rest of the floor!). Walking through the diminutive door reminded me of the children exploring the attics in “The Magician’s Nephew” – it does indeed look the kind of door you could open into a world of fauns, dwarves and centaurs. (and if we change worlds via that door, we do have a very impressive old wardrobe in the bedroom below, which always used to have some “The lion the witch and the wardrobe” type clues leading to it in children’s treasure hunts). And talking of other worlds, I was just finishing off the Philip Pullman trilogy when he was interviewed on Desert Island Discs (which I listened to whilst painting yet another shutter blue). I gather that there were many complaints to the BBC following his revelation of the ending, but it didn’t spoil it for me. Perhaps I’d better alter this paragraph before John complains I’ve been doing too much reading and not enough work! However, his treat came on Friday when we went to a huge DIY exhibition at a nearby builders’ merchant. We saw lots of doors there, some of them, including the ones we fancied, seemed extremely expensive (would you pay up to £500 for an internal door?), so we may just buy some cheaper plain doors (but with nothing cut off) for the new bedrooms. We don’t really need to make a fashion statement with our bedroom doors. Not being as practical as John, I was much taken with a copper weather vane in the shape of a cock, hand-crafted by a small local artisan (I refer to the size of his enterprise, rather than his stature). As usual no catalogue or price list to take away – but we can have a photocopy of a page, if we know what we want! But after a lot of discussion, an indication that were we to speak to M. Guillaume, after the exhibition, there might be a slight reduction on the exhibition model. Watch this space.
On the French cultural front all the winter cultural events seem to be starting up, now that the Geography Festival is over. I’m about to take a deep breath and see if the local history group can be penetrated by people with foreign accents, and also looking at the programme of the local branch of the UCP, the Université de la Culture Permanante, which has lectures on different topics on certain Monday afternoons, starting next week Having managed to penetrate the walking group and keep-fit group, it may be possible.
On the English cultural front, our attempts to obtain the Sunday Times continue. Since the end of August (and the departure of campers and other tourists), the paper has either not turned up at our newsagent’s in Fraize or been incomplete – usually with only Section Five onwards. However, we hoped we might have tracked down a new supplier (in our local Leclerc supermarket in St Dié). We were interested to learn that they already have a regular order for one copy (for someone who collects it on Friday!). So we were hoping they’d managed to order a second copy for us. The first week no second copy, but it was ordered for this week. So John went in hopefully at the beginning of the week. Two copies had indeed arrived – but both started at Section Three. Still at least this newsagent knew what the paper should look like and had already put them in her returns box marked incomplete, not acceptable (whereas the Fraize newsagent had got very petulant when we declined a copy that started at section 5, and had refused to try again, shouting “C’est trop compliqué”). Hopefully next week……
John had thought that Martin, who lives in Loches in the Loire, was in a better position, since he’d mentioned, in an e-mail on Tuesday, he’d seen information on a new Ryanair service in the Sunday Times. But it turned out he’d bought his paper at Venice airport when coming back from holiday! Back in the Loire valley all he was offered was the Saturday edition of the Sun or the Sunday Mail. As an afterthought, Martin also mentioned “It belatedly occurred to us in Venice that the easiest way of getting there (Venice) would have been Buzz from Tours to Stansted, then Go from Stansted to Venice.”
This discussion on transport had arisen because we’re always on the look-out for other cheap transport routes between the Vosges and the UK. Then Beatrice, wife of the patissier, heard on the radio about a new cheap air service from London to Strasbourg – bookings over the internet only and flights costing 20 euro – Beatrice thought it was from BA. We heard about this last Friday. After some internet searches, John finally tracked it down on Saturday as a new service by Ryanair from Stansted to Strasbourg starting 31 October with introductory fares of £29.99 each way including taxes for bookings made before midnight the following Monday. We e-mailed details out to a few people and Alistair (friend) and Leila (daughter) managed to make bookings at the opening offer rate. John wondered if Alistair would get a first flight glass of champagne (or whiskey?) as he booked for early morning on 31st October – which must be the first flight on the route! It should be well established by the time Leila comes out the first week in February. Incidentally she’s looking for someone to ski with – any offers? We’re well past experimenting with downhill skiing and only dodder along on cross-country tracks. Back on transport, rather than skiing, we’re still hoping bmiBaby start the service they were hinting at (when they started up in the spring) of flights from East Midlands to Basel – both more convenient airports as far as we are concerned (East Midlands because of proximity to Nottingham and Basel because it is slightly nearer than Strasbourg and less busy).
And to close this week’s news, another transport coup. Tractor, milk lorry and other vehicle access along our road has been greatly improved. Two SCREG vans (what an ugly name! I must find out what it stands for) parked outside our barn doors at 8am one morning and started digging up the roughly filled trench in which our electricity cables cross the road. They then proceeded to tarmac from the far end of the road (starting in fact up the dirt track to Farmer Duhaut’s new cowshed) towards our trench. Predictably there wasn’t quite enough tarmac at the end for our trench, which had to be finished later. Next morning Duhaut was to be seen driving his elderly mother along to inspect the new road, followed by other villagers. I shall miss the thump of vehicles as their wheels descended into the old unevenly filled trench! However there’s not much progress on the pink and yellow posts marking out the super highway into the village (though Farmer Vozelle’s imprecations increased in ferocity as his procession of cows lunged on two successive days from the road into other peoples fields (which are now unfenced).
And here ends this week’s news! A bientot!