It's been a hectic week. Our friends arrived last Sunday. On Monday I went with them to the notaire's office in a little town 15 miles south of here for the "signing ceremony" (les signatures in French) to close the deal on their house. I've been helping them by consulting on legal vocabulary and serving as an intermediary between my friends, on one side, and the seller, real-estate agent, and notaire on the other side. We toasted the closing and the new house with a good bottle of Vouvray bubbly that evening.
On Tuesday we moved a carload of things, including a dining room table and chairs that Walt and I had in storage in our garage, over to the new house. We loaned our friends things like a tea kettle and teapot, kitchen and bath towels, a comforter and pillows for their bed, a radio, and a broom! As a housewarming gift we gave them a set of dishes (porcelaine blanche), a set of flatware, and six drinking glasses. The woman who sold them the house left behind a few pieces of furniture, including a couple of beds and day beds, the cooktop and oven in the kitchen, a telephone, and a microwave oven. The heat and lights were left on.
So our friends of course wanted to sleep in their own house and experience what it will be like to live in it, way out there in the country where the closest neighbors are 3 miles distant, when they move over permanently in a few years. They enjoyed closing the shutters in the evening and opening them in the morning. They marveled at the silence. They couldn't marvel at the stars, because the weather has been cold and foggy since Monday. They dreamed and schemed and imagined what color schemes would work in what rooms and what kind of furniture and appliances they would want to buy.
We've only been out to eat once during the whole week, and yours truly has been doing most of the cooking. That keeps me busy, but our friends are easy when it comes to food. They are not big eaters, and they seem to like everything. He has had a cold, so we've been eating a lot of soup, and she is careful about her diet but loves salads and all kinds of vegetables. Walt and I like everything.
Another exceptional event this week was Walt's birthday on Wednesday. He and I have a traditional birthday dinner -- this was the 24th time that we've celebrated his birthday together -- and we didn't break the tradtion this year. The menu is French, of course -- steak au poivre and frites and salade. It's simple but good. The origins of the tradition are a story for another day.
So Tuesday night we went to one of the two butcher shops in Saint-Aignan and bought a big piece of rumsteak for four. We bought frozen frites (much easier and just as good) at the supermarket. This year, we have a new electric fryer thanks to one of our very best and oldest friends (don't take that the wrong way, C.) in the U.S., who ordered it from darty.fr and had it shipped to us as a birthday/Christmas present. The steak au poivre is served in a cream sauce that you make after using cognac to deglaze the pan that the steak cooked in. We bought a bottle of armagnac, a brandy similar to cognac that is made in far southwestern France, for the occasion. And I bought a big scarole (escarole) at the market to have as salad.
The steak was perfect (medium rare), the sauce was creamy and peppery and tasty because of the armagnac, and the salad was crisp, crunchy, and refreshing with a good mustardy vinaigrette. We had excellent bread from the boulangerie that cooks its breads in wood-fired ovens and that is located out in the vineyards a mile from our house. It was pretty much a perfect birthday dinner.
We have spent many hours this week meeting with an insurance agent, including have her come inspect the new house. She is the agent who has arranged car and homeowner's insurance for me and Walt, and I like her a lot. Her office is in Saint-Aignan, and she is an agent for Axa, one of the bigger insurance companies. We have always found her pleasant, competent, and easy to talk to.
Just yesterday, after presenting our friends with a proposal to insure their house (replacement value, liability, and full coverage except for earthquakes, which are exceedingly rare here) at a very reasonable price (you wouldn't believe it -- €275 per year!), the insurance agent said she wanted to talk not about business but about "personal" matters. She pulled out an envelope and spread out on her desk a few years' worth of Christmas cards and family "newsletters" that she wanted to show us. It turns out that her sister-in-law has lived in the U.S. for many years and has children and grandchildren who are American. And they live in San Mateo, CA, just a few miles from where Walt and I lived in San Francisco and from where our friends live. Le monde est petit, as they say.
We have also been out doing a lot of shopping with our friends, buying little household items and groceries, looking at appliances, and just helping them get the lay of the land when it comes to the practical side of living near Saint-Aignan. And now it is going to be Christmas. We plan to make a fondue savoyarde (that's a cheese fondue) on Christmas eve, and we will probably cook and enjoy eating it out at the new house. We'll go see the cheese ladies at the Saint-Aignan market tomorrow morning to buy the gruyère, emmenthal, and comté cheese we use in the fondue.
Then on Sunday I'm going to poach and then roast a duck with turnips, potatoes, and carrots, as I described in an earlier topic. That will be our Christmas dinner.