Our friends Chris and Tony left yesterday for Paris. They spent four nights here in Saint-Aignan. They come to France fairly frequently, so we think we'll see them again soon.
I had picked them up in Vierzon, 35 miles or so up the river, Wednesday evening. They came in by train from Nîmes, where they had also been visiting friends. It was chilly and damp, and the drive back to Saint-Aignan from Vierzon in the dark was not fun. It was raining and blowing, and there were a lot of big trucks on the highway. Visibility was very poor.
What did we do while C & T were here? On Thursday, we drove down into the village and went to La Poste to mail some postcards, etc. We took a drive out through the countryside south and west of Saint-Aignan just to see what it looks like. Then we went to the Intermarché supermarket to pick up a few things for the Friday-evening dinner party we were planning (fresh herbs and lettuce, pearl onions, etc.).
The weather was chilly and showery, but with some sunny spells.
For lunch we drove over to the Grill des Nouettes, which I call the Truck Stop. A lot of big trucks pull into the parking lot there at lunchtime, and many little white vans driven by local tradespeople congregate there at noon as well.
Chris said the décor looked like supper in a Middle West church hall, and it does. To me, it looks like an equivalent place in North Carolina, I guess. There are long rows of four-person tables with the typical French paper tablecloths. There are big storefront windows on one side of the building, and a bar on the left as you come in the front door. I would estimate there were 30 to 40 people in the restaurant when we arrived. It's a no-smoking establishment.
The menu is 11 euros (about $13.00 at current rates), and for that you get what you want from the all-you-can-eat hors-d'oeuvre buffet, a main course (meat and vegetable), cheese, dessert, and wine. Coffee is extra. On Thursday, the main courses were roast pork with green beans and tête de veau with I don't know what (because none of us ordered it — I probably should have, just to see what it was like). Tête de veau means head of calf. It's not something I've ever eaten, though I do eat and enjoy French fromage de tête -- head cheese.
The hors-d'oeuvre buffet has a lot of dishes on it. There are typical French salads including red beets in vinegar and oil, shredded celery root in a mustardy mayonnaise, tomatoes and cucumbers in vinaigrette, and so on. There are sardines and pieces of smoked herring, along with several pâtés and pots of rillettes (shredded pork). There's a salad of tuna, bean sprouts, and corn. Hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise. All the standard French stuff. You take what looks good to you.
The main course of pork roast and green beans that we ordered was excellent. The pork was tender and juicy, and the beans were not overcooked. We were happy to have ordered it.
After the main course, the waiter or waitress brings you a big plate of cheeses -- gruyère, brie, roquefort or blue, goat cheese, etc., and again you take what you want.
The wine is local. Each person gets one quarter of a liter, or about two glasses. That's included in the price of lunch, as are the tip and taxes. When it says 11 euros, that's what you pay here, unless you have something extra, like coffee.
The daily special dessert was a charlotte à abricot, which was an apricot mousse formed in a mold with lady-finger cookies. It was delicious. Or you could have ice cream or fresh fruit.
This was only my second trip to the Grill des Nouettes. I was not disappointed, and Chris and Tony and Walt thought it was good too.
After lunch, we brought Walt home so that he could start preparing Friday night's dinner. He had volunteered make chicken in red wine along with a starter salad of black radish slices and Mimolette cheese. One of our guests had volunteered to bring dessert.
We dropped Walt off at the house and put our wine jugs in the car, because I wanted to go have l them filled at the wine "filling station" in Saint-Romain, about five miles north of Saint-Aignan. But first we drove out south of town about ten miles to see and check up on the house in the country that other friends of ours recently bought. They are still living in California at this point, and I'm keeping an eye on the place for them until they get here. Everything there was fine, and Chris and Tony enjoyed seeing the place. It's an interesting old stone farmhouse.
There was a very hard rain shower with some hail as we were driving back to Saint-Aignan on our way to the wine co-op, but it didn't last long. At the co-op, where I am a regular, I bought 40 liters -- that's 52 bottles -- of red, rosé, and white wine. That will hold us for a while. The red is a Gamay, the white is a Chardonnay, and the rosé is made from Cabernet Franc grapes.
When you buy wine in bulk this way, you take your own containers to the co-op. I have four 10-liter plastic jugs. The man at the co-op fills them from a tank the way you pump gas into the tank of your car. The cost of the 40 liters, which is as I said more than 50 bottles, was about 65 euros this time. The cost per liter varies from place to place, and some wines are more expensive than others of course. The Chardonnay here is less expensive -- €1.20 a liter -- because it isn't AOC but what is called vin de pays. The Gamay is AOC and is €1.75 a liter.
The young man at the co-op, it turned out, spoke good English. He was an employee I had never seen before, and he said he normally worked in the wine-making facility rather than in the tasting/sales room. We found out he spoke English because Tony made a joke and we noticed that the guy laughed. I think he was happy to speak English with us.
He told us that 35 wine growers are members of the Cave Coopérative de Saint-Romain, and that the grapes are grown in Saint-Romain, Couddes, Thésée, and Pouillé (all local villages). The wines they are selling now are the 2004 vintage; the 2005 wines will be released in April.
Tony wanted to buy a corkscrew and we had seen one in a display case with other merchandise for sale as we came into the tasting room. Tony asked how much they cost, and the guy who pumped the wine wasn't sure. He went to get a woman who was working in an office off the tasting room. As it turned out, the corkscrew was a give-away promotional item. Next time I go, I'll ask for one.
After loading the wine kegs in the car, we decided to stop at the Ed supermarket and buy some fresh fruit -- kiwis, apples, pears, oranges, strawberries (from Spain). Chris said she would make us a big fruit salad for dinner. And she did. It had a honey and yogurt dressing, with a splash of orange juice. We ate it with bread a butter and a glass of the "fresh" Gamay red wine from the co-op.
Before dinner, Chris, Tony, Collette and I took a walk down the road from our house. We crossed the highway and tried to walk down to the river on a gravel road through some woods. But it was flooded and we had to turn back.
That was our Thursday. I didn't take many pictures except on our aborted river walk. The Cher was at flood stage last week as a result of snow melt along its banks. No buildings were flooded as far as I know, but a lot of fields were under water. The river is about 200 miles long, and it starts up in the old mountains of central France, south and east of Saint-Aignan. Here in our area we had nearly 6 inches of snow about a week ago.