09 March 2008

Saturday shopping in Saint-Aignan

Our typical March weather continues. Yesterday morning was sunny a springlike. By afternoon clouds had moved in and it looked like rain. This morning the low temperature was only about 45ºF/7.5ºC. Now it is raining. They predict showers this afternoon with a major rainstorm coming in tomorrow. High winds on the Brittany and Normandy coasts, and all that. Typical. It has started raining steadily now, at 11:00 a.m.

Blogger won't let me upload pictures this morning — I get a server error every time I try, and I've managed to get only one picture through. So I'm giving up on it for today.

Yesterday was a shopping day. Going to the supermarket and outdoor market on Saturdays is an experience that almost takes you back in time. Even at the supermarket, there are crowds of older people who are obviously all dressed up for the occasion. The are the farmers and villagers from the towns south of Saint-Aignan, I assume, since the SuperU supermarket is on the south side of town. South of town is a farming, not grape-growing area, and the people are different — more rural.

The supermarket as much as the outdoor market is the new downtown, I guess, in places like Saint-Aignan. You see these little groups of old-fashioned-looking people who act like they've run into old friends they haven't seen in a while. The are laughing and talking, poking each other with their elbows, and generally having a good time. The are also blocking up all the aisles in the supermarket, but never mind that. Their ruddy complexions, dated hairstyles and clothing, and rural accents make it a real local-color experience.

I went to the supermarket to get some mineral water, distilled vinegar, coffee, and other supplies. For several years, I have been buying store-brand ground coffee at Intermarché. It was 100% Arabica coffee for 63 eurocents a bag (250 g, or 8+ oz.). It was good and obviously not expensive. We like Arabica coffee better than the other variety, which is called Robusta.

Now my favorite coffee has disappeared from the shelves. About 10 days Walt went over to the town of Bléré, 15 minutes west of us, to do some errands, and he stopped in at the Intermarché over there. No coffee of the kind we like was on the shelf, though there was a space for it. Earlier this past week, I went to Intermarché across the river in Noyers, and again no coffee. In fact, there was not even a space for it on the shelf any more, so I think they might no longer carry it. That's a disappointment, because all the other brands of coffees cost more than three times as much.

At SuperU yesterday, I found a store-brand coffee for 73 eurocents a bag. It's also 100% Arabica coffee. We made some yesterday afternoon and it is good. Not as good as the Intermarché brand, but good anyway. I'm telling you this because if you are paying $8.00 or $9.00 a pound for coffee, as we did in San Francisco years ago, you are paying far too high a price, in my opinion.

At SuperU they also had big beautiful heads of cauliflower on sale for 75 cents each. I bought two of those. What I have in mind is a pasta dish that I ate years ago in a little restaurant called Mezza Luna in Half Moon Bay, a town on the coast south of San Francisco in California. It was the old Mezza Luna out on the highway, not the newer on down on the fishing harbor. I'm going to try to make it.

It was a thin, fairly liquid cheese sauce into which finely chopped cauliflower had been quickly cooked, and the resulting cauliflower sauce was served over pasta. I thought it was delicious, with good taste and some cauliflower crunch. The sauce was made with an American style yellow-orange cheese, so I bought a chunk of French mimolette to use for my version.

That cauliflower was my bargain of the day. I'm not sure what I will do with the second head — maybe a pureed cauliflower soup. I've learned to love bargains, with the dollar so low against the euro. And I love cauliflower.

I also needed distilled vinegar, which I buy because I use it in the laundry! It's only 35 cents a liter, and it replaces two products that cost ten times as much: fabric softener and a laundry additive that prevents the buildup of calcium deposits on the heating elements of the washing machine. We have very hard water (l'eau est très calcaire) here in Saint-Aignan.

Calcium deposits build up on the heating element in the washing machine and can stop the whole water-supply system up. European clothes- and dishwashers, by the way, are hooked up only to the cold water supply, and they heat their own water when you run them instead of drawing hot water out of the water heater. If you use vinegar to clean your drip coffeemaker periodically, it's the same principle.

You'd think vinegar would make your clothes smell like vinegar, but it doesn't. What it does do is soften the clothes by softening the water they are washing in. And as I said, it prevents the buildup of calcium deposits inside the washing machine, which buildup can cause major damage. Walt opened up the washer's filter the other day to look at it for the first time in a year, and he said it was perfectly clean. The vinegar really works. I saw it used in the laundry on a British TV show a couple of years ago — it was a show where a crew of cleaning experts comes in to rescue a working person whose house has gotten completely out of control.

After the trip to the SuperU supermarket, I went down to the outdoor market in old Saint-Aignan to get some goat cheese. The man who sells it is a neighbor who runs a goat farm that also operates as a restaurant and inn. His is the best goat cheese we have found. I also stopped and talked to Madame Doudouille, the charcutière, because when I walked by she didn't have a line of customers. I ended up buying some sausages and some jambon cru from the Savoie region of the Alps. I told her I wanted to eat the ham with bagels we had made, but she had never heard of bagels. The ham and goat cheese on bagels was excellent.

Then I went to see the mushroom lady. The woman selling the mushrooms turned out to be a much younger person than we used to buy mushrooms from, but she still had the same furniture, the same prices lists and prices, and the same mushrooms. Walt reminded me that our neighbors had told us a few weeks ago that the mushroom lady was planning to retire. I'm glad somebody took over the stand at the market and that the good mushrooms are still available.

Such is life in Saint-Aignan.


  1. Blogger was acting weird for me yesterday evening (Saturday) but seems fine today. It certainly is more reliable than it was when I first started using it 2+ years ago!

  2. I just tried again to upload some photos, and I got the same "server error." I think it all depends on which particular server you blog resides, and I don't know how to figure that out. So at this point I have had one successful attempt out of a dozen to upload a few photos today. Walt's blog is working fine, by the way, so I think he's on a different server from me.

  3. As I recall, it's not the first time you had problems uploading pictures. There's definitely a difference between your blog and Walt's. Whether I use Safari or Firefox, the procedure I follow is slightly different from one blog to the other. It would be interesting to know what is the rationale underlying this discrepancy. We'll have to do without pictures! Lol!
    Whatever happened to Ian and "murr"?

  4. Thanks for the comment, on my comment. For some reason turning 50 kind of spooks me.

    The local farmer's market here opens the first weekend in April and runs through the end of October. I love exploring local markets.

    The British cleaning show is called "How Clean Is Your House?" It is shown daily on BBC America. Kim and Aggie have a book of cleaning tips (published in the UK, J ordered me a copy from Amazon UK as a gift.)

    The exchange rate is brutal. We had been planning a couple of weeks in Europe a year from now (maybe a week in Normandy /Brittany) but I think we are going to take an Alaska Cruise instead. I hope that the exchange rate will get better after the election; assuming that we elect leadership that is capable of thinking with vision and courage.


  5. Claudia in Toronto09 March, 2008 17:31

    I love your shopping day, going to different places for different things, and knowing the people who serve you for years. It's such an interesting way to buy what you need.

    That's the way I grew up in Montreal. Our butcher was a childhood friend of my father. At 6years old, I would go and pick up what my mother would order by phone. She trusted him to give us the best. Everybody knew me in the store and called me by my nickname. When I went back, 25 years later, his son (now in charge) said, "Bonjour Tibi. Ça va la vie?" Nobody knew me by that name anymore. I cried!

    I dislike the impersonal big stores intensely. They sell socks next to cheese...BTW my mother used vinegar everywhere for cleaning purposes, even washing windows.

  6. Our supermarket is offering
    cauliflower at the bargain price
    of $1.99 each, reduced from $2.99!



What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?