12 April 2009

Easter weekend

I went out shopping yesterday morning. I walked through the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan to see if the local asparagus is in yet. Well, some of it is, but it is still way too expensive for me. A couple of vendors had asperges du pays for 9.50€ and 9.80€ a kilo. One guy we often buy from had his for 7.80€. Still too cher for me. The € is worth about $1.35 U.S. right now, so 10.00€/kg comes out to a little over $6.00/lb.

In past years, asparagus has sold for between 3.50€ and 5.00€ a kilo. This year, because we had a cold winter, the crop is later than usual. Prices will go down as we head toward May. A few weeks ago I found white asparagus imported from Spain at 3.50€ a kilo over at SuperU. If I didn't know prices were going to come down a lot over the next few weeks, I wouldn't be content to wait.

Today's picture of a nearby cherry tree that produced
many kilos of sour cherries, great for sauces, jam,
and pies, in 2007. I have high hopes for the 2009 crop.

Walking through the market, I was glad to see that Mr Bouland from the Ferme-Auberge up the road from us was there selling his goat cheeses. He had a long line of people waiting to buy cheese, so I didn't stop to talk to him. A couple of times over the winter I walked through the market and he wasn't there. I was afraid he might have given up the business, but no, he's back. Walt says maybe goat milk production is seasonal. The Bouland goat cheeses are about the best around.

When I walked by Mme Doudouille's market truck, she didn't have a single customer — it was early. So I felt like I ought to stop and buy something, even though there was no charcuterie on my list. I figured I could always figure out a way to use a chunk of poitrine fumée — slab bacon — so I'd talk with her and get that. I plan to cook some beans this week and it will flavor those up perfectly.

Pâté de Pâques, a local specialty

Then I noticed that Mme Doudouille had some pâté de Pâques for sale. Pâques — Easter — is today, after all. So I asked for a piece of that. It's a pâté en croûte with hard boiled eggs cooked into it. It seems to be a local specialty in the Berry, which is just east and south of Saint-Aignan.

After that I walked by the mushroom lady. She also had no customer at that moment, so I stopped and said hello. I bought a pound of nice champignons blancs, white button mushrooms, which you can always find a use for. That cost 1.80€.

After that, I drove up to SuperU because I needed some almonds and some lemons for our Easter dinner today, which will be a Tajine de lapin au citron et aux amandes — a Moroccan-style rabbit recipe. We've been cooking rabbit for Easter dinner for more than 20 years now.

Notice how they put the rabbit's liver
in a little plastic cup in the package.

At SuperU, I ran into our neighbors who have the house across the street. It's their country place and they live in Blois. They seemed completely stressed out. Today for dinner they are having all their children and their childrens' families over for dinner. That might be as many as 25 people. And it was raining yesterday, and it is supposed to be rainy, or at least damp, all day today.

Maryvonne, the matriarch of this clan, said to me: "It seems like all we ever do is shop for food!" But I could tell she was excited about today's gathering, even though she was busy. I think it was the weather. They wanted a nice sunny weekend because their house here is small and if all their grandchildren have to stay indoors, it will be a zoo over there.

Bernard, the grandfather, was feeling the stress too. "I wanted to cut the grass today," he said. They have about an acre and a half of grass to mow. "But it's raining, so I can't cut it." He loves to have the place perfectly manicured. And if the rain stops, the kids will want to go outside. The grass will be too high and too wet.

This morning's picture of the prunus tree in our back yard.

After SuperU, where I found everything I needed, including a bunch of fresh coriandre — cilantro, which is always hard to find here and which we want to go with our rabbit tajine today — I stopped at Ed, the "hard discount" grocery store to get a couple of things that I like to get there.

One thing was a few bottles of a Bergerac red wine that I liked. I had bought a bottle about a week ago, and I thought it was excellent. On the off chance that Ed (« l'Epicier discount ») might still have some on the shelves, I went in. The one open checkout line was really long, and I almost decided to forget it. But I walked in because one item I needed, de la cassonnade (raw sugar), I hadn't bought at SuperU. I like Ed's brand better.

A very reasonably priced, delicious Bergerac wine from Ed

And there was that Bergerac wine, tempting me. I decided that the long wait would be worth it. So I picked up 4 bottles. I couldn't resist the price: 1.64€ a bottle. Can you believe that? We had some of it with yesterday's lunch and you know, it was as good as I remembered it being. Walt agreed. I might have to go back to Ed on Tuesday and get some more.

Meanwhile, they opened a second checkout line in the store and I didn't have to wait more than two minutes.

Springtime scene in our back garden
the forsythia is still covered in yellow flowers

The stores were crowded and there was quite a bit of traffic for Saint-Aignan. There were a dozen or more cars backed up at one of the town's three stoplights. There was actually a young guy with a squeegee washing people's windshields in front of the Grand Hôtel, and then asking drivers for money by making the gesture that is rubbing your thumb against your index and middle fingers.

Everybody was smiling and even laughing in the cars I drove past. The occupants looked mostly like families with children, and I bet a lot of them were going to spend the day at the Parc Zoologique de Beauval, on the other side of town. I read in the paper that Beauval was having record attendance this spring.

Not a pop quiz: I wonder what these flowers are.
They grow in the neighbors' hedge.

And everybody was all smiles in the grocery stores too. I think Saint-Aignan must be one of the smiling-est places in France, judging by what I read on other blogs. French people really do know how to smile, out here in the country. In Paris, and maybe in other places, it's a different story.

I say I'll go back to the Ed store on Tuesday because tomorrow is Easter Monday, a holiday. Everything will be closed. We'll have no bread delivery — in fact, we'll have no bread delivery on Tuesday either, for some reason that wasn't clear to me when Sylvie told me about it. And we never have bread delivery on Wednesdays. So the next time we get bread from our village boulangerie will be Thursday morning. Life is rough.

And these? They are also in the neighbors' hedge.

Fact is, that means we can go get bread from different bakers in the area for a few days. It's always nice to try different breads once in a while. Life is good.


  1. The yellow flowers are mahonia, a favorite of the municipal gardener. The white one is viburnum. Both should be nicely scented.

    I hope you're amazed at how much I know about plants. I didn't cheat. Really I didn't :¬)

  2. Magical post,

    merci et Joyeuses Pâques!


  3. Hi Ken,
    Happy Easter to you and Walt and to all your blogreaders out there.
    I hope you'll enjoy the easter bunny/rabbit. Will you have the Bergerac with it?

    C. and I bought some great Portuguese wine last week: a red Syrah and a white Fado. As you know, Loire wines are our absolute favorite, and before tasting the Portuguese wine I was almost certain that I wasn't going to like it. But no, it was absolutly delicious, not as 'heavy' as I had thought it would be. So as they say: Seulement les idiots ne changent pas d'avis :-). BTW, we bought some goat cheese too ... not Portuguese though but a real, authentic ... Selles-sur-Cher, not unknown to you, I presume. Martine

  4. 1.64 euros a bottle?? Ouch! The poor vigneron is making nothing from that; the bottle, cork, labelling, packaging and distribution will have cost about that much. They must have been desperate to get unsold wine out of the cuves before the next harvest.

    But anyway, happy Easter!

  5. I know what you mean about the smiling. One of the pieces of advice about living in France you are always given is not to smile to much, as it makes you look like a grinning fool trying to ingratiate yourself to a Frenchman. My actual experience is that lots of smiling goes on, and no one judges you the worse for smiling at them. Our neighbour across the road is one of the few exceptions. He is a very serious person who hardly smiles, but that does not mean he does not like us. Anyway, he's from the north originally, and his très sympa wife provides enough smiles for both of them :-)

    I'm amazed that wine is so good. After a couple of perfectly dreadful very cheap wines, my rule is now never to buy anything priced at under €2.

  6. Simon, I am impressed :)
    Ken, those are some lovely flowers, and all of the photos are wonderful and I'm going to choose among them for my newest desktop background (except for the lapin one:))). Currently, I have a striped crocus closeup photo from Walt's blog.

    Do you vary your bunny dishes each year? Have you done this tagine before?

    Happy Easter/Joyeuses Pâques to both of you and everyone reading!


  7. Why don't you grow your own asparagus? They require no effort and the patch will yield for up to thirty years...

    I love the flower pictures! I was serious a few posts back when I said I wanted to paint the dandelion.(Is that ok with you??) Because now I feel like I also need to paint the forsythia...


  8. Lovely trees and shrubs, lovely bottle of wine.

    We've also been awaiting the first local goat cheese of the year. For some reason the farm is late this year. Store-bought is not as good but it gets us through the winter.

  9. I love that you eat rabbit for easter! BTW I was raised with the saying "Sucking dandelion roots" when one had passed. I thought is was "normal" and everyone said it. I also used to gather dandelions for our salad which was my responsibility growing up. We made a vinaigrette with oil, vinegar, strong mustard and garlic. It was delish! I remember my mother would remind us to "fait peepee" before bed as we had eaten dandelions for dinner. Sweet memories

  10. I just tasted "pâté de Pâques" for the first time! I had seen a lot of recipes for it, but never tasted it. It was made by someone from the Châteauroux area -- I didn't realize what region it's from. Good, but filling. Almost a main dish in itself.


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