21 December 2009

What a difference a day makes

It's a good 15ºF warmer this morning — it's about +2ºC rather than -7º) — than it was just a couple of days ago, and you can feel that the house is much warmer too. It rained most of yesterday afternoon and a lot of the snow was gone by nightfall. That's Loire Valley weather for you. It snows a little but it doesn't usually last long.

So what a difference a day makes, eh? And what a difference it makes for Walt today. It's his birthday, and it's a major one. It will be the 28th time that we've celebrated his birthday together, and I hope there will be at least 28 more.

Today is also the shortest day of the year. Ouf ! as they say — Phew! Finally the days will start getting longer again. We've made it most of the way through another season of dark and drear. Now it'll be Christmas, with cheese fondue on the 24th and then roast goose on the 25th, and then New Year's Eve with Champagne and oysters and Jan. 1st with a nice cassoulet — and the bonus of sharing it with friends in the afternoon.

The cabbage patch — collard greens and chard, really — seems
to have survived the snow and ice without much damage.

Our trip to the market over in Noyers yesterday morning was uneventful but beautiful. I'm sorry I didn't take my camera, but it was snowing too hard and just too windy and cold for me to want to get out of the car to take pictures. We didn't have any trouble driving down the steep hill into the river valley, and the bridges that span the two branches of the Cher River at Saint-Aignan had been salted and sanded, so they weren't too slippery.

The market itself was very small and nearly deserted. We were able to park right next to the three or four stalls that were open for business. Usually I have to park much farther away. Many of the vendors, including the guy who sells a wide variety of very good cheeses from his little market van, hadn't yet showed up when we were there between 9:30 and 10:00. They probably figured it just wasn't worth risking the drive.

The vendors who were present were the ones we wanted to buy from though. The market square was smoothly white with snow, and the poultry merchant and a big produce vendor were set up for business. There was also a vendor selling oysters, and one other vegetable stand was open. Instead of being in tenth or fifteenth place in a long line to buy chicken, I was second, and there were only two people behind me. Walt was over standing in line to buy some lettuce and mushrooms.

One of those behind me in line was a young woman we have met before at parties. Her husband is a gendarme and she works at the SuperU store in Saint-Aignan, so I see her fairly often. Another was a tiny man of about 80 who kept making jokes when he started talking to the woman and me. The main subject of conversation was of course the weather and whether it was going to get better or worse over the course of the afternoon.

« Ce que je peux vous dire, c'est qu'il va sûrement faire beau pour le 14 juillet, » the man told me, with a twinkle in his eye — "All I know is that we will surely have good weather for Bastille Day." He said he picked the 14th of July as the day the weather would be nice because that way he was pretty sure he wouldn't be wrong. (Ça reste à voir, je dirais — we'll see...)

When I ordered some ground poultry and pork to use as part of the stuffing for our Christmas goose, the same man had another joke for me. The ground meat is called « farce », which means "stuffing" in French. A farce in French is also a trick, or a practical joke. « Alors vous achetez ça parce que vous voulez faire une farce au mauvais temps ? » is what the man said — "So you're buying that farce because you want to play a trick on the bad weather?"

I guess he was right in a way, because one of the best ways to trick the bad weather is to eat well. We got the few things we needed for our meals over the next few days, and then we drove back to Saint-Aignan to buy some things in a good butcher shop. The cobblestone streets in the old town were pretty slippery, but not as slippery as the road that leads out of Noyers down by the river. That section of roadway was really iced over. The car was seriously fishtailing and I had to ease off on the accelerator. It was good that there was so little traffic.

And a little later we made it back up the hill to the house sans incident.

When we got home, the phone rang. It was our English friend D., who lives part of the time in Saint-Aignan and part of the time in Paris. He and his French wife C. are in Saint-Aignan for Christmas and they needed firewood. The man they had ordered wood from stood them up, probably because of the bad weather — he didn't show up Saturday to make the delivery as promised. We told them to come on over and we would give them some logs for the afternoon and evening.

They got here at 11:30 and that's apéro time, so we offered them a glass of wine. D. and C. were only recently married — it's a long story — and we've known him for several years but hardly know her at all. In fact, Walt had never met her before yesterday, and I'd only seen her with D. at the market and supermarket in Saint-Aignan a couple of times. In Saint-Aignan, they live in an old house right on the main market square in town, and she also has an apartment near Bastille in Paris.

We had a nice visit/get-acquainted session over glasses of wine, and then C. asked us if we had plans for Christmas Eve. We said no, not really, and she invited us over to their house Thursday evening for a light dinner of smoked salmon and salad. They are to be guests a big Christmas Day dinner chez some Americans who live down near Loches, and we of course are going to be cooking our goose, so a light dinner early Christmas Eve will be perfect.

I'll be especially curious to see their house, which they say is pretty much a construction zone for the time being. They are putting in a new kitchen, and one reason they are spending two weeks in Saint-Aignan right now is to get as much work done on the house as they can before they have to go back to Paris. She'll have to go back to work in January — she's close to retirement but not quite there yet.

C. said the house in Saint-Aignan has a metal staircase in it that was supposedly designed and built by Gustave Eiffel. Of course Eiffel ran a big company that manufactured all kinds of things out of metal back in the late 1800s, from staircases to bridges to the Tower. Still, C. said she was very proud to have such a fine architectural element in her house. Now that she's been here for a few years, however, she has seen similar staircases in several other houses around the area, so she's realized they are not really uncommon. "We all think the one we have in our particular house is the most beautiful one, of course," she said.

I asked C. how she, as a Parisian, came to choose Saint-Aignan when she decided to buy a house for her retirement. She said that when she was growing up she spent a summer or two at a colonie de vacances, a summer camp, here. She said she remembered the island in the river across from the old town, with its playground, swing sets, band shell, and beach. The kids used to swim in the river, with the big old church and château high above them on the opposite bank.

Then a few years ago, purely by coincidence, a colleague and old college friend of hers told C. she had decided to buy a retirement house in a place called Saint-Aignan. Surprised, C. told her friend she had fond childhood memories of the town herself. Then C. decided maybe she would come here to visit her old friend and study the possibilities for her own retirement years. Paris is too expensive, she said, and too "aggressive" — fast-paced, noisy, and exhausting — to be a good retirement choice. C. ended up buying a house in Saint-Aignan in 2006.

She also offered us her apartment in Paris as a place to stay if we ever want to go to the city while she is staying in Saint-Aignan, and she said it would be fine if we took Callie with us. Think of the possibilities...


  1. It seems that you had a wonderful yesterday. Your stories always bring me right back to France and remind me of my own sweet memories.
    Have fun celebrating with Walt today.

  2. how wonderful to be offered an apt ibn paris and be able to take callie.......what area is apt in?

    i'm tackling the goose today (no pot big enuf to poach so i'll have to take my chances just roasting)

  3. This weather always makes me hungry. We have had porridge for breakfast but by 12 o'clock I was just dying for a cheese and onion sandwich. Normally a bit of salad will do but it must be a human instinct to stoke up for winter. Then it takes all spring to lose the half-stone that we've put on since autumn. Trouble is, each year we put on the same over winter but not all of it comes off !! C'est la vie.

    I enjoyed the story about your friends. And I hope you both enjoy Walt's birthday.

  4. I enjoy hearing about the people you meet at the market. The old fellow has nice sense of humor.

    Your new friends sound nice and a light dinner on Christmas eve sounds like some fun.

    Enjoy your birthday time today. Lewis' birthday is on the 27th. I've got an eiffel tower cookie in the freezer for him ready to go in the oven. It's our 41st together. Gosh...

  5. You're probably enjoying steak au poivre even as I type! Hope it's a nice day for you both.

    I love market stories :)


  6. A truly delightful post! Your interactions with strangers and friends are so much fun to read about. Especially from here in suburbia where all one gets from people behind one in line are cold stares!

    Went to a Christmas party last night and John brought pounti as an appetizer. It was a big hit!

    Sounds like you have quite a nice holiday week in store. Enjoy!

  7. Thanks Cheryl. I really do enjoy my interactions with random shoppers at the market. It's almost always fun. The older people are hilarious. Sometimes they must think I'm retarded because I don't always get it right away when they tell jokes and use puns.

    Evelyn, 41 years! Wow. Take pictures of that Eiffel Tower cookie. Hope I can see you two this spring.

    Jean, when I eat a hearty breakfast, I'm almost always much hungrier at noon than when I just have my tea in the morning. Hope your weather clears soon and that you'll be able to make the trip to France without any trouble.

    Melinda, let me know how the goose comes out. I'm curious to know how much it weighed. Maybe it's too late, but do you have Julia Child's The Way to Cook book? She steams her goose before roasting it.

    Nadège, we did have fun celebrating today. The meal was excellent. Good steak, good sauce, good salad, good cheeses, and good pumpkin cake with a nice glaze.

  8. Ken, after 30 years in the US, it still takes me a while to get jokes told in english sometimes.
    What a great idea to steam a goose before putting it in the oven. I will have to try it for chicken putting herbs and lemons inside the cavity. I bet it will help keep the flesh moist since it won't be in the oven too long afterwards.

  9. Wow - an apt in Paris - that would be perfect! loved the "farce" story - you are really fluent when you can joke in the language. How much sparkling Vouvray has gone into the Bday celebration?


  10. Here I thought you were snowed in, but you've been out and about.

    Ken, as a house nut, I have to ask, do you think your friends would let you post a photo of their staircase?
    Or their renovated kitchen?

  11. Hi Candy, only one bottle. A lot of gnôle too though -- that's a rural or regional word for marc, as in marc de bourgogne. Ours is marc de Touraine, of course.

    Nadège, I like the poaching method. It's similar to steaming, but the resulting broth might be better. I'm not sure how I would be able to steam a goose, but I'm hoping it will fit into a big stock pot for poaching.

  12. Wow, That frying pan looks promising! Go slowly on the alcohol though, because this 'artisanal' stuff can be very tricky. Have a great evening! Martine

  13. Oh! I just popped in (it's 1:05 pm Central U.S. time, so 8:05 pm in France) to see what the latest news might be on the steak au poivre dinner, and WOW! What a great photo for the banner!


  14. LOL at the new banner!!!!

  15. Martine, no worries about the marc. It's a bottle that Jean-Noël, the local winemaker you and C. met when you were here 6 months ago, gave us. We are being sages!

  16. Ken, you said: "Nadège, we did have fun celebrating today. The meal was excellent. Good steak, good sauce, good salad, good cheeses, and good pumpkin cake with a nice glaze."

    Being unpretentious, you didn't add ...and good company, but I can say that, can't I?

  17. If for some reason you will be unable to occupy the apartment in Paris, I, as an old friend, would be happy to hop over to Paris and help the cause. Your friend wouldn't want the apartment to be unoccupied, would she?


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