now blogging at www.katesplates.com.au


Leave a comment

Local Characters

It would be easy for me to commit to writing a series of short posts on the people I have met around here in these last months.  Many characters … many stories.  Maybe I will park the idea until we have left.  For now, I am busy practicing the art of running a B&B, cooking for crowds, planning itineraries around local festivals and trawling brocante shops (think half way between bric-a-brac and antiques).  It’s been fun!

But I can’t resist pausing in and among all this clamor, to tell you about Bruno, whom I met properly this afternoon. I first came across him briefly over the weekend when our party of seven decided to pull over on the way home to have a peek in his brocante store just ten minutes from our villa.  I’ve been meaning to stop there ever since we moved here in January. I wasn’t expecting much – many older people in the area have average bric-a-brac shops to keep them going in retirement.  So you can imagine my elation when I stepped inside Bruno’s artfully renovated house, the ground level of which showcased beautifully his passion for brocante.  My excitement was very short lived, however, as twin #2 decided she desperately needed the toilet … at home.  Don’t you love it when that happens?  My well-trained eye had already spied a cake stand that I could imagine using back home, so I asked Monsieur to put it aside for me, promising to return the next day he was open.

So today’s experience was much calmer.  I went alone and I had no deadline.  Bruno remembered me and in sing-songy French, he fetched the cake stand and matching plates and complimented me on my choice – such a charmer.  The store was empty so I took the opportunity to chat to him.  It turned out his English was very good so the following half hour flowed in polite and animated “Frenglish”.  He bought and renovated his house twenty years ago and he travels quite regularly, visiting the other houses he owns in Toulouse, Nice and Perpignan … as you do.  He has lived in New Caledonia before and therefore worked with Australians.  My curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask him what he thought of “us”.  I think he was pretty accurate.  He used many adjectives – the French always do – but summarized his monologue with “direct, but authentic”.  I think that’s a pretty good wrap, don’t you?

What I hadn’t seen on my previous fleeting visit was his display of floristry and aromatic herbs.  In the middle of all the crockery, glassware, silverware and linen from bygone eras, the freshness and recency of this greenery worked perfectly to create an ambiance I didn’t want to leave.  I’d have been in trouble if I had a house of my own to take the plants back to.  Dommage for Bruno, I ended up with the cake stand, six matching plates (pictured below) and a couple of gorgeous old books.  One is the Michelin Guide from 1951 (the only other one I own is from 2012 – will be fun to compare!) and the other is a recipe book called “La Cuisine Familiale” written by Paul Bouillard in 1932, five years before he died at the age of 63. Included in his 1500+ recipes, I found one for “flour soup”.  The ingredients list is short.  I imagine this kept many families going during WWII and throughout many long, cold winters.

The bonus Bruno gave me was a little tip on posting French books home to Australia.  There is such a law in France that falls under what’s called “Francophonie”.  It effectively means that postage is cheaper when sending French books out of the country because “it is good for France”.  Good for tourism?  Good for national morale?  Who knows.  It will be good for my bank account.  Thankyou Bruno!

I will leave you with the photos he let me take of his quaint little store … it really was a treat to step back in time in Bruno’s well laid-out, clean and thoughtfully categorised store.  I’ll be checking back in before I leave!  Should I take orders?

With grace and gusto,

kpx

sign glassware
bike basil crockery

crockery green cookware books
lillies flowers
art silverware 2 books
cakestand spines

Advertisements


Leave a comment

French women “get” fat

Kudos to Mireille Giuliano for writing a global best selling book based mainly on her opinion and personal experience. French Women Don’t Get Fat is a clever representation of how a French woman’s philosophy of food and eating keeps her trim.  It amuses me because Giuliano is french opinion personified, but I agree with her that above all, the pleasure of eating and tasting food is the most important thing.

This book and my time in France so far, has convinced me that French women “get” fat.  They understand it.  They get plenty of natural fats in their diet from the likes of duck meat, foie gras, cheese, nuts and fish.  They eat in moderation the bad fats in their glorious pastries.  When I first arrived, I couldn’t understand how they could resist the incredible displays they undoubtedly walk past everyday.  It’s very hard to avoid a peek in the windows in our local town’s four patisseries – let alone the many other boulangeries!  But after three months, I have arrived at a place where “too much ice cream” keeps me from over indulging.  Don’t get me wrong, when we entertain, we make sure we show off our local “specialties of the region” (a favourite marketing term over here) but day to day, feeling strong, healthy and bien dans ma peau (good in my skin) is more important.

I am here to tell you that the myth that “all french women are skinny and gorgeous” is simply not true.  What is true, is that I could count on one hand the number of obese people I have seen in France.  I’ve travelled to many cities in France including Lyon, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Paris, Montpellier, Nice and Narbonne, and I definitely noticed the lack of very overweight people that I had become accustomed to seeing back home in Australia.  Weird huh?

Another truth: you can sit in the main square of any town and several stunning, slim, typically french young things will walk past and you’ll marvel at their perfect red lipstick, the way their scarf matches effortlessly with their tailored look and their shoes and handbag … and their little dog.  Yes it’s mind boggling sometimes, but I simply put that down to sheer population.  France can fit inside Queensland itself and has triple the population of Australia, so of course there will be a concentration of these coquettes, right?

But let’s get back on topic … the point is that overall, French people are healthier than we are and I think Guiliano hints at the main reason why: they have a much healthier relationship with real food.  They avoid fast foods because they have so many other wonderful options.  Their rich history of gastronomie has left them with a plethora of cafes and restaurants in every city (even our local village has over eight places in which to dine, just in the main square) and a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins are available at local farmers markets every week.  And here’s the thing: it’s all very affordable.  The French social welfare system even provides “lunch cheques” for some low income earners which is literally a voucher they can redeem for a meal at a cafe.

So I shall join Guiliano and the general French population in enjoying my healthy fats in the magret du canard and Roquefort cheese.  But I will keep my head about savouring their fresh fruit and vegetables everyday and occasionally relishing a sweet pastry.
Here’s a few pics of the food and sights we’ve been enjoying lately …
A day out in Carcassonne … markets followed by a picnic with the castle as the backdrop and the river as the view in front of us.
carcassonne markets picnic 3
carcassonne bridge canal du midi
Charcuterie platters in Limoux and Bordeaux … all in the name of research 😉
charcuterie bordeaux charcuterie jambon
Plenty of home cooked goodness at the Villa …
villa home dinner oysters
A recent trip to Bordeaux left us drooling … and not only for their beautiful red wines …
winery raspberry tartsbrunch
Castelnaudry is the best place to enjoy Cassoulet, a specialty dish of the region … duck, pork sausage and beans. Done right, it’s lovely.
cassoulet
A sublime lunch enjoyed at La Domaine Gayda, one of our many local wineries.  Foie gras three ways, snapper cooked to perfection, Apple Profiteroles and coffee with madeleines by the fire …
snapper gayda coffee fire
Bon appetit!
With grace and gusto, kpx