Friday, January 30, 2009

Wonderful Sunny Day at the Market

So first thing this morning my Grandma called to make sure that we knew there was a farmers market in Brantome today....we did not. It took us only a few minutes to get ready and we practically ran to the car. All throughout the town square in the glowing sunshine of the midday there were dozens of stalls selling everything from dried fruits and nuts, vegetables, kitchen utensils and knives, every kind of meat and fish you could think of, local honey, flowers, artisan cheeses and handmade bags! It was wonderful, this was the France I was waiting for! The only thing missing was an old man playing the accordion. 

We walked along the tiny streets looking at all of the stalls and sampling what we could and we came away with some really exciting stuff! We got chorizo, wild boar and bison sausages and a beautiful aged cow's milk cheese from the farmer herself. We also got some homemade jams including a melon jam, which I had never even heard of but couldn't resist. We had just gone to the grocery the other day but next week I am going back to get some of the fish and vegetables. 

Oh but my favorite find of the day was the spice stall!  To catch you up...For the past week we have been stuck inside due to the rain so as a way to occupy my time I have been baking and cooking. The only problem is that you can't just go to a large Whole Foods here and pick up all of your ingredients at once. You have to go to several stores and to top it off they don't have all of the ingredients that I have needed. Cream for example has eluded me completely, I just can't find it anywhere! Seriously! We have also tried to find vanilla beans and chili flakes among other spices and couldn't! So when we came up to the spice stall and I spotted a large jar of vanilla beans I had to have some! She had everything we had been looking for plus some other specialty spice mixes that smelled too good to pass up. I have no doubt that we were her best customers of the day.

Now that we had everything we needed from the market we went into a few of the local shops to check them out. We went into one store that was basically a local artist co-op with wonderful handmade statues, jewelry and clothing. The owner, Sonia, was from Paris and spoke perfect English so we stayed and chatted for a while. She was lovely and told us about the local vet as well as some other needed information and gave us her number in case we ever needed anything... I think we just met our first new friend! Of course I didn't leave her shop empty handed either, I bought a pair of knitted gloves and a new scarf. 

Anyway after leaving her shop we decided it was time for lunch. Speaking of things eluding us, we have been trying to go to the Pizza Cave since we got here. It's just one of those places in Brantome that you have to go to ( I mentioned it in an earlier post ). Anyway, we have been 4 times on different days and at different times of the day and every time they were closed. They had no hours posted so we had no way of knowing when there were open. Today we tried again and as luck would have it they were open and it was definitely worth the wait!  When anybody comes to visit us we now know what to recommend....I won't tell you anymore about it,  I think you will just have to wait to until you visit to find out how good this place is! Who's coming??

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bon Appetite

Barbara and I went to the town of Brantome the other night and experienced why french cuisine is coveted by so many foodies around the world.  Our pallets experienced the true fundamental essence of flavor that I can only describe as strong and pure.  There were a couple of highlights in our four course dinner.  The first was in our first course when I had the foie gras and Barbara had this amazing lightly foamed lobster bisque.  It was light but creamy with a comforting lobster flavor that reminded me of the Maine lobster I would get growing up in Connecticut.  The second was the Choucroute du Poisson.  A trio of fish with sauerkraut that consisted of monk, salmon, and cod.  Choucroute that I have had in the past has traditionally been with different types of pork, from sausages to bacon, to shoulder.  I was curious to see if fish could hold up to the kraut.  It did on every level and let me explain how these genius chefs at this restaurant did it.  One simple ingredient... Butter.  There was another accent to the beurre blanc sauce that was on the fish and kraut and that was a lobster stock blended in it.  Amazing... that's all I have to say about that.  Dessert, dessert, dessert, six creme brulee of saffron, rose, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and Thyme is up for this blog.... Mark

Friday, January 23, 2009

More Brantome


Getting used to our new surroundings !

So this time last week we were packing up our stuff and our cats and boarding a plane. We have been here a week now and we have only seen about an hour or 2 of sunshine since! It's cold and rainy so we have had to find ways to occupy our time indoors ( near the heaters!) since there is very little work that we can do right now with this weather.  Earlier in the week we started our Pickle Experiment. We made several different types of brine and we pickled carrots and cucumbers. Now it's just a matter of time to figure out which ones we like and if they are something that we can package and have available for sale to the renters. Mark also made made a pear and apple liquor which I am dying to try out! Soon we will also be testing out some jam recipes so if any of you have any ideas or recipes, by all means let us know! 

Other than pickling, we have also had a chance to explore the local towns! Lisle is just down the street and has charming fruit and produce stands, a little market and a Boulangerie for baguettes. Brantome is only about 15 minutes drive from here and it's a truly quaint little town- for those of you that are coming to visit us, this place is a must see! There are lots of little antique shops, restaurants, and ice cream shops for the summer tourists and they're built straight into the caves! There is even a pizza restaurant built into one of the caves and they use part of the cave as the oven. Most of these shops are closed for the winter unfortunately so we will have to wait until Spring to check them out.

Perigueux is about 30 minutes drive from here and that is the closest "real" town to us. Mark and I went there yesterday so that I could look for a good coat since I didn't have one. I had to get one quick because every time my grandma saw me without one, she would pull out yet another one of the dozens of coats that have been sent to her for free from her gardening catalogues and give it to me. Even though they are horrible and don't fit, she says that she can't bear to throw them out, so they have sat for years collecting dust and spider webs. I now have 3 of them and didn't want a 4th so it was time to go shopping. 

Not bad for the first week I guess! Our French is basic but already getting better and aside from the weather, we are having a great time getting used to our new surroundings! It's a completely different lifestyle for us but we both know that this was the right decision! 

Stop.... Pickle Time!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rainy Monday, thinking about chickens

We got up this morning with the rains,  anxious to go explore the local villages around St. Vivian with Barbara's grandmother.  The main topic in the car was building a chicken coup and getting three chickens for fresh eggs every morning.  We would love to get requests for their names.  Barbara and I have some down time the next two months before we get a constant flow of renters here, so we are putting together small projects two keep us busy.  We are also going to start taking french lessons in the next couple of weeks, which will be good for me because I caught myself ordering a coffee in spanish.  The gentleman behind the bar new what I was saying, so without missing a beat got right on it saving me from embarrassment.  Taking french will keep me from crossing languages.  I also bought some pickling jars this afternoon and hope to start pickling vegetables soon, so if anyone has some old family pickling recipes, I would love to get them from you.  I definitely want to pickle some carrots because I know that my withdrawals from Mexican food will be extreme in the weeks to come.  Please send your chicken names, by adding a comment to this post, when you get a chance. We came up with a few already but we would love to hear your thoughts.... Mark

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Planes, Trains and Automobiles - Barbara's version

So Mark was right about the planes, trains and automobiles!  And although he might not want to get into it, I certainly will! First let me say that this move had me incredibly stressed. There was the basic stuff like the packing and the garage sale that you have with any move but on top of that I had to spend many days and many dollars getting the cats ready to move to a foreign country. They had to be microchipped and given their shots at the vet and then I had wait 21 days and take all of their paperwork to the USDA to get it officially stamped and certified etc. Murphy and Pavo already had microchips but I was told that France didn't accept that particular type of chip and they then had to be re-chipped. I bought fancy kennels with all of the bells and whistles only to be told a few days before the flight that they didn't have the right bells and whistles, so those had to be returned and new ones had to be ordered and overnighted from Florida! Thankfully Chandra stepped in and gave us her 2 kennels from her move to Australia so we only needed to overnight one. Anyway after all of this we finally arrive after our long flight to France, and here I am waiting with my huge stack of official paperwork at customs and not a single person asked to see a single piece of paper! What? Are you kidding me!!  After all that I had gone through I came very close to walking back into the airport and forcing someone, anyone, to look at my damn paperwork but oh well we had to find the train station so I gave up and we moved on.

We then took a 3 hour train ride, which was lovely and calm, and arrived in Angouleme. From there we drove another 45 minutes to the Chateau. Unfortunately it was dark by this time so Mark wasn't able to actually see the castle, but we automatically fell in love with our new apartment! I have been to the castle several times but had never seen this apartment because the previous caretaker was living there. It's a very sweet 2 bedroom with exposed beams and it's very French. Thick tapestries line the walls, fleur de lis accents are everywhere and the furniture is just how I like it - oversized gothic carved dark wood! I couldn't be happier!

We bring our bags up and get the cats out of their kennels and right away my grandmother is calling on the phone to ask when we can come over. Now that we live just a few yards away, I tell her we'll be there in about a minute, and we're off for Mark's first visit with Grandma. I have been especially excited about this moment! I adore my Grandma and I couldn't wait until Mark could meet her and see what I meant when I called her the coolest lady that I've ever known. I mean not only is she a former spy who married one of the founders of the CIA and then had four very successful children, she is also a world renowned archaeologist who, even at 87 years old, still works! She's wonderful and sharp as a tack and she and Mark got along as if they'd known each other for years. 

But after a few hours of forcing ourselves to stay awake so that we wouldn't wake up at 3 am we finally settled in for bed. We feel right at home in our new surroundings and although we are in for a lot of work and we are already missing our friends and family, we both go to sleep knowing that this is an incredible opportunity and we can't wait to see what our knew job has in store for us......

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Barbara and I left our old home in Crockett at 10 am Friday morning  with our bags packed and 3 crates holding 3 cat's heading to San Francisco International Airport.    I really don't want to get into the whole airport-pets-ATF, checking in and not seeing our cat's for 13 hours and wondering how they're doing.  I'm not going to get into it, but the truth being, I'm not a very good flyer.  So, it was great when we landed in Paris, collected the cat's and jumped on a train for a much needed nap to were picked up by Steve in the small town of Angouleme.  Our ride through the French country side was never boring, Steve zipped through little towns with narrow streets only to catch a glimpse of small restaurants and patisseries on our way to the chateau.  We finally reached our destination driving up a small winding road to the top of the Dronne Valley... We're home.