08 February, 2011

Of Vietnamese cats and chocolate bulls.

I've been thinking about writing.  Thinking about it while driving, while showering, while feeding the chickens, without ever actually opening my laptop, let alone putting my fingers to the keyboard.  It's been a bit busy around here. There's the making and the eating of savory and sweet crêpes, for which Jesus invented Candlemas.  Don't quote me, it's only my newest hypothesis.  Point is, all in the name of celebrating entrenched local tradition, we've eaten our way through an awful lot of pancakes...
And then the day after we went Vietnamese. As it was the Lunar New Year, or Tết, Babette, the cook at the village school canteen, made an all-Asian lunch featuring "nems," which is what the French call fried spring rolls.  Afterward, I spent the afternoon with five and six year olds, lighting incense, playing music, and showing some photos of Vietnam.  We talked about new year traditions, we hung lanterns and paper dragons, they colored an image I traced of the charming feline on the latest Vietnamese stamp (while in China it's the year of the rabbit, the Viet like to do it a whisker differently).  The kids were so engaged and we had a blast. As if that wasn't enough of a party, this year Tết landed on my birthday.  So there was that to celebrate...
And then to top it all, there was chocolate and an awful lot of other sweet things because the chocolate show came to town.  To Nimes, to be specific.
There were all the typical permutations of French chocolate, and some less obvious ones, too.

Beyond the making of chocolate macarons, and the covert sampling of chocolate fountains,  there was this sculptor, carving on a fine Nimois bull out of premium dark.
And there was chocolate wine.  Quite a trick. I actually quite liked the white version, a blend of Sauvignon and Semilion, in which chocolate has been steeped in such a way to impart a distinct cocoa scent and flavor while still looking as clear and light-filled as a standard glass of wine.
We all watched Francis Miot do his art. He has previously been crowned France's best confiturier, or jam-maker.  Awarded annually, that title means something here, because there's an awful lot of top shelf jam to be had in this country, and I'm not talking about Bonne Maman.   Here in my small corner of the country, an old-school, well brought-up mother or grandmother wouldn't appear on a neighbor's doorstep without bearing something homemade, usually jam...
There were piles of traditional French sweets, like preserved fruit, salted caramels, soft nougat (flavored with wild blueberries!).
There were darling jars of rum-soaked babas. At each stall, I managed to walk away after a sedate sampling of goods.  Until I tried the handmade guimauves, that is.
Forget anything you ever thought you knew about marshmallows.  Fresh, artisanal marshmallows can be incredible.  I never even realized I liked marshmallows until I tasted them in pastry shops.  At first, it's all airiness, and then the flavor seems to gently 'appear' in your mouth.  It's fairly close to magic.
There was rose, and litchee.  Violet, lavender, grapfruit, bergamot, and did I mention coconut with tiny dark chocolate bits?  Blackberry, green anise, pineapple, salted caramel, banana, wild strawberry, bergamot, oh I could go on...but I think I'll stop, because there's a sachet of them in the kitchen. 
Please don't ask me to share, it's my birthday...week.


  1. Happy Birthday!! What a delicious post. I'm drooling...

  2. Inutile to wish you a happy birthday - I see you have ensured the day goes well :-)

    I'm interested that jam is exchanged by visiting neighbours. I find here that a present of jam is usually greeted by a small sigh and a comment about how much the recipient has already made themselves this year from the same fruit that I am offering.

  3. Thank you, Rose! Between crepes and all the sweet things, we've been eating awfully well...

    Hello Susan, well, that seems perhaps a touch uncharitable of the receiver(s), no? I'm thrilled to get berry jams, as we whiz through those the quickest, and pleased with chestnut jam, because I'm too lazy to make that one myself anymore. The orange/lemon marmalades are good as glazes...With the exception of something quite unusual, I don't need to buy jam anymore.


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