16 August, 2011

You are what you eat--and the company you keep.

My life in the south of France is measured by basket.  Basket after basket, creaking under the weight of perfectly ripe produce and locally made goodness, redolent of earth and sun.  Here are some of the marchands who have filled my baskets and larder, year in and year out.
Erwan is a traiteur extraordinaire, and my go-to guy for years now.  He sharpened his knives and his wit in the brasseries of Paris for years before heading out to the province for fresh air and friendlier people. He makes a magnificent cured, roasted turkey, more tender than you can believe, rubbed with herbs and unlike anything I've ever had, anywhere else.  He makes lots of things, fine free-range roast chickens, paprika legs, seasonal specialties (like Camargue beef), a mean sausage.  I could go on, but his turkey (on the bone) is what keeps me coming back.  He calls it  jambonette de dinde, and he is holding some in the photo. I so wish you could taste a morsel.  
Guillaume has an excellent selection of organic fruit and vegetables, with less familiar varieties mixed in with the standards.  All grown locally.  Right now, his white peaches are heady, perfumed and juicy beyond any singing of it. I tried to get him to pose holding his superlative golden beets.  As you can see, he refused.  With a smile. I think he only agreed to a photo because I asked so nicely.  In Amsterdam, I am going to miss his produce something fierce.
Louise and her husband offer organic vegetables--white and green asparagus in the spring, onions, potatoes and mushrooms later in the season--but it is her tiny, deeply flavorful wild blueberries, and her wild blueberry tart that have really made her name.  I can't keep track of how many children they have, there are more than four, and they all go together into the mountains to pick these blueberries.  She said we've maybe one more week's worth, then blueberry season is closed for 2011.
The queue was as usual, way too long for Christophe, my neighbor and one of my main cheese sources. You can see him in the background. He makes long, meandering trips to cheesemakers he knows, returning with treats from the Lozere, the Basque Pyrenees, and points well beyond.  When he isn't selling cheese and sausage, he is playing petanque--in the summer anyway.  The rest of the year, he hunts wild boar.  His Basque Tomme de Brebis, a ewe's cheese from the mountains, can make you temporarily lose the power of speech. I kid you not.
If you have been reading me for awhile, you may be familiar with Claudie.  She is a pelardon queen, with a very loyal following of customers; I have made pilgrimages to her farm to watch her and her husband turn goat milk into the signature cheese of our region.  She gives me eggs and extra cheese, I give her plants from the garden.  And cookies. 
Jean-Louis is a fifth generation butcher who slaughters and cuts all his own meat, from the entire animal.  In France, more and more meat is prepared at large slaughterhouses, then shipped to butchers, who simply make the final packaging for sale; people with Jean-Louis' depth of skill are a dying breed. Jean-Louis makes sausages, pates, and cures his own ham.  In winter, he makes his foie gras from his own ducks.  To do this,  to get to the village markets and set up his wares, he wakes up at two in the morning and goes to bed at seven in the evening. Conscientious and proud, he provides written details on the provenance of all his meat.  There is always sedate classical music playing in the background at his truck, and he is always impeccably dressed--note the pristine, personalized apron and red tie.  He chats up his regulars with a charming elegance, swapping recipes and vivid anecdotes.  I give him a pot of my chutney, and he gives my kids yoyos and generous samples.  Once he retires (not long now), his business will close: his children are not interested in his metier.

These people are as much the Cevennes as the sycamores in the village, the dramatic views, the cigales and the crows stealing my figs.  It just wouldn't be the same without them. 

I'll be seeing them all again, during the next school holidays.

09 August, 2011

In the air.

A lot of what I do in the summertime is about capturing the best moments. It's all about distilling--reducing and preserving the essential--whether I'm cooking a batch of deeply ripe raspberry jam, bottling fruit liqueurs or making chutneys, for which I'm now using the Reine Claudes that are so weighing down the plum trees in the garden.  Memories, to be opened at a later date for the taste buds, the eye, the nose, the mind.

I suppose in many ways I've tried to do that with this blog. Coming on three years now, I've gathered together some fine moments, many of which still glow in my mind's eye as brightly as my neighbor's newly pressed picholine olive oil. And while I've enjoyed every season to the full, this summer seems more memorable than usual.

Leaving'll do that to you, bringing the things, people and places you most value into blade-sharp focus. Call it a sort of early-onset nostalgia. As an expat and dyed-in-the-wool nomad I really try not to put off the important stuff--carpe diem and all that jazz--but there is always the latent awareness that another move could shake things up once again. This time, the siren call of my husband's work imposes; so for the past month I've been simultaneously living it up and preparing for a return...to city life.

I'm moving due north. For the first time ever, I'm going back to live in a city I already know. If I sound fairly cavalier about leaving the sunny south, it's because I know we'll be back in France--and regularly. (We have to: we're keeping the farmhouse.)

Care to explore Amsterdam with me? I'm leaving in two weeks. 

Or you could drop by and help pack some boxes...
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