After yesterday’s mix-up, which ended in success, I was clear that Valerie had not changed our initial plans – and thus, today, I walked to Valerie & Raymond’s for lunch. Or rather, I walked to the boulangerie, fully intending to buy some kind of gateaux (cakes,) for dessert, because I had said I’d bring ‘something’. And I ran into Raymond!
‘Bonjour, ça va!’ Kiss Kiss.
Isabelle dit: ‘ça va Kelley! En Francais!’ (How are you, Kelley – say it in French!’
We worked out that I wanted to bring something but Raymond was buying a cake for our dessert, so we agreed I could pop over to the ‘Petit Casino’ and buy some wine (du vin).
Good timing, then, or we would have ended up with a lot of cake!
We rendez-vous-ed at their house, which I knew how to find because I’d been there yesterday (I didn’t mention that,) and Raymond introduced me to two of their three children. Their son is 10 and their daughter is fourteen or fifteen. Emma and…I’m awful with names. But very sweet and well-behaved. It was an interesting mixture of Valerie wanting Emma to practise her English with me, and then everyone insisting that I practise my French. So the conversation was very mixed.
We had a detailed and inconclusive debate about when to use ‘bien’ and when to use ‘bon.’ ‘Bon,’ apparently, is for food-related things, but that isn’t the sole grammatical rule, so it’s a bit confusing. Also, ‘depuis’ (since) is challenging to translate into English – a lot of French people will make the mistake of saying ‘since’ rather than ‘from,’ because they would use ‘depuis’ for both in French. So they would say ‘since five years ago…’ rather than ‘from five years ago,’ or ‘five years ago…’ etc. At least I wasn’t the only one making mistakes.
But as I mentioned: ohmygodthefood.
I know this is one of those things about France: as Verity said, ‘food is a religion here.’ But yes. Wow.
We started by having peanuts & champagne on their sunny deck, overlooking the (covered) swimming pool.
‘Have you had foie gras?’
And so I had foie gras. Of course I know what it is, but no, I’ve never had it. I said I was happy to try it, particularly in such a setting. Valerie said she’d tell me what it was after I tried it, but I said I thought I knew what it was. It was delicious – like butter – but it did freak me out a little bit to be eating the liver of a force-fed duck (or goose). So I had one slice on a warm bit of toast, Valerie and her son each had a slice, and Raymond happily polished off the last two pieces.
Then we moved indoors, but all of the many doors were thrown wide open to the afternoon sunshine, so it felt like we were outside. It is unusually warm right now, for the time of year. Valerie explained that they always have sunshine, but for it to be so warm that we can eat outside – this is unusual. I’m typing this right now outside at my little table, squinting in the sun. Not a complaint.
For the main meal, Raymond had made a sort of stew with pasta, choritzo, thick gravy, veal, and sun-dried tomatoes. By pure chance, I didn’t get a chunk of veal in my serving, and I was silently relieved. I’d have eaten it – even been curious to do so, since I don’t think I’ve ever had veal – but again, eating tortured baby animals really isn’t my first choice. But again, the stew was delicious. And as a lapsed vegetarian (it was a phase (three years,) what can I say,) I don’t feel, if I am eating meat, that I can get snarky about what meat I eat. If you’re going to be a vegetarian, do it properly. If you’re going to enjoy meat, do it properly.
Throughout, we drank the rosé I’d brought. It was charming when Raymond poured his young daughter a tiny drop of the rosé- at her request – and she tried a sip, pulled a face, and gave the rest to her father. There was no mystery in it, no ‘forbidden to drink, you’re too young,’ drama. And she didn’t like it at all. It was also sweet when Raymond proceeded to finish both of his children’s servings of stew (‘I’m the bin,’ he said – ah, like any father,) and also ate the crusts from their dessert (along with his own full portions, I don’t need to say). In fact, I felt distinctly ‘grown-up’ when the children left the table during the cheese course and also when I thought, over dessert, ‘but the crust is the best part,’ which is something my mom has always said.
The cheeses were a variety of goats’ cheeses, one rolled in thyme, and one in curry – yes, curry power! And another that I didn’t make it to because I was just too full, and we still had dessert to go. We had red wine with the cheese, as well as a glorious olive oil from Florence, and bread. The olive oil was singing with flavour: it was sunlight distilled. If I ever have the opportunity to write a restaurant / gastro review, I promise I’d be more articulate: but ohmygodthefood.
Then, dessert. The cake, which I’d seen in the box at the boulangerie when Raymond was buying it, was an amazing, almond-crusted, powder-sugar-dusted confection, more of a tarte, really. Apparently it’s ‘the’ specialty of Isabel and her husband. It’s called a ‘squirrel cake’! Squirrel is ‘écureuil‘ in French. I guess because of the nuts on top.
We had a long discussion about what the French tend to make for Noel: Christmas. Valerie kindly offered to order me a certain type of chicken – basically a really big chicken, which makes me wonder if it’s a goose – for Christmas, when she orders hers. We talked about turkey, which they do have here. It’s called ‘dinde,’ but she recommended the other fowl for Christmas.
She also offered to buy truffes – truffles – for me when Raymond goes to a particular village to get those, and there followed a debate, wherein Raymond said truffles really weren’t that special, and Valerie said yes, they were, and that you should put one truffle amidst eggs for a few days, and then make scrambled eggs and shred the truffle on top, and the eggs will have taken on the flavour of the truffle…
Well, I have no idea, but I’m willing to try all of it. Then Valerie pulled out some food magazines and said a good way to practise French is through cooking. So, she lent me those, and now I’m thinking of what I’m going to order, and make, for my guests, (various family and friends from the US and the UK) when they come.
And, we have dates for me to come back for another meal, and for the children to come practise the piano at Verity’s, and for Valerie & me to go out to a market or shopping or something that hasn’t been decided yet. What absolutely wonderful people.
Finally, we had tea (for me) and coffee (for them,) and three and a half hours after I arrived, a very full and tipsy Kelley walked back to Verity’s house. My goodness, but the French know how to have a good lunch.