Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Happy 39th, Sean!

We interrupt this France trip...

chez les parents bis

I visited Maman and Papa for lunch today. According to Dominique, they were delighted to hear that I was in town, and they've insisted on taking care of me this week while Dom and Véro are at work, and the kids are all at school.

A bit of background: Dom's entire family used to live in the town of Carquefou, not far from the historically famous city of Nantes (the same Nantes as in the Edict of Nantes). That's where I first made everyone's acquaintance. Over time, the four sons went their separate ways; Dom and Véro moved to the other side of France to the town of Colmar, in the Alsace region. Eventually, Dom decided to move back west, which is how he ended up here, in Le Vanneau-Irleau. His parents, meanwhile, had become empty-nesters who felt that their spacious house in Carquefou had become too big for just two people. So they moved to their current digs, a home that started out as a farmhouse and barn, but which Dominique, his brothers, and a contractor crew massively renovated over the course of three or four years to make it the impressive dwelling it is today.

So today, Papa gave me the grand tour of the place, talking about how the house started out, and what sort of effort was involved in converting it into a livable space for an older couple. I have to say, there was an impressive amount of mason-work, tiling, resurfacing, painting, and sledgehammering going on over that three-year period.

The end result: a work that's still in progress, but which now sports a full kitchen, dining room, living room, den, several bedrooms, three full bathrooms, and a huge amount of square footage for housing farm equipment and a workshop, in which Papa can do his bricolage. Papa heaped a ton of praise on Dominique, who is apparently quite the handyman, having knocked out several walls and done the flooring for much of the house.

It's funny to think that Dom's parents saw themselves as moving to a smaller space: Papa told me the house is capacious enough to house several generations of Ducoulombiers; in fact, one time, there were thirty-five people at the house. I hope that gives you an idea of how much free floor space this former farmhouse-cum-barn has. What impressed me most was that, according to Papa, the house was pretty much unlivable when he and his wife bought it. Now, it's practically a palace, and it's arguably bigger than the house they had left behind in Carquefou. At least now, they're only 700 meters away from Dominique, and only a few minutes' drive away from two of Dom's brothers. (Xavier, third oldest, lives and works in China. His wife and kids are there with him.)

I didn't take pictures of the house during my tour; I probably should have. But I'll be back to see Papa and Maman later this week, so perhaps I'll get some pictures then. Meantime, here are some images of today's lunch, starting with garden-grown tomatoes and homemade mayonnaise:

The main course was herbed pork chops with lentils and mushrooms, plus garden-grown potatoes. Simple and delicious.

It wouldn't be a French meal if there weren't any cheese. Here's a variety of cheeses, laid out for our delectation:

And some cheese on my plate:

Dessert began with homemade flan:

Phase Two of dessert was chocolate:

Phase Three was moist little cakes:

And finally, another shot of my French parents, who took such good care of me in 1986. I took the shot right as Maman was saying "Cheese" in English, which is why she seems to be in mid-speech. It's a cute moment.

I helped Maman navigate her MacBook Air, a device that utterly mystifies her, but in which is stored a trove of legal documents and family photos, a cluster of which we tried to find. Papa broke out his laptop and showed me pictures of the house from before the renovation. The difference was like night and day.

A package meant for Dominique arrived at his parents' house while I was there; when it was time for me to leave, I took the heavy box to Maman's car, and we drove the short distance back to Dom's place, where Maman dropped me off. I told her that I'd be trying to walk to Niort tomorrow (a distance of about 20 km along the waterside paths), and that I'd be up for visiting her and Papa again on Wednesday. It's been rainy today, like yesterday (everyone says this is a much-needed rain because it's been dry all summer); tomorrow and Wednesday will be nice, in theory, then the rain begins again on Thursday. I need to get some distance walking done while the weather is pleasant.

Monday, October 15, 2018

chez Maman et Papa

One of the pics I snapped is specifically for my beer-loving crowd back in Seoul. When I told Dominique why I took that picture, he got excited and told me about some places that serve hundreds of different local beers.

I was happy to see my French parents again. Although I had visited Dominique back in 2007, I hadn't seen Dom's parents in over twenty years. I'm going to go back and have lunch with them on Monday, then they're taking me on a tour of some historically significant local sites.

rainy Sunday outing 3

rainy Sunday outing 2

rainy Sunday outing 1

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday lunch

I woke up around 9 a.m. today (Sunday the 14th), but I lay in bed and blogged for several hours (it's slow going on a tiny cell-phone keyboard) before I was ready to face the world. I'm basically housed in a separate building, and I didn't make it down to the family residence until 12:30, when Dominique texted that it was time for lunch.

Interesting and delicious spread, if a little bit too much on the onion-y side for me. Dom's wife Véronique described the main course with the English word "crumble," which was indeed a recognizable crumble, although Dom let his wife's dish sit under the broiler maybe a minute too long.

The dish tasted great, though: the base was mostly watery squash, with little bits of chorizo scattered inside. The topping was a dry crumble of flour, butter, and maybe some egg. Right underneath it was a layer of that lovely goat's cheese that I had praised earlier in front of Dominique. He and his wife took their cue from my compliment, interpreting it as a signal to feed me even more chèvre.

But before I show you the meal, here's a shot of a few of the gifts I had brought from Korea, now proudly displayed on the family hearth:

And here's your first look at an over-broiled crumble. I should have said something to Dom because I could smell the thing burning as soon as I walked into the kitchen.

That said, it was amazingly delicious, and I served myself two large pieces. The family served two types of rice as well, one being a regular, fluffy, long-grained rice, and the other being the same rice, but cooked with chicken broth to make it stickier.

Here's my plate:

This last shot was of something Véro had made. She modestly called it a gâteau au chocolat, using a super-generic term for her creation ("chocolate cake"), but what it was was nothing short of miraculous. The photo below doesn't do the "cake" justice:

This dessert was closer in spirit to one of those luscious terrines you can find on YouTube. It wasn't at all a cake in the American sense, i.e., a sugary cousin of bread. No: except for an afterthought-like layer of sweet crackers on the bottom, this was all about the chocolate. Of course, I asked Véro to take me through how she made it; there was absolutely no baking involved, but the dessert did need to sit for several hours in the fridge. Glorious. I really wish the photo could have captured just how amazing this was, but the experience was almost entirely tactile and gustatory.

dîner à la française

Crêpes aren't special or spectacular, but they are versatile. Saturday dinner was a mass of crêpes with both sweet and savory options: two kinds of ham, eggs, cheeses, creamy mushrooms, several types of honey, and of course, organic chocolate spreads.

the elusive Augustin

At long last, a pic of Augustin with his girlfriend and his little brother Tim, my intrepid tour guide.

I asked the young lady her name; it was something unpronounceable. I asked her how she spelled it, then I failed to catch the final three or four letters. I'll get back to you about that.

long jump

We did a hell of a lot yesterday. I walked around Dom's property, shopped at the local eco-grocery, toured the marsh with Tim, and went to the local track to watch Dominique's daughter Héloïse compete in several track events, including the long jump. Hélo, it turns out, can jump 4.95 meters, or a bit over fifteen feet. That's pretty impressive. She didn't win that event, sadly, but she was up there among the top competitors.

You can barely see Hélo off to the left of this pic, which does, in fact, show most of the family. I took a video of one of Hélo's jumps; I'll see if I can upload that at some point.

The day wasn't over: we went to a sporting-goods store to buy me a cheap trekking pole, then we went to a grocery to shop for food for dinner (which turned out to be sweet and savory crêpes). At dinner, Augustin, who's in college, finally showed up with his cute girlfriend, and I had the chance to unload all my gifts for the family. The French will spend several hours at table, and it was 10:30 p.m. by the time I staggered away from the family to go do my daily laundry, blog a bit, then flop into bed a bit before midnight.

Dinner and family pics up next.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

déjeuner à la française

Carbs upon carbs in this series of images of lunch, French-family style.

You're looking at herbed pork tenderloin with apples, plus rice and fusilli. Dessert was rhubarb pie. My father used to say he hated rhubarb pie, but I find nothing wrong with rhubarb, which I've eaten many times while living and studying in Europe.

coming back home for lunch

Just two images in this post: a cute, plump cat sitting magisterially on a car, and a pottery house, which I might want to visit at some point.