Monday, April 25, 2011

What didn't we do last week?

It's 7am and another beautiful day is beginning and before it completely gets away from me, I wanted to give a brief update.
First of all, my Mom and Gary arrived a little over a week ago and were put to work immediately clearing old vine roots, gardening, setting tile, hanging cabinets, prepping paint, you name it. I still cannot believe how they barely let the 9-hour jet lag (not-to-mention, 7-hour drive from Paris immediately following their 13-hr flight) slow them down. I'm calling them "super seniors" from now on as they wake up ready and willing to take any and all tasks we throw at them and I'm sure they are going to need a vacation from their "vacation" soon. Fortunately, they do plan to go to Italy for a week or so and can hopefully relax and get their strength for Phase II.

Phase I having been just completed last Saturday when Hank was finally able to hook up the kitchen sink.  We still have plaster and paint touch ups to finish, as well as hanging curtains, decorating, etc., but we have a kitchen for the first time in 4 1/2 months! There's new electrical, plumbing, cabinetry, a sweet oeil de beouf window, and cathedral ceilings with exposed wood beams. Not only is it beautiful, looking almost exactly the way Hank envisioned it, it is surprisingly functional for it's size.  I still have to stop myself from schlepping the dinner dishes down the hallway into the laundry room sink out of habit or looking for plates and utensils in the living room, but given time, I'm sure I will eventually adjust.

We also began our kitchen garden after having hand "plowed" the the fields with the help of Patrick's rototiller. We have been fortunate to have him here to share information and give advise with just about everything pertaining to the maintenance of Petit Clos. He is the kind man who keeps his two horses and a donkey on our property in exchange for helping maintain some of it. But he does so much more really. When I voiced interest in having a garden, I'm pretty sure he tried hiding his disbelief that this city girl could do it so he generously offered his assistance that I readily took when he unexpectedly arrived the same afternoon that my mom was due to arrive. As I have learned by now, you must grab situations as they present themselves and in this case, he was offering his time and expertise so I jumped on it knowing that I would be a muddy mess by the time my mom arrived.

He measured and lined up our rows of tomatoes, green beans, pommes de terre (potatoes), eschalots, (shallots) framboise (raspberries), strawberries and radis (radish) with the precision of a professional surveyor. If I would place a seed barely outside of the line, he would be sure to relocate it to the proper place. My only regret about our method of planting was that it was nearly impossible to communicate to him that I also desired an aesthetically pleasing garden layout so this year it looks like I'm going to have to settle for a more industrial looking garden which is actually probably a lot more practical since we may seriously have to consider being self-sufficient on this farm if I don't get some work soon.

The week was also incredibly rewarding because Patrick also assisted us in setting our large burning pile on fire which in turn allowed us to enhance the view and roughly set up our "Sunset Plaza" dining area where we have enjoyed a few bbq's overlooking the grape vines and admire the incredible coucher de soleil.

We let the workers off on Wednesday and took them to La Roque Gageac, Beynac and Dome and after lunch, rented canoes on the Dordogne.

Lastly, we acquired our lovely brown laying hens. As usual, Hank and I found ourselves in a sort of surreal french farm situation when again, Patrick dropped by out of the blue and offered to take us to the property where he resides and the owner, a woman named Christine, assisted us in picking out chickens. First of all, while walking by rows and rows of caged pigeons, rabbits and chickens, I'm pretty sure that I complicated the transaction after attempting to converse with Patrick's girlfriend by telling her how I much I enjoyed preparing lapin (this being one of the few french sentences I was confident enough to sputter out since I had recently learned how to cook rabbit). She then tried translating what I said to Christine, telling her that we were looking for chickens to eat rather than laying eggs, which I then attempted to correct in French. By the time we left, all I sort of knew was that we had just purchased 5 chickens (for eating or laying, I wasn't quite sure), and that we had no idea of the cost (they would be charged based on weight and we would not know until the following week). Oh, but we knew they were brown chickens.

A few days later, Patrick came by with the hens and all I can say is they are not the cutest chickens in the world (having long, stringy and featherless necks), but they do lay some beautiful and tasty brown eggs. Of course, since acquiring them, I cannot help but notice everyone else's beautiful and brightly colored chickens roaming in their yards so the jury is still out on whether these will be laying chickens or eatin' ones.

So, today we are scheduled to go to our third vide grenier (garage sale) and hopefully meet up with some new acquaintances who run a B&B down the road. Tomorrow it's off to the big city (Bordeaux) to buy lots of paint at Brico Depot. I'm feeling like there is definitely a end in sight and looking forward to having some of our first clients who have kindly offered to be our first guinea pigs when they make their honeymoon journey from Paris to Spain sometime near the end of May.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Paint Factory

For months now I have carried a stack of ripped out pages from Maisons de Campagne magazine and color samples from The Little Green paint company trying to fine tune the perfect shade to paint each of the rooms in the house, including variations of the chosen hue for trim, moldings, built-ins and doors. 

"This time, I'm really going to do it right," I think to myself as I pour through even more examples of the perfect French country decor. I have purchased and painted samples on the walls of every gradation of "gris suede" and similar grey/blues that Arlette suggested as well as the creamier, french linen whites and offwhites that are so fresh and inviting. I've  contemplated if I should try a lime, ochre, or tea-stain technique that I have read about on various websites and decorating books. And Hank and I have discussed (and argued un peu) on whether the texture of Venicien plaster would work best in the hallway and warrant the additional time it would take to apply.

To me, this is truly going to be the most rewarding part of the renovation because it will have such an instant effect and best of all, paint is cheap. Except of course in France. I'm not sure why, and I really ought to look this up, but most of the local DIY stores charge about 50 euros for 2.5 litres (about 1/2 a gallon). With todays exchange rate, that's just under $150 a gallon! And seeing that we're going to need beaucoup gallons, but do not have beaucoup d'argent ($$), I've been researching online and asking the locals where they buy their paint. 

Most people recommend Brico Depot or Leroy Merlin in Bordeaux and we have bought some paint at Brico that was more in the 30 euros per 1/2 gallon range. Better, but still not great. Then, we heard about a little place outside of Bergerac called The Paint Factory. 
"You can get about 5 gallons for 50 euros," said a British expat we recently met. Now, that's what I'm talking about and I then proceeded to take about 3 weeks just to find the damn place. First time we tried to go by memory off just her verbal description; the second attempt, I actually printed directions from which were mainly effective in getting us lost (again) causing each of us to blame the other as we drove in circles (literally) around each and every round-about in Bergerac.  But of course, the third time was the charm with Caleigh by my side giving me directions and voila, I finally found the bloody Paint Factory.

I swear that the sun rays appeared to shoot down through the clouds and I heard angels sing, I was so flippin' happy. As we walked into the warehouse, I could see hundreds, probably thousands of huge containers of beautiful paint. Since the only sales guy was helping someone else, Caleigh and I proceeded to look around and try to locate the color samples so I can match my inch-thick paperclipped magazine pictures to them. Only problem was, there wasn't a sample chart anywhere and the only thing remotely close to one was a large 6' x 4' board with 8 colors on it. This surely couldn't be it. There was so much paint in this place.

By this time I'm wondering if there was possibly a different, special, "french" method of selecting paint that I'm not privvy too yet. Maybe they are just super hi-tech and the samples were on the computer? And then, part of me started feeling a bit awkward as more and more professional painter types had walked into the store and I contemplated just going back to Bricomarche and speak to the nice bilingual sales person and pay the 50 euros for 1/2 gallon. But hell, we were here and I just couldn't leave now without attempting to buy some paint. Once the sales guy was finished with the previous customer, he walked up and asked if he could help us.  My brain, obviously wiped out from making a dentist, an orthodontist AND a Prefecture's appointment earlier in the day in French went completely blank and I turned bright red and barely managed to sputter out that I was looking for paint samples. Caleigh jumped in and saved me and after seeing how embarrassed I was, the nice, and I should add, attractive salesman, kindly steered me into his office and away from some of the now smirking customers. He then explained that they did not have color samples other than the 8 shown on the picket fence example which included peche (peach), abricot (apricot) and vert d'eau (pastel type green that I'm almost sure the previous owners bought here to paint the hallway).

"You're kidding," I thought but did not say to him. "Oh, okay...then I'll take one 2.5 liters of satin Ivorie please," needing to buy something after all this effort and knowing that we could probably use it somewhere in the house for trim.

And so that's where we're at. My mom arrives later today and thank God she's great with color and can help me with translating the shade closest to the ones in my pictures when we go to Brico Depot next week to hopefully finally buy some paint.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lapin Chasseur (Rabbit)

In an attempt to get the imagery or "taste" of last week's blog out of your minds, I thought I would share a recipe that my dear friend Colette taught me last week and I also thought it could be a perfect dish for the upcoming Easter holiday. Now, you've got to be willing to try preparing rabbit which is in abundant supply over here; but if your local butcher at Vons isn't carrying it this week, this recipe works almost as well with chicken. And since I'm not quite yet ready to buy the whole rabbit and have to remove the head (complete with a little face that resembles a bad facelift) and cut the rest into morceaux (or pieces), the following recipe is based on using legs and thighs, although if you can find the derrière, Colette swears that it is the best part. Lastly, although she provides me with her recipes in neatly written French, between the translation barrier and the fact that she typically ballparks the quantities of ingredients, you might need to improvise slightly to suite your taste (i.e. for the liquid used, she used a small bowl rather than measuring cup, so I'm guessing here). Although in this recipe, I have found that it is nearly impossible to go wrong. And better yet, it is really easy to make.

Lapin Chasseur (serves 4)

4 legs with thighs (or 8 pieces)
1/2 cup flower
1 T vegetable oil
4-5 Shallots, peeled
8 1-inch size sliced pieces of thick, smoked bacon (ou 2 doigt potrine fumée cubed)
1 Bouquet Garni with parsley, thyme & bay leaf
1 1/2 - 2 cups chicken bouillon (or any other "aromatique" cube diluted in water)
1 1/2 - 2 cups dry white wine (Colette says Sauvignon Blanc is the best to use)
1 can mushrooms (champignons "de Paris")
4 - 5 garlic cloves without the germ, or sprout thingy removed to prevent bitterness...comme ça:

Heat the oil and saute the bacon and shallots for about 10 minutes. Remove from pan. 

Roll rabbit in flour and brown on all sides. 

Put bacon, shallots, rabbit and all their juices into a large pot. 

Add bouillon, wine, bouquet garni, garlic and heat to boil. 

Then add mushrooms and lower to simmer with the lid on and cook for 30 - 40 minutes. 

Add fresh, parsley and serve with steamed new potatoes or pasta. 

While we were preparing lunch, speaking half French and half English as we typically do, Colette entertained me with more interesting tales of her life. On this day she told me about how two German soldiers lived in her grandparents house a year and a half during WWII. I asked if the villagers were resentful as the French Resistance was very active in the area. 

"Oh, not really," she told me. My grandfather was the village butcher and he made sure to save the best cuts for the villagers (that the Germans later told him they knew about but chose to allow it because it kept the people from being more antagonistic toward the soldiers). He was also instrumental in ferrying the locals across the river to the village since all of the bridges had been destroyed.

She went on to tell me how she had actually done a little resistance work herself, carrying messages back and forth in the basket of her bicycle when she was only 12 years old. I can just picture her.

So, after my weekly language, cooking and history lessons, I headed home so glad that I took a break from all the nonstop work at home to enjoy some quality time with my 82-year old bonne amie.