Latish on Thursday, just as Nick and I were thinking about bringing the day to a close, there was a ring at the front door and in walked Daniel with 3 companions. These were Alain who runs his engineering firm on the outskirts of Paris and owns the farm Daniel is helping him to restore/renovate and 2 other friends. Inevitably they were invited to a ‘petit whisky’ and duly found their way upstairs. Again I went to bed with my book and the sounds of much guffawing and exultation over the pool table. I need to learn the French word for rowdy!
We were duly invited to eat at the farm on Friday evening. Nick spent the day there helping to fell a large sycamore which is just in the wrong place. I pottered around at the house, did some gardening, dealt with some computer stuff. By now, at the farm, the numbers of visitors was growing so later, when Nick, Daniel and I tipped up for our meal at 8 we were greeted by 6 Frenchmen, all fellow Parisians: a retired banker, a gendarme and various entrepreneurs. Star of the evening was Jean-Pierre of whom Daniel had said “Il est un vedette”, which means just that… a celebrity, a character. During the meal he held court whilst recounting his various encounters with ‘les flics’ (the cops) over serial motoring offences.
The meal was a team effort with an oyster-shucking duo in the kitchen whilst others prepared ribs of beef to be cooked on the open fire. We started with a Piedmontaise salad (a potato salad with chopped salami, gherkins etc) followed by oysters, then the beef with chips. You had to eat the meat quickly…………. it had been shown the fire, acquired a pale grey exterior at the thought of being cooked but was otherwise raw and rather cool! But once you have started eating meat less than well done it is downhill from there to the point you are indulging in raw carnivory! The razor clams we had contributed to this feast had been put on the fire and were brought to the table to pick at. Then it was cheese, apple tart with rhubarb jam, coffee, Armagnac, Calvados……….. At some point in the evening Nick had issued an invitation to fishing, which Patrick and Georgio accepted. They will join Francois who is also counting on some fishing on Sunday. All in all it was a supremely convivial evening.
On Saturday it is market day in St Vaast and you don’t want to be tipping up too late in the morning. In addition to fruit and veg stalls there are merchants offering cheese, charcuterie, honey and associated products, free range and cooked meats, shellfish, bread, china/glass/cutlery, cookware, clothing, trinkets, toys and a wonderful haberdashery stall which is the flap down side of a large lorry selling every kind of sewing and knitting requirement. Local people come and sell their surplus produce and occasionally you will see a couple of children sitting beside a basket of kittens or puppies which need a home.
I bought a large quantity of vegetables for very few Euros, a few pansies for my pots and some ingredients for the Persian lamb dish I will be cooking on Sunday evening for guests. Things like dried fruit, candied peel and more unusual foodstuffs can be bought in Maison Gosselin which is like a mini Fortnum’s and very beautifully turned out inside. Nick continued to paint the workshop space below the new bathroom and gym, I made some vegetable soup for lunch. Whilst Nick tinkered with the screen and associated hardware set-up in the gym, I napped. We were due to go out for a meal with Patrick and Marie Christine and potentially this would be a long evening.
Arriving at 8.30 we found Christine and her daughter Annabelle still waiting for Patrick to shoo away his last customers in the bar and shut up. It was an hour before he arrived with a bottle of fizz which we drank with appetisers prepared by Annabelle. She is an excellent and inventive cook and for an entree served a wonderful pot of fish with assorted seafood cooked in a creamy sauce, this then having been put in a stoneware pot and then sealed with a pastry lid to be baked in the oven for 20 minutes. To follow a preheated pierrade was brought to the table and plugged into an electric socket. This is a hot plate on which you can cook meat or fish. Slivers of (yet more!) raw beef were brought to the table and we were invited to place the meat on the hot plate, turning and cooking it to preference. Naturally we were brought a basket of chips and some assorted pots of sauces for the meat. A lamb’s lettuce salad was also offered.
Nick and I often wonder who eats the vegetable bounty we see displayed on market stalls and in supermarkets. We drive past fields and fields of leeks, brassicas ……all about. We rarely see any of it during a traditional French meal. In restaurants you might get a small souffle dish-sized confection of vegetable julienne served with your main course. To follow, there were cheeses and an open apple turnover in filo pastry with a chocolate fondant middle. The French do love their puds. Towards the end of the evening Annabelle’s boyfriend Roman turned up with 3 friends, hotfoot from their basket-ball match in Cherbourg. Giants all, they retired to the hot tub outside whilst Annabelle migrated between us and the lads. Although invited to stay, in the end the lads went on their way, leaving we four oldies chatting over the trials, tribulations and funding implications of parents of young adults as they start to establish themselves in the wider world as self-funding individuals.
Patrick has a liking for 50s and 60s rock and roll stuff so this was fetched up on YouTube and played loudly. As it happens Nick rather likes this vintage too and proceeded to give us a one-man karaoke session whilst I cringed. We then looked up other stuff, Abba, Status Quo, Dire Strait which was played at high volume. Men seem to lose their hearing when they drink a lot!! Eventually we had to tear ourselves away. It was 2.00 a.m. before I put my light out.
Sunday dawned and was glorious. Nick prepared his fishing tackle, downed a poached egg and sallied forth once Patrick, Georgio and Francois were assembled. Let’s hope they all catch some fine fish….