Monday, March 30, 2009

Huitres Sauvage

Well, I'm in love. And even more so than before.

This past week has involved more delicious experience with La Rochelle huitres, wonderful oysters from the sea.

I returned from California last Tuesday and by Wednesday I found myself on the beach, in my water-proof wellies, wading into the low tide. Buckets in hand, we went mucking (I'm sure there's a more technical term for that?) for oysters. After seeing people doing this all year long, some of the La Rochelle kids decided to give it a whirl while I was out of town, and then let me tag-along last week. The process is easy: make sure you're wearing appropriate foot-gear, that the tide is low, and that the oyster is still living when you put it in the bucket (read: the shell is completely shut). If they're already dead, you can end up pretty sick.

And afternoon of shucking followed the mucking, the result being some delicious fried oyster sandwiches. Truth be told, I much prefer oysters raw - and I think the majority of the rochelais would agree (to the chagrin of some assistants)- and loved standing ankle deep in the low tide, slurping an oyster straight from the sea.

Today I went to an oyster 'farm' near Ile Oleron with some Swedish students who are in Rochefort on an exchange. While there is a major different between more controlled, 'cultivated' oysters, nothing really beats the thrill of collecting the les huitres sauvage.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Art possessed impeccable character and integrity. He was trusted by those who worked for him and with him. Big Weave was a larger than life friend, an avid golfer and a devoted family man. He was a loving husband, a forceful and encouraging father and a caring grandfather to his grandchildren. As a man convinced of the goodness and greatness of God, his life was committed to doing the right thing. His was a life well lived, he will be sorely missed."

Your greatest legacy is not something tangible and material, but is the love and faith that you instilled in your family. I love you Poppa.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Soupe de Poisson! Legumes frais!"

Without fail, whenever I find myself strolling La Rochelle's porte vieux - parking my bike, grabbing café, meeting friends at the Grosse Horlodge (roughly translated: big clock) - I will hear the strained yelling of petite french propriatess. Daily this woman stands outside her restaurant, rain or shine, snow or sleet, trying to persuade the passerbys that her bistro serves the best fish soup, mussels, etc. Think Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, singing with her hands outstretched and her voice soaring... only instead of haunting melodies, think hoarse cries.

I was thinking about this the other day, about how odd this all seemed - I have never thought of the French as the kind of people drawn to self-publicizing. In fact, when it comes to cafés and restaurants, I still feel like I'm trying to crack the 'hours of business' code. How is it that in a city with literally hundreds of tiny cafés, more than half can afford to stay closed for the majority of the week? Or how on Saturday nights the local brasserie will be locked up by 8:30? Or how I keep my fingers crossed that the small marché will still be open at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon?

For the most part, its a bit laissez-faire; you don't see small business owners sweating over costumers, watching hopefully from the window for prospective patrons to come in for a glass of wine. Its a cultural thing. The United States was intially founded on that idea of the small business owner standing outside, beckoning the persecuted, the weary, etc. But France has no "bring us your tired, your weary"plaque at its front door- instead its "France is wonderful, of course. We don't really need to advertise. Its really no question that you would like to live, visit, or spend money here."

But this woman. At first I would roll my eyes, avoid eye-contact and hope she wouldn't single me out. 5 months later, I still have no intention of eating at her restaurant, but she makes me smile. She has such faith in her little bistro, such determination to win customers that sometimes, it makes me feel like home.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chateau de Tour Blanc

Well, after two weeks of the rustic french countryside, I find myself back in my city-on-the-sea, once again breathing deep the salty air.

On February 21st, Miss Smith and I found ourselves at a bus stop in the small town of Barbaton, waiting anxiously for our hosts to pick us up. What followed were two weeks of nine-hour labor-intensive days, delicious organically grown food and wine-making with the Keltons, a British family farming in the Landes department of France.

Their mantra seems to be pretty straightforward – lead a simple life, eat organically, be self-sustaining, and respect the environment. Sandra and Philip, after living in all around the world (think Portugal and Greece) found themselves in France, looking for an artist’s space with big windows. And thus Chateau de Tour Blanc was born. A few years later, the vineyards surrounding their home were up for sale, and instead of letting industrial-corn farmers buy the land, only to spray it with pesticides, the Keltons became wine-makers.

So Miss Smith and I, girls from the ‘city,’found ourselves at Chateau de Tour Blanc tending to the vines (clearing old rusted wire, attacking bramble patches) and feeding the animals (chickens, geese, sheep, and one incredible goat).

It was incredible! Sandra is an amazing cook, we made friends with their children Victor and Valentina, and we got to explore a more rustic department of France. This region is also known for Armagnac, or Brandy. Philip and Sandra were kind enough to drive us to an off-the-road, award winning distillery on one of our last days!

After not showering for two weeks, rolling what seemed to be miles of wire, rigging an electric fence and making some wonderful new friends, we returned to La Rochelle. I start work tomorrow, and while it’s good to be home, our little adventure was pretty amazing ☺

1. The electric fence your's truely built

2. Miss Engelbrecht and Miss Smith, day ten.