When you’re really lucky you have a moment that you wish you could capture forever. I’m fortunate indeed to have had so many in my life thus far. So often they’re a lot further apart than we would wish. Tonight, I have the opposite problem (not that I consider it a problem!) But what do you do when you have so many in such a short period of time? The best I can do is try to commit them to memory, to capture them when I can with an image, and to reflect and relive them later with my words. But really none of them can do justice to the moment tonight when, after Kate exlaimed “There’s a full moon tonight!” I stepped outside and just stood still, head tilted back to take in the night. The wood fire scented air lifted my hair as, entranced, I watched the glowing moon slip in and out of the black clouds that danced across the sky. It was silent out here by the Canal de Garonne, but really it wasn’t, because the chickens called, the dishes rattled back in the kitchen, and the wind itself rushed through the winter-bare trees.
I knew better than to try to take a photo. You can’t capture that kind of moment.
For most of the rest of the day today though, I did. I snapped madly from dawn (well, 8 or so after I awoke from a deep sleep) till dinner ended near 10 tonight. Maybe I’ll calm down after a few days here but for now everything is irresistible. I managed to not do more than smile and offer a bonjour to the radiator repairmen this morning, charming as I found them. I doubt they could say the same about the tousled American in her robe sipping coffee by the fire, but they smiled in a friendly enough way. (Too bad they didn’t actually seem to repair it — Kate had to call in a new man this evening to work on it after they left it cold).
Following a most welcome breakfast (I awoke ravenous) of goats’ milk yogurt with Picard frozen blueberries, cereal and sunflower honey, Kate and I left Erika minding the house and Bacon the dog, and pulled on coats, hats, scarves and gloves, and set out with her friend Alan in his English-drive Volvo to meet Sandra, the other student this week, and her husband Paul at their hotel in Agen. We drove half an hour or so to Le Musée du Foie Gras where, let me tell you, I got an education.
I’ll write more about this later, but for now I’ll say that I had some reservations about the idea of foie gras. I’ve heard the horror stories, and as someone who didn’t eat meat for nine years in large part because of factory farm conditions (and will still not eat factory farm product), I had trouble with the idea of the force fed ducks and geese. Admittedly, it sounds terrible. If they want to overcome the stigma, perhaps they ought to call it something else — though that truly is what it is. But compared to grocery store or restaurant chicken, or any industrially produced animals for that matter, these ducks have the life. Their first three weeks they live in a carefully temperature and humidity controlled building with plenty of room, before moving outdoors to roam and feast at will for the next four months. Their last two weeks are spent in another building where twice a day one of the farmers sits down on a stool, puts the duck between his or her knees, and feeds them extra corn — grown organically on their own farm — for 30 seconds. It’s funneled into a little pocket of sorts off their neck, from where it’s processed into the ducks digestive system. It’s a tradition that dates back to 2500 BC when the Egyptians noticed that migratory birds that overfed and fattened themselves from the flight from Scandinavia to Africa were especially tasty. The Romans learned it from them and stuffed their birds with figs, and the idea spread throughout Europe. Today it’s a much maligned practice, and certainly is not done everywhere with the care of this farm, but I watched these ducks. They do not look unhappy in the slightest. And I could not devour their fat little livers if I thought otherwise. This farm actually shows video of the entire process from one day old to butchery — they are completely transparent. I’d like to see a factory farm do that.
Ok I wasn’t going to talk all night about that and now I have, so I’ll wrap up so I can nestle into my comfy bed and sleep.
The car ride in the morning had made me carsick — I had a few mortifying moments where I thought I might have to ask Alan to pull over — Kate kindly switched places with me and I rode up front, the better to admire the rural landscape dotted with pigeonnieres and windmills. We drove to nearby Penne d’Argenais for lunch in the most perfect little hilltop village straight out of a movie. here I enjoyed one of the loveliest meals I’ve ever had in a jewel box of a restaurant rather plainly named La Maison sur la Place . Rain slicked the windows while we feasted in a cool and calming white and grey dining room. I sat on the banquette, surrounded by pillows and sipped first an aperitif of rose wine with raspberry syrup and confited raspberries, then Buzet – Domaine du Pech. I chose Tartare de Saint-jacques et lentilles à l’ani — diced scallop atop a bed of anise-scented lentils. Sublime. Despite the generous dish and the multiple foie samples from the morning I found room for dessert. Though I chose a white cheese with honey and dried fruits, I had total plate envy for Sandra’s Pain d’Epices with almond ice cream and raspberry coulis. Luckily she felt the same about my dish so we traded. I savored every bite of impossibly rich spiced bread that had been sauteed in salted butter. Worth the misery that was eight hours in coach over here.
Finishing up about 3:00 with tiny coffees, we drove back to Camont and fortified ourselves with lemon verbena tea and chatted in front of the fire while we regained appetite and energy.
We decided to forego a main meat dish at dinner, as Kate had stocked up on foie gras today, and have a winter squash tartiflette (like a gratin) and pear tart following ‘snacks’ of the foie and some cheeses. (‘Some cheeses’ as if any decadent runny or blue French cheese could be so mundane)
For the next couple of hours we chopped, rolled, sliced, filled, tasted (and Erika and I snatched tart dough while Kate dealt with the second radiator man of the day). I took copious notes and will faithfully relay the dishes to you later.
We sat down with a sweet white wine and one of our jars of foie — this one mi cuit, meaning partly cooked, and my favorite of the samples from this morning. It came from a duck stuffed with dried figs. Creamy, unctuous, utterly rich, it melted even more gloriously than butter in the mouth, and showed me exactly what all the fuss is about. I started out trying not to be greedy at first, with decorous little slivers, until I saw you were mean to eat slabs as big as your toasted bread it’s delivered on . Then I dug in with gusto, happily saying yes to every offer of ‘more foie gras?’
The winter squash tartiflette with Cantal cheese and chestnuts preserved in armagnac syrup promises to be one of the first dishes I make when I get back home. And the pear tart — my second dessert of the day — was, of course, divine as well. Unlike the ducks, I had a choice about stuffing myself, so I wrapped half of it up for breakfast tomorrow.
With that I have to go to sleep so I’ll leave you until tomorrow. For a taste of today’s joys, here are some photos.