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Archive for September, 2009

The French paradox

As anyone who reads my blogs will know, I am infatuated with France and all things French.

One of the things about France that has intrigued me for years is something known as the French paradox.  The paradox being why is it the French who consume considerable amounts of saturated fat and drink large quantities of wine, have a far lower incidence of coronary heart disease than in most countries.

Furthermore the French smoke more than is the case for a lot of western countries and yet they live longer.

There are lots of theories put forward by experts, the French eat less processed food, less sugar, more fish.  They drink red wine in particular, more fresh food is consumed, they eat smaller meals and take longer to eat them and so on.

This is evidenced with the population of our commune, people really live long lives, well into their nineties and they are quite often still sprightly and fit.  Of course most have had agricultural jobs and are used to heavy work.

Which brings me to The mechoui or village sheep roast which we enjoyed the other Sunday afternoon.

I have probably said this before but I do not mind saying it again, when I dreamt of living in France I always had visions of living in the countryside  where the locals on high days and holidays would select a field and assemble long trellis tables and we would all get together in the sunshine at  lunchtime and eat home made pork rillettes and sausages, spicy merguez or thick juicy herby ones and frites and drink copious quantities of wine, I have to say I have been lucky to have been part of this kind of get together many times in the nearly 6 years of living here.  October 10th will be our 6th anniversary so look out for a very special instalment.

So it was that Mrs. Powerfulpierre, myself and our good friends Mike and Sue made our way to the Salle de fete which is part of the Marie or town hall.  It was 12.30 when we arrived and due to the weather not being quite good enough to eat outdoors, the tables were laid inside.

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As always the frivolities began wih kir, sparkling white wine with cassis, then came sausages as a sort of nibbles, spicey merguez which I think are flavoured with harissa which is a north African hot red paste or sauce and is made from red chillies and garlic.

sausages and as much wine as you can drink included in the price

sausages and as much wine as you can drink included in the price

Biblical wine and bread

Biblical wine and bread

Next up was the melon and port and these guys are to say the least generous with the port.

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Now by this time things get a bit blurry, the wine is going down a treat and I think more sausages appeared at this point, chipolatas, followed by the palate cleanser in the delicious and drunken form of a Truoo Normand, apple sorbet drenched with home made calvados which must have been at least 70 proof.

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Then came the lamb and chips, and these come in three waves, yes you munch your way through three courses effectively starting with bones to Gnaw on, then better pieces and so on.  This is not for the feint hearted.

mmm lamb

mmm lamb

frites anyone?

frites anyone?

more lamb

more lamb

Next up was the cheese course, a very nice Camembert and then dessert, chocolate ice cream a juicy pear then coffee and dark after dinner chocolate.

What an afternoon, the food was unsophisticated and rural but absolutely delicious nevertheless,  just as you would expect as the people who are serving us are farmers or farmers wives.  The wine was highly drinkable and the company brilliant.

At 5.50 pm we staggered from our table, this is an all time record, 5 hours 20 minutes of eating, drinking and socialising and both me and Mrs Powerfulpierre were totally inebriated.  Thankfully Sue had somehow managed to avoid drinking altogether and drove us home.

As I write this I compare our exploit to the French paradox and it all seems to make sense.

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Anglo v Gallic round 2

I got the mail today, it was really hot and I was out in the garden doing some strimming as we had guests coming to dinner and I wanted the garden to look tidy.

The postman commented on the heat and gave me a pile of post before driving off up the road.  It was Tuesday and junk mail day.  However this is junk mail you probably want.  Let me explain.

In my experience in the UK we got about 5 to 10 pieces of what I call junk mail everyday.  They were mainly trying to make us get a loan or a credit card or otherwise get us deeper in debt than we already were.

In France we get what we call junk mail on one day only, Tuesday, and it is a bit unfair to call it junk mail as it is actually our local supermarkets mainly, telling us what the latest promos are for the week ahead and this is great.

Let me give you an example of what is good this week, live crab 3 euros 50 a kilo, it even tells you the name of the boat that caught them, Le Zubernoa.  a kilo of salmon steaks 7 euros and a kilo of fresh prawns are 5 euros.  I will not bore you with my shopping list for the week but this is just some of the fish available, and the same goes for meat and general groceries.  What it means is you go shopping with a list of the freshest and live crab does not come fresher, cheapest and seasonal products on it.

Speaking of crabs, I have eaten a huge amount this year and it is as a result of checking with Rick Stein, his book obviously, I am not on speaking terms with the man,  about how to cook crabs that I have summoned up the courage this year to try cooking one myself.  I have to admit I was a bit squeamish about doing it and consequently used to buy cooked crab which was a lot more expensive.  Anyway, get a very big saucepan and fill with cold water and a lot of salt.  Put said crab in water and then bring to boil, the crab drowns before the heat affects it. For a crab up to 900 grammes boil for 20 minutes.

It is amazing how many of our English friends have said that they love crab but could not cook them whereas to the French it is just cooking.

This goes to the heart of a lot of the differences between the two races, for instance on the fish counter in particular you have live crab, live lobster, live squat lobster, live whelks, live mussels, oysters obviously, clams, the list goes on.  The French are not squeamish about where their food comes from and certainly in the countryside, dispatching chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits et al is no big deal.  They are well looked after, you do not abuse something which you are going to eat, it is treated with respect.

Well the next exciting instalment will be the village sheep roast, and to get you in the mood here are some photos from the first outdoor mechoui we attended.

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A day in the life

Our village from our house

Our village in the distance

Another day dawns in our country idyll and the sun is shining although the breeze is noticeably colder.

The only sound is the babble of the river in the distance and the occasional plop of a fish breaking the surface of the lake.

There is a smell of croissants warming and coffee brewing, the cats have come in after their hunting during the night and have found somewhere in the house to sleep for the rest of the day.

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The house is quiet now, Mrs Powerfulpierre has gone out to see students some distance away and Buster the daft dog is on his blanket pretending to be asleep, he will not move again until his mistress returns and then he will dash to the door the second the car enters the drive and run at breakneck speed to greet her.

It is a Saturday and I am having a do nothing day even though there are loads of things to do around the garden, somehow the motivation is not there and I know if I go out I will end up feeding the fish or picking blackberries even though we have tons in the freezer already, I just cannot see them go to waste.

We also have a party to go to this afternoon so at some stage I will have to get ready and change.  I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be another karaoke and lets just say that it is not my cup of tea at all.

This time of year it is calving time and every now and again you will hear the strange noise a cow makes as it gives birth, Alain and his wife were running all over the place having had five deliveries already with more to come.

Maternity ward

Maternity ward

Yesterday, Friday was a bit of an odd day, we normally have school in the morning, but our friends who are learning French are away in their camper so we went round to another couples house, one of whom is learning French with my wife and who have just been told that they have now got broadband, and I was asked in my capacity as computer repairer and broadband installer to pop round to arrange the fitting of a new router.

In France you sometimes feel as though you have gone back in time, everyone greets one another with a handshake and men and women greet with 4 kisses.  It is a regional thing some are two or one but Mayenne is 4.

Not only that children are so respectful and will always expect a kiss on the cheek even if their parents have introduced them to you for the first time.

Its the same when you go into the Doctors waiting room or the pharmacy or bakery, if there are other people waiting they will turn and say bonjour monsieurmadame, spoken as if it was one word.  It is so different to what we were used to in the UK,  the postman when he delivers the post and you are in the garden will bring the letters to you and shake hands and have a little chat.

There is an olde world feeling about things which is difficult to explain, and yet in some ways the French are so modern and cutting edge.  The trains for instance have been the fastest for years and are so always on time.  Going back to the router I was fitting for our friends, it would mean they could call almost anywhere in the world at any time for as long as they wanted for nothing.  All they paid was 34 euros a month and that includes broadband and as I said free calls virtually anywhere.  I do not know of any other country that has this.

So to the party, it is Pat and Harry’s 50th wedding anniversary and they are a wonderful couple, we bought champagne,flowers and a card, better start practicing my singing.

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