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Home…

July 20, 2010

A moment of peace before the day begins.

 

I sit in the wooden lounge chair in the early morning hours, a hot mug (the French drink their coffee from a cereal bowl but I always feel like I’m going to spill half of it on myself) of café au lait warming my hands and my body.  This mornings air is brisk – a welcome change from the constant heat of the last few weeks.  Although the temperature promises to rise into the mid 30’s again today.   

Soon the girls will awaken, always up with the sun, never letting us forget that we told them one winter morning when the sun rises around 7:30 am that they were not allowed to wake us until they see the sun.  We forgot that the sun rises at 5:30am in the summer months.  We’ve regretted that rule for a few summers now. 

The guests will arrive shortly after expecting breakfast and conversation which we are happy to provide.  Everything is ready on the stone tables in the garden overlooking the vines.  The coffee is hot.  My mother-in-law’s homemade apricot and cherry preserves await the hot bread and croissants that Raphael went to fetch from our favorite bakery in town.  

This is my moment.  The water, which flows from a Roman source deep beneath the earth, trickles over the tiny fall at the base of the garden wall.  I never noticed its music before, covered by the daily noise of playing children and the rumble of the tractor as it makes its way up and down the fields.  

I watch a lizard scurry along the wall and remember something one of our guests said in parting the other day.  Clasping my hand and wishing me a good day, she said that I complete the place.  Raphael said later that it was the highest compliment.  It meant that without me, this place doesn’t work.  I wonder though, if I, like Raphael’s mother, will ever feel that this is truly my home.   

Raphael comes up behind me and runs his hands through my hair.  As if reading my thoughts, he says, “Without you, I don’t work.”  And I know that my home is with him.

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Date night on the tractor…

July 19, 2010

Raphael and I have been trying to have a ‘date night’ for a while now.  But between the unexpected work in the fields, the kids, the work on the house and numerous other expected and unexpected responsibilities, we’ve been unable to make that date.  

We made a plan, Raphael and I.  After the kids were in bed, I would join him in the fields on his tractor.  So at about 8:30, I changed my flimsy, gold sandals, so inappropriate for a farm (Gotta love inappropriate shoes.) for the thick, practical black pair I bought at the marché the first time I visited the winery.  I grabbed a cold beverage (Wish I could say it was a chilly rose but in fact it was a coke.) and climbed up the path towards the chapel and the sound of his tractor. 

He was headed towards me a few rows away, high up on the green monster spitting out puffs of copper that smelled oddly sweet in the evening heat.  Seeing Raphael on the tractor always makes me think of the country song, “She thinks my tractor’s sexy.”  I have no idea who sings it and have never had Raphael listen to it but there is something about a man on a tractor.  He waved me over and I climbed up the metal ladder amidst puffs of copper and waves of heat from the engine. 

Tractors are one seater’s so I stood next to him, hung on to the bar spanning the top and leaned against the metal tank holding the copper.  It was hot, smelly, loud and bumpy but I have to admit, there’s something quite romantic about riding a tractor with a man through vineyards at dusk.  The sun was setting at the foot of the fields and the building clouds were tinged pink in its glow.  Tractors are really high up so the view is extraordinary.  I could see to the Vercors mountains and the span of fields leading to their base – the yellow sunflowers, blue lavender, and green vines a patchwork in the dying sun.  Despite the noise, we managed to have the longest conversation in days.  We shared the coke and discussed the kids, our summer plans, our current living situation and our future house.  I was sent to apologize to neighbors having dinner in their garden next to the field we were treating.  They are summer visitors and I barely know them but they didn’t hesitate to invite me for a drink and joke about me riding the tractor with my husband.

At one point, Raphael scooted back in his seat and told me to climb up in front of him to take control of the tractor.  “Where,” I said noting the many gears and pedals clamored together in front of the seat.  “There’s no room and I might bump one of those things.”

“No, don’t worry.  Come on.”  I swung my leg over the gears and settled my butt in the small space of seat between his legs.  “Here,” he said letting go of the wheel.  “You take this.”

“What!  No!  I can’t drive.  I’ll crush the vines or flip us over.”  I had heard stories about people being crushed under their tractors and it always worried me.  I had already gashed my knee climbing up on the thing and banged my head against the bar when Raphael shifted gears jerked the tractor unexpectedly.

“No,”  He said it like talking to one of the girls.  “It’s just like driving a car.” 

Tension climbing up my arms, I took hold of the wheel.  I swerved the tractor a bit and Raphael took hold to straighten it.  “See that circle knob on the front of the tractor?”  He pointed out.  “Keep that in the center of the vines and your good.”  It’s harder than it looks, for me at least.  The tractor is built to treat six rows at once spraying three on either side with wide-spread wheels in order to span one row of vines up the middle.  The round knob is meant to be aligned with this center row.  The problem is that each time the tractor hits a bump, and the fields are full of them, the wheel jerks to either side.  It was at this moment that Raphael chose to inform me that the tractor has no brake.  “Why?” 

“I don’t know,” he shrugged that Gallic ‘that’s just the way it is’ shrug.  “It’s old.”

At the end of the row he took the wheel in order to turn the thing around and head back down the next rows.  The sun was almost set.  Raphael turned on the headlights throwing a florescent orange glow over the vines.  We finished the fields and headed back to park the tractor.  Taking Raphael’s hand to walk back to the house, I thought, this was better than dinner and a movie.  We talked, laughed, kissed and enjoyed each other’s company on top of a tractor in the middle of vineyards in the dying sun.  I was reminded of our first summer together and felt free again.

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Words & Wine 2010

July 16, 2010

Recently, we completed our second Vine & Wine tour.  Unfortunately I was unable to accompany the group on many of the outings.  Here are a few of my highlights.         

The first winery of the week was our neighbor, Domaine Gallety.         

Alain Gallety gave us a full tour of the caves.

 

          

One of the first producers of the AOC Cotes du Vivarais.  Their exclusivity means they are always sold out of wine to our disappointment.  So we are thrilled when they open a bottle each of their two wines, ‘Domaine Gallety’ and ‘Sy’rare’, a play on words since Sy’rare is 100% Syrah grapes and only a small amount is produced each year.         

The winery visit was followed by a tour of Viviers, a medieval village which retains most of its original buildings.         

The cathedral of Viviers, the smallest cathedral in France.

 

 After our tour, the group enjoyed a gastronomical lunch at Relais du Vivarais.  The group was off to visit  Mas d’Intras.  It was a day for local wineries and it ended with a tour and tasting at our own winery, Notre Dame de Cousignac.        

        

 We prepared dinner of wild boar.  Surprise, the meat had fur and a hoof until shortly before our guests ate it.  I’m not a fan of wild boar but Raphael prepare this one perfectly.        

        

Unfortunately this was my last outing with the group until Cassis.  I missed Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape with a tasting at Ogier;  I missed Die and Jaillance and the restaurant Le Caveau;  Jaboulet and Lyon and the amazing dinner at L’Escalin.        

And then finally Cassis.        

        

        

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Fruits of summer…

July 13, 2010

 We’ve been instructed by Raphael to save fruit seeds.  Since the winery has gone bio, or organic, we’ve seen a  resurge of wild fruit trees that he remembers from childhood – those magical days when he used to run free in the vineyards and pick apricots, plums, mirabelles, and vine ripened peaches.   Raphael wants to plant the seeds.  He wants to create an orchard of wild fruit trees. 

 The organic rules mean the vines are no longer treated with herbicides or pesticides nor do they cut the overgrowth surrounding the vineyards.   Walking among the vines with the girls, baskets swinging from their hands, Raphael showed us all the wealth that lay hidden in the woods bordering the vines.  With the scents of wild fennel mixing with the ripeness of the fruit, we devoured one type of rare variety after another.  “Mmm!  It brings back memories of when I was young.”  Raphael’s exclamations came to me from the midst of the brush into which he scrambled to find the trees and bushed with the ripened fruit.  More fruit made it into the girl’s mouths than their baskets.  We managed somehow to return home with baskets of varying shades of plums and mirabelle’s.  Our guests will be enjoying fruit for the next few breakfasts – unless we eat them all first!

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Music to work by…

July 12, 2010

The soft sound of violin breaks through the heavy afternoon heat which seems to blanket the entire region deafening out all noise except the cicadas.   It accompanies me as I clean a bedroom in preparation for this evenings guests.  Through the end of this week we have various classical musicians, all part of the Cordes En Ballade, a festival of classical music in the Ardèche.  Each year we host musicians from the festival here at La Source de Cousignac.  It’s our treat to have ‘free concerts’ in our salon when they join to practice for the evenings show.  The girls are fascinated by the speed at which they play their instruments.  We’re not a musical family although Raphael did play the alto as a child.  I’m told he wasn’t extraordinary.  We still have the ancient instrument in the attic.  Ancient because it was old fashioned when he learned on it. 

 I wanted to publish a video of them playing but can’t seem to make it work.  With any luck, I’ll figure it out soon.

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Welcome home Corbasson’s…

July 5, 2010

The Corbasson’s  have returned from their 9 month trek across north and south America along with the final bottle of Cousignac, the Côtes du Rhône red.   The bottle traveled 45400 kilometers from our humble winery in the Ardèche to New York City to the final stop in Ushuaia where it was stamped by customs.

We invited the Corbasson family over for a welcome home bbq and of course, to share bottle number 12.  We all wanted to hear about their adventures in more detail and we were full of questions.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times since their return they had answered the same questions and told the same stories.  Were they reliving their adventures by recounting them to us?  I understood that their most memorable moments were those unexpected meeting with locals who extended extraordinary hospitality.  At one time, they were invited to stay the week with the taxi driver who collected them after their camper broke down.  They accepted and passed a week sharing every aspect of daily life with this extended family.  I don’t remember where they said they were at the time but I do know it was in south America.

After tasting the travelling Côtes du Rhône, which everyone agreed had held up nicely given the distance and motion and lack of proper storage conditions it had been subjected to, we surprised the family with a few ‘bottles’ as a keepsake of their journey; four magnums. The first a Côtes du Vivarais Red christened Amerique du Nord, a Côtes du Rhône for Amerique Central, and a Côtes du Rhône Village for Amerique du Sud.  The final bottle – a cuvée Ardèsc.

Four magnums and the travelling Côtes du Rhône. Oh, and the Corbasson's with Raphael.

The Corbasson’s invited us along on their adventure by sharing moments on their blog, http://corbasson-trip.blogspot.com/ .  Before they left, they stopped by our winery and purchased 12 bottles of wine to share with the new friends they would make along the way.  They were taking a piece of France with them, they said.  Each wine was opened at a precise location and marked in their blog as an episode;  the first ‘episode’ was at the White House.  The final was upon their return to France and the bottle’s return to Cousignac.

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Adapting…

July 1, 2010

After a long day of being cuddled.

Thanks to all of you!  Elody is wonderful.  She’s very content and sleeps well in between eating.  I’m busy adjusting to daily life on few consecutive hours of sleep. I apologize for my absence.  I miss blogging.  I see that I am going to have to reorganize my daily routine to fit any kind of writing in.  I used to write in the evenings and then briefly review what I’ve written the next morning before posting it.  Each day I tell myself I’ll write a bit after the kids are in bed.  And then evening comes and as soon as the kids are asleep, if baby allows, I am too.  I say this as I nurse Elody and type with one hand, in fact, one finger, on my left hand, reaching over and up to the high table on which my laptop sits beside me.  It’s a slow process. 

Elody and Papa at the final Words & Wine dinner. She was an unofficial guest for many of the events and tastings.

It’s taken me over a week to finish this one paragraph averaging about a sentence a day until something, or someone, demands my attention.  This is the first night I haven’t fallen asleep on the couch (or wanted to) in weeks.  I have to add, it’s been an eventful few weeks for other reasons as well.  We just wrapped up Words & Wine 2010 which I’ll post about in another day or two. Grandma just returned to the states after a two week visit overlapping with Words & Wine.   And we’re beginning the heavy season for the bed & breakfast.  Today is the first day of the Cordes en Ballades, a two week music event for which we are book a year in advance.  And this weekend our town is hosting the International pétanque Competition.  The tourist season has begun along with this sweltering weather – which I love by the way.

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And baby makes 6…

June 14, 2010

 

When I discovered I was pregnant again I admit I had a hard time accepting it.  My only hope was that this baby would finally be that boy – three girls were enough, I thought.  Then the doctor told me I was having another girl and I took it harder than Raphael who was not at all surprised.  Eventually I adjusted to the idea of having four girls.  Life was so busy I didn’t have much time to dwell on it either way.  Then a week ago, I fell in love again when a  tiny new baby was placed on my chest.  I knew in my heart that this baby girl completed my family. 

Four sisters.

Elody Gabrielle Pommier was born on June 5th one day after her older sister’s 3rd birthday.  Raphael said I went into labor on the 4th because I was so anxious about Angeline having to share her birthday with the new baby that it induced contractions.  Elody was born at 3:55 AM just into the 5th.  Our plan is to celebrate two days of birthdays each year – a cake and party on the 4th for Angeline and a second cake and party on the 5th for Elody.  We’ll see how long this lasts.

Elody weighed 3.75 kilos – about 8 pounds.  The doctor told me in my 8th month that she would be a small baby compared to the others.  Turns out he was wrong.  She precedes Auriane in birth weight and Auriane was 10 days late.  Elody measured 52 centimeters.  I packed newborn size clothes for the delivery room and later that morning when I first changed her, I discover the onesie came to her belly.  Raphael was dispatched to raid her dresser for size one month clothes for the rest of our hospital stay. 

 Elody is typically spelled Elodie in French.  We changed it because of the ‘die’ ending.  A few American’s pronounced it Elo(die).  She is an especially easy baby which is good for a fourth.  She sleeps well through most nights and only cries when she’s hungry.  Since this will be my last baby, I spend more time holding her and enjoying her which makes us both content.

The girls have accepted this new addition to the family without complaint.  The biggest disputes are over who gets to hold her first and who held her longer.  Angeline is the exception.  So far she seems okay with Elody but she rarely asks to hold her, and like the dog, gets nervous when Elody cries.  Olivia thinks Elody is cute and sweet just as long as she doesn’t sleep in her room, she ‘already has two sisters in her room.’  Auriane is happy that Elody doesn’t ’embête’ her.  She loves babies but the newness will soon wear off and Elody will grow into the bothersome sister that Angeline has become over the past year and a half. 

Cyclists pass the winery.

Elody had her first sortie upon our return from the hospital – to the end of the Domaine to watch the Critérium du Dauphiné bicycle race.  During the 20 minute wait for the cyclists to pass, she was oohed and ahhed over by the neighbors while she slept peacefully in her stroller.  Then, like a school of fish, the cyclists sped past tilting and swaying around the curves.  They were followed by two motorcycles one with a cameraman balanced on his knees on the back and about 20 cars with replacement bikes on their roofs.  That adventure over, we returned to the house and were off the pick up the girls from school.

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Cherry season

June 3, 2010

I picked my first cherry’s of the season today. I packed the baby in her stroller and we went bumping down the tractor path following Auriane swinging her basket and Olivia way ahead on her bike. We passed the poppies and honeysuckle its sweet fragrance making me hungrier as I neared the trees. The two old ladies were waiting at the end of the lane, their rich black cherries dripping from their branches. It’s my favorite time of year. Maybe because I met Raphael in May and on our second ‘date’ he brought me a Tupperware full of fresh picked cherries (his mom had picked them). Which I devoured on the car ride from the airport to the hotel. They were the best cherries I had ever tasted.    

May and June is cherry season in the south of France. May starts off with trees covered in white blossoms dusted pink. We have many trees on the property so that the season becomes a parade of pink and white flowers with a different variety of cherry popping out every few weeks.    

Cherry clafoutis.

 

Cherry season means its time for the provincial cake, Clafoutis. Basically a simple egg batter with a thick top layer of cherries dripping juice as it cooks. The blackest cherries are best for a Clafoutis, but they are also the best to eat. I layered them in the baking dish, mixed the batter, poured it over then put it in the over. It’s my mother-in-law’s recipe and we were both hovering over the oven for it to finish. The problem was we had a group of French tourists arrive. Over 50 of them! And we had to man the bar in the wine shop. We forgot about the Clafoutis! My first Clafoutis came out slightly burnt.     

My mother-in-law also taught me how to make cherry preserves. Making preserves is not such a big deal. You put the fruit in a pot, pour in the correct amount of sugar and let it simmer for a long time until the fruit becomes liquid. With cherries, however, you have the problem of seeds. As the fruit liquefies, the seeds rise to the top of the pot. I stood in front of the stove for over an hour, or so it seemed, removing cherry pits from the preserves with a fork. But in the end, I suppose it’s worth it each time I spread the sweet jam onto a piece of toasted baguette.   

Obviously I wrote this a year ago when I still had a baby in a stroller.  Funny I’m about to have another baby in a stroller.  This year, the cherry’s are excellent but unfortunately we don’t have any on our trees.  Over one night a few weeks ago, they all disappeared.  This is the second time that our cherry’s have been hijacked.  Some, I’m sure, are eater by birds.  However, the trees are bare even at the very top and they’re rather large given their age.  One must know where they are as they are hidden in the middle of a couple of vineyards at the end of a long path.  The problem is that they are not far from a small road.  It’s disappointing to not be able to take the girls to pick cherry’s this year.  I’ve been buying them regularly because they are still the best I’ve ever tasted but they are not cheap.  Thus no extra buying for other goodies.  We have no reserve for cherry clafoutis or preserves.  Our plan is to buy some more trees and plant them closer to the house.  In fact, we hope to do an orchard of fruit trees on the small field in front of the house.   So far, we have two apricot trees.    

Cherry clafoutis recipe   

You will need one round pie pan buttered.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.   

21 oz or 2 1/2 cups very ripe cherry’s (Really you need enough to fully cover the top of the batter. ) (It’s your choice as to whether you want to de-seed them.)   

1 1/2 oz butter plus a little more to spread on the baking pan   

4 eggs   

7 oz milk   

3/4 cup flour   

1/4 cup sugar   

1 tablespoon vanilla extract   

1 pinch of salt   

Rinse cherry’s.  Melt the butter in a small pan.  Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Add vanilla and eggs one by one mixing continuously.  Next, slowly add the milk while mixing.  Add melted butter.  Pour the mixture into the pie pan then add the cherry’s to the top spreading evenly.    

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees then lower the temperature to 350 and cook another 20 minutes.  Dust finished cake with powdered sugar and serve at room temperature or chilled.

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Waiting for baby…

May 28, 2010

I realize I’ve been slacking on my writing these past few weeks.  As I near the end of this pregnancy, only a week left to go, along with all the other wonderful things that occur in the final month – difficulty sleeping, back aches, moodiness, I find it difficult to focus on any one thing at a time including writing.  While each day brings new things to write about, I can’t seem to concentrate long enough to form a proper post and those that I have published are not at the standard at which I would like them to be. 

I wish I could say I’ve been distracted with daydreaming about the baby and her arrival.  We don’t even have a name picked out (We’re taking suggestions.).  Until this past week, my distractions have been due to preparing the bed & breakfast for the season.  One would think all the work of packing up and moving boxes of books and toys as well as ‘helping’ Raphael move furniture would make the baby come sooner.  The first two were both over two weeks late and I’m beginning to wonder about this one. 

This also, along with the harvest month, happens to be Raphael’s busiest season in the fields.  Between early morning and late night treatments, I am doing most of the care for the three kids alone.  And given my energy level and mood, I’m on the verge of feeding them bowls of cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  They’ll be thrilled since they take after their American genes in this case and love cereal.  The only problem is the amount of sugar.  Their excessive energy levels might put me over the edge.

So, for the next week, if baby doesn’t come, I’ll be republishing posts from my former blog.  And I’m making a list of everything I want to write about to make it up to you when my energy is low only due to sleepless nights and not due to a second human being sucking it all up from the inside.