Cooking Lessons & a Canal WalkApril 7, 2008, Monday
Vias has changed little since I was here last in July. But the ancient green-doored maison du vigneron (grape farmer’s town house) with the for sale sign has been sold and either the new owner or the seller took the round metal disc - a sign of sympathy with the cause of the vignerons in the Vigneron Revolt of 1907 - off the large green garage door. Now there’s only one aging door in our village with the sign of the revolution that brought the French national government into the business of protecting the specific names that can be used on the labels of wine bottles. Also there’s a new mayor in Vias. Since the previous one, a conservative, served for 25 years, he didn’t run; and a more left-leaning mayor replaced him, winning the election over the more conservative candidate by 23 votes. Expectations are that perhaps we’ll get a little more favorable attention from the liberal regional government now that our mayor is a lefty.
I spent most of the day Saturday flicking then chiseling off the loose plaster from around the courtyard door. It has been applied without the proper binding agent that would make it stick to the stone and concrete underneath. Because I could easily pry most of it off, the wide posts and lentil will now be smooth instead of roughly plastered. Sunday morning I gave it a good coating of primer and Sunday afternoon I painted it white. It’s a good place to work because I’m able to greet all the people who stroll down our little lane. The doorway will need another coat to fill in all the tiny holes, protecting it from the weather but I’ll do that tomorrow.
Today I woke up thinking about Josh and mineral spirits. I’d run out of what is here called white spirit. It will thin the paint for the second coat on the door way and clean the brush from last night. I hurried back from the store to meet Alain, our Viasoise neighbor, at 10 AM who had agreed to teach me how to make tomates farcis (stuffed tomatoes).
In his mother’s ancient kitchen across the street from our house, he sliced six tomatoes sideways and scooped out all the seeds. He made a bed of chopped tomatoes from the chapeaux (tops of the tomatoes) and placed the spooned-out semi-spherical bottoms on the bed. Starting from a pound of viande farci (ground meat prepared by the butcher for stuffing with herbs, and a little sausage) he broke an egg and let me stir it in. After Alain showed me how to take the center sprout out of each garlic clove, with a little metal hand press he pressed the garlic I’d skinned and de-veined into the stuffing. Next he chopped a handful of parsley tops, and I stirred them into the stuffing also. Then he spooned a heap of stuffing into each tomato cup and poured a generous amount of olive oil over the entire pan. To finish, with the first finger of his right hand he crushed a slice of melba toast in the palm of his left hand and sprinkled it on top of each stuffed tomato. To keep me from leaving with my treasure right away, he poured us a couple of glasses of Muscat and we chatted as usual in our mixture of Spanish, English and French until I couldn’t remember anymore how to say “after” in French. He said that since these were winter tomatoes they’d take about 40 minutes at 400 degrees F. With summer tomatoes it won’t take as long.
At noon I had to leave because our friend Jill is due to arrive at any moment. She’s driving down from Lauzerte where she’s lived since retiring in Bermuda two months ago. It’s a little village a half hour north of Cahors in the Tarn et Garonne region. We’ve traveled all over Europe with her and she’s the first guest to sign up for our new week-long tour in northern Italy with the Fine Arts Quartet playing instruments made by Stradivari in Cremona where they were made.
Now the fragrance of all that garlic I peeled this morning is filling the living/reading room at home and it won’t be long until I can show off to Anne and Jill what a fine chef I am while we’re enjoying the lesson in stuffed tomatoes I learned this morning.