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When I first came to my little village, some twenty years ago, an elderly neighbor gave me all the ingredients for ratatouille fresh from her garden & then proceeded to show me step by step how to make it. Every summer, since that first lesson, I have made this classic dish of southwestern France, with the bounty of fresh vegetables that are so prevalent here.
The ingredients are simple: onions, garlic, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes & lots of olive oil. However, each French cook seems to have her own way of putting them all together. Some like the vegetables chopped small like a dice, but I was taught & prefer to cut mine in large chunks.
I have deviated slightly from the original recipe, as I like to put the eggplant in the oven & roast it, seasoned with salt & pepper & coated in olive oil. I think it has a much better flavor this way.
After that, I pretty much follow what I was taught & that is to sauté each ingredient separately in olive oil, seasoning each as you go. I like to add red & yellow peppers, too, although, green are the traditional choice.
I tend to sauté the onions & garlic last, then add the tomatoes, simmering them, as if making a tomato sauce. At this point I had some tomato paste.
Because my neighbors so kindly give me so many lovely herbs from their gardens, I have added fresh bay leaves & thyme to this batch. But other times I might add hot pepper flacks to give a little kick. This, however, is decidedly not French.
The final step is to add everything together. I have made this batch for a later date, at which time, I will reheat it in the oven until it is bubbly. To serve, remove the bay leaf & thyme & add chopped fresh basil. It is good as a side dish or as a main course served with rice or pasta.
A funny story, just to show how important ratatouille is to this region. I was chatting with a young mom who was feeding her baby from a baby food jar. I asked what the child was eating. " His favorite, ratatouille! " Seeing my surprise, she showed me the jar. It had all of the same ingredients: onions, garlic, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, even olive oil. She on the other hand was quite surprised, even shocked, to learn that children in the United States do not grow up eating ratatouille from the very beginning, in baby food jars.
Anyone who really knows me, knows that I have a thing for chairs. I can't really explain it, maybe it is their sculptural presence. Whatever the reason, I have been collecting sad discarded chairs from trash heaps & yard sales for years. So it is no surprise, that I am infatuated with the chairs of France. Although, I have resisted collecting too many of my own, I have delighted in collecting photos of them.There was just something so very French about these two chairs placed so haphazardly in a medieval dwelling, that I was fortunate enough to visit.I could not resist the colors & worn patina of this sagging but still used seat. Another photo of the medieval house I visited, reveals a number of various style chairs from different periods, along with beautiful aspects of a structure built in the middle ages. Although, not an old chair or even a very interesting one, there was still something appealing about this lone chair, with it's cushion, placed in front of it's table, looking out toward the view, while the cat sleeps silently by.This table & chair, seen in a yard filled with abandon old cars, made me think that it may have once had a life in a beautiful garden, much like an impressionist painting.I just liked the patterns & colors of this chair & it's habitat.You can not have a collection of photos of French chairs, without at least one picture of a classic café table & chair.I fell in love with this tiny, antique, child's chair sitting on a ledge next to a plant & the river just behind.Although, not really a chair, I felt I had to include this built in bench from the same medieval house. I guess you could think of it as a sofa from the middle ages, where I don't think you would have found too many couch potatoes.
I love the curtains that you see in the
windows as you pass. They usually seem so old fashioned to me, like the curtains remembered from a grandmother's house, or perhaps ones imagined in a fairytale.
There are beautiful lace & embroidered, cotton, cafe curtains.
Some curtains seem so old, as if they may have been in that same window for 50 years or more.
While there are also the more modern window treatments. Linen panels finished in a point with a tassel at the end are a popular style.
I love the pretty embroidered linen panels. Unfortunately, the photo below does not show the lovely detail in these.
There is just something so French about lace curtains hanging in a window. The ones below, are held up at the bottom by decretive clips, giving them a pretty finish.
Even doors are occasionally dressed in curtains, too, especially in this hot & sunny climate.
Sometimes lace panels are hung high in windows above doors.....
.....or low in windows almost at street level.
But whether, high or low, in windows or in doors, there is always something very appealing & romantic about curtains in France.
Well, I am still cleaning & rearranging things. The sad truth is that my dear little house is looking a bit tired around the edges. Not that it did not have lots of funky, old, unfinished areas before, but now even the things that have been updated are looking worn.
,The skirt, that I had put around the sink many years ago, had certainly seen it's day. But what could I replace it with? With no fabric shops or the like in the area, I had to improvise. I tacked up mismatched tea towels & though not perfect, I was pleased with the results.I am cleaning out drawers, washing windows, polishing furniture. & hanging curtains. I am, perhaps, spending more time at this sort of thing this year, because my sister & my niece will be visiting this summer for the first time. I am looking forward to their visit & want them to love my French life as much as I do. But I realize that part of what I love so much about this simple life, is in fact the joy of solitude. And of course, when you add more people to the mix, you will lose that sense of solitude. In all this cleaning, I have also cleared out a new corner to use for my yoga practice. Well, I guess I will just have to encourage my sister & niece to take early morning walks, paint & practice yoga with me. Whatever they chose to do, I am sure they will find something that interests them. And although, their impressions will certainly be different from my own, I am sure that they will find something to love about this simple life.
No one seems to really know when
l'église was first built. Like so many of the dwellings in the village part of the foundation of the church dates back to Roman times.Set just out side the village, amongst the hay fields, the little church has been the mainstay of village life for centuries. Just far enough away, so that in times of celebration or in sorrow, the villagers of past, walked the winding path shoulder to shoulder. They followed the happy bride & groom, or the proud parents of a baby about to be christened, or they fell alongside the casket in a funeral procession.Today the church is used only for such rare occasions or other special events like the odd concert. So getting to see the inside is actually a privilege. The lighting in the interior is very dark, but in the photo below you will have some idea of the vaulted ceilings, painted a beautiful cobalt blue. Perhaps you can just make out the decretive boarders, which are painted in gold with the tiniest amount of red. But what you can not see, unfortunately, are the tiny gold stars that are sprinkled across the blue, like stars in the night sky.The church has suffered a great deal of damage over the years. Flooding & the damp moist air of a building always closed, has taken it's toll. Last year there was a concert to raise money for repairs. This summer there will be an art show & sale, featuring local artists. I am looking forward to taking part in this festive preservation effort.Outside, the crowded cemetery dates far back in time, with monuments to families that have lived here for centuries. Oddly enough, in a town that has so many beautiful gardens filled with a perfusion of colorful flowers, the choice of flowers for the cemetery seems to be plastic bouquets.
Most mornings, for me, begin slowly with a pot of tea & the practice of yoga. But every once in a while I get up early & take an early morning walk.These photos do not do justice to the beauty of the quiet early morning. The delicate first light casts the subtlest of shadows over soft morning colors & the orchestra of bird song is at it's height, welcoming the day. The early morning mist hovers just above the tree line, until the sun fully rises & burns it away.The poppies, scattered along the roadside still have the evenings dew on their faces.And the fragile morning light gently sparkles it's reflection on the river as I walk along it's edge. All of the gardens seem more vivid & beautiful in the early morning too. Wether a wild profusion of flowers or the neat, tidy rows of vegetables, the gardens seem to glisten in the chill of the morning air. Moments like these, make me realize what I am missing, when I am slow to begin my day. I must remember to get up early more often, in order to enjoy this beauty of morning unfolding.
It has been well over a year since Madame Palaprat died, but when I am here, a day rarely goes by, that I do not think of her. In her later years she took a walk from her house, across the bridge & back, everyday that weather permitted, always passing my house, as she went. Whenever I was out front or near a window, I would wave hello & we would have a little chat. Our conversations were of simple things, the weather, some small news of the village, & sometimes we would remember the old times.
When I first came to the village some twenty years ago, Madame Palaprat was the postmistress & her house was the post office. You can still see the old mail chute where the villagers posted their letters, at the edge of her house. I have such fond memories of going there to buy a stamp. First you had to step over fruit crates, which were placed in the doorway to keep in her dog, Caprice. Then you had to get past, a not so happy,Caprice, before entering the dark & musty room that served as the post office. Brown flowered wallpaper, water stained & peeling, covered the walls. Heavy lace curtains, always drawn, hung at the windows. A large imposing antique armoire held her books of stamps & a well worn wooden kitchen table served as her desk. She would come in from the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron, ready to fulfill her official duty. No matter how many times I bought stamps for letters to the United States, it was always the same.... grumbling & long searching in her books for the right stamp. She never quite got used to the idea.
Being the postmistress, she was also the first person in the village to have a telephone. One neighbor, who has been here far longer than I, remembers Madame Palaprat, coming to the end of the bridge to call out, "Madame Grez, you have a phone call".
I have been told that during the war, when she was young, she would hop on her bike & ride all over the region delivering messages for the Résistance. There are so many wonderful stories of Madame Palaprat, I could never record them all here. Her house stands empty now. There are no longer the many pots of geraniums outside her door, but her red rose still climbs up to the balcony, as if it does not know that she has gone.
I wish I had thought to take a photograph of this wiry little woman, in her sunhat & flowered house dress & apron, her endearing smile & the twinkle in her eyes.
I took the photos of her house the other day when it was a bite over cast. They somehow, seemed sad, so today, a bright & sunny day, I went back. I stood at her window, where in her last years she would sit & watch the world go by. I took a photo of what her view would have been. She looked out on the little town square where still today villagers gather to chat or just to while the time away. She would have remembered, before there was electricity or running water in the village, that people came here to get their water in buckets. Bicyclists & hikers still come into the village to fill their water bottles here. Over the years she would have seen all the comings & goings of the village. Now, she is a cherished part of that long & rich history.