Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Dinner in Burgundy

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, Feb 25, 2009

Perhaps Craig and I are getting over our jet lag. We didn't oversleep this morning! Darcy had some business at school, so we were on our own for a while. We enjoyed coffee in our room, and polished off the pain au chocolat from yesterday. We wandered back over to the little mall near the train station and strolled through many of the stores, but didn't buy much of anything. When Darcy returned at noon, we hurried to meet Mathieu at a cafe. He was on his lunch break and didn't have a lot of time. Sadly, the cafe he had chosen was closed for some reason. By the time we found another and were seated, it was too late for Mathieu to eat! He had to return to class. The rest of us had a good lunch, though we felt badly about Mathieu going hungry. Craig and Darcy enjoyed fluffy omelettes while I munched on a croque monsieur, which is the French version of a grilled cheese sandwich. It was very good. After our meal, we browsed in some of the shops downtown. We went into FNAC, where, with Darcy's help, I was able to ask for some accordion music on CD. Darcy took us into Halles Chatelet, where her favorite bakery is located and we were simply blown away by the enticing array of delightful creations on display. Everything there was a miniature work of art. Craig and I were unable to resist the eclairs. He chose one with a coffee-flavored filling, while I selected a caramel one. They were both fantastic! I wished I could take some of that deliciousness back home with me. 

Soon, it was time to return to the hotel to freshen up for our dinner that evening with Mathieu's family, and to gather the gifts we had brought from America for them. Mathieu met us at the hotel, and we all crammed ourselves into his tiny car for the two-hour drive to an old farmhouse in Burgundy, near Bitry, where the Le Gallos live. We followed the Loire to Gien, where we got out to take a break. What a charming town! It is simply beautiful. We found a bakery, of course, and each chose a cookie to munch while exploring. We walked up many stone steps to the Chateau which dominates the town. There is a panoramic view from up there, of the river and the town. I would love to do some exploring in Gien someday. It has a famous pottery factory and of course, a museum in the Chateau. 
A view of the rooftops of Gien, 
where the Loire flows through town.

As we made our way back down to where the car was parked, we heard tinkling music and lots of childish laughter and soon came upon the source of it: a small ice skating rink had been set up in town, and there were several children ice skating or being pushed around in little sled-like chairs. 

It looks like fun!

We continued on toward Bitry, enjoying the pleasant views of countryside dotted with old stone houses, meandering streams, and forested land. The twilight lasted until we pulled into the driveway of the old farmhouse in which Mathieu's family lives. Bitry is a village of about 300 inhabitants, and the Le Gallos live in the country just outside of the town. We were greeted by a very enthusiastic brindle Boxer named Roxie. Soon, we were joined by Mathieu's parents, Thierry and Muriel. We liked them immediately. They were very warm and welcoming toward us. With Darcy and Mathieu translating, we were able to converse quite freely. After hugs and kisses all around, we exchanged gifts. We had brought Thierry a bottle of our local elderberry wine from Wyldewood Cellars in Mulvane, KS. For Muriel, we had a little stuffed owl. She collects owls, which is something she and I have in common. For Mathieu's brothers, we had Webkinz animals. They are a stuffed toy with codes that allow the owner to play certain computer games, and are very popular in the U.S. Thierry gave Craig a bottle of the local red wine, and Muriel presented me with an adorable oil burner in the shape of an owl. It is a charming piece of pottery made at a well known clayworks nearby.

As we sat down to dinner, I admired the beautifully laid table. Everything was perfectly lovely. We began our meal with Kir Royale. It's a drink of champagne mixed with Kir, a liqueur made from cassis, or black currant. It was delightful! I can say that it was the first time I have ever truly enjoyed champagne. As we drank and became better acquainted, we nibbled from a plate of cashews, sausage, and crackers. Next, and with much anticipation by all, the foie gras was presented. Our first! It was served with a basket of toast points and a sweet onion jam. What an amazing start to our meal. It was absolutely wonderful. A sweet white wine was served with the fois gras, which was very good. We were then served a steaming dish of Coquilles St. Jacques. It's a dish of scallops and shrimp in a rich, creamy wine sauce. My goodness! A chablis was poured with this course and with the main course which followed - blanquette de veau, which is a rich stew made from veal and vegetables in a creamy white sauce. It is served over rice and was superb. A basket of bread was passed around during the meal. By this time, we felt as if we couldn't eat another bite, but then came the cheese tray! Five different kinds of cheese; Roquefort, Camembert, Bleu, and two different Chevre, or goat cheese. And a basket of clementines. Since I must restrict my intake of dairy products, I only tasted a few of the cheeses, but Craig really enjoyed them. Thierry carefully explained what each type was and he told us how they are produced. It was very interesting. Last, but not least, we were treated to a homemade tiramisu! It was cool, creamy, and delicious. What a spectacular meal that was! What a truly French experience. Darcy told us later that she had planned to take us to an authentic French restaurant, but after that astounding meal, she knew it would be anticlimactic. 

Ah, the cheese tray!

We really like Mathieu's family. It is plain to see that they are a close and loving group. Having all boys, they have welcomed Darcy with open arms. It was such a fun evening, lingering over that fantastic meal for more than two hours. With Darcy and Mathieu to translate, the conversation never lagged, and there was no shortage of smiles and laughter. 

We returned to Orléans at midnight. Mathieu was running perilously low on fuel, so we told him just to drop us at the tram stop. Once there, we discovered that it was closed for the night. It was no problem, though. We simply followed the tracks to our hotel. It was a brisk 15-20 minute walk and we felt perfectly safe in doing so.

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