Monday, January 20, 2014

Rain on Our Parade

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Craig and I awoke to a lovely, sunny morning and after a quick cup of coffee, walked the few blocks to our "local" bakery. It had just reopened after having been closed for vacation. We selected some yummy-looking pastries and took them back to our little apartment where we enjoyed them with more of that fragrant, mellow coffee. Darcy and Mathieu arrived just then, so Mathieu and I walked back to the bakery for more pastries while Craig started another pot of coffee. At the bakery, a long line had formed all the way out the door to the edge of the sidewalk. There was a man sitting in front, selling sprigs of lily-of-the-valley, which is a tradition on May 1. Mathieu bought one for me, wrapped with pretty ribbons. There was a beautiful long-haired dog (a Briard) waiting patiently for his owner, a young woman who was standing in line directly behind us. A man came out of the bakery, carrying a bag from which several baguettes were protruding. When he bent down to examine the flowers, the big dog very slowly leaned toward the bread and was just about to take a bite when his owner noticed him. She chastised the dog, who lay down on the sidewalk looking somewhat dejected. When it was finally our turn at the bakery counter, we purchased a bag of chouquettes, an amande (a flaky crust which was filled with blackberry jam, topped with a thin, glazed crust and a cherry) and a lovely fruit tart. The tart was filled with beautifully arranged fruit which was coated with a shiny glaze. All of the items in the pastry case were so pretty - I wanted to taste every one! 

A bread-loving Briard.

Our neighborhood bakery in Orléans, France.

After breakfast, we decided to attend the festival, even though a chilly drizzle was beginning to fall. Just as we left the apartment, our host, Pascal, approached and handed me a little vase filled with lily-of-the-valley. He could have had no idea how much the May basket tradition meant to me, and I was very touched. At home, I have been leaving May baskets at my parent's door every year for almost forty years. In fact, because I knew I would be in France for May day, I had arranged with one of my daughters to deliver the flowers in my stead.

We had only one umbrella with us, but set out with hopes of finding some plastic rain ponchos at the festival grounds. The Joan of Arc festival was taking place on an island at a lake a couple of miles from town. By the time we found a place to park, the rain was falling in earnest. We slogged through the parking lot and across the bridge onto the island where we soon discovered there were no ponchos or umbrellas to be found. The four of us were determined to have a good time, so we continued on. Our first stop was a large food tent where we able to find seats out of the downpour. We dined on spit-roasted ostrich, which tasted a bit like beef, only sweeter. It was accompanied by baked potatoes and caramelized onions and was served with our choice of beer, mulled wine, or hard cider. I was tempted to use my baked potato as a hand warmer!

This man is basting ostrich with a bamboo brush.

We were disappointed to learn that the jousting had been canceled due to the muddy conditions. We instead spent some time visiting many of the booths which featured demonstrations of activities from medieval times. We also explored the vendor's tents, and purchased some great souvenirs. I was impressed with the items offered for sale; they had to be made in the old ways - no plastic trinkets or factory-made items here! Craig bought a beautiful handmade wooden beer mug. We picked up seven different kinds of dry sausage in flavors such as wild boar, hazelnut, and juniper berry. We also purchased cookies of several different varieties such as creme fraiche, hazelnut, and caramel. The weather was unrelenting, and we finally decided to call it quits. On our way back to the parking lot, we came upon a procession arriving from town. It was a parade of knights, pages, the band, and Joan of Arc on her white horse. They had marched in the rain all the way from the center of town, and yet were all still smiling and quite enthusiastic in spite of the downpour. In France, they say "Il pleut des cordes" which means, "It is raining ropes." 

A very damp procession at the Joan of Arc festival in Orléans, France

Back at Darcy and Mathieu's place, we warmed up over huge mugs of hot tea and shared all of the different cookies we had purchased at the festival. They were delicious! Finally warm and dry, we walked over to the Rue de Borgogne for dinner. The rain had ceased and the sky was clear. Les Pissenlits par la Racine (The Dandelion Root) is a restaurant serving French food. We had mostly been dining at ethnic restaurants, so this was a nice change. Craig and I both chose the filet of pork with a honey cream sauce. It was served atop a mound of crisply fried potatoes in a huge dish and was wonderful! Darcy had a rich dish of ham, potatoes, and onions in a creamy sauce with lots of cheese. Tartiflette, perhaps? Mathieu ordered the salmon tartare, which was served with basil sorbet, tomato sorbet, and Bearnaise sauce. There were several delightful-sounding desserts on the menu, but none of us felt we had room for dessert after the large portions we had consumed. When that memorable meal ended, Craig and I decided to forgo the tram, and instead enjoyed a beautiful walk home across the Loire.

Rue de Borgogne after the rain.

A delightful dish of Pork with Honey Cream

RECIPE: Pork with Honey Cream. I liked this dish so well that I re-created it at home. You will find the recipe on our food blog entry here: The Eating Habit

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