Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sunny Sunday

Pages From Jans's Travel Journal: Sunday, May 15 2016

We awoke to a sunny Sunday morning, free of grey skies and rain for a while. After a cup of coffee, we all walked down to our favorite little bakery where I chose a delightful salted caramel eclair. After breakfast, we checked the strawberry plants that Darcy was growing in the courtyard, expecting to find several more ripe berries. We were disappointed to see just empty stems. Something had been nibbling those sweet, ripe berries! 

A salted caramel eclair - perfection!
Our plan for the rest of the day was to drive out to Mathieu's parents home to celebrate his brothers birthday. We planned just to have cake with them, so we wouldn't tire Muriel, who was recovering from a recent surgery. The drive was lovely on such a sunny day. We stopped in Gien to have lunch, and chose a little Italian restaurant called La Bella Vita. I ordered a pizza of lardons, potatoes, and onions, which was wonderful! Darcy had chosen a spicy pasta dish. She was warned that it was very spicy, but wanted to try it  - and it truly was VERY spicy! She enjoyed it anyway, though she said she may never order it again. The large salad that Mathieu ordered looked fantastic. I shared some of my pizza with him and Darcy, because I can never eat a whole one.

This pizza at La Bella Vita in Gien, France was fabulous!
We arrived in Bitry around 4 PM and were pleased to see that Remy had driven in from Dijon for the party. Gregoire, the birthday boy, had gotten stuck in the mud on a country road and Thierry had gone to his rescue. While the rest of us awaited their return, we visited with Muriel and Remy, as we nibbled on some delicious crisp cookies called "croquets" and some soft, tasty guimauves - those delightful French marshmallows. At last, the guys returned and we wished Gregoire a happy birthday as he opened his gifts. We enjoyed the birthday gateau and glasses of cider as we celebrated. It was fun, but we could see that Muriel was very tired and needed to rest, so we said our farewells and headed home.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Busy Saturday

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, May 14 2016

What a busy day! We had a quick cup of coffee before leaving the house for breakfast at Pat a Pain. They had a wonderful selection of pastries, cakes, and other delights. I chose a delicious Tropezienne and a cup of hot chocolate. We then drove over to the farm to see what was available for picking. Since it was still a bit early in the growing season, we could harvest only parsley, lettuce, and carrots. There were rows and rows of strawberry plants in bloom, though they would not be ready for picking for while. There was a chill breeze blowing and we were very glad to have brought along some warm jackets. We dug carrots and picked parsley and also chose a bottle of locally made apple juice from the little farm store. 

Our next errand was grocery shopping. We went to Le Clerc, which was very busy with other Saturday shoppers. We weren't able to find everything we needed, so we drove a short distance to Auchan. They were also crowded, but we managed to locate what we had come for. We also checked out the huge new aisle full of bulk items and were very pleased at the variety. I even found some wonderful, soft, pastel marshmallows that are available in flavors like cassis and violet. 

We were soon ready for lunch at Mont Fuji. Darcy and Mathieu really like the sushi there. I'm not a fan of sushi, but the restaurant offers a wide selection of other dishes that are wonderful. I am especially fond of the fish that is sauteed without breading; it's mild and has a delicate flavor.  The cheese maki is something I also like, as well as the fried noodles. 

Upon returning home, we had a nice visit with Craig. We told him that we'll have to take him to Mont Fuji soon! And then, we straightened the house and began to make preparations for dinner that evening. We had invited Arno over for a barbecue, but the weather was still cold and blustery, so we decided to eat indoors. Our friend arrived with the ingredients for margaritas and soon we were all relaxing with a tasty drink as we nibbled on cheese, chips, and some yummy bacon-wrapped prunes that Darcy had quickly made. I helped Darcy prepare the caprese salads, which were lovely with green, red, orange, and yellow heirloom tomatoes layered with buffalo mozzarella and drizzled with basil-infused olive oil. Our main course was tasty grilled Toulouse sausages and butter-thyme potatoes. By the time we finished all of that, there was no room for dessert! But we certainly had a fun evening talking and laughing and telling funny family stories, which led to looking at old photos. It was a good night.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Oh, That Salad!

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Friday, May 13 2016

Where did Thursday go? Oh, yes, I have skipped it because I was not feeling well. I didn't leave the apartment all day, except for a trip to the pharmacy. There was one highlight to the day, though, that I must mention. For supper that night, Darcy made a wonderful meal of crispy braised duck in an orange-ginger sauce. It was served with peas and fried purple potatoes. It was an extraordinary dish! I am going to try making it at home.

On Friday, I was feeling a bit better. I even went over to the nearby boulangerie where I purchased a lovely little raspberry tart to enjoy with my morning coffee. I then mostly lazed around the house until Darcy arrived home around 12:30. We walked over the bridge (580 steps, in case you were wondering!) and bought some little broccoli quiches and Orangina for our lunch. We found a shaded bench on the Place and thoroughly enjoyed our surroundings as we ate. I never seem to get enough of the lovely architecture. At this time of year, there were flowers brightening the scene everywhere. Large tubs of flowering plants were placed around every square and at both ends of the bridges. Every apartment building had window boxes and planters filled with bright blossoms of geraniums and other colorful plants. 

A lovely little raspberry tart.
Darcy took me to the Memphis Diner for dessert. It's a cute restaurant that's styled after a 1950s American diner. Even the food is imported from the states! I had a slice of oreo pie, which came with a large dollop of whipped cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. It was way more than I could eat! We then shopped for a while, popping into and out of many clothing stores, looking for a jacket for Darcy. It seems we were just a bit too late in the season for that sort of thing; our trip was unsuccessful. We took the tram home and then relaxed until dinner time, when Darcy and Mathieu concocted the most amazing salad. Mathieu started by making pressed chicken, while Darcy cooked some tiny potatoes and cut up the duck that was left from the night before. She also made a delicious homemade dressing.

This incredible salad was quite a treat!
Before the meal, we had apero. Darcy served me a cocktail that she had invented. It was made with peach liqueur, lemon juice, amaretto, and a hint of maple syrup. It was delicious! We nibbled on little cubes of cheese with our drinks, and we played a silly game using our phones. And then we sat down to those amazing salads! Fresh greens, pear tomatoes, roasted potatoes, crispy chicken and duck, everything drizzled with that fresh "French" dressing - it was truly the best salad I have ever eaten! We had a poppyseed baguette to go with it, and afterward, no one had room for dessert!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Another Umbrella Day

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, May 11 2016

I awoke at 7:15 to the sound of birds singing outside my window. The grey skies overhead did not deter them as they ushered in what would turn out to be another rainy day. I was not deterred, either. I was visiting my favorite place on earth and a little rain was not going to stop me! Darcy was still asleep, so I brewed a pot of coffee as quietly as possible, and took a steaming mug into my room. She awoke about an hour later, apologizing for having slept in. I was glad that she had gotten a little extra sleep; she had been working very hard.

We talked for quite a while. It was so nice to be able to do just that. A face-to-face chat with my youngest was a treat I don't often get to enjoy. FaceTime on the iPad is wonderful, but it can't beat that personal interaction! The hugs are nice, too. Darcy went over to the bakery and picked up a rustic almond croissant for me. I enjoyed it with another cup of coffee as we talked a while longer. 

An almond croissant from the bakery on the Place.
Later, we decided to go over to Halles Chatelet to have some keys made so that I would have my own set. We wandered around the stores for a bit and I enjoyed going in to Eureka, which always has such unique and interesting merchandise. After a while, we found a brasserie where we had lunch. We both chose the plat du jour of chicken in mustard sauce. It was served with a huge mound of mashed potatoes and the inevitable baguette. Darcy had to go to work after lunch, but I continued to wander around Orleans. A steady, light rain was falling, but as long as I had my umbrella, I didn't mind. Many stores had placed large buckets or tubs just inside the entrances, where shoppers could deposit their dripping umbrellas. I was pleased that I didn't once forget to pick up my own parapluie on the way out.

When I returned home, I was able to text with Craig for a while. Later, I realized that I had forgotten to pick up some coffee filters while I was shopping. The weather had cleared quite a bit and the sky was lighter than before, so I left my umbrella on its hook and began the walk to Carrefour. I had only gone a few blocks when the sky darkened and the rain began again! I put up the hood of my jacket and continued on to complete my errand.

Standing on the bridge, Pont George V, in Orleans Fr.
Darcy, Mathieu, and I all arrived home within about 15 minutes of one another. We had planned to go to the library, where a book talk by an American author was to take place. The chilly rain had increased in intensity and we decided that we just weren't in the mood. Instead, we watched television for a while and then, each of us armed with an umbrella, we walked over to the Rue de Borgogne for dinner at Chez Ming. The owner, Miranda, was very glad to see us and she even asked about Craig. We had a wonderful meal there, as always.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A New Do

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday, May 10 2016

Darcy and Mathieu had both left early for work. I slept late and awoke with a migraine, but one cup of coffee and some medication soon took care of that. Before pouring a second cup of coffee, I walked across the square to the local bakery where I selected an escargot for breakfast. No, I didn't eat snails for breakfast! The pastry was called an escargot because of the swirled shape it had. It contained lots of tasty bits of strawberry and pistachio and was covered with a buttery crumble. Not a bad way to start the day.

A nice view of Orléans from the bridge.
I didn't do much after breakfast. I caught up on email and lazed around reading for a while. I had eaten such a late breakfast that I didn't really want much for lunch. I nibbled a bit on some leftovers. Darcy arrived home in the early afternoon and we were soon on our way to her hairstylist where I was scheduled for a cut. When we arrived at the salon, the stylist greeted me, took my jacket, and asked if I would like a cup of coffee or tea. I sipped a refreshing peppermint tea while Darcy showed her some pictures of possible styles for me. An hour later, I emerged from the salon with a new look. My hair was shorter than I had ever known it, but I really liked the cute, asymmetrical style.

The new me.
We ran a couple of errands, stopping at Carrefour to pick up some broccoli for a dish that Mathieu was planning to make. When he arrived home, we sat down to drinks and appetizers of cheese, sausage, and chips. Mathieu cooked up a great meal of stir-fried chicken and broccoli served over fragrant jasmine rice. He served chocolate lava cakes for dessert and we garnished them with slices of the one ripe strawberry from Darcys garden.

We had a relaxing evening, playing a game of Racko and watching a couple episodes of a favorite sitcom. It had been another lovely day. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Visit With A Friend

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Monday, May 9 2016

I awoke in time to have coffee with Darcy before she left for work. Mathieu had gotten up much earlier and had already left the house. They both had a full day ahead of them. I had a second cup of coffee and nibbled on a chocolate-dipped waffle before straightening the house a bit.

Azur, looking for his friend, Lily.
Just after noon, I meandered across the bridge to meet Arno at his place for lunch. He was cooking when I arrived. He served a nice lunch of stuffed zucchini and roasted potatoes. He is a very interesting person and we discussed many subjects. When he brought out his collection of polished stones, I was fascinated. I have always been attracted to stones and crystals. I'm particularly attracted to striped stones and have several from different parts of the world. Arno had some rare and impressive specimens. Some of them simply took my breath away! We lost track of time, and before we knew it, it was 4:00. 

We set off to do some shopping. At Eurodif, I bought some bath mitts and a wallet. Just as we were about to leave the store, I noticed that the rain had begun again, so I also purchased an umbrella. Once outside, we happened to run into Mathieu, who was just on his way to get a haircut. We arranged to meet him afterward at Hendrix Pub. It was cozy in the bar, out of the rain. When Mathieu arrived, we ordered a round of drinks. We then received a text from Darcy, saying that she had gotten off work early. She headed our way immediately and we all had fun discussing the events of the day while sipping our drinks. Darcy always has funny and endearing stories to tell about her students. 

A street in Orléans, during a break from the rain.
Upon leaving the pub, we slowly walked through the rain to Au Bureau for dinner. We all chose salads; mine was a chicken Caesar salad, which was large, tasty, and very filling. The four of us never seemed to run out of things to talk about. It was a lively and fun evening. 

My phone didn't do justice to the lovely sunset.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mother's Day

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, May 8 2016

My first Mother's Day in France! Sort of. America celebrated Mother's Day on May 8, while the French day to honor mom was still a few weeks away. We began the day with coffee and then a short walk across the Loire to Au Petit Duc to purchase pastries. Darcy and Mathieu bought another mug for me; it was decorated with a brightly colored owl. Home again, we enjoyed our pastries with more coffee and Darcy presented me with another gift: a bound book containing the emails we had exchanged since she first moved to France. It is something that I will always treasure.

A Paris Brest and coffee in my new mug!

We gave Craig a call and had a nice visit with him. He was preparing to drive up to see his own mother and to cook a steak dinner for her and one of his sisters who was visiting from out of state. Later, we played a game and listened to music. It was nice to relax a bit after our busy day on Saturday. At lunchtime, we finished off the pizza from the day before. Afterward, I enjoyed reading from the book Darcy had given me. It brought back a lot of great memories. 

We had been invited to Arno's that afternoon for tea. We enjoyed the scenic walk to his apartment in the ancient part of town, close to where Darcy and Mathieu used to live. We had a lively discussion as we lingered over tea and pastries. 

I love this part of town!
That evening, I helped Darcy peel shrimp for the scampi she was planning to make. It was a wonderful meal; no restaurant could have done better! We began with glasses of kir and appetizers of chips and delightful little verrines that Mathieu had made. The tiny glasses were filled with a mixture of cream cheese, minced ham, tomatoes, roasted red pepper, and pine nuts. They were garnished beautifully and were as tasty as they looked. Darcy served the shrimp scampi over jasmine rice, with a side of roasted broccoli. Everything was delicious! For dessert, Mathieu had made chocolate lava cakes, which were a sweet ending to a wonderful meal. Later, we watched a couple of episodes of a favorite sitcom. It had been a perfectly wonderful mother's day and I went to bed feeling very loved. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Bonjour France, I Have Returned!

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, May 7 2016

As usual, I could hardly contain my excitement to be back once again in France! The flight from Chicago was smooth and uneventful, though we were about 45 minutes late leaving the terminal. I knew that Darcy would be tracking my progress and hoped she and Mathieu wouldn't be inconvenienced. I made it through immigration/border control within ten minutes and was soon plucking my bag from the luggage carousel, with a little help from a fellow passenger. As soon as I spotted the smiling faces of Darcy and Mathieu, I felt a rush of happiness. With nearly a month of vacation ahead of me, I was in a state of bliss! It didn't take long for us to work our way down to the basement parking garage and soon we were on the highway through the smoothly flowing traffic, out of Paris and on toward Orléans.

A busy day was ahead of me, and I'm glad that I had managed to sleep a bit on the plane. When we reached Orléans, we made a quick stop to pick up lunch - at a pizza vending machine! That's right, we bought pizza from a vending machine and it was really very tasty. There are two of these machines in Orléans, both owned by a local restaurant called Cantine. After our selection was made from a large screen, the pizza was quickly baked at high temperature. In just a few minutes, it was automatically transferred to a sturdy box and then it slid out of the machine and we were on our way. We drove the short distance home and enjoyed our quick lunch.

Pizza from a vending machine. Why not?
We called Craig and had a nice visit before setting out again, this time for the grocery market. Darcy and Mathieu apologized for taking me along on their weekly errand, but I didn't mind a bit. I enjoy grocery shopping in France. There are always new and interesting things to see. I even picked up a few items for myself.

Checking out the funny cereal names.

I hear it's addictive!
After the groceries were put away, the three of us walked across the bridge over the Loire and on toward Campo Santo to attend the last night of the Medieval festival. I didn't feel tired at all, and was happy to be a part of the lively atmosphere as soon as we entered the ancient archway into the walled compound. Colorful pennants fluttered in the breeze as we made our way through the crowd and managed to find a table beneath a large tree. Darcy and Mathieu stood in line at one of the food booths while I held our places. The food was plentiful and quite good. We ate lentils which had been cooked with a few vegetables in duck fat, and topped with grilled duck sausage. On the side was a serving of crisp fries. I sipped on a kir which was flavored with a chestnut cream liqueur. What a wonderful welcome to France!

Campo Santo, where the festival took place.

We enjoyed a hearty meal of lentils and duck sausage.

We were soon joined by a couple of friends, Arno and Jeremy, and we all began to wander around the compound, looking at the many unique items for sale. Darcy bought a bottle of Mead and a beautiful tooled leather bag. I purchased some pates des fruits at one booth and a dry sausage at another. It was one that I knew Craig would enjoy - made with Beaufort cheese. Arno presented me with a flower and ribbon crown. I felt very welcome and very much a part of the festivities. 

Lots of sweets from which to chose!
We sampled the Mead at this booth.
We could hear bagpipes playing and soon noticed a band of Scotsmen who were there to honor a 700-year-old alliance with France. Many people at the festival were wearing period costume, including the children, who were adorable as they dashed about on a grassy slope while brandishing their wooden swords. It was a perfect evening, with a light breeze blowing. However, by 9:30 I was beginning to feel the effects of my lengthy travel day. We returned home, pausing to view part of a long parade that had been winding its way through town. We finished our evening with ice cream before I crawled into bed, still smiling from the events of the day.  

Mathieu and Arno at the festival.