Thursday, 17 February 2011

Madam Paris...the best neighbour a girl could ask for!

The irrepressible Madam Paris popped over today with a crumpled plastic bag from which she carefully produced a perfect white and pale green endive...a treasure from her winter garden...she paused momentarily rattling off a list of options on how we should consume these wee gems. She then departed wrapping her gorgeous cream shawl around her shoulders and shuffling back across the courtyard to an awaiting Dora, her loyal, if not rather huge and often too loud, German Shepherd. She suggested we eat the endive sliced raw with vinaigrette or with crumpled Roquefort cheese, walnuts and apple as a salad or wrapped in jambon under a bechamel sauce baked in the oven till golden and bubbly. I have tried this last suggestion before and, as it is still a little chilly this afternoon, the idea appeals as a nice winter warmer.

We often have our day broken with visits from Madam Paris but they are never without purpose. She will always have a gift in hand or maybe a newspaper article she thinks holds vital information that we must not miss out on or she will carry with her some news of the village...a church meeting, social event or report of a burglary in the area...she has become affectionately known to us all as '' because she always knows whats going on when. Who needs the internet!
I am ever grateful for her bunches of fragrant purple lilac in early spring, dahlia's and rhubarb in summer, gorgeous pumpkins, onions and potatoes in autumn. She never brings things we have in our garden and the timing is always perfect...inspiring a new recipe, a discovery of a new French word like 'topinambour' for 'Jerusalem artichoke', or just the sheer delight in something so fresh and home grown to cook with for family or guests. I always stop and pass the day...sometimes she will come and warm herself by the fire or sit in the sun chatting to the girls...she never overstays her welcome and we have given up trying to give her tea or coffee.
Having said that we have many a fond memory of her prearranged visits at midday for an 'apero' to mark a special occasion. She will come with her usual apron replaced by a silk scarf carrying a bottle of her unlabeled family Champagne chilled and ready to pour. We always make an occasion of these visits...preparing delicate aperitifs and all coming to the table to share a brief time with our gentle friend. The girls translate for Mike and amid much giggling and silliness she teases and never bores us with her chat. The Champagne is always welcome but my most favourite gift is the lovely fresh farm eggs that come to us in a recycled carton or out of Madam's apron pockets!
Often it will be a box of very small eggs especially for Liliana to eat for breakfast with soldiers or perfect duck eggs for more gateaux. Often covered in chicken poo and more organic than one usually allows into the kitchen but always with a smile and a chat about the weather and her world of Oyes. 
Rumor has it that Madam Paris, born in the village and now the ripe old age of 81, has never traveled further than Reims in any hour would be about it and then on a very very rare occasion. I have only ever seen her out of Oyes once in our five years here...ambling through the brocante with her daughter...such a simple worldly wonder she is. Her lovely round jolly husband Felix [note the great name...Felix Paris!!] died a few years ago...his funeral was so sad and I was very worried that she would follow soon after as her heart must have been broken in two after such a long life so solidly together. They were so cute in their Sunday best off to family for lunch...suited and gloved after a hard working week on the farm. A delight to behold...
In return for these gifts from the farm we deliver home baking of all manner and form to her gate along with a bag of old baguettes for the 'poulet, canard and lapins'....she has a sweet tooth but no longer bakes for herself so delights in the creations that grace her doorstep...from children's cupcakes decorated in bright coloured icing to quite glamorous cakes and desserts.
As I was busy making my soap this afternoon...a batch of rosemary and olive oil!...a second knock at the door and Madam had popped back with a supplement from the newspaper listing all the local 'brocantes' every week till Jan 2012...fantastic...the first promise that the winter is coming to an end and another summer season is not too far away...a promise of bargains to be had and treasures to be found...wondering in the sun with a 'blider' of champagne and 'an American' [a baguette filled with a spicy merguez sausage and frites!].
Roll on Summer...and here is cheers to Madam Paris for making it through another hard long cold winter...Salut!

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