Meeting our First French Wwoofing Hosts...!

Now, four days of leisure in an ancient French city with amazing French company, home-cooked food, and trés comfy beds is not a bad thing no matter where you are, but by Sunday I was surprisingly ready to get down on the farm and get this whole Work-Exchange thing started..
france wwoof annick
A verdant view of our new home
John and I planned on hitchhiking the hour-or-so to Saint Savin, our very first (!) wwoofing site, so we were quite excited when we woke up and found it pouring rain (the French say that a downpour is “like a cow pissing”). As if the preceding days of over-the-top kindness hadn’t been enough, the Michels then insisted on driving us all the way to the farm rather than put us out in the rain (and not before feeding us a huge lunch to boot).

Tell me, who says the French are hard to get along with??

We loaded up and bid farewell, and upon arriving at Annick and Thierry’s, it would be an understatement to say I was impressed.

Better to say that I was ecstatic. I was giddy. I was maaaaaybe going to explode.
A view of the unused portion of the house, which begins
just past the window shutters with the hearts. In the past,
that was the area for animals, equipment, and feed
Looking across the driveway. ugh! so much traffic!

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The house is an old stone structure with wooden floors and ceiling beams, and it’s literally attached to a barn, where historically inhabitants would have easy access to the cows, goats, feed, and other sundries that filled it. It's a huge building overall, with the old barn now mainly used as storage. The house-portion has been revamped from the inside, and the kitchen is exactly what you would expect a rustic French kitchen to look like. Go on, just say the words “rustic French kitchen,” and voilà, there it is—exactly as you imagined it.

John and I will be staying in a "caravan," (a trailer) across a little lawn behind the house. We have an electric kettle for tea and coffee, and Annick must've sensed that I am actually a large child, because she even had some candy in the room waiting for us. There's an outhouse in the yard using the "dry" toilet technique (you get to cover your goodies with wood shavings), and we use the shower in their house when we absolutely have to stop being dirty.
There’s a small organic garden with vegetables and more strawberries than you can even attempt to eat in one day (nevertheless, I will try).  A chicken coop with six chickens on the fence about loving you is where we deposit leftover edibles. And some good ol' farm classics: a non-responsive old golden retriever, but a cat who makes up for all his shortcomings (what cat doesn’t make up for a dog’s shortcomings?)

Annick is a woman whom you’d expect to see slipping through a forest bareback atop a galloping horse as she shoots squirrels between the eyes with a bow and arrow. She is like, w-o-m-a-n.  I’m not quite sure why I think this, considering she’s a nanny and a gardener, but there is just something about her presence.

I’ll tell you a bit about her nanny job: apparently the school food is not so good in France (it’s probably the same as it is in the U.S., but they care here, you see), so Annick picks these 6 kids (ages 5-10ish) up from school every day at lunchtime and brings them to her house for a home-cooked meal. Then she loads the wild things (now mildly tranquilized) back into the van, returns them to their non-culinary education. Once school is over, she scoops them up again and brings them back for playtime and snack until their respective parents come to pick them up. As far as jobs go, it seems pretty sweet.
france woof
Hey, I'm a kid toooo
The children stare at John and me like we're wild animals as we pick weeds or prune trees. If we try to approach or speak to them, they laugh at us or run away. Kids don’t hide their emotions.

Annick’s husband, Thierry, is a man that at first appearances could be a bit intimidating—he’s tall and broad with long-ish hair and a deep, resonant smoker’s laugh. But that’s what he does instead of intimidate, he laughs. A lot. And then you laugh, and then everybody is laughing (for whatever reason it's probably at me, but it feels nice anyway).

He should be a character in a Disney movie. The benevolent father of a princess or something. Or a baker in whom everybody confides, and as you leave with your baguette he smiles and gives you a little wink. I’m going too far with this.
wwoof france
Thierry lays down the law
Get every. single. weed.
At any rate, our first morning, Annick had set out a breakfast basket of OJ, milk, baguette and various homemade jams on our little caravan's porch. A couple of the jams had mold atop, and John and I, in the manner you would expect les Americains to behave, shunned these "spoiled goods." Later than day, an entertained Annick scraped off the mold and took a big bite of the jam that lay underneath, telling us it’s “just like cheese.” I love it.

(p.s. this is why you should buy artisan jams--farmers' market, anyone?)

The first day of “work” was nice. Meditative, even. We weeded. That is all. It's an organic garden, so she can't just spray pesticide.  So I get to spend a day weeding—and it’s worth it.  It’s been too long since I’ve worked at something all day and actually seen tangible results that evening. And it’s nice to have a sore back from weeding instead of from sitting at a computer all day. 

We stopped for a couple hours for lunch with Annick’s “kids”...baked whitefish, haricots verts, semolina pasta, & cobbler with jarred cherries from the year before.
Annick used 3 eggs, which gave the filling a more "custardy" texture than what I'm used to. It probably helps  to keep the cherries from sinking to the bottom, too.
Our first dinner was a lesson in French comfort food. It was like a dreamy French version of Kraft macaroni and cheese with hotdogs (and if that doesn’t excite you, you’re probably not American.  I know this is so against my “slow food” ideals, but it’s one childhood addiction that I’ve given up fighting).

So onto the food: Out of the oven came a dish of local pasta called crozets (tiny flattened pasta squares), local pork sausage (like keilbasa but without the smoke flavor and heavy processing), and on the side, local bread & butter. And it’s nice to eat butter when you've worked outside all day. 
crozets
I better mention the love that I'm slowly growing for things I've never loved before: radishes with local butter and fleur de sel, for example. A radish from the backyard is undoubtedly one of the best crunches you can crunch.
The wine, I'll mention, was from the nearby Savoie (sav-wah) region and district therein of Apremont. It was light, fresh, and not too fruity--a very nice cut to the heavy sausages. 

And it’s nice to eat dinner knowing that it didn’t travel more than an hour to reach you.


Tune in for more of a day in the life of a French farm...

2 comments:

  1. what's on the wall in your trailer? disney posters? also, do you think I would survive the french cuisine...too fancy for me.

    keep em' coming! - stace

    ReplyDelete
  2. India-themed. It's like being in India and France at the same time!

    So far nothing too fancy. Really the opposite, I guess. Spaghetti and meat sauce last night. Très rustic.

    Very glad to see you're reading. I was worried.

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