Friday, November 19, 2010

Cute Baby Jesse, 4-hour dinners, and the Bio-vineyard

Stephanie picked me up at the train station in Vienne. What a crazy feeling to meet someone you'd seen pictures of and been in contact with only over the internet with a few phone calls thrown in. Either way, we greeted each other with a hug and it was like we were friends catching up on what had happened in the past couple of months. Stephanie has just had a baby and has been busy being a Mommy and a wife. I of course told of my travels and my horrible last day in Paris and how happy I was to finally being in a home and not just an establishment that housed beds.

Stephanie's home was indeed a home, complete with a toasty fireplace which was well recieved after a loooong day in the cold blowing rain. Stephanie got right to work on fixing dinner, first we had appetizers of crackers and tiny cubes of Laughing Cow cheese in all different flavors with a Vouvray that was made by her friend Christine who's vineyard is in the Rhone area. Stephanie and Patrick (Steph's hubby)help Christine harvest every year. It was a very good appertif wine since it was a little sweet and rather fruity. After appetizers we moved on to a salad course that was a mixture of tomatoes, carrotes, broccoli, peas or corn (I can't remember which) and hard boiled eggs (from their own chickens) on top. The main course was pan seared duck breasts (no I did not partake) and pan fried potatoes and onions just like Dad makes at the lake...only maybe not quite as greasy. We had our main course with a Red wine I had bought for them as a gift when I was in Paris. It was a red wine from the Landoc region, it was full bodied with a bit of a smokey aftertaste from what I remember. I forgot to write this one down in my wine journal and it's been so long now that I really haven't the slightest. I remember it was good though. :) After the main course Stephanie brought out the cheese platter, mmmmmmm cheeeeese. All kinds of cheeses, hard and soft, stinky and mild, oh so good. After cheese and crusty bread came dessert. Tiny individual desserts of all types were up for grabs. I had one that was like a custardy/cakey vanilla flavored thing with cheeries, it was pretty delicious. Then there was of course coffee (tiny coffee) and chocolates. Then there was comatose from eating so much!

The next morning I woke up and went for a run through Stephanie's mountian side. It was chilly but the views were amazing. You could even see the tallest mountian in Europe, Mt Blanc, from oustide Steph's back door. After the run and a shower came breakfast. Stephanie told me there was coffee so I went to search a mug. Steph asked me what I was looking for and I said, "A mug for coffee." S- "I have one here on the table for you." I looked at the table and there was only a bowl with a spoon which I could only assume was for cereal. R-"No, a mug, so that I can have some coffee." S- "Yes, there is one on the table." R-"But that's a bowl." S-"Yes, that is how we have it, it's traditional, but if you prefer a mug..." R-"Oh no, I want to drink like the French do; bowl it is!" So I had my coffee in a bowl. It amazed me the difference from the Italian tiny expressos and the French entire BOWL of coffee. I prefer the large bowl to the teacup. :) Also at breakfast Steph had a variety of typical French foods for me to try: A chestnut spread that was more like a sweet paste with condensed milk mixed in, an apricot marmalade, milk cookies, a sweet bread, and regular crusty bread. I tasted everything and the chestnut spread was so good it was dangerous. After breakfast we got ourselves and little Jesse ready to go down to the town's market. This would be Jesse's first trip to the market, appropriate because this was also the day his birth announcement would be in the newspaper. We walked around the market, and I enjoyed watching Stephanie interact with the vendors because this is how she norally does her shopping, everything was so fresh! Along the way we met several people who had a friend who had a vineyard and all of them said they would ask if there were any openings for me, then they would add in, "Of course, you'd have to learn French." I would smile and say, "oh, I know!!!" We even met a lady who had a son (please remember we are in a small town in France on the mountians) who was married to a woman from, where else, KANSAS CITY MISSOURI. You're kidding me!?! This vendor had in fact just been to KC, MO just 10 days ago. I was shocked. This world is so small. At the market I was allowed to sample lots of cheeses as well and picked out three to take home with us. We were also talked into buying a 5kilo pumpkin after I asked Stephanie what it was (because the outside was green and not orange like I knew it to be) and the owner of the stand saw us discussing it. He sold it to Stephanie cheap because he wanted to be rid of it. After the market we went to the grocery store to pick up the rest of the things we needed and headed back to the house for lunch. Lunch was snails that we picked up from the market, another typical French food, and a type of fish pie. I LOVED the snails but dipped them in mustard instead of mayonaise like the French do. The fish pie wasn't my favorite, but it was good to try it. After lunch we packed up again because we were going to visit a Biological vineyard that was owned by a friend of friend. We weren't sure what to expect, but I learned so much from this lady whom I can't remember her name so we'll call her Marie. Marie and her husband live in a region of France that produces a wine called Condrieu. We began our tour with and example of the type of vineyard work, but specifically the soil preparation, they didn't want to have as a biovineyard. Then we started a walk through their vineyard where Marie and her hubby work the entire land, BY HAND AND BY THEMSELVES. And the fact that their vineyard sits on a very very steep hillside (as much of the vineyards in teh Rhone region do) makes the work even harder. They do their work by hand right now because machines have not been made to fit into the space allowed between the rows of vines by the AOC controls of that area. Marie pointed out the importance of tilling the land before planting new vines because it brings out the nutrients in the soil, apprently a lot of grape farmers will skip this step. She explained to me that after planting the baby vines their AOC controls say that the vines must be 3 years old to be able to be used in Condrieu wine. So they have established vines that they can use but were in the process of planting new vines as well. Their AOC also had controls on how many vines you can plant per acre, how close together you can plant them, how much wine you can make based on how many vines you have. Marie also explained to me how the pruning process of a vine works. Each year when you prune the vines you take on one vine at a time. You start from the trunk of the vine and then leave one long stem and one short steam. The short steam should be cut so that it has two buds on it. The following year the long stem from year one will be cut and then short stem will become the long stem and one of the two buds will become the short stem which will be left with two buds for the following year. Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Don't forget that Marie and her hubby are doing all this by themselves. After walking to the fields Marie took us up to their little cantina which I felt right at home in. This part of the process I knew! They were lucky enough to have been involved with fruit harvest before so they already had a place that was temperature controlled in which to put their cantina. After the cantina we went into their home to taste their wine. We tasted their wine, Condrieu vs. a Vioginer which they also made because they wanted to point out the difference in the taste even though Condrieu is made from the Vioginer grape. The difference in the taste is due to the AOC controls- yes, that's right, the AOC even controls the TASTE of the wine. So if they did all this work to produce a batch of Condrieu wine and an AOC guy came in and said, "Nope, the taste is not up to par," then they would have to sell that whole bacth of wine as Vioginer, thus bringing in a lot less money. The French are pretty darn serious about their wine. And apparently this is why a lot of Frenchmen are moving to the States to produce their wine. We're all willy nilly with our wine and do whatever we want (obviously not litterally, but comparitively) so they can make wine the way they want to! Marie also pointed out the label of their bottle which is sentimental to her husband because his family lived off the river, they also played a sport like jousting only on boats! I had never seen that before so that's why I took a picture of his picture where his ancestors are playing the game. When we departed they allowed us to keep the bottle of Condrieu which is usually a pretty expensive bottle of wine. It was a great trip and I learned SO much! We drank our wine that night with pizza from the local pizzeria. When we went to pick the pizza up the guy told me it would be better than the Italian pizza, and I would have to tell him what I thought. Luckily I didn't see him again because it was in fact not as good as Italian pizza, but really now, how can anyone even try to be better than the Italians at making pizza! It was good though, just not AS good.

The next day we all slept in a while then had a lunch of fondue paired with a French Chardonnay (my favorite!!!...okay well I have a lot of favorites, so maybe it's better to say the French make Chardonnay the way I prefer to drink it!). Stephanie showed me the proper way to clean a fondue pot, with an egg! After everyone has stuffed themselves with crusty bread and cheese then you crack an egg into the pot and make an omlette, preventing the hassel of cleaning hardened cheese and makeing a tastey after dinner snack! After lunch we got ready for an outing to the city of Lyon. I was on a mission to find my ring! Lyon was a typical touristy place, filled to the brim with people, lots of shops with typical French type things. I saw lots of typical restaurants called Bouchon which is the French word for cork. I also saw lots of spiral staircases which are typical to this specific region in France. The neatest thing (and quite possibly the creepiest thing) I saw were the puppets. I say creepy because I was that little kid who was scared to watch Pinoccio when I was little...people controled by strings is a bit freaky to me. *Shivers* Either way, the puppets were neat to see, and you will probably recognize the two characters of the police and the man with the bat. We also saw a really neat clock in one of the churchs that was very intricitaly designed. Patrick was starting to become tired of the shopping and touring and did a typical boy thing of standing in the door to a sports bar to watch the game (in his case a rugby game). I tried to get a picture but he caught me in the act. So with one boy at maxium shopping limit I started to really search for a ring and I found a store that had what seemed a gagillion. I was determined to find one so I looked through every single one, found about 5 I liked and finally narrowed it down. The ring was designed by the girl who sold it to me, a real French lady, so I was happy. I also tried some more of those delicous tiny little cookies, macarons, from a specialty store that sold only those cookies. I had praline and strawberry puff and they were good but I prefered the less complicated lemon one I had eaten in Paris. Just in time for the second boy (Jesse) to reach his shopping limit we were headed back to the car. Just about that same time everyone else in Lyon headed back to their car. It took us about an hour before we made it out of the parking garage (which, I forgot to mention, have a really awesome system for telling you if the lot is full and if the row you're passing has any open slots, and all the lots in the city are titled/named so you can easily remember where you parked! Anyone who's tried to park in one of Missouri State's parking lots on a Monday morning around 10am would appreciate a system like this). We made it home just in time for Stephanie and Patrick to get ready for their harvest dinner with their friend. A harvest dinner is a tradition in France. When the harvest of the grapes is over, everyone who helped to harvest the grapes comes to the winemakers house for a big long dinner and they usually get to taste the new wines from that year. Which normally aren't that good yet because they are so young, but it's a tradition! I was able to stay at the house and get a lot of planning, blogging, and laundry accomplished!

Most of our day on Sunday was consumed by preparation and consumption of dinner with Patrick's daughter, her husband, and their two little ones. Patrick and I peeled hardboiled eggs which Stephanie tackled the giant pumpkin. She needed 1kilo for the pumpkin au gratin...1kilo down 4 more to go! I also helped chopped onions for the sausage dish Steph would prepare for the main course which was really intersting because the recipe uses the leftover stems from grapes! So for this dish you start by sauteing the chopped onions in a little of olive oil and then you add on your sausage links until they are fully cooked. Then you throw in the grape stems and pour red wine of it all and let it simmer for a while until the flavor is good. Simple and very interesting recipe for the rasps (grape stems). Patrick's family arrived at 12:30pm and we didn't finish our dinner until 5:30pm. We had apperatif with vioginer; salad of endive(which is expensive to get in the states, and then goes bad very quickly afterwards) tuna tomes and apples with the Red wine blend(Cab, Syrah, Cab Franc, and Merlot) I had bought that was from the Landoc region in France; main course of the sausage dish with sides of pumpkin au gratin; cheese with crusty bread and Red table wine from Corsica (my favorite cheese was the stinkiest goat cheese...yuuumm); dessert of Almond Tides and Flan with a wine compareable to moscato but a little sweeter; coffee and chocolates. After that I was lulled into a coma for about an hour before I woke up to have the first skype date with my family. They were all together for Thanksgiving. Seeing my family was great, but hard at teh same time. Knowing they were all together and having a great time was one thing, but actually seeing it happen was another. Also I knew from a phone call home the night before that a lot of other important friends and family were in town that weekend. I never thought I could want to be in Dawn, Missouri so much (especially since I was sitting in France)! It was pretty hard to fight that lump in my throat and put on a happy face during the skype date, but I made it through. This should be marked as the first time of my whole trip that I was acutally homesick. I think I fared pretty well to make it such a long time before it happend. Bed called my name early that night and the next morning I would be off to Geneva, Switzerland.

My time with Stephanie and Patrick was wonderful. They were so open with their home and made me feel like family. Stephanie has traveled a lot as well and really understands what travelers want and need (a bed and a laundry room with a shower and food thrown in). She was great for allowing me to relax or workout and always made sure there was something I could eat. She also is very active in helping me find a path for my life, as in a school to attend or a job to work. Of course, I'd have to learn French, but I wouldn't mind! ;)

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