I was just sitting here waiting for inspiration to strike, as so often happens on Friday mornings, and browsing through Facebook posts to pass the time, when what to my wondering eyes did appear but a chart of delectable French pastries.
Oh my word! There were familiar ones like croissants, eclairs, and tarte Tatin, but also a host of others as well. Things like tarte au citron, pain au raisins (not your usual raisin bread, but a pinwheel-type pastry), mille-feuille, Paris-Brest, and Saint-Honore. But what caught my eye was the tarte Normande which I of course Googled for a better description, which then led to a David Lebovitz recipe I have to try if I can find someone who still has Calvados left over from what I had hauled home from Normandy two years ago and who could spare me 2 ½ tablespoons of it if he wouldn’t mind sharing.
The next thing to come up on the screen was a photo literally chock full of dozens of French cheeses, the bulk of which most of us have most likely never even heard of.
And then I of course thought of my daughter Kathy.
Two years ago, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, I was in Normandy with my daughters and it was everything you might hope it would be, but never really expected it to be, with miles of fields, flowers everywhere and ancient walled-in houses set right up against the roads or sidewalks. We even rented a whole house, parts of which dated back to the 12th century and was in fact located on Rue du 12iem Siecle (12th Century Street), in the town of Lantheuil.
The whole area was essentially tourist-free unless you ventured a few miles north to the D-Day beaches or one of the cities like Bayeux. The small local markets in nearby Creully were full of amazing fresh produce, inexpensive French wines (since they weren’t imported), and baguettes, croissants and brioche that were the stuff that dreams are made of. We shopped every day, ate one main meal at the restaurant in a centuries-old building, and then feasted later in the day back at our place on fruits, olives, breads, pates (sorry, no accent marks on this laptop) and whatever wines the girls (my daughters Barbara, Kathy, and Kathy’s sister-in-law Cindy) had selected that day.
Kathy was the cheese connoisseur among us, and although the local cheese selection was OK, what she really wanted was to find a real fromagerie, a shop dedicated to just cheese. Such a shop could be found in Bayeux, a city famed for its tapestries, but what we wanted was its cheeses, and so we set out one fine day for the drive slightly to the north and west of us.
If you wanted “touristy,” which we didn’t, Bayeux was the place. Sidewalks choked with people, souvenir shops galore, and block after block of endless shops and stores. But we were on a mission, and guided by a handheld GPS, we soldiered onward.
Unfortunately, the one day we decided to go into the big city turned out to be the hottest day of the year. It was 102 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, with the sun mercilessly beating down on our unprotected heads as we trudged on, seemingly for miles before finally locating our target ... only to be met by a sign in the window declaring the shop to be closed!
If not for the blistering heat radiating up off the pavement (and the fact that we were adults) we might have been tempted to fall to the ground, kicking our heels in a tantrum of disappointment and disgust.
Lucky for us, though, the restaurant that just happened to be next door was open, so we wandered in for cold drinks and whatever food was available at that hour of the day before girding our loins and setting out for the long trek back to our car.
It was only sheer luck that I happened to glance at the fromagerie as we left the restaurant and noticed that the lights were on. “It looks like it’s open!” I shouted, and sure enough, it was. Turns out it had simply been closed for the two-hour lunch break so often found in France.
The cheesemonger was delighted to see us as we all strolled in, almost as delighted as we ourselves were at being there, and a fairly lively three-way conversation between he, Kathy, and me in the middle as translator soon ensued. I can’t remember what cheeses (and there were many) were finally selected. I just remember there was more than enough to keep Kathy in cheese heaven until it was time to head home.
Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.