Brrr! It’s winter again, what confusion. Just yesterday I noticed the catkins swinging from the hazelnut tree in my courtyard and I thought Wait! It’s only mid-January, they’re way too early. Sure enough, this morning frost covered the ground. If my understanding of tree biology is correct, those little catkins are the precursors to my delicous hazelnuts – if they freeze, it may be a hazelnut-less year on Rue Tatin.
On a much happier note, I just returned from the farmers’ market at le Neubourg, where Fiona and I go every other week. This chilly Wednesday we left Louviers in the pitch dark and pea-soup fog. Once out of town and driving through the Plaine de Neubourg, however, the fog had mostly lifted, aside from vestiges wrapped around farmhouses and church steeples that were etched against the sky.
Fiona and I have a routine at Le Neubourg. Our first stop, after parking helter-skelter on the sidewalk, is Le Fournil d’Eugénie where we buy apple beignets, and bugnes. Bugnes are tiny bits of beignet dough fried and dusted with sugar, and they melt in the mouth. We take our little treasure bags to the Café de la Place in the heart of the market, where owner Xavier brings us the usual, a double espresso for me, a small hot chocolate for Fiona. We enjoy it amidst the cacophony of vendors and market-goers; this time the crowd included a handsome, elderly gentleman sipping a Calvados and a coffee, a regional habit that is mostly out of fashion.
We headed straight for Bruno’s fish stand where there were so few customers we ended up with a lively lesson on scallops, fishing, and general market life. Baptiste, our favorite farmer, stopped by – he didn’t have any customers at all, and was making the market rounds. He and Bruno kissed with affection. They attend the same market each week not 100 meters from each other, yet there are so many stands and so much hubub between them they never visit. Both close friends of mine, it turns out they’re linked through family, and I didn’t even know they knew each other. I should have known. Everyone at every market knows everyone.
Fiona and I ended up with scallops for lunch and goat fish for supper from Bruno; leeks, bright yellow beets and the worlds’ best potatoes from Baptiste. Fiona wished for blood sausage, so we stopped into the charcuterie for a fat one, some air-cured sausage and two fat, juicy pork chops.
Our shopping finished, we headed for home over a now sun-flooded plain, our cheeks chapped from wind and cold, our stomachs rumbling with hunger for all those luscious things in our basket.