We all thought that winter was going to ignore us this year but, no, it’s here.  Snappy cold, hoarfrost lending lace to everything, from the roses to the windshield.

The market in Le Neubourg this morning was a study in chill.  Our first stop is always the same — le Fournil d’Eugenie on rue Dupont de l’Eure.  This morning we hit the jackpot, in the form of beignets de pommes. Luscious pillows of fried dough stuffed with chunks of tender apple, no one else in the area makes them quite as light and feathery.    We tucked one in our basket, and headed to the Cafe de la Place.

We’re regulars here – they don’t even take our order, but arrive at the table with a double espresso and a cup of steaming hot chocolate.  We sip and dip, then make our way from the warm to the cold, fortified, both with warmth and  the latest local news. This morning it was all about the car that had backed right into the cafe’s terrace then raced away without a glance.  A neighbor got the license plate, so justice would be served.

On our way out we greeted Bruno, the fish merchant, there having coffee with colleagues, then went straight to Baptiste’s stand; he was stomping his feet as he carefully covering his vegetables with a blanket.  “Have you had your coffee?” he asked.  When I said we had, he was crestfallen. I made a mental note to ALWAYS ask him to join us from now on.  Business is slow early in the morning, and he loves a warm break.

My basket was soon heavy – with beets, mache, tender lettuce (they were the precious items under the blanket), onions, shallots.  Finished at Baptiste’s we moved next door to Luciano’s.  He stands behind his table piled with mushrooms that are so fragrant they fill the air with their perfume.  He harvests them daily from his own mushroom caves, which I’ll visit next week and tell you about.  For now, I bought a kilo.  He’s new at the market and since his arrival our mushroom consumption has increased tenfold.  I cannot resist the pleurottes (oyster mushrooms), the button mushrooms in both white and velvet brown, the shitake.

A sample of Luciano's mushrooms.

We circle back to the rabbit vendor.  He wants to retire and his business is for sale. I mention this because he so far has no takers so if there is anyone out there dreaming of re-settling in the French countryside, it’s a good business. Rabbit  is highly appreciated in this area, and this gentleman’s is the best around.  He makes sausages and rillettes with rabbit too  – all scrumptious, and his recipes are part of the bargain.

We headed to the fish stand. Bruno was back, side-by-side with his son who has just joined the business.  Both handsome, they look like the before and the after. We got our weekly scallop ration – they’re so fat, sweet and quivery right now – and a handful of tender shrimp.  Sushi was on our lunch menu. More about that later, too.

Our shopping done we headed home, driving through the countryside shrouded in winter’s mantle.  As my hands thawed on the steering wheel, I noticed a sliver of pink off in one corner of the sky, just over the lip of a cloud.  Sly, a little joke of spring, it was a touch of warmth on a cold, grey day.


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