Leaving Minnesota for the Lot et Garonne
Katie runs a cookery website from France
When I was a teenager, I dreamed of travelling the world, working at odd jobs and learning about life. Then I grew up, went to work, got married, pursued a career, became disenchanted and started thinking about travelling the world again. Fortunately, my husband felt the same. We were ready to move but we needed something to do. We needed projects.
We’re from Minnesota and neither of us were fluent in any language other than English. After a lot of discussion (over good wine) we opted for Ireland (they spoke English and it was warmer than Minnesota). We would buy a big, old house and do a B&D (Bed and Dinner – I’m not a morning person).
In preparation for this adventure I spent the last year (whilst we sorted everything out) going through my 100+ cookbooks and making something different for dinner every night – all 365 of them. Once again life interfered. The week we moved, I was offered a job that I could do from anywhere. It was too good to pass up. But plans had been made. We moved to Ireland and stayed for a year. From there we moved to Andorra (tax reasons and the ability to drive anywhere without taking a ferry). We stayed in Andorra for six years, until my job was finished; then turned our eyes to France.
I would like to say we did extensive research and chose our location carefully… We didn’t. We got in the car and drove. If we saw a village we liked we looked for an estate agent and looked at houses. We were more concerned about the house than the area. Our first house was in the Vendée. We were in a little hamlet with acres of land, fruit trees and a small vineyard. Yes, a vineyard.
The romantic dream of it is much nicer than the hard reality. We had 500 vines that produced mediocre rosé wine. Everyone wanted to come for the picking – and why not? Picking a few grapes in the warm, autumn sunshine, followed by a convivial dinner of good French food and wine…. What’s not to like? No one, and I repeat, no one, volunteered to come in February to trudge through the mud, in the cold rain, trimming back the dead vines. There weren’t any helpers all summer for the spraying, trimming, tying and mowing that was a constant part of our life, either.
After three years, we moved on. Once again, we searched for the house, not the area, although we had decided we wanted to be a bit further south… and here we are, sitting on the crest of a small hill in the Lot et Garonne. We have a big, old farmhouse in need of lots of work. It wasn’t habitable for the first six months, although we moved in after five. My husband is doing the work so it takes time.
When we moved to the Vendée I needed something to do. I had noticed on my trips back to the US that very few people cooked – and many of the younger generation didn’t seem to even know how. I started a cooking website, Thyme for Cooking, specializing in all natural, seasonal, easily prepared meals. That’s fun, but I love to tell stories; I needed a more creative outlet. I started a food blog, but it also covers our house restoration, two new puppies and the ups and downs of our life in France.
What is it like for Americans living in France? The paperwork is horrendous (as Americans we have to file for Carte de Sejour every year) but the bureaucrats are all so very nice and helpful it’s almost painless. This year they helped us get our 10-year Carte de Residence! Traveling all over by car is fantastic and once we figured out how to do it the French way, not expensive.
Most of the local people we meet are very interested in us as Americans and in the US, so they are eager to chat and are very patient in helping us with our French. We study, go to classes and try to have conversations in French, but we aren’t nearly as diligent as we should be. French conversation classes are a great way to meet new people, as well as to learn.
I’m often asked what I miss most about the US, and, honestly, I usually can’t think of anything. Well, I can’t get Green Tabasco Sauce here. The range and quality of fresh food is outstanding. I don’t use prepared foods, so I don’t miss that. As to the wine, most people don’t realize that almost everywhere in France is ‘wine country’, not just Bordeaux and Burgundy. We love going to the smaller, local vineyards, tasting and buying.
And then there’s Paris…
As to the food… What can I say?
Corsican beef and pasta from Thyme for Cooking
24oz (750gr) beef, suitable for braising, cut into 1 1/2″ (3cm) cubes
6oz (180gr) dry-cured ham, Bayonne, 2 thick slices, cut into small cubes
15oz (450gr) whole tomatoes with juices, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4oz (125gr) mushrooms, forest or ceps, cleaned and chopped
1 tbs olive oil
1 cup (8oz, 250ml) white wine
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
1 tsp oregano
2 pinches nutmeg
4oz (125gr) linguini, spaghetti
- In a heavy Dutch oven, sauté onions, mushrooms and garlic in olive oil until starting to brown.
- Add beef and ham to onion mixture and brown lightly.
- Add the tomatoes juices, wine, herbs and nutmeg. Cover and simmer for 3 hours.
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- When done, drain and toss with some of the juices from the meat.
- Arrange on a platter, spoon meat into the center and serve.
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