Hello my dear reader and welcome to another slice of life at Chez Comb, only it's a slice of life in the Charente region of France. We have been house and menagerie sitting for my Editor, fondly known by me as Genghis. She is not as savage as her namesake but she takes no literary prisoners either. Thus I always submit manuscripts to her in slight trepidation but always in the hope that I will come out the other side of the experience with my skin and scalp intact.
We spent a very pleasant few days with them before they went off to England for a family wedding, one of our excursions being a trip to the local Monday market followed by lunch at a nearby restaurant. Spouse thoroughly enjoyed himself cruising the cooked meats and cheese stalls - sampling all the wares of course and working up an appetite for lunch.
The French do lunch very well. Fresh food, beautifully cooked and presented, accompanied by carafes of local wine and all very reasonably priced. You will be now know my dear reader, spouse has a very healthy appetite and that's the polite way of putting it. As you are aware I food shop on an industrial scale and am the shopkeeper's new best friend.
So, there we were in 'La Estelle' seated at a table next to four elderly Frenchmen who dined in the moderate way of the French - a little of this and a little of that, helped down with a small quantity of fresh crusty bread and a glass of rosé. Polite chit chat ensued as we took our seats and sized up the five course set menu of the day. Spouse had made a good repast at breakfast but a wander around the food stalls at the Marché had sharpened his appetite.
Now my dear reader, if there is one event I strenuously work at keeping him away from, it is a free-for-all buffet. And what did La Estelle have? Correct. Right on the nose, a buffet for our starters. My heart sank. Spouse would have a field day. And so he did. One plateful of mushrooms in Provencal sauce, cold meats, pasta, lentils, paté, tomatoes and crusty bread and butter was consumed with gusto. So far so good. That's the first course put to bed. Only it wasn't. Spouse so enjoyed the first taster that he went back for a second plateful. Ooo la la, the elderly Frenchmen smiled indulgently on him and Francoise, the cheery welcoming waitress cruised by ready to take our plates away and was surprised to find spouse still enjoying 'la buffet'.
The second course was French fabulous. Slow cooked coq-au-vin in a delicious sauce with herby potatoes. Genghis and spouse Brian could not manage all the potato and neither could I. We off-loaded some to spouse's plate and he partook with great gusto, mopping up the sauce with half a French loaf. By this stage our elderly French friends at the next table were intrigued. They were on the small and slight of build side of things - spouse as you will recall is of the blonde, blue-eyed viking ilk, with hollow legs to accommodate vast quantities of viandes, which in this case was a second plate of wedges of bread and butter. Francoise brought it with great good humour and our elderly French friends watched in fascination as it rapidly disappeared, along with quite a variety of delicious cheeses.
Francoise returned to enquire about dessert. Brian was having his favourite peach melba, Genghis, the strawberry tart and I passed on dessert. Spouse wasn't having that. 'She'll have the tiramasu', he said and grinned up at Francoise. 'In fact, make that two. Tiramasu's my favourite.' Francoise rolled her eyes and peeled away to fetch the puddings.
By this time our polite elderly French friends at the next table were agog and could not hide their interest and amazement at l'anglais and his bon appétit. They tried to carry on their own conversations, but when Brian piled a dollop of fresh cream from his pudding on to spouses, a respectful silence descended upon them. They watched in awe as spouse demolished a mound of cream and tiramasu and then swopped plates with mine, attacking the second dessert with enthusiasm.
By now our French friends had finished and were ready for departure. Gravely they saluted spouse, 'grande force' and 'beaucoup de respect Monsieur'. As we to took our departure, Francoise shook hands warmly with spouse and offered him a sandwich with cold meats in to keep him going until he got home!
It is not often the English dumbfound the French, but I have a feeling that after our sojourn in the Charente, there are quite a few locals walking around shaking their heads in disbelief. And spouse? He went on his merry way loving all that France could throw at him, quite oblivious of the culinary nervous breakdowns he left in his wake.