Monday, March 27, 2006


Quercy (that's the old name for this part of France) is duck farming country. A friend who is writing a novel asked me for the actual duck dishes that one would expect to find on a menu here. As she suspected, duck à l'orange is more Anglo-Saxon than it is French: you get a clue when you find that many recipes for it specify marmalade rather than seville oranges. So I was happy to do a little research for her in the local restaurants.

The sweetest duck dish I found was le magret de canard au miel, duck fillets (lean duck breasts) in honey sauce. Another restaurant offered la brochette de magret de canard aux pruneaux, duck breast kebab with prune sauce. I wasn't tempted by either, but was drawn to several dishes with le confit de canard, originally the local preserved duck (brined, baked and stored under a layer of its own fat), but nowadays often just bought-in baked duck in its own juices. It's great on its own, but also inspires dishes like le cassoulet au confit de canard, cassoulet being the traditional white bean and maybe meat stew from Cathar country, South of the Lot.

Magret de canard also appears with sauces that one associates with steak, like les aiguillettes de canard au sauce poivre, tender strips of duck in peppercorn sauce, or less floridly le magret de canard au poivre. Worth a try is la brochette de magret de canard gras, sauce aux cèpes, fatty duck breast slices on a skewer with cèpe (porcini) sauce.

Smoked duck breast turns up in dishes, notably Salade Quercynoise, where it appears with gizzards, often foie gras, and of course frisée or other salad. Around here, gésiers (gizzards) and foie gras are from ducks as often as from geese. You even see kebab of duck hearts as an appetiser. Foie gras turns up in many guises, for instance assiette aux deux foies gras de canard (figues et poelé) foie gras two ways, in fig sauce and pan fried.

Wish us an escape from la grippe avaire.

Friday, March 24, 2006

What a Mess!

It's a lot warmer and new flowers blossom every day, but it's hard to extol the virtues of Spring, when you have a ceiling down, a rotten roof and short-circuits in half the lighting. What a series of minor domestic catastrophes brings home is the craziness of the French employment system. The employers can't afford to take on workers and the unemployed can't afford to work. That means that I can't get my roof fixed this year.

The government's badly presented CPE (a proposed exemption from the two-year employment guarantee for employers taking on first-time employees under 26) has aroused the battle-cry of "No work is better than work without security." A weird alliance of over-protected baby boomers (who know their rights) and the unemployed armies of the underprivileged in the city suburbs (many of whom will probably never be employed) makes for manifestations and general strikes. As France is governed by the patricians but controlled by the unions, it's really up to the latter to propose a solution, but they are more interested in bringing down the government.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Change of Seasons

Seasons rarely change gradually: one day it's winter and the next it's spring, or so it feels. The harbinger of spring for me was the hedgehog that scuttled across the road when I came home last night. This morning, not only had it not dropped below freezing during the night, but the sun came out before 8 a.m. I saw my first butterfly of the year. A pair of magpies arrived in the Judas tree, but were mobbed by the doves that had claimed it for a love nest only two days beforehand.

Then it hailed - mothball-sized hail. Thunder and lightning and torrential rain followed. Water started coming through a bedroom ceiling; I wondered if anyone would be available to work on the roof the next day. An hour later, the ceiling fell down. It was a long night.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

.05 milligrams per millilitre

The fuss over the speed cameras has died down, but the aggressive monitoring of driver blood alcohol levels by the police is changing the lives of country restaurateurs and their customers alike. Les Gendarmes don't need any suspicion of drunk driving to breathalyse motorists here. Everyone is pulled over in a spot check, and there seem to be squads out locally every night.

Although friends confirm the €90+ fine for speeding, none has yet to fail the breathalyser test (although one was reduced to flirting to avoid being nicked). We thus have no confirmation of the advertised penalty of three years' loss of license, one year in jail and a €1000 fine. Taxi drivers are doing good business - perhaps that's why taxis no longer automatically meet the evening train.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Almost Spring

Although the snow is now a distant memory, it still drops below freezing point most nights and many plants are still dormant. The bulbs are beginning to flower, so Spring cannot be far away. Cahors had three days of solid rain earlier this month and the Lot river is running high.

My friend who keeps chickens tells me that the fine for letting them run free is €600. That's enough to get his attention, so he has stir-crazy hens (still open to the elements and presumably vulnerable to la grippe aviaire). Haven't noticed any drop in the price of poultry meat yet.