Today we drove one of our cats, Gaston, to the vet. In between the tortured meows that followed every curve on the windy road down to Yssingeaux, the nearest town, we were all of a sudden struck by the transformation of color that has taken hold of our natural surroundings. The slightly stale green from the end of summer gave way to yellow, orange, and red patches interspersed in the thick foliage surrounding us on our descent.
“That’s it,” I told Adélaïde when it hit me, “we’ve made it through a whole cycle”, with fall now in plain sight, we’ve seen and lived every season here in Auvergne.
We moved in on a true winter day, thick snowflakes falling on the windshield of our rented truck as we approached our final destination, Verne. The GPS must have had a sense of humor as it directed us on the last leg of our journey through the most challenging course under those conditions. It also turned out to be the more scenic option. Compared to the rather bare highway, here we were inching up tiny snow-covered villas of red brick, and gray stone, smokestacks and steep slopes. As soon as we arrived we emptied the truck with the help of friends and family — which turned out to be much faster than filling it in Paris earlier that day — and from then on we were living in a house, (for me, the first time in my life) a real house with a garden in the back and a view of the mountains up front.
No vestiges of the previous seasons are left now, except for the memories of long meals in the garden and bringing our badminton rackets and yoga mats back inside at the end of the day. The Rabeyrin’s are now busy stocking up on firewood, the vegetable patches have almost been denuded of their nutritious garment and the earth left neat and bare. We’ve gone back one hour and night falls earlier, when we retreat indoors to our sofa, to books and to movies, lots of tea, and open a Touraine red wine we’ve been saving up. Sometimes we confuse the sound of rain with the rustling of leaves outside. Above all, we talk animatedly about food and recipes we want to try, the markets we have yet to visit, and places to see in the area. We slow down, and time gallantly obliges.
In Paris, time was punctuated most distinctly by the fever of human events. Instead of moving towards the future, it felt like the future was coming towards us, announced in the form of changing shop window displays for new seasons, screens showing 3D movie trailers in the metro (think “Back to the Future II” when Marty McFly travels to 2015), the next big art show, apps and gadgets, fashion weeks, winter sales, summer sales, the progress of cranes, reconstruction of Les Halles in the city-center, the daily torrent of news… Amid this cacophony, nature was always there, but most of the time it slipped quietly in the background and decorated the quotidian.
Living here feels like stepping outside of that time and that frame of mind. Most human things are static, and the bit of construction in town is a faraway affair that only concerns us when we have to pass thereabouts on occasional errands. It is more common to see cows — corpulent, grass-chewing, slow-moving, happy cows — than people. The farmhouses that were here over one hundred years ago have barely changed. The herculean effort to source, shape, and erect these from stone paid off long past the lifetimes of those who conceived of these projects. It feels like les anciens were not only building for themselves, but also for future generations. The Indian saying puts it well: we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
Nature, on the other hand, is constantly transforming itself and stimulating all of our senses. So much so that my daily obsession became cooking and taking long walks in the forest, things I had never previously imagined I would do with such passion.
Ruby beet soup, goat cheese foam, toasted hazelnuts
& wild arugula | Serves 6
We made two kinds of creams for this soup — one perfumed with goat cheese & honey and the other one simply beaten. You could also choose one or the other to cut down a step. However, we thought the combination of the elements truly stood out, as we were able to taste each and every one of them distinctly but also enjoy them as a whole. You could serve it either hot or chilled!
- 850g beetroots, peeled & diced
- 750ml chicken or beef stock
- 500g fresh tomatoes
- 75g tomato purée
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
- 150g single cream, cold
- 100g goat cheese, cut into small cubes or crumbled
- 1 tsp honey
- a few wild arugula leaves
- 5 tbsp hazelnuts, toasted & roughly crushed
- toasted pumpkin seed oil
- a dash of vodka (optional)
- olive oil
- fleur de sel & black pepper
- Wash the tomatoes and cut them in halves or quarters depending on their size. Roast in an oven-proof pan with salt, pepper & olive oil at 190°C for app. 20-30 min or until nicely soft and colored.
- At the same time, toast the hazelnuts for app. 5 min or until colored, in a pan or directly on a baking sheet. Roughly crush with a mortar or chop once done.
- While the tomatoes are roasting, peel and dice the beetroots & onion. In a pot, sweat the onion for a few minutes and add the chicken or beef stock. Once it’s boiling, add the diced beetroots and season to taste. Bring once more to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for app. 15-20 min or until tender.
- Strain the tomatoes into a bowl to remove skin and seeds. You should obtain a liquid consistency. You could also buy canned tomato sauce but the taste of freshly oven-roasted ones doesn’t compare… Add the raw smashed garlic and tomato purée.
- Combine the two preparations in a blender and mix thoroughly until smooth. If desired, add a dash of vodka! If you want to serve the soup hot, transfer to a pot and keep on low heat while you take care of the creams. If you want to serve chilled, reserve in the fridge until cold.
- In a small pot, melt 80g of the crumbled goat cheese into 75g of single cream. Keep the rest of the goat cheese for serving. Make sure it doesn’t burn nor stick to the bottom of the pan by stirring constantly. Once homogeneous, transfer to a mixing bowl, add the honey and beat with a whisk until cool (app. 10 min). The blend will thicken.
- In a separate bowl or in your mixing bowl after you’re done with the goat cheese cream, beat the remaining 75g of single cream until light and fluffy.
- Serve the soup in bowls and add both creams without mixing too much. Top with wild arugula leaves, sprinkle some toasted hazelnuts, crumbled goat cheese & drizzle with toasted pumpkin oil.