Making Compote, Making Friends

The day after the incident with the text message and shortly after DS was stung by a hornet, I was chatting to our neighbour (voisine) – “M” – who kindly invited us to join her the next afternoon when she was expecting a visit from a friend. Together they were going pick the pears that had ripened and make them into compote. Would we like to help? Yes, lovely!

During this same conversation she’d been trying to tell me something (in French, of course, as  M doesn’t know English) about a congélateur. I was tired. She was saying something about putting pears in the congélateur for 12 hours then they would keep. Eh? I envisaged her friend coming down from Paris with some fancy processing machine I’d never heard of.

The next day, when James had to pop out on an errand leaving me with the two smalls who were keen to play outside, I saw M was busy preparing the pears with her friend so popped over to ask her about her congélateur and to help. What is it? Could she show me? She led me through to the kitchen to… the freezer, of course! Feeling a bit daft and with that cleared up we headed to the terrace to join her friend who was still busy chopping pears ready to cook down on the stove into compote. My French was sadly lacking that afternoon (it was about 5 o’clock already and it had been a looonng day after another not so great night) and while usually M and I can muddle along, I was really struggling to either hear or speak – but luckily her friend spoke enough English that between us we could manage a conversation. It didn’t take long before I was seated at the table chopping pears while the kids picked out and ate the juiciest ones in between bashing rocks with sticks. We’re quite easy to please really.

James arrived back just as the pear preparations were complete and bubbling away on the stove. By now it was 6pm, so what else to do but pop open a bottle of vin de noix and rest before continuing with our evenings. I think I’ve discovered a new favourite tipple. Maybe it was the booze, but somehow my French came back and I managed to join in the conversation with M, her friend and James. Since her friend is here to buy a house and has a similar remit to us we talked house prices, the English invasion (they’ve pushed up the prices here and aren’t popular for it) and how there isn’t any work locally to justify the high prices and then what can be done about all that. It was really lovely and just what I needed after the unpleasant encounter with Mr. Front National two days previously. Because M doesn’t speak English it forces me to speak French and she is so patient with me, as I try to wrestle words from the back of my tired brain, always telling me to take my time when she sees I am getting frustrated. I think she likes us and we all really like having her over the road, sharing her knowledge of the place, the people and the land. Even though sometimes I can barely understand half of what she’s saying we get the idea muddling along together, or we just give up with a shrug and a laugh and go on our way. Other times it all just flows and then magic happens – along with compote.

We had a takeaway!

If I had to list one thing that I miss about the UK it’s being able to sack off cooking the evening meal and pick up a takeaway. We were totally spoiled for a choice at our old house and being so close to the city and with so many densely populated suburbs around we could have a different takeaway every night. Not that we did: we weren’t big fans of Chinese food so it was usually emergency fish and chips or a curry. At peak times (like when DS was born) we’d have one maybe two takeouts a week. More often it would be one or two a month.

But it wasn’t just takeaways. There were also many great places we knew we could nip out to for a quick and cheap lunch. Actually too many to list but two worthy of a shout out were Dukes in Glossop (definitely a favourite) and Dolly’s in Hadfield. Thinking about it, there was food everywhere where we used to live. Fast forward nine months and here we are in rural France where a) nothing is open and/or serving food outside of regular lunchtime hours of 12-2 and dinner time hours of 7-10 and all those places sell either pizza or burgers or a three-course set lunch (plat de jour) for between 12 and 15 euros, and b) places that sell takeaway are few and far between and at least a 20-minute drive away.

And so it was that James had to make an emergency trip to the tabac in Quillan in order to pick up some e-liquid. It had been a particularly long day with DD really putting us through our parenting paces with lots of shouting and attitude, tired out after a couple of long days and late nights (how do you make a three-year-old sleep!?). He’s been trying to quit the nicotine but hasn’t quite made it yet, so… We’re trying to keep our spending low and one of the main ways to do that is by limiting trips here and there in the car, which means planning round trips for errands rather than thinking of things and going back and forth at the time. Fine. But we’d already been over that way today so I was a bit cross both that he felt this warranted the extra trip and also that he was about to leave me to wrangle both children, one of which was malfunctioning, which would mean a delay to our meal time and, consequently, a later bedtime, which was the last thing DD needed! But then it came to me. There are two Chinese restaurants in Quillan and they both serve takeout – yay!! So that was it. Sod the cost-savings, this was a sanity saving mission and worth any amount of money.

Excited by the prospect of an end to the takeaway famine, off he went armed with rough directions from me based on where I thought it was. I waited expectantly. I’d seen signs on the main road for a restaurant and emporter but couldn’t remember the name of the place, so I did what anyone else would do these days and Googled it.

asian emporter quillan

A place called Asily came up but that wasn’t in the right place. I’d told James I’d find it and check the menu then message him my order, so I had to find it. How hard could it be!?

10 minutes later I’m no closer to finding it. This is a feature of life in France that I really can’t get the hang of, namely, the Internet just doesn’t work properly! Either businesses don’t have websites at all or, if they do, they are shockingly bad with terrible URLs, no use at all to Google, or totally lacking in content – many are still using frames, animated GIFS (flaming text, anyone?), and other horrors that were normal on the Internet over 15 years ago but not the done thing any more. It’s pretty dire. I tried so many search terms. In the end I resorted to using street view in Google Maps to “drive” to the outside and see what it was called. Armed with the name of the place – Tamarin – I was able to Google it and see what I could find. Try it. Try not to laugh. It turns out not only do they not have a website they also aren’t listed on TripAdvisor. By now I’m thinking suggesting we buy anything to eat from here is going to be a bad idea. Then James turns up. No going back then.

When he walked through the door I was half expecting him to be empty handed. It was probably closed. Or not serving yet. Or not serving takeaway. Or didn’t have any change so couldn’t take his order. Honestly, France is like that. Surprisingly though, he managed to both find the place (it’s easier to find in real life than online) and actually buy food there. But it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. Twenty euros lighter, he had four plastic containers of food and was busily warming them up on the hob. Apparently there was no menu and the guy “serving” gave no indication that he would be cooking anything that evening. Takeaway food was prepackaged and stored in plastic containers in a fridge. Sounds weird, right? Of the six or seven dishes there were to choose from James came home with two noodles dishes and two with chicken. That was about all we knew about them.

He heated it all up. We ate it. It was entirely unspectacular. I was struck while eating them that I could have rustled up something tastier for much less money in the forty minutes it took for James to go out and come back. Even with two screaming children in tow I could have done a better job, frankly. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t bad. I’ve had bad Chinese before and this wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t good either. If that’s the standard I can see why takeaway really hasn’t caught on over here. Really. If that was the only one takeaway in the world, yes, I would probably go back but it would be like an act of self-harm, one where it seemed like a good idea at the time but with every mouthful I’d be thinking how I’d rather have spent the 40 minutes cooking something and not spent the 20 euros.

And because they’re not on TripAdvisor I can’t even leave a lacklustre review. Sigh.

So yes, we had a takeaway but it was a far cry from what I was hoping for so now I’m on a mission. If there’s a place out there that serves decent takeaway, I will find it, dammit!