French Thanksgiving.

No, this has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, really, other than the fact that I am very, very, thankful for it. But I neglected to take any photos of our lovely feast, so this, snapped on our terrace on a day of sunshine, will have to do.

Yes, I know that the French don’t celebrate this completely American holiday.  Well, mostly American- the Canadians, I recall from living there, have their own version that comes in October, but in any case the French do not.  But, we had to have our Thanksgiving celebration, and I have to say that we had a lot of fun putting this together over here.  We had a somewhat full house- unfortunately, part of the guests that we had for the week had to return to Paris so that they could get to the airport in time, but one of our guests was able to stay.  For me, the more the merrier as far as cooking a meal goes!

I arranged ahead of time with a butcher that I’ve come to trust in order to acquire a turkey- you can get turkey meat here easily, but I’ve never seen an entire turkey at the local butcher shop.  So, early Thursday morning, after saying goodbye to one shift of our guests, I headed to St Honore-les-Bains, a tiny little town that doesn’t seem to have much going on except for this fantastic market each week.  And I do mean fantastic.  So much so that it deserves its own post, which hopefully will come later this week (I keep forgetting to take pictures because I’m so enamored with the food!!!)  But last week, just as promised, was the butcher waiting for me with the most perfect turkey I’ve ever had.  This turkey had barely even been refrigerated, much less frozen.  In other words, I’m fairly certain the unfortunate creature had been ambling about, doing turkey things, only the day before.  God bless him for his sacrifice…

After retrieving my turkey, I headed to the vegetable stand for some fresh potatoes, a lovely head of lettuce, some leeks, a handful of brussels sprouts, and some apples for this Alsatian tart recipe that I’ve fallen in love with (it involves creme fraiche, which I’ve concluded that you can add to just about anything to make it amazing).  I also picked up some chestnuts for roasting on the fireplace, and of course, more cheese.  I’m perfectly well aware that cheese is not part of the typical American Thanksgiving dinner, but after all, I am in France…  And oh, the cheeses that this man at the Thursday market has to sell…  I actually count him as part of our education here, because each week, he likes to give my children and I samples and teach us a little something about each one!  Such fun!

I have to say that this was one of the easier Thanksgiving meals I’ve ever prepared, mostly because I didn’t make any dressing. This was not an oversight or laziness on my part:  I am a Texan, and do not consider anything but the cornbread variety of dressing to be an acceptable accompaniment to turkey.  I’d rather have nothing than eat or make the bread stuffing, and thus nothing is what we had since I couldn’t get cornmeal.  Now, if you’ve made cornbread dressing, you know that it is an involved process that must be begun days in advance, and then takes a considerable amount of time the day of.  Not making it made the meal shockingly easy to prepare!  I simply roasted the turkey, which by the way did not have his head still on, basting it with a homemade stock every 45 minutes, made a salad, roasted the brussels sprouts with a little olive oil and sea salt, and caramelized the leeks and added a little of that wonder ingredient, creme fraiche.  Our guest contributed mashed sweet potatoes, and that was that.

May I say that we achieved turkey perfection?  That this was hands down the most deliciously tender and moist turkey I’ve ever tasted?  Even without cornbread dressing?  I’d like to credit this to my mad cooking skills, but I think, really, that the French are onto something here.

Fresh food is better.

More on Autun.

I knew I’d be going back again soon.

While doing a little research on the cathedral that is there, I learned of several more interesting things there in the city- namely, ruins left behind by the ancient Romans.  I had to go see it immediately- I can’t resist a good Roman ruin, and what a fabulous educational opportunity!  Plus, the weather was absolutely beautiful.  A few days earlier, the temperature had barely hovered above zero.  On this day, however, it was a balmy 12 degrees Celsius- we had to remove our coats as we hiked towards the ruins. The Temple of Janus is the first thing that you encounter.  It’s quite spectacular, and rather mind-boggling that this was built in around 15 BC, according to what I read.  I can’t really wrap my mind around that, not really.  From this spot you also have a beautiful view of the city of Autun, and as a wonderful contrast, you can see the brand-new Cathedral Saint Lazare.  Or at least it’s new by comparison.  It’s only from the 12th century or so…

The beautiful town of Autun in November.

Look closely- you can just see the cathedral’s spire through the window of the Roman temple.

There’s a very nice little walk from the temple that leads you along a river to the second Roman ruin that we visited, the Porte D’Arroux.  Also from about 15 BC, it’s simply a part of people’s every day lives here.  As you can see from the photos, a road passes through the middle of the ancient gate, and houses are built right up next to it.  I find this amazing, especially as someone who has studied Historic Preservation in the US.  Adaptive reuse?  But of course.  Why wouldn’t you reuse that perfectly good old stone structure?  The house we are living in, for example, was an old barn that has been turned into a house; perhaps when you build something with walls that are 3 feet thick and made of solid stone, it is actually more trouble to tear it down than to just reuse it.  In  any case, I do wish we in the US could  lose a little of our disposable construction mentality, but I will save that lecture for another day. For now, let’s just enjoy some lovely pictures of a lovely, off the beaten path place in France.

Another view of the city of Autun, with cathedral and the obligatory Charolais cows of Burgundy.
View of Porte d”Arroux from the river.
Porte D’Arroux. An ancient gate as part of everyday life. J’adore la France!
Walking back from the Porte, near sunset.
And I leave you with this one…