FREE-FLOW­ING ABUN­DANCE

DIS­COV­ER­ING THE DE­LIGHTS OF THE FRENCH DIN­NER TA­BLE, FROM SIM­PLE SAL­ADS TO CREAMY DESSERTS, AND NO WHEAT IN SIGHT

Fraser Coast Chronicle - - WEEKEND - WORDS: ANN RICKARD

If you fol­low this travel col­umn (and I hope you do) you’ll know I wrote last week about quirky B&B ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had.

Af­ter I’d fin­ished writ­ing, I re­mem­bered my first B&B ex­pe­ri­ence and cursed that I had not in­cluded it.

It was in the South of France, so that makes it spe­cial for a start.

We had just started trav­el­ling af­ter be­ing grounded for a cou­ple of decades rais­ing chil­dren.

We flew into Lyon, hired a car and drove into the un­known. This was in the days when I al­lowed my hus­band to tell me it was a good idea to ar­rive in a coun­try with­out book­ing any ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“We’ll find some­thing,” he said con­fi­dently as we drove ner­vously on the wrong side of the road with the wind­screen wipers flap­ping be­cause we kept turn­ing them on in­stead of the blink­ers.

We ar­rived at a small town two hours later and found a reasonably-priced ho­tel. But when we dragged our bags up wooden stairs so rick­ety we thought they might col­lapse un­der our weight, we found a claus­tro­pho­bic, win­dow­less room so un­clean (and that’s be­ing kind) we ran down the rick­ety stairs and fled.

And drove on.

By this time it was late after­noon and we had nowhere to stay. We found an in­for­ma­tion booth in the next town rec­om­mend­ing a newly opened B&B a few kilo­me­tres away. We didn’t have much faith, but we didn’t have much choice ei­ther.

We drove off the main road along nar­row tracks flanked by vine­yards and sun­flower fields and although it was pic­turesque be­yond de­scrip­tion, it ap­peared to be in the mid­dle of nowhere. When we even­tu­ally found it, we were greeted by a timid man who gave true mean­ing to the look a rab­bit has when caught in the head­lights. Maybe it was we big Aus­tralians, but this man was ter­ri­fied of some­thing.

He showed us to our room, very nice, and kept say­ing “wheat, manger, wheat, manger, wheat, wheat.” He had not a word of English and my school­girl French had long fled.

“Why does he want us to know about wheat in the manger?” I asked the hus­band when we were alone. “Is it some­thing bib­li­cal?”

When I worked out the fright­ened man was ac­tu­ally say­ing “Huit, manger” I was over­come with em­bar­rass­ment. “8pm, eat.”

We were the only guests in the small din­ing room over­look­ing green vines. We did not know din­ner was in­cluded in the small B&B price, quite the bonus, but we had no ex­pec­ta­tions.

First, the fright­ened man brought small sal­ads, lightly dressed and so fresh and sim­ple and per­fect, our taste­buds awoke from a life­time of slum­ber. Then came a chicken dish, moist and suc­cu­lent and with lit­tle roasted pota­toes and green beans. Then a plate of cheeses we had never en­coun­tered be­fore – mun­ster, roque­fort, can­tal. And carafe af­ter carafe of good red wine. And bread, oh, the love­li­ness of the French bread.

We tucked into every­thing, as­ton­ished at the gen­eros­ity (es­pe­cially, the un­lim­ited wine… heaven). The only down­side was the fright­ened man who kept pok­ing his ner­vous head around the door, ob­vi­ously check­ing to see if we were ready for the next course or wanted more wine.

It was as though he was hid­ing just out­side the door spy­ing on us. He was very nice, but ob­vi­ously scared of us, although vis­i­bly im­pressed at our abil­ity to pol­ish off all the bread and cheese. On his next peek around the door he brought with him per­fect creme caramels, all wob­bly and creamy and so de­li­cious we couldn’t speak for a while. Then cof­fee. And petit fours.

We knew not then of the abun­dance of the French din­ner ta­ble: the free-flow­ing wine, the sub­lime cheese, the un­lim­ited bread, all an in­te­gral part of a meal, just as im­por­tant as the en­tree, main course and dessert.

We’ve never looked back.

Read more of Ann at www.an­nrickard.com

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