My mornings in France have taken on the kind of familiarity I feel restored by, as I discover and accept that I am just as much a creature of habit and routine as I am of change and adventure. Perhaps even more so.
I wake perched precariously on the edge of our bed, with Lee fast asleep on the other side, and our resident cat sprawled lazily across the vast gap between us, the King of the castle. As the only early riser in this temporary household, the mornings are mine alone, and have fast become my favourite part of the day.
I pull on a sweater and stand at the kitchen window while the kettle boils, gazing sleepily at the cloak of mist that invariably carpets the hills beyond the chateau, rolling and rising like the sea. I walk from room to room, drawing back curtains and pushing open shutters, the closeness of winter hanging in the air like a whispered promise; inevitable and true.
And so the days begin, with coffee and quiet reverie. I had plans of regular walks in the morning stillness, but the biting cold and my apparent inability to get out of my pyjamas much before noon have relegated this to an occasional stroll through the grounds, most often spurned by my growing passion for foraging, or the occasional visitor to the chateau.
This past week, it was the turn of my dear friend Monica, who was given the grand tour of all my favourite country corners, where we stuffed our pockets with the few remaining figs that still clung to barren branches, revelled in the beauty of the frost-trimmed leaves, and harvested some delicate lavender stems for a recipe I had been saving for just such an occasion.
Food has become such an integral part of my experience here in France, I suppose as is only right in a country famed for its culinary acumen. From learning to recognise wild fruits and vegetables, to filling my basket at the weekly market, to researching recipes on Pinterest, to finally, and most importantly, indulging my burgeoning passion for baking, food is never far from my mind, or my mouth for that matter. For weeks I had been tempting Monica with photos of home-cooked offerings, so when she finally caved and booked a last minute flight from New York to Paris, it was inevitable that food would bear prominence over her time here.
And so we began with lavender, the tender stems standing proud of their frozen bushes as they silently guard the front of the chateau. I knew I wanted to cook with these fragrant flowers, and had already found a deliciously tempting recipe for lemon and lavender cookies that Monica and I soon set about bringing to life. While Frank Sinatra sang out from my laptop, we donned our aprons, filled our wine glasses, and began.
Sifting and kneading, rolling and cutting, it was a perfect afternoon made all the more sweet by being together for the first time since January, when Monica visited me in India, excitedly breathing in the aroma of cookies turning golden in the oven. In all honesty, our first batch overcooked to a slightly less tempting shade of brown, but the second were cooked to perfection, and with a slick of frosting and a sprinkle of lavender on top, it was time for the best part of all: eating them.
The cookies were a sublime balance of tartness and perfume, and we loved them so much that I thought it would be nice to share them with you too. As such, I have put together a little printable recipe sheet, featuring some hand-drawn flourishes I enjoyed sketching almost as much as I enjoyed eating the cookies themselves. It’s free to download, and available here. Please feel free to print out as many copies as you like, and share it with all of your friends. I hope you will enjoy the cookies as much as we did!
The days that followed were spent attempting yet more recipes, some with greater success than others (I officially make the worst pumpkin gnocchi in the world. My friend Brian, on the other hand, makes the best I’ve ever had). We then ventured out in search of food prepared by professionals, driving to the neighbouring medieval villages of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, and Montpezat, 13th and 14th century beauties nestled deep in the heart of the Midi-Pyrénées.
Our numbered days together passed all too quickly, as such times are want to do, though not before a fleeting trip to Paris, where food remained at the forefront of our minds. This deserves, and will receive, a post all of its own, but despite Paris being, well, Paris, this was not the part of Monica’s visit that will remain the fondest in my memory. Instead, I will think of the laughter, the deepened bond, the dusting of flour that still remains in the crevices of the kitchen. I will think of the food we made together, the tangible feast we will feel nourished by for years to come.
Now, back amongst the quiet of my work and my boys (Lee and the cat!), the wash of joy that has tinted my life since our arrival in France seems brighter than ever. So many wonderful things have graced our path in such a short space of time, things I am excited to share with you in the coming weeks and months. Amongst this heady mixture of time and stillness, life is happening at a pace far greater than that of the past year out on the road.
Though the mornings are spent in sweatpants and slippers, and I spend more time looking at the countryside from behind paned glass than treading a path across it, I am still moving in the right direction. I have learnt that life tastes all the more sweet when you give it space to simply be, unaided or planned. This time in our lives is like a delicious treat I will savour forever. In the words of Julia Child, Bon appétit.
Missed the lemon and lavender cookie recipe? It’s free to download, and available here. Holy deliciousness.