13. August 2005 · Comments Off on The Inn of the Golden Something or Other: Pt2 · Categories: Domestic, General, History

The tiny dining room on the ground floor of the Golden Something of Other was as unpretentious, and as ancient as the rest of the place, scrupulously clean and un-memorably decorated— kind of like Grannie Jessie’s house, come to think on it. Breakfast the next morning was not served there, but at a couple of tables set up in what would have been a loggia overlooking the courtyard, with a fine view of the six cars packed in like so many metal sardines. The tables were very plainly set, with the same kind of thin plastic sheet over faded checked cloths that I had been accustomed to in Greece, laden with baskets of croissants and miniature brioche. Guests came and went as they pleased, helping themselves to bread, and butter and jam, and café au lait, while the staff constantly replenished the supply from the nearby kitchen. The staff appeared to consist of two grandmotherly ladies in similar overalls and aprons, and half a dozen teenaged girls. Were there anyone else, I never laid eyes on them. My notion of traveler’s nirvana was established right then and there; the most perfect place to stay in all the world would be a simple two-star hotel in a small town in France, run by women.

After breakfast, I took my daughters’ hand, and we went exploring. Either Blois was an extraordinarily small place, or we had driven into the historic part of by chance, arriving as we did on the old road from the north. We walked down the main street in front of the inn; after about a block, it dipped into a shallow defile, curved up on the other side, around a low hill— and there was the fabled chateau.

Grand Staircase, Blois

(Grand Staircase at the Chateau)

At the end of the tourist season, and fairly off the beaten track, it was pleasantly un-crowded, empty stone rooms filled with little but thin autumn sunshine spilling in through the eastern-facing windows. Perhaps it had never had much in the way of furniture anyway; up until the 18th century princes and great nobles had many houses and estates, and moved from one to another, taking the furniture, tapestries and small possessions with them, moving on as the privies overflowed, and the pantries emptied.( A house was essentially an established and permanent camping-place, and the good and great traveled with wagonloads of gear.) Only certain of the wings and galleries were open to the public, we had to show our little blue pasteboard tickets several times to the keepers of various sections. I let Blondie hold her own ticket, and at the last stop, I discovered that she had put it in her mouth, and all there was of it was a little wad of chewed blue pulp. Fortunately the doorkeepers were another set of grandmotherly ladies in overalls (Was this entire town run by grandmothers?), and they laughed, enormously amused when I showed it to them, and let us in.

In the dining room that night, there was an English family with two children about her age; they were passing through on their way home from Provence. The children hit it off, being able to chatter for once in a more-or-less common language. This time, Blondie did not astonish them by naming it: Being a logical and observant child she had worked out that Greeks spoke Greek, Italians spoke Italian, Germans spoke German… and being Americans, of course the term for our native language must follow the same logic. She had very much startled a couple of stuffy Britons, in a hotel in Italy, when she overheard them talking, and announced, with much delight, “You’re ‘peaking American!” We sat at the same table for dinner, comparing notes on the advantages and adventures of traveling with children. The main disadvantage was of course, being fussy about mealtimes. I had just about given up ordering a seperate meal for my daughter in the course of this trip, and so had the English couple. We took full advantage of the European custom of asking for another plate, and feeding ones’ children from whatever main course you had ordered for yourself. Whatever it was, we agreed gloomily, the children were just going to pick at it anyway.

Only it turned out a little different at the Inn of the Golden Something or Other. One of the grandmotherly managers took our orders, and a teenage waitress brought around baskets of bread, and the soup course. The soup had a clear, rich meat broth, and lots of vegetables in it; a delicious foretaste of things to come, and all of us spooned and sipped eagerly. The waitress came to clear the soup plates away, but to our astonishment, all three children chorused for more soup. No, they didn’t want any of the main courses the adults had ordered, they just wanted more soup. The eventually each tucked away three generous bowls of it, while the manager beamed fond matronly approval down on the three small heads over the soup plates.
“That, “remarked the mother of the two English children, “Is the most I have seen them eat willingly this whole holiday.”

It was truely a marvelous dish; I have gone into some of my cookbooks, and this recipe is probably a close approximation to what the children ate so eagerly. It’s a vegetable soup, or “Soupe Minestra” from “The Cuisine of Paul Bocuse”

In a heavy saucepan, render 2 oz finely diced bacon or fresh pork fat. Add 2 medium onions, chopped, 2 leeks, the white part only, finely chopped, and saute until golden. Add 1 carrot, 1 turnip, 1 celery stick, all finely diced, and the core of a small head of cabbage, also finely diced. Cover and let sweat for 15 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Pour in 6 cups rich stock (or water), bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes. Add 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, a handful of green beans, stemmed and cut in 1-inch lengths, 1cup fresh peas, one large potato, peeled and diced and 4 oz broken spaghetti or small pasta. Let simmer for another hour. Just before serving, add another 2 oz. diced bacon or pork fat, mashed and mixed with one minced clove of garlic, basil and chervil to taste. (probably best to simmer for another minute or two, or use butter instead of pork-fat.)

In one of my books— a history book I had along on the trip for reference— I found the bill for our stay there, many years later, and it had the name of the hotel on it, and the address in Blois… but now I have forgotten the name of the book!

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