Sunday, 12 May 2013

Famille Nombreuse in Normandy

Hair and clouds on the beach
We went to visit OhPapa's French cousins in Normandy for a few days over the bank holiday, three days of light rain, intermittent shine, and lots of firsts for OhBoy. At the ripe old age of nearly 3, he had his first ice-cream cone on the beach, first swim in the sea, and first nip on the toe by a nasty crab. Also first time realising that cows lie down when it's about to rain (read : all the time).

We were in a tiny village on a northeast tip of Normandy, and it was more of a gust than a breath of fresh air to be out of town and in the veritable middle of nowhere for the first time in months. The weather was freezing to mild and we were very hardy about our outdoor picnics and sea paddling, inevitably leading to a couple of hacking coughs and some very soggy clothes in the 'car' on the way back. Our car was something of a sensation in the village, the sight of four people crammed into a 1990s Suzuki wagon which is just large enough to seat the OhBoy in the back in his seat with his heels on OhPapa's shoulders in the front was clearly not the usual mode of transport for Parisian weekenders.

The countryside was vivid green (how could it not be with this monsoon?) and chock full of Normandy cows in creams and browns, the font of all the delicious local cheeses, Pont l'Evèque being a particular favourite.   Winding roads lead round cattle meadows to steep pebble beaches on inlets between sheer chalk cliffs.

It was really all about the van
I adore visiting the cousins, a French famille nombreuse par excellence, with ten children and 25 grandchildren, it's the family I always dreamed of belonging to. With a constant supply of playmates in the garden and a crockpot bubbling in the kitchen to serve the ever increasing number of mouths at dinner, OhBoy and LaBaby were incorporated into the mass. Maman had a bit of a rest while LaBaby was passed around the many pairs of arms, and the Boy spent the whole time bossily addressing all of them as "children!" - which was certainly easier than learning all the names, I agree. "Children! You coming in the garden?", "Children! Let's go!"

The matriarch of the family is basically one of the wonders of the world, slim and beautiful in her seventies and cool as a cucumber about the dozens of her progeny (plus extras) that littered her garden. She does mealtimes simply and deliciously, whipping up tarts and salads effortlessly and turning out tagines and frites at the drop of a hat before ringing an actual bell to round up the troops. I was literally taking notes on a pad, jotting down recipes as I watched her prepare things for the weekend, I noticed she was not afraid to cut corners and make things as easy as possible, which I admire endlessly. Presentation was important but not overdone, preparation was everything. Pudding was often a tray of shop-bought brownies which were cut up and sprinkled with cocoa powder, or a bag of oranges chopped and mixed with some cointreau and apple juice for a fresh and summery palate cleanser. Cheese was of course, key.

In many ways it was an inspiring stay, and we returned to town with a resolve to be less stressed by the little things (the kids?!), more active (get up earlier!) and to have a huge family of never-ending children. The last part was a joke on OhPapa's part I'm sure. He is hilarious when he wants to be.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderfully perfect holiday!
    Love your descriptions of everything.
    would love to go there this minute too...