I never thought I’d live in a stone house. In California, tradition (and earthquake codes) requires supple wood, whether it was used to build a Reconstruction era Victorian house in Haight-Ashbury, a rustic cabin in Big Sur, or a McMansion in Orange County. Many were built en masse, tract homes covering entire neighborhoods that over decades gained new wings, stories, and windows that today engulf the original. But here in rural France as I drive through any given road I pass by stone houses with crooked walls and slanted roofs.
A large red truck can be seen at the entrance of a barn, chickens and ducks roam freely and I have to slow the car down to a crawl. The earth is anything but flat; bumps and slopes abound, and yet human dwellings and farms are well adapted to this tumultuous landscape. Not all stone houses are equal, but it takes a while to tell them apart. Gradually, I develop a preference for stones of certain colors and sizes, old wooden blinds painted to match the front door, and a montée de grange or barn ramp that is so typical of houses in this part of Auvergne.
In the Loire Valley further up north, the very light pierre calcaire reigns and paints the charming local hue. Conservationists scratch their heads to find ways to preserve the buildings as this material easily erodes and has become difficult to replace. Two weeks ago we saw something completely different and equally impressive when we drove to Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the Auvergne region, a city whose buildings were made using pitch-black volcanic stones.
I will never forget parking in front of the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption cathedral and facing the stare of this imposing gothic building. Even more impressive is the inside: the dark stone produces a contrasted relationship with light, which in turn reflects ethereally on stained-glass windows, engulfed by silence.
In the area near our home, stones come in shades ranging from light beige to dark gray, with a reddish-brown type thrown in once in a while. Some of the older walls combine small and large stones to produce a heterogenous but sturdy whole. On our walks we notice how some houses were altered by tearing a wall down and replacing it with a large glass panel window, juxtaposing transparent and solid. Once in a while, usually in the higher altitude areas close to the ski lodges, a Swiss-style wooden chalet appears and surprises us.
Festive roasted guineafowl + chestnuts, savory pears & glazed winter carrots
| Serves 4-6
Poultry served with roasted fruits is Adélaïde’s family’s all-time Christmas favorite. You can also use apples (make sure to pick a variety that’s good for cooking otherwise they fall apart).
- 1 whole guineafowl
- 100g butter, melted
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 10 or more pearl onions
- 1/2 lemon, cut into wedges
- a few rosemary sprigs
- a few thyme sprigs
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 400g pre-cooked chestnuts
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 2 tbsp brandy
- coarse salt
- Take the bird out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before roasting. Stuff it with the unpeeled garlic cloves, pearl onions, lemon wedges, rosemary & thyme sprigs. Make sure to also add coarse salt as well as some melted butter into the cavity.
- Using a brush or your fingers, coat the guineafowl with melted butter. Massage it thoroughly so that the skin soaks in all the grease. This will prevent the bird from drying when roasting.
- Roast in a preheated oven at 190°C for app. 1 and a half hours in total, depending on the size of your bird. After 30 minutes, pour the chicken stock over it. Half an hour before the end, place the pre-cooked chestnuts and pine nuts around the guineafowl. Season to taste and drizzle with brandy. If the bird’s skin turns too dark, cover with foil.
- Once the guineafowl has a nice golden color, remove and sprinkle with herbs for presentation. Make sure to keep the sauce to serve in a separate bowl.
The savory pears:
- 3 firm pears, peeled & cored
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- salt & pepper
- Peel the pears and cut them in half, keeping the stem for presentation. Core each half with a knife.
- Lay out the pear halves on an oven-proof pan and pour stock & lemon juice over them. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with brown sugar. Season to taste.
- Roast the pears in a preheated oven at 190°C for app. 25 minutes, turning them around once in a while to make sure they roast evenly. Once cooked, keep the extra liquid to mix with the guineafowl’s sauce.
The glazed winter carrots:
- 6 medium-large carrots, peeled
- 40g butter
- Cut a small hole (the size of a walnut) in the middle of a sheet of parchment paper, big enough to cover your pot.
- In a pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Throw the carrots in right away and cook for app. 3 minutes making sure to coat them evenly. Sprinkle with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
- Pour water over the carrots so that they are just covered, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Place the parchment paper on the surface so that the steam mainly escapes through the hole in the center and not the sides.
- Cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking with the tip of a knife if they are cooked all the way through. If there is still a lot of liquid in the pot, uncover and let it evaporate or drain and serve.