Europe, Food, Travel

Eating in the French Countryside

June 9, 2013
Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Care to travel to rural France with me?

Four years ago, on the same month-long Europe trip based in Barcelona, I spent ten days in Caylus, France. I had never heard of Caylus before, nor its greater region, Tarn-et-Garonne, and the only place I’d been to in France prior to that was, of course, Paris. But a home base of Barcelona made it easy to weed through all the listings on the Help Exchange. My criteria: a reasonable train ride away from the city, my host would ideally speak English pretty well, and some sort of easy gardening work.

All of my criteria were met- and then some.

My host, Jeremy, was English and had lived in France for much of his adult life. He was extremely accommodating (One of my most memorable travel mess-ups was getting locked out of my bank account, therefore running out of cash and needing to sleep in the Toulouse train station. Jeremy drove the two hours to Toulouse to pick me up. Hi, embarrassing much?), generous, and eager to give me a first-hand taste of French country life.

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Look at this quaint cottage! And oh man, I wish you could smell that wisteria.

Before my arrival, we discussed my food preferences (typically, Help Exchange hosts cook for you): I was still a fish-eating vegetarian, oh my goodness yes please to cheese, and the one thing I can’t stand is mushrooms.  Jeremy took the cheese love and ran with it:

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

These came in especially handy when I made sandwiches with the panini press.

My my my, was I spoiled. A few hours of garden work a day, and I deserve all this?

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Travel is so much fun because I learn entirely new ways to combine foods: tuna, red pepper, black olives, and greens.

And this?

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Pasta with crème fraîche, gorgonzola cheese, and green beans. Sinful.

Breakfasts at Jeremy’s house were so delightful, so unique. Sometimes, I even had two.

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

The bread was amazing, especially with Bonne Maman blueberry jam. And what’s not to love about clementines?

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

That blueberry jam served double duty- what made me put it in the oatmeal? What a delicious decision that was.

I believe it was around this time that I started eating walnuts; for most of my life, I’ve only eaten peanuts (fortunately, that’s since drastically changed!).

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

How on earth did I avoid eating these for so long?

Jeremy was an omnivore, but he had a few vegetarian specialty recipes that I ended up really liking. Walnut loaf was a new-to-me dish, and now that I think about it, I should try making it myself some time.

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Walnut loaf and courgettes (zucchini to us Americans) with one of Jeremy’s favorite add-ins, crème fraîche!

We ate a few fishy dinners:

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Pan fried potatoes, salmon (?), and broccoli with lemon juice

And this one isn’t very attractive, but as it was my first dinner in the storybook cottage after my harrowing night in the Toulouse train station, it was much-needed and tasted fantastic:

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Fish curry with string beans…it was good, really!

Here, a picture perfect asparagus omelet to make up for that mess:

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

I admit it, I placed that strawberry there to make for a prettier image.

Of course, when I travel, I invariably get sick in one way or another. I had echinacea with me, and Jeremy provided the honey and the vanilla tea:

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Cinnamon and jam pictured just because. And does anyone else love the name Elodie?

When I put all these pictures together, it seems as though my ten days in Caylus were a small slice of heaven. Jeremy cooked for me and gave me his little stone guesthouse in exchange for 5-6 hours of work in his gardens a day. He also shared a lot of very nice French wine and showed me around the nearby villages (by the way, can we talk about how quiet  and peaceful this region is? The ‘next door neighbors’ were barely even visible from the top of ‘our’ hill).

All was not perfect: since I was sick some of the time, I didn’t work as much as I wanted to, and subsequently felt guilty. Jeremy drove far out of his way to come get me, and there were some issues with my photos and using his computer. Looking back, though, the bounty I received outweighed the anxieties and sniffles.

This pizza in particular helped erase any sense of negativity:

Eating in the French Countryside - Sweet and Savoring

Four cheese pizza with garlic and black olives. You have exceeded my pizza expectations, France.

The more I go through my France pictures, I realize how much more there is to show you! So look for a France Part 2 post  sometime in the future, friends.

It was so nice reminiscing with you 🙂



Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.   –Freya Stark

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  • Aunt Susie June 9, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Yummy! <3

  • Deb Rothaug June 9, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Oh, I love seeing your pictures, and recall how much you shared the memories of that luscious food! Great writing, too!

  • Olivia @ Liv Lives Life June 16, 2013 at 10:30 am

    I love this post! It reminds me of the recaps I did of studying abroad. 🙂
    First of all, I have never heard of Help Exchange. That sounds like such a great program. And lucky that you got a good chef as your host, too! I’m looking forward to the next post!

    • Christy June 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Awesome, thanks! Now you’ve given me the motivation to continue working on France Part 2! The Help Exchange *is* amazing; I love that it’s in so many different countries, and your experience entirely depends on you and your particular hosts. It’s important to work out the details of your stay with them beforehand- sleeping arrangements, food, expected work hours- so there are no confusion and/or surprises once you start! Overall, staying with locals and living their way of life is so enriching, it can be hard to go back to ‘the outsider’s’ perspective of staying in hotels or hostels. Highly recommend it if you ever get the chance!

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