Gourmet Girl Denise here, live from the Loire River Valley, France.
I know this blog is about camping and the food we can prepare camping, but I wonder if we might digress a bit this time. In some ways this blog is related to camping as it is its’ opposite; staying home, or more succinct, what makes a house a home. All cultures have defined the structures that provide them shelter in their own way; some with animal hides to make teepees (a lot like sleeping in tents!) some in structures made of wood, stone, bamboo, bricks and mortar, mud, metal, and glass. But what is it that gives it soul or what we might call that ‘homey’ feeling? When I am camping my tent becomes my home and a cozy one at that. But I know that it is temporary and that soon I will be going back to my real home(and, thank God, my real bed!) So what makes a structure or house a home?
I recently bought what I am calling my ‘forever’ home here in the Loire. It is a large 18th century, three-story home with a second house behind it in a bad state of disrepair, many animal pens, two barns and four acres of land, mostly covered in brambles(I detest blackberry brambles!)and poplar trees. I have been working on fixing it up lately; jackhammering plaster off of the tufa stone walls (stone needs to breathe or a stone built house will feel damp), lifting tile floors to prepare for under-floor insulation(it gets cold here in the winter), and planning which room will be used for what purpose.
The kitchen, the heart of the house will be huge. It contains a really big bread oven that I can’t wait to fire up, but alas has no floor right now. Soon it will be a warm place for friends and family to gather while I prepare a delicious meal. Wood-fired pizza perhaps!
I believe that food preparation is a big part of what makes a house a home, along with the human contact that comes along with sitting at a table and sharing the food that has been prepared. The smell of warm bread coming out of the oven, a savory stew simmering away on the stove top or fire, even the smell of coffee wafting up the stairs to ply you out of bed in the morning; these things create the sense of place we call home. Of course, the love of surrounding family also adds to this feeling. But what if you live alone? Is your house less of a home if you don’t have other people around? I am one of those people who live alone, well, that is if you don’t count my cat, Milo. Pets also add to the warmth of a home. But what else makes us feel at ‘home’?
As I touch every surface of this old house I am reminded of all of the other people who have lived here and called it home over the centuries. I have found initials carved into the tufa stones that surround each window, perhaps from the person who laid the stone when it was being built back in the late 1700’s, an old portrait photo of a gentleman in the attic (was he the patriarch, the head of this house at one time?), a spiral carved walking stick (who did it support?), old bottles that once held who knows what, two blue and red striped poles with round tops that were held by someone leading a parade, and many other remnants of life gone by, all who called this house home.
If these walls could talk, what would they say? Who did it shelter? Were they happy? Did they love this house like I do? And I do! Even in spite of getting stuck with thorns from the brambles when I try to clear them away from the doors and windows. (Have I mentioned how much I detest blackberry brambles?)
It is a lot of work, and it’s certainly not over yet, but this is what also makes a house a home. I am putting my energy into creating a livable house that will, eventually, become my home.
I do it with love because I want the people who come through my front door to feel the love reflected from these walls. I want them to sit at my table, be nurtured and feel the warmth of the fireplace, and the glow of good company. Whether you live alone or are surrounded by the sounds of your family, it is love that makes a house a home.
And so, as the tulips, gooseberries, and daffodils push up and bloom around my old house, planted by I don’t know who, and the lilacs get a little closer to bursting into bloom, I bid you all a Spring full of joy!
Do you see that fuzzy bumble bee peeking out from behind the gooseberry bloom? Keep looking!
Denise, Gail, and Lindsey
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When remodeling in the Loire, drink lots of Chinon.