17 November 2017

Autumn leaves — les feuilles mortes

Probably not what you were expecting.

As I wrote in a comment yesterday, I got the new power supply for my laptop and I'm back in business. Now all I need is some inspiration! You might wonder why I can't use my desktop computer for composing blog posts. It's a long story that I will spare you... take my word for it.

By the way, I'm supposed to go get my new debit card from the bank in Saint-Aignan (photo above) this morning. I went there on Wednesday only to discover that my card had been wrongly sent to a different Crédit Agricole agency. I was given the option of driving to that branch office or waiting until today.

I'm not optimistic that the Saint-Aignan agency will actually have the card for me this morning. I've now been without a debit/ATM card since about October 25, which is pretty inconvenient. Besides, I pay an annual fee for the privilege of having an ATM card. The bank has so far been unable to explain why my card was de-activated in the first place. Their error, I say. I'm seriously wondering if it's time to change banks.

16 November 2017

Dead in the water

That's what we used to say in Silicon Valley. In other words, there is an obstacle that can't be overcome, and we can't do anything about it.

Out toward the end of the road

In my case, it's my laptop computer. It's the computer I use early in the morning to compose my blog posts. The power supply has given up the ghost. I've ordered a new one, but it might not get here for another couple of days. I'll be back soon, I hope. The computer itself seems to work just fine, but the battery has a limited lifespan. It just doesn't have any incoming juice.

15 November 2017

En rentrant à la maison (Going back home)

The other day Natasha and I walked out to the end of the gravel road through the vineyard, which is about a mile long. Then we turned around and walked back. It probably seems like a boring walk to the dog, because we don't go up and down vineyard rows or through any woods. But she's a good sport and likes her exercise.

I took this series of photos, hoping that dim morning light conditions and a cloudy sky wouldn't make them come out too blurry to use. Above is the view from about half a mile (plus ou moins un kilomètre) from the house.

Just a little farther along, the house starts coming into view. Our landmark is the tall cedar tree in the yard — about the tallest tree in the whole area on this side of Saint-Aignan.

This is the home stretch. From here, maybe 500 meters from the house, you can distinguish it clearly.

And then we're almost there. That's the other side of the Cher river valley rising up in the background.

14 November 2017

Back yard trees in November

I took some photos early Sunday morning (Nov. 12), as I went out for a walk through the vineyard with Natasha. The light was dim but some of the photos came out. On the left is the linden (or "lime") tree that's right outside our back door.

Yesterday, right after lunch, I took the photo on the right, from a bedroom window. Yesterday (Nov. 13) obviously was a sunny day. It's cold and dry outside now. Click this link to see what the linden tree (un tilleul) looked like in November 2012, but two weeks later.

The wind we had on Sunday (Nov. 12) really knocked most of the leaves off the ornamental prunus tree farther out in the back yard.

Look at this photo of the same tree that I posted on Nov. 13, 2012. I must have taken it on Nov. 11 or 12 that year. There's dearly departed Callie. Les années se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas forcément.

13 November 2017

Boudin noir — good sausages

We ate boudin noir for lunch on Saturday, with some French-fried potatoes and a big green salad. These were boudins noirs made with onions. Another variety is made with apples.

Boudin noir in English is "blood sausage" or (mostly British) "black pudding". The English word "pudding" is a derivative of the French word boudin. For boudin noir, the filling inside the sausage casings is a kind of pudding. There are also boudins blancs, which are made with a "pudding" of bread crumbs, pureed chicken, turkey, or pork, with herbs, mushrooms, truffles, etc.

Here are the ingrédients as listed on the packaging of the boudin noir that we ate, and which I bought at SuperU.

sang de porc 36,5% (origine France) [blood]
oignons 34% [onion]
gras de porc (origine France) [fat]
couenne (origine France) [pork rind]
sel, sucre, épices et plantes aromatiques [salt, sugar, spices, herbs]
boyau naturel de porc [casings, a.k.a. pork intestine]

Remember, natural sausages are made using pork intestines as casings (including hot dogs). Or the intestines of other animals like lambs. And all the meat we eat contains blood, to one degree or another. So boudins noirs are good eats. And tasty. Especially when served with good, hot Dijon mustard.

This is a savory apple tart made with boudin noir. Apples and pork are a good marriage. Here's a link to the recipe.

Boudin noir is sold already cooked. It's good warmed up in a frying pan on medium heat, in a hot oven, on a barbecue grill, or even in the microwave for 5 minutes at about 450 watts (medium). Or baked in a tart.

12 November 2017

A late, wet autumn

I went to the pharmacy last Friday. One of the employees greeted me and asked if I had enjoyed l'été indien (été means summer) that we had experienced in central France in October. It told him I was in the U.S. for much of the month of October, so I'd missed it. The point is, it's rained now for four days in a row, starting Friday. November weather can be depressing.

11 novembre 2017

But there are some pretty scenes despite the rain. The photo above and the photo below are ones I took from our living room windows yesterday, despite a steady drizzle.

11 novembre 2017

Autumn has unfolded very late this year, it seems to me. Look at the photo below, which I took out in the vineyard in October nine years ago. Maybe autumn was just especially early that year. It's hard to remember.

12 octobre 2008

One good thing about having a 12-year old blog is that it lets me go back and review events and conditions in earlier years compared to now.

11 November 2017

Gratin de pommes de terre aux lardons et aux trois fromages

As I said yesterday, I had three pieces of cheese I wanted to find a good use for before they got too ripe, along with a package of smoked bacon lardons and a bag of nice firm-fleshed potatoes. Not to mention a good appetite. So I made a potatoes au gratin dish that fit those ingredients and appealed to me.

I based my gratin on the recipe for Truffade auvergnate (meaning from the Auvergne region of France). I didn't have the un-aged Cantal cheese (called tomme fraîche) used in a classic truffade, but I did have a block of Mozzarella, a triangle of Munster, and a left-over piece of heart-shaped Neufchâtel (a Normandy cheese). All three fit the bill — soft, creamy, and not too strong-tasting once rinds were removed.

 Usually, a truffade — it's called that because French and Italian people thought potatoes resembled little white truffles (truffes) when they first saw them two or three centuries ago — is cooked in a covered pan on top of the stove. I decided to cook mine in the oven, but to sauté the sliced potatoes first in a frying pan, in batches, and then layer them in an oven-proof dish with cooked lardons fumés. After I cooked it, I found this recipe that pretty much describes what I had done, right down to the proportions and amounts.

I cut up the cheese into little cubes — the cheeses were too soft to grate — and just spread them over the top of the layers of partially cooked potatoes and cooked lardons. Then I put a domed lid on the pan and set it in a hot oven until all the cheese had melted and the potatoes were very tender.

For a truffade, the point is not to brown the cheese. It should be melted and creamy. But the potatoes and bacon are slightly browned so that you get that good caramelized flavor. This would be a great breakfast or brunch dish served with eggs. Try not to eat too much.

10 November 2017

Pommes de terre... mais comment ?

It's going to be potatoes (pommes de terre) for lunch today. I bought a bag of nice potatoes at SuperU the other day. They are of the Anoë variety, which are « pommes de terre à chair ferme »  and are ideal for steaming (pommes vapeur), sautéeing (pommes rissolées), or scalloping (en gratin). In other words, they are boiling potatoes, not baking potatoes.

So this morning I have to decide how I'm going to cook them. One dilemma I have to resolve involves bouillon vs. cheese. I have a liter of smoky chicken broth (as well as a liter of smoky pork broth) in the refrigerator. I also have some cheeses — Mozzarella, Munster, Neufchâtel, Emmental, and Tomme de Savoie — that are lurking in the fridge and calling out to me. "Melt us!" — that's what I hear them saying.


One possible potato preparation for lunch is truffade, a specialty of the mountainous Auvergne region of central France. It is made with thinly sliced potatoes, smoked pork lardons (diced thick-sliced bacon), and a bland young Cantal cheese. You cook it in a skillet on top of the stove. Here's a link. Mine will have to be unconventional, because I don't have the prescribed kind of cheese.

Pommes de terre à la boulangère

A second possibility is pommes de terre à la boulangère — potatoes cooked the way the baker's wife would cook them, which means in the still-hot bread oven after the day's bread is baked. These potatoes are cooked in broth with aromatics (onions, garlic, herbs) as a kind of scalloped-potato casserole. Problem is, the pommes boulangère, don't include cheese or lardons. Here's a link.

Pommes de terre gratinées clermontoises (et deux boudins noirs)

Another Auvergne specialty is called pommes de terre gratinées clermontoises and is definitely a possibility. It's made with whole boiled or steamed potatoes, cream, and cheese. You mash the cooked potatoes slightly with the back of a fork to flatten them, put them in a baking dish, and then you pour on cream, sprinkle on grated cheese, and bake everything in the oven. Again, here's a link. If I choose this one, I might have to be rebellious and add some lardons — or cook some sausages to go with the potatoes.

Pommes de terre fumées

Finally, there's an Alsace specialty that is really tempting. It's called pommes de terre fumées ("smoked potatoes") and is made with sliced potatoes, butter, onions, and smoked bacon lardons — but no cheese. Again, a link to the recipe. I have some decisions to make while I'm out walking in the vineyard with Tasha this morning.

09 November 2017

Three for a Thursday

Three photos of Tasha. She's just over eight months old now. She's a pretty good dog, although we still have to walk her on the leash because at the drop of a hat she'll take off running and disappear down the road or into the woods. So far, she eventually comes running back, but it's not a good feeling to lose sight of her like that. She's still a puppy.

Above is her "Are we going out now?" look.

This is the "Okay, I'll wait while you take the photo." look.

Finally, a stylized (a.k.a blurry) shot of Natasha posing in mid-walk on the rue des Laurendières, which runs through the hamlet down the hill from ours. It's interesting that it's called une rue — "a street". It's more of a dirt track, but it makes for a good place to walk, since there's really no car traffic on it. When a car does come along, once in a blue moon, it's going slow enough that we have plenty of time to get out of the way.

08 November 2017

Vouvray once more

Yesterday we did something we don't do often, and we went to a place we hadn't been to in several years. It was Vouvray, where our 17-year-old Loire Valley adventure started in October of the year 2000. That was when we first spent time in the region and stayed for a week in a gîte rural in Vouvray that we really liked.

This is the first Loire Valley winery we ever visited, back in 2000.

In 2001, we spent two weeks with friends in the same gîte (a two-bedroom house with a big open kitchen and living room, as well as a huge grassy front yard). We continued exploring the Loire Valley. In 2002, we decided to see if we could find a house to buy in France, with eventual retirement in mind. We had been living and working in California for more than 15 years. We started our French house search in the Loire Valley, and it wasn't a long search. In fact, four days after we arrived in the area as house-hunters in December 2002, we had bought a house. Now we've lived here since June 2003.

The winery and caves are built into a steep hillside.

One of the places that we stumbled upon in October 2000 was Jean-Claude Aubert's winery, located in an area of Vouvray that's called La Vallée Coquette. Coquette means "pretty" or "charming" and the valley has an element of that, but it's mainly agricultural- and rural-looking. That's one of the things I like about it — it's not prettified or pretentious. It has authenticity. Here's an old post of mine showing the winery from the inside and giving more information about the wines.

Fall colors at the Aubert winery in Vouvray's Vallée Coquette

The point of going to a winery in Vouvray is, of course, to buy some wine. If you don't know Vouvray wines, you might be surprised when you taste them. They tend toward the sweet, and they are some of the most prized white wines in France. They can age beautifully over many years. The only grape allowed in Vouvray and its wines is Chenin Blanc, which is also known locally as Pineau de la Loire.

Grape-growing and wine-making are agricultural endeavors, and it shows.

What we bought yesterday was six bottles of dry sparkling Vouvray, and two bottles each of three still (not sparkling) Vouvray wine — dry, semi-sweet (demi-sec), and "mellow" (moelleux, meaning "sweet" or "dessert" wine). The price for these 12 bottles of fine Vouvray white wine came to less than 80 euros — considerably less than $100 U.S. Yesterday, the two customers ahead of us, a couple from Brittany, completely filled up the trunk of their car with cases of wine and headed home with it all.

Houses and other buildings like these are called "troglodyte" — cave dwellings.

We'll enjoy the sparkling wines over the winter. Vouvray sparkling wines are made by the same process as Champagne but with a different grape varietal. And they sell for about half the price of the most inexpensive Champagnes, which are not inherently better, just different. The sweeter still Vouvrays will be good with, for example, foie gras and figues confites (duck liver and candied figs) at Christmastime, and with holiday desserts including cheese like Roquefort and our local goat cheeses.

Here's Walt maneuvering our Citroën car to get it out of the winery's tight courtyard.

Over the years, I've done a number of posts about Vouvray, and we used to go over there (an hour's drive) more often than we do nowadays.  It was fun to see the place again, and to take a few photos around the Aubert winery.

07 November 2017

Neighborhood houses

The neighborhood we live in is located about half way between the center of the town of Saint-Aignan (pop. 3,000) and the center of a neighboring village (pop. 1,200). In other words, it's two miles (three kilometers) to town, and it's two miles to the village center (much smaller) from our house.

There has been a lot of building around here over the past 15 years. A dozen or more new houses have gone up just 500 meters (a third of a mile) down the hill from our place. The one pictured above is currently being built — out of hollow brick blocks that are like red cinder blocks. It sits right on the edge of the road, on which there is very little car traffic.

As you can see in the photo above, it looks like another large piece of land, next to about 10 houses that have been built over the past 10 years, is now up for sale. Whoever is selling the land needs to find a better sign maker. You kind of have to stand on your head to read the phone number right now.

Separating our hamlet, which is made up of nine older houses, from the new developments and houses down below are a big vineyard plot and a good-sized section of woods. The hamlet on the other side of the woods has its own place name, as does ours. The house above dominates the lower hamlet. It's shutters are always closed. The older couple who live there seem to occupy the lower level and leave the upper level all shut up.

The house above is unusual here because it is built out of wood, not brick or stone. It has an in-ground swimming pool. When it was first built 10 or 12 years ago, the wood was simply varnished but the house has recently been sold and repainted in an off-white a pale gray color.

Finally, this last house is in our little hamlet, just two doors down from us. It was an old run-down farmhouse when our neighbor bought it in about 1970. He and his wife spent years fixing it up. They've told us that a family of nine was living in one room there, with a cow and some chickens in the attached stables, when they bought the place. Unfortunately, the neighbor's wife passed away a couple of years ago. I assume his daughter will inherit the house when the time comes.

06 November 2017

Désactivée — the debit card story

I mentioned a few days ago that my Crédit Agricole debit card suddenly stopped working. It was mysterious, and it still is. Here's the follow-up. After the card stopped working and I discovered that I couldn't use it to pay for an order I wanted to place on Amazon.fr, Walt looked at the Crédit Agricole on-line banking site and saw that my card was no longer listed on our account. Pfft, just gone.

I phoned the bank's help line called SOScarte and I was told that the card was listed as inactive (same word in French and in English). I was advised to go to my local CA branch to get more information. It took me a few days to get to the bank, and when I did go it was pretty confusing. Meanwhile, we kept checking our account to see if there was any suspicious activity there. There has been none, except what I'm describing here.

At the bank, the clerk that I talked to looked at her computer screen and told me that the account the card was attached to had been closed. It told her that was surprising, and I couldn't imagine how that would have happened. She kept looking at her computer to see on what date the account had been closed. I told her I was expecting to receive my regular pension payment from the U.S. electronically that very day. Then she said sorry, I was wrong — the account is still open.

Okay, that was good news. Walt had just recently transferred a few thousand dollars from a U.S. account to the Crédit Agricole to cover our property taxes and other autumn expenses. I told the clerk what the approximate balance should be. She said she could see that balance and added that my pension payment had arrived as well.

She asked me if I had recently reported the debit card lost or stolen, or if I had contested any recent charges on it. No, I hadn't, I told her. When had I last used the card? About a week earlier, I said. In Paris, where I used it to buy a train ticket (I was returning from the U.S.) and at the local Intermarché supermarket. Both those charges showed up on the on-line banking site. I hadn't used the French debit card during my U.S. trip, because I have debit and credit cards on an American account for use there.

Somehow, the clerk said, my card had been reported as missing or stolen, and it had automatically been désactivée by the bank. She carefully checked the card number and confirmed everything. She even turned the computer screen toward me so that I could read it. I didn't have time to see all the details, though.

The only thing she could do, she said, was to put in an order for a new card in my name, and that getting it would take a week. She said she could keep my PIN (le code secret) the same if I wanted, and I said I did. She said I'd receive the code secret by mail (even though it's not changing, there was no other option), but that I'd have to go over to the Crédit Agricole in Montrichard to pick up the new card in about a week's time.

Montrichard? I was again surprised. I told her I had asked that the account be transferred to the Saint-Aignan CA branch more than a year ago, and it had been transferred, as far as I knew. She looked at her screen again and apologized. Yes, she said, you can come to the Saint-Aignan office to get the new card. It should be in by Friday.

I have to say that the clerk didn't really seem to be on top of her job. Since Walt also has a debit card on the account, we've been making do with that one, but it certainly is inconvenient. We have just one checkbook for the account, and I'm not sure if we would be allowed to have two checkbooks. Anyway, it's been so many years since I've written checks on any regular basis that I'd have a hard time writing one now.

It occurs to me that somehow our other code secret, the one we use to get access to our CA account on-line, was it too deactivated a few days before my debit card was deactivated, so there must be a connection between the two events. That time, Walt had had to go the bank to get a new on-line access code. It had to be sent to him as a text message on one of our mobile phones — that was the only option. Banks work in mysterious and unsettling ways.

05 November 2017

Meat, meat, and more meat... plus cabbage, potatoes, and carrots

That's what some of my photos look like. The traditional Alsatian sauerkraut serving is a big mound of sauerkraut and half a dozen different meats, which can be varied by the cook. Here's what mine looked like in the serving dish. Farther down, there's a photo of the choucroute as it came out of the oven. I put in the meats, all pre-cooked, on top of the chou to heat through at the very end of the cooking time.

There was enough cabbage and meat here for 2 or 3 meals for 2 people. The choucroute itself cooked for about four hours in the oven at low temperature. I should have cooked it in the slow-cooker, and next time that's what I'll do. After all, I bought three kilos of choucroute crue and I only cooked one kilo yesterday. The cooking liquid was mostly water with just about a cup and a half of white wine. One of the meats I like to include, along with smoked sausages and smoked pork belly, is smoked chicken, which is easy to find here in France.

There are theories about the carrots. A lot of recipes for cooking choucroute call for them, and a lot don't. One that does is Monique Maine's, and her 1969 cookbook Cuisine pour toute l'année is one of my favorites. Some cooks call for putting the carrots into the dish with the cabbage but removing them at the end of the cooking time and not serving them with the cabbage and meat. One thing I've read is that the carrots counteract the sharpness of the sauerkraut, which is after all produced by a fermentation process that creates lactic acid. I wouldn't leave them out any more than I would leave out the onions.

Some recipes and opinions I've read says not to cook the sauerkraut in white wine, because the wine has an acidic character that only accentuates the acidity that is what makes choucroute tasty and not bland. Other cooks say the choucroute should be served only with meats that are specifically Alsatian, which means don't serve it with the "foreign" sausages called Montbéliard and Morteau that come from the neighboring Franche-Comté region. And certainly don't replace the saucisses de Strasbourg with saucisses de Francfort! I'm not that kind of purist.

Here's a recipe for preparing choucroute from a book called La Cuisine alsacienne that was given to me as a gift a few years ago by my friend Martine from Belgium. It doesn't mention carrots. This is my translation.


3 to 3½ lbs. sauerkraut
2 onions
1 clove garlic
5 or 6 Tbsp. goose fat
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
2 cups Sylvaner wine
2 ham hocks
2 pieces of smoked pork shoulder
¾ lb. slab of smoked bacon
6 large potatoes
6 Strasboug sausages (wieners)
Salt and pepper

Rinse the sauerkraut in cold water. Drain it and rinse it a second time. Squeeze the cabbage to remove all the rinse water.

In a big pot, cook the onion, sliced, and the garlic in hot goose fat.Add the rinsed sauerkraut in the pot. Salt and pepper it. Add the bay leaves and whole cloves. Pour in the Sylvaner wine and about a cup of water. Let it cook for an hour on medium heat, stirring occasionally to mix all the ingredients and flavors together.

Add the ham hocks, the smoked pork shoulder, and the slab of bacon to the pot. Let everything cook together for 90 minutes on medium heat, adding water as necessary to keep the sauerkraut moistened.

Peel the potatoes and put them on top of the cabbage to cook for 20 minutes. Separately, poach the wieners for 5 minutes.

Spoon the sauerkraut into a big serving dish. Serve the meats, sausages, and steamed potatoes over it or alongside.

The total cooking time for this recipe is 3¼ hours. Don't let a lack of goose fat in your kitchen deter you — use a little lard or bacon fat plus some vegetable oil as a substitute. Sylvaner is a semi-sweet Alsace wine, but you can use any dry or semi-dry white wine. By the way, the French recipe calls for making, cooking, and serving with the choucroute something called quenelles de foie (liver dumplings), for which there's a recipe in the book. I've never made or eaten those so I left them out. As I've said, I like to have smoked chicken with sauerkraut, and I know that some people eat it with boiled beef or other meats. CHM once had sauerkraut with duck confit in one restaurant, but I don't think he would recommend it.

04 November 2017

La choucroute du mois de novembre

I don't really have anything new to say about choucroute garnie. That's salt-cured or fermenté  (with no vinegar added) cabbage (sauerkraut) cooked with onions, carrots, and aromatic herbs and berries in white wine. Salt-curing or brining thinly sliced cabbage for 4 to 6 weeks makes the sauerkraut much more nutritious than fresh cabbage, and easier on the digestive system. Choucroute is full of vitamin C, for example. And it's delicious. Here's a link to past posts.

And here's one new thing about choucroute garnie that I can share. It's a recipe from the French food encyclopedia called Le Larousse Gastronomique. I have a 50-year-old edition of the book (1967) that I bought 30 years ago, but now I also have an electronic (PDF) version (2007) that I downloaded a year or two ago. Here's the recipe from the 2007 book, publication of which was overseen by the noted chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon.

Choucroute  à  l'alsacienne

Bien laver 2 kg de choucroute crue à l'eau froide, puis la presser et la démêler avec les mains.

Préchauffer le four à 190°C. Éplucher 2 ou 3 carottes et 2 gros oignons, couper les premières en petits cubes, piquer les seconds de 1 clou de girofle chacun. Mettre dans une petite mousseline 2 gousses d'ail épluchées, 1 cuillerée à café de poivre en grains, 1 cuillerée à dessert de baies de genièvre et nouer.

Enduire de graisse d'oie ou de saindoux le fond et le bord d'une cocotte. Y étaler la moitié de la choucroute. Ajouter les carottes, les oignons, la mousseline et 1 bouquet garni, puis le reste de la choucroute, 1 jambonneau cru, 1 verre de vin blanc sec d'Alsace et suffisamment d'eau pour mouiller à hauteur. Saler légèrement, couvrir, porter à ébullition sur le feu, puis cuire 1 heure au four.

Loger alors dans la choucroute 1 palette de porc fumée (moyenne) et de 500 à 750 g de poitrine fumée ; couvrir, porter de nouveau à ébullition sur le feu, puis remettre au four. Après 1 h 30 de cuisson, retirer la poitrine et ajouter 1,250 kg de pommes de terre. Cuire encore 30 min.

Faire pocher 6 à 8 saucisses de Strasbourg à l'eau à peine frémissante.

Lorsque la choucroute est cuite, retirer la mousseline, le bouquet garni et les clous de girofle, et rajouter la poitrine pour la réchauffer pendant 10 min. Dresser la choucroute dans un grand plat et la garnir avec les pommes de terre, les saucisses et les viandes coupées en tranches régulières.

I've reformatted the recipe to make it easier to read. Here's a translation:

Alsatian-style Sauerkraut

Rinse 2¼ lbs. of brined (salt-cured) raw sauerkraut in cold water. Squeeze out excess water and untangle the sauerkraut with your hands.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190°C). Peel 2 or 3 carrots and 2 large onions. Cut the carrots into small cubes. Prick each onion with 1 whole clove. Wrap 2 peeled garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of juniper berries in cheesecloth and tie it into a bundle with kitchen twine (or use a spice ball).

Grease the bottom and sides of a pot with goose fat or lard. Spread in half of the sauerkraut. Add the carrots, onions, the cheesecloth bundle, and an herb bouquet. Then put in the the rest of the sauerkraut, 1 raw ham hock, 1 glass of dry Alsatian white wine and enough water to barely cover the sauerkraut. Salt lightly, cover, bring to the boil on the stove, and then cook for 1 hour in the oven.

Add and push down into the sauerkraut 1 a medium-size piece of smoked pork shoulder and 1 to 1½ lbs. of smoked belly (slab bacon). Cover the pot, bring it to the boil again on the stove, and then put it back in the oven. After 90 minutes, remove the bacon and add 2½ lbs. of small potatoes. Cook for another 30 minutes.

Separately, poach 6 to 8 Strasbourg sausages (frankfurters) in barely simmering water.

When the sauerkraut is cooked, remove the cheesecloth bundle, the herb bouquet, and the two whole cloves. Put the slab of bacon back into the pot for 10 minutes to reheat it. Arrange the sauerkraut in a large dish and garnish with the steamed potatoes, the sausages, and the meats cut into uniform slices.

My choucroute is rinsed and ready to cook, but it's only 6:30 a.m. so it's not in the oven yet. I've included some photos of my mise en place (the ingredients). I'm using a spice ball for the peppercorns and juniper berries as well as a few allspice berries and the whole cloves, and I'm putting in two bay leaves instead of a more elaborate herb bouquet. More tomorrow...

03 November 2017

The vineyard on November 1

Bright golden and reddish leaves under a milky sky. That's our scenery these days. It's autumn, but you can feel winter in the air. Here's the Toussaint sunset.

The 2017 Touraine grape harvest began in late August, making it the earliest since 2003, the year of the great heat wave and our first summer here. This year's grape crop was down by as much as 40% in many parts of the Touraine wine area. The upside is that the quality of the grapes harvested was apparently very good.

Cold weather in April and May, including morning frost and freezing temperatures in many parts of the region, led to a reduced harvest. However, the summer was warm and dry, with alternating periods of very high temperatures and then some cooler days. Mainly, it was dry.

We got only about two-thirds as much rain as we might expect in August, September, and October. In wet years, we'd get two or three times as much. The dry weather continues, but the grapes were taken in long ago. Some varieties fared better than others.

As you can see, some parcels have lost all their leaves now, but others haven't. Soon, the vineyard will take on its wintertime "graveyard" look. Pruning will begin, to prepare the vines for next year's new growth.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying walks through the vineyard in dry weather — no wet feet or muddy boots — and the views from our windows are colorful. But the fact is, we need  some rain now.