30 June 2012

Three things

Three things — that makes a full day. A market visit, lunch at home, and then dinner in a restaurant. Some driving, some walking, and some sitting.

At the market in Montrichard

Yesterday morning we drove over to the Friday market at Montrichard, mostly just to have a look around and see if we wanted to buy anything. We ended up bringing home apricots, nectarines, apples, strawberries, radishes, beets, a pot of rillettes de porc, a piece of Spanish chorizo, and a bag-in-box of local Sauvignon Blanc wine. Probably other things too, but my memory isn't perfect.

Vegetables, melons, and local goat cheeses

For lunch, we came back home and made a salad using frisée and romaine lettuces from our garden. As garnishes, we had duck gizzards (gésiers de canard confits) and the beets. We also consumed some rillettes and some more of the saucisson from the night before. Oh, and some slices of the chorizo. Late-afternoon naps and walks were taken.

Lunch on the terrace

We were trying to have a light lunch (ha ha ha) because we were going out to dinner last night at the Manoir de Contres. I forgot my camera when we left for the restaurant in the evening, so no pictures of that. If I tell you what we had for dinner, it will sound very American: a Caesar salad with shrimp, prime rib (côte de bœuf) with French fries, and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

I'm not sure what Jill, Walt, and Peter were smiling about...
(and no, I wasn't snorting).

The beef was excellent — rare and tender. The cook brought the two pieces of prime rib to the table and presented them to us before he took them back to the kitchen for cooking. He spent a good amount of time with us, telling us about his career in Paris and about this new restaurant, which he opened only recently. It was another fine evening.

29 June 2012

Late evening

We sat out on the terrace, around the table, until midnight. Here's what's left.

Clockwise from bottom left: fresh goat cheese; semi-dry goat cheese;
Chaource cheese; Rosette saucisson sec; Epoisses cheese

The rillettes d'oie and the salade de cœurs de palmiers are long gone. Nice evening.

28 June 2012

Laying in supplies for guests

It's always hard to know what kind of food to plan for people who are arriving here directly from California. They will have been in transit for close to 24 hours. They will be exhausted but maybe well fed. Well, maybe not — airline food. I'm not going to cook a big dinner.

The fact is, it will be nine a.m. California time when they arrive in Saint-Aignan. The travelers might have slept a little on the plane — it's an 11-hour flight — but if they're like me, it won't have been a restful sleep. Maybe we should plan breakfast for them, but then again they always give you breakfast on the plane just before arrival.

Here's what we plan to do this evening. I'll go pick up Jill and Peter at the little train station across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher at about six p.m. It's only three or four miles to the train station, so they won't have to endure a long car ride. When we get home, we'll offer them a shower and a clean bed.

They probably won't want to turn in so early, though. The sun doesn't go down until ten and it stays light until eleven. The weather is iffy right now, but it's very warm, and I'm pretty sure that it will be warm enough this evening to spend time just sitting out on the terrace, sipping wine and having a picnic.

Yesterday's courses (shopping)

I went shopping at one of the local supermarkets yesterday and laid in supplies, as you can see in the picture above. I of course got some cheese — this is France. Over at Intermarché, I had noticed recently that they have a nice Chaource from northern Burgundy (or is it southern Champagne?) in their cheese counter. Chaource [shah-'oorss] is a village near the city of Troyes [trwah], about three hours east of Saint-Aignan. It's famous for its cow's milk cheese, which is pure white, tender, and only slightly salty.

Sticking with the Burgundy theme, I also picked up an Epoisses cheese. Epoisses [ay-pwahss] is a village just 100 km / 50 mi. south of Chaource, near the bigger towns of Avallon and Semur-en-Auxois. The cheese is made with cow's milk, but it has a totally different taste and texture. It's like a soft, very runny Camembert in size and shape, but not it taste. You could almost eat it with a spoon. It's rubbed with the local grape brandy, called marc de Bourgogne, during the aging process.

A cheese close-up

Okay, that was a lot of information about just two cheeses. I also got some local Loire Valley goat cheese (fromage de chèvre). Intermarché carries a line of chèvres from the town of Manthelan, an hour west of Saint-Aignan, on the other side of Tours. I picked up a little disk of La Thibaudière semi-hard (demi-sec) goat cheese that will be good with local wine and bread, and also a long log of fresh, unsalted goat cheese for those who like a milder flavor.

In the fridge, I already had a piece of Cantal cheese, from the central mountains of France, a few hours south of us. I did a whole series of posts about Cantal cheese-making a few years ago, after we spent a few days in that region. You can find them in the archives for 2009, between September 20 and 24. (Or among the topics here.)

So that we don't just have cheese (but that might be okay; I'm convinced that natural, cultured cheese are very good for soothing digestive upsets), we also plan to have some sardines on toast, a few slices of saucisson sec (I got a Rosette "salami" from the Auvergne), and maybe some rillettes d'oie (potted goose meat). I bought a little loaf of pain aux céréales (whole-grain bread) to supplement the baguettes our delivery woman will bring this morning. Walt says that this afternoon he will make some goat cheese mini-muffins, with the fresh white chèvre and some herbs from the garden.

My other shopping destination yesterday was the wine co-op in Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, to stock up on local wines for the weekend. I bought what they call un carton panaché — a mixed half-case (they don't seem to sell wines by the 12-bottle case here in France). The six bottles in the box are: a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet (Franc), a Côt (a.k.a. Malbec), a local red blend called a Tradition, a Sauvignon Blanc (which won a prize in an international competition), and a rosé.

Here's another photo of that Peacock butterfly (paon du jour in French).

This food and wine should get us through the weekend, especially since we have dinner at the Manoir de Contres to look forward to tomorrow night, as well as shopping in the open-air markets at Montrichard (Friday), Saint-Aignan (Saturday), and Noyers (Sunday). The weather is supposed to be pretty good, but not perfect.

27 June 2012

Summer starts now

I think and hope that summer is really starting now. I'll try to be positive and optimistic. The sun came back yesterday afternoon, and this morning is the prettiest one we've had in quite a while. There's a very wispy fog over the vineyard, and the weather forecast says we'll hit 30ºC (86ºF) this afternoon.

Callie out walking yesterday afternoon

Summer starts now, too, because we have friends from California arriving tomorrow for a four-day stay. We have a restaurant picked out for Friday night — Le Manoir de Contres, which has recently been taken over by a new chef — and we'll be shopping the markets in Montrichard and/or Saint-Aignan and/or Noyers-sur-Cher over the weekend.

I'm afraid the recent rains spoiled the sparse cherry crop for 2012.

The window we are replacing

The other thing about summer starting is that we have begun our home improvement projects for they year. They include a new window in the living room to replace the old one that's just too drafty in winter. It faces north.

Bright colors despite damp weather

We'll also get new shutters put on both bedroom windows downstairs, so that we can close ourselves in when there's the annual (or more frequent) coup de vent. One thing about living up here on the high ground above the river valley is that we are buffeted by the wind when it blows hard.

Flowers in the back yard

So here we go. That last couple of months have been wild with activity and then claustrophobic — cabin fever — because of the rains. France is coming out of it — the grandes vacances start this coming weekend, so tens of thousands will be on the roads, leaving Paris and other northern regions, heading south.

The neighbors' ring of roses

Politics, with a new Socialist president and a new Socialist majority in parliament — the result of elections in May and June — will go on hold for a couple of months, and then we'll see what the autumn brings in the way of changes.

26 June 2012

Local wildlife

It's even grayer and rainier this morning than it was yesterday, when it rained all day. And now it's blustery too. Here are a few pictures I've taken over the last three days, with a wildlife theme.

This creature, nearly 6 inches long, greeted me when I went outdoors
yesterday morning. It fled when it saw me, but not quickly
enough to prevent me from taking a photo.

Callie and puddles out on the road, just to give context

Caution: Snail Crossing

Sunday afternoon, we had a few periods of sunshine. These next two pictures are happy memories.

I'm sure somebody will tell me what this insect is.

Two donkeys came out to watch Callie and me walk by.
This one was especially curious.

The weather forecast says it will be sunny and hot for a few days starting tomorrow. We have friends coming to visit from California on Thursday, and it looks like their timing is impeccable.

25 June 2012

Please send heat

We're not freezing or anything like that. We are getting slightly mildewed, but with the Kärcher power-washer we can clean that off. It's raining again this morning and today's high temperature is supposed to be a less-than-scorching 72ºF — 22ºC. Au secours ! The French word for this kind of weather is maussade — grim.

Lettuce is still our best bet for 2012, garden-wise.

It's not so much our own persons that I'm worried about. We'll survive. I'm sure Callie is happy with this weather, even though you couldn't call it "dog days." Bertie seems to be doing fine, even though he's not crazy about going out hunting in the rain. It's supposed to rain here all day again today.

Tomato plants waiting to spring into action

Enough moaning. We just had three days in a row of no rain. Never mind that we were either either gray skies or being buffeted by gusty winds during all that time. The wind wasn't strong enough to damage plants in the garden, or trees, but the sun wasn't sufficiently bright and hot to encourage anything to grow much either.

The state of the vegetable garden in late June — still
much potential but not much punch yet.

The three dry days let us get the grass cut another time. I also gave us time to till up another garden plot and finally plant some squash, both summer and winter varieties. I guess it's good news that the repaired-and-serviced rototiller is running smoothly and doing its job. Planting summer squash this year is an act of great faith and optimism. Sometimes I feel like I'm back in San Francisco. The weather is that bad. The winter squash will surely do just fine.

A long row of peppers and eggplants, just biding their time

Blackberry brambles and "escaped" grapevines are threatening to pull down our fence and take over the yard. Ivy grows up tree trunks all around us. I spent a couple of hours out there yesterday with pruning shears (a.k.a. a secateur) cutting back what I could cut back, and getting scratches and puncture wounds from thorns on my arms and the backs of my hands.

Some cherries, at least

In my plundering and plodding, I discovered flowers that I hadn't yet noticed, and I can report two pieces of good news: the cherry tree out behind the garden shed has quite a few cherries on it, and one of the four apple trees actually has some small apples growing on it. And here I was thinking we wouldn't get any apples or cherries at all this year. By the way, the little pear tree has hundreds of pears on it.

A cactus flower, shyly

There's also been just enough sun and warmth for the cactus that CHM gave us years ago to produce a couple of yellow flowers. It's planted against a south-facing wall. The flowers only open up fully when the sun is bright and hot, and we are still expecting that to happen one day. Meantime, flowers there are.

24 June 2012

Quiche aux brocolis...

...et au fromage de chèvre. We seem to be getting really fine broccoli in the markets these days. It must have to do with the weather. When nature (or the farmer) hands you good fresh broccoli, what do you do? You make a quiche.

Buy or make a classic pie crust with the pastry called pâte brisée in France. Cook it for 10 minutes in a hot oven and set it aside. Meanwhile, cut a head of broccoli into florets (bouquets in French) and pre-cook them slightly by steaming them or by dropping them for three or four minutes into a big pot of boiling water. Drain and refresh to stop the cooking.

If you can get a good Loire Valley-type goat cheese like a Selles-sur-Cher or a Sainte-Maure, cut it up into small cubes. Otherwise, use Cheddar or Cantal cow's milk cheese cut up the same way. Optionally (for many, but absolutely for me) sauté some chunks of smoked pork bacon (lardons fumés) or smoked ham (why not smoked turkey? or hey, smoked salmon!) for added flavor.

Putting together a broccoli quiche with lardons and goat cheese.

Arrange the blanched broccoli bouquets, the chunks of cheese, and the browned lardons in the pre-cooked (blind-baked) pie crust. Break three eggs into a bowl, beat them lightly, and add a cup of milk or half-and-half or even cream. Don't forget some black pepper and a little nutmeg, but go easy on the salt because the cheese, lardons, and crust (most likely) are already salted.

Pour the egg mixture into the pie shell to cover the other ingredients and bake the quiche in a medium oven for half an hour to forty-five minutes. You'll know when it's done by the color and the aroma. It will puff up, but then sink back down as it cools.

Quiche goes well with pommes frites...

If you have a new fryer ;^), make a batch of French fries to eat with the quiche. Quiche-frites is always a good combination.

23 June 2012


One of the houses in our little hamlet is being renovated. It's an old house that has had a much newer addition added on to it at some time in the past. The woman who lived there died a couple of years ago at age 95.

All the doors and most of the windows and shutters have been replaced with more modern versions. A new doorway has been cut to give direct access from the kitchen out into the garden. The house had only one door originally. The old doors, shutters, and other things have been left standing out in the yard, and out in the weather, leaning up against the walls of the house.

I don't know if the people who are having the house renovations done — they are the son and daughter-in-law of the woman who died — will ever come and live here. They live in the Paris area. Maybe they are planning to sell the place after the work is done, or maybe they plan to leave it to their grown-up children.

Of the nine houses in our hamlet, four are occupied full-time. Four are occupied seasonally or only infrequently by their owners, who use them as vacation houses. One is for sale. Three of the houses are less than 50 years old, and two or three are probably about 200 years old. About a dozen people live or spend stretches of time in the hamlet.

22 June 2012

Making your own heat

Making French fries at home is nearly a requirement when you don't go out to restaurants very often. We were in the U.S. in May, and we ate in restaurants nearly every day. And most of the meals included French fries, unless we had a big salad for lunch. That's too many fries, of course, but you just have to have good fries a couple of times a month.

The stainless steel SEB FR404800 deep fat fryer

French fries, or frites (pommes frites, or pommes de terre frites) appear on menus nearly as often in France as in the U.S., of course. You might think they were invented in France, but according to most experts French fries are actually Belgian in origin.

The lid, with its built-in permanent filter, is dishwasher-safe...

I bought a new fryer recently. We already had one, a Kenwood model, but it was (and is) very hard to clean. It cooks potatoes just fine, but that's not enough. When I ordered it online from Darty years ago, it was advertised as having a bowl that could be removed for cleaning, but that was not true. Caveat emptor. I should have returned it, but it was too much trouble.

...as is the stainless fry basket.

The new fryer, a SEB model, comes completely apart, and all the pieces except the electric heating element/control panel can go through the dishwasher. It's all stainless steel — the old Kenwood fryer has a fixed aluminum bowl inside a plastic housing.

The heating element / control panel is removable too.

For many years, the most popular meal served in French restaurants was steak with French fries — the famous steak-frites. It probably still is, though the proliferation of fast-food restaurants has made the hamburger with fries a big competitor. Omelets, too, are often served with fries. Fish and chips — fried fish filets with French-fried potatoes — is common in Great Britain and most of the U.S., but you hardly ever see that combination in France.

The SEB fryer in all its disassembled glory

I won't use the new fryer to cook anything besides potatoes. I'll use frozen frites much of the time, but I'll start a new round of experiments with making fries using different varieties of fresh potatoes. I have chef Joël Rebuchon's book of recipes for cooking potatoes every way you can imagine (Le Meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre), and I'll be working my way through that one again.

21 June 2012

Sun, finally, but temporarily

We saw the sun yesterday afternoon, but it didn't last. This morning it's raining again — another gray morning. Walt was able to cut part of the grass yesterday, taking advantage of a dry afternoon.

Petunias in planter boxes under the kitchen window

Today, we're going to Tours to do, as I said, some more shopping. Ikea, Paris Store, and more. At least we are taking advantage of our rainy days. The forecast for the the first part of next week is not encouraging.

Coleus plants in window boxes on the north side of the house

Did I mention that I nearly stumbled over a fawn the last time I went out for a morning walk with the dog (Tuesday)? Callie ran right past it. It was hiding in some very tall weeds — maybe it hid there because it heard me and Callie coming. It didn't jump up and run until I was nearly on top of it. I could have reached out and touched it. It took off running, with Callie giving close pursuit. It got away.

Flowers 0n a potted kalanchoe plant on the terrace

The ground around the vineyard is so wet that it's slippery and dangerous. I've nearly fallen on my fesses several times on recent walks. At the same time, the weeds are very high, so it's hard in places to know what you are about to step on... or into.

A neighbor's cherry tree is covered in fruit. I hope
somebody comes to pick some of it soon.

I ate cherries from a couple of trees yesterday afternoon, during the walk. There aren't many of them, and some are spoiled because of all the rain, but there are a few tasty ones. The tree with the most cherries I've seen is in the back yard of the house down the road that's supposedly for sale. The yard is fenced in, so I can't get to the cherries. I wonder if the birds won't get them all. Some pictures are in this post to give you an idea...

A few cherries on some trees on the edge of the vineyard

Susan in California asked about the monitor. What I ended up getting is a Samsung model, the S24B300H. It didn't cost a fortune. Here it is on www.amazon.fr. My old monitor (I'd had it for two or three years) was an 18" off-brand LCD TV that I bought at SuperU on an impulse, and it cost more then than the new Samsung does now. The S24B300H seems to be a European model; I don't see it on American web sites. Here it is on www.amazon.co.uk.

The vines are reaching for the sky now.

Before I bought the Samsung monitor, I tried using a 32" LCD TV as my monitor, but it was just too big for my desk, and the resolution wasn't sufficient at 1360 x 768 pixels. Sitting close to it, I could see the individual pixels. The 24" monitor runs at 1920 x 1080 so it's sharper than the TV screen and it fits better on my desk. It's connected to the computer by an HDMI cable.

20 June 2012

Same old same old, weatherwise

The weather doesn't change. It's just more of the same every day. Here we are, almost at the summer solstice, and there's not a hint of summery weather in sight. It's getting old. We had a nice afternoon on Sunday, but it's been raining, or threatening to rain, ever since. It rained steadily in big splashy drops last night before I went to bed.

Some days we get something done in the garden; some days not. Yesterday morning, Walt did some weeding and planting, but with the wet weather we know that the weeds will grow back really fast, and the slugs will probably eat any new shoots that push up out of the ground. Yesterday we also finally burned some debris that had collected on a garden plot a while back, with the hope that the weather will clear up and we'll be able to plant some squash and maybe some greens soon.

A typical afternoon at Saint-Aignan this June 2012

I've been buying a lot of hardware recently. That's a bad sign. When times get tough, the tough go... shopping. Thanks to Amazon.com and Amazon.fr, I have a new camera, a new DVD player, a new friteuse (deep-fat fryer for making frites), and now a new monitor for my computer. Buying new hardware is something I've always done when life gets me down. I guess it's a little bit of nest-feathering.

The vineyard on what passes for a nice June morning

I can justify each of these purchases. The new camera is great — it's much faster and has a longer zoom than the old one. The new DVD player will read both American and European DVDs. The fryer will make better French fries quicker, and it will be easier to clean than the old one was. And the new monitor... well, I just got it yesterday so we'll see.

One day there was almost a little bit of blue sky...

One thing I noticed immediately when I set up the new monitor is that my pictures now look a lot smaller. On the old, smaller monitor, they pretty much filled the screen at a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels. Now with the new monitor at 1920 x 1080 pixels, my pictures sort of float in the middle of the gray Blogger screen, looking shrunken and lonely. Should I resist the urge to "super-size" them, and just get used to it?

...but not much. The vines are growing though, thanks to the rain.

Tell me if you think my photos are too large or too small. That'll give me a clue as to what to do now. With this weather, I'm not taking very many pictures anyway. Just these I'm posting here, which are nearly a week old. But nothing has changed in a week. According to weather reports, nothing is likely to change much very soon.

Remains of last year's vines

Oh well. 2012 is turning out to be a strange year. Can you believe our trees have produced no apples? Nor have the neighbors'. In past years, we've been buried under piles of apples. We've struggled to gather them up and dispose of them. We've made pies and jellies and apple sauce. Not this year. The trees are bare.

The good news is that the drought is definitely over.