Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cutting The Grass

At our house, cutting the grass is my job. But only because I really enjoy doing it. When I was a kid, my parents had to force me or pay me to do it; mostly the former. We have half an acre here in France (a bit over 2,000 square meters), so it's a decent size, but not too big. Of course, there are many obstacles to cut around.

This is a little powerpoint map I made of our property a while back.
Click on the image to see it larger.

The lawnmower is a standard walk-behind model, although it is self-propelled so I don't have to push it. But negotiating all the obstacles (trees, shrubs, grape vines) means I'm constantly lifting and pushing/pulling the thing a lot of the time.

Those of you who know me won't be surprised that I keep a spreadsheet log of when I've cut the grass and how frequently for each year since 2003. It includes how much gas I've bought, when I do the oil changes, and when I get the blade sharpened. I know. Nerdy.

A man and his machine.

For example, I know that I've cut the grass seventy times since we moved into the house in 2003. The average interval between cuts is seventeen days (that doesn't include winter, when I don't cut).

The year I cut the most was 2004, with fifteen cuts for the season. The year with the fewest cuts was 2006; only ten. I don't count 2003 because we arrived in June, and the cutting season usually starts around the end of March each year.

This September cut could be the last of the year, but it's not likely. The latest cut so far was October 27, 2003. Since then there have been two other years when the final cut of the season happened in mid-October.

So far I'm averaging about twenty liters of gasoline each season. But we also use the gas in our garden rotary cultivator, so it's not all for the lawn. And when I say "lawn," I use the word loosely. The yard is probably no more than fifty percent grass. The rest is a mixture of other little green plants that are anything but grass.

The woman who owned the house before us called it a little prairie. That's a pretty good description.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Second Attempt At Raviolis

The first raviolis were successful. But they were more pasta than filling, and the filling's flavor didn't have a lot of punch. So I tried again.

Eggplant filling in a zip-top bag, ready to make raviolis.

This time, I used some eggplant with garlic, onion, tomato, and goat cheese. And I decided to try to make smaller raviolis. To do this, I needed a poche à douille, or a pastry bag. Since I don't have one, I used a zip-top bag and cut one of the corners out. It worked pretty well.

The filling on the pasta. Time to fold.

I made my smaller raviolis and they were wonderful. I'm totally encouraged to do more.

The folded raviolis. Next step: separate and crimp the edges.

We served these with a pesto sauce and toasted hazelnuts. And they were even better than the first batch I made. I think that was because the filling was much more flavorful, and the ratio of pasta to filling was much more reasonable.

A single finished ravioli.

So, all that is to say that I will definitely be making these again. I can't wait!

Cooked and dressed with a pesto sauce.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brilliant (With An E)

I'm not so sure. Still, I'm humbled that Reb at Uh-Oh Spaghettios graciously bestowed upon wcs this lovely blog award. Thanks, Reb!

I'm not certain as to the origin of this award. I've tried to "google" it to find out more about it -- like why it's spelled brillante -- but without success. Nonetheless, wcs is happy to receive and proudly display it! According to Reb's site:
Brilliant Weblog is a prize given to sites and blogs that are smart and brilliant both in their content and their design. The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogsphere.
Now for my responsibilities as a new recipient. I've posted the award and linked back to the blogger who awarded it. Next, I am to choose seven (wow) blogs on which to bestow the award and notify their authors.

I'm going to have to give this part a little time. Let the star search begin! In the meantime, if you haven't yet visited Uh Oh Spaghettios, go take a look!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Monday Meals Part Three : Dessert

After lunch on Monday, we were discussing the dinner plans. In fact, we were probably still eating the lunch while discussing the dinner plans. I mentioned that I could make an apple tarte and Peter suggested we make crêpes. Crêpes it was!

Making crêpes in two pans at once.

I put the batter together based on Peter's recipe and made an apple compote for the filling while the others went on a short sight-seeing trip and to a store to buy some calvados (apple brandy) for the sauce flambée.

video
A video of the flaming crêpes.
That's Véronique Sanson singing in the background.

After dinner, Peter manned the pans and produced some terrific crêpes, then he heated up the calvados and lit it up! They were quite nice.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Monday Meals Part Two : Dinner

Over the weekend we had harvested some beautiful eggplant from the garden. Peter used two of them to serve with squash alongside the rabbit dish on Sunday. For Monday evening, he suggested that we make eggplant pizzas, but not traditional pizza with crust. The eggplant themselves would serve as the base of the pizza.

Halved and scored eggplant with diced tomato.

First, he sliced each eggplant in half lengthwise and scored each half. Then he added peeled, seeded, and diced tomato to the top of each.

Dressing the "pizzas" with herbs, shallots, anchovies, and cheese.

Next, he sprinkled each "pizza" with fresh thyme and chopped shallot. He added some anchovies that we had in the fridge, then topped it all with grated cheese.

The completed eggplant pizza, fresh from the oven!

Into the oven they went! After a while they came out and we devoured them. They were succulent and tasty, the flavors all perfectly blended.

If you want Peter's recipe for these great eggplant "pizzas," check it out at his web site, à la carte, here (the first link is the home page, the second link is the recipe itself).

Next up: dessert!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Herbal Interlude

Just a photo of some of the herbs recently picked from our garden.

Thyme, parsley, rosemary.

They come in handy for all sorts of dishes. It's nice that they grow so well out there. I'll be back with the follow-up to Monday's meals soon!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Monday Meals Part One : Lunch

Monday was our last full day with our guests, Peter and Jill. They went to the outdoor market across the river the day before and found all kinds of good stuff, including a bunch of cheeses, for us to enjoy.

Salad with lardons and poached egg.

Peter's plan for lunch on Monday was to make a large salad of frisée and lardons, topped with poached eggs. He prepared the lettuce and dressed it with vinaigrette in a large bowl, then mixed in smoked lardons that he had blanched and sautéed. He mounded the salad mixture on large plates and topped each with a poached egg or two.

The eggs were perfectly done; the warm yolks oozed down onto the salad the moment we pierced them, making for tangy, rich, and delectable mouthfuls.

Four tartelettes tartiflette.

Alongside this, we served four tartelettes tartiflette that Ken had found in a local deli. These were little puff pastries topped with diced potato in a cream and cheese sauce and a slice of smoked bacon. A perfect comfort-food counterpoint to the crisp brightness of the salad.

And this was just the prélude to the evening meal...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Rabbit Dinner

Our friend and house guest Peter made us a dinner of rabbit fricassée on Sunday night. He found a beautiful bunny at the market in Noyers that morning. He expertly dissected it -- even with our sub-standard knives -- and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

The cut-up rabbit, seasoned with salt and pepper.

Next, he sliced up some onions and red bell peppers which he sautéed. He browned the rabbit pieces and added them to the vegetables with a bit of chicken stock, then covered it to braise for a while.

Sautéed eggplant and yellow squash.

Meantime, he cut up some eggplant and yellow squash from our garden and did a little veggie sauté with them. We served it all with some wheat berries (Ebly). Boy, was it good!

Wheat berries.

We enjoyed a generous selection of cheeses after dinner, including a selles-sur-cher goat, some camembert, brie, neufchâtel, st.-nectaire, fourme d'ambert, and st.-agur. Wow.

The finished rabbit dish, with onions, peppers, a wonderful sauce, and fresh parsley.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Raviolis Au Potiron

The pumpkin raviolis were a good first course for Saturday's dinner and we ate them up. I served them with a sage butter and sprinkled them with ground toasted hazelnuts.

Pumpkin raviolis with sage butter and toasted hazelnuts.

The pumpkin filling, even though it was made with parmesan, sage, and nutmeg, was a bit bland. I think if I do pumpkin again, I should kick up the spices to make it more flavorful. Live and learn. The next time I'm going to try to make smaller raviolis to see how that goes.

The pork roast that Ken made.

The main course was a pork roast with apples. Tasty! And for dessert I made pear tartelettes with apple glaze in a pâte sablée. I'm on a pâte sablée kick these days. It will pass...

Individual pear tartelettes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ravioli

I know one is not supposed to experiment on guests. But I'm ignoring that rule. We are having guests this weekend and I'm preparing raviolis for them. I've never made raviolis before, hence the experimentation angle.

The ravioli making scene. Lots going on.

I have made pasta, so I'm not worried about that part. It's the execution that worries me. Since I've read that you can make the raviolis ahead of time and refrigerate them before serving, I decided to do that a day ahead. And here is my progress.

I made the standard pasta that I've always made. Two eggs, 1 1/2 cups flour, some salt and a few drops of water. So far so good.

My big rectangular raviolis, before cooking.

The filling is some roasted home-grown pumpkin, improved with a bit of butter, chopped sage, grated parmesan cheese, nutmeg, an egg yolk, and salt and pepper. The trick, of course, was forming the raviolis without making a mess.

Three raviolis.

My raviolis are a bit large... That is to say that they're more pasta than filling. But that's ok. I plan to serve them as an entrée, three to a plate, with sage butter and ground roasted hazelnuts. That should do as a good first course, don't you think?

I pre-cooked them in boiling water and now they're in the fridge. Just before serving, they will finish cooking in boiling water, then they will be dressed with the sage butter sauce and hazelnuts. I'm crossing my fingers.

And please stop snickering...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Black Eyed Susans

Late summer is prime time for these imports from California. You probably remember that they're planted next to our well and re-seed themselves each year.

(I forgot to put a caption here.)

During Tuesday's lunch, as we sat around table in the back yard enjoying rillons, quiche, cheeses, and apple tartes, I noticed how the sun lit the flowers. I got the camera and took a few quick shots from my seat.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tartelettes Aux Pommes

On Tuesday we got to meet one of the readers of our blogs, Louise, and her husband, from the eastern US. They came by mid-day and we prepared a light lunch. We were lucky to have had a sunny day and were able to enjoy our meal at the table out back in the garden.

Raw pâte sablée pressed into tart molds.

For dessert I decided to make individual apple tarts using fresh apples from the tree and pâte sablée, a sweet cookie dough crust. Step one, make the dough using egg, sugar, flour, and butter. Then pat it into the buttered tart molds.

Sliced apples arranged in the tart molds.

Step two, peel and slice the apples. Lay them neatly into the shells. This took a few attempts before I was happy with how they looked.

Baked tartelettes cooling on the rack.

Step three, bake in a hot oven until almost done. Then glaze with Ken's home-made apple jelly and finish baking.

And, the close-up!

Step four, let them cool. Eat lunch, then bring these to the table and enjoy! They would have been even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but we were fresh out. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stuffed

Ken made stuffed zucchini for our lunch on Sunday. He started by steaming three of the larger squashes to soften them up. Then he hollowed them out.

Stuffed squash ready for the oven.

He made the stuffing with the squash from the center, some sausage meat we had in the freezer, some diced carrots and tomatoes, parsley, red pepper flakes, some cooked millet, and egg to bind it all. Once the squash boats were stuffed, they went into the oven for about an hour to finish cooking.

A section sliced through the baked stuffed squash.

After, I felt like we needed dessert, so I used a bunch of the "dead bread" that we have in the refrigerator to make a bread pudding. I call it "dead bread" because it's stale, left-over bits and pieces of baguettes that we use for making bread crumbs and puddings.

The bread pudding, dotted with butter, ready for the oven.

The recipe came right out of the Joy of Cooking. It's made with milk, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, and nutmeg. We had a few ripening peaches from our neighbor's yard in the kitchen, so Ken cut them up and I added them to the pudding.

The finished pudding.

It baked in a bain-marie (water bath) for about forty-five minutes. A lovely dessert, a bit rustic, but great with local gamay red.

Our neighbors' family out for an after meal break.

Also on Sunday, our neighbors across the street had a big family event. It was in celebration of the christening of one of their numerous grandchildren. There were at least fifteen cars parked over there. After the meal, many of the kids and grand-kids and friends walked out into the vineyard to stretch their legs, smoke cigarettes, and play boules.

I was amazed to see how many of them carried their own set of boules for the game. And you won't believe how many times I had to re-write that sentence so it wouldn't sound funny; I'm not sure I succeeded.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quiche Aux Courgettes

Otherwise know as zucchini quiche. I started by making the standard pâte brisée, or pie crust, and blind baking it. Then I finely grated a normal sized zucchini in the food processor, salted the grated flesh, and put it in a colander to drip.

A close up of mouth-watering goodness!

Next, I sautéed some smoked lardons (bacon), a medium onion, and another zucchini cut into disks. Each of these was done separately, but I started with the lardons and used the rendered fat to sautée the oinions. I added a little olive oil to the pan for the squash disks.

Sautéed onions, squash disks, and lardons, ready for assembly.

I then used a towel to squeeze the excess water from the grated zucchini so that it, too, could be lightly sautéed (the squash, not the water).

The finished pie, cooling a bit before slicing.

When the crust was baked, I sprinkled the lardons inside. Then I made the quiche batter with four eggs, a cup of milk, the sautéed onions, the grated zucchini, and about a cup of grated comté cheese. I poured the batter into the shell and arranged the zucchini disks on top. It all went into the oven for about forty-five minutes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Photo Du Jour : Late Summer Flowers

The flowers are putting on a little show around our well. It's kind of nice since the vegetable garden is winding down.

Black-eye susans and nasturtiums.

Thanks to all of you who commented on my last post. I feel much better since I wrote that and am no longer tossing and turning at night. Until the next thing comes along!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why I Hate America

No, I don't hate America. But I know I would be accused of hating my own country for what I am and what I think. And I hate that.

I've been losing sleep lately, ever since the Sarah Palin nomination was announced. My mind won't stop churning. I can't get it all to go out of my head. There's something terribly wrong and it's gnawing at me without relent.

I spent my short career involved, in one way or another, in American politics. Local, state, and federal. I worked for a state program created by legislative action to fund programs that fought youth delinquency. I worked in the United States Congress as an aide to one of its members (I was front office staff for a republican member from southern California). I worked in local government in northern California as a public transport executive tasked with putting together local, state, and federal (yes, earmark) funds for local transportation investments.

So I've been exposed to some politics. I've never run for, let alone held, public office. But I've been very close to some who have. I've seen some of the inner workings of the process, the dirt, and the glory.

As I said, there is something terribly wrong with what's been happening in American politics of late. And for a long time now. Recently, the "race for the White House" as it's now called, is scaring me. It's not that Sarah Palin was nominated. I congratulate her achievement. She rose from a career in local politics to become the governor of her state and the second woman nominated by her party for the office of Vice President of the United States. That's the America I learned to be proud of.

But there is something wrong. This successful woman, this representation of the progress we have made as a nation, is a staunch conservative. She is proud of her record of conservative politics. To me, this is a contradiction in terms.

The Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (the one I have) defines conservatism as follows: the practice of conserving what is established; disposition to oppose change in established institutions and methods.

Let that sink in for a moment. "Disposition to oppose change in established institutions and methods (emphasis added)."

What troubles me is that, while American conservatives are apparently energized by the nomination of one of their own, Sarah Palin is the product of very liberal policies and politics. If conservatives actually had their way, women might never have even been accorded their right to vote, let alone have a career outside the home, including, but not limited to, holding high political office. The Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1920 (less than a hundred years ago), prohibited the denial of the right to vote based on sex. That was thirty years after the Fifteenth Amendment granted the same right to black men. Would Sarah Palin have been a conservative, opposed to change, then?

It seems very strange to me that any woman, especially one who has risen to high political office, would espouse a political philosophy that would once have denied her the right to even aspire to that office.

But there's something that troubles me even more. All candidates for high office in today's America must profess their faith in a god, specifically the Christian god, in order to be considered viable. I have heard all manner of arguments about why this is so. "America is a Christian nation." It is not. "The founding fathers established America based on the Ten Commandments." They did not. I could go on.

The belief in a god or gods is not a test for holding office in America. Article VI of the United States Constitution specifically prohibits a religious test for office: ...The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

That the people have imposed this test de facto, not officially, is not illegal. Nonetheless it is troubling.

Sarah Palin is not the first candidate for national office that points to faith in a god as the foundation of her values and guiding principle for her governing style. She is one among many of the latest. I would wager that few modern politicians could get elected without doing the same.

But the extent to which her professed faith (and that of others) controls how she would govern is in direct conflict with established American law. Conservatives, and Evangelical Christians in particular, are not shy about trying to change American laws to reflect their religious beliefs. The abortion issue is just one example of this. Opposition to gay rights is another.

Still another example is the renewed attempt to replace science instruction in schools with Christian creationist dogma. Americans already wrestled with this issue earlier in the twentieth century. Scopes v. Tennesse (1925), was the first high profile case in the matter. It was not until 1968 that the US Supreme Court found, in Epperson v. Arkansas, that prohibiting the teaching of evolution theory in public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. As recently as 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled, in Edwards v. Aguillard, that mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution was unconstitutional (although it left the door open for alternative "theories" on the origin of life).

Even more recently, in 2005, a US District judge found, in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, that creationism's latest incarnation, called Intelligent Design, is not science, and that it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents," and that the school district's promotion of it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The point of all of this brief history is that Sarah Palin professes to be a creationist, and she is at least not opposed to, and arguably in favor of, teaching creationism in the public schools. That is a position that goes far beyond conservative politics and is akin to reactionary doctrine.

I was born and raised in the United States. I have a strong feeling for what it means to be an American. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are concepts that resonate deep inside of me. The United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and all of the amendments (save one, Prohibition, which was subsequently repealed), enumerate and expand the rights of human beings to these and all aspects of civilized society. We are, by definition, a liberal society.

I'm afraid of social conservatism, religious zealotry, and reactionary thinking. I'm appalled that a woman in Sarah Palin's position would embrace these ideas. I'm terrified that such a woman might one day become President of the United States.

To be conservative, or reactionary, with regard to social issues is more than troubling, it's anti-American. It's not me, or liberals, who hate America. It's those who would turn back the clock on our progress as a nation and as human beings.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It's Lumberjack Time Again

Yes, my friends, it's that time of year again. I dress in flannel, fire up my chainsaw, and cut the logs so we can heat our home during the winter. I'm a lumberjack and I'm o.k.

The first row is done. Three more to go.
One third of this is left over from last year.

In the photo above, you can see what I've cut and stacked so far. Not a lot. On the right is the collection of sticks and twigs that will be kindling for the fires. On the left is a pile of grape vine trunks that need to be cut to fit into the stove. Or, they might be left for doing barbecues next summer.

Even though I started a couple of weeks ago, I didn't really start in earnest. I cut up some of the found and fallen wood around the yard for kindling. Then I needed to get the chains sharpened. And we were waiting for the big wood delivery.

This is the wood that's left to cut.
I don't think I'll get it all cut this year.


Well, the wood got delivered and the chains got sharpened. And, boy, is there a lot of wood to cut. The logs you see above are one meter long - that's about 3 feet. Each log needs to be cut in three to fit into our wood stove. So I'm going to cut some every day (weather permitting) until I have what I think is enough for the year, then I'll stop.

There's also the hedge to trim, so I have to be prudent.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

A casual shot on the bed. And just whose bed is this? Yes, and she lets me sleep in it, too.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Friday Food

Friday was a day for leftovers. Ken made a pork roast the other day and we had a lot of it left over. So today he used garden green beans, garden summer squash, and some carrots to make a big potful of wonderful stuff.

Left over pork roast surrounded by carrots, squash, and beans.

It was delicious. So then I had to make dessert. On Thursday we had lunch at our friend Gisèle's place. She made a rustic apple tart with a pâte sablée. That's like a cookie dough crust. So I decided to try one today. I went outside and picked some apples off the tree and made my own rustic apple pie with a pâte sablée.

A rustic apple tart.

And this is what it looked like. It's rustic in that the apples are sliced slightly larger than normal, there's no custard filling, and the crust is sablée rather than brisée. I could have made it even more rustic by not arranging the apples, but I just can't help myself. I glazed the fruit with some of Ken's home made apple jelly. Yum!

It was very good, and a pâte sablée is much easier and quicker to make, but I think I prefer my standard pâte brisée because it's not so sweet.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Un Jour, Une Tour [Collage]

When I asked about doing a collage of the Eiffel Tower Series photos, I got a pretty positive response. So here it is:

The Eiffel Tower Collage.

I didn't use the picasa program for this since I wanted a format that differed from the square they offer. So I kind of free-formed it in photoshop. It ain't perfect, but it's close enough!

If you want to see the original photos, click on the eiffel tower category below or in the sidebar (you'll have to scroll down a bit when you get there).

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Light Plays Tricks

I noticed that the light in the kitchen looked particularly nice on Tuesday morning, so I went and got the camera:

Pay no attention to the dishes in the drainer.

Then I noticed what was actually piquing my interest in the scene:

A glass of rosé.

It was wine time!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Signs Of Impending Fall

We can tell fall is coming. The days are noticeably shorter. The temperatures are flirting with chilly. The plants and trees are just starting to show signs of change.

Some of summer's flowers have dried up.

I still hope that we'll have some nice September warmth, and even some good days in October. In fact, I'm certain that we will, based on previous experience. But you never know.

Blackberries are ripe and are being eaten by humans and wildlife.

As you probably know, we've got wood cutting and hedge trimming to do before it gets too cold and wet. And then the garden clean-up, some burning, and compost pile maintenance as well. Those things will wait until November.

Grapevine tendrils are drying out.

Until then, it's cross-our-fingers time for some more good dry weather.