Friday, December 31, 2010
I call this a funky view because the town is much more picturesque when seen from other angles. Montrichard is built at the foot of an old château, the donjon and ramparts being all that remain of it. There is also a nice church and a pretty lively main street that parallels the river. The real estate agent we worked with to buy our house has an office here, and our bank is here as well.
Directly across the river from town, next to a small faubourg aptly named Le Bout du Pont (The End of the Bridge), is a campground with a big sandy beach. The Cher is very pretty as it glides past Montrichard.
When the weather gets better I'd like to go over and do a decent photo shoot of the place. Combine that with market shopping and/or lunch, and we could make a day of it!
By the way (and for all you language nerds out there), the "t" in Montrichard is pronounced.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
At the Montrichard Christmas eve market, I saw something I had never seen before. The vendors had many endives on display for sale to customers, all neatly trimmed and without roots attached. But off to the side, away from the beautiful displays, I saw this bin full of endives still attached to their roots. I suspect this is how they're transported to market to ensure that they stay fresh and don't wilt prior to sale.
These roots are planted in a rich soil mixture in a dark place. When the leaves begin to grow, they have no light to photosynthesize, so they stay white. The young buds are cut and sold before they get any bigger than five or six inches long.
What I don't know is if they re-plant those roots for another crop.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
In addition to the sprouts and a bunch of celery, we got some topinambours (jerusalem artichokes). They were big and round and good looking and the price was not high, so we got some. We still haven't eaten them, but they're fine in the fridge for a while. They are actually the root of a particular sunflower and they're very tasty eaten like potatoes, whole or pureed.
There were also some gorgeous carrots and panais (parsnips). We resisted those because we already had carrots at home and couldn't think when we'd eat the parsnips. We both like parsnips so we'll go back and get some another time.
One interesting thing I noticed in the picture is that the little price signs say that the vegetables (the topinambours and panais, at least) were harvested in Beaulieu-lès-Loches, a town that's about forty minutes south of us. Real local food.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The cake was richly dense, imbibed with orange flavor, and topped with a thick and sticky orange glaze. It was a very sensual cake and perfect for the winter holidays when oranges from Spain and North Africa are in season. Naturally, I asked for the recipe and decided to try it out myself for Christmas day. It turned out very nice and I'm encouraged to try it again.
The cake's intense orange flavor comes from the combination of orange juice, orange zest, orange liqueur, and sugar which is reduced and poured onto the cake and allowed to soak in over several hours. The glaze is the same mixture, reduced even further to a near caramel stage before being spread on top.
*****UPDATE: A few of you asked for the recipe, so here it is.
Valencia Orange Cake
Beat together until pale yellow:
- 3 eggs
- 1 ¼ cup sugar
- 1 cup milk (or milk and orange juice to make 1 cup)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 ¾ cup flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 pinch salt
Add the sifted flour mixture a little at a time to wet ingredients until well blended. Pour batter into an 8” cake pan that has been buttered and dusted with flour and sugar. Bake in a pre-heated 375º oven for 30-45 minutes or until an inserted wooden skewer comes out clean. Turn the oven down to 350º halfway through the baking if it seems to be going too fast. Cool on a wire rack.
To make the sauce, combine:
- 1 ¼ cup orange juice
- 1 cup sugar
- Zest of 1 orange
- A shot of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or Triple Sec)
Heat in a sauce pan and simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Using a wooden skewer, poke holes in the cooled cake. Pour HALF the sauce onto to cake to imbibe it. You can thin the sauce with a little more liqueur if you like. Allow it to imbibe for at least an hour.
For the final glaze, simmer the remaining half of the sauce until it reduces to a few tablespoons. Spread it on the cake with a spatula. Decorate with strips of fresh orange zest if desired.
Monday, December 27, 2010
I'm a sucker for a corny joke or pun. The sillier it is, the more I like it. Simple minded, I suppose. I've never forgotten that card and now I wish I had bought one and saved it.
Little did I know back then that "tater tots" are actually the fast-food version of a French classic: pommes dauphine. I saw one of the Cuisine TV hosts make them a few weeks ago and decided I would try them out for our Christmas dinner. They're not difficult to make, but after making them I understand why they come frozen and ready to pop into the oven.
First you have to peel, boil, and mash about a pound of potatoes. Then you make a pâte à choux (puff paste) by melting 100 g of butter in 1/4 liter of salted water. When it comes to the boil, add (all at once) 200 g of flour and stir it in with a wooden spoon. Once it's well blended and forming a thin skin on the pan, remove it from the heat and add four eggs, one at a time, stirring each in completely before adding the next.
When this is done, add the mashed potatoes and mix thoroughly. Heat up some oil for deep-frying, then form the potato mixture into little balls or quenelles using two spoons. Fry them until they're golden brown, drain on paper towels, and serve warm.
I made about twenty with two thirds of the dough. I'm going to freeze the remaining dough and make more another time. Of course, for just the two of us, twenty tots were far too many, so we had some left over. I just heated them up in the oven the next day.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
There are other fondues in that area, each made principally with its own local cheese. The fondue we made this year used cheeses from the Auvergne region in the mountains of the Massif Central. It could just as well have been called fondue Auvergnate. It's made with the local cantal and St.-Nectaire cheeses, both of which we really like. If you haven't already seen it, Ken posted about these cheeses here.
Since the cheeses come from the Massif Central, I decided we should call ours une fondue massive. A little play on words there.
It was good, but not as good as a good Alpine fondue; the cheese was very mild once it had melted and not all that flavorful. We ended up grating some Comté into it after we started eating to give it some of that sharpness and nuttiness that we like in a fondue. That worked well and we were not disappointed.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
We got the turkey and some chicken livers, some sprouts, some celery, some topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes), some salad, and some bread. Then we went and got some wine for the weekend. The market was not too crowded yet (we got there early) and a light snow started to fall while we shopped. It was very pretty and quite festive as everybody we encountered was in a good mood.
Oh, and I'm trying something new this year. It's called pommes dauphines. It's French for, well, 'tater tots. With their eyes all aglow. It's potatoes in a purée, mixed with a pâte à choux pastry, then deep fried in oil. If they turn out ok, I'll try to remember to take pictures. I'm making them from scratch and not buying them from the freezer section. Just sayin'.
Here's hoping your day is beautiful and delicious!
Friday, December 24, 2010
We plan to roast the turkey breast on a pile of stuffing. The photo above is the turkey (without its legs) we cooked in 2003, our first year in this house. The stuffing was made with rice; this year's will be made with cornbread. But you get the idea. The legs will be removed and made into confit (slow-cooked in duck fat), to be eaten later.
As they say in France: Bonnes fêtes de fin d'année ! et Bon réveillon !
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Ken and I spent the morning shopping. We had to get new tires on the car to pass the bi-annual inspection this year, so we took advantage of the wait time to hit the hardware store, the home decoration store, and the grocery store, all within a five-minute walk of the garage.
Lunch was the traditional steak au poivre. That's the meal I had on my birthday while in Nice, France, back in 1981. I've had the same meal on my birthday every year since then. When we made the dish back in the US, we'd often use a cut from the tenderloin, either filet, tournedos, or chateaubriand. Here in France the usual steak for the dish is rumsteak, a very lean and tender cut, which is what we got. I crushed a bunch of black peppercorns with the mortar and pestle and coated the steaks with it. They sat for about an hour like that.
Then we seared the steaks in a hot pan and set them on a platter to rest under foil. The pan was de-glazed with armagnac and the sauce made with a little beef bouillon and cream. And more armagnac. We served the steaks with French fries, as is our tradition. The steaks were perfectly done: crusty on the outside and very rare inside. Pure heaven on a plate!
By the way, Ken's photos of this year's meal are here.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I have no idea what house or apartment my parents lived in when I was born; they didn't live there long because they moved shortly after. I don't even know where this picture was taken. If you look closely, you can see my dad's wedding ring. I still have that. It's a strange thing to have, but there you go.
Monday, December 20, 2010
She wrote that the photos belonged to her aunt and that a cousin sent them to her recently. I'm sure I've never seen them before. Except for these now, the oldest pictures I have of my dad are from his wedding a little over two years before I was born. He died very young in 1982.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
When I set up the little stuffed dog to take it's picture Callie was extremely curious. You can see her snout sniffing the new arrival in the photo. Once the picture taking was done, Callie got to play with her new "friend." After a few minutes, well, it wasn't pretty.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
We don't get much junk mail here in France compared to what we used to get in San Francisco. But there is some (You may already be a winner!). Since the local supermarket flyers make up most of the junk mail we receive, and we actually want to get those, we haven't thought about putting a stop pub sticker on our mailbox.
In case you are wondering, pub is short for la publicité, which is the French word for commercial advertising.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Then I took the camera out at dusk to see if I could get a decent photo. Out of the ten or so photos I took just after sunset, the one above turned out best. It's a very subtle look. I'm not comfortable enough with my ladder skills to get lights up along the roof line (two floors above the ground). And besides, with the lights strung on the deck railing, I can see them from inside the house.
I noticed when I was out with the camera that one of the neighbors down the road was also putting up his lights. These neighbors are Parisians, but they're retiring to this house they've owned for years. He switched the lights on and I took this photo:
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Then I think I figured out what it was. The large roof of the old présidial is missing (see what it looked like here). It should be visible just to the left of the smaller church tower, blocking the view of the château's roof line. It's been torn down. That's not surprising, given that the roof had huge gashes in it and looked like it might collapse any time.
Within the past year, a large scaffolding was erected around the giant roof, and I thought that repairs were under way. But it seems that demolition was the goal. I have no information about whether the demolition is temporary or permanent. Did they remove the old broken roof and build something more modest to save the building? Are there plans to rebuild the roof as it once was? Who knows?
I'll have to talk to my friends who live in town and see what they know. We live outside the town limits in another jurisdiction, so we don't get any newsletters or other official information about what goes on in Saint-Aignan proper. It would be a shame to permanently lose that old roof; it was a distinctive part of the town's skyline. On the other hand, renovations cost money and saving the building and making it usable (not to mention safer) might be more realistic in this case than preserving the skyline.
I know, being a city planner, that you can't save everything. Sometimes photographs and memories have to suffice. And, actually, the view is much better this way.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
What replaced them are these underground outlets (you can see one in the bottom center of the photo above). When they're closed up, they look just like the other cobble stones around them. On market day, they're opened up and a big electrical hookup pops out. Pretty cool, eh?
This is one of the poultry vendors at our market. It's not the one we normally go to. But he has these two big rotisseries going every Saturday. The rotation is powered by electricity and bottled gas provides the flames for cooking. Chickens roast all morning on the spits and are sold to customers who want an already cooked bird. As the chickens turn on the spits, their juices drip down into a tray at the bottom of the rotisserie that is filled with small peeled potatoes. The cooked potatoes are sold along with the chickens. Yum!
Since the market square is built on a slope, this vendor uses a few egg cartons to steady his rotisseries on the cobblestones. You can see a corner of the fish monger's stand to the right in the photo.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Well, now the new trees are in. They are very young trees, barely taller than a man, and it will be a few years before they even begin to cast some shade in summer. All together there are seven trees in the square. I'm not sure what species they are, but once they leaf out this spring I should be able to tell.
It's strange when these renovations are done. I'm used to France seeming so old, with huge old trees lining the avenues and shading the public squares. I forget that all those old-looking places were new once, that they've likely been renovated once or twice over the centuries, and with young trees. I suppose I'm fortunate to see what the square looks like "as new." The shock of the bare and new will wear off over time, to be sure.
In twenty years, it might look old again.
Monday, December 13, 2010
We live at the intersection of three A.O.C. goat cheese regions, each with its distinctive shape for the cheese: Selles-sur-Cher (disk shaped), Valençay (pyramid shaped), and Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine (log shaped with a straw in the middle). We're also close to the Chavignol and Pouligny cheese regions. There is a lot of goat cheese at all the markets around us. Our little market here in Saint-Aignan has at least three different goat cheese vendors that I can think of.
In my experience, there isn't much of a flavor difference among these goat cheeses. But each cheese is available in a range of ripeness from "fresh" to "very dry." That's where the flavor differences lie.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
What we knew beforehand, however, was that we wanted to order our bird from the volailler we've come to know and trust at the Saturday market: Chez Malbran. So we lined up and asked the appropriate questions. The turkey was about seven and a half euros a kilo. That was my upper limit for turkey, since guinea fowl was five euros twenty per kilo. The woman at the counter said we could get a small turkey, between three and four kilos. That was fine, so we ordered one.
We'll pick up the bird on Christmas Eve in Montrichard, a town about twenty minutes from us. That's where the poultry vendor will be on Christmas Eve. Not in our town. You do have to figure out where the vendors will be on which day, especially when there will be holidays involved.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Then a walnut in its shell probably fell on the floor and Callie went to work. She knew what was inside and deftly cracked the shell open and licked out the nut meat. She left the shell in pieces on the floor. Soon after that, she began to sit and beg for walnuts each time one of us cracked some. In no time she learned that we kept them in a bowl on the table. I caught her more than once with forepaws on the tabletop, looking longingly at the bowl of walnuts. After a sharp "No!" she would get down. But then she'd get a walnut rolled across the floor.
Now she stands and whimpers under the buffet where the bowl of walnuts sits. Every day. I try to resist, but I can't. I roll a walnut along the floor, Callie chases it down and cracks it open. She gobbles down the nut and leaves the shells on the floor.
For now she's getting the tiny nuts we collected this fall from under the tree in the vineyard. Callie began to stop under that tree during every walk and eat one or two fallen walnuts while either Ken or I was busy stuffing our pockets. She always cracked them open and left the shells behind. But while she's slowly eating up the nuts we collected, we're not without walnuts for cooking; a friend of ours who has a walnut tree in her yard gave us a good supply of nice big walnuts and we are still using them.
I don't know what we're going to do when we run out of walnuts. I refuse to buy walnuts for the dog. I simply refuse. Stop that snickering, Callie.
I just did some internet research and found a lot of sites that say walnuts, especially shells that have gotten wet and grow mold, are poisonous to dogs. They cause all kinds of gastrointestinal problems that lead to vomiting, excessive drooling, and loss of appetite. Callie has shown none of these symptoms. She's not vomited and she eats very healthily. And she's been eating walnuts (sans shells) for months. But still, apparently there's a lot of phosphorous in walnuts that can lead to kidney stones.
You know, it's just like with humans. Everything is bad for you. Every week some study is misrepresented in the news, and many people (especially now with the internet) can get all panicky and go overboard with things, magnifying the risks of anything and everything until they're afraid to step out their front doors.
Dogs have been around for a long time. And so have walnut trees. And, I dare say, dogs and walnut trees have coexisted without great harm to either for thousands of years. The town across the river from us is called Noyers-sur-Cher, which means "Walnut-trees-on-the-Cher." And there are plenty of healthy dogs over there.
So, I'm not going to worry too much.
But I'm also going to stop giving walnuts to Callie. There aren't many left anyway, as I said. I'll give her a doggy treat instead. This isn't going to be easy for either of us.
Friday, December 10, 2010
The shopping went fine; it was not a zoo. We didn't find everything we wanted, but we picked up a few more grocery items than planned so the trip was worthwhile. And the drive was pleasant in that the sky cleared along the way. The sun made everything look nice and gave us a good dose of whatever it is the sun gives you.
Of course, neither of us thought to take our cameras, so we have no photos to share.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
The thermometer is radio-controlled with an outdoor unit that's hanging on the north side of the house, under shelter and shaded. I have a plastic rain gauge in the back yard that I have to remember to look at after each rain, and empty. The daily recordings are habits now and I rarely forget to do them.
These charts are made from the spreadsheet program. The top one shows how our temperatures dropped somewhat dramatically during the month of November. We spent the first half of the month enjoying highs around 15ºC (the high 50sF). The second half of the month we watched (and felt) the temperatures fall steadily to zero (freezing) and below. The snowstorm we had occurred on Sunday the twenty-eighth.
The bottom chart shows all the temperatures I've recorded since March 2005. Isn't retirement fun?
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
This snowfall is history. Tuesday morning's walk in the vineyard felt very France-like. Bare trees. Many browns and somber colors all around. Leaden sky and a light rain falling. The bright spot in this season is that the grass is vibrant green. Our grass doesn't go brown in winter.
Sometimes the grass begins to turn brown in a hot, dry summer, but it never goes completely brown. But in winter, our yards and the rows between the vines in the vineyard are as green as a Saint Patrick's Day parade.
It helps with the mood.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Our next taste of winter should come on Wednesday and Thursday when temperatures are predicted to head south again. And with all this water on the ground, it will be interesting. We'll see. It's a good thing that Ken went to the store for some staple items on Monday.
The snow melt is revealing all the fallen leaves that we didn't get up off the ground. When it started raining, the leaves were still on the trees. As they fell, they were wet and we thought we'd give them a chance to dry before raking them up. Then it snowed. I'm hopeful that they'll have a chance to dry out again before they decompose.
Monday, December 06, 2010
These are the two maple trees in our front yard directly opposite the kitchen window. In summer, when they're leafed out, they shade the front of the house until mid-morning. We get nice dappled sunlight through the eastern windows. In winter, the sun (when it's visible) can beam right into the kitchen and living room through the bare branches.
The rains began on Sunday and the snow is washing away. The weather people say the thaw is temporary. Of course it is... it's only December 6! Winter hasn't even begun yet. This has the makings of a long, cold season.
Sunday, December 05, 2010
There are many chevreuil (roe deer) tracks as well, but they normally are fewer and farther between, usually going in one direction without much diversion. And now I know renard (fox) tracks are among those I see, since on Friday morning a fox crossed our path during the walk. Callie chased it into the woods.
There are also bird tracks. I suspect these above belong to un faisan (a pheasant), but I'm not certain. Callie will flush pairs of pheasants from their hiding places under the vines every once in a while. The male will take off in one direction with dog following it. Then the female will fly off in the opposite direction. Pretty clever, those pheasants.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
Still, the temperatures haven't gone above freezing, so you never know when you might encounter a patch of verglas (black ice). We have all the food we need in the house, thanks to a well-stocked pantry and a good chest freezer. We have frozen baguettes for the days when bread is not normally delivered. And Ken's made cornbread and biscuits, too.
The prognosticators say the thaw will come on Sunday. Even if it does, my snow photos will go on for a bit.
Friday, December 03, 2010
On one afternoon I was watching nature programming on television. Bertie was in the chair closest to the fireplace. He was up on the arm of the chair to get some of the heat from the fire. Of course, I had to grab the camera because he looked so cute. The shot with the elephant cracks me up.
I watched a movie downstairs on Tuesday night while Ken and Callie were upstairs. Bertie spent most of the time on my lap. Then he started getting curious and ventured into the kitchen. In a snap he was up on the counter and down into the sink. After that he was back down in his room.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
My favorite part of snow walks, and I think I've mentioned this before, is that Callie is clean when she gets home. No mud or dirt. Just little snowballs clinging to her fur. I pick them off and she eats them. More fun! When this snow starts to melt and the mud returns, we'll be back to our post-walk shower routine.
The days are shorter and shorter as we move toward the solstice. But we have holiday traditions to look forward to that will get us through. All of them involve food. On the solstice we have steak au poivre in a cognac cream sauce with french fries. Christmas Eve brings our annual fondue savoyarde (cheese fondue). On New Year's Eve we'll eat huîtres (oysters) on the half shell. And on January 1 we'll ring in the new year with a pot of black-eyed peas.
That last one is a Southern American tradition. My research shows that it originated as one of many food traditions of Sephardi Jews in the fourth and fifth centuries. They ate the plentiful and nutritious bean on New Year's Day for luck and prosperity. Migrating Jews took the tradition with them to the American south in the early eighteenth century and it spread.
This reminds me of the (very politically incorrect) rhyme I knew as a kid:
Roses are red-ish, violets are blue-ish.
If it wasn't for Christmas, we'd all be Jewish.
Shalom! And Happy Hanukkah!
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
We're fortunate that our power returned within a few hours after the snow storm and that we can run the boiler. The house would be mighty cold if we had to rely on the wood stove alone. We did that back in early March; it was fine, but not fun. And electricity is not overrated. It keeps us in touch with the outside world.
Apparently much of northern Europe in is the chill zone. The only thing really unusual here is the timing. This weather is more fit for January or February. This cold, this early, is newsworthy. The map above shows our Tuesday morning temperatures. We live where you see that hot pink dot in the middle of France.