Friday, November 30, 2012

On the grounds at Chaumont

The property at the Château de Chaumont is, like most of the big Loire Valley castles, quite extensive. There is a large park done in the English style, a large stable complex, gardens, and a small "village" of farm buildings. In addition to a fancy kitchen garden, there is also a children's garden, an indoor tropical greenhouse, and a rather large exhibition garden. The latter has a theme each year and gardeners from around the world are invited to create an entry.

Part of the out-building complex. There are art exhibits, meeting rooms, and a cafe in these renovated buildings.

The big exhibition garden had just closed down for the year when we visited, so we missed it. But there is plenty of other stuff to see. Since it was the end of October, the groundskeepers had scattered pumpkins and gourds all around the property. The little gourds on sticks were planted everywhere.

The little gourds on sticks cracked me up.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stained glass at Chaumont

This is one of the stained glass windows in the chapel of the Château de Chaumont. The chapel is built into the end of the northeastern wing overlooking the river. It's very small with ceilings high enough that there is a small balcony on the second level that provided a private worship space when needed.

I suspect (but am not at all certain) that the balcony was provided for members of the royalty so that they wouldn't have to mix with other members of the household. On a nice sunny day like the one we had, the windows are magnificent.

I believe that the red and yellow coat of arms at the bottom of the window belongs to the House of Amboise that occupied the castle for more than four centuries. The coat of arms often includes interlaced letters "C" at the top, although they're not shown in this version. The letters can also be seen carved in stone on the exterior walls of the castle. They represent Charles I and Charles II (father and son) de Chaumont d'Amboise, the lords of the castle and its lands.

Charles I was counselor to the king in the mid fifteenth century and served as governor of Champagne and Burgundy. His son became the lord of Chaumont in his turn and served as a royal knight as well as the king's ambassador to Milan.

The castle tower that you see at the top of the window looks similar to, but not exactly like, the actual castle towers, so I wonder if it is indeed a representation of the Chaumont castle or of some other place.

As to who the people depicted might be, I have no idea. I will have to go back one day to get the brochure, which might tell me. I looked in my large collection of brochures from local attractions and, curiously, I could not find one from Chaumont. But I do have several from Cheverny, Chambord, and Chenonceau.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's cooling down

Or mild weather is ending. We may be seeing freezing temperatures by the weekend. So sights like this one may be more common on our morning walks.

Frost on stinging nettles. These plants will die back once it gets a bit colder.

I did go a few days without building the daily fire during the Thanksgiving week, but yesterday I was back at it. Which means that I will clean out the stove this morning to prep for today's fire. We're also getting a fuel-oil delivery today which should take us through the winter. We use the central heating in the mornings to warm up the house, then the fire in the afternoon to keep it comfortable.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Another Chaumont interior

This may be the most furnished room in the Château de Chaumont. I don't have the brochure we got when we visited, so I can't really tell you much about it. The room is on the ground floor at the north end of the western wing and has windows on three sides.

A very pretty room at Chaumont castle.

These windows look northward over the Loire River. It was when I was taking this picture that I noticed the smudge on the lens and cleaned it off. Then I re-took the photos in this room. Unfortunately, most of the prior photos are smudged.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Walt's pumpkin pie

I like pumpkin pie and try to make at least one during the holiday season. My pie doesn't resemble the very sweet, highly spiced pies I remember in the US. I cut down on the sugar and spices so that the taste of the pumpkin comes through.

A mini-version of the pie that I made with the leftover filling from the larger pie.

This year I used a butternut squash that I grew in the garden. In past years I've grown pumpkins and used them, but butternut works just as well and has a similar flavor. You could even use sweet potatoes in place of the squash. So here's my modified recipe:

Walt's pumpkin pie
  • 2 cups roasted pumpkin pulp (or butternut, red kuri, or other similar squash), see below
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream (I mix cream with non-fat milk for a lighter pie)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves or 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest*
  • 1 pie crust

A day or two before you make the pie, roast a pumpkin or squash by cutting it in half, removing the seeds, putting the halves face-down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, then baking them at 350ºF (180ºC) for about half an hour or until the flesh is tender. When the roasted squash is cool, scoop out the flesh and refrigerate it until needed.

Preheat oven to 425ºF (210ºC).

Mix sugars, salt, spices, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and yolk and add to the bowl. Stir in the pumpkin. Stir in the cream. Whisk all together until well incorporated. I used a stand mixer for this step.

Pour the mixture into a partially baked pie shell (blind bake with pie weights for about 20 minutes then let cool while mixing the pie filling). Bake the filled pie at 425ºF (210ºC) for about 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350º (180ºC) and bake another 30 to 40 minutes until the filling is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Don't over-bake the pie; the surface will dry out and cracks will form.

If there is any filling left over, you can make mini-pies with leftover crust, or just bake the filling without crust in buttered ramekins. The filling will keep a day or two in the fridge if you're not ready to use it right away.

Cool the pie on a rack before serving with whipped cream. In France, I use un-whipped crème fraiche with a little brown sugar added to lightly sweeten it.

*I didn't have any lemon zest when I made the pie, so I substituted 1/4 tsp freshly ground coriander seeds. I ground them with a mortar and pestle, but you can use a spice grinder if you have one. The fresh seeds add a nice lemony flavor in place of fresh lemon zest.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Another dining room at Chaumont

This dining room is more modern than the last one I showed you, and probably where the last castle owners held their dinner parties (I'm only guessing here). It's on the ground floor of the castle in one of the wings that doesn't include the royal apartments.

The table is set!

I'm glad you enjoyed yesterday's recipe. Here's the recipe I used for the savory mini cannelés.

Les cannelés bordelais salés
  • 25 cl milk
  • 30 g butter
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 50 g all purpose flour
  • salt and pepper
  • your choice of garnish

Bring the milk and butter to a boil. In a large bowl, mix the flour, egg, and egg yolk until combined (I used a stand mixer). Incorporate the hot milk/butter little by little while mixing vigorously. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix into the batter whatever garnish you're using. I made two different kinds, so I divided the batter into two equal parts. In the first half, I added 25 g of grated Cantal cheese and 40 g of finely chopped cooked crispy bacon. In the second half, I added 25 g of finely crumbled Roquefort cheese and 25 g chopped toasted walnuts.

Pour the batter into mini cannelé molds (I have a silicone mold that makes 15 cannelés; I think you could also use a mini muffin mold). Fill the molds to 2/3 full. Bake in a preheated 210ºC (410ºF) oven. I actually turned the oven down to 200ºC after the first five minutes. Bake for 20 minutes. keep an eye on them so they don't get over done. Let them cool a little, turn them out of the molds onto a rack to let them cool completely. The cannelés will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a day or two and can be re-heated to crisp them up before serving.

My mold makes 15 cannelés, so I made batches. The recipe says it's for 30 mini cannelés, but I actually got 42 in total. You can also experiment with the garnishes. Some ideas include smoked salmon/dill, mozzarella/sun dried tomato/basil, chopped olives, and chopped foie gras/fig.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

More roofs and chimneys

These are on the Château de Chaumont, seen from inside the castle's courtyard. I was pointing the camera nearly into the sun, which is why the light is a little funky.

I think the chimneys are particularly ornate.

Most of the trees on our property have now dropped all their leaves. We've got to get outside and get them up before they begin to rot on the ground. Joy.

Some of you asked for a couple of the recipes from our Thanksgiving meal. I wish I had photos of everything I made to go along with them. Here's the first, for the caramelized onions we served with the duck pâté. It's more a technique than a recipe, so you can mess around with the ingredients to your liking.

Confit d'oignions au miel (onion preserves with honey)
  • 300 g white onions (I used standard yellow onions)
  • 100 g honey
  • 25 cl white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (I used about 2/3 of this amount)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves (or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground cloves or allspice)
  • 1 small red chili pepper (or 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Slice chili pepper.

In a saucepan, bring to a boil the vinegar, honey, cloves, chili pepper, and lemon zest. Add the onions and salt and let them cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and let cook another 30 minutes, or until the most of the liquid is gone. Don't let the onions brown. Let cool completely before serving.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Not my holiday table

This is one of the rooms at the Château de Chaumont that was done up in a fall theme. The floor of this room is made of intricately painted ceramic tiles. Click on the top photo to ceramify and see the tiles more clearly.

The room, with fireplaces at each end (I think), is set up as a dining room.

I had a small problem with the camera while visiting Chaumont this day. At some point, I must have touched the lens with my finger without realizing it. I noticed the smudge after taking about twenty pictures and cleaned it off, but most of my photos are marred by the smudge. You can see the effect of the smudge in the picture above; the light coming through the right-hand window is blurred.

A closer view of the table decorations.

Our Thanksgiving day was a good one. The sun came out and the day was bright and (relatively) warm and we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon meal with friends. Before we sat down for the main meal, I served a sparkling Vouvray (chenin blanc) with mini savory cannelés. Cannelés are traditional small custardy cakes from Bordeaux, normally sweet. My recipe was for a savory bite-sized version; I made half with Cantal cheese and bacon and half with Roquefort cheese and walnuts. They all got eaten. Ken's duck pâté was delicious as was the roast leg of lamb. I didn't take any pictures, but Ken took a few, mostly of the duck dish.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Castle towers

I think the castle at Chaumont looks like the typical fairy-tale castle. The corbelled and crenelated towers are topped by pointed roofs. All they need are big colorful banners flying from them. And I'll bet there used to be.

There should be a princess up there somewhere. Or maybe a prince?

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. I wish all my American readers, wherever you are in the world, a very happy Thanksgiving. Ken and I are celebrating in our traditional non-traditional way, with a leg of lamb. Yum!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Down the river from Blois, about a twenty minute ride by car, is another of the Loire Valley's famous castles: Chaumont. Built, as many of the castles are, on a bluff overlooking the river, Chaumont looks like a fairy-tale castle with round crenelated towers and pointy roofs. It even has a working drawbridge.

The base of Chaumont's southwest tower with a view of the Loire River below.

Part of Chaumont's fame comes from one of its previous owners, Diane de Poitiers. She was the mistress of King Henri II (son of François I). Henri's wife, Catherine de Médicis (of the famous Florentine de Medici family), was quite jealous of the long-lasting affair, but reportedly suffered in silence.

When Henri was killed in a jousting match in the mid-sixteenth century, his young son became king and Catherine became the regent. She used her new power to boot her former rival Diane out of the Château de Chenonceau (which Henri had given her) and in exchange gave her the castle at Chaumont as compensation. From what I've read, Diane never actually resided at Chaumont, but that's the story.

The castle is a feast for the eyes, both inside and out. Many of the rooms include period furniture, but it's mostly gathered from other places. Royal castles were plundered after the Revolution and not much remains. The last inhabitants of the castle furnished it lavishly in the nineteenth century, but they ended up having to sell the place to the government in 1938.

Oh, and Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States' founding fathers, once stayed here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Can you see it?

There's a hot-air balloon in this picture. I didn't have the long zoom lens on, so it's kind of small, but it's there, just beyond and to the right of the cathedral tower in the distance. I was at the top of the grand external staircase in the Blois castle when I saw it.

Rooftops, chimneys, and a balloon.

The roof on the left is the medieval Salle des Etats Généraux, a large gathering hall where the king held court. It was built in the early thirteenth century. The roof on the right is part of the Louis XII wing of the castle, built of red brick and stone in the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture (late fifteenth century).

Monday, November 19, 2012

New windows

These windows were made in the nineteenth century (they're practically new!) for the Catherine de Médicis oratory at the Château de Blois. I can't find much else out about them, except that they supposedly depict Catherine de Médicis in mourning.

More stained glass!

I would have liked a better photo, from farther back, but there were a bunch of people around and I didn't want to wait very long, so I settled for this close-up. I still had to wait a bit while other visitors admired the windows.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Just the top

The tower in the background of this view is part of the Cathédrale Saint-Louis de Blois. I wasn't over there on this visit, but I have gone inside in the past. It's a big building, built high on the riverbank, but Blois' cathedral is not as well-known as the high Gothic cathedrals in Paris, Chartres, Bourges, and elsewhere. It was constructed in the late Gothic style, between the end of the seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries.

A peek at the single tower of Blois' cathedral.

The cathedral is on the up-river side of the city's center, while the château is on the down-river edge. To get from one to the other on foot requires some climbing up and down the steep streets and stairways of central Blois.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Everybody must get stoned

Especially if you live in Washington State or Colorado. Could this be the beginning of the end of the criminalization of pot? Or will there be a substance abuse backlash in the coming years? I haven't done much research on the topic as it doesn't really affect me, but I haven't heard anything about whether the said states plan to regulate and tax weed, like alcohol.

Inside the courtyard at the Château de Blois. Get it? Stone... stoned? Hahahahaha!

Oh the times, they are a-changin'. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to find some potato chips.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I see you

I was up on the ramparts of the Château de Blois taking pictures when I noticed this pair of women down below. The one on the left was taking a photo of her friend on the right. Just as I pointed my camera toward them, the woman with the camera pointed hers up at me. When she saw me she burst out laughing and I snapped this.

The stairway is part of a street called La Rampe des Fossés du Château.

Unfortunately, the woman on the right started moving, so she's a blur. Just before she moved, she looked up to see what her friend was laughing at. Had I been quicker with the shutter button, I might have captured that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We interrupt this program...

I wanted to show a picture from Halloween morning before it gets too old. The morning was one of the coldest we've had this fall and the vineyard was covered in frost. These leaves are now brown and probably on the ground, but that day they were tinged with white frost.

Jack Frost has been here. Or should that be Jacques Frost?

That frost was apparently the trigger for most of the trees around here to turn color and begin dropping their leaves. Since then the temperatures have warmed up a bit. We're currently having a spell of mild weather. One of the growers whose vines are out back has already begun his annual pruning. Other workers are out replacing worn stakes, wires, and digging out dying vines. The winter work is under way.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Joan of Arc slept here

This is a painting of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) being received in Blois. The work (a rather large painting) hangs in the chapel on the castle grounds. The interesting thing about it is that it was painted by the grandfather of our friend CHM (who is also a frequent commenter on our blogs).

Joan of Arc, in battle armor, kneeling before the clergy in Blois.

Jeanne d'Arc (Sainte-Jeanne pour les intimes) is a legendary figure in France's history. She led many successful battles in the Hundred Years' War (which, according to Wikipedia, lasted 116 years) and spent a lot of time in what is now central France before being tried, convicted, and executed as a heretic. Jeanne was burned at the stake in Rouen, Normandy, in 1431. She was nineteen years old.

Throughout our region you can find plaques indicating that Jeanne d'Arc fought here, traveled there, or spent the night in this or that building. They remind me of the ubiquitous "George Washington slept here" signs you find in the eastern United States.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

La Chapelle Saint-Calais

Just off the courtyard inside the Château de Blois is what remains of the royal chapel built under King Louis XII in the late fifteenth century. Most of the building was demolished when the castle's classical wing was constructed about two-hundred and fifty years later.

The Saint-Calais chapel's brightly painted vaulted ceiling.

The stained glass windows currently in the chapel are quite modern; they date from 1957. There's another curiosity inside the chapel that I'll talk about tomorrow...

A portion of the 20th century stained glass work.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Eglise Saint-Nicolas

Here's another of Blois' many churches, Saint-Nicolas. This one is built down below the château, closer to the river. It was begun in the twelfth century as part of an abbey complex and was completed early in the thirteenth century. The other parts of the abbey were destroyed in subsequent religious wars, but they were rebuilt in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

L'église Saint-Nicolas on the Loire River at Blois.

I should mention again that Blois is the seat of un évêché catholique (a Catholic bishopric or diocese) and as such is home to a cathedral as well as these churches. The cathedral is located up on another bluff across town from the château. I've noticed that I have a couple photos with the top of the cathedral's tower in them; I may post them later.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Eglise Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Being a city of about fifty-thousand people, Blois has, in addition to its cathedral, many churches around town. This is one of them, the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul. It was built in the mid-seventeenth century and is just across the way from the château.

The setting sun lights up the western flank of the church.

I've not been inside, but it might be worth a look one day. I snapped this picture as we were heading back to the parking lot after visiting the castle.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The renaissance wing

The Château de Blois is a royal residence first constructed in the middle ages. It has been subsequently rebuilt and added to over the centuries and is an amazing agglomeration of architectural styles. I visited it for the first time a couple of weeks ago with friends from California. The castle sits on a bluff above the river (nothing unusual there) and is surrounded on all sides by the city of Blois.

This is the renaissance wing of the Blois castle. It's fun to wander around in.

I have to say that I'm amazed that I haven't been inside the castle until now. I've been coming to France since 1981 and I've lived in this region for nearly ten years, and still, this was my first visit. I must also say that I was very impressed. It's a great château to visit and I recommend it. I'm sure I'll go back before too long.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Let's look at Blois

The city of Blois is the "capital" of our départment, le Loir-et-Cher. It's the largest town, with a population of just less than 50,000. It's a pretty little city on the banks of the Loire River, and its history as a royal city is well known in France.

Rooftops in Blois, looking south from the castle across the Loire River toward Blois Sud, on the river's left bank.

Blois is not far from the fantasy hunting lodge that King François the First built at Chambord. The Château de Blois was the royal castle for quite some time during the French Renaissance. Get ready for a bunch of photos from Blois.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Chambord no more

This is the last one for now. Another view of the "wedding cake" rooftops that characterize this renaissance château. If you pay to go inside, one of things you get to do is climb up onto the terraces at the base of these roofs and wander around. In my opinion, it's one of the best parts of the interior (although, technically it's on the outside).

If you look closely (lower left) you can see people on the rooftop terrace. Click to over-the-topify.

We're still spending a lot of time on the internet reading about the US election results both on the national and the local levels. This was an historic election year on many counts!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Chambord, encore

Here's a part of the Chambord castle that's less ornate than the central section, but still quite impressive, in my opinion, as it wraps around the building's southern courtyard.

This part of the château is not open to visitors. I wonder what they keep in there?

Ken and I have been up since 4:30am watching election returns on the computers and on CNN. What a morning!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Some more Chambord

As usual, I took a bunch of photos on my most recent visit to Chambord, so you get to see a few of them here. I have been inside the château several times. In my opinion, it's worth doing, maybe once. But the castle is cavernous and mostly empty (not much furniture), so you really have to be into the architecture and have a good imagination to enjoy it. Not to mention a lot of time, since it takes a while to explore.

You can rent these pedal-cars and ride around the grounds of Chambord.

I advise visitors that, especially if they have a limited amount of time, other castles are more worth the entrance fee than this one. Chambord is definitely worth seeing, but mostly from the outside.

Monday, November 05, 2012

And speaking of Chambord

Here it is, what I like to call the grand-daddy of all the Loire Valley châteaux. I was there a week ago with some friends who were in town from California. We didn't go inside but took a leisurely walk around the exterior.

Chambord castle on a mostly sunny afternoon last week. Notice how tiny the people are off to the right.
Click on the picture to royalize... you really want to.

Before our walk, we ate lunch at one of the little places among the souvenir shops on the grounds. The plat du jour was a chicken tagine which my friends ordered. I had a galette (savory crêpe) stuffed with cheese and ham and a green salad along side. Tasty!

Just before lunch, I took C. and A. to one of our local wine co-ops for some tasting. I needed to buy some wine and I thought they'd enjoy tagging along. We tasted at least four wines: two sauvignon blancs, a gamay, and a côt. Then we bought a bunch.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A big name for a little house

This small townhouse in Le Grand-Pressigny shares its name with one of the biggest and grandest of the Loire Valley châteaux: Chambord. I like the typical lace curtain in the window. Curtains like this are mass-produced and often sold from a large roll. The pattern is such that the curtain can be cut to almost any length.

It does say "little." Click on the picture to see the curtain in more detail.

So this wraps up my photos from LG-P for now. Not bad for a half-hour walk in the rain.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Come into my garden

This inviting garden gate in Le Grand-Pressigny caught my eye. It's on the rue du Four Banal (Common Oven Street), which is a rather steep street that leads up to the castle. Back in the days when people didn't have a lot of appliances, they would take their covered dishes to the common oven for baking.

I'd love to see inside the garden. It's small, but I'll bet it's worth a peek.

There's a rue du Four in Saint-Aignan as well, but the actual four banal (common oven) no longer exists. When I was a student in Paris back in the middle ages (ok, it was 1981), I lived in a boarding house on the rue du Four in the Saint-Germain neighborhood.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Bringing home the bacon

This woman was walking home (I presume) from the main square in Le Grand-Pressigny that evening when I was out with the camera. She must have been to one or more of the shops and would have been carrying her purchases in the basket. If she was coming from the butcher shop, she might very well have had a bit of poitrine fumé (bacon), a staple in French cuisine.

An official looking building with the flags out front. I think it's town hall, but also the tourist office.

You can see some parts of the castle that dominates the heights above the town. It's a very nice château, but much of it is just ruins. Still, the town has built a very modern prehistory museum on the site that integrates beautifully with the other buildings and ruins. Worth a stop if you're in the area.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Blustery and rainy

Today is la Toussaint (All Saints Day) and it is a national holiday in France. It's also the first day in a forecast series of weather systems rolling across the country. We woke up to blustery conditions with rain tapping on the roof.

That's our little Peugeot parked on the street. I obscured the license plate number to protect the innocent.

This photo is from a few weeks ago in Le Grand-Pressigny when it was also raining, albeit less than it is right now. I saw these folks coming down the street with their umbrellas open and thought it was a nice perspective. Immediately after I snapped the picture, they folded their umbrellas and ducked into a house.