Thursday, May 31, 2007

La Baule

La Baule is a late 19th century creation very near the mouth of the Loire River, a town that didn't exist until city folk (read Parisians) began flocking to the coast in summer for sea, sex, and sun (a song by Serge Gainsbourg). And of course, that newfangled invention, the train, made it possible for working people to go farther from Paris and in greater numbers than ever before.

La plage à La Baule. We weren't the only nuts on the beach in January.

We passed through La Baule in January. The dramatic curve of the city's south-facing beach and its wall of white condos and hotels was as impressive as it was lifeless. I'm certain that it's a very different story in July and August.

A closer look at the white wall of buildings that hugs the beach.

There are about 16,000 year-round Baulois - a population that most definitely swells in summer. We stopped for a quick, and cold, walk on the beach before driving on to our next destination.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Word Of The Week

crevé (e)

This is the adjective form of the verb crever, which comes from the latin crepare, to crack. In French, it has several similar meanings. The first is to burst, with the most common usage referring to tires.

Un pneu crevé
is a flat tire.

Crevé can also mean dead, as in something or someone that has just keeled over.

The familiar usage of the adjective is tired, exhausted. Je suis crevé, I'm beat. That's how I feel some days after playing with Callie for what seems like hours, and being waken up at 5 or 6 in the morning by her stirrings. At least there are no 3:00 am feedings to contend with.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kitchen Collection [24]

I love french fries. For years, Ken and I have been making our own fries at home. That's not to say we don't eat fries out - a good steak-frites or poulet-frites in a bistro can't be beat.

We have an old enamel fryer with a wire basket that has served us well over the years. We've tried and tried to perfect the method, be it par-boiling then frying the potatoes, or frying them once, twice, three times at different temperatures, or using different varieties of potato, all with mixed results. Always edible results, but just not like good bistro fries. One of the problems we had was regulating the temperature of the oil using an instant-read thermometer.

The friteuse has several temperature settings depending on what you're frying.

Then, about a year and a half ago, our friend Cheryl sent us a friteuse, pictured here. It's an electric fryer, so the temperature is totally regulated and worry-free. And we've discovered that we can use frozen fries from the supermarket to make the perfect crispy fries we like. The supermarket frites are just potatoes, no additives, so we don't feel bad about making them.

We love the fryer, and have used it to fry fish, hushpuppies, and lately, sweet-potato fries. Yum !

Monday, May 28, 2007

Château De Ranrouët

The ruins of the Château de Ranrouët.

As we looked for a place to have our picnic lunch, we noticed on the map a marking for the ruins of a castle and headed for it. It was the Château de Ranrouët, a 12th and 13th century fortress that was mostly demolished in the 17th century by Louis XIII, then subsequently burned during the French Revolution.

The sun was out for our picnic on the castle grounds.

The grounds around the castle were deserted and we had it all to ourselves. It turned out to be the perfect picnic spot. After eating, we wandered around the shell of the castle. The door was locked, so going inside the walls was not possible. I think there may have been a sign to the effect that there was an archaeological dig going on and the interior was closed.

Anybody home ?

Sunday, May 27, 2007


From Carnac we continued south along the coast and made our way to the Presqu'île de Quiberon and the town of Quiberon at its southern tip. The place was mostly closed up - remember, this is January - but we managed to find a hotel for the night. It was a modern place, plain, nondescript. There were other guests, mostly truck drivers we supposed.

A view of Vannes from outside the old ramparts with the Cathédrale St.-Pierre in the background.

Quiberon is where the ferry leaves for Belle-Ile, the inspiration for one of Laurent Voulzy's signature songs, "Belle-Ile en Mer."

A street scene in central Vannes.

I think we ate in the hotel, but really can't remember, and headed out early the next morning. We stopped in Vannes, larger city (about 50,000 Vannetais) on the Golfe du Morbihan. It was a quick stop, but enough to pick up the fixin's for a picnic lunch, and to wander around a bit and see the 13th century ramparts and the historic lavoirs, the place on the river where women would go to do their washing. These old buildings can be found all over France, but they're particularly elaborate and well-preserved in Vannes.

The historic lavoirs in Vannes.

Next, we were off to find a place to have our picnic.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Les alignements de Kerlescan, or Kermario, or Ménec. I don't remember precisely which site this is.

This entry is mis-named because it's not about the town of Carnac itself. Outside of the town are several sites filled with stone alignments, megaliths, and other relics of prehistory. Many are dated to 5000-2000 years before the common era.

Prehistoric stone alignments in a field near a more recent structure.

There's really not much for the untrained eye (like mine) to see, but it's interesting nonetheless. We really just did a drive-by, stopping for some photos like the ones posted here, but that's about it. It was just before lunch and we were getting hungry. Food trumps history once again.

More lined-up rocks. When you think about what it might have taken to do this, it's quite impressive.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

Callie has several chew toys, but her favorites are always the ones not found in stores. For example, this is her Piece of Wood. We noticed that she liked to chew on furniture legs, so we tried to find an acceptable substitute. One trip to the log pile and voilà ! She still chomps on the furniture, though...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pont Aven

Just about three thousand Pontavenistes call this small Aven River town home. And from what we saw, they're pretty well off, too. The town is at the point where the river becomes a small estuary, and the tides are pretty dramatic.

Sail boats stranded in the Aven River at low tide.

Each day, the tide strands the many pleasure boats in the mud. I had never seen boats with their keels stuck in the mud before this trip. It was pretty funny at the time, but I guess it's quite normal.

I never knew boat keels were strong enough to support the whole boat.

Pont Aven is famous for a late 19th century art movement that included Paul Gauguin and for its traditional Breton cookies. We bought a box of the latter on our visit and kept the tin for ages.

Park your boat at your front door !

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Word Of The Week


This one is topical, given that we have a new puppy in the house. The word comes from the latin camella, meaning "cup." It's used to describe a bowl, usually fitted with a cover, that soldiers or campers use to hold the food they eat. The contents of the bowl can also be referred to as la gamelle.

Gamelle is also a familiar term for a dog's dish. Callie has inherited les gamelles (above) that Collette left behind.

Kitchen Collection [23]

I think that freshly ground pepper is a must in any household that enjoys food. Pre-ground pepper is okay for some uses, like picnics and camping, due mainly to its convenience. I like to have one pepper mill in the kitchen for cooking and another on the table for adding pepper during the meal.

I can't begin to remember how many pepper mills we've had over the years. Some worked well, others not so well. They were plastic, wooden, and metal, but always with a metal grinder mechanism.

The one pictured here is one we found in a kitchen store in Paris many years ago and its place is on our dining room table. It was our first Peugeot. Our second is sitting in the driveway. Vroom vroom !

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fabulous Rainy Sunday

Ken mentioned in a recent post of his that we had friends Carmen and Cam in town this weekend. They're staying at a bed and breakfast down the road from us. On Sunday they came by and picked me up and we went out for a short tour of some local sights.

Cam and Carmen at the Château de Chenonceau.

The weather was just dandy - by that I mean that it was deeply overcast and cool, with spitting rain and some real showers mixed in from time to time. We drove over to Thésée-la-Romaine, across the river from us, to see the bits of old roman ruins. Then over to Monthou-sur-Cher to take a quick look at the exterior of the Château du Gué Péan where there is an equestrian club and school.

The château seen from the garden of Diane de Poitiers.

Next up was the star of the day : the Château de Chenonceau. We parked and walked down the beautiful allée of trees at the entrance to the gardens and walked around in both the de Medicis and de Poitiers gardens for a while. The colors were very muted, with greens and blues being the dominant springtime colors this year. By the time we made our way into the château itself, rain started coming down. We couldn't have timed it better.

We spent a good hour and a half exploring the rooms, looking at tapestries and paintings, and the views from the windows. There were a lot of other visitors, but it wasn't horrendously crowded as I know it can be. All in all we had a very pleasant visit.

The central fountain in the Diane de Poitiers garden.

The rain slowed to a light drizzle right when we were ready to leave and we had a nice stroll back to the car. Once again we were off, and drove over to Amboise to take a look at the château (another drive-by) and we stopped briefly in town for a candy bar to take the edge off a bit of hunger.

Next it was on to Montrichard and a little farther south for yet another drive-by of the Château de Montpoupon, then back to the house through the forests and fields of the southern Touraine. The landscape was a deep lush green owing to the two weeks of rain we've just had.

When we got home, Ken had done the prep for our late afternoon meal. We opened a bottle of Veuve Clicquot that Carmen had given us and munched on a feuilleté of pork sausage that Ken picked up at the bakery that morning. Next we sat down to some local pork and duck rillettes and cornichons.

A decorative urn.

The main course was an asparagus tarte. I made the crust earlier in the morning, Ken prepared the locally grown asparagus while we were out and wrapped little bundles of them in ham, then while we were having appetizers, I made the custard and assembled and baked the tarte. We served it with a salad of cherry tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette and herbs from our garden.

The next course was salad of oak leaf lettuce and endive with toasted walnuts and some of our local goat cheese. For dessert we had fresh local strawberries accompanying a cannelé, a timbale-shaped cake flavored with vanilla and rum, served with a dollop of crème fraiche.

Leaded windows overlook the Cher River.

Yum ! It was a nice day and it was great to see our friends from California. The last time we saw them was three years ago in Paris on the occasion of Cam's proposal of marriage to Carmen.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


The Presqu'Ile de Penmarch, or Penmarch Peninsula, is the next bit of land to jut out into the Atlantic on the western coast of Brittany as you move south from Raz. We drove around it, down through the town of Penmarch itself, and saw more of the rocky, rugged coastline and black and white houses that define Brittany.

A typical view along the Penmarch coastline.

The one difference we noticed as we moved south was that the high bluffs and cliffs gave way to lower lands along the coast. There seemed to me to be more towns and villages along the water than there were further north.

A church sits behind its protective seawall at low tide. I don't remember the exact location of these photos.

Penmarch is part of the region called la Cornouaille (like Cornwall in England ?) that is known for its fishing ports that trade in sardines and langoustes as well as its inland farms that grow potatoes and other vegetables. Up until the 16th century, the ports of Penmarch were rich with cod caught off its coast. But these fish deserted the waters of southern Brittany, or were fished out, and they no longer make up a significant part of the region's catch.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pointe Du Raz

I thought, from looking at maps, that the Pointe du Raz was the western most point in mainland France. But I was looking at the wrong maps. When I got out my atlas, the maps with actual lines of longitude on them, I saw that the western most point might really be back up closer to Brest. At least, it looks that way. It's close. I also read on one web site that Raz is it, so now I'm completely confused. Anyone know ? **UPDATE : according to Wikipedia, the western point is the Pointe de Saint-Mathieu, up by Brest.

This is actually the Pointe du Van as seen from the Pointe du Raz to its south.

We drove out to the point and saw more of the dramatic western coast along the Atlantic, and the weather was definitely better than it had been in Normandy. The ocean is so huge, the land so massive, that you don't really get an impression of the scale until there is a building or two in the view.

A cove and a beach and a building.

Out toward the point was this tiny building, sitting nearly by itself (in 1992), that was called the Hôtel de l'Iroise. It was a strange sight, this perfect little white building, isolated, no cars, no sign of people, hardly any indication that it was a hotel aside from the words painted on the front of the building. I see from looking on the web that it's still there and was the subject of a German (I think) film in 1997.

The Hôtel de l'Iroise. We didn't stay there.

We drove and looked, drove and looked, stopping now and again for photos, constantly looking at the map for where to head next. There weren't many people around - it was January - and we truly felt we were at the end of the earth. Land's End. Finistère.

Typical Breton buildings on a marsh.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

It's a dog's life, or, I love nap time. Sorry about the photo quality but there wasn't much light.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Only one photo today. On our way from Crozon to the Pointe du Raz, we passed the city of Douarnenez and were taken by the view from across its bay. Obviously a port town, the pastel colors of some of the buildings were a surprise in otherwise black-and-white Brittany.

The port of Douarnenez on the bay of the same name.

There are about 16,000 Douarnenistes living there today. We didn't drive into town, but I'll bet it would have been worth a look. Ah, next time...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Word Of The Week


The first full day that we had our new puppy, Callie, at home, we also had a contractor in to replace our kitchen window. We hadn't planned on the two things happening at the same time, but that's the way things go.

During a break in the work, we took Callie outside and she played a little with the workers. One of them was full of advice on puppy training and how to apply discipline.

"N'hésitez pas à lui donner des calottes quand elle les mérite," he said. Oh, don't worry, I replied, or something or other just to agree with him and move on. I took the dog inside and had to ask Ken what calottes were. He wasn't sure, so I went to the dictionary.

The first definition for calotte is a small cap that covers the top of the head, typically worn by the clergy. Examples are the red cap that a cardinal wears, or the white one worn by the pope, or the jewish yarmulke. Why should I feel free to give the dog little skullcaps ? It was obviously the second meaning for calotte that our worker had in mind : a slap on the head or the face. All was clear now. He had said, "Don't hesitate to give her a few whacks when she deserves it."

When we got Collette, our first dog, in 1992, a friend of mine gave me the book The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete in upstate New York. These guys have made a business of raising and training German shepards. Dogs are descended from wolves, they point out, and you the human are the alpha wolf, or top dog. You need to show them that.

When they misbehave, do what the alpha dog would do : grab the puppy firmly by the loose skin around the neck (you can't hurt it there) and in a swift movement, turn it over on its back, look directly into its eyes and give it a loud "NO !" The dog will go limp and submissive and will learn not to do whatever it was it was doing AND learn that you are the boss. It worked great with Collette, and I've already "alpha'd" Callie a time or two. I'm top dog ! No need for calottes.

Update : well, I've actually had occasion to tap Callie on the snout. It's a complete reflex action. She'll bite with those sharp little teeth during a play session, sometimes on my face. Then whack ! Before I know it, I've slapped her. It makes me feel worse than it makes her feel, I'm sure. Just more play as far as she's concerned.

She's been more and more aggressive with her chewing in the past few days, probably due to the miserable weather and the fact that we can't be outside playing as much and she's bored. No amount of "No's" or the substitution of proper chew toys have had any effect. This morning I had totally had it. I got out the training collar and gave her a lesson. She yelped and went completely submissive and afterward just sat down and pouted for a while. Then she came over and licked me and is now curled up at my feet as I type. She's not chewing on anything.

I remember that, back when Collette was a puppy, the trainer told me that I was not aggressive enough - humans are often afraid to hurt a dog or the dog's feelings during training sessions. That gives the dog the idea that she is in charge. When the trainer took Collette and was appropriately aggressive with her, she was like putty in his hands. I need to remember that.

Sorry for the long dog story, but writing it down seems to help.

Woof !

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kitchen Collection [22]

Holy strainer, Batman ! Hard to tell from my attempt at an artsy photo (below), but this is a simple strainer. We had one for years that was made out of wire. It was about 10 inches across and we used it for everything from straining pasta to rinsing strawberries. It served us well, but began to come apart.

The strainer had a long handle on one side and a short handle on the other. It spanned the sink perfectly ; the handles sat on the sides of the sink and the strainer didn't touch the bottom. Very useful, if you can picture it.

We looked and looked for a replacement and finally settled for a traditional plastic colander. Next thing you know, we're in Ikea and find this perforated stainless steel strainer about the same size as our old one and with the same handle configuration. And it was quite inexpensive - always a plus !

Monday, May 14, 2007

Presqu'île De Crozon

Looking out at the Atlantic Ocean from the Presqu'île de Crozon.

The Crozon peninsula juts out into space between the Brest harbor and the Bay of Douarnenez. It's part of a larger national park with dramatic cliffs and coves, and it reminded me a lot of the Northern California coast.

Cliffs meet the churning water below.

We spent the night in the small town of Crozon before exploring the peninsula. It was dark and raining when we arrived in Crozon and found a small hotel - I'm not even sure where it was. Ken suggested that I go in to ask about a room. I think he was sick of being the one who always did it. I was not very confident about my French skills back then, but it was clear that if we wanted a room, I had to go get one.

Looking north across the Cove of Dinan (I think).

The place was old and dark inside. Two older women staffed desk, and they were not warm and welcoming, but brisk and business like. I asked for a room and we got one with no trouble. I went back to the car almost ecstatic that I had done the deed. What was the big deal ; it was just hotel transaction.

Another view from the peninsula.

The wind howled all night, I remember, and I think we may have been the only guests in the hotel that night. It certainly seemed that way. That experience is what I think of whenever I hear the old cliché, "It was a dark and stormy night."

The vegetation on the peninsula was short and scrubby in between lots of exposed rocks.

We explored part of the windswept coastline the next morning, then headed around the Bay of Douarnenez.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Kiwi Tarte

What do you do with an over-supply of kiwi fruit ? Why, make a tarte aux kiwis, of course !

This tarte was made with an almond custard and I glazed it with a simple sugar syrup. And it is good with a glass of crisp, dry sauvignon blanc. Elle n'est pas belle, la vie ?

Saturday, May 12, 2007


We continued our drive across Brittany through Saint-Brieuc and Guincamp on our way westward. For some reason that I don't remember, we stopped driving the northern coast of Brittany and made for Brest and the second most western point of mainland France (we'll get to the actual western most point later).

The chapel of St.-Hervé at the summit of Ménez-Bré. That's Ken in the little fiat we had rented.

On the way, we saw signs for Ménez-Bré, a hill (302 m) with a church on top. Why not check it out ? The guide book said there were some nice views.

Detail of one of the chapel windows.

We drove up the approach and the landscape around the hill was pretty barren, except for small shrubs and grasses - a testament, I suppose, to the winds that whip across this bit of land between the Atlantic and the English Channel. Not another person or car was in sight, and the little stone chapel of Saint-Hervé stood silently at the summit.

The steeple atop the stone chapel of St.-Hervé.

The chapel was closed up, so we didn't see the inside, but the exterior was very nice so I took these pictures. I don't know why I don't have photos of the view from there. Maybe there was nothing much to see ? I don't remember (which adresses Claude's question as to how I can remember everything - I don't).

We drove on to Brest after our brief stop.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

One of Callie's many chew toys is what I call the "squeaky rope." On one end it's a rope, on the other it's a plush toy that has a little squeaker inside. If she bites down on the right spot, it squeaks. She's begun the process of tearing it to shreds ; it won't last long.

We play tug-o-war with it a lot. And sometimes she even plays with it by herself. A day or so ago she actually got the squeaker out (and a good portion of the stuffing). Now the no-longer-squeaky rope has lost some of its appeal.

Recently we found a new toy : the cork. It's bite-sized and it rolls around when you bat it with your paw. Heaven. Not as good as sleeves or socks or the corners of a carpet or even table legs, but it will do in a pinch.

And, it's official. Callie's been home with us now for a full week. Only a week ?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Leaving Saint-Malo

We drove out of St.-Malo the next morning and crossed the Rance river. Stopping along the way, of course, for photos in the foggy morning. It looked as though the sun was going to come out for the first time during our journey.

St.-Malo in the misty morning from across the mouth of the Rance.

We could see Dinard from across the river and the stately vacation homes built up on the Pointe du Moulinet just opposite the old town of St.-Malo. Dinard is a ritzy beach town on the coast whose name derives from Arthurian legend. When the British came to this part of the continent, they named the little fishing village here hill (din) of Arthur (art), at least according to Wikipédia.

Dinard's Pointe du Moulinet and some not-too-shabby beach houses.

Since then, the place has become a haunt of wealthy British vacationers (and a few French, too). Among them : Pablo Picasso, Victor Hugo, Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia - whose family lived here when he was a child - Agatha Christie, and Hugh Grant (this list reminds me of that Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others"). There are over 10,000 more or less permanent Dinardais living there now. And looking back across the Rance, we could see the outline of St.-Malo in the distance.

Le Fort de la Latte.

We kept on westward and came, almost by surprise, upon the 13th century Fort de la Latte on the little cape of Fréhel. We wanted to drive out to the point, where there is a lighthouse, and noticed that a fort was indicated on the map. I certainly wasn't expecting what we found ! To my eyes, the Fort de la Latte was something out of a story book.

Close-up of the Fort de la Latte.

There were people walking up and in, so I assumed the fort was open to visitors. But, we decided not to take the time to explore it. One day I'd like to go back and check it out (and unless they let Callie in, that's not going to be any time soon).

The lighthouse at Cap Fréhel.

Onward to the point of Cap Fréhel and the lighthouse, which was nice but not as dramatic as the Fort de la Latte. The lighthouse was built between 1946 and 1950 ; a youngster !