Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kitchen Collection [33]

It's the height of summer (although you wouldn't know it around here) and Americans everywhere, including in France, think of corn on the cob.

Our corn picks don't get much use here in the French countryside. Our best corn comes in cans.

And you can't eat corn on the cob without fancy corn picks now, can 'ya ? Well, you can, but what fun is that ? These little guys are even shaped like little corn cobs. In fact, they remind me of those yellow plastic ones we always had around when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, for the past twenty-three-odd years I've lived in places (France, San Francisco) where the corn on the cob is not particularly good. Those of you from the US East Coast or Midwest know what I'm talking about.

And it can be soooo good, too. Simply boiled in a big pot of water then slathered with butter, salt and pepper, mmmm mmmm ! Or another favorite : wrap the shucked ears in foil with butter, olive oil, S&P, then throw them on the grill for a while. Even grilled in the husks, good corn can't be beat.

How's the corn where you live ?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tour De France

Sunday was the final leg of the Tour de France 2007. I watched more of the Tour this year than I ever have. The best thing about the race for me is not the cycling, although that's mighty impressive. For me, I like the aerial photography. There are great helicopter shots of the race, but also of the surrounding cities and towns, châteaux and countryside.

The Statue de la Liberté on the Allée des Cygnes in the Seine River.

Sunday's final ended in Paris, as in every year. I got the camera out and took shots of the television screen. Granted, they're not the best pictures, but they're mine and they're fun.

The Louvre. Amazing.

I think this is George Hincapie, the American. Not sure...

Le peleton approaches the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower and the Palais de Chaillot.

The Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe.

It's all over for another year. I saw some châteaux that would be fun to visit and they're not far form here. We'll see ! Obviously, I was watching the coverage on France 2. Thanks to them for the great aerial shots.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


The fountain in the Place Général de Gaulle at the western end of the Cours Mirabeau.

The first place we decided to visit while in Provence was the city of Aix. It's a university town and Ken was there when he was a student at Duke (back in the olden days). It's a fairly good sized city, with over 140,000 Aixois in residence.

The Cours Mirabeau, before it was re-designed to restrict traffic. Those things in the middle of the road are actual springs, bubbling up on huge mossy rocks.

We spent the morning walking around near the Cours Mirabeau, then had lunch. After that we headed up to where Ken used to live, walking a large loop around the northern part of town, ending up back down toward city hall and back to the Cours.

One of the numerous fountains in central Aix, the 17th century Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins.

Aix proper was founded in the second century before the common era when the Roman consul Sextius destroyed the nearby Celtic capital. He built a settlement around some natural hot springs that were subsequently called Aquae Sextiae, or the Waters of Sextius, which became Aix.

I think I took this photo because of the small sign above the door in the center of the image. It says "Parti Radical, Second Floor."

One thing we had to do while in Aix was to buy some calissons, the little diamond-shaped confiseries or candies that are made there of candied melon and ground almonds. Of course, nearly every patisserie sells them, and there are several outlets on the Cours Mirabeau just waiting for tourists like us. Still, we found some in nice boxes to take back to the states as gifts. Mission accomplished.

One of the many stores that sell calissons d'Aix.

There is so much to see and do in Aix, but we're not real museum/gallery kinds of guys, and while we will go inside churches and cathedrals, there's only so much of that you can do. So we just mainly walked around town, stopping now and then for a glass of wine or a coffee in a café, taking pictures, looking at the buildings and people, and just generally soaking up the atmosphere.

I'll post a few more pictures from Aix in the next post.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Arrival In Mérindol

We spent one night in Paris and two nights on the road and finally arrived at our destination : the little town of Mérindol in Provence. We had rented a gîte rural over the internet - this was 1993, remember - and all we had was a tiny thumbnail photo of the house. It was the first property, house or apartment, that we rented in France and we weren't exactly sure what to expect.

As you drive into Mérindol, you can see the remains of the old hill town up above.

1993 was the year that Peter Mayle's book, A Year in Provence, was released as a PBS television movie. We had seen it the month or two before our departure, and that's significant for two reasons. First, the images of the provençal towns just to the north of where we were staying were fresh in our minds. And second, the hordes of Peter Mayle inspired tourists had not yet descended on the Lubéron.

Mérindol overlooks the Durance River on the southern flank of the Lubéron Mountain. The place was mostly destroyed in the middle of the 16th century in an attempt to exterminate members of the Vaudois religious sect. There is a plaque commemorating the massacre at the top of the hill on which the village was built. Some people survived the attack by retreating into the surrounding hill country. The modern village of Mérindol is built at the base of the hill.

Our house was located outside the village, across the highway that runs parallel to the Durance. It was a modern house, probably built in the 70's, with three bedrooms, a spacious living room, and a terrazzo terrace that wrapped around two sides. Despite the fact that the highway was a few yards away and we could hear trucks, it was a perfectly comfortable house and we were pleased to be there.

Our temporary home in Mérindol.

I remember our first night pretty well. We got all squared away with the owner and had gone to the store for some provisions. The evening was warm and we set up our dinner out on the patio. Ken moved the television around to face outside and we watched a movie while we ate. I think it might have been "Coup de Torchon" (1981) because I remember that Philippe Noiret and Eddie Mitchell were in it.

After dinner, while we were relaxing at the table, we realized that we could reach up from our chairs into the cherry tree that over-hung the patio and pick perfectly ripe cherries and eat them. I'm sure we opened a second bottle of wine to celebrate our discovery. The rest is fuzzy. Still, jet lag was beginning to subside and we started to plan what we would do over the next two weeks as "residents" of Provence.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

Callie, sit ! Good dog...

Thursday, July 26, 2007


One more night before we were to check in to our vacation rental and we decided to find a hotel in Bollène, pretty much across the Rhône river from Pont-St-Esprit where the Ardèche flows in. We know absolutely nothing about the place, but it looked big enough to have a hotel and a place to eat.

The old center of Bollène.

As it turns out, Bollène has over 14,000 residents, les Bollénois, and was a nice place to stop. The old town sits up on a hill above the Lez, another tributary of the Rhône on the eastern side. There is a nice park up there with great views of the valley and of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a distinctive chain of mountains to the east. Dentelle means lace in French, and the limestone peaks are cut into fine points that must have reminded somebody of lace...

The view from Bollène, with what I think are the Dentelles de Montmirail in the background.

We walked around the park that evening and took some photos. I have no memory of dinner, but I remember having breakfast in the hotel the next morning as we were heading further south to our destination, Mérindol.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Word Of The Week


I've heard the word frôler used many different ways over the years, and now I'm hearing it again in reference to the weather. It means "to brush with/up against" as in having a brush with death (see the image at left), or frôler la mort. These days, the tv weather people are having a good time saying our temperatures vont frôler les vingt degrées. I translate that as temperatures will "flirt" with 20º, kind of like brushing up against or touching briefly.

Twenty degrees celsius is about 68º F. Not quite July weather.

Image from : http://www.strangenewproducts.com/2006_01_01_archive.html

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kitchen Collection [32]

When making soups and stews, sometimes you don't want to have to mess around with fishing things out like bay leaves, allspice berries, bunches of thyme and rosemary, and lemon peel. The classic French way of dealing with this is to make a bouquet garni, a little packet of herbs and spices all bundled up in a leek leaf and tied up with cotton string. You can easily fish the packet out of the cooking liquid and voilà !

If, however, you're in no mood to make up a bouquet garni, someone has invented this thing. I call it a spice ball. It looks like a sea mine, but on a much smaller scale. It opens up and in go the spices and herbs, then you submerge it in your liquid and hang the chain on the side of the pot. Works great and easy to retrieve !

We have another that's made of a fine screen mesh because this one will let the occasional pepper corn through.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tarte Aux Prunes 2

Ken picked another batch of plums on Saturday, so I made another plum tarte. This time the plums went in skin-side down onto a thin bed of sugar and were cooked in the pie shell au naturel instead of in an egg custard.

The plum halves are arranged en couronne in the pre-baked crust.

The result is pretty, don't you think ? This is our dessert after a lunch of salads, including gésiers (chicken gizzards), haricots verts (green beans), pommes de terre (potatoes), tomates, and œufs durs (hard-cooked eggs).

The finished tarte cools in the kitchen.

Ken jarred up his last batch of plum jam, six jars, and still has a sink full of plums with which to do something. Maybe more jam ? He said that we could jar up whole plums in syrup to use different ways over the winter or make and freeze pie fillings for american-style pies. You can see more about our year of prunes on his blog here.

The nice thing is that even though the vegetable garden is not doing well this year, the cherries and the plums have been great, so we're still getting to harvest and process produce. Small consolation, but tasty nonetheless.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Drôle D'Eté

Weird summer. That's what we're having. Eastern Europe is sweltering under record heat and Britain is drowning in torrential rains and floods. Most of France is stuck in the middle with cool temperatures and more rain than we've had in recent memory.

The back yard furniture is not getting much use this year, but we have been out there a few times.

Our vegetable garden is pretty pathetic this year. I picked four, count 'em, four green beans yesterday. The weeds are doing well. Some days it's nice enough to be outside, others it isn't. The grass is growing like crazy but it's often too wet to cut.

Oh well. We're lucky not to have tornadoes, floods, wilting heat with high humidity, or several feet of snow. It's just a not a banner year.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tarte Aux Prunes

In France, what we Americans call plums are called prunes. By extension, what we call prunes, the French call pruneaux.

Tarte aux prunes with fruit from our yard, just before the custard is poured in.

We have two plum trees in our back yard and the variety of plum, we think, is mirabelle. They are deliciously sweet and make great jam and, in this case, plum pie.

The plums are cut in half and pitted, arranged on a pre-baked pie shell, then a custard of milk, egg, sugar, and cream is poured in and the tarte is baked. There are more ripe plums on the tree and I see another tarte being made over the weekend !

Friday, July 20, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

I call this one "Callie dans les prés" (Callie in the fields). During her morning walks, when the tall grass is wet, she loves to sit her royal self down in it. Then she runs through the dirt.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Another Morning Walk

I don't always take the camera on our morning walks, but sometimes the light is so nice that I can't resist. I usually end up with photos of the same old stuff, but since I enjoy them, what the heck.

This little flower reminds me of jasmine, but it's on a shrub and not a vine, and it doesn't have the jasmine scent I remember from California. I wonder what it is. It's growing on a bush out next to the vineyard.

These daisies come up every year in our yard. Sometimes they look great, other times they look kind of sad. The wind can really knock them around.

Queen Anne's lace grows in all the fields around here. In French it's called carotte sauvage (wild carrot).

I have no idea what this flower is, but they're appearing now up along the vineyard road, near some oak trees.

Here is the sunrise we had on Monday morning. The Cher river valley is just beyond the trees. The pointy pine on the left side of the picture marks the location of our house.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Word Of The Week


Although the weather is no indication this year, it is summer. And as I said in an earlier post, we had a very mild winter, which means to some here in the countryside that the bugs were not killed off in sufficient numbers.

I really haven't noticed any more bugs than usual so far this summer, but I have noticed a different mix of bugs. We have many fewer moths than normal, and mosquitoes have been somewhat rare this year. But the flies abound.

And then there are the biting flies. I think we call them horseflies back where I come from, but in France they're called les taons. I don't remember really noticing them much before, but they are certainly noticeable this year. I read on the web that in Canada they're called taons à cheval or mouches à chevreuil (horse-fly and deer-fly, respectively). The larvae can live on dry land or in water. Since it's been raining a lot here this year, it seems that maybe there is a lot more habitat available to the flies for reproduction.

I also read that it's only the females that feed on the blood of mammals. The males eat nectar only. They're particularly active in warm weather and they usually won't enter buildings, preferring to stay outdoors. There are over 3,500 species in the tabanidae family, of which about 160 occur in Europe.

According to the Robert, the French word taon has its roots in the word toon, which is traced back to the twelfth century. It came from the low latin words tabo and onis. Any latin scholars out there know what those words mean ?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Kitchen Collection [31]

Weighing things is always part of cooking. We need both metric and english measures for the things we cook. This scale has both.

Although it's not electronic, our little plastic model has a manual method for resetting the scale to zero, as long as you don't go over two kilos. It works pretty well for us.

Monday, July 16, 2007

We're In Summer Mode

Whether or not the weather cooperates. Often when it's hot in the summertime, we put the shutters in awning mode to keep the sun from shining into the windows. This is the western side of the house that takes the afternoon sun, and with the shutters down and the windows closed, we can keep it cooler inside than otherwise.

The western or back façade of the house with the shutters in "awning" mode.

Of course, the windows are open at night and in the morning to let cool air in.

The tomatoes are forming. I hope the cold rainy weather we've had hasn't stunted them too much.

And the garden is really liking the warmer weather, too ! There are small tomatoes growing on the vines. The beans, eggplant, and peppers are in blossom, and there are blossoms forming on the squash and cucumber plants. Finally.

Blossoms on the bean plants !

And the pumpkins are starting to take off. They have some blossoms starting to form, too. Hooray for summer !

The pumpkin plants are starting to cover some ground.

Of course, I just have to throw in a gratuitous shot of Callie. Here she is exploring beneath the hazelnut trees.

I'm getting taller every day.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Summer Lunch

We're feeling downright summery now that the temperatures are sorta normal. Ken bought scallops and shrimp at the market on Saturday morning and we had a seafood lunch.

Crevettes, sold whole and already cooked.

First, he made a mayonnaise and mixed in some capers, pickles, and hot red pepper. We ate the chilled crevettes (shrimp) with that.

Scallops, most wrapped in a slice of poitrine fumée, hot off the bbq.

Next, we wrapped coquilles St.-Jacques (scallops) in slices of smoked bacon and grilled them on the bbq. A batch of french fries was the perfect accompaniment.

On Friday, we had grilled chicken and merguez along with a corn salad. It sure does feel like summer - we'll see how long it lasts.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gorges De L'Ardèche

The Ardèche is a river about 120 kilometers long that dumps into the Rhône in northern Provence. As it descends from its source in the Massif Central, the river cuts deep ravines through some amazing scenery. The river gorge has become a favorite destination for summer day-trippers, campers, and kayakers.

Kayakers/canoers take a breather on the Ardèche river.

We drove downriver along the D-290 from around Vallon-Pont-d'Arc to the Ardèche's confluence with the Rhône at Pont-St-Esprit. The guide book says it's a trip of about 60 kilometers, but to count on a whole day to do the drive. I think this is for several reasons.

The river cuts through its canyon.

First, you will want to stop along the way to look at the amazing scenery and take pictures. Second, you've got to eat lunch. And third, the road is very curvy as it hugs the cliffs and the going is slow, especially when you're behind fifteen cars and ten of them are pulling trailers.

The little white dots on the water are canoes and kayaks.

We did the trip rather quickly since it was later in the day, we had already eaten lunch, and we didn't stop as much as we could have. We needed to find a place to stay for the night, because the next day we were supposed to check into our rental house.

A collection of blue canoes and/or kayaks on a rocky beach.

There are, of course, myriad stopping points, hiking trails, campgrounds, and other distractions along the way. We missed most of them on this trip, and we haven't been back in the fourteen years since then. Maybe one of these days, now that we live here...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Puppy Pic Of The Week

Callie napping on the couch. She has a special blanket to sleep on to keep the upholstery clean.

It's fun to capture the dog in the funny poses she's in when she's napping. Often, as in this picture, her little tongue is sticking out. She also lets it stick out when she's awake and that just cracks us up. It's almost like it's too big for her mouth and won't fit inside.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


We visited this town on the recommendation of our friend CHM - yes, the same guy that gave me yesterday's Word of the Week ! If I remember correctly, he told us that we should see it because of the black stone used in the buildings.

A typical street in Alba-la-Romaine.

The town was founded by the romans who called it Alba Helviorum until the fourth century. Through the middle ages, and until 1904, it was called Aps after the prominent family of the area. After that, its name reverted to simply Alba until 1986, when it was once again changed to Alba-la-Romaine. Today, there are about 1,100 people living there.

We wandered around for a while taking pictures and enjoying the beauty of the place. Then we pressed on toward the Gorges de l'Ardeche.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Word Of The Week


Today's word was suggested by my friend CHM. Its origins are maritime in nature, but it has come to be used by landlubbers as well. You may know its more common sister word, éclaircie.

If you've been in France any time during the last two months, you crave les embellies. They're the breaks in the clouds when the sun pokes through. A temporary improvement in the otherwise dismal weather.

The noun derives from the verb embellir which means to make something better looking. I'm sure that's where English gets the word embellish.

Image from : http://naturelle.canalblog.com
This week is Word of the Week's one-year anniversary. The following is an alphabetic list of the 46 words that have appeared in this space in the past year - I did miss a week here and there. Do you remember what they mean ?
  1. antipodes
  2. b.a.-ba
  3. bourriche
  4. buanderie
  5. butinage
  6. calotte
  7. canicule
  8. couac
  9. cran
  10. crevé
  11. crosnes
  12. décousu
  13. déjanter
  14. éboulement
  15. échelonner
  16. écrin
  17. embellie
  18. étrenne
  19. fastoche
  20. feu
  21. filou
  22. fleuron
  23. gamelle
  24. gazon
  25. gribouillage
  26. instar
  27. kifer
  28. maussade
  29. motte
  30. patauger
  31. péplum
  32. rameau
  33. rassasier
  34. ressac
  35. riper
  36. s’évertuer
  37. sangsue
  38. scélérat
  39. scrutin
  40. socle
  41. timoré
  42. tomber dans les pommes
  43. tramontane
  44. trouble
  45. victoire
  46. wapiti

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Kitchen Collection [30]

Wow. This is the thirtieth installment in the KC series. When will it end ?

Whisk-y business.

Not much to say, otherwise. This is a close-up of a basic kitchen whisk. We have three of the hand-held variety, each a different size and shape. Not to mention the whisk attachments for the stick blender and the kitchen aid mixer.

They get used mostly to make mayonnaise and the occasional omelette. Egg whites get whipped in the kitchen aid.

I almost forgot the teeny-tiny whisk that's good for, well, I haven't yet figured out what it's good for. At least it doesn't take up much space in the drawer.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bon Anniversaire !

The birthday girl.

On Sunday, Ken and I were invited to a birthday lunch given by our friend Josette. She is the woman from whom we bought our house back in 2003 and she was celebrating her eightieth birthday !

Our neighbor Bernard looks on while Josette opens birthday gifts. That one's from us.

She invited friends from her old neighborhood (most of whom we know) as well as her daughter, son-in-law, and grand-daughter. All together we were fourteen people at a local restaurant called Le Mange-Grenouille.

Son-in-law Gérard, daughter Sophie, Josette, and grand-daughter Elodie gather around an album of photos from Josette's 60th birthday party 20 years ago. That party was held at the house we now live in so we really enjoyed seeing the photos.

You can read about our lunch at Ken's blog, so I won't go into any of the details. I took along the camera and got these few shots of the festivities.

Ken, our neighbor Annick and another neighbor Bernard.

It was very thoughtful and generous of Josette to include us at her party. Even though we are foreigners and a bit of a curiosity, this little group of French people welcomed us into their neighborhood from the start and frequently include us in their celebrations.

When I hear other expats in France complain or despair about "the French," I can't help but wonder. The people we've met in and around our little hamlet are the most friendly, warm, and generous neighbors that I've ever known.