Saturday, September 19, 2020

Tarte aux figues

I made a fig tart on Friday with some of the bounty from our friend's fig tree. The filling in the tart is an almond custard made with ground almonds, sugar, an egg, and butter. I sliced the figs and arranged them on top before baking. When the tart cooled, I painted it with an apple jelly glaze.

I messed up the timer so the tart got a little over done, but it was not a problem.

We had some rain early this morning, but the temperature did not drop. It's actually warmer and more humid this morning than it was yesterday morning. I guess that's what you get with a southerly flow. I'll be happy to see some cooler air move in.

Friday, September 18, 2020


One of our local friends has a fig tree that is producing abundantly right now. She invited me over to pick my fill on Thursday. I got a nice flat full of deliciously ripe fruit.

A tray load of figs. I see a fig tart coming soon.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our fig tree is also producing. We got four figs. We may get two or three more if they ripen. Our tree is not the same variety as our friend's tree. I bought it at our local outlet of a big chain garden center thinking, wrongly, that they wouldn't sell something that does not thrive in our area. Caveat emptor.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Harvesting in the dark

Most of the grapes out back have now been picked, either manually or mechanically. Both methods were on view yesterday. The days are hot and dry right now, so the growers have been starting each day very early in the morning, a good hour before sunrise. The harvesting machines are equipped with big lights. They remind me of the alien machines from "War of the Worlds," moving slowly but with determined precision.

A harvester in the vineyard parcel behind our house on Wednesday morning. The trailer is parked to the left.

When the on-board bins are full, the big machine pulls up to a waiting trailer and dumps the contents in. Once the trailer is full, a tractor takes it to the winery while the harvester continues to suck grapes off their stems in the vineyard.

As the sun rises, things become a little clearer. The trailer parked in the background is collecting hand-picked grapes.


The hand harvesters wait until sunrise so they can see what they're doing. Pickers clip the grape bunches off the vines and put them into a bucket. Other workers walk up and down the rows with a large bin on their shoulders. The pickers empty their buckets into the bin and the bin carrier takes it to a similar trailer parked at the end of the rows. The process continues until the parcel is harvested. It all ends in late morning, as the day's heat builds in.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Tomato update

I picked these tomatoes on Monday. The tomatoes that formed and grew after I added a calcium supplement to the water are not suffering from blossom end rot. Calcium carbonate is not a cure. Once a tomato begins to rot, it's got it. But the calcium additive can prevent future fruit from rotting. It seems to have worked.

Monday's harvest from the tomato patch.

I've lost a lot of the crop to the rot, that's for sure. But at least we're getting some. The problem, as you might be able to see in the photo, is that all of the tomatoes are smaller than they should be. I didn't plant any cherry tomatoes this year, yet many of these tomatoes are no bigger than that. I blame the dry conditions. We had almost no rain to speak of during the growing season. My daily hand watering was obviously not enough. I'm thinking about using soaker hoses next year for a more thorough watering.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Le pendule de Foucault

A couple of commenters mentioned Foucault's pendulum on Sunday in response to my image of the Panthéon dome. Indeed, a copy of Foucault's pendulum hangs from the dome today. The original was installed in 1851.

Foucault's pendulum swings under the dome of the Panthéon in Paris. May 2016.

The pendulum is a demonstration of and evidence for the Earth's rotation. I won't repeat all the technical stuff here; it's available on Wikipedia and from other sources for anyone who is interested. Versions of the pendulum exist all over the world. The first time I encountered one was on a school trip to the United Nations headquarters in New York.

A stop-action shot of the pendulum's "bob."

I took these two photos in 2016 when I visited the Panthéon. A restoration of the building had recently been completed and visitors could take a tour up into the dome and to its exterior colonnade. If you're in Paris and can climb stairs (lots of them), I recommend that tour. The views are spectacular.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Pedal to the metal

How's this for street furniture? Exercise bikes. I saw these on the banks of the Seine in Paris in that part of the old voie express rive droite (the right bank expressway) that's been closed to cars and opened up to pedestrians and cyclists as a park.

Standard and recumbent bikes looking up river. April 2018.

Today is supposed to be a hot one, the hottest day of the week at 36ºC (96.8ºF). The next few days are supposed to be a little cooler with highs around 31ºC or so. Fortunately, the days are shorter so the sun doesn't have as much time to keep things hot; the nights cool down quickly.

Also today, one of the contractors is coming to look at the deck so he can prepare an estimate for us. The second deck contractor comes on Wednesday.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

From the archives

Once again I find myself without fresh fotos to share. Here's another image from my overnight stay in Paris before flying out to Canada and the US in May 2016. I was waiting for a guide to take me and several other visitors up to the dome. This is a view of the dome from inside, looking up from the main floor of the church. The dome rises to a height of 83 meters (272 feet).

Looking up inside the dome of the Panthéon in Paris. May 2016.

The Panthéon is no longer a church, having been transformed into a national mausoleum shortly after the French revolution. Since then, 78 notable French citizens have been interred there.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Hot and dry

The news out of the western US is horrifying. We're fortunate not to be there, but I remember back in 1991 when the Oakland hills fire burned right across the bay from where we were living. The image of the scorched pages of books floating down from the sky will stay with me forever.

A little bit of greenery.

The forecasters are predicting our hot and dry conditions to continue. Monday's high is expected to reach 35ºC (95ºF) here. Very strange for mid-September. I haven't heard of any fires burning in the south of France so far this year. I think they've been getting unusual rain for the season, a good thing.

Friday, September 11, 2020


Said with an impeccable French accent. Some jerk dumped the remains of his/her lunch out at the end of the vineyard road the other day. Most of it, pictured here, went into a small depression in the ground that fills with water when it rains. Other bits of plastic packaging are strewn about along the road. Klassy.

This could have easily been tossed into a garbage can somewhere else.

Yesterday I contacted the guy who does our annual hedge trimming for an estimate on renovating our garden path. We also want him to remove some dead shrubs, a dead birch, and trim back an overgrown juniper. He actually came over yesterday afternoon to measure. I also called another contractor for an estimate on re-doing our deck. He's coming by next Wednesday to have a look. Ken emailed yet another contractor for a second deck estimate. He'll be here on Monday. So... here we go!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

So many light bulbs

When I was a student in Paris in 1981, there was a version of the old joke going around. How many Parisians does it take to change a light bulb? The answer: "I don't know anything about that. It's not my problem." Or, as Chico Rodriguez might say, "It's not my job, man." As young students learning French and trying to understand the urban edginess of early 80s Parisians, we obviously found the joke funny. Hilarious, even.

An attitude many of us encountered or at least perceived, now nearly 40 years ago.

A friend of Ken's made up a bunch of t-shirts printed with the punchline for the group. I found ours the other day while sorting through old clothes for donation. So, naturally, I took photos! The t-shirts are almost forty years old, too thin and too small for us any more. I'm not sure what to do with them; I can't think who would want them. I wonder if anyone else from that group remembers them or still has one?

This is the back of the shirt, lest we forget.

We're back in a summery weather phase with daily highs in the high 20s celcius. I'm getting a few things done in the yard and garden. There is never a lack of things to do. And it looks like my calcium treatment a few weeks ago was effective. There is a small late crop of tomatoes showing no signs of blossom-end rot. Yippee!

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Time to do something

Our garden shed is not in good shape and we've been thinking about what to do about it. First, we need a mason to fill in the fissures in the wall. There are two visible here on either side of the door, and another larger one that runs from top to bottom on the eastern wall. The shutters just need to be replaced, and the window and sill need a coat of paint. The exterior walls could use a cleaning/painting.

 Jerusalem artichokes in front of our shed. We had the door installed back in 2004.

Some of this work we could do ourselves, but the big stuff we can't. The other issue is that we have other projects in the queue. The deck needs a renovation (if we get a mason for that he might be able to do the shed as well). The garden path could use a makeover. There are shutters we want to add, and there's some electrical improvements we'd like in the utility room. All of our projects were put on hold last spring when the coronavirus did its thing. But now I think we can deal with some of it, especially since most of the work is exterior to the house.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The waste pile

A few days ago, I pulled the zucchini and one of the pumpkin plants out of the vegetable garden. They were done for the year. In their place, I relocated a pile of yard waste that I was storing in a corner of the yard. I won't dispose of it until the tomato plants come out and the rest of the garden is cleaned up, probably some time in November.

Stuff I've trimmed over the summer, including apple branches, clary sage, and artichokes.

The muscade pumpkin plant actually has three new pumpkins growing, so I've left that alone for a while. I have no idea what I'd do with three more pumpkins. We already have more than we need. A neighbor eagerly accepted one of the two mature muscades I haven't processed yet.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Looking good

The harvest continues, although there hasn't been much going on out back in the last few days. I expect that will change very soon. Several parcels have already been hand-harvested and several more have been machine harvested. Still, large sections of both red and white grapes remain. The weather is predicted to be warm and dry over the next week, so I imagine the growers are waiting as long as they can for optimum sugar and water levels.

These look ready to me!


During our walk on Sunday morning I heard the telltale sounds of a battue (organized hunt) not far from our route. Barking hounds, blowing horns, and gunshots. Tasha was curious but not freaked out. That's the first hunting that I've noticed this season. I checked our local hunting association on line and learned that the season for general hunting (pheasants mostly) opens on September 27. But organized hunts are already authorized for deer and boar.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

From the archives

I took this shot back in 2016 when I spent the night in Paris on my way to visit the US. The Panthéon had recently undergone a renovation and the colonnade around its dome was open to visitors. I posted the color version of this image in 2016, so here's a re-worked black and white version.

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Panthéon dome, May 2016.

Summer and fall are playing footsie with the weather. Summery days are alternating with fall-like temperatures. After a while the summery days will fade into memory while fall asserts itself.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Tarte aux pommes

I haven't made an apple tart in a long time, so here's the first one of the season. I've mentioned that we have a bumper crop of apples this year. There should be many more tarts like this as we move into fall.

Tarte aux pommes, ready to serve!

Under the apple slices is a layer of applesauce (made with sugar and a touch of cinnamon) to give the tart some body. I glazed the finished tart with plum jam that I pressed through a strainer before painting it on. This tart got cut into six pieces, dessert for the two of us for three days. And it was delicious! 

Friday, September 04, 2020

Inside the pumpkin

This is half of the rouge vif (bright red) pumpkin that I roasted the other day. I know it's a strange photo to post, but what the hey. To do this, I cut the pumpkin in half with a big chef's knife, then scooped out the seeds from the middle. I put the half face-down on a lined baking pan and roasted it at 180ºC (about 350ºF) for thirty minutes or so until a skewer went into the pumpkin with little to no resistance.

Half a roasted pumpkin. Think pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, enchilada sauce, etc.

Once it cooled, I scooped out the flesh. On this pumpkin, I was able to peel the skin right off after it was roasted, so I didn't have to scoop. I just mashed the flesh and put it into freezer containers. Easy-peasy.

Thursday, September 03, 2020


This year's tomato crop has been disappointing. All the plants developed blossom-end rot. My research tells me that it's caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil. I added a calcium supplement while watering but I'm afraid I was too late. Some tomatoes are fine, but the vast majority of the fruit has the rot.

A lot of this year's tomatoes are smaller than usual. Probably because it's been so dry; I need to water more.

The rotten ends of the tomatoes can be cut off if you catch it at the right time. I've done that and used the good part of the tomatoes to make sauce, but the quantity is way down. This is the worst year I've seen since starting the garden in 2004. Maybe I need to add calcium along with the usual compost and other amendments next spring.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Courge musquée

This is the other variety of pumpkin that I planted this year. The proprietary name on the seed packet says "Muscade" which is the word for "nutmeg" in French. It's difficult (for me) to sort through all the meanings and origins of plant names across languages. The closest I can come is that une courge musquée has something to do with musk squash, or musk melons. Something musky. Butternut squash* is part of this family of pumpkins.

The remainder of the red pumpkin has been preserved. Now I have to roast the two musk pumpkins.

These will hang out for a short time, but I have to get them processed before they begin to rot. On Tuesday, we ate some of the rouge vif squash in a couscous along with another zucchini. I roasted the rest in the oven and froze it. There's going to be a lot of pumpkin in the freezer this year.

* Butternut squash contains neither butter nor nuts. Discuss.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Melon et jambon

A classic summer appetizer in France (and much of western Europe) is melon and cured ham. This year the melons we've had have been exceptionally and consistently good. I was getting a couple a week for a while. And the ham is always good, whether it comes from the supermarket or the butcher's shop. My favorite this year was the Bayonne ham from the butcher in Saint-Aignan.

The cured ham shown here is local, produced in the Berry region, and sold at a small chain of shops that specialize in local produce.

The Charentais melons (as they're called in France) are sweet and resemble American cantaloupes, although they are slightly different. The saltiness of the jambon cru (raw or cured ham) goes very well with sweetness of the melon. As does a nice glass of our local pineau d'aunis rosé. I think the season for melon and ham is winding down now. See you next summer!

Monday, August 31, 2020

Rouge vif d'Etampes

I harvested the two surviving pumpkins called rouge vif d'Etampes (bright red Etampes pumpkins). Etampes is a city just south of Paris where the variety originated. I kept one and gave the other to a nearby friend who often shares her garden's bounty with us. We're planning to use part of the flesh in couscous this week and preserve the rest by roasting and freezing it.

These are pretty good-sized pumpkins.

That leaves two more pumpkins in the garden, both of the muscade variety. I want to get those in and processed this week. Meanwhile, the apples keep dropping. I've made two batches of applesauce (in the freezer), but I want to make a tart this week. I haven't made une tarte aux pommes (apple tart) in a while.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

It's not falafel

In the ongoing effort to use up garden zucchini, we decided to make veggie burgers. I have about six zukes that got away, growing much larger than I intended them to. They're not quite baseball bats, but close. So I grated one last week as the base for veggie burgers.

Grilled veggie burgers, ready for the buns.

I used a "recipe" that Ken blogged about when we made a batch many years ago. It's less of a recipe and more of a description, which is what you'll get here. I grated a carrot, a small onion, and a couple of medium-sized potatoes and added them to the squash which I had previously squeezed to remove as much water as I could. Next, I mashed about two cups (one large can) of pinto beans and mixed them in.

Into that went some unmeasured quantities of salt, pepper, cayenne, fennel, paprika, ancho chili powder and just a soupçon of ground cloves. Then, to bind it all, I added chick pea flour. Once that was mixed in, I let it all sit to absorb the flour and blend the flavors. After a while, we tasted it and thought that it needed more salt but, more importantly, the mixture was a little too wet. Ken had some breadcrumbs in the freezer from a batch of sweet potato bread he made a while back, so we dried those out in the oven and added them. That did the trick.

We formed the mix into burgers, two for the grill on Friday and the rest (about eight more) for the freezer. The burgers held together well on the grill and we ate them on buns with sliced pickles and ketchup, served along side some fries. Tasty!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

No frost on this pumpkin

This is the season's first pumpkin from our garden. I've been checking them daily and they all seem pretty much ready. But this one had a soft spot on one side, so I picked it on Friday. I cut a wedge out where the soft spot was and roasted the rest. I scooped the roasted flesh out and will get it into freezer containers today.

I see pumpkin pie in our near future.

The pumpkin is a muscade variety whose skin turns tan (not unlike a butternut squash) when ripe. Like this one, they won't necessarily get tan all over. There are two more of these out there, and two rouge vif (bright red) pumpkins still to harvest. I'll be doing that over the weekend. Photos to come!

Friday, August 28, 2020


The daisies have done their thing. Now they're sad looking. At some point I'll cut them down to ground level and this bed will look a little neater.

The daisies are a mess as usual this time of year.

It's the last official weekend of summer vacation in France. If this were a normal year, kids would be going back to school on Tuesday. As it is, I don't know what the schools are doing. I guess I should pay more attention to the news.

Thursday, August 27, 2020


Most of the white wine grapes grown in the vineyards around us are sauvignon. Some chardonnay and chenin are also grown here, mostly to blend into sparkling wine. Closer to the city of Tours, the Vouvray and Montlouis appellations produce wines exclusively with chenin. Other smaller areas in our region, including the Touraine Amboise, Mesland, and Azay-le-Rideau appellations, also use chenin for their white wines. Lesser-known and mostly local white grapes are grown here and there around the region and are used mainly for blending.

Is this sauvignon or chardonnay? I can't tell.

The sauvignon made here is good but it can be a little acidic, a quality that some people don't appreciate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020


Last week we had some rain and I saw something that I hadn't seen in a while: puddles in the vineyard road. This view of our hamlet from out in the vineyard will be familiar to regular readers of the blog. I wasn't very far out yet when I stopped to wait for Tasha to catch up after she spent some time smelling things.

Tasha likes the puddles. She won't step in them, but she'll stop and take a drink.

The puddles have dried up now and, while the days are more or less cloudy, there's no rain in the forecast. I did get all of the grass cut over the last few days, finishing up yesterday. And I shampooed a rug. Hey, that's two things in one day!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Ça commence

I noticed a couple of trucks parked out in the vineyard yesterday. Through binoculars I saw people carrying big bins on their shoulders through the vine rows. That can only mean one thing: the 2020 grape harvest has begun.

Grapes nearing maturity.

In these first days, at least in the vineyard out back, the harvest begins with hand-picking in selected parcels. I don't know which varietal is being picked, or why certain grapes are hand-picked and others are not. I'm sure there's a rhyme and reason to it all. But I do know from news reports that the harvest is beginning early all over the country, in some places a whole month early. The culprit is the hot, but mostly dry, dry, dry, summer we've had.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Dramatic skies

This was the sky last Thursday morning as the sun rose behind a layer of long cloud formations.

"Clouds. Lots of them. Light and puffy. You know, clouds." --Louie DePalma

We had a pleasant day weather-wise on Sunday. I got the parts of the yard mowed as I planned and it looks much better. Today I'll finish the west 40 (where the apple trees are) and maybe the north 40, although I might leave that for Tuesday. Still no progress on the mulch pile. But my philosophy these days is "One thing per day." If I accomplish one thing each day, I don't feel like a lazy lout.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

How d'ya like dem apples

We made some progress in the back yard on Saturday. We picked up the apples under our two trees and I cut the grass (and weeds) under them. Most of the apples went into the compost pile, some went into another pile by the garden plot. Ken smashed some of the softer ones where they lay.

We have a bumper crop of apples this year, more than in recent memory.

The fallen apples are not really good for much. They are either badly bruised or being eaten by bugs and critters. But there are still plenty of apples on the trees and I'm planning to make a batch of applesauce very soon.

Today I want to mow the south 40 and the strips outside our hedges. There's no rain in the forecast and the temperature has cooled down significantly to where it almost feels like fall. And the sleeping is easy.

Saturday, August 22, 2020


I haven't made much progress in moving the mulch pile. You may recall that our next-door neighbor had two large trees removed. Her contractor offered me the mulched branches and I said yes. The next day I moved about eight wheelbarrows full to the compost pile. Then it got very hot, so I didn't move any. Then we started to have some rain and the pile began to compost itself.

The pile has shrunk just a little in the just over two weeks it's been sitting here.

At the very least, I want to clear it off the garden path. Eventually this fall, when the vegetable garden is done and I've burned my burn pile (that's another story), we'll move as much as we can as a mulch layer over the garden plot. It'll get tilled in next spring. Ambitious, yes.

The pile started out light and fluffy. And green.

The first photo above is what the pile looks like now. The second one is what it looked like when it was dumped.

Friday, August 21, 2020

I got plenty of nuttin'

The well is dry. I haven't taken any new photos lately, and I haven't taken the time to search the archives for more. So here's a mediocre shot of the summer deck.

The umbrella helps to shade the deck when it gets direct sun at mid-day.

Thursday was humid and warm. I must say, though, that it's nowhere near as uncomfortable is it can be in places along the east coast of the US, especially Washington, DC, where I lived for four years long ago. Today should be a little cooler and more pleasant.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

This is the neighborhood I lived in for a while when I was a student in Paris in 1981. I crossed through this place and by this fountain almost daily on my way to classes. The monumental church of Saint-Sulpice borders the eastern edge of the place. The fountain, built in the mid-nineteenth century, sits in the center of the place. It's no timid fountain. Water pours from urns poised above statues of crouching lions before it cascades in shimmering sheets over the edges of the fountain's superimposed basins.

The fountain and the place Saint-Sulpice in late April 2018. The church of Saint-Sulpice is at my back.

I took a nostalgic walk through the place early on a damp Sunday morning, a time when the city can be eerily quiet. Although I didn't realize it back in 1981, I was lucky to be living in the center of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, just a short walk from this fountain, in one of Paris' many historic districts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Pave paradise, take down a parking lot

This used to be a parking lot. I remember it. In the early 1980s when I was first in Paris, the French Ministry of Finance occupied a good portion of the Louvre palace. Staff parked in this courtyard and museum goers had to navigate the parked cars to find the not-so-obvious entrance to the museum.

The pyramids in the Louvre's Cour Napoléon, April 2018.

That all changed, of course, in the mid 1980s when President François Mitterrand initiated the Grand Louvre project, moved the finance ministry to a modern new building up river, renovated much of the palace to expand the museum and, most famously, commissioned I.M. Pei to design a new grand entrance to the complex. The pyramids and the underground entrance were the result. As most urban change is, the pyramid entrance was controversial. But I think it has stood the test of time and has taken its place as yet another icon of the city of light.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

Here she is on the deck, among the geraniums, last week. Tasha likes the deck in summer. She can sit out there and guard the neighborhood, but still listen to what goes on inside the house. That is, when we can have the sliding doors open.

Happy Tasha!

I'm feeling the need for a haircut. My hair is not nearly as long as it was in May when Ken cut it, but it's getting a little unruly now, especially around the ears. I'm planning on stopping by the hair salon this morning to make an appointment. The woman who cuts our hair is back open after closing during confinement and her maternity leave. She had twins in April.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Another look back

Here's a photo that I didn't post before from my brief visit to Paris in 2018. It's the western end of the Place de l'Alma. On the right you can see the Eiffel Tower, of course. On the left is La Flamme de la Liberté, a replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch. It's become a memorial of sorts to Princess Diana, who died in the tunnel below the place in August 1997. People still leave flowers and other tokens of remembrance at the base of the statue.

In 2018, the area around the torch was renamed Place Diana by the city. The golden domes in the background across the river belong to the Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, completed in 2016.

Now that the weather has cooled down a little, I'm sleeping better. And there are fewer mosquitoes. It's supposed to heat up again mid-week, but I don't think the heat is expected to last long.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

We'll always have Paris

I'm out of photos again! So here's a blast from the (recent) past. Pre-coronavirus. In the spring of 2018 I spent a few days in Paris with friends from upstate New York who were beginning a tour of Normandy. We had great adventures together and there were times when they were busy and I was on my own. The weather was good, so I took some long walks through the city, camera in tow.

In the plaza at the Palais de Chaillot. No masks, no distancing. Those were the days.

We're having some rain today, maybe some thunder. I saw some distant lightning flashes in the wee hours this morning, but heard neither thunder nor rain.

Saturday, August 15, 2020


The geraniums on our deck are pretty right now, their bright red blooms providing a nice contrast to the green all around. We were entering our confinement phase last spring when I got them. I didn't want to go from garden center to garden center searching for the big-flowered upright geranium, so I got this cascading variety. Turns out I like them.

One of three planter boxes of geraniums on the deck. Behind them are two pots of basil and some mint.

Now that we've had some rain, we also have mosquitoes. The little buggers terrorize us at night, buzzing and biting while we try to sleep. It's one of the disadvantages of not having screens in the windows. It's enough to make one long for winter. I use a plug-in repellent upstairs, but the liquid has run out and I don't yet have a replacement cartridge. And I worry a little about breathing those chemicals.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Grilled salmon

Ken found some salmon on sale at the supermarket earlier this week. They were narrow slices out of a side of salmon. I marinated them with white wine and dill and grilled them à l'unilatéral, the French way of saying that it's cooked on the skin side only, without turning, a popular way of cooking fish.

Grilled salmon.

We ate the salmon with grilled zucchini and some left over pois chiches (chickpeas). It was all very good, and the fish was a nice change. We haven't been eating a lot of fish lately.

Thursday's weather was quite a relief. The heat broke and we spent the day under clouds and light rain at about 21ºC (about 70ºF). The humidity was high, but bearable because of the cooler temperature. It's supposed to be warmer today, but not by much.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Pâté de tête persillé

Also known as fromage de tête persillé  (head cheese with parsley). Obviously, head cheese is not cheese in the dairy sense. The word fromage refers to the forming or shaping of the pâté in a terrine or other mold. It's a classic dish made with the meaty parts of a pig's head, primarily the jowls (cheeks) and tongue. It's all held together with a gelatin or aspic, and the top layer of the gelatin contains chopped parsley.

Tête persillé with pickles.

One of the best tête persillé I've ever tasted is made right here in Saint-Aignan. The meat is well-trimmed (no hard chunks) and flavorful. And the charcutiers in the shop that sells it are very proud, if they do say so themselves. I served the tête with bread and cornichons aigre-doux (sweet and sour pickles) and a chilled rosé made from local pineau d'aunis grapes. It's a nice entrée (appetizer) on a hot summer day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Chicorée sauvage

I probably post at least one photo of these every year. They're wild chicory, and this is the time of year when they are in full bloom, adding some nice color to the margins of the vineyard parcels out back.

Chicorée sauvage in the vineyard.

On Tuesday afternoon, the skies darkened and the thunder clapped and we had a downpour that lasted maybe fifteen minutes or so. The humidity was high (for us) and it got worse after the rain fell, even though the temperature dropped significantly. But the sun came back out for a few hours and it got hot again and very muggy. This morning our deck thermometer reads 21ºC (about 70ºF) with 88% humidity. And it's predicted to get hot again today. Yuck.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


I didn't even know these existed here. They're called massettes. They showed up in the pond outside our back gate a year or so ago and now they seem more or less permanent.

Cattails in the pond. The yellow flowers are an invasive plant called jussie (ludwigia).
Our heat wave continues. I had another sleepless night, partly because of the heat, partly because of an insect bite that's very itchy, and partly because of "restless legs." There was also a giant bee knocking itself against the walls around eleven. I spent about fifteen minutes trying to shoo it out an open window. It finally left on its own. I took an antihistamine around one this morning and, after about an hour, the itching calmed down. But the legs just wouldn't let me fall asleep. Ugh.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Compare and contrast

Here's the difference between the deep-rooted grape vines and the shallow-rooted grasses this time of year.

 The grass closest to the vines gets mowed for access, the rest stays wild.

Sunday was a hot one and I had a difficult time sleeping last night. It didn't help that both animules decided to sleep on the bed. Eventually they went down to the floor where it's cooler. I wish I had. Around 23h30 there was a lightning show off to our east, but the storm was too far away to hear the thunder. We're expecting another hot one today before things start slowly cooling down.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Too soon!

As we enter the second week of August, I'm already seeing signs of autumn. Here and there some of the grape leaves are turning color -- even before the grapes do. It happens every year, so I'm not alarmed or surprised. It's just one of nature's little reminders.

Turning leaves.

The heat is hot. Our lawn, and everyone else's, is burned brown. This is becoming a summer norm, not at all what we expected when we moved to France seventeen years ago. Summer heat waves and drought. Mild winters with few to no freezes.

And now, spam. Over the past few weeks I've been inundated with spam comments on the blog. It's getting up to twenty or thirty spam comments each day. The "Unknown" author (most likely a bot) targets older posts, and since I have comment moderation turned on for posts more than two weeks old, it's quick work to delete the comments without publishing them. Blogger doesn't remember that these messages are spam since the author is "Unknown" so they just keep piling up.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Up up and away

We haven't seen many montgolfières (hot air balloons) over our neighborhood this summer. There are a few that we spot far away in the northwestern sky, probably flying around Chenonceaux, Chaumont, and Amboise castles. So it was a nice surprise to see one floating by above the river at sunrise on Friday. The tall pointy tree just below the balloon in the photo is in our back yard. Tasha saw the balloon, picked up her pace and growled at it a few times. But she didn't go wild with barking and try to chase the balloon the way Callie used to.

 The balloon was moving from roughly south to north, right to left in the photo.

I'm thinking that I might have made a mistake accepting all that mulch on Thursday. I don't know where to put it. I shoveled about eight wheelbarrow loads into the compost pile yesterday morning. That's full now and I haven't made much of a dent in the mulch pile. Ken suggested we use the mulch to cover the vegetable garden plot this fall. That's a great idea, but until then? I guess it will just sit where it is for now, but half of the pile is in the garden path and I've got to clear that so we can get to the back gate. I guess I'll just move a little each day until it's done. Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid (little by little, the bird builds its nest).

Friday, August 07, 2020

Mulch and the garden path

On Thursday, our next door neighbor had contractors in to remove two very tall pine trees that grew very close to her house. She's been planning to do this for a few years. In fact, we thought she had changed her mind because nothing happened after she told us about it. I think her contractor flaked out on her and because she lives in Paris, making alternate arrangements can be difficult.

 The pile of mulch in front of the garden shed.

Earlier this week, a landscaper came through the hamlet leaving his business cards to drum up business. Our neighbor was here, spending a week or so of vacation. She obviously hired him and he and his crew spent Thursday morning taking down the trees. Part of the process is the mulching of the smaller branches and foliage. The contractor rang our bell late in the morning and asked if we wanted some free mulch. I agreed and got a load of about two cubic meters dumped inside our back gate. It's really more than we can use, so a lot of it will be composted.

The contractor's card says that he does gravel allées (paths), so while he was here I asked if he'd give me an estimate for renovating our garden path and he agreed. We've been talking about getting the gravel path redone for a few years now. It's uneven, the gravel is too big and too sparse, and the path is regularly invaded by weeds. The contractor said he could remove the big gravel, level the pathway, put down a base layer for stabilization, add a weed barrier and then a layer of fine gravel that will be much more pleasant to walk on. I'm looking forward to his estimate.


Thursday, August 06, 2020

Summer flowers

Even though it's been very, very dry this summer, the wildflowers are putting on a good show. These, I think, are knapweed flowers. They look like little pineapples with purple feathered hats. I also see a lot of wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace) and wild chicory in the fields around the vineyard parcels.

There aren't as many flowers as last year in this patch, but they're still pretty.

It's getting to be time to cut the "grass" again. But first I will have to pick up the hundreds of apples that have fallen from our two trees. This year has produced one of the biggest apple crops I've seen in years (at least in our yard). It will be a big job.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Summer sunrise

As we head into mid-summer, the grapes are beginning to ripen. The weather is, well, the weather. We're having chilly, fall-like mornings followed by very warm afternoons. In fact, we're right now heading into another mini heat wave that will make getting to sleep difficult. So much for chilly mornings (although we all know they'll be back soon enough). We had a nice rain shower on Monday morning, but it was nowhere near enough to put a dent in the dry, almost drought, conditions that we've had this summer.

The vineyard at sunrise last week.

About half of our tomato crop is suffering from blossom-end rot. I read that it occurs often when wet springs are followed by dry summers, causing a calcium imbalance in the tomato plant. It's discouraging, to say the least. It may be what caused some of the pumpkins to rot, too. I also read that certain tomato varieties can be more susceptible to the condition, and I've noticed that with the cornabel and cœur de bœuf tomatoes, and one or two other varieties that had the same problem last year and years prior. It's time to totally renew my seed stock and to avoid those varieties.