Friday, January 31, 2020

Warming trend

This weekend is predicted to get warm, especially for the beginning of February. They say that by Monday the high temperature will reach 18ºC (nearly 65ºF). Jeez.

A light frost in the vineyard last week. These vines are pruned, but the cut canes haven't been ground up yet.

If the days are dry, I have a few outdoor chores I'd like the get done, like pruning back the hydrangeas and the lilac tree. I don't know what I'll do if it rains. I know it won't be snowing.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Throwback Thursday

Ken recently posted some photos of our French house when we first saw it, and in his comments he added a link to photos of our former house in San Francisco, just before we moved to France, with an additional link to some real estate photos of the place. Before we showed that house, I took some photos that have a more "lived in" look. That's because we were living in it at the time.

The living room and dining area. We had the old aluminum windows replaced. From these windows we had a view of San Francisco Bay and the Oakland Coliseum on the other side.

Soon after I took these shots of what I call the "great room," that is, the living room, dining room, and kitchen, we engaged the real estate agents who advised us how to get the place ready for showing. Their advice was simple: get most of the stuff out and empty the corners. Empty corners make a room look bigger, apparently. We obliged, of course.

The living room with the fireplace just outside the photo on the left. No flat-screen tv back then!

I don't have photos of the rest of the place, or maybe I do, but I don't know where they are. We lived in this house for almost eight years. We transformed it, and the investment was well worth it. We made a tidy profit from the sale and that allowed us to move to France.

The dining area and the kitchen, which we had remodeled. The kitchen was originally enclosed. We had it gutted and the walls removed to open it up to the rest of the room.

I really liked this house, even though it had its problems. I suppose all houses have problems and that's just the nature of home ownership. Looking back, I'm glad we did what we did to improve the place. We did it mostly for us and our comfort, but it paid off when we sold the place.

The new kitchen seen from the living room. I'm convinced that the kitchen remodel really sold the house.

The one thing I don't miss is the house's location up a very steep hill from the local subway station. I was younger then and the exercise was good, but I can't fathom having to climb that hill every day now. Thank goodness for retirement! And just for fun, here I am in the kitchen at Christmas in 2002.

My hair is a lot greyer now.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Hens' nests. That's what potholes are called in French. The dirt road through the vineyards out back is rife with them. Every year they form and every year the town fills them in. Then they form again. I suppose that's no surprise given that it's a dirt road and is used by heavy equipment (tractors, harvesters, etc.). When it rains, the potholes become puddles. In winter they can freeze solid and I have to be careful not to slip on them.

How many hens made these nests?

Interestingly, most streets and roads in France (with the possible exception of some mountainous areas) are pothole-free. French winters are just not as harsh as, say, Chicago or Montréal winters with the constant freeze-thaw cycles that wreck paved streets. The French also have a reputation for maintaining their street and road network very well. That's not to say that there aren't "hens' nests" here and there, just that they're not all that common. Except in dirt roads.

Of course, I had to verify what the plural of nid-de-poule [nee-duh-pool] is. Compound expressions can be tricky, at least for me. Wikipedia says the plural is nids-de-poule, the literal translation being "nests of hen" or "hen's nests" which looks to me like many nests of one hen. Why not nids-de-poules or "hens' nests?" I don't know. There's no difference in pronunciation between the singular and the plural.

That got me thinking about the hen's (hens'?) eggs. Are the yolks called jaunes d'œuf (plural yolks but singular egg) or jaunes d'œufs (plural yolks, plural eggs)? I think officially it's the latter in French (unlike nids-de-poule), although I do hear both said. The "f" in the singular œuf is pronounced whereas the "f" and "s" in the plural œufs are not. I've never heard anyone say "eggs' yolks" in English. Comprend qui peut (understand if you can). Ain't language fun?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

I enjoyed our walks during our recent cold spell, especially the morning walks. Not only is the cold air invigorating, but the mud in the road freezes and Tasha doesn't get dirty. No clean-up needed after the walk.

This is the western end of the dirt road through the vineyards where we walk. It's where we normally turn around to head back home.
As always, Tasha needs a good brushing.

We're back to muddy paws again now. We've had rain and wind through the night. The wind is still blowing out there and, when I woke up this morning, rain was pelting the loft windows. We probably won't be going far this morning.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Thin ice

Late last week, the little pond outside our back gate froze over. Granted, the ice layer was paper thin, but it was there nonetheless. Since we've been here, the pond has frozen many times, but I don't think it's ever been frozen enough to walk on.

Even if this ice were thick enough, skating would be impossible because of the all the plants sticking through.

Now our weather has warmed back up. Today is rainy and that means more mud. And shorter walks with Tasha.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Tarte amandine aux pommes

Here's a variation on the tarte I learned to make with pears. If I remember correctly, the first time I made it was in 2009 for Ken's birthday. Since then, I've made the same recipe with figs, peaches, and even blueberries. This time it was apples.

Peeled and quartered apples are pushed down into the almond filling before baking, then glazed with apple jelly once the finished tarte cools.

It came out fine, but I would say that pears, figs, peaches, and blueberries are better in this kind of tarte. But you never know until you try, right?

Saturday, January 25, 2020

It's not so bad

Here's a photo I took on Friday morning of the area behind our hedge where the construction equipment was parked for three months and the big trucks and backhoes pulled in and out. It doesn't look too bad in the picture and, in fact, it's not so bad. I do think winter and spring weather will help it to settle and smooth out.

Looking north on Friday. Our back hedge is on the right side. What was left of the pile of gravel has been smoothed out.

Compare that image with the one below, taken in late October. It's not the same view, but it shows the depth of the bigger ruts that were made. All things considered, they did a pretty good job cleaning it up.

Looking south last October. Our back hedge is on the left side.

This coming spring, when the grass starts growing back, I'll smooth out any remaining high spots and try to fill in some of the low spots. I'm sure the neighborhood moles will make plenty of hills; that's where I get the fill dirt.

Friday, January 24, 2020

It's gone

Earlier this week, the construction crew removed the remaining trailer and other construction equipment from their temporary storage lot behind our house. After three months, we have our view back!

This is the usual view from one of our west-facing windows.

Below is what it looked like a couple of weeks ago. We were beginning to think this was going to be a permanent installation. We didn't see any activity out there since before the holidays when the crew took away the white trailer and the backhoe.

This is what it's looked like since mid-October, minus the second trailer and the backhoe.

Now it's all gone, except for the state of the ground around the site. The crew's heavy equipment (trucks and backhoes) really tore up the soft ground outside our hedge. They smoothed it out at one point back in December, but then kept driving on it for a while. So, while it's not as "rutty" as it was, it's still kind of a mess. But it will likely be okay in the long run. I'll get a photo of that soon.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

A parting shot

Here's the last of the island photos for now. In the south branch of the river, the bridge is built on a low dam behind which is a small reservoir. Under the two arches on the right, you can see the old foundations of the mill that stood beside the bridge.

The water level is high right now and the dam under the bridge is almost completely submerged.

On the left is a portion of the lock that lifted and lowered small riverboats. I presume the lock still works, but I've never seen it used.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Quiet park

The island in the Cher River at Saint-Aignan is traversed by the bridge that connects Saint-Aignan on the south bank and Noyers on the northern side. East of the bridge is a park and a small beach. Events are held there throughout the summer. The western end of the island is where the municipal swimming pool and garden allotments for residents of Saint-Aignan are. This view is taken from the park looking toward the bridge.

Looking downstream, toward the west.

A little neighborhood news: the construction crew that has been working to put utility lines underground along what I call the river road down below our hamlet has finished its work. On Monday they came and hauled away the remaining trailer, construction signs, and traffic barriers that they have been storing behind our back gate. Since mid-October. It's nice to have the view back.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

And speaking of spillways

This is the spillway at the tip of the island in the Cher at Saint-Aignan. I think it was built to create a small reservoir in the southern branch. That water provided the power to operate a gristmill adjacent to the bridge (it closed long ago and subsequently burned down).

Big tree trunks and limbs can get stranded on the spillway.

In summer, or whenever the river is low, the spillway can be completely exposed and dry; there's not enough water to spill over. The north branch of the river can look like a series of puddles when that happens. Take a look at this post from six years ago. In flood conditions, the spillway can be completely submerged (along with parts of the island) as both branches of the river flow at the same level.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Up a lazy river

The Cher River is a relatively narrow, shallow river that moves slowly toward its confluence with the Loire just west of Tours. The river's source is in the Massif Central (Central Mountain Range) and it flows north, then west, for 368 km (229 miles). There are several small dams, little more than spillways, along its length with locks (and a canal) that once allowed small boats to navigate up and down the river. Since rail traffic supplanted boats for moving goods and people, most of the locks are no longer in use.

The eastern end of Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, as seen from the tip of the island.

One famous feature on the Cher is the château de Chenonceau, a renaissance castle that spans the river not far downstream from Saint-Aignan. If you're interested, here are my past posts about Chenonceau.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


A week ago today, I took Tasha for a walk around the island in the Cher River at Saint-Aignan. We were the only human and dog on the island. Since we had the place to ourselves, I let Tasha run off leash. She was very well behaved.

Tasha was somewhere, probably behind a bush, sniffing around when I took this picture of our parked car.
The buildings in the background are part of the municipal swimming pools, one indoors and one outdoors.

If there had been other dogs on leashes, I would have kept her tied to my waist and given them a wide berth. Some dogs on leashes can get pretty aggressive. She's usually good with other dogs off leash; we encounter some frequently on our walks through the vineyard.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


Here's most of what's left of the medieval castle in Saint-Aignan. Essentially, there's a tower and parts of the old ramparts just west of the current renaissance château. I don't know much about the history of the castle and I've not found much written about it on line.

Looking up toward part of the Château de Saint-Aignan from the island in the Cher River.

While visitors are allowed on the grounds, they're restricted to the château's courtyard and terrace (with great views north over the river valley). There's a very large park (to the right of the round tower in the photo) that's closed to visitors. It's mostly woods; there are no fancy gardens, parterres, or fountains.

Friday, January 17, 2020

A familiar sight

This church will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. It's the Eglise Collégiale de Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, built between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The oldest surviving part of the church is its crypt, known for its eleventh century frescoes.

The collégiale seen from the island in the Cher at Saint-Aignan. It's even got flying butresses!

As far as I know, the church is mostly used on high Catholic holidays and for weddings and funerals. Otherwise, it stands open to the public. The church and the adjacent château are the dominant landmarks in Saint-Aignan, towering above the old town that hugs their northern and eastern flanks.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Castle in the air

Like many châteaux (castles) that have their origins in medieval times, the château at Saint-Aignan is built on a bluff above the river. There's not much remaining of the original medieval fortifications. The current building was constructed and expanded during the Renaissance.

Our local neighborhood castle rises above Saint-Aignan on the Cher River.

Although visitors can walk through the château's courtyard and can admire the views from the terrace, the building is private and lived-in by the family that owns it and closed to the public. I always wonder if one day it will be opened up to tours, or converted to a hotel with a fancy restaurant.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Just ducky

In North America, these are called mallards. Here in France, they're colverts (green collars). I saw this small group hanging out on a sandbar in the river during my Sunday morning walk with Tasha. I used my telephoto lens to get the shot; had I moved in closer, they probably would have flown off in a huff.

Two females and three males.

We often see a mating pair in the little pond behind our house. They always see us first, and take off in a startling cacophony of wing flappery. They fly a wide circle over the grape vines hoping we will pass so they can set back down on the pond. But Tasha, thinking she can catch up, chases them through the vineyard, barking wildly. Once they turn and fly out of sight, she gives up and we walk on.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

On y mange, on y mange

There are two small buildings on either side of the bridge that crosses the island between Saint-Aignan and Noyers-sur-Cher. One of them has been a restaurant and/or bar for at least as long as we've been here. The latest iteration, Sur le Pont ("On the Bridge") has its dining room and bar on the bridge level as you'd expect, but in the summer months, there's terrace dining down on the river level with views of Saint-Aignan's skyline looming above.

Sur le pont de Saint-Aignan, on y mange tous en rond.

We ate on the riverside terrace once when the restaurant was specializing in hamburgers, and it was very good. Since then they've added pizzeria to the sign. I'm interested in trying their pizza; maybe we'll have an opportunity this summer.

Monday, January 13, 2020

An island walk

On Sunday morning, I took Tasha for a walk around the island in the river at Saint-Aignan. We got out just at sunrise. I felt like I was mounting an expedition, getting bundled up (it was about 5ºC), putting the harness on Tasha, fitting my waist belt to attach the leash and a long lens for the camera, and the camera itself. When we arrived at the island, about a five minute drive from home, we were the only ones there. The streetlights were still on in town, as were the holiday lights. They all went off about five minutes after we got there, but I got this shot.

Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher at sunrise on Sunday morning.

Tasha was both excited and apprehensive. Since nobody was around, I let her off the leash pretty quickly. We didn't use it again. The river was full and water was moving swiftly under the bridge and over the spillway to the east. We walked around the park on the eastern (upstream) point of the island, then back around the public pool to the garden allotments on the western (downstream) end. The allotments looked like gardens do in winter. Many were quite overgrown, obviously not in use. I'll post a few more photos from our walk in the coming days.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

With six you get eggroll

Ken made a shrimp curry on Saturday and we had eggrolls along side. I made a batch of eggrolls a couple of weeks ago when we discovered we had some left over eggroll stuffing in the freezer from a batch I made last year. Since there were still some rice paper wrappers in the pantry, it was short work to thaw the stuffing and roll them up.

This kind of eggroll, using a rice paper wrapper and being fried (or baked in my case), is a popular Vietnamese dish in France called "nems."

There was enough stuffing for fourteen rolls. We ate four the day I made them and ten went into the freezer. To cook them, I thaw them first, then brush them very lightly with oil and bake them in a hot oven (or toaster oven) for about twenty minutes, turning them from time to time. I used to try to deep fry my eggrolls, but I found that they got too hot and burst in the oil, making a huge mess. Baking them works great. They're served with a spicy dipping sauce (sauce pour nems) made with rice wine vinegar, nuoc mam (Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce), sugar, water, pepper flakes, and grated carrot.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

More from the river

Here's another image from that walk along the river in January 2012. I took these photos with my first digital camera, a Panasonic Lumix "bridge" camera purchased in 2006. They were among the last photos I'd take with the Lumix before I got my first DSLR a few months later.

Muddy ruts in a dirt road down by the river, January 2012.

The file format was JPG, automatically processed by the camera. I hadn't yet ventured into RAW photos and was using an earlier version of Photoshop Elements for additional processing, essentially just cropping and adjusting brightness, contrast, and color saturation. Now I'm using my second DSLR, taking photos in RAW, and using Lightroom to do my own processing. I wonder what the future holds.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Pizza day

We decided to have pizza for lunch on Thursday. I don't think I've made pizza since before the holidays, so it sounded appetizing. As I normally do, I made the dough on Wednesday evening and left it for a long, slow rise over night. I've started using fresh yeast instead of dry yeast since it's readily available at the supermarket (and freezes well) and it really makes a difference.

The first pizza out of the oven and ready to eat.

We had some left over Bolognese sauce in the fridge, a couple slices of ham, and some frozen peppers from last year's garden. That, cheese, and some black olives made the toppings for two single-size pizzas. A good lunch!

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Throwback Thursday

I'm out of photos again. This happens often during the dark and rainy months. I don't take the camera out in the rain, and it's been raining pretty often. Other days are just too dark and I'm not motivated. So here's a shot from a walk I took down on the riverbank back in January 2012.

Walking along the Cher River on a foggy January morning in 2012. Callie was with me then.

I haven't taken Tasha on the "river walk" at all. I'll have to do that once it dries out a little. I have two options: I can put the harness and leash on her and walk down to the river or I can put her in the car and drive down. Driving has the advantage that we'd probably walk more along the river. But I can't do it in muddy, wet conditions. Another walk we can do is around the island in Saint-Aignan. There's paved parking for that. In fact, I have taken Tasha on that walk, but it's been a while. Hmmm...

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The new dresser

I finished assembling the new chest of drawers on Monday morning. Once we got the new screws it went more or less smoothly. The screws, actually bolts, are used to hold the sliding drawer rails in place. Three bolts per rail, two rails per drawer, and nine drawers. That's 54 tiny bolts (the originals were 6mm long, the replacements 8mm long). Only 24 of them were too short, the rest worked like they were supposed to. Don't ask.

A rather standard-looking chest of drawers for the loft. That makes four up there.

Another set of screws (real wood screws) came up one short. There were supposed to be 48 of those, but there were only 47. Luckily I had a similar screw in my toolbox to make up for it. Then there were the four very long screws that didn't even get called for in the instructions. What were they for? And there were some leftovers of other parts. I felt like they guy that takes his car engine apart and puts it back together with a pile of left-over parts afterward.

At any rate, the dresser is done and Ken is filling it up.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Galette des rois

France's traditional dessert for this time of year (the Epiphany on the Christian calendar) is the galette des rois, or kings' cake. The kings are the three kings of Orient, the wise men, of biblical fame. The most widespread recipe is a cake made from flaky pastry filled with an almond butter cream called frangipane and glazed with an egg wash before baking. Other versions made more like cake or brioche are popular in the south of France.

This year's galette rose a little higher on one side than the other. Still tastes good, though.

A little token called une fève (because the token was originally a fava bean) is baked inside the cake. The person who gets the fève in his piece is crowned king for the day. Commercially made galettes are sold with a paper crown for the king.

My collection of fèves from commercial galettes. This year I used the perch.

I've collected a small number of fèves over the years back before I started making my own galettes. Good galettes are expensive in the bakeries and inexpensive ones are not particularly good. Home made is more economical, even if you buy the flaky pastry ready-made from the supermarket. I learned to make my own pastry from a French television chef and have been using his recipe for years now.

The assembled galette, glazed with egg wash, before it goes into a hot oven to bake.

Ken cut into the cake on Monday to serve us. Neither one of us got the fève, so it's still inside the cake. Ken said he saw it when he sliced the cake, but pushed it back inside the unserved portion. Maybe we'll find it again today.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Tired of trailers

There has been no construction activity for two weeks during the holiday school vacations. These trailers and a backhoe are still sitting out behind our house. It will soon be three months since they showed up. I'm wondering if today, the first work day after vacations, there will be something going on. I'm really tired of seeing these out there. I'm tired of our road being a mess, and I'm tired of not being able to walk outside the back gate because of muddy ruts in the ground. The weather is not the construction crew's fault, but the ruts are.

The trailers don't look so bad in this foggy, overly processed view. But in real life, they're kind of ugly.

I made the flaky pastry for today's galette des rois (kings' cake). A couple more turns (folds) and it will be ready to roll out, cut, and bake. I also made good progress on finishing the dresser assembly. It should be all done before lunch.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Sunny day

Saturday was a nice day. We had a clear (and chilly) morning and the sun stayed with us all day. Talk about making the season bright; sunshine works better than "a turkey and some mistletoe." The ground is still saturated and walking is not easy in some places, but Tasha and I stay mainly on the dirt road, which is drier now than it has been.

The is the view from our front deck again. Compare it to the foggy image from Friday. What a difference a day makes!

The screws we ordered to complete the assembly of the dresser arrived yesterday, so I'm hopeful that they'll work and I can finish putting it together in the next day or so. For some reason, some of the screws that came with the dresser turned out to be too short. So we ordered a bunch that are two millimeters longer and that should do the trick (although, as I write this, I haven't tried them yet*). It's amazing how you can find almost anything on the internet!

 *Update: I tried them and they work great.

Saturday, January 04, 2020


I made a batch of cranberry walnut biscotti on Friday afternoon. I wanted something tasty for dessert, but something relatively easy to make. Since we had shelled walnuts and dried cranberries hanging around after the holiday meals, biscotti came to mind. The batter is quick and easy to put together. They do take a while to bake. Twice. But that's not really work.

These are good dunked in coffee or tea. Or wine.

Monday is the Epiphany and that means one thing: galette des rois (kings' cake), a flaky pastry cake filled with frangipane. I'm thinking I'll make the dough on Sunday and bake the cake on Monday morning. I don't know what we're planning for lunch yet.

Friday, January 03, 2020


Fog. It's been thick the past few mornings. Pea soup, as the saying goes. The layer lightened up a little on Thursday, but the sun never quite broke through. Sound is muffled under the fog, as if a thick wool blanket has been pulled over our heads. The trees drip condensed fog to the ground, making a soft sound not unlike a light rain.

The view from our front deck on a foggy day.

I suppose that fog is better than ice and snow, but I find myself hoping for a little wintry weather. January and February are the coldest months around here, so I may get my wish. When it does snow, it doesn't snow much and it doesn't last very long. More important are the freezes. For years the people who work in the vines have complained about mild winters, saying that we need freezing weather to kill off bad things, be they weeds or insects. We'll see what the next couple of months bring us.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

One last look

New Year's Day is my day for putting the holiday decorations away. The tree comes down, the baubles are packed away, and the lights go dark. I've done it this way for many years. I know that some people like to keep their trees and decorations up into February, but I like the idea of packing things away as the new year starts. Here's one last look at this year's tree, just before I took it down.

And there's a wintry scene on the travel channel, just by chance.

We're having foggy weather now, the result of the normal winter high pressure systems that create temperature inversions. The fog is still, not like the wind-driven fog we remember from San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Bonne Année !

Happy New Year!

Holiday card by Eurek/Art.