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.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

There's something in the vines! Maybe a deer! Maybe a rabbit! Probably just a bird. Tasha is ever vigilant.

Tasha hears something rustling among the vines.

Speaking of birds, Bert brought home a rather big chick yesterday afternoon. It looked like a little penguin. He didn't eat it (he usually doesn't eat birds), and I tossed the lifeless body out into the woods. This morning I heard a duck quacking out by the pond just beyond our back gate. There is often a pair of colverts (mallards) out there. I put two and two together and looked on the internet. Sure enough, that bird of Bert's was a mallard duckling. Their principal predators are foxes, martins, and otters. We have foxes and martins all around us. And cats. Since mallards typically lay eight to twelve eggs, I'm hopeful that there will be some surviving ducklings.

It's a jungle out there.

Monday, August 03, 2020

What a loverly bunch

The grapes are slowly starting to mature. I've seen some color out there, although there is none in this photo yet. Harvest is still at least a month away, probably more. I have heard some talk on the news about other regions facing early harvests because of the warm and dry weather. We'll see.

Immature grapes on the vine.

Meanwhile, I was automatically switched over to the new blogger interface this morning. When I tried it several weeks ago, I couldn't size my photos the way I wanted and my "reading list" wouldn't work. So I kept using the old version. I tried sizing today's photo in the new version this morning, and I can't figure out how to do it. So I switched back to the "legacy" version for the time being.

UPDATE: Ken figured out my problem, so now I'm back on the new blogger. Change is our friend.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Pumpkin progress [2]

As promised, here's a peek at the muscade pumpkins in the garden. They're still green, but when mature they should turn a tan color similar to a butternut squash. Some of them will likely be two-toned. I've grown them before, so I know that's likely.

Two muscade pumpkins growing under the vine leaves. There are at least five of them out there.

Today should be much cooler than it has been the past few days. August vacationers have arrived in our region and we're seeing several unfamiliar faces walking through our neighborhood. Someone down in the valley to our north shot off a bunch of fireworks around one this morning, and their thumping music can still be heard now (06h00). With our fan going, we can't hear the music in the bedroom, thankfully. And an RV spent the night out in the vineyard. Nothing annoying about that, but I'm not sure it's legal. It's private land, after all.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Pumpkin progress

There are two surviving rouge vif d'Etampes pumpkins in the garden. The others just rotted away. I'm not sure why, maybe the heat. But these two look healthy, so far. If I'm lucky, they'll both make it to harvest by which time they'll go from orange to bright red. I'll keep you posted.

Two good sized and healthy looking pumpkins.

The muscade pumpkins are faring better. There are about five large ones on the vine. I'll post a photo of those tomorrow.

We made it through our mini heat wave. It's supposed to get hot again today, but less. And we didn't get as high as was predicted yesterday, topping out somewhere in the low to mid thirties. Still, getting to sleep was not easy. This morning's cool air feels very nice.