Thursday, December 31, 2020

No mussels

A strange thing happened when I went to the market yesterday. There were no mussels. La saison est terminée the fish monger told me, the season is over. Well, that was news to me. The season for mussels usually runs through January (having started in July). So something seems to have shortened the season this year.

Mussels. Summer 2006.

I left the market and drove up to Super U to see if they had mussels, but they didn't either. So, no mussels for us this New Year's Eve. No worries. I got some shrimp and a nice hunk of salmon for today's lunch. Bon réveillon !

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Tippy tops

This is the view looking up into the birch trees in our yard, one of which snapped in Sunday's wind storm. There are three birches (they always seem to be planted in threes). We know they're more than twenty years old. We first saw the house eighteen years ago and the trees were pretty mature then. They're probably closer to thirty years old, likely more.

Our birches as the sun rises.

We have a photo of the house taken before the guy who had it built died (sometime around 2000, his widow sold us the house in 2003). The photo isn't dated, but he's in it, and the birch trees are there and pretty big. The house was built in the late 1960s. All this is to say that these birch trees have lived their lives and are now dying. We have to face the fact that they should all come down in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Birch breach

The wind howled through the day on Sunday. It didn't seem to be as strong as predicted, but it was strong enough to snap one of our birch trees. I was looking out the window when it happened. All of a sudden, the uppermost branches of one the trees came down. I heard no noise at all. Three of the biggest branches hit the fence on the north side of our property. The fence is seventeen years old.

Three big branches lying across the fence. Some smaller branches are scattered around the lawn.
The tree they fell from is to the right, just outside the photo.

When we have some better weather, I'll get out there with the chainsaw and cut the branches so I can get them off the fence. Later, I'll probably cut them into firewood. As for the fence, I won't know what it will need to be repaired until I can get a closer look.

Detail of the damage. I can't really see much here until I get the tree off the fence.

If the damage is not too bad, I may be able to repair it myself. Otherwise, it will be a job for our garden contractor. The posts look like they're still upright and ok. I'll have to check to make sure the footings are still firmly in the ground.

Another damaged section.

It's been a heck of a year for our trees. In October a year ago, the big apple came down. Its trunk was hollow and we knew it would fall sooner or later. It did. We took out a smaller sickly apple at the same time. Then, this past February, we had our big spruce removed. It, too, was dying and it was too close to the house not to take preemptive action. Another birch by the driveway has died and it's scheduled to come out in the next month or so. Half of our hazelnut trees have died over the past two years; they'll be removed at the same time as the driveway birch. And now this birch. Not to mention the two plum trees that blew over in the storm of 2010.

Another view. These branches are bigger and heavier than they look in the photos.

The garden guy says that many old trees are being killed by the hot, dry summers we're having lately. They just aren't strong enough to take the stress. We'll need to contact our insurance company to see if the repair is covered by our policy. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Trivet pursuits

I got a couple of comments about the iron trivet under the bowl of apples in Saturday's photo. That trivet spends most of its days as the centerpiece of the deck table. I keep a pot of hens and chicks on it. In the winter, when the table and chairs get stored away, I bring the trivet inside and use it on the dining room table. It has rubber feet, so I don't have to worry about scratches.


If my memory serves, I found the trivet in a shop in Collonges-la-Rouge back in 2006. We were visiting the town with our friend Sue from California, who was vacationing here then. Collonges is mostly a tourist destination, known for its buildings and monuments made from red sandstone. The town is populated by artists and artisans who make and sell their work there. On that same trip I also found a plant pot that I thought was interesting. As I said, the pot is planted with hens and chicks and sits on the trivet in the spring, summer, and fall.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A ghost of Christmas past

Ken mentioned yesterday that we're in a rut. A good rut, that is. I looked back at photos of our first Christmas dinner in this house. It was 2003 and we had moved in about six months prior. On the table were a turkey breast with a rice and sausage stuffing, steamed and sautéed Brussels sprouts, a bowl of butternut squash purée, and giblet gravy. We drank a dry Vouvray (100% chenin grapes), maybe with the appetizer. It was five years old, from 1998. With the main course we had a bottle of Touraine cabernet from 2001.

I took this when I was just moving from standard to digital photography, trying to get a feel for the latter. I must have used a flash.
We also had not painted the old beige kitchen walls yet.

A lot of things have changed around here in the past seventeen years, but our Christmas meal seems to stay pretty much the same, with minor variations from year to year.

Saturday, December 26, 2020


In addition to bread cubes, I like to dip apple cubes into our cheese fondue on Christmas Eve. They taste fresh and sweet and add a crunch to the meal. We've been thinking about what else might be good. Ken thinks that steamed Brussels sprouts halves would work well and I agree, so I think we might try that next year.

A few holiday apples and a clémentine.

Today, Saturday, is leftovers day. More of Friday's Christmas dinner (or lunch, actually). There's some of everything left, as intended. The next event is, of course, New Year's Eve on Thursday. I'm planning a market run on Wednesday for some mussels. We'll make moules marinières and have them with French fries, something we haven't done in a while. Can't wait!

Friday, December 25, 2020


Our traditional Christmas Eve cheese fondue was a great success. We ate it all, with bread cubes and apples. This one ranks among the best we've ever made. Yum.

Ken dips a bread cube into the cheesy goodness.

After, a green salad with vinaigrette, then a slice of home made pumpkin pie. Lordy Moses. Today, we will roast a chapon de pintade (guinea fowl capon) on the rotisserie and serve it with Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. I'll be making an applesauce cake for dessert. Life is good.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry happy ho-ho-ho!

Wishing all of my readers a very happy and healthy holiday season! As they say in France: Bon réveillon !

Christmas tree 2020.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Forty years

This is one of the first tree ornaments that I owned, and I still have it. Now it's forty years old. It came from that famous greeting card store, the one you go to "when you care enough to send the very best." Today I searched for the ornament online and surprisingly found it for sale on two sites. I saw one on Ebay for $8.95. On an ornament dealer site it's listed for $75.00. I don't remember what I paid for it in 1980, but I'll bet it was less than $10.00.

My 1980 acrylic wreath, forty years later.

Apparently, people collect these things. According to Wikipedia, the greeting card company in question started making dated ornaments in 1973.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020


This château is just outside of Vouvray on the Loire River. It was built in the late fifteenth century, partially destroyed by fire during the revolution, and remodeled in the twentieth century. The property includes about 130 hectares (over 300 acres) of vineyards and its winery produces the full range of Vouvray wines, most of which are made with 100% chenin grapes.

The Château de Moncontour overlooks the Loire River at Vouvray. Scanned color slide, October 2000.

The wind is gusting here this morning, but there is little, if any, rain at the moment. The temperature is a mild 14ºC (57ºF), but the weather people are predicting a freeze for Friday (Christmas) morning.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The solstice is here! The solstice is here!

The days won't be getting any shorter now, and before long we'll be able to tell that they're lengthening, at least up here in the northern hemisphere. Of course, it's the first day of winter, and January and February are typically our coldest months. So there's still that to look forward to.

Gargoyle, Amboise, scanned color slide, October 2000.

Today is predicted to be wet and warm. Ken said it was already raining when he got up. It's my morning to walk the dog, so I may have to go out in it, unless we have a break right around sunrise. And, since it got more and more overcast through the night, there was no opportunity to see Saturn and Jupiter shaking hands. Except for the Google Doodle.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Stained light

I expect that a lot of people take photos like this of the light that's cast through stained glass windows in churches and other places. I'm part of the crowd. This was taken in the château at Amboise, although I don't remember exactly where. It was twenty years ago, after all.

Light and shadow at Amboise, scanned color slide, October 2000.

Bert did the most curious thing last evening. While we were watching tv, he came into the house and made his "mouse" meow. It's kind of a loud meow, but he has to make it without opening his mouth much because, as you probably have guessed, he's got a mouse. I went down and praised him (you also know that cats like to "present" their catches to us humans) after which he devoured the mouse and went back outdoors. About fifteen minutes later, he did it again. A second mouse. Crunch, crunch, eaten. Another fifteen minutes, a third mouse. Dessert? That's when I got a clue and closed him indoors. He slept soundly through the night.

Saturday, December 19, 2020


There is a lot wrong with this photo, but it shows the attraction of the château at Azay-le-Rideau. It's built on an island in the Indre River, a tributary of the nearby Loire. The water around the island is channeled to create a relatively still pond on the south and west sides of the building that acts like a mirror. The result is quite impressive.

Le château d'Azay-le-Rideau, scanned color slide, October 2000.

I was last at Azay in the fall of 2014. The gardens around the château were undergoing renovations then and were closed, so this view wasn't available. I took this photo fourteen years before that, in October 2000. Maybe next year, if the tourist sites open back up, I can go back and update my photos of the place.

Friday, December 18, 2020


I took this photo in Vouvray in October of 2000. This building is not far from the church in town, but I don't remember what the building is. I checked it out on Google Maps, but the building is next to a pedestrian street that doesn't have "street view," so I couldn't see any sign or entrance for clues. No matter, I like the geometry.

Slate rooftops in Vouvray. B&W version, scanned color slide, October 2000.

We've been checking out the news about the nor'easter that hit my home town (Albany, NY) and much of the US northeast pretty hard yesterday. The city reported over 20 inches (about 51 centimeters) of snow at the airport and about 25 inches (almost 64 centimeters) in some neighborhoods. A friend of mine in a close suburb sent a photo of a ruler in her yard measuring nearly 18 inches. Some areas, including Saratoga Springs, recorded accumulations close to 35 inches. Yikes! They're saying that it's the biggest December storm in fifty years. The local paper (on line, of course) had some interesting photos from around town. Now the dig-out begins.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The church in Vouvray

Vouvray is a town on the Loire just outside of Tours. It's well known for its wine, sparkling and still, made exclusively from chenin grapes. Vouvray, about 45 kilometers from Saint-Aignan, is where we rented a vacation house in October 2000. We rented that house again in 2001 for a second trip. We really liked the region and the following year we bought our own house near Saint-Aignan.

Bell tower, Vouvray, scanned color slide, October 2000.

This is the bell tower of Vouvray's church, Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Jean-Baptiste. The tower is built of stone, of course, topped with a slate-tiled copula and what looks to me like a bronze or copper lantern (or maybe it's just painted). You may be able to make out the bell inside the lantern in this photo.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A little stained glass

This is a window at the Château de Chaumont on the Loire. The castle sits, as most do, high on a bluff overlooking the river. Strategic views and all that. Chaumont is roughly fifteen kilometers up river from Amboise and about twenty-five kilometers from where we live.

Little coats of arms in stained glass. Scanned color slide, Chaumont-sur-Loire, October 2000.

The holiday tree is up, and the lights are on, but I haven't hung any ornaments yet. That will be for today. We're expecting a stretch of dry days, so I hope to get out and get some of the last yard work done.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The royal residence

Much of the original château at Amboise is gone, after falling to into disrepair and neglect at the end of the sixteenth century. What remains, mostly the towers and walls as well as the logis (the royal residence), has been restored since.

Part of the royal residence at Amboise, color slide, October 2000.

Rain showers continue around here, off and on. The temperatures have warmed up. I'm getting more of the deck cleared off. What remains includes the grill, some large planter boxes, and the storage armoire. All in good time. I put the holiday lights up on the house Sunday. Today I'll set up the tree. At least, that's my plan.

Monday, December 14, 2020

La chapelle Saint-Hubert

On the grounds of the château at Amboise is this little chapel. It is the presumed burial site of Leonardo da Vinci. I say presumed because, while there is a tomb and marker, no one is absolutely sure that he's in there. It makes sense that he would be because he was a friend of the king (François I), spent his last years just up the street at the Clos Lucé, and died there in 1519.

The Saint-Hubert Chapel in silhouette. Scanned color slide from October 2000.

The chapel was built in the late fifteenth century at the top of the castle's west wall. I've posted photos of it before (and probably this photo, too). Here's what the chapel looks like in normal light.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Friday was pizza day

We had some odds and ends in the fridge and decided to make pizzas on Friday. There was some leftover tomato sauce, half a chorizo sausage, and some mushrooms that needed using. We also had a wedge of gouda cheese and some frozen bell pepper strips on hand. I made a crust and let it rise for a few hours before making lunch.

A few black olives add a salty punch to the pizza. Watch out for the pits.

Ken had found some flour at the supermarket that was marketed "special" for pizzas, so I used that to make the dough. Reading the fine print revealed that it's standard type 45 (or type 00 in Italy) flour, something we can always find. All-purpose flour in France is type 55 and bread flour is type 65. So type 45 is a little finer than all-purpose. Sometimes it's referred to as pastry flour. The crust was good, but not all that different from the crusts I make with all-purpose flour. Live and learn.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Same-old Saturday

The rain is discouraging me from taking my camera out on our walks, so I'm continuing with the twenty-year old slides from our Loire Valley trip in the fall of 2000. This is Amboise, again. If I remember correctly, I was up on the roof of the Tour des Minimes, one of two huge towers that enclose spiral ramps from the ground level up to the top of the bluff and the royal residence, when I took this shot looking over the center of town.

The castle's flags fly high over the slate rooftops of central Amboise.

Amboise is a must-see stop on any tourist's visit to the Loire Valley. The château is certainly worth a look (Leonardo da Vinci is buried on the grounds), da Vinci's residence and a museum dedicated to his engineering ideas is a short walk away, and the city itself is charming, walkable, and filled with shops and restaurants. Amboise also has an impressive Sunday market on the riverbank with food, flowers, and all manner of household goods on display. Of course, the covid situation has impacted tourism around the world, and the Loire Valley is no exception. Maybe next year things will be better.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Flashback Friday

This is the bridge over the Loire River at Amboise. It's another of my color slides, taken during our fall 2000 trip, that I scanned. I'm surprised at the amount of traffic on the bridge, although I'm not sure why. It's one of only two bridges over the Loire at Amboise. The next closest bridges are 12.5 kilometers down river to the west and 15 kilometers up river to the east (about 8 and 9 miles, respectively). 

By the length and direction of the shadows, this could be the evening rush hour. The bridge crosses an island in the middle of the river.

The big attraction at Amboise is, of course, the royal château, built on a bluff overlooking the river. That's where I was when I took the picture.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Throwback Thursday

Once again, I'm back to the archives for lack of new photos. This image is from October of 2000 -- twenty years ago! We were vacationing in the Loire Valley (before we moved here) with a friend from California. I was taking color slides back then and this is a scan of one of them. I posted a smaller version of this photo back in 2007.

A door and window in Fougères-sur-Bièvre.

I woke up to rain this morning and the weather people say it should continue to rain until some time this afternoon. Ken's planning to make a blanquette de veau (a creamy veal stew) for lunch. That should warm us up nicely.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

It's biscotti season

I often make biscotti during the holiday season, and this year is no exception. A week or so ago I made pumpkin (what else?) pecan biscotti. They were delicious -- we gobbled them up. Yesterday, I made a batch of maple pecan biscotti. I used my standard almond biscotti recipe and substituted maple syrup for the almond extract. Boy, are these good!

Maple pecan biscotti, just out of the oven after toasting.

This morning's errand is a trip to the post office. We're accepting the bid we got for the restoration of our deck, so I need to return the paperwork (and a deposit) to the contractor. I have no idea what the timeline will be, but we need to start clearing the deck off so that we're ready for the demolition work when it happens. I've already put away the table and chairs.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Back up the hill

After we finish our loop, it's time to head back up the hill toward the vineyards and home. Just before we get to the incline, we cross a stream bed that is normally pretty dry. But often in winter, because of rain, the low point in the walk is a muddy mess. And it's slippery. So, if we've had rainy weather, we don't go down the hill.

Grape vines come into view as we approach the top of the hill.

That's ok, because we have lots of paths we can take up here on the heights. Some of them get wet and muddy, too, but there is always an alternative, even if it means just staying on the road.

Monday, December 07, 2020

A little orchard

Not far from the pumpkin patch (yesterday's post) is this little orchard of mostly plum trees. Whoever owns it does a good job of mowing the grass and pruning the trees each year.

About a dozen fruit trees in a little orchard along our walking route.

There's another similar plum orchard next to our property on the top of the hill. The people who own that land don't live here, but they come by a few times a year to clear, prune, and pick. They've also invited us to take whatever fruit is left in a bountiful year. This year was not particularly good for plums. Maybe next year.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

A pumpkin patch

It's all gone now, but this plot of land down in the valley was planted mostly with pumpkins, potimarrons (red kuri squash), and sucrines (a winter squash similar to butternut) this year. There was also a row of tomatoes in the far corner. Next spring, whoever owns this plot will likely plow it up and replant, as they've done for as long as I've been walking by.

Looking across the valley toward the river. That big concrete building in the upper right is a grain elevator, even though in misty weather it could be mistaken for a cathedral. It sits next to the rail line that parallels the river.

Our holiday beast for roasting has been ordered! I went to the Saturday market in St.-Aignan yesterday as planned and asked our favorite poultry vendor what their holiday schedule is. They will be there on Wednesday the 23rd and in Montrichard (a nearby town) on Thursday the 24th. So I went ahead and placed an order for pickup on the 23rd. We will be enjoying a chapon de pintade (guinea fowl capon) this year. We don't follow the French tradition of having the big dinner on Christmas Eve -- neither one of us likes to eat a big meal at night. So we'll have our Christmas lunch on Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Another view

Still walking the paths between the wheat fields down in the river valley. Our usual route takes us around this field. We're walking to the right, then will loop around and come back toward the left just inside those woods you see in the background. I'm looking in the opposite direction from yesterday's photo.

Another field planted in winter wheat this year.

I think I'm going in to town this morning to see what's going on with the market schedule over the holidays. Saint-Aignan's normal market day is Saturday, but Christmas Eve is on Thursday this year. That means that, unless there's a special market mid-week, people will have to pick up their holiday birds five or six (depending on which town) days in advance (remember: French tradition is to have the big holiday meal on Christmas Eve night, not on Christmas Day). That seems (to me) a little too long to keep a fresh bird in the fridge. I'm hopeful that the poultry people will be either here or in a neighboring town on Wednesday or Thursday for pickups. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Walking between the wheat fields

Just another view across one of the wheat fields down below the hill where we live. As I said before, dirt access roads between and around the fields provide access to cyclists, pedestrians and, of course, tractors and harvesters. They give us a few options for varying our route.

Looking across the river valley. You can see the heights rising on the north bank in the background.

The whole thing with the bank is now resolved. It was a stupid problem, of course. Turns out that the cell phone wasn't connecting to the network. The guy at the bank figured it out after he sent me two messages that didn't come through. He said that cell phones often don't work at the bank's location. Pas de réseau, he said. No signal. Just go home and try again. I rebooted the phone (just turned it off and back on again) and the network came back and the messages came through. All's well that ends well.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

At the bottom

This is what we see when we get to the bottom of the hill. This field is one of several at the bottom of the hill that are planted every year in some kind of grain. This is winter wheat. It's planted in the fall, sprouts, then over-winters like this. In spring, it begins to grow tall and set seed, then it's harvested in summer. I've seen this field planted with barley, millet, and sunflowers in years past.

The winter wheat has sprouted. The river is behind those trees that are lit by the sun.

This morning I've got to deal with the bank. Ugh. Last spring they added another layer of security to their online banking service. Every three months, when I log in, they send me a special code that I need to enter to get into my accounts. It's worked fine over the last six months. So December 1 was the start of the next three month period. Yesterday, when I tried to log in, they said they were sending the new code (by text message), but I never got one. Without that code I'm effectively locked out of my accounts. So I will schlep over to the branch office this morning and ask what's going on. Joy.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Almost there

At the bottom of the path through the woods, we emerge on the valley floor where several agricultural parcels are planted in grains each year. There are some houses, a couple of small orchards and private vegetable gardens, all connected by dirt roads to the paved road that parallels the river.

Tasha is ready to venture back into the light.

I started walking this route back in 2003 with our first dog, Collette. Callie and I took most of our afternoon walks this way, except for springtime when the grape grower at the top of the hill would hook up an electric fence to keep deer out of the vineyard. He doesn't do that any more. Now Tasha and I (and Ken, too) are walking the route. One of the nice things about it is that, once you go down, you have to climb back up. And that's good exercise.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Not out of the woods yet

Tasha lagged behind me as we continued down the hill. Something got her attention and it needed some intensive sniffing. I'm sure she wonders why I don't find all the smells fascinating. She caught up with me before I got out of sight.

Halfway to the bottom.

So, here we are in December. A few months ago, I thought November 3 would never arrive. Now it has come and gone, nearly a month behind us already. We've begun planning for our end-of-the-year meals. Not that there's much planning to do. It's just that Christmas and New Year's are on Fridays this year, so we have to coordinate our shopping to the market schedule. First thing to find out is if the local towns will have special holiday market days so we can plan when to place an order for the roast beast and when we can pick it up.