Friday, December 31, 2021

La colonne

This is the place de la Bastille, the site of the infamous prison stormed by revolutionaries in 1789. The column, la colonne de Juillet, was completed in 1835, not to commemorate the 1789 revolution, but to pay homage to the victims of the three-day July revolution of 1830, known as les trois glorieuses (the Three Glorious Days).

La colonne de Juillet, place de la Bastille, April 2008.

Speaking of glorious days, Tasha is going in to the see the vet this morning. She's having her teeth cleaned. She has to fast until after the procedure. Not her choice. Poor thing. She doesn't understand why she's not getting her regular breakfast. Her appointment is at 08h45. We'll see if she wants lunch when she gets home.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

La tour

Eiffel, of course. Here's another one from the archives, taken in Spring 2018. I spent a weekend in Paris with some friends from New York. The weather was great, except for my last day when it got cold and windy and rainy. I spent most of that day eating lunch and drinking in a café waiting for my train back home. I'll always have Paris.

I've posted this shot before with a slightly different crop. Eiffel Tower from the Palais de Chaillot, April 2018.

In the here and now, our very mild December weather persists. Daily highs are in the 50sF. I hope we don't pay for this in the spring. The French have a saying: Noël au balcon, pâques au tison. That means if you can be comfortably outside at Christmas, you'll spend the following Easter in front of the fire.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Les Halles

In the very heart of Paris is a neighborhood called Les Halles. The name translates to "market halls" and, until the 1970s, the neighborhood was the site of the city's central wholesale food market. I can only imagine how difficult the daily traffic in and around the markets was back then. In 1971, the market was relocated to Rungis in the southern suburbs. The iconic iron and glass market pavilions, designed in the mid-nineteenth century by Victor Baltard, were demolished (save two, one reconstructed in Paris' eastern suburbs as a performance space, and another reconstructed in Japan.).

Under the canopy at Les Halles, street level, April 2018. More photos from my visit here.

What replaced the markets were a new regional rail hub and a huge underground shopping mall. The district became mostly pedestrianized. The new complex was in its final phases of construction when I first went to Paris in 1981. I remember coming out of the Les Halls subway station and making my way on plywood planks through the often muddy site to the nearby neighborhood where Ken lived then.

The the sixties and seventies style design of the complex did not age well and was itself demolished in 2010 then totally rebuilt, opening in 2018. I was in Paris in 2016 and took a walk around the place to see how it had changed. The reconstruction of the ground-level gardens and park were still not complete, but stores in the shopping center were beginning to open under a huge steel and glass canopy, with access to the reconfigured transit hub several levels below.

One day I'll go back and check it out again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

La Flèche

This is la flèche (spire) atop the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris seen from the dome of the Panthéon. I took the photo in 2016, about three years before the fire that destroyed it. The spire, that is. The cathedral still stands while the roof is being rebuilt. The Panthéon had just opened the dome to visitors after years of renovation and I took a tour one afternoon the day before a flight out to Canada and the US. I don't think I've published this photo before.

It will be a while before this view is possible again. I thought a somber treatment was appropriate.

The wind picked up about nine last night and howled until this morning. It wasn't all that bad, but there were some gusts that made the house creak. Tasha and Bert spent a good part of the night up on the bed.

Monday, December 27, 2021


For lack of any new photos, how do you like these apples? It's from ten years ago. I made a pie with them.

These are called "reinettes," pippins in English.

I woke up to rain this morning, pretty heavy. Radar shows it's moving off now. Thank goodness. The morning walks are no fun in the rain. As it is, we'll probably get muddy paws.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Television for dogs

During the winter, I put seed and suet balls out for the birds. The suet balls are suspended in a kind of a cage from the deck railing, opposite the sliding glass door. We get to see tits, robins, and finches feeding, some pecking at the suet, others picking up whatever falls to the deck. Each day, Tasha spends some time watching all the activity from her spot on the rug.

Tasha quietly watches the birds feeding on the deck. Once in a while, Bert the cat comes and watches with her.

Our Christmas day meal was delicious. I had made the dessert (pumpkin pie) on Christmas eve, so there were no worries about conflicts in the oven. The bird wasn't stuffed, except for some flavor ingredients like shallot, bay leaf, sage, lemon, and pepper. Ken made "stuffing," or dressing, separately, adding cornbread, pecans, and dried cranberries, among other things, to a meat terrine that he had made previously. I sauteed steamed Brussels sprouts, sliced into halves, and sprinkled lightly with flour until they had browned a bit. Ken made gravy from a base broth he made with the bird's giblets and other flavors. We thawed out some cranberry sauce from last year to go with it all.

Today: leftovers!

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry, merry, ho-ho-ho

Merry Christmas 2021.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Ornamental [6]

This is a tiny Christmas stocking ornament, knitted (or maybe crocheted?) by my late stepmother back in the 1970s. As a stay-at-home mom back in those days, she took up making crafts as hobby. I have a small collection of some of the ornaments she made (time has not been kind to some) and I'm sure my siblings have some as well.

In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

Well, here we are. Christmas Eve (it's not Christmas, and stop calling me Eve!). Bon réveillon and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Ornamental [5]

Rainbow trout? Probably not. It's one of a box of glass animal ornaments that Ken gave me in 1985. They are among my favorite ornaments. I've only broken one of the six since then. Not bad for a guy with ten thumbs.

Nothing fishy here.

Today we pick up the holiday bird, a guinea fowl capon, at the special marché de noël in Saint-Aignan. We still do the holiday thing American style. In France, the réveillon de noël is celebrated late at night on Christmas eve with a big meal that often includes a roast turkey. Neither one of us likes to eat a big meal just before bedtime even if we could stay up that late, so we'll have ours on Christmas day. But fear not! We'll enjoy our annual tradition of a cheese fondue on Friday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Ornamental [4]

Talk to me of Mendocino
Closing my eyes I hear the sea
Must I wait, must I follow?
Won't you say "Come with me?"

This hand-painted glass ball is from Mendocino on the northern California coast. It was given to us by a friend who loved the place. We visited Mendocino  a few times while we lived in San Francisco. In addition to the dramatic coast, the town is charming, filled with inns and restaurants, and is home to a large community of artists and their galleries. It's worth a visit if you're in the area.

This ornament brings back fond memories of Northern California.

It looks like our cold spell will snap on Friday. The high pressure system that's been keeping us cool is moving off and a warmer system will bring some rain in off the North Atlantic. Temperatures are expected to reach into the double digits!

Song: "Talk to me of Mendocino" by Kate and Anna McGarrigle

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Ornamental [3]

Tennis anyone? I'm a tennis fan, and I like this ornament in the form of a tennis ball. It's much smaller than an actual tennis ball, more like the size of a ping-pong ball. If only I could remember where it came from. Bought? A gift? I've forgotten. I used to have an even smaller tennis ball bobble attached to my rolling travel bag so I could pick it out easily in baggage claim. The last time I flew, the bag came back without the bobble. It probably broke off somewhere along the way.

The ornament is fuzzy like a real tennis ball. My suitcase bobble was made of hard plastic.

Our temperature this morning, as predicted, is below zero Celsius. Just barely, but below. It's a frosty solstice morning!

Monday, December 20, 2021

Ornamental [2]

The face of this familiar character is painted on the back of an oyster shell. We have two or three of these jolly fellows, each painted by Ken's late aunt back in the 90s. The strings of wooden cranberries came from Crate & Barrel in San Francisco.

Ho-ho-ho on the half shell.

We're moving into a few days of below-freezing morning low temperatures. Cold is good, to a point. We'll have to be careful of icy roads while running errands this week.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Ornamental [1]

This will be a busy week for a lot of people, covid restrictions notwithstanding. Not so much for us, except for some food shopping for special holiday meals. So I thought I'd do a week of Christmas tree ornaments. I'll try to post some that I haven't in the past, but long-time readers will likely recognize some of these.

The tiny canoe is made totally of carved wood.

First, the image of the week this week is of a giant redwood, or is it a sequoia, ornament carved into a slice of wood. I like its simplicity. It was a gift from a friend whose favorite place is Yosemite National Park.

Today's post is a canoe ornament that I think came from Restoration Hardware in Palo Alto, California, back in the late '90s, if memory serves. The boat reminds me of camping trips in the Adirondacks when I was a kid. My father would get me up before dawn to take me out in either a canoe or a standard rowboat onto a misty mountain lake to fish (it would be light outside by the time we got to the boat). He liked to use live worms for bait, bought at the local general store the day before. It was most boring, baiting the hooks was gross, and I hated the whole thing. It's weird to have a fond memory of something I did not enjoy. P.S., I did enjoy the camping. It was just the fishing that I didn't like.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Mister Moose lives the lush life

He used to visit all the very gay places,
Those come what may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life,
To get the feel of life,
From jazz and cocktails.
It looks like Moosletoe has been dipping into the Christmas cheer a bit early this year.
Song: "Lush Life" by Billy Strayhorn.

Friday, December 17, 2021


Gray days and early evenings call for colorful candles in the house. The candles in these cups are what we Americans would call tea lights. In French, they're bougies chauffe plat (plate warming candles). The cups themselves, votive holders in the US, are called photophores in French.

I got the cup holder in the US long ago. It came with clear glass cups. I found these colored cups here in France.

Did you know that there's a difference between tea lights and votive candles? I didn't. Tea lights are shorter and are contained in a metal cup that makes replacing the candle very easy. Votives are taller and are just bare candles that melt into whatever container you put them in. I just looked at Amazon for some battery-powered LED tea lights. That would make buying wax candles every year a thing of the past and eliminate the need to recycle the metal containers.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Jingle bells

I took this photo yesterday morning, looking up from the driveway just before sunrise. It's the annual "here are the lights on the house" photo. I used the tripod and the 24mm wide-angle lens.

Holiday lights 2021.

Also yesterday, I put the real fake Christmas tree up and strung the lights on it. I didn't get to the actual ornaments yet because I was making another batch of cranberry biscotti, this time with walnuts instead of pecans. Yum!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021


We're having our typical late fall/early winter temperature inversion. High pressure is keeping the rain systems away, but it's also pinning the fog to the ground. The days are still and gray with no wind. You can hear condensation dripping from the trees. All sound is muffled. It's almost spooky. And it's predicted to last all week.

We didn't see the sun at all yesterday. The fog has been much thicker. Photo taken 26 December 2011.

This photo is from ten years ago this month, taken from the guest room window at sunset. The utility pole on the right is long gone; the power lines serving our hamlet were put underground. But that pole on the left is still with us because they didn't put the distribution lines underground, so each house is still connected by aerial wires for power and land-line telephone service.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Pecan cranberry biscotti

'Tis the season. It seems that every year during the holiday season I make some biscotti. This year I added dried cranberries and pecans to the basic recipe that I've been using for years (originally an almond biscotti).

Pecan and cranberry biscotti.

The process is simple. I mixed the ingredients together (flour, eggs, vanilla, sugar, berries, and nuts), formed the dough into two logs and baked them at low temperature until done. Then, after letting them cool a little, I sliced the logs into individual cookies and toasted them in the oven at a lower temperature. This batch didn't spread out as much as I expected, so the cookies are smaller than normal. But they still taste good.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Light my fire

Oh, the mess around the stove is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. Burning wood is a messy business. Cleaning up after burning is, too. Every day after a fire, I have to empty the ashes by brushing them into the tray below the floor of the stove and taking that tray down to the utility room to empty it into a galvanized ash bucket. Tasha likes to bark at me when I do this. When the bucket gets full, I take it out back and dump it.

Grape vine trunks on the left and inside the stove, a couple of birch branches on the right.

Meanwhile, fine ash accumulates on surfaces. And not-so-fine ash and pieces of wood accumulate on the floor of the fireplace. I'm constantly sweeping and periodically vacuuming, but it never really seems clean until spring when I stop making fires. Burning wood helps us to not use so much heating oil, so that's a good thing. And the stove burns hot (it was called "double burning") so there's hardly any visible smoke going out the chimney.

This stove is fifteen years old. It's got some cracks inside (the body of the stove is fine and there's no smoke in the house) and the front grill (that pointy thing that keeps the logs inside when you open the door) is warped because of the heat. We've thought about replacing the stove with a wider model so we can burn bigger logs, but the company that made this one no longer exists. And we have other projects that we want to do first. So there we are.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Sunday among the vines

It's Sunday in the waning days of autumn. That means that it's hunt day and, as the days continue to shorten, the window of light between dawn and 09h00 (when hunting begins) is narrow. Tasha and I have to get out and back before the guys with guns show up.

Tasha on the vineyard road on a foggy Saturday morning. Not a hunt day.

There's not really much danger to us. The hunters wear bright orange vests and are generally very aware of people walking along the vineyard road. I just worry that Tasha might get excited and cause a ruckus. If the hunters flush out a pheasant, Tasha will want to chase it. She chases birds. While they're flying. So it's best if we're back home by the time the hunters arrive.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Soupe au chou gratinée

Here's a variation on the classic French onion soup. We had (and still have) a good deal of broth from the potée (boiled dinner) that Ken made last weekend, so we decided to make a cabbage soup by chopping up the tender cooked cabbage and adding it back into the broth, then preparing it like French onion soup.

Two bowls of steaming cabbage soup.

First, Ken took the cabbage leaves out of the broth and strained the other vegetables out. He chopped the cabbage and added it back into the strained broth, then ladled the steaming soup into individual bowls.

Add thick slices of baguette and grated cheese.

He made croutons by slicing a baguette and laying the slices on the surface of the soup. This is a great way to use day-old or slightly stale bread because it soaks up the broth and softens. If the bread is fresh, you may want to lightly toast it so it doesn't disintegrate in the broth.

Melt the cheese in the oven and serve with freshly ground black pepper.

Finally, he sprinkled grated cheese on top of the bread slices. In this case, the cheese was a French (as opposed to Swiss) gruyère. Then the bowls went into the oven until the cheese melted. Et voilà !

For all you French experts out there, do you write soupe au chou in the singular as I did or in the plural (soupe aux choux)? I've seen it both ways on the internet. I chose the singular if for no other reason that only one chou went into the potée, but I don't know if that's how most people would do it.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Tasty terrines

I mentioned earlier that one of our supermarkets advertised some interesting terrines on special this week. It's that time of year when French traditional foods are offered everywhere for the holiday table. Not that they're unavailable year-round, just that they're much more varied and abundant this time of year. Our branch of the store didn't have every variety of terrine that was in the advertising circular, but I got one of the two that I wanted to try along with another less fancy, but no less tasty, one.

Top: chunks of goose meat and goose liver with mushrooms. Bottom: pork with peppercorns.

The first one is oie aux girolles (goose with girolle/chanterelle mushrooms). The second is a pork terrine with three kinds of peppercorns. Both are delicious and we're enjoying them with crusty bread and cornichons (little gherkins) as appetizers all week.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Burn, baby, burn

We inherited a pile of grape vine trunks when we moved into the house back in 2003. Since then, Ken and I have added to it a few times. However, because the trunks need to be cut to fit in our wood stove, they've languished in their spot in a far corner of the yard, piled up between the garden shed and the compost piles, covered with corrugated sheet metal to stay dry.

This is about 2/3 of the original pile. I've already burned about a third.

In the first years after we got the wood stove, I was busy cutting oak logs to burn, so I had no energy left to deal with the trunks. After that, I got a new chainsaw that was no fun to use because it was so difficult to start. Now, I have a new saw that works much better. I've been cutting the trunks one wheelbarrow full at a time. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to get them all burned this season. They're very dry, and dry rot has set in, but they still burn hot, if not for long.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Winter wild

Wild carrot, that is. This is what becomes of the delicate wild carrot flower (also known as Queen Anne's Lace) in the late fall and winter. I haven't paid enough attention to know if the flower balls up this way as it dies, or if it just never fully opened in the first place.

It's still pretty.

All of yesterday's errands were accomplished more or less successfully. I now have significantly less hair than I did and it feels great, if not a little chilly. The recycling bins are now empty and ready for more. International postage was purchased and mail was sent, and I got a case of champagne and some interesting terrines (both sale items) from the grocery. One of the terrines is goose with girolle (aka chanterelle) mushrooms, the other is pork with three kinds of peppercorns. I was disappointed that they didn't have the pintade aux morilles (guinea fowl with morel mushrooms) that was also advertised.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021


I've got a few errands to run this morning. First up: a haircut. Our stylist was closed for a while because she was having surgery, so I haven't had my hair cut since mid-August. I've been called "scruffy-looking." Time to fix that. After that, the recycling center, the post office, and a stop in the grocery store for a few things that are on sale. What an exciting day ahead!

Tall grasses, seasonably brown.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Chocolate snails

I'm not a big chocolate fan, but every once in a while something will grab my attention. Like these individually wrapped escargots (snails) made of chocolate. These are milk chocolate (they also come in dark chocolate) filled with praline and bits of hazelnut. So I picked up a small box the other day. Ken and I finished them yesterday. They were very good, and now I think my curiosity is satisfied.

If you don't like real snails, you might like these.

The grocery stores set up a whole aisle of chocolates each year for the holiday season. It's a wall of confections in every shape and flavor. They also make displays of champagne and other sparkling wines. Very festive.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Linguini with white clam sauce

This has become an annual between-the-holidays dish for us. Many of the local fishmongers sell coques (cockles) this time of year. Cockles are essentially clams, but much smaller. They are harvested off the shores of the eastern Atlantic Ocean, from Iceland in the north through Europe to as far south as Senegal in the west of Africa.

A hurried photo (I was hungry!) We may have these again a time or two before the season is over.

I got a kilogram of the bivalves for Saturday's lunch. Although the fishmonger said these had already been disgorged, Ken put them into a saltwater bath for a couple of hours with some cornmeal just to be sure. And we're glad he did because they expelled a lot of sand, and sand isn't fun to munch on.

As usual, the coques are steamed in a white wine sauce with minced shallot and garlic and plenty of black pepper. Ken added a dash of red pepper flakes for a little kick. When the clams open, they're ready to be mixed into cooked and drained linguini (250 grams dry) and garnished with chopped parsley. Serve with crusty bread and a crisp white wine. Lunch is ready!

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Looking back in white and black

Now that I'm running out of fresh photos, it's raining outdoors. That means I won't be taking the camera out on my walks with Tasha. Oh well, there's always a food photo or two.

Looking easterly toward the hamlet from the vineyard.

I found coques (cockles) at the market yesterday, so today we're making linguini with white clam sauce for lunch. The market in Montrichard is larger than at Saint-Aignan. The town was pretty with shop lights glowing brightly and snow flurries flying. The poultry vendor told me that Saint-Aignan's Christmas market will be held on Thursday the 23rd this year since Christmas falls on Saturday. Next week, or the week after, one of us will go into town to place the order for our holiday bird. I think we're leaning toward a chapon de pintade (Guinea fowl capon).

Friday, December 03, 2021

At least it's not corn

Fall brings a lot of browns to the landscape around us. The grape vines are naked now, their brown leaves carpet the ground below them. Most of the fall color in the woods is more brown than orange or yellow. Late summer wildflowers have sown their seeds and stand dead and brown on the margins of the vineyard parcels. The grasses and evergreens provide a contrast of deep green against the brown. And the rose hips punctuate it all with brilliant red.

Remnants of wildflowers. They'll be back next year.

I'm making a run to the market this morning, mostly to find out what the holiday schedule will be. While there I'm going to look for coques (cockles, like little clams) for a linguini with white clam sauce lunch over the weekend. Then it's off to the supermarket to get whatever else is on the list. Hopefully today's predicted rain will hold off until I'm done.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Again with the corn?

When will it end? The short answer: today. The long answer: I don't have any more photos of the corn. I will, however, let you know when the two plots are harvested, or at least cut down.

I think the little corn plants are kind of pretty. The colors are subtle, but they're there.

Looks like a messy weather weekend is forming up. Freezing morning temperatures will give way to warm (ish), rainy days. Great dog-walking weather. Not.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The nose knows

Or at least it seeks to find out. Some deer (I think) ripped this ear of corn off its stalk and enjoyed a meal or two of fresh corn kernels. The cob is in the dirt road not far from a stand of corn out among the grape vines. Just as I took the photo, a certain canine stuck her nose into the shot (second photo).

Corn cob as art. Second attempt, sans dog.

This morning's low temperature at the house is about 9ºC (about 48ºF). Compare that to yesterday's low of just below freezing. We should be having some rain this morning as the warmer system moves through. According to the radar, it's just about here as I type this (06h45).

I smell deer breath!