25 March 2017

La Salamandre

La Salamandre is an old-style French restaurant in Azay-le-Rideau. Authentic or not, it presents itself as such. On the menu, you'll find a lot of French country-cooking classics. Would you be tempted to have lunch or dinner there?


  • Tête de veau is just what it says it is: the meat off the head of a calf, served with sauce gribiche or sauce ravigote. Both sauces are variants of vinaigrette dressing fancied up with chopped hard-boiled eggs, herbs, and other aromatic ingredients.
  • Civet de sanglier au chinon is a stew made with the marinated meat of a wild boar cooked in red Chinon wine with carrots, onions, and other aromatic vegetables and herbs. Chinon is a nearby town that's famous for its Cabernet Franc reds.
  • Sole meunière is what we call a Dover sole in English cooked the way the miller's wife would cook it. In other words, the fish is sprinkled with a little bit of flour and then panned in melted butter. The menu specifies that it is fresh sole, which I assume means it's not frozen and thawed.
  • Blanquette de veau is veal cooked in white wine and then served in a flour-thickened white cream sauce with mushrooms and onions over boiled white rice.
  • Tripes à la mode de Caen is beef tripe (stomach) cooked in hard apple cider with carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, and... the foot of a cow or a calf for the silky gelatin it releases into the sauce. Caen is a city in Normandy.


For the faint of heart or anybody on a diet, the daily special is roast chicken. For between 16 and 20 euros ($18 to $20 U.S.), you can have one of the main dishes with a first course, a dessert, or even both. The restaurant is called La Salamandre not because they serve dishes made with salamander meat but because the salamander was the symbol of the French Renaissance-era king François Ier, a beloved figure in France's Loire Valley.

23 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (5)

Here's one more stained-glass window that I saw and photographed in the Eglise Saint-Symphorien at Azay-le-Rideau last week. It is the work of an artist (vitrailliste) named Jacques Grüber (1870-1936).


I found information about this window on a blog called Tourainissime, as well as on Wikipedia, which includes a list of Grüber's major works in Paris (Galeries Lafayette) and elsewhere in France (especially at Nancy in the Lorraine).

22 March 2017

A sofa and a sunset

I talked to my mother on the phone yesterday. She said she was looking forward to seeing the new sofa we have just put up in the loft space (the big space we had finished off as a family room / bedroom back in 2010). The loft is still a work in progress, and I guess it always will be.


Well, there it is. We're waiting for delivery of a new rug, and I'll post some more photos once we get it and have the sofa set up on it. We went from brown to blue upholstery, because Ikea didn't have the brown material we liked. Here's a post from 2010 showing how the loft space looked when we were still getting it finished and painted.

Meanwhile, after a rainy day yesterday we got a surprisingly nice sunset. I snapped a few photos of it, and here's one:


Often, these colorful moments at sunrise or sunset last only three, four, or five minutes, so if you want colorful photos you have to act fast. If you're a minute late, all you see is a blue-gray, cloudy sky.

21 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (4)

...but also seen in the Eglise Saint-Symphorien at Azay-le-Rideau.



20 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (3)

Below is a photo of the older part of the façade of the Eglise Saint-Symphorien. This gable dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries, and includes the statues and niches that are said to have been re-used when the original church on the site, built 500 years earlier, was replaced.


The top row of seven figures represents Christ in the center, with a characteristic halo bearing a cross. The three figures on the right must be saints or apostles, because they have halos too. The four figures on the left are described just as unidentified personnages — they have no halos.


Lower down, on either side of a window that was added to the building much later in history, there are seven more statues. The three in the photo below are depicted with halos. I didn't get a good close-up photo of the other four figures. Speculation is that five more statues, which would have brought the number in the lower row to 12, were removed when the window was opened up in the façade.


One document I read said it is not at all clear that the statues in the top row and the ones in the bottom row were carved at the same time or by the same artists. Since there are no images of the older 5th/6th century church, nobody really knows where the statues were originally placed or what they represented.

19 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (2)


I'll just quote from the Cadogan Loire guidebook: (from the château) "It's only a short walk to the village church of Saint-Symphorien, with its extraordinary Romanesque façade. Three sets of diminutive statues stand in niches like worn stone dolls."


"Nobody knows exactly when these figures were made or whether they were meant as part of this church. Around them, crisscrossed and diagonal stonework adds to the curiosity of the church front," the Cadogan says.

18 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (1)

Early in the morning, I enjoy spending time looking at and working with my photos. It's how I start my day.

I especially enjoy taking close-up shots apart and putting them back together again so that I can post them on the blog despite the size limitations the software imposes. The one below is a single photo that I have cut into two pieces, top and bottom. Each half will pop up as a larger photo if you click or tap on it.


This is a window in the church at Azay-le-Rideau, an hour or more from Saint-Aignan by car. The Michelin guide describes the church as « curieuse » because the building includes architectural elements built as early as the 5th and 6th centuries, but also elements from the 11th, 12th, and 16th.

17 March 2017

Kale greens for Saint Patrick's day

Yesterday I decided to harvest the rest of my Tuscan "dinosaur" kale. It had over-wintered in the garden, and we'd eaten quite a bit of it by cutting leaves and cooking them half a dozen times over the months. The heavy frosts and morning temperatures well below freezing that we had in January didn't bother the kale at all.


The reason for harvesting the dinosaur kale now was that it was getting ready to go to seed. It had sent up hundreds of flower buds that were about to burst open. That would have been pretty, but I don't need the seeds, because I brought another package of them back from N.C. in February.


I've been told that the flower buds are good to eat, so I cut them and cooked them with some of the tender leaves and flower stalks. We'll eat some for lunch today and see how good they really are.


There is still a lot of kale for me to trim up and get ready to put in the pot. Many of the leaves are huge and probably fairly tough, but many are small and tender. Yesterday I gave the plants a good first washing in the utility room shower stall.


To harvest the plants, I took a big pair of limb-loppers out to the garden plot and cut through the fat tough stems of the plants. Then I could bring the tops, with all their leaves and flowers, into the house and cut off the flower heads before pulling all the leaves off the stems.


Washing and trimming the kale leaves and flower buds is a lot of work, but Walt and I both enjoy eating kale, and we think it's good for us. So the work is worth it. I still have quite a few leaves to wash and trim this morning. A lot of this kale will go into the freezer after it's cooked.



Here's what the plants looked like on a frosty morning two or three weeks ago. Tuscan or dinosaur kale leaves remind me more of collard green leaves than other kinds of kale do. They're "meatier" than curly kale or Russian kale leaves, and I like their texture after they're cooked.

16 March 2017

More Sheltie photos

I grabbed these photos off the Loups de l'Isengard Shetland sheepdog breeder's web site when I found them yesterday. I think she has just posted them, and she has announced that these dogs' female puppy has officially been sold (to us).











The mama dog's name is Ixelles, pronounced [eek-SEL]. That's a play on words, because XL meaning "extra-large" is pronounced the same way in French.

XL is also a little joke because the dog named Ixelles is anything but extra-large. Adult Shetland sheepdogs weigh between 20 and 30 lbs. Here she was as a puppy herself, about 3 years ago. Ixelles is also a town in the Brussels region of Belgium.












The daddy dog is named Ilhan — or Ilhan des Bergers du Landas in the long form. Les Bergers du Landas is the breeder's where he was born, and it's in the Allier (not very far south of the city of Bourges and just north of Montluçon).

Ilhan and Ixelles are both about three years old now. Here's a close-up shot of Ilhan's face and head. Our as-yet unnamed puppy should look a lot like this, because she's also a tricolor Sheltie.



Coincidentally, our 10-year-old border collie named Callie was also born in the Allier département of central France, between the towns of Montluçon and Vichy. Her full name is Callie du Berger de la Vallée des Géants — Callie of the Shepherd of the Valley of the Giants. Her father was Vince des Vents du Moisson — Vince of the Harvest Winds.

15 March 2017

Three photos... such as they are

One of these photos is okay. It resembles the one Walt posted yesterday. I took all the photos. We were in the middle of major canine commotion, however, and most of the photos came out blurry. I wish I had set the camera on video to take a movie, but the thought didn't occur to me at the time.


Here Walt was making friends with our as-yet-unnamed puppy's mama-dog. She was nervous about us being so close to her two pups, which were sleeping in the metal cage you can see in the photo. I wish I could remember this dog's name. She was nervous and protective about these strange humans wanting to get close to her pups, but she was far from aggressive about it, as you can see.


I tried to take photos of the puppy's daddy-dog, or "sire" — I wish we could remember his name. As you see, the photos came out really blurry. Anyway, he is a "tricolor" Sheltie like our puppy — black, white, and orange. I think the mother dog's coloring is what is called "sable." All the dogs, including 5 or 6 adults and about as many puppies (4 or 5 months old) were friendly and very energetic. I'm sure they were very excited to have visitors and get all the attention we showered on them.

Click or tap this link to the photo Walt posted yesterday to see the resemblance between father and daughter.


And I couldn't back off to take photos because the dogs just ran around us in circles the whole time. Something I once read said that as a blogger you should never post a technically deficient photo, but I do it anyway. My photos are not so much examples of photographic mastery as they are depictions of what I saw with my eyes when I was taking them. It helps if you squint... You can click or tap on the images to enlarge them.

14 March 2017

Can't decide

I do have photos I took at the Sheltie breeder's place yesterday, but I can't decide whether to post them. See Walt's post today to get an idea of what we saw. And yes, we did decide to get one of the puppies. More later...


We arrived early over in the Chinon area, so we stopped in Azay-le-Rideau and took a good walk around the town. There's a famous château there, but we didn't have time to go see it (we've seen it before) and, besides, serious restoration work is going on there right now. We'll go see it when the work is finished, I'm sure.


Saint-Aignan is on the eastern edge of the old province called La Touraine, and Azay-le-Rideau and Chinon are on the western edge. It's an hour or even a two-hour drive from here to there, depending on whether you take the scenic route or the autoroute. We don't often go on long drives nowadays.


Azay-le-Rideau is a pretty town, and yesterday there were no throngs of tourists to spoil the views. I can't even remember the last time I was over there. Check back here tomorrow for some photos and maybe another photo or two of the dogs we enjoyed seeing yesterday.

13 March 2017

Spring springing

Today we will drive over to Chinon to see a woman about a dog. One of our neighbors said, when we told her yesterday, "You will quickly succumb when you see a sweet little puppy." She is probably right, even though this is a big decision.

Meanwhile, the early bloomers in our yard have burst forth with flower. Above, a pink ornamental cherry and a big plum tree seen from the front terrace.

Again above, the patch of primroses and cyclamens that come up spontaneously every spring in our side yard. They were first put there by the woman who sold us the house in 2003.

Below, violettes coming up wild near the front gate, seen from the kitchen window.

And finally, the plum and cherry trees again.

We're expecting good weather for our three-hour round-trip drive over to Chinon this afternoon. We won't be coming back with a puppy, unless the unforeseen happens, since the one we have tentatively picked out won't be weaned until about the end of April.

11 March 2017

Poulet à la Tetrazzini

I don't know why, but the name Tetrazzini just came to me the other day. What is chicken tetrazzini, exactly, I thought. So I looked it up. My motivation was that we had about half of an oven-roasted capon in the refrigerator, and we had already eaten some it twice with stuffing and vegetables. We needed a new idea.


A capon is just a fattened chicken — a rooster, actually. I had roasted it very simply, seasoned with just some salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and bay leaves. It weighed 2,65 kilos, or nearly 6 lbs., so we would be eating it for a while.


I didn't find tetrazzini in any of my French cookbooks. Not even in the Larousse Gastronomique, which is pretty comprehensive. I did find recipes in French on the internet (on y trouve tout... et n'importe quoi) and of course a lot of recipes in English too.


On Wikipedia, I read that the idea or recipe for chicken tetrazzini has been attributed an Italian coloratura soprano named Luisa Tetrazzini, who was a star in the early 1900s. The dish appears to have originated back then in the kitchens of the Sheraton Palace hotel in San Francisco. Or maybe at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Nobody quite remembers.

Wherever it was first concocted, it was a way to use up the leftovers from a holiday roasted turkey or chicken. It's a cream sauce with onions, mushrooms, smoked pork bacon or lardons, and chunks of cooked chicken in it. It's flavored with a little sherry or white wine, and served over pasta. Or baked into a casserole, topped with melted cheese. Some green garden peas are an optional addition. Walt and I both enjoyed eating it. Here's a recipe translated and adapted from a French web page.


Poulet Tetrazzini

8 to 10 oz. pasta (bow ties, penne, macaroni, linguine...)
4 Tbsp. butter
lardons fumés, diced ham, or bacon (optional)
1 onion, chopped
½ lb. button mushrooms
3 fl. oz. flour (40 g)
500 ml. chicken broth
150 ml. cream
2 Tbsp. sherry or other dry white wine
1 lb. of boneless cooked chicken
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped or dried herbs
1 pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan or other cheese
½ cup bread crumbs

Cook the pasta in boiling water or chicken broth according to package directions, keeping it fairly al dente. (We had whole wheat bow-tie or farfalle pasta.) Drain and set aside. If you're cooking the pasta in chicken broth, save it to use as the base for the cream sauce.

Separately, sauté the chopped onion with the (optional) bacon, ham, or lardons. (I used diced, cooked sausage stuffing.) Slice the mushrooms and add them to the sauteed onion. Add the flour to the pot and let it cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

Slowly stir in the chicken broth to make a thickened gravy. Add the cream, the wine, and the cooked pasta to the gravy and stir well. Then add the chicken, any herbs you like, the nutmeg, and the salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the mixture into a baking dish. Mix the grated cheese and bread crumbs together to make a topping for the gratin. (Drizzle with olive oil or melted butter if you want.)

Cook in a 350ºF / 180ºC oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling hot. Serve the tetrazzini at the table right out of the casserole dish. Sprinkle on more grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs as you want.

Here's another recipe published by Elise on her Simply Recipes site, which is always a good source.

10 March 2017

Puppies

Thanks to all of you for your good thoughts and advice on the question of introducing a new puppy into the house with a senior dog (Callie is 10 now). I wrote about that prospect yesterday. Callie has always gotten along well with our friends' dogs. Here are a couple of photos of Callie as a puppy, taken when we first brought her home in 2007.


Callie is a border collie but she's not the hyperactive hellion that we were afraid she might be. She's also very submissive around other dogs, but she's always gotten a long with them. Labradors, standard poodles, Jack Russel terriers, big Bernese mountain dogs, Brittany spaniels... and so on. So we are optimistic that, even though she's not good with cats, she'll get along with a new puppy.


And I think we will too. I remember the travails of having a puppy chewing up just about everything in the house. We brought Callie home in early May 10 years ago, thinking we would be able to spend the four or five summer months basically outside with her, so as to minimize the damage. Wouldn't you know that turned out to be the rainiest summer we've had since we moved here, so we were mostly confined to quarters. The bottom rungs of our dining room chairs still bear the scars of Callie's tiny, sharp puppy teeth.

09 March 2017

An appointment

We have set up an appointment for early next week. We'll be driving over to Chinon to have lunch and then meet with a breeder about a dog. We've been talking for many months about getting a puppy to keep Callie company. We're lucky we've found a dog breeder only two hours from Saint-Aignan who has the kind of dog we're looking for. Here's a link to the site and some photos.


We also want to make sure we don't end up without a dog in the household in the coming years. Getting out and taking a long walk every day, rain or shine, is too important, and there's nothing like having a dog to motivate you to get outside and get moving. The place where we live is ideal for keeping dogs and taking long off-leash walks without worrying about car traffic or bothering anybody.


We're studying the possibility of bringing a Shetland sheepdog into the picture. It will be a slightly smaller dog than Callie, but it should be just as intelligent, obedient, and energetic as a border collie. We've never before had two dogs at the same time.


Our first dog, Collette, was a collie-mix pup that we found at the Humane Society in California in 1992 and rescued. She moved to France with us in 2003, and lived with us for nearly 14 years in all. Then we brought Callie home in 2007, about 10 years ago. Those years have just flown by.

08 March 2017

Tarte au chou-fleur

We've cooked and eaten cauliflower twice recently. The supermarkets have had pretty heads of the vegetable in abundance and at very low prices. In France, a lot of cauliflower is grown in Brittany, Normandy, and up near the Belgian border. The weather in those areas has obviously been good for the crop. Nice round, unblemished heads of chou-fleur are selling for one euro right now.




What I made yesterday is a tarte or quiche, as you like. Walt had some pie crust dough (pâte brisée) in the freezer that he thawed and rolled out to line a baking dish. He "blind-baked" the crust, which means he pre-cooked it with pie weights in it as I prepared the filling.




First I cut up and cooked the cauliflower in a steamer pot. I sauteed some chopped onion and smoked pork lardons in a frying pan. Then I let all that cool completely before putting it into the pie shell with some grated Emmental cheese and arranging the cooked cauliflower pieces on top.

The recipe is below.

Tarte au chou-fleur

1 cauliflower, cut into florets
4 oz. smoked bacon or lardons (125 g)
1 large or 2 small onions
1 standard pie crust
3 eggs
6 fl. oz. (¾ cup) cream, whole milk, or crème fraîche
4 oz. grated cheese (Swiss or Cheddar)
a pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper

Line a baking dish with the pie crust and cook it for 15 to 20 minutes in the oven at 350ºF (180ºC). Chop the onion and bacon and sauté it in a frying pan until done. Let the crust and the onion mixture cool down to room temperature. Grate the cheese and set it aside.

Cut the cauliflower into florets and cook them in a steamer pot until they're tender. Let them cool down to room temperature.

Break three eggs into a bowl and beat them lightly. Add the milk or cream (or some of both) to the eggs and stir everything together. Season with nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.


Spread the onion and bacon onto the bottom of the cooked pie crust. Sprinkle on about half of the grated cheese. Cut the cauliflower florets as necessary to make them fairly uniform in size and arrange them in the pie crust on top of the other ingredients. Sprinkle on the rest of the grated cheese.

Pour in the egg and cream mixture. Bake the tart in the oven at 350ºF (180ºC) for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let it cool slightly before cutting and serving it.