20 September 2017

Il n'a pas réfléchi...

Yesterday I talked to the woman who has been delivering our bread every week for a couple of years now. It was her last tournée (delivery run). I told her we were very disappointed with the baker's decision to end the service. We've been customers since 2004, but we're more likely to buy bread elsewhere now. The bakery is bound to lose a lot of customers.

Bertie the cat and Tasha the puppy don't seem to understand what all the commotion is about.

"He didn't think this through," Véronique said, candidly, about the baker's decision. "Other customers have been telling me the same thing you're saying. They don't see themselves making a special trip down to the village center just for a loaf of bread. They'll buy bread at the supermarket in Saint-Aignan or Noyers, or at one of the other bakeries that they drive by when they go out to do their grocery shopping." I think that's what I'll end up doing too. The only other businesses in the village center are a café-newsstand-tabacco shop, a hair salon, and a post office.

Véronique said she has had 88 regular stops along her route this year, and that, like us, the people who live in those houses have mostly been buying a baguette or two — or some other bread — every time she comes by. It seems like that would be profitable for the boulanger. Maybe he's a proud man who thinks the bread he makes is so good that people will just drive to his shop every day for a fresh loaf. I'm afraid I won't. I'm too busy to take the car out that often just for a loaf of bread.

I made stuffed tomatoes yesterday.

The baker's letter makes it plain that he will still deliver bread and other baked goods to people who can't drive or walk to the bakery. He especially wants, his letter says, to continue the service for elderly people. But they will have to sign up and then phone in their orders. Until now, the "bread lady" drove up, blew her horn, and you went out and bought whatever you wanted out of her van. You could also place a special order for things like croissants or sweet pastries, and she'd bring them on her next visit. I hope people who depend on the service might be able to put in standing orders for deliveries on a regular basis and not have to telephone the bakery every few days.

Here's the letter we got in our mailbox.

We have plenty of freezer space right now, so we can buy three or even six baguettes at a time, cut them up, and freeze them. We already do that on a smaller scale because our deliveries were cut back to just three times a week last year, and we often buy two or three baguettes at a time. We try to remember to take bread out a couple of hours before lunchtime every day so that it's thawed, and then we heat it up for four minutes in the oven. If we need to, we can thaw bread quickly in the microwave using a special setting for that purpose. It works really well.

19 September 2017

Oven-roasted zucchini spears

It's not quite as cold this morning as it was yesterday morning. The thermometer reading right now is between 10 and 11 in ºC, but the temperature normally keeps dropping until 7 or 7: 30 a.m. (it's 6:30 right now). Despite the cold mornings, we're still harvesting tomatoes — I'll be making stuffed tomatoes today for lunch — and zucchini squashes. That's what this post is about.

Oven-roasting is a really good way to cook zucchini spears. What I did was cut the squash in half across the middle, and then cut each half into six or eight spears, leaving on the green skin. The spears were about 5 inches long. (Those are potatoes on the left and zucchini spears on the right — in the photo below too.)

Next, make a mixture of bread crumbs (panko, in this case) and grated Parmesan cheese — half a cup or more of each, in equal quantities. Add some dried herbs including thyme, oregano, tarragon, or parsley and, finally, some black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic and/or onion powder, and salt. You can vary the herbs and spices to your taste.

Pour a little olive oil in a wide, flat dish. Put in the zucchini spears and turn them to coat them with oil. Then dredge them in the crumb and cheese mixture and put them on a baking pan skin-side down. Set the pan in a hot oven and let the zucchini brown for 15 or 20 minutes. Cook them more or less time depending on whether you want them crunchier or softer.

I added some potato spears made with potatoes that I had partially cooked in a steamer pot. I did them the same way as the zucchini spears. You can see them in the photos — their color is lighter. All the spears were delicious. We ate ours with a couple of chorizette sausages (beef, lamb, and pork) and a red and yellow tomato salad with feta cheese.

18 September 2017

Bad bread news

We got some bad news on Saturday. Our bread delivery service is being cancelled effective this week. We didn't get much notice in advance. The new baker in the village, who arrived a year or two ago, has decided not to deliver his products any more. We'll have to fend for ourselves, bread-wise, for the first time since 2004. This is a disappointing development.

I probably won't be seeing our village baker's bread wrappers much any more. The fact is, to buy bread it will make a lot more sense to go into Saint-Aignan or across the river to Noyers-sur-Cher than to drive into the village. It's the same distance either way, and the supermarkets, banks, and other businesses we depend on are in the two larger towns. There's not much in the village besides a café, where I never go, the post office but there's one in Saint-Aignan too, and the salon de coiffure, where I go get a haircut four or five times a year. There won't be any reason to make a special trip down there — not just for bread.

Anyway, I get the impression that more and more local people are buying their bread at the supermarket. I see a lot of shoppers leaving the supermarket with armloads of bread. Both SuperU and Intermarché have recently starting selling higher-quality baguettes de tradition rather than just the baguettes ordinaires we could find there previously... and at lower prices, if you buy them three at a time.

Our village baker makes good bread, but the end of the delivery service will give us a chance to enjoy the bread made by the five other local bakers in the area. We can keep bread in the freezer and thaw it out day by day to have with our meals. We can also make our own breads, including French bread, pizzas, or cornbread.

Here's what the village baker's wrapper says about the traditional baguettes he makes:

based on
your baker's

To make a truly traditional French baguette, your baker uses only flour, water, salt, either yeast or a sour-dough starter... and the best of his savoir-faire : kneading the dough slowly, letting it rise for a long time, shaping the loaves by hand, and cooking the bread for just the right amount of time. This daily discipline gives the bread a unique, traditional flavor and color, and a crunchy crust.

17 September 2017

Cold, hungry, busy

Our heat is on this morning and the radiators are hot. The thermostat is set at 18.5ºC, which is about 65ºF. The temperature outside is 10ºC, or 50ºF. Remind me again... isn't it still summer on September 17? Not here.

Hungry, already, at 6:15 a.m. Here are a couple of photos of a recent pasta dish we made with zucchini, tomatoes, and basil from our 2017 vegetable garden, and some whole wheat bow-tie pasta and chipolata sausages. I don't yet have a plan for today's lunch, so I have to get busy on that.

Meanwhile, I don't have a lot to blog about (as you can tell) because I've spent hours yesterday and this morning making travel arrangements on the internet. A sudden trip to North Carolina in October is coming together. My mother is moving from one apartment (which she has lived in since 2005) to another within her retirement résidence or complex. I want to be there to help her move and get settled in the new apartment.

Making the travel arrangements has involved a long phone call (including what seemed like hours on hold) to my bank in the U.S., because somehow I typed a number wrong when I was paying for my Air France plane ticket and the bank put a security hold on my Visa card. I had to talk to three different bank employees, ending up with somebody in the security department who asked me dozens of questions to verify my identity and finally lifted the hold on the card.

Besides the plane ticket, I have reserved a train ticket for the ride from here to CDG airport north of Paris; a hotel room for one night at CDG airport; and a car rental at Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina. I typed more carefully as I was making all those reservations and everything went through smoothly.

Now before I leave Walt and I have a lot of garden and yard work to finish, including cooking and eating or processing the rest of the produce out in the garden (tomatoes, squash, beans, chard...). I have to see my doctor for my semi-annual checkup and call Amélie to make an appointment for a haircut. I'll be busier than usual, that's for sure.

16 September 2017

The history of the Grandmont-Villiers priory

[Below are some photos I took in 2006 at the Grandmont-Villiers priory, half an hour south of Saint-Aignan, near Montrésor, along with my translation of this article in French detailing the history of the monastery...]

Author: Father Philipe-Etienne, hermit at the Grandmont-Villiers priory, which was founded in 1162 by Henri II Plantagenet.

On February 8 in the year 1124, Saint Stephen of Muret died. Muret was the name given to the place where Saint Stephen lived and died, in the commune of Ambazac near the city of Limoges. The following year, his disciples transferred Stephen’s body and their community to the place called Grandmont, eight kilometers to the north in the commune of Saint-Sylvestre, giving birth to a religious order of impoverished hermits that was to grow in the 12th and 13th centuries to as many as 160 hermitages in France, three in England, and two in the Spanish province of Navarre.

This photo of Father Philippe-Etienne appeared in the newspaper in 2012 (my post yesterday),
with a note that said he did not want to be photographed, or identified by his legal name.

The French kings Louis VII and Philip Augustus, who with the Plantagenet family reigned over  the Touraine, Maine, Anjou, Normandy,  and Aquitaine provinces, as well as England, lent support to the nascent Grandmont order in their territories.

Henry II Plantagenet, taught by his mother Mathilde "The Empress" to venerate the founder of the order, hastened, after becoming the king of England in 1156, to create seven hermitages in his lands: Pare-lès-Rouen, La Haie d’Angers,  Sermaize (La Rochelle), Bercey (Bercé Forest in the Maine), Grandmont-lès-Chinon (aka Pommier-Aigre), Grandmont-lès-Tours (aka Bois-Rahier), and also Grandmont-Villiers (aka Villiers, Villiers-près-Loches, or Villiers-près-Montrésor), which was and is located in the parish of Coulangé and known as "Notre-Dame and St. Stephen."

In 1157, the first twelve hermits of Grandmont arrived at Coulangé and moved into wooden huts. In 1162, the king pledged these grants: an annual rent of 36 livres to be taken from the royal treasury and 100 to 120 hectares of woodlands, moors, and grasslands bordered on the east by the "public road" running from Saint-Aignan to Châtillon-sur-Indre. The  first buildings were built around 1170.

The hermitage at the time of its construction

Subsequent Demolition Dates

1360 - portico and chapel
1650 - cloister galleries
1724 - six meters of the church on the west side
1724 -latrines
1780 - church sanctuary
1780 - west façade of chapter hall
1780 - guests' refectory and left hallway
1851 - right hallway
1902 - collapse of the vault of the nave

As he was departing on a Crusade with Philip Augustus in 1189, Richard the Lionhearted pledged to preserve his father's grants to the hermits of Grandmont-Villiers. There remain few documents recounting the history of the hermitage in the Middle Ages. In the year 1200, Geoffroy of Palluau, Lord of Montrésor, pledged as a gift a chandelier for the church at Villiers that was to be fabricated by a lord of Marsin (in the village called Genillé), Abbot Jean-Louis Denis, Chartulary of the Abbey of Villeloin.

In 1295 there were about twenty hermits living in the monastery, including six clerics and a dozen or so lay brothers. A reorganization of the order by Pope John XXII in 1317 retained only 39 "active" Grandmont priories out of 160 existing, with consolidation of the brotherhood. The hermitages that were kept, including Grandmont-Villiers, were known from that point on as "priories." The prior of Villiers was given the title of Abbot of Grandmont.

The Villiers priory was then home to about thirty men. In 1323 it was visited by King Charles IV (aka Charles le Bel). Grandmont-Villiers’ revival was short-lived because a plague was ravaging the region and reducing the number of monks there.

Around 1358-1360, along with the abbeys near Villeloin — Beaugeray, Aigues-Vives (near Montrichard), Beaulieu-lès-Loches, the Carthusian monastery of Liget — the Villiers priory was attacked by Anglo-Navarrese vandals living at the Château du Plessis in nearby Nouans-les-Fontaines and Châteauvieux.

Declining birthrates because of wars and plague made it difficult to recruit new brothers into the order. By 1420 the hermit monks would number no more than five or six. This did not prevent them from welcoming, in November 1472, King Louis XI, who signed two ordinances at the Villier priory. In 1495, the institution by the king of the system of  "commendation," under which the superior of a monastery was no longer required to be a member of the order and elected by his brothers, but could be a secular nobleman appointed by the king — as a way of giving responsibilities to the sons of noble families and income to these families at the expense of the monasteries — accelerated the decline of religious orders in general.

These appointed administrators retained only only the number of monks strictly required by canon law to legally constitute a community — in other words, three monks. The order also received only one-third of the monastery's income. This regime lasted until 1772 when the Grandmont orders "headquarters) and its properties located near Limoges were granted to Mgr. Du Plessis d'Argentre, Bishop of Limoges, to allow him to pay off the enormous debts he had contracted while building his episcopal palace (100,000 livres).

At Grandmont-Villiers, revenues that had been allocated to cover the everyday needs of the brothers were granted instead to the seminary at Tours. The last hermit monks (Henri Besse, Claude Salmon, and the prior Jean Martin) soon closed the priory and returned to  live with their families.

In 1780, the secular administrator of the monastery, Louis Jacques de Baraudin, who continued living at Grandmont-Villiers, obtained from the king the right to raze the church and monastery buildings, with the exception of one wing that would serve as a country residence. He then had the church sanctuary torn down and converted into a barn, and demolished the greater part of the west wing.

He also demolished and walled off the facade of the chapter room and arrogated to himself, in 1789, the right to tear down everything that remained standing outside the south wing of the building. Barraudin died in 1790.

The remaining building was sold to the French government in 1792. Then in May 1851 it was sold to François Xavier Branicki, owner of the Château de Montrésor. The rest of the property was purchased in 1878 by Constantin Gregory Branicki.

The priory was used as a farm and a hunting lodge until 1963. Occupied for a while by tapestry-makers, it was finally abandoned and went to ruin. Finally, the priory was leased long-term in 1980, with the agreement of Mgr. Ferrand, Archbishop of Tours, to be lived in by hermits inspired by the spiritual writings of St. Stephen of Muret.

Today, three hermit monks lead a poor, lonely, and fraternal life there while rehabilitating the buildings.

* * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * ** * * * * *
The priory can be visited on Sunday afternoons from 3.30 pm to 5.30 p.m. from 2 November to Palm Sunday and every afternoon from Monday from Easter to 31 October. Closed Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, and the last Sunday in August.

Public services: Sunday mass at 10 am. Vespers at 6:30 pm.

Day of Christmas and Easter, Mass at 10:30.

Phone 02 47 92 76 48