25 July 2017


Everything went smoothly yesterday. The Peugeot was a pleasure to drive, and I made the trip to Montrichard and back with no trouble — not that it's very far. I have made a wager that spending about a thousand euros on repairs for the old Peugeot will be a good investment. They say that keeping an old car running is cheaper than buying a new one (or even a used one), and I'm hope that "they" are right. I wouldn't buy a new car, and buying a used car would be time-consuming (have to find one like I want) and I might just be buying somebody else's headaches.

One of the most plentiful wildflowers that grows in the vineyard here is Queen Anne's lace.

Over in Montrichard, the dentist, Dr. Klotz (pronounced more or less like "klutz"), quickly re-repaired the filling that he had first repaired a couple of weeks ago but had broken (partially) again. It only took him about 20 minutes, and he didn't charge me for the visit. The original visit, by the way had cost 90 euros (compared to the standard 30 euro fee for a cleaning and exam).

Here's a flower going, I think, to seed. When I took the photo I noticed red-and-black insects hiding inside.

Of course, I get 65% of those costs back from the national health plan, so the filling repair cost me only about 30 euros. Remember, the standard fee for seeing a doctor here is 25 euros, and it had been only 23 euros until July 1, when it went up. And we get 65% or 70% of that back from insurance too. So there's no reason not to go see a dentist or doctor when you feel the need.

What we call "Queen Anne's lace" is actually the wild form of the carrotla carotte sauvage in French.

I mentioned "green mayonnaise" — mayonnaise verte — yesterday. It's a regular mayonnaise except that it's made with vegetable (olive, canola, sunflower) oil that you've poured over fresh herbs (just the leaves) like parsley, tarragon, basil, or dill and then blitzed in a blender or with a stick blender. 

La mayonnaise verte made with pureed basil and parsley leaves

I've posted about home-made mayonnaise several times over the years. I learned how to make it in the 1970s when I was spending a lot of time with a French family. It's different and much better than commercially made mayo.

The wild carrot is often considered to be a noxious weed. Some people feel that way about all carrots.

Our weather is pretty chilly right now. We've again gone from blazing heat back to temperatures that feel autumnal. We've had some rainfall too, which we needed. I think summertime weather will return someday soon, but you never know. Often August is our hottest month, and September is often very pleasant too. This year, we may have had all our hot weather in June and July.

24 July 2017

Teeth and clutches and green mayonnaise

Today I have an 8:30 dentist's appointment over in Montrichard, which is 10 or 12 miles downriver from us. I broke a filling a while back. I had an appointment a couple of weeks ago and the dentist repaired the filling, but it broke again. I'm hoping the second time will be the charm. But as they say, jamais deux sans trois...

I'll be driving the Peugeot over to Montrichard, because it now has a new clutch. We picked it up from the mechanic's on Friday. Yesterday morning I took it out for a test drive — pleasure jaunt, really, just because I enjoy driving it. I went to places like Châteauvieux, Faverolles-en-Berry, and Lye (where I bought some good bread at the bakery) — about 25 miles of driving in all.

I'm hoping we'll be able to keep the little Peugeot in running order for many more years. I realized recently that we have driven it only 5,000 kilometers, or 3,000 miles, since I had the timing belt replaced in February 2015. The car is nearly 17 years old.

The pictures here are ones I took on Saturday morning, when we had such a spectacular rainbow out over the vineyard. Yesterday, by the way, was Natasha the Shetland sheepdog's five-month-iversary. She's becoming less a puppy and more a dog. In other words, she's settling in and calming down.

We made fish and chips for lunch yesterday. To accompany the fish, I made what is called une mayonnaise verte. I read different recipes for it in books and on the internet. Some called for blanching fresh herbs — we had basil and parsley, but dill or tarragon would be good too — in boiling salted water and then pureeing the leaves. I decided to go the simple route and just puree the raw, fresh leaves in the blender with vegetable oil, and then make the mayonnaise with that oil. It was good with the fish.

23 July 2017

Au bon endroit, au bon moment

We were surprised by a few hours of rain yesterday morning. And I was even more surprised because it was my morning to walk with Natasha into the vineyard. When I stepped out the back door, it was already raining very lightly. Here's what I saw.

The rainbow formed a full arc across the western sky, from north to south. I couldn't take it all in with my camera, though, from my viewpoint. Some photos from our upstairs windows might have shown it all, but then the big trees in our back yard would have probably been in the way.

The light kept changing from minute to minute. The rainbow itself would go faint and then the sun, behind me, would peek out between passing clouds and the rainbow's colors would really glow. The clouds kept changing colors too.

Natasha and I tried to keep walking but rain started falling harder. At one point, we veered off the gravel road down along a row of vines. A sudden downpour caught us, and heavy raindrops were slapping and tapping on the grape leaves. The sound was impressive.

The dog and I turned tail and headed back toward the house. This is the view we saw as we looked toward the east and into the sunrise. By the time we got back to the house, the rain had stopped. Isn't that always the way? But it started up again and lasted for a few hours.

I decided to go out the front gate and take a picture from out on the road as the rain started up again. The rainbow was soon just a memory... and a few photos. Events like this often last more no than 5 or 10 minutes. It's good that the time for our walks is at sunrise.

22 July 2017

Flan pâtissier au lait de coco

Yesterday I made what is called a flan pâtissier (a kind of custard tart or cream pie) using coconut milk instead of cream. It's a recipe you can find here, on La Cuisine de Jackie, in French. I've adapted the recipe for American cooks, substituting vanilla extract for the vanilla bean in Jackie's recipe and converting the measurements to U.S. cups.

Flan pâtissier au lait de coco

1 pie crust
1 liter of coconut milk
150 g sugar (⅔ cup)
100 g cornstarch (1 scant cup)
3 eggs
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. dried grated coconut
1 Tbsp. rum (optional)

Mix the cornstarch into ¾ cup of cold coconut milk, stirring well.

Bring the rest of the coconut milk to a simmer. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Separately, beat the eggs with the sugar. Add in the cold coconut and cornstarch mixture. Then gradually pour in the hot coconut milk, stirring constantly. Add the grated coconut and the rum (optional).

Pour the mixture into a saucepan and set on low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until well thickened.

Line a pie pan with the crust. Pour in the coconut milk mixture. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 325ºF (160ºC). Keep an eye on the flan for the last 15 minutes of cooking to make sure it doesn't get too browned. Serve cold.

The coconut custard tart is delicious, even if I do say so myself. Thanks to Jackie for the idea and recipe. (The term "custard tart" always makes me think of Lionel Hardcastle on the British comedy series As Time Goes By.)

A U.S. cup, by the way, is 8 fluid ounces (240 ml, or less than half a pint in British terms). You can use less sugar than my recipe specifies, but don't use less cornstarch. You can also try using two whole eggs and one yolk rather than the three whole eggs I put in. Oh, and I bought a crust — pâte sablée — at the supermarket. You could easily make the flan with a different crust or no crust at all.

21 July 2017

Fleurs bleues

The Renaudière vineyard is just full of these blue flowers right now. The hot dry weather we had for a couple of months must have been ideal conditions for them. The flowers are one of several that are commonly known as cornflowers.

The plant that flowers this way is actually wild chicory. It's closely related to the salad greens that we call "curly endive" and "Belgian endive" in the U.S. Bitter salad greens like radicchio and escarole are also closely related to it. Wild chicory is native to Europe, but has been naturalized in North America, China, and Australia.

By the way, I'm throwing in this photo of yesterday morning's sky over the vineyard because of how blue it is too. I mentioned hot weather up above, but we're in a cool snap right now. It feels almost chilly outside this morning, and yesterday I had to put on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt before I went out walking with Natasha.

 Back to the flowers — why are they called "cornflowers"? It's because they grow on the edges of fields of grain, and the British word "corn" just means grain. In America, "corn" is maize, which is also called "Indian corn." In France, the wild chicory plant is called — surprise! — chicorée sauvage. It's also called chicorée amère — bitter chicory — because its leaves have a bitter taste.

In the middle ages, the wild chicory plant was considered to have magical qualities. It was used to blunt or quell the human libido. In other words, it was understood to be an antiaphrodisiac. The French wikipedia article lists 13 varieties and subspecies of wild chicory. One variety gives the chicory that is added to or substituted for coffee.