31 January 2007

Le Grand-Pressigny ~ 3 ~

The name Pressigny evolved phonetically from the Latin Prisciniacus -- the local lord was probably named Priscinius in Latin. The town called Prisciniacus is mentioned in texts left by the 6th-century historian called Grégoire de Tours, 1500 years ago. There is another village nearby called Le Petit-Pressigny (pop. 350).

A nice courtyard in Le Grand-Pressigny

But people have lived here since prehistoric times, dating back more than 5,000 years. Stone tools and other artifacts going back that far have been uncovered by archaeologists. Stone tools that show signs of having been fabricated in Pressigny have been found in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland, so there was a good export business way back then.

Wouldn't you like to see what's behind the green door? I would.

All that is well and good, but what was pleasant about Le Grand-Pressigny when we walked around the village was the welcoming feel and beauty of the place. There weren't many people out and about, but that's true in most of the villages around here except on market days or when a tour bus pulls in.

Another green door in Le Grand-Pressigny — somebody's workshop?

According to the town's tourist office website, there are two restaurants in Le Grand-Pressigny and there's one hotel. According to one government site, the village population has declined by 300 (from 1,450 to 1,150) since 1968. That's typical of these local villages, I think, but I think it's also beginning to turn around. People are leaving the cities and moving back to the French countryside.

This entrance is considerably grander. The house is a maison bourgeoise.

In 1968 there were 550 housing units (logements) in Le Grand-Pressigny, and in 1999 there were 650. The number of people per household declined from 3.1 to 2.3 over that period. Households are getting smaller and smaller, and older houses are being abandoned while newer ones are being built.

The British people (and some Americans) who are moving into this area are said to be buying up the big old houses, while local people are having new houses built.

The locals want the comfort of better heating and insulation, and they probably don't have the means to renovate the older properties. They work for a living, so they don't have time to do restoration work. The well-off British and American immigrants are looking for something romantic, historic, and typical of old France. They are living a dream, à la Peter Mayle.

A locked door in Le Grand-Pressigny

In 1968 there were 30 vacation homes in Le Grand-Pressigny, but by 1999 that had increased to 90. And between 1968 and 1999 the number of vacant housing units went from 56 to 73. So there are opportunities for outsiders to scoop up old properties.

Typical houses in Le Grand-Pressigny

In comparison, here in our little hamlet, La Renaudière outside Saint-Aignan, with its nine houses, four houses are used as vacation and weekend places. Three of those are owned by people who come down from Paris just once in a while. The other couple comes to occupy their house much more often because they live in Blois, just 25 miles away.

The average age of the nine people who live full-time in the other five houses in the hamlet is about 67 (I'm guessing at three people's ages but I know all the others). Average occupancy per house is just under two people (nine people in five houses). A hamlet by definition is a settlement that doesn't have a church, and most hamlets, including ours, don't have any shops or other businesses.

30 January 2007

Le Grand-Pressigny ~ 2 ~

Tomorrow, I'll get back to the neighborhood get-together I've been describing in previous topics. Meanwhile, here's a little travelogue, as planned, showing some scenes around the little town of Le Grand-Pressigny (pop. 1,150) in the Sud Touraine.

When we drove down there last April, we parked up by the château, which is at the top of the town. The hilltop that the château occupies was fortified by the end of the 12th century. It was the scene of confrontations between the king of France and the Plantagenêts of Anjou back then and later, during the 100 Years War, between the French and the English kings.


Today, part of the château is home to a Musée de la Préhistoire. Archeological digs have shown that the area was a important site in prehistoric times, going back as far as the Stone Age, when the locals fabricated tools out of flint on a very large scale. The flint tools were used in agriculture and were exported as far as Belgium and Switzerland.

Old house in Le Grand-Pressigny

The town down the hill from the château is quiet and picturesque. The weather on April 11 was gorgeous, and Sue, Walt and I spent a couple of hours wandering the streets and taking photos.

Sue and Walt reflected in a mirror on the streets of Le Grand-Pressigny


28 January 2007

Neighborhood get-together (2)

The neighborhood party was this past Saturday night. Here's the first installment.

Joining us for the evening with the three J's were the G's, who live next door to them. They had invited us all for drinks at their house a couple of weeks ago, if you remember.

The G's are nice people we've known since we moved into the neighborhood (the hamlet) more than three years ago, and we see them off and on but not very frequently. Mr and Mme G are both about 60 years old and have children and grand-children who don't live here. It seems funny to call them Mr and Mme G, because we know them by their first names, and we say tu them, not vous.

Our house, one of the newer ones in the hamlet

Vous and tu always comes up at these events, one way or another. I say vousto all these people, with the exception of the G's. But first names are used liberally. Mme J, at age 84, seems to enjoy being called Madame, which is pretty formal in this kind of situation. She is very vieille France — "old-school" — people tell me.

Another guest, P, who I will describe later, kept saying tu when she was talking to Mme J, and then correcting herself with a great flourish and considerable to-do. She called Mme J by her first name, but when she said tu to her "by accident" she would apologize and then repeat her sentence using vous. I thought it was a little over the top.

At one point, late in the evening, P did her "tu-oops-I-mean- vous" trick one more time and it caused some confusion. Mme J lost track of the subject or didn't understand P's question, and it showed. The youngest J told her grandmother that P didn't know whether to say tu or vous to her.

"Would you mind if P said tu to you instead of vous, Mamy?" youngest-J asked. Mais pas du tout, Mme J said — not at all. But she didn't say it very loudly; it was almost an aside. I heard it. It seemed clear to me that Mme J would be fine with the tu from P.

Well, P didn't pick up on it at all. She was adamant that vous was the proper form. "It's a question of age and respect," she told me. "I would never permit myself to say tu to [Mme J]," she said, using Mme J's first name. "I owe her the respect of the vous because of her age."

Maybe P wanted to be begged to say tu, but I don't think Mme J is the kind of person who would do that. She seems to be a reserved, dignified person, and not especially warm. As I said, I think she enjoys having people her daughter's age, like me and P, call her vous and, in my case, since I don't know her at all, Madame.

You understand that the tu/vous interactions are one of the things that interest me most about these get-togethers with our French neighbors. Another thing that interests me, of course, is learning more about the history of La Renaudière and our village. A third one is the hear what people have to say about the upcoming French presidential elections, and candidates Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy... about which more later.

The house across the street where the three J's live

Back to the G's: Mme G still works, while Mr G retired from his job a couple of years ago. They were at last night's party with their four-year-old grand-daughter, so they didn't stay long. We had thought the J's would have the same kind of party the G's had — a glass of wine, a piece of cake, and you're out the door after a couple of hours. But this was a real party, not just a before-dinner drink.

The G's have an old farmhouse that they have restored over the past three decades. They haven't always lived there, but now they do. Mr. G's job as a bank manager took them away to live to Chartres and other "far-away" places over the years, while they continued to fix up their old house (which is named Les Ruines, as ours is named Les Bouleaux — The Birches).

Another couple there were the people who live directly across the street from the J's. The S's don't live in their house yet; they still live in the Paris area, and she works. His mother, the elder Mme S, who is 93 years old, recently moved out of the house and now lives in a retirement home. Her house, which her son and daughter-in-law are planning to keep and not sell, is actually the oldest house in our hamlet, La Renaudière. Ours is one of the three "new houses" in the hamlet; it was built about 40 years ago.

So Mr. S and his wife were here for the weekend. She teaches school in the suburbs of Paris. When she told me that 90% of her students are "foreigners," I asked for clarification. "They are young people who were born in France, aren't they?" I asked her. Yes, she said. So what she meant is that they students are not ethnically French. Their parents are immigrants.

The S's live in the northeast suburbs of Paris, in a département called La Seine-Saint-Denis, which is département number 93, or, in current slang, le neuf-trois. That's the area where the riots started in 2005.

Mr. S is already retired, and I didn't find out what he used to do for a living. They have their house up north of Paris, they said, an apartment somewhere in the South of France, and now this house at La Renaudière, which they say needs major renovations.

With Mr. and Mme S was a woman in her late 70s who smiled and shook hands with everybody but who never really entered into any of the conversations going on in the room. She was probably Mme S's mother, but I say that only because I thought I saw a family resemblance there. Walt said he didn't see or notice it.

I wanted to mention that none of these people comes off as especially well-to-do, in my opinion. and certainly not wealthy. Dress is casual, with men wearing corduroy slacks or even jeans and open-collar shirts. Most all of the women were also wearing slacks or jeans. It was comfortably informal, the way a similar gathering would have been with our friends in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.

It's especially interesting that almost everybody at the party once lived and worked in the Paris area, including Walt and me. The S's still do.

The S's and the G's left the party at about 9:30 or 10:00 to go home, with the four-year-old grand-daugher in tow on one side and the older lady on the other. At that point, another woman at the party, P, who was the person I had been talking to most of the evening, pulled me aside, and then pulled Walt aside, and asked us to stay on for a few minutes after the others left. Walt and I had been ready to say au revoir and make our exit, but we had to stay at that point.

Neighborhood get-together (1)

Our neighbors the J's invited us over last night (Saturday) for what is called apéritifs here. We thought we would walk up the street to their house at 6:30 p.m., have a glass of wine and some finger food, and then get home by 8:45 to watch a movie on TV that we wanted to see.

Well, we ended up getting home at midnight. There turned out to be 14 of us there for the soirée. We all sat around a big coffee table in front of a fireplace with a nice fire going. We drank sparkling wine — not too much — and ate canapés. Smoked salmon on little bread squares, foie gras on toast, little puff pastries stuffed with sausages or anchovies, and things like that. There was a quiche lorraine cut into little squares so you could eat it with your fingers.

Mme J the eldest is 84 years old, she told me. It was 1967 when she and her late husband bought the house she now lives in. It was basically a ruin. There was an old-fashioned kitchen and one other room. The rest of the building was the barn. It had been a farm, and the main part of the building dates from the 1740s. Some of it was renovated in the 1850s.

Mr and Mme J had the barn portion of the house finished off to make a big living room with what we would call a cathedral ceiling. There's a lot of dark woodwork, including a nice wooden staircase up to a mezzanine and an upstairs bedroom (or maybe several). A big French door leads out to the back yard, and a wide French window looks out onto the street on the other side of the room. There's a huge stone fireplace.

Mr and Mme J later added a wing onto the east side of the house, which is Mme J's studio. She's a painter.

The J's moved here for good in 1985, from Paris. Their daughter, who like me was born in 1949, stayed and worked in Paris in Paris until 1992, but then decided to relocate as well. I don't know when Mr. J died, but it might be that it was about the time that the daughter moved in. Mme J the younger also has a daughter. She was born in 1987 and is now a student in a city about 3 hours' drive south of Saint-Aignan. That daughter was there last night as well.

I'll call them the three J's (and yes, I'll use an apostrophe).

The other people at the party included two other sets of neighbors along with some other people. More later...

27 January 2007

Le Grand-Pressigny ~ 1 ~

Twice last year when I was out driving around in the countryside with friends, I spent a few hours in the village called Le Grand-Pressigny. It's a picturesque little town in what is called le Sud Touraine, the south end of the Touraine province. It's about 40 miles from Saint-Aignan.

Le Sud Touraine — the area south of the city of Tours

Above is a map that that I got from the IGN (Institut Géographique National) website. It shows where Le Grand-Pressigny (look for the big blue star) is located in relation to Saint-Aignan (the red star). You'll see that Loches is half-way between the two. This map doesn't show all the little back roads you can take to make the trip shorter than it looks, but what road your choose it will take about an hour to do the drive.

Here's a satellite photo of Le Grand-Pressigny. I got it from the IGN site as well (giving credit where credit is due).

Satellite view of the village called Le Grand-Pressigny

Le Grand-Pressigny is a lot like the village of Palluau-sur-Indre (other Palluau blog entries here and here), which is located about 25 miles east and which, like Saint-Aignan, is typical of so many French towns. It's dominated by a château (a medieval or Renaissance castle) or the ruins of one, has a population of between one and five thousand, and is the site of an old church, a small business district, and many old houses on steep narrow streets.

The first time I went to Le Grand-Pressigny was on April 11, 2006. I remember the date because it was our friend Sue's birthday. She was staying with us at the time, and she, Walt, and I took a driving trip that day to celebrate. We went to Le Grand-Pressigny and several other villages and towns, including Angles-sur-l'Anglin, to take pictures. We had a nice lunch in a little restaurant.

The weather last April 11 was spectacular and Le Grand- Pressigny was an especially photogenic place. I went back to see it again in July with another friend.

Now I'm going to post some pictures of it in a series of blog entries.

(As usual, click on the maps and pictures to see them at full size.)

Above is the château de Pressigny-le-Grand , which is mostly ruins.

26 January 2007

Americans who speak good French

This morning I was listening to France Inter radio when I heard an announcer say that the morning's guest was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Guess what. Breyer speaks fluent, nearly perfect French. He's one of the few Americans you ever hear speaking French on the radio or TV here.

Are there others? Jodie Foster speaks French fluently, nearly perfectly too. I think people know that about her. Kirk Douglas too, though at age 90 he no longer makes appearances frequently. Former Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright holds her own in French as well.

I used to think Sigourney Weaver spoke good French, but she was on a French talk show the other day and depended on an interpreter. They said in 2004 that John Kerry spoke French, but I've never heard him.

Don't forget George W. Bush and Dick Cheney... Just kidding.

Oh yeah, Jacques Pépin does pretty well. Know any others?

24 January 2007

Wine by the hour

I'm watching a show on TV called "La Route des Vins" and it's about Paris back in the days before World War II.

One old guy was just telling about his father's business selling wine, other farm products, and farm supplies and equipment. He said his father sold "wine by the hour" -- il vendait le vin à l'heure. People would bring their sandwich or their picnic food and then pay a set fee for the right to drink as much as they wanted for, say, an hour, or two.

Then they would curl up under a table or in a corner and take a nice nap.

Those days are long past, I guess.

More on pronouns + a weather report

The situation with tu and vous in French is more complex than I used to think. For example, when I worked in Paris, years ago, the people I worked for called me by my first name but said vous to me. I said vous back to them, of course, and I called them Monsieur X or Madame Y. They were a generation older than I was, and they were professors while I was just a teaching assistant.

In other words, used of first-name forms in French does not necessarily correspond to uses of tu in the place of vous.

In Washington, where I worked with a group of French translators, we all called each other by our first names, but we all said vous to each other. For them, I think, that was the "American way" to do things. Some of them were my age, and some were older. Only the head translator was addressed as "Madame Y," in English and in French.

The translators were being less formal than they would have been in a similar work situation in France. Another concession to American conventions was the fact that we didn't all shake hands in greeting each other when we got to work in the morning.

I'm sure that thou, thee, thy, and thine correspond not just grammatically to the French tu forms, but also in usage. They are the second-person singular form, the one parents would have used in talking to their children.

The second-person plural you was the formal, not the familiar, form of address in older (and some current but archaic) dialects of English. Think about what we call the "royal we," which is the first-person plural substitued for the singular I." That's a similar formal usage of the plural instead of the singular. Look at what Wikipedia says about the royal we.

It's interesting that Ginny (and I'm sure others) who speak American English perceive thou as a formal pronoun of address. That must be because it is used rarely, and because it's mainly used in religious contexts (Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done...). Look at what Wikipedia says about the English pronoun thou.

Whether or not you use a person's first name has long been the same kind of marker in American English as is the tu/vous distinction in French, I think. It seems to me obvious that saying you to a person in English doesn't necessarily equate to saying vous in French. I know, intuitively, that I don't say the equivalent of vous in English when I'm talking to my mother, my sister, Walt, or my good friends Cheryl and Ginny. But of course we say you to each other. That's the only pronoun available.

But I can also see how somebody who speaks French and starts learning English would get the impression that English-speaking people never say tu to each other and always say vous, with all that implies in a French socio-cultural context.

French and English really are two langues ennemies. They are so similar in so many ways, and so different in so many others. It makes it impossible to ever fully grasp and master all the subleties of one language when your native language is the other. Just when you think you've understood the differences, you find out it's more complex than you thought.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was snowing when I got up at 7:00 this morning, but very lightly. Now at 8:30 it has stopped, but the ground is lightly dusted. A lot of the rest of France is getting a lot more snow than we are, at least for now.

Yesterday the temperature hovered around the freezing point, thick gray clouds blew by low in the sky, and the wind fairly howled. But no snow.

A report on yesterday's TV news showed a foot or so of fresh snow on the ground in a place called Dompierre-les-Eglises, just 160 km/100 mi. south of Saint-Aignan. Apparently, yesterday's snow just missed us.

I heard on the radio earlier this morning that it was snowing in the Paris area and that the snow was slowly moving west. That could mean we'll get some more later today.

23 January 2007

In English, is it tu or vous?

Imagine for a minute that you are teaching English to a group of students who speak a language in which you are forced to choose, often consciously, the pronoun — formal or informal — you will use when you speak to any other person.

French works that way, and so do most European languages. In French, you say tu, the familiar form, to one set of people, and vous, the formal pronoun, to a different set of people.

You don't normally switch back and forth, saying tu to a person on one occasion and vous on another. In fact, there is often a progression involved, from vous toward tu. Once you have stopped saying vous and started saying tu to a particular person, there's no going back.

In other words, the tu/vous distinction matters greatly. You can't just say whatever comes into your head. It is possible to mightily offend a person who expects to be addressed as vous if you instead say tu. And someone who expects you to say tu will be perplexed, have hurt feelings, or even be angered if you say the formal vous.

Another complication is this: Who decides? In most situations, if an individual says tu to another, the other ones says tu back. It's the same with vous. But there are many exceptions.

There are some stated rules, but the choice of a pronoun is more or less intuitive to French speakers. In only a few cases is the choice perfectly clear. You always say tu to children and animals (pets, for example). You always say vous to a stranger who is older than you are and with whom you are having an impersonal interaction, in for example a business or official situation.

But there are, for example, children who learn to say vous to their mother or father; sons- and daughters-in-law who always say vous to their parents-in-law; and students and teachers who say tu to each other.

Here's an interesting case. Roselyne, the bread lady who delivers our daily baguette de pain, has always said tu to me. I don't remember her consistently saying vous when we first started talking to each other. Maybe it's because she knows I am a foreigner and knows that English-speakers don't make the tu/vous distinction.

Or maybe she knows absolutely nothing about the English language. Maybe it's because we are out in the country, where most people seem to say tu to each other much more easily that in Paris or other cities. Maybe it's my age, and hers. I don't know. But at the same time, Roselyne calls me "Monsieur" — she always sings out "Bonjour, Monsieur!" when she drives up. I sometimes say just "Bonjour!" and sometimes I say "Bonjour, Madame!" Then we say tu to each other.

Once in a while, Roselyne will say vous to me, but I think she is talking in the plural in those cases — talking about me and Walt. "Qu'est-ce que vous faites de beau aujourd'hui?" — what are you two up to today? — for example. That makes it complicated to know what's going on linguistically, since the plural form is also the formal form. I think the no-going-back rule applies here. She says tu to me nearly all the time, and there's no reason why she would suddenly use the formal vous. It has to be the plural.

By the way, I don't know if Roselyne knows that I know that Roselyne is her first name. I don't know her last name. She probably doesn't know my first or last name. Or maybe she does. I know I have talked about Walt to her, so she must know his first name. Maybe he has mentioned Ken to her. All in all, our interactions are extremely friendly but still formal on some level.

You can read more about my experiences with tu and vous in Saint-Aignan by looking at this blog entry.

Now here's my question. When we say you to people in English, are we saying vous or tu?

Remember that all of us human beings look at the world through the filter of our own native language. If the language you learned from your parents requires the tu/vous pronoun distinction, it is hard to imagine or even accept the idea that a language can exist without that feature.

Maybe no language can.

Historically, English you is the second-person plural pronoun, exactly like French vous. So it would be normal for French-speakers to assume that we all go around saying vous to each other all the time. We are therefore more formal as a people (we Anglo-Saxons!), or at least the nature of our linguistic communication is more formal.

Do you think that's true?

Our tu form, thou — and thee and thy, which are the second-person equivalents of first-person me and my — disappeared from standard English centuries ago. Did English-speakers decide, as a group, that it was a bad idea for people to go around saying tu to each other all over the place?

What replaced thou when it disappeared? Assuming it needed to be replaced...

22 January 2007

Nice graphics from the shops

One of the nice things about shopping with the small merchants — boulangers, pâtissiers, charcutiers, and bouchers — in a place like Saint-Aignan is the beautiful packaging they use when they wrap up your purchases. Here's an example from a boulangerie in town.


I went there a couple of days ago to buy a galette des rois, the traditonal cake for the month of January in France. (See Walt's blog topic on La Fête des Rois.) The bag the cake came in had this graphic on it. It shows the ingredients you need — butter, sugar, eggs, almonds, etc. — and shows you what the finished galette looks like.

Here are packing examples from two charcutiers who sell their products at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan, Doudouille and Hentry. I've posted these before.



And here's another example of graphics on packages from a boulangerie just across the rivers in Noyers-sur-Char.


Of course the wrapping paper is just paper. It's what's inside that really counts.

21 January 2007

How to make a Daube de bœuf

The daube turned out just right. It marinated for just under 24 hours, and then it cooked for about 5 hours in a 300ºF/160ºC oven.

The first step was to cut up a couple of carrots, a couple of onions, three or four shallots, and three garlic cloves for the marinade. I bought the meat already cut up and it didn't even need trimming. If I were making this in the U.S., I would use a chuck roast, I think.

The ingredients for the marinade are ready.

Oh, and the recipe I was more or less following called for a barquette de lardons fumés — that would be 7 or 8 oz. (200 g) of smoked bacon. If you can get slab bacon, that would be better than sliced, but the bacon is also optional in a daube.

Supermarkets sell packages of either plain (nature) or smoked lardons

I usually like to buy a slab of what we would call "bacon" in the U.S. — smoked streaky bacon, called poitrine fumée or lard fumé in France — and cut it into lardons myself. But this time I took the solution de facilité and bought a package of pre-cut lardons at the supermarket.

Beef, bacon, onions, shallots, carrots

The recipe I was using called for using a lot of parsley in the marinade, but I didn't remember to buy any parsley. So I used dried thyme, bay leaves, hot red paprika, black peppercorns, and whole allspice berries in mine.

Ready for the wine....

...which was a whole bottle of red.

I used a bottle of our local Cabernet Franc red wine for the marinade. Any full-bodied, dry red wine would do the job.

In hindsight, I was sorry that I had put the whole peppercorns and allspice berries in the marinade, because 24 hours later I found myself painstakingly removing them all by hand. If I hadn't put them in, I would have saved myself a lot of work. I guess I could have cooked the whole berries in the dish, but we would have ended up picking them out at the table...

I ended up separating the carrots from the lardons and onions etc., but I don't think that was really necessary either. Next time I'll use ground pepper and allspice and skip this step altogether.

Remove the beef chunks and pour the marinade through a strainer.

Sauté the pieces of beef in some oil or butter to brown them.

After you brown the beef, cook the onions, bacon, and carrots lightly in the same pan, just to soften them. You can also deglaze the pan with a little of the wine that everything marinated in. Then combine everything in a big baking dish with the calf's or pig's foot and pour all the liquid over it.

The only thing left to do is pour the wine over it all.
Then it's ready for the oven, at about 300ºF.


Again, I think the foot is optional, but using it does give the recipe an air of authenticity. I turned out to have a pig's foot in the freezer, so I used that. Before I put it in the dish, I put it in a big pot of cold water and brought it to the boil so that the pig's foot was blanched. One recipe for daube that I read said to do that, so I did.

Add some salt if you want to, but carefully because the bacon is salty and the pig's or veal's foot will also be salty. There was no salt in the marinade except what came out of the bacon. I'd say let the dish cook without added salt for a couple of hours, and then taste the sauce and add salt as necessary to taste.

The daube de bœuf after two hours in the oven

Cover the dish and let the daube cook for at least three hours and as many as five. If it looks like it's drying out, add a little water as needed.

When I tasted mine in mid-cooking, I thought the sauce was a little salty and a little spicy (from the paprika). I wondered what I could do to tone it down without watering it down to much. I ended up adding a couple of tablespoons of ... honey ... to the sauce. You couldn't taste the honey in the final dish, but the sauce turned out to be excellent.

The daube ready to serve after five hours in a slow oven

While I was making the daube, Walt was making a vegetable terrine which he has reported on in his blog. This last photo shows how it all looked just before we took it to the table. The daube sauce was excellent with the vegetables.

Vegetable terrine (carrot, cauliflower, and spinach) with daube de bœuf

20 January 2007

Plans de Paris

On one of the internet forums I follow, another participant is looking for a Plan de Paris par Arrondissement like the one he bought in Paris back in the late 1970s. These are the standard Paris street atlases, with an alphabetical list of every street in the city, separate maps of each of the 20 arrondissements (districts), and at least one map of the métro, the subway system.

I looked on my book shelves and turned up this map, which I must have bought in Paris in 1973. On the title page I find this notice: Dépôt légal 1er trimestre 1973.

Published by Editions L'Indispensable in Paris

I say I must have bought it then because in the front of the book, in my handwriting, is the address of the apartment where I lived during the 1972-73 school year. That was the year I worked in Rouen as an English-language assistant in the Lycée Corneille. I wouldn't have written my Rouen address in it if I hadn't owned it when I lived there.

I also found this book on the shelf. I can't find any mention of a year of publication in it.

My copy of the Leconte book has a broken spine
and the arrondissement maps are falling out


I assume I bought the Leconte Plan de Paris in 1974, when I returned to France. My job that year was helping to run an American year-abroad program in Paris.

The format of both of these little Plan de Paris books is about 3½" x 5½". I think each came with a large fold-out map of Paris glued to the inside back cover, but those maps are long gone out of my copies. I actually have a third Plan de Paris, another Indispensable, with the date 1978 in it. It's hard to believe that even that on is nearly 30 years old.

OK, I confess. I also have three more, one purchased in the early 1990s and two I've bought since I moved to France in 2003.

Here's what the Leconte métro map looked like in the mid-70s:

Click on the map to see an enlargement of the image

19 January 2007

Cold there, breezy here

Friends in California have been telling me about the terrible cold weather they've been having, and I've seen reports on French TV as well. I think this has been the worst freeze in California since 1990, and I remember that one. So many beautiful plants were killed in San Francisco when temperatures dropped into the 20s that year. Now it has happened again.

Yesterday I drove up to Saint-Romain-sur-Cher to buy some wine and then on to Contres to get some groceries at the big SuperU store there. The man at the wine co-op in Saint-Romain, who knows me slightly but always forgets that I am American, not British, said: "Well, we are having perfectly British weather today, aren't we?"

After I reminded him I'm from California, not England, he told me all about the cold wave that has damaged the citrus crop there so badly. And he knew about the ice storm (even though in French there is no well-known term for that phonomenon — we don't have ice storms here) in the middle of the country. Nowadays the French news reports on U.S. events extensively, even the weather. Thirty years ago, that wasn't the case at all. I remember feeling very cut off from the U.S. when I lived in Paris back then.

Outside, yesterday was gusty in Saint-Aignan and Saint-Romain, but not cold (55º or so), and a fine rain was falling. Well, "falling" isn't exactly the right word — "blowing by," I guess, would describe it better. We were just on the edge of the big windstorm that blew across England and far northern France and into Belgium, Holland, and Germany yesterday. Gusts over 100 mph have been reported up there. I haven't seen the news yet this morning but I imagine there has been some damage.

Our winds seem to have died down now. Just as I was waking up, however, at about 5:30, I was aware of the sound of the wind swooshing through the big evergreen trees out back. So the storm here is not completely over. We have had gusts as strong as 40 mph, I would estimate. Right this minute, the temperature outside is 12ºC (54ºF). That's very warm for 7:00 a.m. on a January day.

I think I'll turn on France24 and see what the TV news is saying about yesterday's weather events. Do you get the new French 24-hours-a-day news channel on your cable or satellite systems in the U.S.? It broadcasts in French on one channel and in English on another, at least here.

The reason for the shopping expedition in Contres yesterday was to pick up the ingredients for two dishes we plan to start preparing today for the weekend. One is a vegetable terrine using three vegetables: carrots, cauliflower, and spinach. Walt noticed the recipe in a French cookbook we've had for years and plans to cook it today for tomorrow's lunch.

Meanwhile, I'm going to make a Daube de Bœuf using a recipe I noticed the other day in an e-mail newsletter I get from French Cuisine TV. How do you make a Daube? You take a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of stewing beef cut into big chunks and you marinate it for 24 hours in red wine with sliced onions, shallots, carrots, and garlic, along with herbs including parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. And oh yeah, you throw in a calf's foot (un pied de veau) as well.

After 24 hours, you take the meat out of the marinade, wipe it off to dry it, and then sauté it in a big pan. Add the carrots, onions, etc. from the marinade, and the foot (or not, if you can't get one). Then strain the marinade into the pan, put on a cover, and let it cook in the oven at low temperature for three or four hours until the meat is tender and the sauce is reduced. Serve with rice, noodles, or boiled potatoes. Or, in this case, vegetable terrine.

France24 says damage from yesterday's storm was especially bad in England. Dozens of deaths in England and Germany are attributed to the violent weather. I guess we were lucky in Saint-Aignan this time. I remember we had nearly a week of very stormy weather in January 2004, during our first winter here. I wrote about it on my web site at the time. And there was a huge storm in December 1999 that devastated much of France. This year's weather has been very moderate in comparison.

18 January 2007

France's next president

The two major political parties in France have now chosen their candidates for the upcoming presidential election. The vote is scheduled for April.

By a vote of its members in November, the country's largest left-wing party, le Parti Socialiste français, chose as its candidate Ségolène Royal, who thus became the first woman to have a serious shot at winning the French presidency. Since her nomination, she has been accused of not really having a solid campaign platform, however. She spent her first days on the campaign trail asking voters to tell her what they want her to do as president. Some have mocked her for that, saying that Royal is naïve about the business of governing.

Nonetheless, Royal is a graduate of the École Nationale d'Administration, the prestigious French civil service college. De Gaulle set up ENA after World War II as part of his plan to rebuild France and its institutions by training an elite cadre of top civil servants. Many of the country's highest-placed political, diplomatic, and government officials are graduates. Royal is currently a member of the French parliament, as well as president of the governing council in her home region in western France. She has held cabinet-level positions in the ministries of the Environment, Education, and Labor in past socialist governments.

Meanwhile, the largest right-wing party, L'Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, has recently picked as its candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently holds two important French political positions. He is Minister of the Interior (i.e., head of the national police) in current president Jacques Chirac's government, and he is also the general secretary of the UMP party, which is descended from Charles de Gaulle’s political movement and which nominated Chirac for president in 1995 and 2002.

In his role as UMP secretary, some say, Sarkozy systematically eliminated all the other “candidates for the candidacy” and ensured his own presidential nomination. Chirac detests Sarkozy, apparently; their feud goes back to Chirac's presidential campaign in 1995, when Sarkozy decided to support his opponent for the UMP nomination. But “Sarko” has his followers, and Chirac has not been able to push him out of the political limelight.

During last year's rioting and car-burning by unemployed young people who live in the housing projects that ring Paris and other French cities, police-chief Sarkozy called the rioters “scum” (racaille) and said what the housing projects needed was for someone to go in with fire hoses (power washers, actually) and scour the places down. The rioters were largely the children of immigrants from black Africa and North Africa. Most were born in France, so under the law they are (first-generation) French citizens. A lot of people considered Sarkozy's comments to be over the top and not designed to calm the situation. His approach and attitudes scare some people, and anger others.

* * * * *

Ségolène Royal was born in Sénégal in 1953, to French parents. Nicolas Sarkozy, son of a minor Hungarian aristocrat who immigrated to France after World War II and a Greek Jewish mother, was born in Paris in 1955. In other words, both candidates are fairly young, as presidential candidates go. And both have personal lives that have been the subject of some controversy in the press.

For example, Nicolas Sarkozy's wife left him a year or two ago, according to press reports, for another man. After a months-long separation, she returned home and they reconciled. She is making campaign appearances with him. There is still some snickering among pundits and satirists about the sincerity of their reconciliation. Sarkozy is seen by some as an ambitious man who wouldn't let marital difficulties get in the way of his presidential aspirations.

If Sarkozy is pulling the strings of the political party that nominated him, Royal's situation is just as complex. The leader of the French socialist party is a man named François Hollande, another graduate of ENA who just happens to be Ségolène Royal's longtime domestic partner. She and Hollande have been together as a couple since the late 1970s, but have never married. They have four children born between 1984 and 1992.

However that may be, as general secretary of the party Hollande did not pull strings to secure the socialists’ nomination for Royal, it is said — in fact, sometimes press reports make it seem he isn't even very happy about having her as the party's candidate. Rumors that their relationship is on the rocks have been fodder for the press and political satirists. Some say he might have wanted the nomination for himself. There is also some speculation about what post Hollande might be rewarded with if Ségolène Royal wins the election.

* * * * *

Recently, François Hollande went before the press and spelled out a new tax plan that he said the socialists will implement if Royal is elected president. Any single person earning more than €4,000 a month, or any couple earning more than €8,000, would be required to pay a new supplemental income tax. (A monthly income of €4,000 euros is equivalent, at current exchange rates, to approximately $5,500 U.S. a month, or $66,000 a year.) Royal has been portrayed as not very pleased that Hollande would make such an announcement and has not yet been clear about whether she has bought into the plan.

Just yesterday, both Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy announced that they are subject to taxation under France's special tax on the wealthy, l’Impôt de Solidarité sur la Fortune. That annual tax has to be paid by individuals whose net worth is higher than €760,000, or about a million U.S. dollars. For people who own property in Paris or on the Riviera (as Royal and Hollande do, for example), that threshold is pretty low. Sarkozy grew up in the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly and was that town’s mayor from 1983 until 2002, so it’s not surprising that he has to pay the wealth tax too.

Now all the French candidates are making their financial and property holdings public, which is unprecedented. The other parties fielding candidates are two extreme-left groups; the Greens; one center-right party; and the extreme-right Front National.

The two extreme-left candidates, bank clerk Arlette Laguiller and postal employee Olivier Besancenot, reported their total holdings at €27,000 and €37,000, respectively, which puts them far below the wealth-tax cut-off. Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen was shown on the evening news yesterday telling a reporter that yes, he pays the wealth tax, and yes, I’ll tell you the brand of underwear I’m wearing, too, in case you want to know that!

* * * * *

One of the most interesting aspects of the French presidential election for us Americans is that it is held in two rounds. Unless a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round, which is highly unlikely to happen since there can be a dozen or more candidates, the two top vote-getters must face each other in a run-off election.

In fact, many French people I've talked to see the first round voting as a chance to vote with their hearts. They can cast a vote for the extreme right or the extreme left, thereby expressing their unhappiness with the mainstream parties, without having to worry that the extremists will actually get into office. In the run-off, they figure, they will vote for one of the two mainstream candidates.

In 2002, however, the mainstream socialist candidate was beaten by a small margin by extreme-right candidate Le Pen in the first round of the election. So the run-off election opposed moderate Chirac and extremist (some say fascist) Le Pen, which was an embarrassment to many in France. Though Chirac got less than 20% of the vote in the first round, he won the second round of the election with more than 80% of the vote.

President Chirac is being very coy about whether he might decide, at the last minute, to run for a third term, which is not forbidden under the French constitution. How badly does he want Sarkozy to lose? What would happen if Chirac and Sarkozy split the moderate right-wing vote, and Le Pen somehow outdistanced them both? Would a majority then vote for socialist Ségolène Royal in the second round? Or would enough moderate right-wing voters hold their nose and vote for Le Pen to elect him and keep the socialists out of power?

It’s also conceivable that the two winners of the first round will be Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean-Marie Le Pen. If the left wing is divided as it was in 2002, Ségolène Royal may not qualify for the second-round run-off. In that case, a lot of people, I predict, will hold their noses and vote for ... Sarkozy.

It’s going to be a fascinating election, that's for sure.

* * * * *

P.S. This morning, Ségolène Royal suspended one of her principal press attachés because he joked on a TV talk show yesterday that her "only 'negative' as a candidate is her significant other," François Hollande. People interviewed on TV a minute ago lamented the lack of coordination between the socalist party's presidential candidate and the party's leader. "Don't they consult with each other as they are getting bathed and dressed in the morning?" said one man in the street.

17 January 2007

More and more people

The official French press has been beside itself since yesterday because a new report says that France now has the highest birthrate in Europe.

I say "official" French press because the two reports I've heard were on France 2 television's evening newscast yesterday and the France Inter radio news this morning. Both are state-owned broadcasting services. It's possible that other news outlets could have a different view of things.

France 2 said something about France being les champions of Europe. We're Number 1! And France Inter said Cocorico ! That's pronounced ko-ko-ree-ko and means cock-a-doodle-doo in English. It's what the French national symbol, the coq or rooster, says when he is strutting his stuff.

Que dit le coq ? Co-co-ri-co !

So the fertility rate in France is now two children per woman. That means the French population is reproducing at a rate that will ensure population stability (but then there's immigration...). 2006 was the first time since 1974 that the rate was so high. The overall European average is 1.5 children per woman, according to what I've read.

In 1993, the French rate was 1.66 children. The overall population was aging rapidly, because people were already living longer and longer. The government enacted policies to increase the birthrate, including free childcare for families in which both parents worked for a living. It seems to have worked.

The population of France is now 63.4 million. In Europe, only Germany is larger, with a population of 82 million. France is much larger geographically than Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, or Spain, so I guess it has room to grow.

France will be holding a presidential election this spring. Neither of the two leading candidates, Ségolène Royal on the left and Nicolas Sarkozy on the right, is likely to abandon the government policies that enourage working couples to have children. In fact, both propose to expand the network of government-funded daycare facilities.

From my point of view, there are already far too many people on the planet, so I see the urge to increase the French population as extremely parochial and even short-sighted. But then I don't have any children and have never had any desire to have any, so I'm not in the mainstream on this one. And I'm an old fogey, I guess.

A statistic I find even more worrisome than the birthrate is the increase in the number of automobiles in France since I first came here as a student in 1969. Yesterday, I tried to find some figures on that.

One source said that there were 16.5 million family-owned automobiles in France in 1990. That number had increased to over 28 million in 2001. Another source said there are 36 million cars on the road in France now. Isn't that incredible? No wonder driving is such a pain nowadays.

Finally, isn't it interesting that the French national symbol is the rooster, and that one of the great dishes in French cuisine is coq au vin ? Think about how different that is from the U.S. mascot, the fierce and forbidding bald eagle. Our national bird would eat us if it could!

16 January 2007

Blog travails give way to reason, or rationalization, and fine food

I hate it when the work of producing the blog becomes a hindrance to focusing what they came to call "the content" back at Claris/Apple. At the time, about 10 years ago already, "content" was the new buzzword in software companies. It had been "discovered" by the people who ran the company. As a writer and editor, I found that to be pretty amusing.

In the software industry circa 1997, just producing software tools — word processing, database, graphics, and spreadsheet applications — was no longer a sufficient raison d'être. Thanks to the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, "content" was the new differentiator. A company was better than its competitors if it produced better "content."

This is the kind of content I like.
Appropriate labels: apples, pie, food, healthy.


Well, now I better understand the value of that distinction. I've been bogged down in the details of "labeling" my blog topics — indexing them — for the past 24 hours. And I wonder if anybody really cares whether the blog has an index or not. I don't want to go overboard and end up with a list of umpteen million "labels", or index entries. But a list of just 10 or 12 labels might not be very useful either.

So I have to keep telling myself: don't let anything get in the way of the important things in life. Blogging is not work. It's essentially a way to pass the time and stay in touch with friends. Content is the point.

Label this: beef, broccoli, oyster sauce, recent lunch

For me, the things that matter are food, photos, Loire Valley sights and history, and interesting glimpses of local life. The blog isn't a reference document. It's just a durn' diary.

If you ever want to find something in it that you remember reading, you can use the full-text search feature that the software provides. Type a word in the little white box at the top of the blog screen and click Search This Blog. Usually it works fine.

Walt is the one who knows how to make theses, from crust to finished product. Label this recent creation "beautiful, delicious."

I've done some preliminary indexing, and I will surely do some more. Going forward, it will be easier. It's the part that involves going back over 284 topics to label them, using fairly primitive tools, that is so time-consuming. And I keep telling myself, too, that not every topic I've written merits an index tag. Some of them, if not most, are throw-aways.

Meanwhile, yesterday's lunch at La Renaudière was a Southern & French fusion meal. Garden-grown collard greens from our freezer, along with black-eyed peas imported from Portugal, the frozen leftovers from New Year's Day. Plus a smoked saucisson à l'ail that I bought at Intermarché. And a chunk of pork roast that was left over from making the pâté lorrain last weekend.

A lunch of beans 'n' greens, with embellishments

I wonder if I am the only person in France who grows collard greens in his jardin potager? When I worked in Washington DC back in the 1980s, one of the other translators on my team was a woman from Reims, in Champagne, who had lived in Canada and the U.S. for many years. She told me that she had taken her father some packets of collard seeds and that he was growing greens in his garden on the outskirts of town. He loved them, she said. I had visions of candle-light dinners featuring collards and fine champagne!

I happen to know that this gentleman has now passed on, so it is very possible I am the old collard-grower in the Hexagon (that means France) now. If you know of any others, tell me about them.

Sometimes I can't resist buying prepared food that looks really good and that I have never made myself. If I like something I've bought, I can try to make it myself later, and I'll know what it's supposed to look and taste like. One of the advantages of living in France is that such tempting delicacies are widely available.

Bouchée à la reine, haricots verts, purée de potimarron

For example, there is something called a bouchée à la reine -- a morsel fit for a queen. It's a puff-pastry shell filled with veal sweetbreads (ris de veau) and mushrooms cooked in a cream sauce. It's kind of a pot-pie taken to an extremely refined level. I remember eating such things once in a while back in the 1970s, when I lived in Paris, but I've never tried to make them myself.

One recent Saturday, I noticed some bouchées on display in a charcuterie stand at the market in Saint-Aignan. All I had to do was re-heat them slowly in the oven and prepare some vegetable accompaniments. A fast-food meal the way I like them.

15 January 2007

Wanadoo e-mail problems?

I'm hearing a lot of noise on Internet forums about difficulties people in the U.S. are having getting e-mail messages through to Wanadoo addresses (like mine). The people have "issues" are not all using the same e-mail service provider, so it's not that Wanadoo is blocking e-mails from specific servers.

One person mentioned that e-mail sent from comcast.net won't go through, for example.

If you are having problems sending e-mail to me or to Walt, let us know by leaving a comment on one of our blogs.

Blog changes, weather update

Blogger has upgraded me to a new version of the software. I took advantage of new features to make some template changes.

The most useful new feature is a section on the blog sidebar called Labels. It's an index you can use to find topics on specific subjects. I'm started to go back and apply labels the the 284 entries on the blog so that they will be included in the index. Try it out.

Beautiful day today. Warm and sunny. Not like winter at all. It's too bad you weren't in Saint-Aignan today. But then maybe it was or is nice where you are too.

Oh, I decided against buying that old car. It would probably fun to have it some days, but I'm sure it would be very frustrating on days when it needed a lot of attention from a mechanic. I'd rather spend my time in the kitchen and the garden and not chez le garagiste.

13 January 2007

Tourte lorraine (alias « pâté lorrain »)

It was many, many years ago when I first tasted the specialty called tourte lorraine or pâté lorrain. At the time, in 1979, I was working as a lecturer at the Université de Metz. Metz (pop. 300,000) is the chief administrative city of the French region called La Lorraine. It's located in NE France, near Luxembourg and Alsace.

So in Metz (which is pronounced mess in French) what I had was called pâté lorrain (recipe in French), and it was the second-best thing to eat there, I thought. The best was a big choucroute garnie, which is sauerkraut served with sausages, cured pork of different kinds, and boiled new potatoes. If you've never had sauerkraut in France, you don't know how good it can be.

Oops, I forgot about quiche lorraine. That's pretty good too. Both other French and American versions are so well known that it's hard to think of quiche as a French regional delicacy nowadays.

The Larousse Gastronomique, one of the prime reference books on French cuisine, says the speciality it describes as la tourte à la lorraine as being "made with two meats, pork and veal, which, after having been marinated in an aromatic bath, are cooked together in a pastry crust with a cream and egg custard." In other words, it's a meat pie.

And today on the Marmiton.org web site, I found this explanation, which clears it all up for me: the difference between pâté lorrain and tourte lorraine is that the tourte includes the cream and egg custard in the filling and the pâté does not. Otherwise, les deux sont identiques.

Now you know more than you ever imagined you would know about a dish, which you had probably never heard of. I don't know exactly when the dish or the recipe came back into my mind, but I do know that some of the recipes I have in my files are ones I printed before 2003, when we still lived in California.

What follows is not so much a recipe as a method for making such a pie. A lot of the ingredients and steps are optional. Just look at the pictures if you're curious but don't think you'd ever try to cook such a thing. (Retirement leaves you with a lot of time to do these kinds of complicated dishes.)

Making a tourte lorrain

Take equal amounts of lean pork and either veal, chicken, or turkey and cut the meat into long strips as you would if you were going to stir fry it. Marinate the raw meats overnight in a cup or so of white wine with onions and/or shallots, garlic, bay leaves, a pinch each of allspice, cayenne pepper, dried thyme, and dried tarragon, some salt, and a good amount of black pepper.

Some recipes just call for adding "spices" to the white wine marinade along with the onions, shallots, and garlic, so you can flavor the meat the way that sounds best to you. What about a pinch of curry powder, for example?

The next day, you can (optionally) run all or part of the marinated meats through a meat grinder before using them. Discard most or all of the onions, shallots, and garlic (which you haven't chopped up too finely!), and the bay leaves of course. It's probably better for texture and appearance to leave some bigger pieces of meat rather than grinding it all. Strain the marinade and set the liquid aside if you want to use it to make a gravy, for example.

Again optionally, add to the marinated meats about 4 oz. of bacon which you have cooked lightly in a skillet. Chunks of smoked bacon or ham would probably be better than sliced bacon, if you can get such smoked meats.

Also cook some chopped mushrooms with onion or shallot in a skillet and, when cooled, add them to the meat mixture. Another option is to cook some spinach and add it, cooled, to the mixture, for color and taste. Mix the meat and vegetable ingredients together well (with your hands, I say).

Make (or buy) enough pie crust to line a pan and to make a top for the pie. (Lucky for me, Walt makes crust. I don't know how.) Put the bottom crust in the pan, making sure it's big enough so that its edges will wrap back over the top of the stuffing a little. The bottom crust should be pie dough (pâte brisée but the top crust can be either that or puff pastry, which is fancier.

Then fill the pie crust in the dish with the meat mixture and fold some dough over the top around the edges. Beat an egg (or an egg yolk with a teaspoon of water) in a little bowl and brush some of it on the folded-over pastry dough edges. You can even paint the top crust with some of the egg before you put it, painted side down, on top of the pie. Pinch the two crusts together to seal the pie.

Cut a hole (or two) in the top crust and insert little foil or paper chimneys so that the pie can vent steam as it cooks. Paint the top surface of the crust with the beaten egg or yolk so that it will brown nicely. Put the pie in a 350ºF/190ºC oven and bake it for an hour or more. Check the interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer to make sure it's done. It should get up to about 170ºF/75ºC inside to be properly cooked.

One think you can do (or try to do) is to pour in, through the chimney opening, a mixture of about a cup of cream beaten with two or three raw egg yolks when the pie is about three-quarters done. In theory, the cream will enrich the whole thing (and turn it into what is called a tourte) and the eggs will thicken the cream and form a kind of custard. That's what I tried to do here.

In my experience, having made this dish twice now, there is entirely too much liquid in the pie for you to be able to pour in even more. I've tried using a turkey baster to suck out some of the cooking liquid before trying to put in the custard mixture, but with not much success. Try it, though, if you want to.

I ended up taking the cooking juice that I sucked out with the baster and adding it to the cream and egg mixture. I cooked that very slowly in the microwave for while until it thickened, and then I served it as a gravy.

Here's what it looks like when you cut the pie while it's still hot. Delicious.

After the pie has cooled in the refrigerator overnight, it's actually more attractive. You can eat it cold or you can re-heat it. Actually, I think the next time I make it I'll let it cool overnight before I even try to slice it.

But that will make the confection of the pie into a three-day process, what with cutting up and marinating the meat the first day, cooking the pie the second day, and eating it only on the third. Fortunately, I have time.

Each piece is enough for a meal, and this is only half of what I made.

Financiers

Financiers is a funny name for little almond-flavored sweet cakes. Here's all I know about the origin of the term: there's a theory that they are often made in Switzerland (think bankers) and that they are shaped like gold bars.

The ones I make are not necessarily shaped like that. I don't have a special pan to make them in. But since we arrived in France in 2003, I've been enjoying financiers a couple of times a year. They are delicious. I want to share the recipe.

Financiers have two distinctive features compared to other cakes. They are made with egg whites only — no yolk (ha ha ha). And the dry ingredients include equal amounts of flour and almond powder.

Financiers à ma façon

I end up with a lot of egg whites chez moi because I use the yolks to make mayonnaise and to enrich sauces, cakes, and other preparations. Today, for example, I'm making a meat pie called a tourte lorraine that calls for three egg yolks to bind and set the meat filling.

What can you do with the egg whites? You can put them in a plastic container in the freezer. I put them in a container big enough so that I can just keep adding egg whites to it over time, until I have enough (eight, in this case) to make a good batch of financiers.

Evidently, the little cakes were originally oval-shaped. Mine aren't.

Here's the recipe I used the other day when I realized I had eight egg whites in the freezer. My translated version follows. You might notice that I double the Marmiton recipe. Remember that French recipes require that you use a kitchen scale to measure out the ingredients.

Financiers
  • 100 grams (3½ oz. ) almond powder (ground almonds)
  • 100 grams (3½ oz. ) flour
  • 300 grams (10½ oz.) sugar
  • 150 grams (5 oz.) sweet butter
  • 8 egg whites
  • a splash of vanilla extract
  • a drop or two of pure almond extract (optional)
  • pinch of salt
Pre-heat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.

Butter the pan you plan to cook the cake or cakes in. (You're supposed to make individual cakes, but I use a 9" x 9" cake pan and then cut the cake into squares after it's cooked and cooled.)

Mix together the almond powder, flour, and sugar. (For the sake of precision, I specify the weights down to the half-ounce, but I'm sure it would be fine to put in 4 oz. each of flour and almond powder and either 10 or 11 oz. of sugar.)

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are pretty stiff and dry. Melt the butter and add it to the dry ingredients along with the egg whites. Stir it all together and add the vanilla and (optional) almond extract.

Pour the batter into a pan and cook it until it is golden and set. Test it with a toothpick or knife to make sure it's done. Cut the cake into squares after it's cooled or, if you've made individual cakes, you can take them out of the pan immediately.
If you want to make the financiers in a muffin tin, don't put much batter into each cup. The cakes shouldn't be more than about an inch thick.

One more picture of my financier squares

12 January 2007

Remembering the Simca

Another wall sign, this one in the town of Mennetou-sur-Cher, about 25 miles east of Saint-Aignan, on the river. It advertises Simca automobiles and a garage/dealer in the nearby town of Romorantin-Lanthenay. Simcas are no longer made, and the garage is surely just a local memory.

Wall-advertising in Mennetou-sur-Cher, along the Nationale 76

Personally, I have a long history with Simcas, even though I don't think I've ever driven one. I don't even know if I've ever been a passenger in one. Production of the cars ceased in late 1970s or early 1980s, so this Simca-fascination of mine goes back quite some time.

In 1972-73, I lived in the city of Rouen in Normandy and worked as an English-language teaching assistant in a high school there. The job was part-time and the pay was low, so I didn't have a car that year. I also didn't need a car because I lived in the middle of the old city and could walk to work and to nearby shopping areas.

It was just as well, because I couldn't have afforded a car. I had sold my 1966 Ford Fairlane (I shudder to think I drove such a thing — it was a college graduation present from my father). when I left the States that summer of 1972.

I really wanted my next car in America to be a Simca 1100 hatchback.

I was fascinated with French cars and European cars in general. They seemed so much more sensible to me than the big "boats" so many Americans drove around in at the time. The Citroën 2CV (la Deux-Chevaux) and the Renault 4L were two of the most distinctive small cars in France back then. There were plenty of other models, too, but those two were really the people's cars of the time. You still see quite a few of each on the roads out here in the countryside.

And there was also the Simca 1100. It was an innovative model because it was one of the first hatchback cars, unless I'm mistaken. The 2CV was a four-dour sedan, and the 4L was a tiny station wagon. The hatchback was a new concept in those days. Hatchback models are still very popular in Europe, though they are kind out of fashion in the U.S. My little Peugeot 206, which is a 2001 model, is a hatchback. It's very practical.

A 1961 Simca Aronde. The Aronde was introduced in the early 1950s.
This is the Simca model I remember seeing in North Carolina back then.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the photo.

Simca had some very successful cars in France in the 1950s, and I even remember that somebody in my home town in North Carolina had one in the late '50s or early '60s. At that time, there were still U.S. military bases in France, and I'm sure it was some of the returning military personnel who brought their European cars home with them. We learned to recognize Simcas and Renault Dauphines, as well as English Fords, Hillmans, and Vauxhalls, a few Fiats, and, of course, VW Beetles.

The Simca 1100 was a new model in 1967. It had front-wheel drive and independent suspension all-around. In addition to the hatchback, there was a station wagon. In all, about 2.2 million Simca 1100s were built.

A Simca 1100 station wagon that is currently for sale

Anyway, I really wanted a Simca. Chrysler had taken a controlling interest in the Simca company in the 1960s, and owned it outright by the early 1970s. Chrysler France kept the Simca brand name. I hoped that when I returned to the U.S. from Normandy in 1973 I would be able to buy myself a Simca 1100 from a Chrysler dealer. I was going to need a car in the U.S.

This one is a Simca 1100 utility vehicle. It's for sale too.

That wasn't to be, however. Chrysler didn't sell them in the U.S. I ended up buying a little German Opel 1900 from a Buick dealer in North Carolina. My father co-signed the loan for me, and the Buick dealer was where he bought his cars. He was scandalized that I would pay good money for such a little putt-putt car.

A close-up of the old Simca sign

The brand-new light-blue Opel 1900 (called an Opel Ascona in Europe), with an AM radio, a heater, and a manual transmission, cost about $3,300. Such a deal! It didn't have air conditioning, FM radio, electric windows, or even power steering or power brakes. But it had four doors and a big trunk. It got good gas mileage. It was the best I could do.

I know I have a picture of that old Opel somewhere. I drove it until 1979, when I sold it to return to France one more time. The Opel got me back and forth from North Carolina to Lakeland, Florida, and Champaign, Illinois, many times. I don't remember how many miles I put on it, but I bet it was a lot. I think I sold it for $600 in August 1979.

So no Simca for me... not back then. The only Simca 1100 I've noticed since I've been in France this time is an orange one that I spotted last year down in Châtillon-sur-Indre. I was surprised to see one that was still, apparently, road-worthy.

The Simca wall-advertising I started this posting with led me to start looking around on the Web to see if there were any available. It turns out that there are a lot of classic Simca 1100 pictures on this site, and more at this one. Wikipedia has a good history of the brand (in English or in French).

Another 1100 currently for sale (unless it's already been sold)

And if you want to buy a Simca 1100 today, there are plenty of ads here. All the pictures of 1100s in this posting are ones I got from these ads (can't imagine anybody minding some free advertising).

This is the Simca 1100 station wagon that a man in Blois is trying
to sell. Sometimes we think having a second car would come in handy,
especially a station wagon. The guy wants 1200 euros for this one.


But... but... now I've learned that one is for sale in Blois. What is the attraction of these old cars? I'm very tempted to call the man who's selling it. I'm old enough to know better. I wonder if the thing would even make the 25-mile trip from Blois to Saint-Aignan without incident.

If I knew anything about working on car motors, having a classic car would make more sense. To be continued...