31 August 2015

Two tall Paris landmarks

One of the things I wanted  — and managed — to do while I was in Paris last week was to go up to the top of a major landmark called the Tour Montparnasse. It's a 1970s-era "skyscraper" or gratte-ciel that many people wish had never been built. It's a blot on the city, they say. That's it on the left.

The fact is, though, that you can get some of the best views of Paris and all its other, more admired monuments from on top of the 689-foot-tall Montparnasse tower. One monument that you can see from up there is the one that you can't see if you go up to the top of the other tall Paris landmark: La Tour Eiffel. For that view alone, people should be glad the Tour Montparnasse was built.

Of course, a lot of people in Paris thought that the Tour Eiffel was a blot on the city when it was built in the late 1800s. Now it's the symbol of the city and known world-wide.

I was lucky to get a fairly clear if very windy day for my outing. I wanted to take panoramic and long telephoto shots with my two recently acquired 30x zoom cameras, one a Panasonic and the other a Canon. My friends Evelyn and Lewis went up to the Montparnasse Tower's 56th-floor observation deck with me.


Above is the famous view. At the bottom of the photo you see the Ecole Militaire and then the parade grounds called Le Champs de Mars. Then there's the Eiffel Tower, with the Palais de Chaillot and the Place du Trocadéro just behind it, on the other side of the Seine. In the distance is the modern quartier d'affaires or financial district called La Défense, with it's 1970s- and 1980s-vintage high rise buildings.

30 August 2015

Lunch near the Gare de Lyon

When I arrived in Paris on Tuesday, my friends from the U.S. and a friend of ours who lives in Paris met me at the Gare d'Austerlitz. We walked over the bridge to the Gare de Lyon, on the other side of the Seine, where I was planning to meet CHM a couple of hours later. He was coming back to Paris by train after a trip down south to visit family.


Anyway, I had decided to have lunch with my friends at a big brasserie across the street from the Gare de Lyon. It's called L'Européen and its specialty is seafood — fruits de mer. A brasserie is a big café/restaurant that serves a wide range of standard French dishes.


Claude, the woman who lives in Paris, and I decided to have oysters as our first course at lunch. They were served raw on the half-shell, with lemon and a shallot vinegar sauce that we could use to season them. The oysters were slightly sweet — I mean naturally sweet — and also very cold and salty. Delicious, in other words.


I'm sorry for the blurry picture above, but blur happens.... As my main course, I had what is called confit de canard. That's a duck leg and thigh section that is slow cooked in duck fat and then browned in a hot oven. It's usually served with sauteed potatoes, as this one was — they're underneath.


My friend Lewis ordered noix de coquilles St-Jacques — scallops — with green vegetables as his main course. I almost regretted that I hadn't ordered that, but the duck was very good. We finished the meal with a nice cup of espresso coffee.

29 August 2015

Back from Paris

I was in Paris for a good part of the week and got back yesterday. I spent time there with CHM, another old friend who lives in Paris, and my friends Evelyn and Lewis, who were visiting from the U.S.


The weather was, well, interesting. On Tuesday afternoon it was sort of rainy but not unpleasant. Wednesday was a beautiful day, with a high temperature in the 90s F (34ºC, approximately). And then it started raining Wednesday evening and rained steadily and fairly hard for 24 hours. I did take some photos and I'll be posting them over the next few days.

27 August 2015

26 August 2015

An old château, privately owned




This is a château owned by cousins of CHM's. We visited them there one Saturday afternoon in June.

25 August 2015

It's a "marrow" and it's not really "caviar"

The big blow we had yesterday has knocked billions of apples to the ground. I think we'll have some left, and of course we can gather some of the windfall, but not all the apples are ripe. Such are the risks of weather and fruit growing, I guess.

Meanwhile, I made something called « caviar de courgettes » yesterday. It's a dip or spread that you can eat on crackers, chips (crisps), or toast. It's good with olives. It's on the model of « caviar d'aubergines » — what we Americans call "eggplant caviar" — and in fact you might call it "marrow caviar" if you are British.


I'm glad to finally understand what "marrow" or "vegetable marrow" means in the British dialect. I've heard the term for years, but never really understood what it was all about. It turns out that an overgrown zucchini is called a marrow. I looked it up here.

As is often the case, in American English we use an Italian term where the British use a French term. It's true for American "zucchini" versus British "courgette" for example. In French, a courgette or summer squash is just an immature courge, what we call a squash in America. There are summer squash like zucchini and winter squash like acorn, butternut, and pumpkins. The name "squash" derives from a Native American term.


Anyway, a lot of Americans might just throw out the kind of gigantic overgrown summer squashes we sometimes find hiding under the lush foliage of our zucchini plants. They might think they'd be fibrous and tough, but the fact is they are perfectly good prepared correctly. You just have to discard the seeds and pulp in the middle of the "marrow" and cook the firm layer of flesh around the edges.


For the courgette caviar, I cooked another huge summer squash the same way I cooked the one we used to make stuffed squash rings. I cut the squash up, removed the seeds and pulp, and then brushed the pieces with olive or vegetable oil and cooked them in the oven for 30 minutes or so until the flesh was soft and easily pierced with a knife or skewer.


At that point, the leathery green skin peels right off so you can mash or puree the tender squash flesh. I used a food mill to puree it, and it contained very little fiber. I had just over a liter of puree. It freezes well. Actually, I posted a recipe for caviar de courgettes several years ago here.

24 August 2015

Sunday burger fest (or should that be feast?)


Yesterday we made hamburgers for our Sunday dinner. The first step was to make some buns, because the ones they sell in the supermarkets aren't so good. We have a good recipe for buns — hotdog or hamburger — if anybody wants it.

The second step was to grind some beef and form it into patties. We had just over a pound of beef (beef chuck steak, basse-côte, is what I prefer), so we made four quarter-pound (120 g) patties. We could buy the beef already ground, but when you do it yourself you can be more confident about what it contains.

Tomatoes from the garden make the burgers that much better, and now is our tomato season. We also had lettuce and mayonnaise on our hamburgers, and we made them as cheeseburgers using some French Comté cheese. The tomatoes we picked look a little green in the photo, but that's the variety's color at full ripeness.

Finally, there's lunch. We made potato chips by slicing the potatoes thinly using a mandolin and then frying them in peanut oil. Walt grilled some slices of zucchini along with the hamburger patties. The burgers were tall, but we still managed to pick them up, squeeze them a little, and eat them with our hands rather than with a knife and fork.

Bon appétit !

23 August 2015

Waiting

Here's Callie waiting patiently at the end of a row of grapevines. She's giving me time to take a photo or two. She waits to see which way we will turn next — up or down the road, or over into the next vineyard plot.


It was hot again yesterday but not as hot as on Friday. And the night was significantly cooler, so I slept better. It was supposed to rain overnight but so far not a drop has fallen. The garden could use some water.

22 August 2015

Survival

Yes, our survival, but it's not so much about that. The weather has turned really hot again, and I got very little sleep last night. I got up at 4:00 a.m. because I got tired of tossing and turning.


I'm happy, however, to report that my collard greens out in the garden have survived the earlier attack by pests called "flea beetles."


Wikipedia says that flea beetles often attack cruciferous plants (cabbages) including collards, rape (canola), and mustard. And kale too, I can tell you. That's what happened here in July.


The Wiki article continues: "Flea beetles execute their most severe attacks during dry weather and are most active on sunny days. The larvae are known to chew roots." The adult beetles feed on leaves. During the infestation this summer, they ate all my kale seedlings, but they couldn't kill off the hardy collards. It looks like I'll have a good collard crop this fall.


We are also going to have a good crop of tomatoes, along with all the zucchini and winter squashes that are growing out there. Smaller tomatoes are coming in plentifully already, and the larger varieties are really starting to ripen.

21 August 2015

Finishing the job

Yesterday, I finally finished the garage cleanup job that we started on August 1. We had taken out two or three carloads of stuff we didn't want anymore and deposited it all at the local recycling center.

Then we filled the Peugeot with stuff that we thought shouldn't be thrown out but should be donated to the French charity organization called Emmaüs — it's a chain of sort of Good Will stores. The car was really stuffed full — there was even stuff on the front passenger seat and floor — and I called Emmaüs over in Romorantin (aka Romo) to arrange for a drop-off.

All I got was a recorded message saying: Nous sommes actuellement en congé. "We are currently on vacation." And that was all — no further information about a scheduled re-opening. I parked the packed-up Peugeot under the carport. Every day for about two weeks, I called Emmaüs (pronounced approximately ay-mah-yuce) and got the exact same message. It is August in France, after all.


I didn't relish the idea of unpacking the Peugeot and putting all the junk back in the garage, so I just let the car sit there, otherwise unused. Finally, on Tuesday 8/18, I got the organization's standard recording when I called. It spelled out the opening hours for donations and for sales. That meant the place was open again. But we had other things to do on Wednesday, so I had to wait one more day.

Yesterday I drove the 30 minutes over to Romo, hoping the place really would be open. It was. In five minutes time, one of the volunteers and I had the car unloaded and I was off to do some shopping around Romo, which is 4 or 5 times the size of Saint-Aignan and has many more shops and businesses. I got some frozen vegetables at Picard, and some parmesan cheese and lettuce at LIDL.

All pretty exciting stuff, don't you think? Today I'm getting a haircut. Life is a whirlwind.

20 August 2015

Us

When we went to have lunch on Sunday at Sur le Pont in Saint-Aignan, Jean asked if she could take a picture of Walt and me with my camera. We had just sat down at the table.

I think Jean got a pretty good picture of me, which is not always easy. I don't think Walt looks much like himself though. At least we're both smiling. It's rare that we have pictures of ourselves to put on our blogs. Many thanks to Jean.

And here's another shot of that view of Saint-Aignan from the restaurant seating area.

19 August 2015

Haricots verts de deux façons

The vegetable garden is producing a lot of haricots verts — green beans — these days. We don't have as many rows of beans this year as we have had in the past, so we won't be putting a lot of beans in the freezer. We're just enjoying eating them fresh. One of my favorite ways to cook them is haricots verts à l'italienne, with onions and tomatoes (also fresh from the garden).


I made these yesterday and we ate nearly all of them. A translation of the recipe, which comes from a popular French home cooking book published nearly 50 years ago, is here on this blog in a 2014 post.


Meanwhile, Walt has found this really good way of cooking green beans either with beef or pork, and they'd be good with chicken or shrimp too. The meat gets marinated briefly in soy sauce, fish sauce, and chili sauce or cayenne pepper. Then it's stir-fried in a wok. After it's cooked, take it out of the pan and set it aside. Put the beans into the same pan and add just a little water to keep the sauce from burning and to steam the beans slightly.


Put the meat back in the wok when the beans are cooked to your taste and let everything heat through again. Serve with rice and more soy sauce, plus some sesame oil and/or toasted sesame seeds. We've enjoyed both the pork and beef versions of this recipe, and if we get enough beans to make it, I'd like to do it with strips of chicken or turkey breast next time.

18 August 2015

What we ate at Sur le Pont

This post is just a sample of the food we enjoyed at the Sur le Pont restaurant in Saint-Aignan on Sunday. I didn't take pictures of everything. Mostly I quickly snapped photos of what I was served — and this one of the terrace down by the river where we were sitting.


Here was my first course; Nick had the same thing. It was a nice salad with luscious smoked salmon, cubes of fresh avocado, and a slow-roasted tomate confite "petal" as an accent.


As their main course, both Jean and Nick had a daily special that was a filet mignon de porc (roasted tenderloin) served with green asparagus and (I think) some purée de pommes de terre ("mashed potatoes" doesn't sound so elegant).


I can't say I regret it — well, almost — but I passed up the filet mignon de porc because I couldn't resist trying Sur le Pont's hamburger! Walt had it too. It was a French gourmet riff on the American standard. There were pommes frites (French-fried potatoes), there was a little pile of dressed salad greens, and then there was a very thick mound of rare lean ground beef on a bun with caramelized oignons confits underneath, a lot of melted cheese, and a couple of pieces of roasted red pepper on top. That's a swipe of ketchup on the plate.


This was obviously a burger that you had to eat with a knife and fork, not with your bare hands. (The price of the 'burger ordered à la carte was 15.50 euros. The three course menu was 28 euros, and there was also a 23 euro menu that consisted of just two courses — either starter + main course or main course + dessert — for those with smaller appetites.)


For dessert, Jean, Nick, and I all had what the restaurant calls their café gourmand. It's a little glass of espresso coffee with four small sweets. On Sunday, those included a wedge of strawberry cream tart, a glass of cubed kiwi fruit and melon (cantaloupe), a scoop of grapefruit sorbet, and a glass of sweet fromage frais (cream cheese) with a raspberry coulis (purée) on top.

For his dessert, Walt ordered un millefeuille aux framboises. It wasn't really a millefeuille, which in America we call a "napoleon" and which is a cake made with flaky pâte feuilletée (puff pastry). It was a millefeuille revisité — a glass filled with layers of sweet custard and other layers of crispy pastry and raspberries (I think).

Serving food in glasses — the food preparation then is called a verrine (a verre being a drinking glass), a name resembling  the older word terrine — is very trendy in upscale French restaurants these days. Different verrines, savory or sweet, can be served as starters or as desserts.

As you can see, we were very pleased with the menu at Sur le Pont. We'll go back.

17 August 2015

Sur le Pont... d’Saint-Aignan

We really did it right yesterday. Our friends Jean and Nick had planned to stop by our place for a cup of coffee right after lunch. Nearly at the last minute, I suggested that we might decide to have a late lunch together in a new restaurant in Saint-Aignan. They agreed and I made a reservation for 1:30 at Sur le Pont.



The restaurant opened less than three months ago. We had heard some good reports about it, but we hadn't tried it yet. It's on the island across the south branch of the Cher River from Saint-Aignan, and — comme le nom l'indique — it's on the bridge. The bridge is about 2 km, or not much more than a mile, from our house.


I recognized the woman who was our server, and she said she recognized me. She mentioned it first, and I told her that I knew her face but I wasn't sure from where. Well, she said, we used to run the bakery called La Pâtisserie du Château on the main street in Saint-Aignan, and you would come in to buy bread from time to time. She was right, and I could picture her there from times when I'd go in to buy bread, croissants, or a tarte aux fraises.



The weather was gorgeous yesterday afternoon, and we got a table on the terrace down at river level. We spent a good two hours around the table. One of the restaurant's big attractions is its location and the fine views of the town and river that it provides. The food was really good too, and more about that later. For today, I'll just post a few photos of the setting.

16 August 2015

The State of the Vines

This post is just a little photo show of what the Renaudière vineyard is looking like in mid-August. The grapes are ripening rapidly and all the vines have been pruned to give them maximal amounts of warm sunlight.






I was just watching a news report about the severe heat wave affecting the U.S. Southwest. Temperatures in Phoenix AZ and Palm Springs CA hit 117ºF — 47ºC — yesterday. One of our neighbors is, I think, out there right now. Meanwhile, here in Saint-Aignan the weather has turned much cooler, with chilly mornings (13ºC or 55ºF on our thermometer right now) and pleasant afternoons. I'm sure this is ideal weather for the vines and the grapes.

15 August 2015

My first Windows 10 post

I'm blogging in Windows 10 today. I applied the upgrade to my laptop yesterday. Until now, it was been running Windows 7. So far so good. I'm just going to post two recent sunrise photos this morning. I took the first one from the front terrace, and the second one out the back gate.


I find the look and feel of Win10 to be different from what I was used to in Win7. The keyboard reacts differently — it seems tighter, if that makes sense — and the screen looks sharper.


The browser I use to run the Blogger authoring tool — Firefox — seems to be running well, as does Photoshop Elements. Those are the important apps for me on the laptop. Bon weekend...