22 August 2017

The lost collar — a mystery

One morning last week, Natasha the sheltie pup and I set off for our morning walk at around 7. My plan was to walk out to the end of the unpaved road through the vineyard, which is about a mile, and then just walk back.

About halfway out, I saw a man walking toward us. I've seen him many times before over the last few months. Often he and a woman walk together, but recently he's been alone. Usually he walks later in the morning, so this was the first time I've actually stopped and talked to him. Most often, I've seen him walk by on the paved road when I'm out doing things in the yard and garden, and I've always shouted bonjour when I've seen him (or them).

Natasha yesterday in photo I took with my Android tablet

This time, Natasha went crazy. She was scared, and she started barking wildly. She's not used to seeing people out in the vineyard on our walks. She started to turn tail and run back toward the house. I had already passed the walking man, who was standing there laughing his head off. "The dog's name is Natasha and she's not yet 6 months old," I told him. Elle est jolie, he replied, still laughing.

All I could do was call and call Tasha to try to get her to run past the man standing between us and continue the walk, but she was too afraid. Finally I squatted down and made noises that I know Tasha will respond to. It worked. I'd tell you what noise I make but there's no name for it. It's comparable to a ululation, but not exactly the same thing. Tasha scurried past the stranger and ran to me. I called out bonne journée to the walking man Natasha and I continued on our way.

A couple of days later, on Saturday morning, Walt was out with Natasha and she disappeared from his view for between 10 and 15 minutes. He said he was starting to panic after whistling and calling the dog for all that time, and then she suddenly reappeared. He had no idea where she had been for so long, but she wasn't hurt or acting strange in any way. They came on back home. He said it was weird because he hadn't heard Tasha bark or make any other noise for the whole time she was out of view.

Later Saturday I took Tasha out for the evening walk, and I kept a close eye on her, calling her back to me every time she started to wander. Normally, she isn't out of my sight for more than a minute or two at any time, and that's how it was late Saturday afternoon. We finished our walk without incident and returned home.

Recent produce from the vegetable garden (another tablet photo)

A few hours later I reached out to touch Tashas back and neck and realize'd that her collar wasn't on her. It was gone. Walt and I looked around the house to see if maybe Bertie had pulled off the dog's collar while the two of them were rolling around on the floor playing. No luck. Walt went out and looked around the back yard and even outside the back gate around the pond to see if he could find the leash. Again, no luck. It was starting to get dark outside.

I immediately put two and two together and said Tasha must have snagged her collar on something out in the vineyard in the morning and finally figured out how to wriggle out of it. That could explain her 15-minute disappearance. One reason to doubt that was that neither of us had noticed for 12 hours that the collar was missing. Could she have lost it on the evening walk with me? I didn't think so, because as I said I was keeping her close to me all the time out of fear that she might again disappear the way she had in the morning.

On Sunday morning both Walt and I went out walking with Natasha. We scoured the landscape, retracing our steps along the paths we had walked the day before. Walt and I split up and he told me afterwards that he had gone into the woods and ravines around the vineyard where he's seen deer recently, thinking that maybe Natasha had chased a deer the previous morning and got her collar caught on a tree branch or something else.

We didn't find the collar. Walt looked for it again Sunday afternoon and yesterday (Monday) morning on his walks. No sign of it. And then, sometime around 8:30, I heard the front gate bell ring. I was downstairs and went out to see who it might be. Tasha barked wildly.

It was the walking man we had seen out on the road last week. He said bonjour and held out the collar, tag attached, for me to see. Where in the world did you find that?, I asked him. He said he had spotted it just lying on the gravel out on the road. His first thought, he said, was that Natasha might have run away, and he was happy to see that she hadn't.

The plastic clip that is the collar's closure was broken. Maybe it had been run over by a car, since the collar was found lying on the road. Walt examined it and saw that the key ring that attaches the dog's tag to the collar was bent and deformed, and even the little tab on the tag with the hole for the ring was slightly bent. Again, maybe a car ran over it. If Natasha had caught the collar on a branch or a stake out there, it would have been left hanging on something. Instead, it was like it just fell off her as she was running or walking along the road.

Mysterious doings in the Renaudière vineyard outside Saint-Aignan

By the way, the collar's plastic clip might have simply broken all by itself. The collar in question is one that we think we bought in California in 1992 for the first dog we had, Collette. She was about six months old when we rescued from the animal shelter in Santa Clara, and we put a small collar on her. She outgrew it, but we saved it. Then we put that same collar on Callie when we brought her home in 2007. Callie outgrew it too, but we saved it. Then last April we put that same collar on Natasha when we brought her home. The plastic was probably brittle at 25 years of age.

So the collar event remains a mystery. We'll probably never know what happened. Just as we will never know what happened to Callie — why we found her suddenly and inexplicably paralyzed one Saturday afternoon in June and had to have her euthanized two days later. Dogs don't readily reveal their secrets...

21 August 2017

Zucchini.... what else?

We grew them — there are still a lot of them coming — so we need to eat them. Zucchini. Courgettes. I was out in the back yard with the dog and a flashlight about an hour ago, shining the light on the vegetable garden, and I saw half a dozen little zukes poking out from under the plants' big leaves. I think I might go pick those while they're still small.



The other day I looked around the kitchen and I found some green lentils (French lentilles vertes). What if I cooked those with some riz rond (short grain rice) and aromatics to make a stuffing for squash or tomatoes? Then I remembered that I had a bag of frozen spinach (épinards en branches) in the freezer.



I put the lentils on to cook (they take less than half an hour) and some rice in a bowl to soak in cold water — about a cup and a half of each. Then I drained the rice and added it to the lentils about 15 minutes before they were scheduled to be done. I cooked the spinach separately in the microwave, chopped it up, and added it to the rice and lentils when their cooking liquid had all been absorbed.



I cooked the lentils and rice in turkey broth because I had simmered a turkey leg and thigh piece with the idea of pulling the meat off the bones, chopping it, and putting it in the stuffing. Lentils, rice, spinach, turkey — with aromatics like onions, garlic, herbs, and spices, at your discretion. One lemon squash sneaked in...


As you can see, I cut a large zuke into big round pieces. What you can't see is that I blanched the pieces in the steamer pot for 7 or 8 minutes — 4 or 5 pieces at a time. They were just starting to get tender when I took them out and hollowed them out. Don't worry about them not having bottoms. Fill them with the stuffing mixture and cook them in the oven for a while.



If you cook the stuffed squash on a pan lined with kitchen paper or a silicon baking pad, you can easily lift them with a spatula and serve them on plates without having them fall apart. Sprinkle a little grated cheese on top, along with a drizzle of olive oil. They would be good with a tomato sauce, which is how, later, we'll eat the ones that went into the freezer.

20 August 2017

Collar capers

I suddenly realized last night that Tasha didn't have her collar on. It's lost, and that includes the nice tag that Walt ordered and had engraved with Tasha's name and our phone number.


So I have to go looking for it this morning. We assume she lost tag and collar on one of her walks yesterday, so I'll re-walk those routes. Maybe I'll find it. Gives me a purpose for the day. Bon dimanche.

19 August 2017

Heading out at sunrise

If you look closely, or enlarge, the photo below, you can see Walt and Natasha headed out on their morning walk, at sunrise. It was a funny kind of sunrise, because somehow the golden light was shining on the trees out toward the west, but closer to the house the landscape was in shade.


I had a kind of bittersweet experience this week. I ran into an old friend at the supermarket. G is a woman we met 14 years ago, during our first weeks in Saint-Aignan. She now 87 years old. She's had a lot of health problems over the past dozen years. Age has finally caught up with her. We had lost touch with her two or three years ago. She got to be so deaf that it was impossible to talk to her on the phone, and I didn't even know if she was still living in her house or in some kind of maison de retraite. She has lost a lot of her teeth because of gum disease, I learned, and she can no longer drive. That's why she never stops by any more.

However, it was G who saw me first and recognized me in the supermarket. She was with a woman I didn't recognize, but I did recognize G as soon as I looked into her eyes. She looks so different that if she hadn't seen me and spoken I might not have noticed her. The woman with her was her aide à domicile, whose job is to take care of people who need domestic help and health care. We talked for a while, reminiscing — and blocking the aisle in the supermarket. Tant pis for the other shoppers. The woman with G was obviously pleased to see her enjoy meeting up with an old friend and sharing news and memories. She said she takes G grocery shopping on Monday and Thursdays, and sees nearly her every day. I imagine the French social security system pays her for her work.

G in 2005
G is an authentic local character. Her father, a chauffeur, and mother, a governess, were employed by local château owners, so G spent several years living in, for example, the Château de Montpoupon when she was a girl. One of her friends is the woman who owns and lives in the Château de Saint-Aignan.

G used to be an avid gardener, and she kept sheep when we first lived here. We bought lamb from her when she had them slaughtered in the fall. She gave me many plants and seeds over the years. She hosted dinner parties and at least one memorable cookout for 50 or more people at her house back when, and she often invited us. She gave us gardening advice. She was always very interested in the collard greens I grow, and liked them when I cooked them. She asked me about the collards the other day. She wanted to know if I still grow them. It's funny what people remember and are interested in.

I told G about Callie's death, and she was genuinely shocked and saddened, I could tell. She used to have a dog named Reinette ("Queenie"), a golden retriever who had a litter of puppies a dozen years ago. They were adorable, and G gave them all away to friends and neighbors. Then Reinette passed away a few years ago, and the vet gave G got a new dog named Rumba (pronounced room-bah in French). G's face brightened when I asked about the dog, a black labrador, and she said yes, she still is doing fine. I also told G about Natasha and said I would stop by her house soon and introduce them to each other.

Talking to G again was a good experience, but as I drove home from the supermarket a great sadness came over me. Then, back at the house, we saw one of our neighbors (in her 80s now) walk out into the vineyard alone. We'd never seen her do that before, so it was mysterious. She stood and looked off into the distance for a few minutes, and then turned around to walk back to her house. I went out and asked her if everything was okay.

She said her husband had gone out for a walk with their dog, and was overdue back home. Like G, he is 87 years old. She was afraid the dog might have gotten its leash wrapped around her husband's legs and caused him to fall. She said she had asked him not to walk out into the vineyard but to stay on the paved road, close to their house. She's obviously very worried about him. They've been good friends of G's for 40 years. We met her through them, in fact.

I got into the car and drove out into the vineyard to see if I could find the missing neighbor and dog. I parked and walked around where I thought the neighbor said he liked to walk. I didn't find him and had to give up the search. When I got home, Walt said the neighbor had come back over to say she had located her husband. He had been out puttering around in a garage/workshop on their property the whole time. "I've told him so many times that he needs to let me know every half-hour or so where he is and how he's doing," she said, "but he won't listen." Anyway, tout est bien qui finit bien, as we say — at least for the time being.

Did I mention that another neighbor, not quite as old, has to have triple-bypass heart surgery soon? Sigh. Old age is not for sissies.

18 August 2017

Gratin de courgettes, tomates, et fromage

I keep giving summer squashes, both classic zucchinis and the little lemon squash, to our neighbors, but we are still feeling slightly overwhelmed. Yesterday when I offered a neighbor some, she said she take them gladly because they are so delicious. The word she used to described the courgettes was fondantes — "meltingly tender and good" might convey the idea. The dictionary also gives the word "luscious" as an equivalent.


Anyway, the one I cooked the other day was like that. It was only one zucchini, but it had grown large. I cut it up anyway, sliced it thinly, and salted the slices that I had put into a colander to let them release some water. I laid the slices out in a 32 cm (12 inch) diameter baking dish and they were about 4 deep. This is an idea based on a recipe I found on this French cooking site.


Then I sliced up a good number of smallish tomatoes from the garden and arranged them in a layer over the zuke slices. You could add a layer of cooked meat — sliced chicken or turkey, bacon, ham, for example, over the zucchini slices before putting the tomatoes on. I made a custard of milk, cream, and eggs seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme. I poured the liquid mixture over the tomatoes and zukes. It was just enough to cover the zucchini slices, leaving the tomato slices visible.


After the gratin — that's the French term — cooked in the oven at 180ºC / 350ºF for 30 or 40 minutes, I turned off the oven and let it sit there for another hour or so, hoping that the zucchini slices would be cooked through. I was glad to see that the tomatoes kept their shape and didn't just turn into sauce. (I didn't decide to take photos until after the first cooking.)


Finally, I spread a layer of grated cheese over the whole dish, drizzled some olive oil over it, and put the dish back in the oven at low temperature, say 150ºF (300ºF) just to let the cheese melt. You could make a case for putting the dish under the broiler to brown the cheese, but I didn't do that. I wanted it luscious, not crispy. Maybe crispy is how I'll prepare the leftovers that we'll have for lunch today. The courgette slices are cooked, by the way, but not over-cooked, so they have a nice texture.

17 August 2017

Winterizing

The annual winterization process has begun. Summer — real summer, with hot weather and sunny skies — ended a month or so ago. Summer was early this year. Late July and this first half of August have been autumn-like. We're still hoping for a warm and sunny September, but we have to be prepared.


So yesterday we got our annual delivery of firewood. This is the third or fourth time we've ordered wood from a man in the village of Vallières-les-Grandes, which is about 30 minutes from here, near Amboise and Chaumont-sur-Loire. We are so glad to have found him, because he's professional, prompt, and reliable. The prices are reasonable. Bertie  happened to be out from when the wood was dumped on the driveway and, being a cat, he was curious about it.


The delivery was four stères of oak logs cut to fit our small wood-burning stove. That's four cubic meters, which is how wood is measured here. It's the equivalent of just more than a cord, and cut and delivered it cost us 264 euros, or about $300 U.S. It will get us through the winter as a supplement to our oil-fired central heating system. We recently had 1,500 liters (400 U.S. gallons) of fuel oil delivered too, so we are ready for winter. Fuel oil is much more expensive than firewood, but our wood-burner won't heat the whole house.


The truck carrying the wood, a flat-bed dump truck, just barely fit through our front gate, and the driver had to be careful not to run into the edge of our second-floor terrace, which overhangs the driveway. The driver yesterday made it look easy. Now all we have to do is stack the wood on the north side of the house, under the terrace overhang where it will be protected from rain. We'll start working on it this morning.

16 August 2017

I don't know beans about beans...

...I guess. I don't know where the beans I buy are grown. I don't know how old they are. All I know is that I like to eat them.


Maybe I should just buy them in cans (or tins, if that's what you say). Those can be good. I've tried different brands and found some that I like better than others.

Some of the best black-eyed peas I've found here were in cans imported from Portugal. I can't find them any more. But as I've said, I cook dried black-eyed peas (which are not peas but beans) with great success. For example...  And these, more recently. I think black-eyed peas are the tastiest of beans.

I also like these haricots beurre that I get here, also imported from Portugal. Problem is, the last time I cooked some the skins were tough.

I think in America, these would be called "pink beans" because "butter beans" are something entirely different. Even in America, "butter beans" means one thing in certain regions and something different in other regions. I think butter beans might be something else entirely in Great Britain.

Packages of dried beans in France do have sell-by or use-by dates on them. These white lingot beans say they are good until 06 12 2018. That means 06 December 2018, because we Americans write dates in a different order from Europeans... mais passons.

According to an expert, Steve at Rancho Gordo beans in California, dried beans are good for about two years. Then their quality starts to decline.

15 August 2017

A question about beans

Do you like to cook dried beans? And eat them? I do, and I always have. I grew up eating them at home, cooked by my mother. Pinto beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans, great northerns, big white lima beans... among others. When I was in college, I lived on baked beans and frankfurters for a couple of years, because there wasn't much else in the cafeteria that tempted me. Now, in France, Walt and I eat a lot of beans — in cassoulet, for example, with duck, or with sausages.


The problem is that the beans don't always cook up as tender as I want them to be. The skins stay tough. CHM has the same problem in Paris. We've decided it must be the tap water in France. CHM actually brought some red kidney beans from the U.S. this summer. He had cooked some of them over there, and they were perfectly tender. He cooked the same beans in Paris tap water, and they came out with tough skins. The water in France as here in the Loire Valley is very calcaire. In English, that means it's "hard" water.


Some cookbook authors and friends suggest putting a pinch or two of baking soda (bicarbonate alimentaire) into the water you soak or cook beans in. I don't do that, and some of the beans I cook — black-eyed peas, for example — turn out very tender. Others don't. Some say to put some vinegar in the soaking or cooking water. There is wide agreement that the beans should not be salted until the very end of the cooking, because salt toughens the skins.


Yesterday, I did an experiment — I cooked a pound of white lingot beans (a.k.a. cannellini) in what I'd call distilled water. It's sold as eau déminéralisée at the supermarket here in Saint-Aignan. I didn't even bother soaking them first. I just cooked them for about 3 hours. I think the result is very good. Maybe that's the answer. Have you ever cooked dried beans in mineral water? Would that give the same result? That will be my next experiment.

14 August 2017

“Pulled” turkey barbecue

This summer I've been missing North Carolina barbecue. That's called "pulled pork" elsewhere. I didn't have any in the freezer, and for months I haven't seen pork shoulder roasts, which I like to make pulled pork with, in the supermarkets.


So what's the solution? Turkey leg and thigh sections. Cuisses de dinde in French. They are always available here in France, and they're not expensive. I bought four of them at the supermarket — about 3 kilos (nearly 7 lbs.) in all — for less than 11 euros. As I do with pork shoulder, I cooked the turkey in the slow cooker for about 10 hours on low temperature. I don't brown them first, but they look pretty good when they come out of the cooker, don't you think?


Before cooking it, I season the meat just lightly with some cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, and a splash of vinegar, along with some thyme and bay leaves. After long slow cooking, take the meat out of the cooker and put in in a pan or on platters to let it cool down. Then it's easy to pull off the skin, pull the meat off the bones, and get rid of the cartilage, veins, and most of the fat. You can cook pork, turkey, or even lamb (lamb barbecue is a Kentucky specialty) this way. Boil down the cooking liquid to reduce and thicken it, and then season it to make a good sauce.


You can chop or shred the meat and season it before you heat it again for serving, or leave it in big chunks. I like it seasoned with hot pepper vinegar, but you might enjoy some other kind of barbecue sauce — with tomato paste or ketchup, sugar or molasses, and spices, for example. Serve it on a bun as a barbecue sandwich if you want. That's what we did, with fried potatoes and some collard greens.

You know what? You really can't tell the difference between pork and turkey cooked this way. You have to think turkey is less fatty and better for you. Googling around on the web, I see several eastern North Carolina restaurants that are now serving pulled turkey barbecue. Good for them. After all, N.C. is one of the top three turkey-producing U.S. states, raising and marketing nearly 30 million of them annually.

13 August 2017

Next up...

Ratatouille. It's what happens when the tomatoes start ripening. Ratatouille is a ragoût of tomatoes, eggplant (aubergines), zucchini (courgettes), and bell peppers (poivrons) cooked together with onion, garlic, and herbs in olive oil with a little bit of water.


There are many recipes. Some say to pre-cook each vegetable separately with the aromatics and then arrange them in layers before baking them in the oven until they're completely done. At the far end of the spectrum, others say to cook the vegetables all together on top of the stove and then mash them together to make what is basically a paste. I used the yellow "lemon squash" in the photo below instead of green zucchini in yesterday's ratatouille.


Some say that ratatouille is a provençal dish, others say it's niçois. It's probably both. The old printed Larousse Gastronomique that I have (published in 1967) doesn't even include an entry for ratatouille. In the book's entry about the aubergine there are references to dishes that are à la catalane, à la toulousaine, à la languedocienne, à l'italienne, à la portuguaise, and on and on, but not a single mention of any preparation à la niçoise or à la provençale.


The newer Grand Larousse Gastronomique, 2007, which I have as a PDF file, does have a ratatouille article and gives a recipe. Here it is:

ratatouille niçoise
Couper les extrémités de 6 courgettes ; ne pas les peler. Les couper en rondelles. Éplucher 2 oignons et les émincer. Débarrasser 3 poivrons verts de leur pédoncule et de leurs graines ; couper la pulpe en lanières. Peler 6 tomates, les couper en 6 et les épépiner. Éplucher et écraser 3 gousses d'ail. Peler 6 aubergines et les couper en rondelles. Chauffer 6 cuillerées à soupe d'huile d'olive dans une cocotte en fonte ; y faire revenir les aubergines, puis mettre les poivrons, les tomates, les oignons et, enfin, les courgettes et l'ail ; ajouter 1 gros bouquet garni riche en thym ; saler, poivrer et cuire 30 min à petit feu. Ajouter 2 cuillerées à soupe d'huile d'olive fraîche et poursuivre la cuisson plus ou moins longtemps suivant le goût. Retirer le bouquet garni et servir brûlant, ou au contraire très frais.

Translation:

ratatouille niçoise
Cut the ends off 6 zucchini, unpeeled. Cut into slices. Peel 2 onions and chop them. Remove the stems and seeds from 3 bell peppers and cut the flesh into strips. Peel 6 tomatoes, cut each into 6 pieces and de-seed them. Peel and crush 3 garlic cloves. Peel 6 eggplants and cut them into slices. Heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron casserole; sauté the eggplant slices. Then add the peppers, the tomatoes, the onions and finally the zucchini and the garlic, Add 1 large herb bouquet rich in thyme. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 30 min. Add 2 tablespoons of fresh olive oil and continue cooking for a longer time, to taste. Remove the herb bouquet and serve the ratatouille either very hot or, on the contrary, very cold.

12 August 2017

Tomates, basilic, et mozzarella

With the weather we're having — it's Octoberish — it seems like the wrong season for this salad. Nevertheless, we are getting our first ripe tomatoes out of the vegetable garden, so we're eating them the way we like to eat them when they start to ripen.


With balsamic vinegar and olive oil, that is, over the cheese and tomatoes. It was mozzarella di buffula, not a cow's milk cheese. And basil we've grown in the greenhouse.

I think we'll be seeing an improvement in the weather over the next few days. We had hard downpours yesterday, especially in the morning. One giboulée happened while I was filling up the Peugeot's fuel tank up at SuperU. I didn't exactly get soaked, but the rain was hard and windblown.

11 August 2017

Callie ’Tasha and Bertie sittin’ on the sofa

Domestic (animal) bliss in three photos. Kisses, even.




Natasha (the dog) still drives Bertie (the cat) crazy with her attempts at rough-housing, but there are peaceful moments too.

P.S. Weather note: With the thermostat set at 18.5ºC (65ºF), our boiler fired itself up this morning and the radiators are warm. That's how chilly the weather is outside.

10 August 2017

A pie and a pudding, and the "English" language

It's a funny language we "anglophones" have. As a native language, it spans an island or two and a couple of continents. As a second language, it's everywhere. Nobody will be surprised to learn that we have big differences in terminology and vocabulary from one place to another around the world. For one cooking and food example, what does the word "pie" mean? In America, it means a sweet or savory filling or garnish baked on a single pastry crust (pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, chess pie, lemon meringue pie, key lime pie) or baked between a bottom crust (apple pie, among so many others) and a top crust. It's all pie to us, and pie means sweet unless you specify "chicken pot pie" or some other savory "meat pie" variation.

Walt made a savory mushroom tart (or pie?) for lunch yesterday — sauteed mushrooms with mustard, cream (crème fraîche), fresh thyme, and shavings of Parmesan cheese baked on top of a standard pie crust, or pâte brisée. We had it with grilled beefsteak.

There are a lot of British people here in France, and language makes it easy for Yanks, Aussies, and Brits to get to know each other, but we Americans are a very small minority.  I also watch a certain amount of news given in British English by media outlets like Sky News, CNN Europe, and BBC World. In British English, a pie seems to be what is called a tourte in French, and the single-crust pie like our American pumpkin pie is called a tart — une tarte en français. It might be a distinction without much of a difference, but it exists. We use the term "tart" in U.S. English too, but not so much. There's something exotic-sounding about the word "tart" for us.

My contribution to yesterday's lunch was bread pudding. That's stale bread soaked in a kind of pudding or custard (eggs, cream, sugar) and baked in the oven with fruit (blueberries in this case). I flavored it with rum and used one cup of coconut milk and one cup of crème fraîche liquide in the custard.

And just think about the word "pudding" in the English language. In England, and I suppose in Wales, Scotland, and maybe Ireland too, "pudding" is a generic word that means "dessert", from what I've gathered. Say you're invited to lunch or dinner by English friends. They might ask you to bring the "pudding" or the "pud" — pronounce it like the word "put" but with a D instead of the T.  That can be confusing, because in U.S. English "pudding" is a specific preparation that might also be called "custard". Custard is made with eggs and is often called "egg custard" while a U.S. pudding is often made with cornstarch (fécule de maïs, which I've heard referred to as "corn flour" by British speakers) and contains no eggs. A cake or pie (or tart) would never be referred to as a "pudding" in America.

For me, British English is a major distraction, actually. I have heard myself say, many times, that I didn't come to France to learn British English — I came here to continue learning French. Imagine! For me, a passive understanding of British English is all that's needed, but I need an active command of French because I live here. I'll never try to actually speak British English, while I speak French daily. Another thing I say is that while I'm ethnically "English", I'll never be British.

If you want to get a better idea of the millions of differences between British English usage and American English usage — it's not just about accent, but about grammar, vocabulary, cultural references, and idioms — there's an interesting blog about it all called Separated by a Common Language. The author is an American-born linguist who lives and works in the United Kingdom. And have a look at this article from the BBC about "silly" British terms and expressions...

09 August 2017

Le congel’

The SuperU store in Saint-Aignan is a supermarché. There are SuperU supermarchés in the nearby towns of Selles-sur-Cher and Montrichard too. But the really big SuperU —what is called « un hypermarché » in France — is 10 miles north in the town of Contres. I drove up there last week to look around and a couple of days later Walt drove up there to see the freezer I had found — we are not yet leaving the puppy alone in the house or car.


That's where we ended up buying the new freezer. The Contres "superstore" or "hypermarket" has a much larger selection of appliances, computers, clothes, gardening supplies, etc., than a regular supermarket. I didn't go there last week with the idea of buying anything, but just to shop around and see what different freezers looked and felt like. I think that these armoire-style freezers with compartments and drawers that close have one great advantage over the refrigerator-style open shelves in U.S. upright freezers that I've seen on Amazon.com. That is, when you open the freezer door all the cold air doesn't "fall out" but stays contained inside the unit.


And there was this Hotpoint upright freezer. It was attractive, and seemed more practical in several ways than the slightly more expensive and slightly smaller Whirlpool freezer I had found on the Darty appliance and electronics store's web site. In the Whirlpool, for example, the doors on the upper compartments opened upward, and there was no "catch" to hold them open. In other words, you would have to hold the door open with one hand while you used the other hand to find and extract the frozen item you were looking for.


In the Hotpoint, the upper compartment doors open downward, so you can just let the door hang there and, having both hands free, you can more easily move things around. Another Whirlpool model that I saw at our local But appliance and furniture store that same day was just too tall to be practical — about 7 feet, I think. And one of that unit's drawers had come off its tracks. I tried but couldn't figure out how to get it back on the tracks. Ix-nay on that.

The new freezer was delivered yesterday morning, as scheduled. Today we'll start pulling things out of the old freezer, organizing them, and putting them in the drawers and upper compartments of the Hotpoint. It's installed in the utility room, near the boiler and lean-to greenhouse.

08 August 2017

Zucchini: Fritters <—> Cake

Zucchini fritters — beignets de courgettes — are a late-summer classic wherever people plant summer squash in their vegetable gardens. I made some the other day, and they were delicious.

The recipe is very simple. Just mix together:

1 large zucchini, grated
1 small onion, diced
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup grated cheese
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
salt, pepper, spices, and herbs


Remember, a U.S. cup is 8 fluid ounces — dry ingredients are measured out by volume, not weight, in the U.S.
Let the batter rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Then use a ladle or big spoon to drop batter into a pan with a little bit of vegetable oil or butter. When the fritters start to brown around the edges, turn them over and finish cooking them on the other side. Drain the fritters on paper towels and keep them warm in the oven while you cook some more.



Serve the fritters as a main course or as a side dish. They would be good with a yogurt sauce like Greek tzatziki. We had ours with a chorizette sausage (mostly beef with some pork and lamb, and spicy).
I had made a lot of fritter batter and I used only half of it to make about a dozen good-size fritters. I put the rest in the refrigerator, wondering if it would freeze well. Then I thought: it's just a cake batter. So I added some more flour and another egg to the remaining batter and baked it in a loaf pan in the oven.
What I wanted was a savory zucchini bread, so I added some spices (turmeric for color, black pepper, cayenne pepper, fennel powder, cumin) and I sauteed a package of smoked pork lardons to mix into the batter. And it worked. It made a moist cake that's good served cold with a glass of wine at apéro time.

The next time I want to make a savory cake, I think I'll make the fritter batter and just bake it as a cake rather than cook it in a frying pan. I'll let you know how it works out.

07 August 2017

Something to look forward to

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. If the predicted rain doesn't damage them... Walt has the plants tied to stakes, so few of the tomatoes themselves are touching the ground. They should be fine.

These photos I took yesterday morning are just a sample. There are 30 plants in the garden, and each plant seems to have produced a lot of fruit.

We'll make liters and liters of tomato sauce. We'll dry as many tomatoes as we can in the dehydrator.

We'll make tomato paste too. You just take some sauce you've made, put in a thin layer in a big lasagna pan, and put it in the oven at about 200ºF (90ºC) for a few hours until it concentrates and thickens. It's easier to store for the winter than sauce is.

And we'll of course be eating a lot of these tomatoes in salads and pasta dishes, and on pizzas, when they've had time to ripen. And we'll share them with our neighbors too. Here's hoping for a sunny, fairly dry rest-of-summer, into October.

06 August 2017

A plethora of plums

Une pléthore de prunes, in other words. The dictionary says that's "literary" in French. Des prunes en surabondance. And they have been coming from our neighbors. Our two plum trees blew down in a big windstorm in 2010. This year, one neighbor had a bumper crop of little red plums. Now another has an even bigger crop of little yellow plums, some of them the ones called mirabelles.


So I did something I seldom do. I made a pie. Walt had gone to the store where we are buying the new freezer to see what it looked like in real life — I had seen it a day or two earlier and we'd been discussing the pros and cons of buying it. I had a store-bought pie crust (une pâte feuilletée, pur beurre) in the fridge and it needed to be used.


First I had to remove the pits from all those little plums. Actually, it didn't take very long to get the job done. Then I just had to line a pie pan with the pastry. That took only a minute. I put a quarter-inch layer of almond powder on the bottom of the pie crust, and then I more or less arranged the little plum halves over that. A sprinkle of sugar and a few "dots" of butter finished the pie, and into the oven it went.


With the rest of the plums, I made jam (yes, there were plenty of them). We don't eat very much jam, really, but we can always make jelly-roll cakes with it, or eat it mixed into yogurt. It won't go to waste.


Late yesterday afternoon, I heard the bell ring out at the front gate. It was our neighbor the mayor with another big bowl of cherries. « Bonsoir Ken. J'espère que je ne t'embête pas », she said, pointing at the big bowl of plums she had in her other hand. I assured her that I was happy to have the plums. We chatted for a minute or two. Now I have to figure out what to do with another kilogram of prunes. Maybe I can, in fact, make prunes — dried plums, they call them now — in the dehydrator.