01 April 2020

Ces croque-monsieur, et la terre ferme

The two most exciting things in my life on Day 18 of my confinement are the sandwiches we had for lunch yesterday, and the dry ground all around us right now because it hasn't rained in a week or more. The dry ground first: Yesterday (or was it the day before?) — they all run together right now — I was able to walk with Tasha the Sheltie down a steep path through the woods north of our house for the first time since last summer.

I hadn't dared go down there for many months because that's the path that crosses a stream bed and gets so muddy that it's dangerously slippery to walk on when wet. Clay soil is like that. Walking downhill through the woods and then back up the hill on dry ground was good exercise and a really nice change of scenery, at a time when we all need one.

We made our croque-monsieur sandwiches for lunch yesterday, using ham, a mixture of grated Comté (cow's milk) and Etorki (ewe's milk) cheeses, and some sauce béchamel (a white sauce made with butter, flour, and milk). The ham and cheese give protein; the melted cheese gives flavor; and the sauce gives a nice texture to the whole thing. The oven-cooked croque-monsieur sandwich has melted grated cheese inside, along with the slice of ham, plus grated cheese melted on top. You pretty much have to eat it with a knife and fork. With ours, we had a batch of sweet-potato fries and and a salad with home-made thousand island dressing.

31 March 2020


We seem to be eating a lot of bread these days. Maybe bread is the ultimate comfort food. Here's a whole-wheat loaf I baked last week. The photos I posted last week showed not this loaf but the other I made from the same batch of dough. This loaf, sliced using the bread slicing guide I bought a couple of years ago, went into the freezer. And it's reassuring to know it's in there. We have other breads in the freezer too, both sandwich slices and sections of French baguettes.

Bread-making is entertainment, and in a way bread-eating is too. Today, the 17th of my confinement, our lunch will be croque-monsieur sandwiches — the French-café-style grilled ham and cheese. Our problem right now is that we are running low on flour. Yesterday I put together an on-line order for groceries from our local Intermarché supermarket. Flour (farine) was marked as a bientôt disponible ("available soon") item on the site. They must have sold their entire stock. And the first available pick-up date when I was on the site yesterday (Monday) was Friday morning. By now, I'm sure it'll be next week before we can get supplies from Intermarché.

30 March 2020

The front door

We had our front door, with its small porch at ground level, glassed in back in 2004. It's hard to believe it was that long ago. It's a good place for potted plants. Often, even when it's cold outside, we leave the sliding door open wide enough so that Tasha and Bertie can come and go as they please. For the good of the dog, the yard is fenced in. Cats, of course, move unimpeded by such barriers.

I'm sure the fact that the U.S. stay-at-home order is being extended to April 30 will lead the French authorities to gradually do the same. Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid. Ou est-ce une cage ? I'm sorry we had to cancel our April getaway. La Baie de Somme is a place I really would like to see one of these days.

29 March 2020

Un cadeau d'anniversaire

About a month ago, I got an e-mail from our local SuperU supermarket telling me that they were holding a birthday gift package for me at their customer service desk. The next time you come to the store, it said, stop at the desk, present your carte de fidélité, and we'll give your your present. So I did just that. I didn't know what to expect.

Well, the package contained a box of cake mix, a bag of chocolate chips (« chunks » — a term that might perturb the Académie Française), and a couple of other little things, including an edible Joyeux Anniversaire label made of sugar. The cake mix was labeled as a bio product. That means biologique — "organic" in English. Les chunks, which I tossed into the cake batter, were not organic, but never mind...

Yesterday, I finally decided to make the cake. It's called a moelleux au chocolat [mwah-leuh-o-cho-co-`lah], which is a molten, lava, or volcano cake — something like that. I don't generally crave chocolate, but I think this cake is pretty good. It tastes like brownies to me. Merci, SuperU.

All I had to add to the mix was a good quantity of melted butter and three eggs. It came together very quickly. I wasn't sure how to bake it to keep it soft and melty inside, but firm enough to tip out of the pan in cake form. Basically, it all worked out. Trial and error saved the day.

The recipe on the box said to bake the cake in a high-sided cake pan, so I chose to use a soufflé dish that CHM gave me a few years ago. I use it all the time. In this case, I'm not sure why the pan needed high sides, because the cake didn't really rise as it cooked. It is definitely molten inside.

28 March 2020

Moving forward

But also looking back. The last time I drove the car or went shopping was two weeks ago today. On Saturday March 14 I bought a lot of groceries over at Intermarché in Noyers. Then yesterday, Walt drove up to SuperU in Saint-Aignan to pick up another load of groceries that I ordered on line. Meanwhile, tonight we'll (finally) be moving our clocks ahead one hour, from winter time (heure d'hiver) to summer time (heure d'été). You take your excitement where you can get it these days.

Here are some close-up photos I took of the primroses in our yard yesterday morning. They come up spontaneously every year. Some of them are a little ragged-looking, but the colors are nice. The slideshow is made up of six images and runs for less than a minute. Soon the grass will have to be mowed and that will be the end of them.

27 March 2020

Spending spring preparing for winter...

...is what one of our neighbors has been doing recently. He's been cutting down trees, sawing logs into one-meter lengths, and stacking them as firewood that he'll burn in his fireplace next winter. His name is Philippe, and he lives in the next hamlet over from ours. He's about my age. His hamlet (neighborhood, or settlement) is made up of about a dozen houses, and it's called La Grand-Maison. Philippe also owns some fenced-in land on the edge of the vineyard, down a steep hillside from his house. He uses that land as pasture for his donkey. We can hear hee-hawing from our house in the summer, when our windows are open. (See my 2009 post called Nearly Trampled via this link.)

Philippe's house in the hamlet called La Grand-Maison ("The Big-House") is only about 400 meters from our house — a quarter of a mile — as the crow flies. But if you want to go there on foot, it's a 1,500-meter walk (very nearly a mile) out into the vineyard, through some vine rows up a hill, and then a hike on the paved road back down to Philippe's house. There's one other footpath that's shorter, but it taking it involves crossing a stream bed that's very muddy for much of the year. If you want to drive to Philippe's house, it's about 3,000 meters away (not quite two miles) on paved roads. So Philippe is not exactly our next-door neighbor.

P.S. I was just looking at Google maps and I found this street-view photo where you can see Philippe sitting out in his vegetable garden on a warm spring day several years ago.

26 March 2020

One photo a day, and one day at a time

This single pink hyacinth has come up in the same spot, not far outside our back gate, every spring for the past decade or more. I wish it would spread over a wider area.

Maybe I should dig up the bulb this year and plant it elsewhere to see if it will multiply. I'd like to have it on our property. We have white hyacinths growing in a few places, but no pink ones like this.

Yesterday, the French Ministère de l'Intérieur (the equivalent of the Justice Dept. and the Dept. of Homeland Security in the U.S.) modified the travel permit that all French residents need to fill out and sign to declare on their honor the purpose of any trips outside their legal residences. Now we are required to put the date and time we leave our house on the form each time we go out, and our place of birth as well as our name, address, and birth date. I haven't been out except to walk the dog in 12 days at this point.

Also yesterday, the news channels were saying that we in France will in all likelihood remain under a stay-at-home order (confinement généralisé) until about April 28. Walt is going to go out to the pharmacy tomorrow, and then he'll drive up to SuperU to pick up a hundred euros worth of groceries that we have ordered and paid for on line. He won't need to go inside the store itself. Supermarket employees will load the groceries into the trunk of the car — if all goes to plan. I'll be interested to hear about his trip when he gets back home.

25 March 2020

Not melting down

Our weather has turned cold again, especially the mornings. It's below freezing right now.
Maybe cold temperatures will prevent a complete meltdown.

I hope the cold doesn't kill all these beautiful flowers.

24 March 2020

Flowers and fears

One of the problems with being an American in Europe is that you don't really know the plant and animal species, because you didn't grow up with them. The names are not part of your native vocabulary. So I guess I give up. Having lived in cities most of my adult life, except since we moved to Saint-Aignan in 2003, well... you know.

These shrubs covered in white blossoms are something like blackthorn or hawthorn.

I'll just post the photos because I was pleased with how they came out. Viburnum, they say. Viorne in French. Pretty flowers.

On another subject, the number of diagnosed cases of the novel coronavirus disease in France is now up to about twenty thousand, with nearly 900 deaths attributed to the illness. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit freaked out by this whole situation. Maybe cabin fever is part of the reason for my heightened stress level. We are going to have to go out, or at least one of us is, this week, because Walt needs to go to the pharmacy and we are going to need groceries.

At this point, I really fear going out into the world or having any contact other people. Here in France, we are being told that our confinement might last for several more weeks. We are allowed to go out and get some exercise once a day, alone, and no farther than one kilometer (half a mile or so) from our house. Most of the country's open-air markets have now been shut down, with some exceptions for small villages that don't have any grocery stores.

23 March 2020

L'attestation de déplacement — the travel permit

Here's a copy of the permit that allows people in France to travel or move about despite the government order that such movements be limited as a measure to fight the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). It's a sworn statement you are required to fill out and sign to declare on your honor that the purpose of your travel (déplacement) is one of the authorized& exceptions to the rule banning travel by checking the box that applies. The word dérogatoire means something like "by exception" or "by special dispensation." I've been told that gendarmes have been stopping cars around Saint-Aignan and requesting to see the sworn declaration.

The allowed exceptions to the stay-at-home order are:
  • Commuting to your workplace when telecommuting is impossible, or other unavoidable travel for professional reasons
  • Going out to seek medical care or assistance
  • Going out to shop for essential groceries and supplies
  • Unavoidable travel having to do with providing assistance to family members in need or to arrange or ensure child care
  • Brief outings in the vicinity of your legal residence for purposes of physical exercise (excluding team sports) or walking pets
The final exception to the travel ban implies that we need to have this sworn statement on our persons when we take Tasha out for her daily walks, but since we walk in the vineyard we haven't so far been doing so. We haven't yet seen any gendarmes out there or in our hamlet.