17 January 2020


That's deux mille dix. It was 10 years ago — to the day. I think the reality of what we'd done had dawned on us. We had picked up and moved to France. And we had done it almost on a whim. We were that desperate to leave the world of work stress and freeway commuting. In 2010 we had been here for seven years. Now, in deux mille vingt, it's been 17 years.

When I read blog posts from that time, I realize all the patterns life follows. On January 17, 2010, we saw the sun for the first time in weeks. It was cold and wet, and the house was cold too. We realized we needed more space, and more creature comforts.

We had survived the 2003 heat wave. We had started a vegetable garden in 2004. We had both started blogging in 2005. Our dog Collette had departed in 2006. Her successor, Callie, arrived in 2007. Back then, I had my desk down in the entryway of the house, which is not very well heated. In wintertime, I would sit down there in front of my computer with fingers stiffened by the cold.

The U.S. dollar was low against the euro, but we still had funds from the sale of our house in San Francisco. Let's invest them, we said to each other. And the only investment we thought was worth it was the house. We decided to have our big empty attic, with its high ceiling, transformed — aménagé — into a pleasant living space. The job went smoothly and didn't take very long, thanks to an English friend who put us in contact with a group of reliable local contractors.

As usual, when you make house improvements you tell yourself that you are adding value and that you'll get the money back when you eventually sell the place. But we had no such plan. We just needed more space and comfort. At the time, we talked about having the seven-year itch. We needed to make changes.

Now that was 10 years ago, and we are still here. We've never regretted choosing this house. It's all about the location — close, but not too close, to neighbors. Close, but not too close, to town. And therefore not too far from markets, supermarkets, and other services and amenities. Besides, it's on the edge of, almost surrounded by, a vineyard. The photos here are some I took on January 17, 2010, when the light was getting brighter.

16 January 2020

La tartiflette et le reblochon

La tartiflette is a relatively recent invention (from the 1980s) in popular French cuisine. It's a dish of scalloped potatoes flavored with onions, bacon, cream, and, especially, the Alpine cheese called Reblochon. It's wintertime comfort food. I made a tartiflette yesterday and the result was so many pictures that I decided to turn them into a 90-second slideshow. The Reblochon cheese I bought was made with raw milk and weighed 450 grams (1 lb.).

My tartiflette was inspired by a Julie Andrieu TV show about the French Haute-Savoie area in her series called Les Carnets de Julie. You can see her recipe and the segment of the show about making a tartiflette here.

Basically, what you do is peel and then boil or steam about 2 lbs. of waxy potatoes until they are tender. Meanwhile, chop up about 6 oz. (a scant half-pound) of smoked bacon (lardons de poitrine fumé) and an onion or two (I used shallots and garlic). Sauté the bacon and onion in a little butter and take it out of the pan, leaving as much fat as possible. When the potatoes are tender and have cooled down a little, dice or slice them. Sauté them to brown them just a little bit in the fat left in the skillet in which you sautéed the bacon and onion.

Spread about half of the bacon-onion mixture over the bottom of a baking dish. Put about half the cooked potatoes over that, and add a couple of tablespoons of cream. Add the rest of the potatoes and top them with the rest of the bacon-onion mixture. Season with a pinch of salt, plenty of black pepper, and a grating or pinch of nutmeg. Pour in about half a cup (120 ml) of dry white wine.

Slice the Reblochon cheese in half (into two disks) with a sharp, narrow-bladed knife — it's a very soft cheese, and the crust is natural and edible. Put the halves (as in the photos) cut side down (crust side up) on top of the potatoes and bake the tartiflette in a 180ºC (350ºF) oven for 30 minutes. Let it brown on top a little. Serve the tartiflette hot with a green salad, some French bread, and red wine.

15 January 2020

Package SNAFU, and more cheeses

I wouldn't actually call it pandemonium, but it certainly was chaotic. That's how I'd describe my trip to SuperU in Saint-Aignan yesterday. It all started with the first task I went there to accomplish: dropping off the package I was returning to a merchant in England. I had printed out and stuck on the shipping label provided by both Amazon in France and The IT Buffs in England — the two were identical. Even so, the SuperU clerk's bar-code scanner couldn't read the label. She said she didn't know if the DPD delivery driver would accept a package that couldn't be scanned. I left the package with her anyway, and I gave her my name and phone number so that she can call me if DPD refuses to pick up the package and ship it to England. Big sigh. When will this end?

What was especially chaotic at SuperU was the condition of the store. It seemed that nearly every aisle in the place was being re-stocked, which meant that employees with big palettes of bags, boxes, cans, jars, and bottles were in the way everywhere. I found some of the items I went there to buy, but there were several that I couldn't find. As a result, Walt has to go to the supermarket again today. He'll go across the river to Intermarché in Noyers-sur-Cher. I wish him better luck than I had.

Meanwhile, here are some of the other cheeses on offer this week at SuperU. This ad shows Comté cheese for the same price I paid for Abondance yesterday. Blue cow's-milk cheeses from the central mountains of France, the Auvergne region, are considerably less expensive than Comté. One is called Bleu d'Auvergne, and the other is Fourme d'Ambert — Ambert is a town in Auvergne.

More expensive is the Burgundy cheese called by the brand name Brillat-Savarin, at 14.50€ per kilogram. It was "invented" toward the end of the 19th century. Another cheese from the Alps is called Tomme de Savoie, at 11.50€ per kilo. Both the Tomme de Savoie and the Comté are made from raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk. Different Tommes (or Tomes) are made in several mountainous regions of France, some from cow's milk and others from either goat's or ewe's milk.

I mentioned Intermarché above. It's our other local supermarket and it also has a good selection of cheeses on special offer. This must be cheese season. There's Brie de Meaux, which is made in the area centered on a town east of Paris. Another variety of Brie is called Brie de Melun, produced southeast of Paris around the towns of Melun and Fontainebleau. Melun's style of Brie, which needs to be aged longer (un affinage plus long in French), is saltier and stronger-tasting than the Meaux style. Both styles are made from unpasteurized cow's milk. The two other cheeses here are a goat's milk cheese called La Cabriquette, and another Comté, this one aged for 18 months.
Finally, here's some real Swiss cheese, Gruyère Suisse, which is made in Switzerland from raw cow's milk and aged for nine months. A similar Gruyère is also made in France.

The very white cheese here is made from a mixture of ewe's and goat's milk. It's called Onetik and is made in the Basque Country of southwestern France, in the Pyrenees Mountains. It's aged for 2½ months and is said to be good with a glass of champagne.

14 January 2020

That package, and some cheese

In a couple of hours, I'll be headed up to SuperU — it's all of 2 miles from our house — to drop off the package I'm returning to The IT Buffs in England. There are two display adapters inside. The package weighs just 400 grams (14 oz.) and measures 9x12x5 inches.

Since I'm going to SuperU, I just spent some time thumbing through this weeks specials in the flyer we get in the mail on Mondays. Cheeses caught my eye. For example...

The cheeses above — Époisses, St-Albray, Chaumes, and Vieux Pané — are all made with pasteurized milk. All are good, but the Époisses, from Burgundy, is especially tasty. It's been made since at least the 16th century, and was first made by Cistercian monks who were living in the town of Époisses. It has both the French AOC and the European AOP seals indicating authenticity and quality. More than 90% of Époisses cheese is made from pasteurized milk. Even so, it's a stinky, runny cheese, in the best sense of those terms. Époisses is often just spooned out of its round wooden box, not sliced.

SuperU also has a special on two other cheeses. One is a ewe's-milk cheese made from raw milk and sold either plain or flavored with red pepper. It's probably good, but we already have some ewe's-milk cheese in the fridge. The other cheese, called Abondance, because it's made in the Alps in a valley that goes by that name, is also made with raw milk, never pasteurized. It's an Alpine cheese — what we'd call "swiss" cheese in North America, and carries the AOC and AOP labels.

I'm definitely going to buy some Abondance, because at 13.50 euros per kilo it's a bargain (less than $6 per lb.). Other Alpine cheeses in the same range are Comté, Emmental, Beaufort, and Gruyère.

13 January 2020

Returns and leftovers

First, regarding the two extra display adapters that The IT Buffs in Leigh (England, U.K.) sent me over the holidays after I ordered just one, well... I contacted Amazon.fr, who in turn contacted the outfit in England, and I have authorization to send back the two extra adapters at no cost to myself. I'm glad to do so. All I have to do is print out a shipping label, wrap the adapters in bubble wrap, put them in a box, stick on the label and seal up the box, and then take it to any one of 6 or 7 businesses in Saint-Aignan, where it will be picked up by the DPD shipping company and delivered to Leigh. Sounds easy enough, especially since one of the drop-off points is SuperU, where I go to buy groceries every few days.

Speaking of groceries, above is what I'll call une estouffade* de bœuf au vin rouge that Walt made for my return from North Carolina last October. I discovered it in the freezer, where we had stored the leftovers, and added to it the leftovers of my recent basse-côte with a red wine and mushroom sauce. First I cut the remaining piece of basse-côte into cubes and braised rhem to get the meat to the same point of tenderness as the estouffade beef was. This was our lunch yesterday, with some potato gnocchi and a green salad.

It occurs to me that freezers — we have two of them — are a little like external hard disks, where you can store things that you might want to get your hands on and enjoy at a later time.

* One dictionary says l'estouffade is une manière de faire cuire très lentement et dans leur vapeur certaines viandes. One example is the famous bœuf bourguignon — it's a braise or a stew. The Larousse Gastronomique describes une estouffade this way: Plat préparé à l'étouffée (ou à l'étuvée). Il s'agit de viande de bœuf ou de veau, cuite avec beaucoup de légumes, et parfumée au vin.

12 January 2020

Sunrise, moonset, and sunset

Yesterday was a beautiful day — the morning was especially so. I went out for the walk in the vineyard with Tasha, and the light was crystal clear, there was no wind, and not a person was stirring except me. Tasha was frisky and smiling. Yes, dogs smile.

Unfortunately, I didn't take the camera with me on the walk. Before I left the house, though, I had taken the photo above (looking out the kitchen window) and the one below (looking out the downstairs bedroom window). The sun was just getting ready to rise in the east, and the moon was setting in a hazy sky toward the west. The moon was visible through the bare branches of the linden tree in our back yard.

Later in the day, I noticed a pretty sky at sunset (below). Walt was out doing his walk with Tasha at that hour.

AND... In the morning, before I went out at 8:30 or so, I had taken my computer apart, opened up the case, removed the machine's old display adapter, and installed the new display adapter. Opening up the machine meant unplugging the six external hard disks I have connected to the machine, four on USB3 ports and two on external SATA ports. That's a total of 16.5 terabytes of space, and it's where I store my tens of thousands of photos as well hundreds of films (English- and French-language movies) and TV series and documentaries that I don't want to lose.

When I restarted the machine, it took a little longer than usual to boot up, as it was figuring out how to work with the new display adapter. But it started just fine. Then I had to download and install new drivers for the ATI card. That also went smoothly. At that point I vacuumed out some dust that had collected inside the computer case over the past couple of years. I reconnected everything. I was nervous about whether or not all the components would work together again, but I needn't have been. So it's all good news.

11 January 2020

Turkey-barley soup

For me, turkey-barley soup is a North American treat. I've never been served such a soup in France, but that's not proof that people don't make it. When I google the word combination soupe orge dinde légumes I turn up a lot of recettes québécoises, including this one in French and also in English from the well-known Canadian TV cook called Ricardo (with chicken rather than turkey). There are also some Swiss and French recipes.

Again for me, turkey-barley soup is January food. I think the first times I ever ate it were in California back in the 1980s and '90s, because it was a favorite recipe of our friend Cheryl, who was originally from Chicago and who passed away a few years ago. Most of the recipes call for pearl barley (orge perlé), but in France there are two kinds of barley available, orge perlé and orge mondée. I'm not sure what the second kind is called in English. It is less extensively processed than pearl barley — most of the bran remains after the orge mondée has been processed. The adjective mondé basically means "hulled." I think it's what we get in France — mostly in Asian supermarkets here in the Loire Valley. On second thought, it must be called just that — hulled barley.

Anyway, turkey barley soup is a labor of love. To make it, as least the way I do it, you have to finely dice a lot of vegetables — carrots, onions, celery, and mushrooms. Add some frozen or fresh green peas too. Then you have to dice up a pound or so of cooked turkey. To make the soup broth, you strip any big meaty pieces off the carcass (I had a leg, a thigh, and a wing left over from our Christmas turkey) and then boil the turkey carcass (the bones) with pepper, bay leaves, allspice berries, garlic, etc., and maybe some white wine (just this once).

When the carcass is well cooked (an hour or two) and has cooled down enough for you to handle it, it's good to pick off as many little pieces of meat as you possibly can. Waste not want not... Then you take the skin off pieces like the leg and thigh, pull the meat off the bones, and dice the meat, being careful not to leave any pieces of bone or cartilage in with the meat. You can do this part of the work while the carcass is simmering.

After you make the broth, strain it well. One way to proceed is to first cook the barley in the strained broth. Meanwhile, lightly sauté the diced vegetables in vegetable oil or butter. Add the diced turkey at the very end, just to heat it up and mix it in with the vegetables.

The last step is to strain the broth again and put the cooked barley aside. Pour the clear broth into a soup pot and add as much barley as you want, along with as much of the turkey and vegetable mixture as you want also. Everything is already cooked, so this step doesn't take long — just heat the soup up, really. A good addition is some fresh sliced tomato, also added pretty much the last minute. Serve the soup steaming hot.

10 January 2020

Catching up

Here are some subjects that I started writing about but never finished:

The French train and transit strikes are still a news item. Le président Macron refused to back down from his position on retirement reforms when he gave his traditional New Year's Day speech to the French people. Train and metro traffic has increased but is still not up to normal levels.

Our neighbor C. has not yet sold her house, as far as I know. I haven't seen any activity over there, but I also haven't talked to her in more than a week.

I also still have not installed inside my computer one of those three video cards I received over the holidays, after ordering just one in early December. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. I dread taking the computer apart, but I really need to do it just to vacuum the dust out of it. I keep thinking I need a new computer, but despite a good amount of internet shopping I haven't found one yet that fits the bill.

I'm still enjoying the Sony RX100 camera but I haven't been taking a lot of photos, having been laid low by that gastroenteritis attack and because of the dark days we are living through, weatherwise. I give you a few photos I took out in the vineyard four days ago, when the sun actually did shine for a few hours. The slideshow runs for about 1½ minutes and includes photos of Walt's 2020 galette de Rois, some dried artichokes in the back yard, kale growing in the winter garden, our house and a woodpile, along with a lot of photos of rows of grapevines.

What have I forgotten? Oh, it's still raining and the ground is still mucky mushy. The good news is that the roof is not leaking. We're waiting for a bill from the roofing contractor who sent out a couple of men before Christmas to repair the chimney mortar where water was getting in. Meanwhile, we're not having any significantly cold weather. We'd love to see the sun just a little more often. And I'd like some snow.

09 January 2020

Plants and furniture

I thought I'd post this photo for CHM, mainly. It's a winter jasmine plant that he gave us a few years ago. He also gave us a white summer jasmine, but that one didn't survive one of our cold wintertime cold snaps. I bought the pot this yellow jasmine grows in and we placed it right outside our greenhouse, so that we can see it from inside. It has bloomed nicely this year. Those are thyme plants growing on the ground around the pot.

I'm also posting my photo of the new chest of drawers, which I think is an attractive and a useful furniture acquisition. It was a pain to put together (Walt did the job), and the delivery from the merchant was botched, but the final result is good. Tout est bien qui finit bien. I'm in the process of filling up the drawers with socks, T-shirts, and other articles of clothing.

When I saw the new dresser, it reminded me a little of this chest that we bought in 1983 and is one of just a few pieces of furniture that made the cut when we moved everything we could realistically move to France in 2003. The simple, unadorned look of both these dressers is a look we both like. Both are in our loft space, where the walls are painted white and the floor is knotty pine boards. The loft (650 sq. ft.) is our private space, where we spend evenings and where we sleep.

08 January 2020


Now that I'm eating again, after my recent bout of food poisoning, I feel like I need foods that are fortifying. Steak, I thought. We had steak with a pepper-cream sauce just before Christmas (steak au poivre for Walt's birthday dinner), and I wanted something different. But first the steak. This one weighed 700 grams (1½ lbs.) and we of course did not eat it all in one sitting.

This is a cut of beef called basse-côte. When we first came to live here more than 16 years ago, I never saw this kind of steak in the supermarkets. I didn't even know it existed, so I never ordered it from the local butcher shops. It's what we call in the U.S. a chuck steak, I believe. It's not too expensive, and it's pretty tender. This one was sold as a basse-côte à griller — a steak to grill or pan-sear. Sometimes I see steaks called basse-côte à mijoter — meat for stewing that needs long, slow cooking.

The Larousse Gastronomique says that the basses côtes are neck muscles from the first five dorsal ribs of the steer. Boned out, the basses côtes make for delicious stews (pot-au-feu, for example), braises, and beef burgundy. Cut into steaks, they are good grilled and are called entrecôtes parisiennes, which are not too lean and are very much appreciated by gourmets.* I guess we are gourmets, by that standard!

The sauce I ended up making to serve with the steak and some pommes frites was a mixture of mushrooms, lardons fumés (smoked bacon), shallot, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, black pepper, beef broth (from a recent pot-au-feu), and red wine. We had half a small jar of dried cèpes (boletus mushrooms), which I simmered in the beef broth by for 15 minutes or so. That gave good flavor to the broth. Then I sauteed the lardons with shallots, garlic, herbs, added the mushrooms, the beef broth, and some red wine and let all that cook slowly and reduce slightly for half an hour. Then I thickened it by stirring in a slurry of potato starch and water.

The steak I just seared in a pan with a lid on it, slightly askew. I didn't want to eat it too rare, because my system is still delicate after last week's illness. It only took 5 or 6 minutes on each side to cook the meat to medium, especially since it was mostly covered (to avoid making a big mess on the stove). When it was browned, I set the pan in a slow oven to continue the cooking for a few minutes while I heated the sauce back up and Walt made a batch of French fries. To finish the meal we had a salad of lettuce and betteraves (red beets) dressed with vinaigrette. And bread and red wine too, of course.

* BASSES CÔTES Muscles du garrot entourant les cinq premières vertèbres dorsales du bœuf... Désossées, les basses côtes permettent des préparations savoureuses de pot-au-feu, de bœuf braisé ou de bourguignon. Tranchées, elles fournissent des grillades, ou « entrecôtes parisiennes », grasses, très appréciées des gourmets.