23 September 2020

Sausages and peppers...

...with onion and garlic, herbs, tomato sauce, and gnocchi. Sausages and peppers seems to be an Italian-American dish, not really Italian. I've never seen it on menus in France, at least not that I can remember. However, I see recipes for a similar preparation called rougail saucisses, something people make and eat on the islands of Réunion (a French overseas département) and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

For this version, the peppers came from a friend's vegetable garden. She was really nice to share them with us. The green peppers are mild; the red pepper is a piment d'Espelette, which is medium hot and comes from Basque Country in SW France. I seeded and sliced all the peppers and then cooked them in some olive oil with sliced onions and garlic before pouring on the tomato sauce. The gnocchi came from the supermarket. They're dumplings made with mashed potato, flour, and egg, and just have to be heated up in a frying pan.

The sausages also came from the supermarket. They're basically saucisses de Toulouse, which are plain (not smoked), plump pork sausages. These had herbs in them. Walt cooked them on the barbecue grill. The tomato sauce is not home-made, but store-bought. It's purée de tomates — just tomatoes, salt, and citric acid. I had bought some when it wasn't clear how large our garden tomato crop would turn out to be this year. The herbs are dried oregano (from our yard) and dried thyme from the store.

P.S. Yesterday morning Walt was out on the terrasse (our front porch) and saw a badger (un blaireau) on the side of the road just outside our front gate. I've seen badgers in the vineyard a few times, but from a distance. One of our neighbors told me a few years ago that she often saw a very big badger on the road, early in the morning, when she was driving down the hill through the woods toward town. The one we saw yesterday was a small badger. I hope it wasn't injured or ill. It disappeared into the neighbors' hedge after just a couple of minutes. I had time to take this photo.

22 September 2020

Focaccia bread with toppings

There seem to be two main differences between a focaccia bread with toppings and a pizza. The focaccia is made so that the bread is breadier and thicker than a pizza crust. And the pizza is topped with a liquid sauce, while the focaccia has only "dry" toppings. I made a focaccia bread the other day and topped it with fresh chunks of tomato, "sweated" onion and garlic, ham cut into strips, black olives, herbs, and chunks of dry (aged) goat cheese. You can see the steps in this slideshow.

Here's a simple recipe for a dough that makes a very tender focaccia bread.

Focaccia Dough

½ tsp. honey
1 cup water, warm... not hot
1 tsp. instant yeast
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil

A cup of flour weighs about 120 g, so that's about 330 grams of flour for 8 fl. oz. (240 ml) of warm water. Be prepared to adjust the amount of flour or amount of water slightly to make dough that is neither too dry nor too wet and sticky. All the other measurements work internationally, I think.

Mix the honey into the warm water. Separately, mix the flour, salt, and yeast together in a bowl (the bowl of a stand mixer is good.) Add the wet ingredients, including the olive oil, to the dry ingredients and stir well (again, a stand mixer works great — you could certainly use a bread machine to do the blending and needing for you) to form a nice dough ball. Then knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes.

Put the dough ball in a lightly oiled ball and cover it. Let it rise in a warm place (I favor using the microwave oven but don't turn it on!). I also put a cup of very hot water in the microwave with the dough for the heat it releases and for the humidity it adds to the air in the oven.

After a couple of hours, when the dough ball
has doubled in size, punch it down and put it into a lightly oiled baking pan or dish (a lasagne pan...). Using your fingers, spread the dough to fill the pan. It should be about ¾" (2 cm) thick. Cover it and let it rise for another 15 minutes. Put on the toppings and bake it for 15 to 10 minutes in the oven at 180ºC (350ºF).

As for the toppings, I had:
  • 6 or 8 small tomatoes (20 pieces of tomato) — you could use cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 slices of boiled (sandwich ham, called jambon de Paris here in France)
  • fresh or dried herbs and hot red pepper flakes à volonté
  • 1 onion and 2 garlic cloves, sliced and "sweated" in olive oil
  • 12 black olives (pitted or not)
  • 125 grams (4 oz.) goat cheese (or use whatever cheese you like)

You could use chicken, turkey, or bacon instead of ham. And vary all the toppings as you please. Drizzle on some good olive oil at the table.

21 September 2020

A Notre-Dame slideshow

Here's a slideshow featuring photos I took of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris more than a decade ago. Today is the last day of summer (or is it the first day of autumn?) and my virtual Paris vacation is winding down. The coronavirus situation seems to be worsening everywhere, and I'm afraid we might go back into lockdown (confinement in French) any day now. I don't think there are very many cases in the Saint-Aignan area, but people in the big cities are being hit hard.

The first two photos of the south bell tower of the cathedral were taken from my sister's hotel room window on the Rue des Carmes in the Latin Quarter. The three following shots show some of the stone statuary on the cathedral's west façade. Then there are six photos of some of the stained glass seen from inside.

I decided to show these photos as a slideshow just to make sure I have it working the way it should. If you let the show run twice, you might notice that on the second showing the photos are more in focus than the first time around. I think that has to do with giving them time to download to your computer or tablet completely. Maybe the speed of your internet connection makes a difference — ours isn't super-speedy.

20 September 2020

More about blogging issues, and more about Notre-Dame de Paris

I've had some luck experimenting with the New Blogger. I think I've got a few things under control now. I'll see as I go what glitches I run into, but so far, so good.

Inside a cathedral it's often pretty dark. If it's sunny outside, one thing you can attempt to take decent picture of is stained glass. Without using a flash, anyway, which is something I don't do much.

Or you can stick to taking photos of features on the exterior of the building.

Above is a photo of the rose window in the north wing of the transept at Notre-Dame. In other words, it's north facing, so there's less light shining through in in the afternoon that through the south-facing window across from it, below.

If neither photo seems very much in focus to you, remember that they were taken 13 years ago, using a camera of that time. Besides, when you look at stained-glass windows from a distance, you don't see much clear detail anyway. I also don't use a tripod in such situations. The colors are nice.

Here's one more photo of Notre-Dame before the fire burned the roof off and the steeple fell.

P.S. I want to show you what I work with to prepare my blog posts. A lot of the work is done in what is called "compose mode" and the photos and text look approximately what you see when you open the blog in your browser. However, photos need to be resized and placed in the blog window where you want them. I do that work in "HTML mode" on screens that look like this one. It shows today's post, and if you look you can see my text in it. The rest is HTML code and it takes some getting used to before you can work with it with confidence. Actually, I had already cleaned this code up a little by adding some line breaks to make it more readable.

This morning I'm trying to figure out how to do one of the slideshows I've been posting for a couple of year now. I first upload the slideshow, in mp4 format, to YouTube, and then YouTube gives me some code I can use to "embed" the video in my blog post. Or that's how it used to work. In the new Blogger interface, it doesn't work any more. There must be some other way to include a slideshow in a blog post...

19 September 2020

Notre-Dame de Paris — maybe my final post on this blogging service...

Today I'm posting a few more photos of Notre-Dame de Paris before the 2019 fire.
Tomorrow, we'll see if I can post anything at all.  See my explanation below.

Maybe you are aware that Google and Blogger have introduced a new interface for blog authors to use to produce formatted posts as HTML code. What you might not know is that the new interface, along with the HTML code it produces, is a complete mess. It just doesn't work.

I've spent nearly an hour this morning trying to get just these photos uploaded and put into a satisfactory format. Also, you probably don't know that I have spent the past 15 years working with and tweaking Blogger-produced HTML code to size images, format paragraphs, and make everything fit together. The tweaking had become almost second nature to me, and I was usually pretty happy with the result (well, except for all my typos...).

Until yesterday, we bloggers could still fall back on the old interface to produce our posts. While it was not perfect, was at least reliable and stable. I've continued experimenting with the new interface and found it really frustrating. It's hard to think about what you're writing when you have to spend so much time fixing the HTML code. Now Blogger has taken away that old interface. The new interface is absolutely not ready for prime time. It produces unpredictable code and results that are nearly impossible to clean up.

I'm starting to wonder if it is worth it to try to continue blogging using this Google/Blogger service. I'm not at all sure what to do next. I remember companies in Silicon Valley that went belly-up when they introduced new versions of software that were not reliable or did not give predictable results. Blogger may well be going down that path right now. I hope somebody from Google is reading this and will take it seriously.

18 September 2020

Pauvre Notre-Dame de Paris

The metal roof of the cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris burned off — melted, actually — in April 2019 when the wooden structure that supported it caught fire. The tall steeple fell into the church. I posted some photos I took in October 2019 here. I was on my way home to North Carolina and I had a few hours to spend in Paris. I was meeting friends from California for dinner in a little restaurant near the river before flying out the next day.

But that was 2019. These photo are some that I took in 2007 when I went to the cathedral with my sister and a good friend of ours. This was the last time I went inside Notre-Dame.

Compare this photo I found on the internet this morning. It's one of many photos published by the New York Times in 2019. Credit where credit is due — photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

In 2007, you could still get close to the cathedral and go inside. Now it's closed to the public and reconstruction and restoration work is ongoing. It's all fenced off. I haven't been to Paris to see it in about two years now. Above, that's saint Denis de Paris holding his head in his hands. According to legend, he walked several miles north carrying his own head and preaching the gospel after he was beheaded in the 3rd century.

I'm so glad our friend from North Carolina really wanted to walk through the cathedral that afternoon in September 20076, even after we had spent eight hours walking through Paris starting at 7:00 a.m. The line to get in was long. There were hundreds of people inside the church. My sister took a pass and said she would just sit outside and rest while we walked around inside.

I don't know who this statue represents. The woman actually looks a little like Judy Collins, if you remember her. By the way, the beautiful south-facing rose window in the photo above survived the fire at Notre-Dame, I understand. I published a series of posts about the cathedral in April 2019, in the aftermath of the fire. Start here and click Newer Post at the bottom of each blog post to see them and a lot of photos.

Even since the fire, when you look at the west-facing façade of the cathedral — the two tall bell towers — you can't really tell how much damage the main part of the building behind them suffered in 2019. By the way, my first trip to Paris was in 1970, and I lived in the city for several years way back when — 1974-76, 1979-82, etc.  I certainly never expected to see Notre-Dame suffer such horrible damage in my lifetime.

17 September 2020

Five more Eiffel Tower views

In September 2007, my sister, a friend of ours, and I drove from the Mont Saint-Michel to Paris after spending a fun afternoon there. We pulled in to Paris at 11 p.m. and this was the site that greeted us. I even was able to take this photo from the car. My two passengers were thrilled.

The next day, we did a grand tour of Paris. We went up to the top of the tower. We had lunch at the Bouillon Chartier. We walked through the Tuileries garden and the courtyards of the Louvre. We also went to Notre Dame cathedral and we went inside despite a throng of other visitors. As that was my last trip to the top of the tower, that was also the last time I was in Notre Dame, which suffered a great fire in 2019.

Here's what I wrote about this leg of the trip in 2007:
We left the Mont Saint-Michel at about 7:00 p.m. and drove the fastest route to Paris. That would be the autoroute that goes from Avranches past St-Lô to Caen, and then on to Rouen and Paris. I figured it would take us at least three hours. What with stopping to pay tolls at several booths along the way, and a couple of rest stops to get a cup of coffee and make a phone call home (not to mention my getting lost in Avranches at the beginning), it ended up taking us exactly four hours.

One Paris monument that my sister really wanted to see was the Eiffel Tower. She wanted to see it lit up and sparkling on the hour after dark, and she wanted to go to the top during daylight hours. I wanted us to do both also. I had been 10 years since my last trip to the top.

As we approached Paris on the autoroute from Normandy, I was watching the clock on the dashboard of the car and wondering whether we might arrive in time to see the 11:00 p.m. Eiffel Tower light show. At one point I decided just to drive around the boulevard périphérique (the Paris ring road) and go directly to our hotel, which was on the other side of the city. That meant putting off the Eiffel Tower light show until Friday night.
Luckily for us, as it turned out, the south- and westbound lanes of the boulevard périphérique were closed for maintenance work that night. I had no choice but to go north toward the Porte Maillot, an exit I know and which leads to the Arc de Triomphe. We drove around the arch and down one of the broad avenues to get to the Place du Trocadéro, where you have a clear view of the tower.

We pulled up at Trocadéro at 11:00 on the dot and the tower started twinkling. It was perfect. While the light show continued, I drove around the Palais de Chaillot and down to the bridge that crosses the Seine at the foot of the tower for a close-up view. Then we drove around to the Place de l'Ecole Militaire and along the boulevard that passes in front of the military school at the top of the Champ de Mars for one more look. At about that time, the light show stopped, but that was fine — we had seen it.

It was midnight when we finally got to the hotel and got checked in. I found parking. The next morning, we got up at 7:00 and headed out on foot up to the Place d'Italie to catch the métro. It was direct from there to the Bir-Hakeim station just down the street from the Eiffel Tower. We were going to the top, come hell or high water.
The Sunday before, we had gone to the foot of the tower, but the ticket lines were just too long. We needed to get on the road and back to Saint-Aignan that evening, and we were all exhausted. I asked a guard what time the tower opened on weekday mornings, and he said 9:00 a.m. So our goal was to get there by 9:00, and we did. We were extremely goal-oriented that morning. We even found a street toilet along the way and were able to be sure we would be comfortable standing in line for an hour or more if that's what it took.

When we got to the tower, we queued up with the other tourists. The line wasn't as long as we had feared it would be. It was a beautiful morning. At 9:05, the line still wasn't budging. I left my sister to hold my place and went to check the sign above the ticket windows to see what time it opened and how much it cost to go up. The sign said 9:30, not 9:00, and the price of admission was 11.50 euros.

Nine-thirty came and we were soon in the elevator on our way to the top. It hadn't taken long at all. Even on the second level, where all the visitors coming up from the ground on different elevators in the four feet of the tower have to line up again and get on a different set of elevators to continue to the top, the wait wasn't more than ten minutes.We had made it... and had it made.

I'll be moving on from the Eiffel Tower tomorrow. Enjoy these last few photos.

16 September 2020

Views from and of the Eiffel Tower

Still in 2007. Photos I'm enjoying seeing again and working on. The last time before September 2007 that I went up to the top of the Eiffel Tower was in 1997, with my mother and her granddaughter (my niece). That was before I had a digital camera.

The big red wheels up in the tower pull the cables that run the elevators, I believe. The observation deck at the top of the Eiffel Tower is about 275 meters (about 900 ft.) above ground level. Dieu que la terre est basse vue de là-haut.

15 September 2020

Six more Eiffel Tower photos

One disadvantage in going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower with your camera early in the morning is that when you look east and northeast over most of Paris, you have the sun in your eyes and your photos are very backlit. These are more photos from my last trip to the top, on 21 September 2007. All of them can be enlarged to show more detail.

L'église de la Madeleine et, en haut, le palais Garnier

Le Grand Palais et le Petit Palais

Le pont Alexandre III

L'École Militaire et l'Unesco

Paris panorama

La place de la Concorde, etc.

14 September 2020

An Arc de Triomphe slideshow

I decided this morning to post another dozen or so Arc de Triomphe photos as a slide show.
Some photos, however, just don't have the required dimensions, so I'll post this one and another below as still images.

In the slideshow you'll see two street views. The first is looking from the Arc de Triomphe toward the west toward la grande arche de la Défense. The second, a few images later, is looking east toward the Louvre.

You can enlarge this image and the one above to see more details.