02 December 2022

Une tarte aux patates douces et aux épices

I made something yesterday that I hadn't made in 20 years, I think — a sweet potato pie. When I was growing up in coastal North Carolina, we didn't eat pumpkins. We ate sweet potatoes. My mother made sweet potato pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here's yesterday's pie when it was ready to be baked in the oven.

And here's what it looked like when it was done. I made a pâte sablée — a cookie crust. My inspiration was a gigantic sweet potato (patate douce) that I found at Intermarché the other day. Both our local markets regularly stock sweet potatoes, so I guess French people are eating them. The one I bought was big enough to give me three cups of cooked, pureed sweet potato flesh.

01 December 2022

California dreamin'

Walt and I moved — lock, stock, and barrel — from Washington DC to San Francisco CA in the autumn of 2006. We lived in the place called The City out there from 1986 until 1992 and again from 1995 until 2003. Between 1992 and 1995 we lived in the Silicon Valley town called Sunnyvale, about an hour south of SF. Both of us had found good jobs in The Valley and it made sense to go live down9 there. The problem was, we really didn't like it. I remember saying back then that I didn't move all the way to California to live in a giant suburb. We had saved enough money to be able to buy a house, and I wanted it to be in San Francisco.

The house we bought and where we lived in SF was just 3½ miles from the Pacific Ocean, 4½ miles from "downtown" (Union Square), and 5¼ miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. For the last few days, I've been going through pictures I took in 1999, trying to put together a set of photos for a good friend who still lives in California. I found these a few minutes ago.

Our dog Collette, a Shetland sheepdog mix, loved going to the beach. That's her in the picture just above. I think sheepdogs in general love to run and play in wide open spaces. One of the beaches we really enjoyed was Baker Beach on the coast at the Golden Gate, with its great views of the famous bridge.


I commuted from SF to SV in stop-and-go traffic from 1995 until we decided to move to France in the spring of 2003. I hated the traffic. It wore me down and wore me out. I never knew if the drive was going to take one hour or three. But I loved living in The City within easy weekend driving distance of places like the San Mateo county coast, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, and the northern California coast. Still, San Francisco wasn't Paris. But we knew we couldn't afford Paris, where affordable apartments are so small. We finally decided it would be better to live in the French countryside, but within driving and training distance of Paris. At this point, however, it's been three years since I've been there. That's far too long...

30 November 2022

Making and eating a big salad

We had been looking for the right salad greens for a few weeks. We couldn't find what we wanted for what seemed a long time. This is the season for winter greens like scarole (escarole) and frisée (curly endive), after all. Then there they were — back again. I got this one at Intermarché, one of our two local supermarkets. We ate less than a third of it.


The scarole was gigantic and very fresh looking. I set it in our salad spinner to show you how big it was. Other salad ingredients were vinaigrette dressing, of course, made with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil, sunflower oil, fresh garlic, dried chives, and salt and pepper. Walt had bought some thinly sliced Italian pancetta (salt-cured pork belly) on Saturday when he went to the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan. He cut it into copeaux (shavings) that we cooked lightly in olive oil.

Bon appétit !


Into the salad went sun-dried tomatoes. Croûtons made with a stale baguette and toasted in the oven. Pecans, which I'm glad to say we now find in local super- and produce markets. Eggs, four of them, cooked sunny-side up. I tossed escarole leaves, tomatoes, and pancetta in vinaigrette in a big bowl. When all that was dressed, I put the croutons and pecans in and tossed it some more — you don't put them in for the first tossing because you don't want them to absorb too much vinaigrette and go soggy. And then you put a big serving of the tossed salad on your plate and place two eggs on top. The runny egg yolk combines with the vinaigrette to make a rich, tasty dressing.

29 November 2022

Satellite images of France

Nosing around on the internet this morning, I happened upon the site of the EU's Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite. What caught my eye was a set of images showing the Mont Saint-Michel. I'd like to go back there one day.


On the left above is a satellite view of the baie du Mont-Saint-Michel. The Mont is the black speck near the center of the image. The image on the right shows a closer view, with the Mont again in the middle of the image.

Directly above is one of my photos of the Mont. I took it in June 2004 when I was driving up to the town of Barneville-Carteret to pick up CHM and his partner France and then drive back to Saint-Aignan. I also visited the Mont in 2005, 2006, and 2007. I don't believe I've been back there since then. My memory is not what it used to be...


Here are two more images that I saw on the Copernicus Sentinal-2 web site. I'm sure there are many more images there of many more sights in France. I'll be exploring it more.

28 November 2022

Day 3 of the lamb feast

For day 3 of the lamb feast, I made a shepherd's pie. I chopped and sautéed an onion, a shallot, some celery, and some mushrooms. I grated some carrot, and I pressed three garlic cloves. I diced up about 2 cups of lamb and added it to the pan with the aromatic vegetables. I also added some of the drippings (le jus) from the lamb roast, which I had saved.


Next, I steamed 8 or 10 potatoes. When they were tender, I let them cool and then scraped the peel off them. I mashed them with a wooden fork. Instead of butter and milk, I used olive oil and some more of the jus from the lamb roast as the liquid in the mashed potato. (I didn't think milk and butter would go well with the lamb mixture.) I seasoned the mashed potato with salt, black pepper, thyme, and spicy smoked paprika.


When the lamb mixture was cooked, I put it in the bottom of a baking dish. I spooned mashed potato over the lamb mixture to cover it completely. Using the wooden fork, I made a pattern on top of the potato so that it would brown and there would be some crispy bits on top after it cooked in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Voilà : a shepherd's pie (or hachis parmentier) made with lamb, aromatics including herbs and spices, and mashed potatoes à l'huile d'olive. I have two slices of the lamb in the freezer for another use, and of course we have leftovers of the shepherd's pie for another meal. (Scroll down to find more posts about this lamb roast.)

27 November 2022

Enjoying the 70s

No, not my age (73 and counting) — even though I enjoy my 70s most days. The 70s I'm referring to in my title are the 1970s, which I remember well. It's because I bought something I had hardly ever heard of since about 1978 — a grow light. It's a light bulb or fixture that emits what is called "full-spectrum" light that plants need to grow green and healthy. This one is two strips of tiny LEDs that you plug into a USB power supply and stick to a surface over the plants you want to see prosper.

As you can see in this picture, there is a little window that faces north where I can put a couple of plants. The window opens inward, so if we need to open it this winter we'll have to move those plants. The grow light is affixed with double-sided tape to the bottom of the wooden top of this table. Here's one that resembles the one I bought.

The plants above, growing in natural light behind an east-facing sliding glass door, are a portulacaria (grown from a cutting that CHM brought me from California nearly 20 years ago), a pothos (given to us by a kind neighbor who moved away two years ago and who used to take care of Bertie the black cat when we went traveling around France), and a sansevieria that is a descendant of a plant that my paternal grandmother had in her house when she died in 1977 and that I've kept growing since a cousin gave me a sprout from it in about 1984.

Why do we need a grow light? It's partly because winter days here in Saint-Aignan, which is actually farther north from the equator than is Quebec City or Minneapolis — it's at about the same latitude as Seattle. The other reason is that most of the windows in this French house have big radiators under them. So it's impossible to put plants under or near them in wintertime. Radiator heat is too hot and dry for plants. The plants are on the bottom of a Madison table that we've had since we lived in California. Three of them are gifts given to me by Evelyn (a pilea plant), by CHM (a portulacaria), and by our former neighbor Chantal (a pothos).

26 November 2022

Lamb days 1 and 2

Lamb Day 1 — lamb roast and mixed flageolet and green beans

It was a simple meal for the two of us, and one I've been making for four decades.

On Lamb Day 2, we ate slices of lamb with steamed potatoes and mayonnaise, followed by a salad of escarole and beets. The mayonnaise was home=made, but didn't take any pictures of it. See this and this.

25 November 2022

The lambsgiving roast

Seasoned with black pepper, salt, thyme, and spicy smoked paprika

Out of the oven and resting before being sliced

Sliced, and cooked the way we wanted it — rare to medium rare

24 November 2022

Happy Lambsgiving

Sorry if I've told this story before. Walt and I eat lamb — a leg of lamb — every Thanksgiving. That will include today. Nearly 30 years ago, we decided that we'd prefer to have lamb for Thanksgiving (a holiday in late November in the U.S.) and save our holiday turkey (or other bird) for Christmas. When we lived in the U.S., having lamb for one holiday made us not forget to cook lamb at least once a year. Besides, in France, it's hard to find a whole turkey in late November. Whole turkeys are only available at Christmastime, unless you get yourself really organized and special-order one a week or so in advance.

Here's this years leg of lamb (un gigot d'agneau in French). We had the butcher de-bone it and then roll it and tie it up. It's a lamb roast — un gigot désossé, roulé, et ficelé.It will be easy to carve, and we'll eat it all through the weekend either sliced, cold, with a home-made mayonnaise, or chopped up and turned into a soup or shephed's pie. Today we'll eat it with some flageolet beans and green mange-tout beans.

     The photo on the left just above shows the lamb roast's bottom, hidden side. On the right is how it will go into the oven, fat-side up, and be served after it's cooked. I was surprised that a leg of lamb prepared this way cost as little as it did — just 49 euros. It weighs 1.7 kilos. That's about 13 euros per pound. Last year's bone-in gigot d'agneau, which I got from the same butcher, was heavier and cost over 60 euros. I wonder how much that bone would weigh. You can see it and the accompaniments we had with it in this slideshow that I published 12 months ago.

23 November 2022

Osso bucco à la milanaise

This is my osso bucco, and this is probably too many pictures. It's based on two or three recipes that I've looked at — one of them is in Marcella Hasan's The Classic Italian Cookbook (1980). It's made with mixed vegetables, tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes, and slices of veal shank. For extra flavor, it can contain some orange zest and lemon zest. Add some bay leaves, oregano (or thyme), and black pepper to taste.

          The idea is to coat the pieces of veal lightly with seasoned flour and then brown them in a frying pan. Take them out of the pan and slowly "sweat" the vegetables, including onion, carrot, garlic, and celery, in the same pan at low heat until they're tender.

     Place the veal pieces on top of the vegetables, and add enough tomato sauce, enhanced by the addition of a good amount of chopped fresh tomato, along with some white wine and broth (veal, beef, chicken, or vegetable). Put in just enough liquid so that the veal piece are barely covered. They will shrink a little as they cook.

          Veal is a tender meat, and slow braising or stewing it brings out its best qualities. Serve the veal and sauce with rice, risotto, pasta, or polenta. Mine cooked, covered, for two hours in a slow oven and then for another 30 minutes on top of the stove, uncovered, to thicken the tomato sauce slightly.