25 March 2006

Returning to normal

Today is the last day of l'heure d'hiver en France. That's standard time (or winter time). Tomorrow we'll be on l'heure d'été, daylight saving time (summer time). Tomorrow the sun will come up at about 8:00 a.m. and go down at about 8:00 p.m. It seems like it wasn't that long ago — December and January — that it was dark in Saint-Aignan by 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. The extra sunlight is truly rejuvenating. In San Francisco, there wasn't much difference between winter and spring. Here in northern France, spring is a real rebirth, for plants and for people.

* * *

I put up a new picture of myself in my profile. The one I was using before, I realized, had been taken in 1996. That seems recent to me, but it was after all 10 years ago. I wasn't really trying to fool anybody into thinking I was younger than I am (I just turned 57).

The picture I posted briefly of me and Collette at the University of Illinois was taken in May 2003 by our friend Tom (I think). Or by Harriett. I replaced it yesterday because I think I need to move on. Collette has disappeared, as we say in French.

Earlier, I had posted a picture taken last October by our friends John and Candy, who were visiting. But several people told me that picture didn't look like me.

Now Walt tells me that my current picture doesn't look like me. I don't know about you, but I really don't know what I look like.

* * *

Yesterday was the first "normal" day we had had since my birthday, March 5. That's when we started seriously getting the house ready to receive guests. It was a first swipe at spring cleaning — there is still much to do now that the weather really is becoming springlike.

We had Chris and Tony here from March 8 - 12, and then Susan from March 15 - 22, with her husband Ray for the last three days of that stay. On March 11, we went to Tours to see a Julien Clerc concert. And on March 22, we went to Tours again to see an Alain Souchon concert. That meant getting home at midnight or later two times, and that's way past my bedtime.

You might not know who Julien Clerc and Alain Souchon are. Both are singers who are about my age, and both have been well-known performers in France since the early 1970s.

Julien Clerc, in fact, first came into the public eye when he sang the lead role in the French version of the 1960s musical Hair. He composes his own music but works with lyricists who write the words. He has produced a stream of hit songs for 35 years. I had seen him perform before, but Walt hadn't. The concert I saw took place in San Francisco in about 1999. There were about 3,000 people in the auditorium for that one — I was surprised Julien Clerc could draw such a crowd there. This latest one in Tours was much bigger.

Just last Wednesday, we went to see Alain Souchon's concert. We had seen him in 2002 in Paris, and he is a good singer. He writes the words to his songs, and another well-known performer named Laurent Voulzy writes the music. The first time I saw them perform was at the Olympia theatre in Paris in 1978. Souchon is a poet, and his songs have a more political bent than Julien Clerc's do.

One of his best songs is on the subject of marketing and materialism and how people really want a better life and not just more things and gadgets. Just listen to how the marketers and big corporations talk to us, he says:

On nous prend, faut pas déconner, dès qu'on est né
Pour des cons alors qu'on est
Foules sentimentales
Avec soif d'idéal

Translation: "They take us for idiots from the day we are born, while in fact we are people with feelings and a thirst for ideals."

Alain Souchon and his musicians on stage in Tours

Another recent Alain Souchon song is about how awful it would be, after all the wars and violence and hatred that religions and religious people of all stripes have inflicted on the world, to find out that the sky is just empty and that there really isn't anybody up there.

America misses out on a lot of good music from all around the world because we close ourselves off from it. Most of us live in an American bubble. It's too bad.

Be that as it may, we were very busy for two weeks, and the dog passed away right in the middle of it all. It's almost as if we had been sucked up into a whirlwind and then spit out on the other side, but without the dog.

Part of what was normal yesterday was watching a TV show we had recorded last Sunday afternoon. It's Michel Drucker's interview show called Vivement Dimanche on France 2. His guest was Julien Clerc. The show is a retrospective of a celebrity's life and career, with clips of past performances and the participation of the celebrity's friends, along with performers the celebrity wants to introduce to the public.

For me, the Julien Clerc show was a walk down memory lane. I lived in France from 1970 to 1982, when Juju (as he has been called) was a big star. I grew up (my second childhood, the French one I lived through when I was in my 20s) with his songs ringing in my ears.

* * *

As I said, yesterday was the first "normal" day we'd had in a while. As normal as it could be without a dog to go for a couple of walks with. What did we do? We blogged. I moved some plants outdoors because the weather warmed up. It was raining, and the plants needed water. At lunch time, we looked in the refrigerator and ate the leftovers we found there.

First, there was a container of zucchini soup. I made zucchini soup twice while Susan was here — the second time because it was so good the first time. I had zucchini pulp and whole steamed zucchinis in the freezer.

Potage de courgettes au fromage

The first batch of zucchini soup I made was different from the one pictured here. It was white, for one thing, or yellow, and not green, because I made it with zucchini pulp that didn't have any zucchini skin in it. I cooked the zucchinis last fall, when they were fresh from the garden, by splitting them in half the long way and putting the two halves cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet. Then I baked them for 30 to 45 minutes in a medium oven until they started to collapse and were obviously soft. After they were cool enough to handle, I scraped out the pulp with a spoon and threw the skins out.

The second batch of soup, pictured above, is green because I made it with whole zucchinis that I had steamed and then put in the freezer. The other day when I made the soup I thawed them and pureed them, skin and all, with a stick blender. The skin colored the soup green.

To the zucchini puree, in both cases, I added enough chicken stock to thin it down to the consistency of soup as I heated it up. Then I put in two or three portions of Vache Qui Rit cheese and a couple of tablespoons of Boursin cheese with herbs and garlic in it. You could use cream cheese, Boursin, Rondelé, or any cheese that will melt completely into the soup. You don't want a cheese that will melt into a big lump at the bottom of the pot. Instead of cheese, you could use cream. And I think you could also put in some grated parmesan, but not too much.

To finish off the soup, make croutons. Put a few tablespoons of olive or other oil into the bottom of a big bowl. Cut some dry French bread into cubes and toss them in the oil. Add some chopped garlic or some herbs if you want to. Toast the oiled cubes of bread on a baking sheet in a hot oven for 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them; they will burn up before you know it if you let your mind wander.

Put the croutons and a drizzle of olive oil on top of the hot soup and eat it.

The second course of yesterday's lunch was an improvised salad. I had some roasted peppers in a container in the fridge. I had thawed them earlier in the week. They were peppers we grew and then roasted, peeled, and put in the freezer last summer. I also had about half a small can of corn left over from making some salsa last week. And I had a wing and a drumstick left over from a guinea fowl that Walt cooked last weekend. Guinea fowl is very similar to chicken.

Salade de poivrons rôtis, maïs, et pintade

I put the peppers and their juice, the corn, and the meat from the chicken pieces (skinned, boned, and cut into dice) into a bowl with some olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. I washed and dried six nice lettuce leaves. Then I put three lettuce leaves on each plate and spooned the pepper-corn-chicken "dressing" over them. There were also some croutons left, so they went on top. Very tasty.

We had the last two pieces of a kiwi tart for dessert. No pictures of that.

Today we are again eating leftovers. During Susan's visit, I worked over a period of two or three days to make a potée, which is a little like a New England boiled dinner but with pork and sausages instead of corned beef.

The preparation involved first cooking two pieces of "corned" pork — porc demi-sel, in French — in water with bay leaves, onions, carrots, allspice berries, and black peppercorns for two hours. The pork was a small shoulder-blade roast (une palette) and a slab of smoked bacon (un morceau de poitrine fumée).

When that was done, I started cooking vegetables in the same broth while the meat was stored in the refrigerator for later. I peeled and cooked some carrots, some turnips, a rutabaga, a celery root ("celeriac" is another name, and it's un céleri rave in French), and a cabbage. I cooked each vegetable separately and then took it out of the broth and put it in the refrigerator when it was done. I could have cooked potatoes too, but I decided I had enough vegetables as it was. As I said, I did all this preparation over a two- or three-day period.

La potée lorraine, still frozen

On the day we were going to have potée for dinner, I heated up the broth again and I poached some smoked sausages in it. I had bought two kinds of sausages — Morteau and Montbéliard — that come from the towns with those names in the mountains of eastern France, near the Swiss border. After 20 minutes or so of poaching, I cut up the sausages and put some pieces back into the pot with some of the vegetables and some pieces of the cooked pork. That made a big dinner for three people, with lots of meat and vegetables left over.

The rest of the meat and vegetables went into the freezer in a big Tupperware container. That's what you see in the picture above. This morning, I took it out of the plastic container, put it in a deep baking pan, and put it in a slow oven to thaw and cook for a couple of hours. Hey, it's 11:00 and almost time for lunch. Bon appétit !


  1. What a coincidence, it's almost 11:30 AM here, and we're also ready for lunch. I hope the potee was as good the second time around as it was the first time. It was the first time I ever ate turnips and actually enjoyed them. You really are a culinary miracle worker, Ken. All our thanks to you both for a most splendid visit.


  2. PS: I think the new picture looks exactly like you! At least it looks like you did last week.


  3. Susan, hope you and Ray didn't get caught up in the demonstrations/riots near Invalides last Thursday. You have survived, I see, whether or not...

    How does it feel to be back in California?


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