29 September 2008

Charcuterie de volailles, beans, and greens

The market vendor over at Noyers-sur-Cher who sells poultry, including chicken and duck sausages, pâtés, and cooked chickens and rabbits, is called Langevin. I'm not sure how many of the region's other markets the Langevin people work, but I know they are at the one in Noyers.

This is the paper the sausages came wrapped in.
Volailles means fowl — barnyard birds.

The Langevin company is located in the village of Sassay, in the hamlet called Marchigny. I found it on a map at pagesjaunes.fr. It's north of Chémery, on the road that goes from Contres down to Selles-sur-Cher. There doesn't seem to be a shop. Langevin sells only at the farmers' markets.

Anyway, this is interesting only if you live around here or are visiting. It's exciting to find poultry products of this kind, because they can stand in for the ubiquitous pork charcuterie. I'm looking forward to using a lot of poultry products this winter. We had Langevin's duck sausages for lunch yesterday, and they were delicious.

Saucisson de volaille de chez Langevin

Today, for example, I decided to cook the fat saucisson de volaille that I bought on Sunday. Yesterday I cooked a big pot of "green" lentils with onions, carrots, and herbs. They will be very good with the poached sausage. Green lentils — lentilles vertes — are a special variety grown in the center of France.

In the Auvergne around the town called Le Puy, four or five hours south of here by car, les lentilles du Puy have been awarded an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, an AOC, like the finest wines and cheeses. Les lentilles du Berry carry a Label Rouge, also attesting their high quality and strictly controlled growing standard. The Berry is the region directly south and east of Saint-Aignan (which historically was known as Saint-Aignan-du-Berry, not Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher).

My new "collard patch" — I've planted collard greens
in the plot where we grew summer squash this year.

So it'll be lentils with chicken sausage for lunch today, followed by a green salad. And this winter, if all goes (or grows) well, we will be eating collard greens again. With chicken, duck, or pork in one form or another. I brought the collard greens seeds here from North Carolina.

An autumn flower

Depending on whether and when we have a really hard freeze (in other words, temperatures below -3ºC or about 26ºF), the collard greens should live on into the winter. In fact, collard greens are improved by cold weather. The leaves are more tender and sweeter after they've been touched by frost.

I figure with the current financial crisis in the U.S. threatening to bring down the entire world economy, we'd better be growing as much food as we possibly can. This winter we will be living on a diet of summer squash and green beans. We also have plenty of jelly, apple and grape, to eat on bread, if we can afford bread.

Come to think of it, we can make our own bread. Otherwise, the freezer and pantry are full.

28 September 2008

Text: poultry — images: grapes

"Living the life" here means doing what people do when they live in the country on a limited income. We do our own gardening. We do as many of our house repairs and improvements as we are capable of doing. We spend a lot of time preparing food because the food is so good and there's no point spending money on already-prepared foods that are not as good to eat.

There are so many purple grapes on the ground
out in the vineyard! I don't know why. But I just
can't give in to the temptation to make more jelly...

And we enjoy the changing face of nature. Right now, a lot of leaves are changing color. I was out for a little trip to the outdoor market in Noyers, on the opposite bank of the Cher river, yesterday, and noticed how yellows, reds, and rusty oranges are replacing summer's green.

Where the grapes used to be...

The grape vines are changing too, and I see those on my walks with the dog. Most of the red grapes are still on the vines. Wetter weather is predicted for later this week, however, so there may be a rush to get the rest of the grapes in today, tomorrow, and Wednesday. The pictures in this post are ones I took yesterday morning on my walk with Callie.

Not all the white grapes have been picked.

I went to the market in Noyers with a purpose in mind. I had been over there last Sunday with Peter and Jill H. Peter bought a rabbit from a vendor who is a charcutier and rôtisseur. He sells pork and cured pork products like sausages, hams, and pâtés. But he also sells rabbits and poultry — turkeys, ducks, chicken, quail, and guinea fowl.

My impression is that hardly any purple grapes
have been harvested at this point.

He has a big rotisserie and seems to sell a lot of spit-roasted chickens, rabbits, and pork and turkey roasts. I guess that's French fast food for Sunday dinner. It's very appetizing to look at and smell. Just take your cooked chicken or roast home, heat it up a little bit in a warm oven, and then serve and eat it. No muss, no fuss.

This particular vendor also makes a lot of sausages and pâtés using chicken, turkey, and duck. That's what I wanted: duck sausages — saucisses de canard. I'm sorry I didn't take my camera over there with me. But there was a pretty long line of people along the display cases, so taking pictures wouldn't have been practical anyway.

They are pretty picturesque...

I bought two duck sausages, two chicken sausages, and a slice of pâté de canard. I also bought a big fat saucission de volaille — a "salami" made with chicken or turkey. I didn't ask, but I'm sure it is a saucisson à cuire, a sausage that you are supposed to poach in liquid before eating it. You can buy such sausages made of pork nearly everywhere, and a lot of the time they are strongly flavored with garlic. Poached with vegetables, they are delicious, giving good pork and garlic flavors to the poaching liquid.

I also wanted to find out if this particular vendor has a shop in one of the nearby villages. In the press of the crowd, I forgot to ask. But I did notice that the address on the awning of the market stall said the location was Sassay. That's a village just on our side of Contres, less than 10 miles from Saint-Aignan. I think a drive to Sassay might be in order to see if there is a shop in the village center.

...and highly photogenic.

After my trip to the market, I spent some time scraping and brushing that big heavy kitchen radiator with a wire brush to prep it for painting. We had leftover veal and vegetables for lunch, with some millet. Have you ever tried millet? It's like half-way between rice and couscous, and you cook it like rice. Delicious.

Then in the afternoon, we went out and picked up four wheelbarrow-loads of apples off the ground under three different trees. Now Walt can mow the grass one more time, before the rains and chillier weather come.

Cooking, painting, and computering

Fall weather definitely does something good to my appetite. Maybe yours too. When the mornings are downright cold, it still hasn't warmed up too much by noon. That's when we have our main meal.

I love to cook and eat carrots, celery, and onions. With herbs and bay leaves, some white wine or broth. Along with some meat — pork, chicken, beef, veal, or duck.

A rolled and tied veal roast, browned in a hot oven and
surrounded with partially cooked vegetables, ready for the oven.

A few weeks ago our local SuperU market had veal shoulder roasts on sale for a good price. That would be about €7.50/kg, or just under US$5.00/lb. I bought two for the freezer. On Friday I cooked one of them.

The first thing to do is put the roast in a very hot oven for 10 to 20 minutes to brown it all over. Salt, pepper, and oil it slightly before you put it in the oven.

Here's the roast with the cooking liquid
from the vegetables in the background.

Meanwhile, cook some chopped onions, carrots, and celery in a pan with butter, thyme, and a couple of bay leaves. Or other herbs. The flavorings are your choice. Cook the vegetables slowly and when they are all coated with butter (or oil, or duck fat) pour in a couple of cups of liquid. White wine, chicken or vegetable broth, or water will do. In my case, I had most of a bottle of French hard cider in the fridge, so I used that. Veal likes to be braised.

Then put the roast in a large baking dish, place the vegetables all around it, and pour on the cooking liquid. Cook it covered in a medium oven for an hour or more. About 20 minutes before the end, add some potatoes to the pan if you want them. And about 10 minutes before you want to eat, uncover the pan, turn up the oven, and let the meat and vegetables brown a little on top.

The vegetables, including peeled potatoes,
after browning at the end of the cooking time.
Sorry, I had already taken the veal out.

It's very simple, and maybe all of you already cook this way. For two people, or even for one, it makes a couple of good hot meals over a few days, and then some good cold leftovers.

* * * * *
I'm working on the radiator. We are going to finish this kitchen job. Walt has primed the wall and will apply the yellow paint today.

Meanwhile, we managed to get the heavy radiator out onto the front terrace, where I could wash it down with the garden hose and then scrub it with a stiff brush and some strong soap.

It's drying. Now I will clean it with a wire brush to remove any old paint that is loose, and paint it a brilliant white with a special paint made to be applied to metal surfaces. It's going to look great.

* * * * *
Windows Vista crashed on me just once too often. Microsoft's latest operating system software came with a Compaq laptop that I bought last fall at Circuit City in the U.S. I never really liked Vista, but I was giving it a chance. When it ground to a halt day before yesterday yet one more time as I was surfing the web, that did it.

I saved off everything we wanted to save from the hard disk. I wiped the disk clean and reformatted it. Then I installed a French-language version of Windows XP Home Edition (Edition familiale) that we had lying around, doing nothing.

It took me about 10 hours in all to format the disk, install the OS, and then find all the drivers I needed to make the laptop's hardware components work with XP. Compaq — Hewlett-Packard, actually, because HP owns Compaq now — wasn't an awful lot of help. It was impossible to find all the necessary drivers on the Compaq/HP web site.

Internet forums and advice from other Compaq laptop users who had done the same thing with their Vista-based computers pointed me to the right web sites for a full set of drivers. I found the last one I needed yesterday morning, so now the computer is working perfectly. We'll see how long that lasts.

27 September 2008

An extra trip to France

In December 2002 we had found a house in France that we wanted to buy, and in January 2003 we were preparing the house in California for sale. Meanwhile, we had asked our notaire — the French legal official who sets up companies and contracts, including real estate deals — for help in creating a Société Civile Iimmobilière for the purchase of the Saint-Aignan house.

Saint-Aignan, February 2003.
The river Cher was overflowing its banks.

In France, an SCI is a real estate holding company. Owners might rent out the houses they own, or they might live in them. In our case, our SCI owns our house and we live in it rent-free. In other words, the SCI is a corporation with no revenues. The owners of the corporation are Walt and I, each with 50% of the company's shares.

A public building in Saint-Aignan

The advantage of founding an SCI is that your property no longer falls under family inheritance laws, which in France are very complex and restrictive. Under those laws, your blood relatives, be they parents, children, or siblings, automatically inherit your property if you die — you have little or no choice in the matter. In our case, for example, I could end up having to rent the house from Walt's siblings after his death, because they would inherit his share under family law. We didn't want that. With the SCI, we can inherit from each other even though we are not officially related to each other.

Repaving the streets of old Saint-Aignan

To set up the SCI, I had to make a trip to France between the time we signed the initial papers to buy the house and the time of the closing. Poor me, right? Well, Walt was still gainfully employed at the time, and I wasn't. And one plane ticket would cost less than two. He stayed in California to watch the dog, continue cleaning up for the sale there, and meet his work obligations. It was early in Febuary 2003. We'd both be in France soon enough if everything went as planned.

Life goes on, despite the construction work

Through the kindness of old friends in Normandy, I had a place to stay while I was in France. I went there and caught up on jet lag for a few days. Then one of my friends and I drove down to Saint-Aignan to see the lawyer and the house. It's a four-hour drive, and it had been snowing nearly every day up there in Normandy, so we didn't know what to expect.

When we got to Saint-Aignan, the weather was beautiful but we found the town's main street all torn up. They were putting down new paving stones, replacing an asphalt street with more authentic materials. We stayed at the Hôtel du Moulin on the banks of the river in Saint-Aignan for one night. It turned out not to be a very comfortable place, and the next day we moved to a more modern hotel over in Montrichard, where the lawyer and our real estate agent had their offices.

The new paving stones were nicer than the old asphalt surface.

It took all of 30 minutes for me to review the papers the lawyer had drawn up and to sign them in his office. He would then send them to the authorities in Blois, who would publish a notice that a new SCI had been created. I had given myself a week to get everything arranged, but it was done in a flash. My friend and I were free to return to Normandy.

At the real estate office, they were kind enough to give me the keys to the house, which was unoccupied, so that I could go look around and show the place to my friend from Normandy. We drove over and let ourselves in. The place was pretty much a mess. It hadn't been lived in for at least two years. There were a lot of dead flies on the window sills, a lot of cobwebs, and miscellaneous pieces of old furniture and even trash scattered here and there. The garage was still full of junk, including a big riding mower.

We opened the shutters and saw that it had started snowing.

We turned on some lights and looked around in the house. I wanted to measure the rooms to see what pieces of the furniture we had in California might fit. Luckily, one bedroom turned out to be big enough to accommodate a king-size bed. The other bedroom was big enough for a double. We had and would ship those items, with their mattresses. We weren't sure about living room furniture.

My friend (who's French) said humidity had obviously damaged some interior walls, and it was true that the wallpaper in all the rooms was in pitiful condition. She said we would need to keep all the windows open for most of the coming summer to let the house breathe and dry out. Well, that turned out to be the summer of the Great Heat Wave, with temperatures in the 90s and even low 100s F. for weeks on end. The house dried out, no problem, and we suffered through it without air-conditioning. We very seldom had more than three days in a row of such hot weather in San Francisco.

Snow at La Renaudière in February 2003.

That particular day in February, at some point we decided to open the shutters on the window in one of the rooms to get more light. And to our surprise, it had started snowing outside. It had been sunny and bright since our arrival in Saint-Aignan 24 hours earlier. Because we never had snow in San Francisco, seeing it fall at La Renaudière was very exciting to me.

When we left the house and drove the 750 yards back down the hill to the highway that runs along the banks of the river Cher, it wasn't snowing down there. It was raining. So I realized our house and hamlet had their own micro-climate — for better or worse.

We had stopped at Chambord and Blois on the way to Saint-Aignan, and the next day we spent a couple of hours at Chenonceaux before we started the drive back to Rouen. I'm not sure if my French friend had ever seen the Loire châteaux before, and seeing them made the trip worth her while.

By the time I got back to San Francisco, it was almost time for the first open house there.

26 September 2008

Okay, now we know it's autumn

It's 7:15 a.m. and it's dark! It's like the middle of the night. Callie is hot to trot, but I'm not taking her out in the dark. She'll just have to wait.

We finally took down the radiator in the kitchen so we can paint it white and the wall behind it yellow. We had the plumber over for a couple of little repairs and he loosened the fittings for us. Walt and I didn't have any trouble lifting it off the wall brackets and laying it down on the floor yesterday. It's not as heavy as I thought it would be.

Painting rooms is made much more complicated
by the presence of radiators.

Yesterday I also started cleaning up the garden. It's that time already. I pulled out all the tomato plants. They weren't going to produce any more, and the tomatoes that were out there were no good (with one or two exceptions).

One plot tilled, three to go...

I also pulled out the summer squash plants. We got plenty of green and yellow squash this year — the freezer is full. I tilled the plot where the squash plants were and now might plant something else in it.

One day earlier this week we heard unusual sounds out north of the house. It was machinery of some kind, but it didn't sound like a grape harvester — too many sawing, mowing, and crunching noises. We went out to look.

The swath they cut

It was an Electricité de France crew with a big chopper/
shredder. They were running it under the power lines just outside our yard, back at the far corner. That was the place where I had made some progress chopping back the enormous blackberry bramble on the neighboring property. Guess what! The blackberries are totally gone now, along with a lot of trees.

Raisins in the sun

Grapes are being harvested. A couple of times a day we see the blue tractor go by, pulling the blue trailer loaded down with grapes. They seem to be picking white grapes for now. The purple ones are still all hanging on the vines, looking as beautiful as ever.

25 September 2008 at La Renaudière near Saint-Aignan

And the leaves are changing color now. Not just grape leaves, but also the leaves on the tilleul or linden tree out back. And others. Autumn. Bientôt, il va falloir ramasser les feuilles mortes à la pelle...

25 September 2008

Getting our official traveling papers

After we sold the house in San Francisco, we needed to get our visas for the move to France and we needed to figure out how we were going to get permission to move with our 11-year-old dog, Collette. In fact, I had already started working on the process for the dog, but I wasn't having a lot of luck figuring it out.

Zephyr turned out to be the right choice for selling our house

Our own visas were pretty straight-forward. We were lucky to have the French consulate for our region right in San Francisco, just two or three miles from where we lived. We got a list of the documents we needed to provide for the visa application by looking on the consulate's web site. We took them our birth certificates, which we translated into French, our passports, and proof of our financial resources. We gave them a copy of the letter showing that we were in the process of buying a house in France. The closing, called les signatures finales, was scheduled for mid-April.

The hardest part of the visa process was arranging for health insurance for ourselves in France. We found several companies that provides such coverage, but one of them turned me down. I don't know why. I was afraid nobody would want to cover a 54-year-old man like me, but then I did find a company that accepted my application. Walt didn't have any trouble. The French government required that we have private health insurance at the beginning. Since 2006 we have been on the French national health plan, which costs a lot less and covers a lot more.

For us, San Francisco was fading into the past.

The people at the consulate told us the visa application would take two or even three months to be approved — if it was approved. It wasn't a sure thing, and that was stressful. We didn't know what we would do if the visas were denied for some reason. We'd do something, and we'd go ahead and buy the house in France anyway.

For the dog, I had made phone call after phone call to veterinarians and specialists in importing and exporting animals. One man in Florida gave me advice that seemed reasonable about getting a microchip implanted in Collette's neck and making sure she was vaccinated against rabies and other diseases. But he didn't know what kind of microchip the French customs agents at the Paris airport would actually be able to scan, because standards were in the process of being changed.

I called another specialist in Louisiana who told me the same thing. Without the right microchip, readable by the scanners used by French customs at the airport in Paris, the dog could be refused entry into the country. Before we could get the dog a blood test to prove she had the required level of rabies antibodies in her system, we had to have the chip implanted. That chip proves that the dog tested is actually the one you are traveling with.

There was no bridge like this one to take us to France.

I called people in Texas and in California for more information and advice. Nobody knew exactly what the French requirements were, or what they would be three months later, since they were just being revised. But several of the American people I talked to mentioned a woman named Colette who lived near Paris and was an expert on questions of French requirements for importing dogs. I called her. The fact that she had the same name as our dog amused her. It turned out that she was British.

She got me on the right track. We said at the worst we could have the dog "chipped" and then buy the scanner that would read that particular chip. It would cost a couple of hundred dollars and we could travel with the chipped dog and the hand-held scanner. That would meet French customs requirements.

Collette on a California beach in March 2003

She also said that if the dog was rejected by customs at the airport in Paris, one of two things could happen. They could put the dog on the next plane back to the U.S. What would we do if that happened? Nobody would be there to pick her up. Or, worst case, French customs would be within its rights to euthanize the dog at the airport. So it was important to get it all right.

There were several waiting periods involved in clearing the dog for rabies. First she had to be vaccinated. That had been done in January. A month after that, the vet would draw a blood sample and send it off to a laboratory for analysis to make sure the vaccine had taken effect and that sufficient rabies antibodies were present in the dog's bloodstream. If the test came back positive, there was a mandatory three-month waiting period before the dog could travel to France.

It was February and time to send the blood sample. The laboratory approved for such testing by the US Dept. of Agriculture, which French law required to stamp all the dog's papers, was at Kansas State University, if I remember correctly. After a couple of weeks, the results came back positive. Collette, and we, would be able to travel in late May or over the summer. If too much time went by before we left, we'd have to start the whole process over again.

One S.F. neighborhood we lived in for a while was Potrero Hill.

I asked Colette in France if she would come to the airport to meet Collette the dog, just to make sure there were no problems on arrival. She said she could do that, and that she knew the customs people at Charles de Gaulle airport and they knew her. That was reassuring. But then when I e-mailed her all the dog's papers and she realized that Walt and I would be traveling on the same flight as Collette, arriving with her, she said there was no need for her to be there. Everything would be fine, she assured us. And she wouldn't accept any payment from me for all the time and trouble she had taken giving me information and reviewing documents.

The people who bought our house in San Francisco asked us to vacate the premises on March 20. I had imagined that we would have three more months there, not just one. That gave us just a few weeks to arrange for our belongings to be packed up for shipping. It was a scramble. We contracted with Allied International movers. They did an inventory, advised us to trim down the amount of stuff we wanted to ship, and told us it would cost $8,000 to ship a small container (20' x 8' x 8'). We continued trying to sell some pieces of furniture and we gave some to charities and others to friends.

Moving-out day, March 18, 2003 — we were homeless!

We couldn't complete the visa application process until after the sale of the house was final on March 20 or so, because we needed to be able to show the French consulate that we actually had the money we needed in the bank. Luckily, our good friend Cheryl had agreed to let us and the dog come stay at her house as long as we needed to while we waited for the visas to be approved. It might take as long as three months, they had told us.

24 September 2008

Selling high and getting out

As I was saying here, our move to France in 2003 depended entirely on whether we could sell our house in San Francisco for a good price. The profit on the house needed to cover our living expenses for at least five years, until I could start getting a pension out of my 401K plan and, a couple of years later, collecting Social Security. In December 2002, we had found a house we wanted to buy in France. It's the house we have been living in since June 2003.

Having new windows put in the front of the house

In January 2003, we "interviewed" three real estate agents as we started to plan to put the house on the market. One was a Scottish woman who I met when she was hosting an open house on a Sunday afternoon — I often visited the houses for sale in our neighborhood on Sundays. It was fun to see them, and interesting to see what people were asking for them.

Another agent was a representative of Prudential real estate, which we figured was a big company with a lot of clients and experience.

These pictures show how the house was "staged"
for the sale in February 2003

The third agent was the woman who had helped us buy the San Francisco house nearly 8 years earlier. She worked for a big San Francisco realty company called Zephyr.

We finally decided to go with the Zephyr agent, because we already knew her, we both liked her, and we figured she knew the San Francisco market better than the other two did. The Scottish woman, who I really hit it off with, seemed very good and gave us a good sales plan. But she was based in the suburbs and still had a lot to learn about real estate in the city, which is a market unto itself. The Prudential agent was a novice who read everything she said to us from a script.

The family room downstairs

No, Zephyr was the right agency and Jan was the right agent.

Jan asked us what we thought the house was worth, and we told her. We were shooting high, because our future depended on making a big profit. The price we wanted to ask was more than double the price that we had paid for the house in 1995. But then, we had done a lot of work — a new roof, exterior and interior paint, new windows back and front, new landscaping and a deck in the back yard — and we had put in a fine new kitchen, with granite counter tops, cherry-wood cabinets, and high-end stainless steel appliances.

The kitchen we had remodeled in 1999

Jan said she was afraid we would scare potential buyers away if we put the house on the market at such a high price. She recommended an asking price considerably lower (-15%). We were deflated, but we moved ahead. The market was hot, and buyers were bidding against each other, frequently buying properties at prices much higher than the owners were asking for them.

They asked us to put a smaller table in the dining areato make it look more spacious

We started cleaning up and clearing out. At the end of January, we had our big garage sale and gave away a lot of stuff. Then in early February, Jan held an open house for all the agents who worked for the Zephyr agency. She said nearly 100 of them came. And they nearly unanimously told her that her asking price was too low. As a result, she put the price back up to what we had said we wanted, and we were elated.

One of the bedrooms as staged

Four days later, Jan held the first public open house. We had to leave the premises, of course. I can't remember what we did that day. The plan was to start reviewing offers on the house the following Thursday. Jan wanted to give buyers a chance to put in their offers and, if possible, start bidding against each other.

We had removed (and sold) all our big houseplants to make sure no corner in any room was hidden. We had made sure there was no dust or dog hair in those corners. Actually, Jan had brought in a professional cleaning crew to not just vacuum up the dog hair but wax and buff the floors and clean all the windows. We had gotten rid of a lot of stuff, including some furniture.

We had also had some long-delayed interior painting done, including the master bedroom and bathroom. The house looked great.

Walt relaxing in the little back garden in S.F.

Jan scheduled a meeting with us at the real estate company for the coming Thursday (it was about February 20) to go over the offers. If there were no offers, the meeting wouldn't be held. Our breaths were held.

On Thursday, the agency presented us with four offers. All four were for sums higher than the asking price. The highest was 15% over "asking" — that is, nearly +30% compared to the price Jan had originally wanted to put on the house. It was hard to believe. And it was a solid offer, with pre-approved financing and a big down payment. Jan urged us to accept that one and do anything the buyers wanted us to do for them. Just take the money and run.

Thanks, San Francisco, and good-bye

The amount in excess of our hoped-for price was nearly enough to pay for the house at La Renaudière. All the rest was profit in our eyes and would pay for our trip to France and for shipping the container full of our remaining belongings. With any luck, it would also cover our living expenses for the next five to ten years.

23 September 2008

A Monday drive to Montpoupon

The grape harvest — les vendanges — began in the vineyard plots around our house yesterday. Jill H. and I went out and watched the harvester scooping up green (a.k.a. white) grapes out on the north side.

Harvesting white grapes, probably
Chenin Blanc, for sparkling wines

I looked around and there was the senior Mr. Denis — Jacques — standing out by his blue tractor and trailer, waiting for the first load of grapes. I went over and talked to him to thank him again for the firewood he sold us. He asked me if we had the wood well covered to protect it from the rain, and I told him we did. And then I pointed out that for the time being, we aren't having any rain at all. The weather has been perfectly dry for more than a week now. He laughed and said yes, it is nice, isn't it?

Monsieur Denis's blue tractor and trailer
awaiting the first dump of wine grapes

For lunch Peter made a big salad with lardons and poached eggs. We also ate some little tarts I bought at a charcuterie. They were a crust of puff pastry with a layer of diced potatoes and cream on top, covered by a slice of bacon. The charcutier called the preparation a tartelette tartiflettetartiflette being an Alpine specialty of potatoes and lardons in a cream sauce with melted Reblochon cheese on top, cooked in a big baking dish. It's the kind of hot and hearty thing you eat after you've spent the day on the slopes, I guess. The tartelettes were just a bite.

In the afternoon, we took a drive over to see the château at Montpoupon. Then we went on to Loches where we walked around the upper town to see the royal château, the church, Agnès Sorel's tomb, and the medieval fortress. On the way back we drove through Montrésor to see the château there — then on to Orbigny and Saint-Aignan.

Sombody has planted wide fields of cosmos
all around the Château de Montpoupon

For dinner I improvised an appetizer of chunks of leftover roast pork cut into little cubes, speared with a toothpick, and dipped in a sauce made with ketchup, hot pepper vinegar, and some piment d'Espelette puree. The pepper vinegar comes from cayenne peppers we grew and pickled a couple of years ago. Everybody liked it, and we finished the cold pork roast and ate a lot of sauce.

Peter made eggplant "pizzas" — eggplants cut in half, the flesh scored, and topped with finely chopped tomatoes, anchovies, shallots, and herbs. The all cooked in a hot oven for 30 minutes. Delicious.

Montpoupon, out in the country
about 7 miles west of Saint-Aignan

Meanwhile, Walt made a crêpe batter and some cooked up some diced apples with vanilla and cinnamon. After the eggplant dish, Peter cooked the crêpes and rolled them around a dollop of apple filling. Then he flamed the crêpes on our plates with Calvados, which is an apple brandy made in Normandy.

Peter and Jill are leaving today to go back to Paris. We will certainly miss them.

22 September 2008

A lot of cheese and a rabbit too

On Saturday, when Peter and Jill arrived, Walt and I did the cooking. Walt and I have blogged about some of the food we made. So yesterday, Sunday, it was Peter's turn at the stove. In the morning, we went shopping over at the outdoor market in Noyers-sur-Cher.

Peter said his idea was to get a chicken, maybe, and do a kind of fricasee using some of the vegetables from our garden. We had gone out to check and found several nice, long purple eggplants, some big bell peppers, and a few little yellow summer squash out there that had survived the cool, damp weather we had at the beginning of the month.

The church in Saint-Aignan seen from down by the river

At the market, we first walked past a charcuterie/rôtisserie stand where a long line had formed. People were buying fresh and cured pork, sausages, and spit-roasted chickens, turkey roasts, and pork roasts. We saw some fresh free-range chickens and one enormous turkey. But Peter also spied fresh whole rabbits. His mind was made up. A rabbit fricassee would be our dinner.

We continued past a couple of produce stands, admiring the fresh fruit and vegetables. But we had vegetables from the garden and a bowl of fresh fruit at home, so we didn't need anything. With one exception: a big head of frisée or curly endive. The first seller had such salads at 2.60€ each, but the second had the same thing for 1.20€. We got one there even though it was a little greener, not quite as young and white-leaved.

Looking out from the church up the stairs
that lead to the château
in Saint-Aignan

We walked on around the market. I wanted to show Peter and Jill the cheese seller's stand, which is always varied, neatly organized, and appetizing. For once there was no line.

The fact was that we already had a selection of cheeses — Camembert, Fourme d'Ambert, Cantal, Comté, and fresh and cured goat cheese from Selles-sur-Cher — at home. So I said, well, let's just glance at the cheeses. Then I spotted the Bries, including a Brie de Melun that I'd been wanting to try for a couple of weeks after reading about it on Loulou's blog. I couldn't resist that one.

The château de Saint-Aignan

Then Peter said he had never seen the heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheeses before, and Neufchâtel (from the Pays de Bray in Normandy, north of Rouen) has been one of my favorite cheeses since I lived in Rouen more than 35 years ago. I needed to get one of those too, so that Peter could try it.

And then Jill saw a Pont-l'Evêque, another cow's milk cheese from Normandy, and said that was one of her favorites. We had to get that too. And Peter noticed the Saint-Agur, a type of Roquefort. He wanted some.

Are we going to have a cold winter?

So there we were loaded down with cheeses. That would be lunch. We continued on to a charcuterie on the street just down from the market. This particular shop sends a seller to the Saint-Aignan market on Saturdays, and sometimes I buy things from him (despite feeling disloyal to « Madame Doudouille », whose charcuterie I really like). I wanted to see the shop.

There was a long line, but the shop displays were beautiful and we needed some poitrine fumée (smoked pork belly) to make lardoons to go with the curly endive (which, for lunch today, will made into a salad and topped with one poached egg per person as well).

Another old bread bakery — the second
in three years — has shut down in Saint-Aignan.

We stood in the shop admiring and discussing the cuts of fresh pork, the salamis (saucissons secs, the chitterling sausages (andouilles and andouillettes, the black pudding (boudin noir), and the cuts of brined pork (porc demi-sel) that are so good with beans or sauerkraut or other slow-cooked vegetables. It was interesting to see what the other customers bought.

With some pork belly and a French salami in our basket, we headed back to the outdoor market to get that rabbit. We had to wait in line there too, and that gave us another opportunity to see what was on sale and what people were buying. I noticed a tray of duck sausages. I'll have to go back there next Sunday and get me some of those. There were also trays of at least three different kinds of chicken sausages, not to mention all the cuts of fresh and brined and smoked pork.

Meanwhile, this pastry shop near the château
has been taken over by an artisan bread baker.

It was time to head home for that lunch of cheese, bread, and wine. But first we needed some bread. I drove Peter and Jill up to the bakery in the vineyard about two miles south of our house, where there was also a line. The line moved quickly, but the time we got to the front the last baguette had just been sold. We had to wait a couple of minutes while the baker took a fresh batch of bread out of his big wood-fired oven.

We chatted with him (the baker), who told us he had become a baker because it was a profession in which he didn't need to be able to speak English or any other language but French. Ha ha ha. And then in walked Patricia, the woman who with her husband Bruno owns a nearby winery and most of the vineyard out behind our house. We talked with her for a minute, learning that the grape harvest is scheduled to begin today. The first grapes harvested will be the ones used to make sparkling Touraine wines.

After another minute or two, our baguette came out of the oven. It was not warm but hot to the touch. We also got a couple of croissants, a small loaf of bread with walnuts baked into it, and another that had whole hazelnuts in it. Those would be good with cheese.

Back at the house, it was warm enough (if barely) for us to sit out on the front terrace in the sun to enjoy our cheese platter. All the cheeses were excellent, especially that Brie de Melun (Melun is a town just a few miles from Fontainebleau, near Paris). And the Neufchâtel. And the Pont-l'Evêque. Not to mention the Saint-Agur. Ah là là.

After lunch, and before dinner, we drove back down into Saint-Aignan and took a walk up to the château, into the church (including the crypt with its old frescoes), and through the streets of the medieval neighborhoods down near the river. All under a bright warm sun. I'm putting some pictures from that part of the day in this post.

And still before dinner, Jill and I took a long walk with Callie down through the woods, back up through another section of woods on a tractor road, along the paved road back out to the vineyard, and then down rows of vines and the gravel road back to the house. We had to walk off that cheese and make room for the rabbit fricassee that Walt was helping Peter prepare for dinner.