07 June 2010

Francos and anglos, apéros and dinner

We had a francophone apéritif and an anglophone dinner yesterday. Unfortunately, the weather turned out damp and cool, with gray skies all day. We didn't get enough rain to do the garden any good. We got just enough drizzle to spoil our plans to have dinner outside under the « le barnum » — that's what the garden tent is called. I don't know what it's called in English. A big top? A tarp? A gazebo?

Anyway, the mayor and her husband invited us, our American friends who just moved into a house nearby, and our across-the-street neighbors for a glass of wine and some finger foods before lunch. A., the mayor, is a very good cook, and she had made three or four different little dishes to go with a chilled bottle of the local Touraine rosé sparkling wine.

A. is the mayor of our village, which has a population of about 1200. She just happens to live in our little hamlet, which is made up of nine houses and fewer than 20 residents.

Among the apéro foods A. served were tiny raisin pizzas with blue cheese melted on them — almost crackers, but in a little pie shell. Another was a little shot glass filled with raw chopped tomato and zucchini (courgette if you're not American) and cooked quinoa, in a balsamic vinaigrette sauce. There were little anchovy fillets folded in half, served on a cocktail pick, and bathed in a spicy lime juice dressing. And there was cubed fresh cantaloupe on picks, plus little spoons filled with oniony, herby cream cheese topped with a little slice of smoked salmon.

We spoke French. The mayor's husband speaks some English, but as far as I know the other neighbors do not. The newly arrived Americans enjoyed the chance to practice their French and said they preferred to speak French rather than English in such situations.

Afterward, we came back over to our house for Sunday dinner and an afternoon together, with frequent glances at the TV to see whether Nadal or Soderling was going to win this year's French Open tennis tournament. English friend S. came for dinner too, so there were five of us plus three dogs! Bertie the Black Cat stayed out of sight for the afternoon.

This is the only picture I took yesterday.
I was too busy to worry about the camera.

For dinner I had cooked a « pintade » — that's a guinea fowl — on the rotisserie in our oven. Walt bought the bird at the Saint-Aignan market Saturday morning, from our favorite poultry vendor there.

When we roast poultry or meat on the rotisserie, I always put a baking dish half full of water on a rack directly under the meat, to catch the drippings. If you don't, roasting meat on the spit can make quite a mess of your oven and can also really smoke up your kitchen.

This time, I had a new idea. Instead of just a pan of water, I set a pan of diced, peeled potatoes, with a little water in the bottom, right under the bird. That way, the potatoes cooked as the pintade did, and bathed in the fat and olive oil dripping down on them. I also tossed in four or five unpeeled garlic cloves and three big bay leaves.

The bird and potatoes were cooked before we walked over to the neighbors' for apéros at 11:30 I just turned off the oven and let it sit while we were gone, for about two hours. J. the American, who likes to cook on a grill, said I should make sure the bird was turned breast side down on the spit, so that the breast wouldn't dry out. That was a good idea.

The pintade was perfect, in fact — even if I do say so myself. The meat was moist and nearly falling off the bone — very easy to carve — and the skin was beautifully browned. It was all very good with the spicy cherry sauce I made a couple of days ago. The potatoes were delicious too. Afterward, we had green salad with a yogurt-cucumber dressing, some goat and cow's-milk cheeses, and a slice of cherry clafoutis that Walt made the day before.

We spoke English, of course, but we talked about life here and local customs, so our English included a liberal sprinkling of French words and expressions. Everybody went home after the tennis match ended (Nadal won), at about 6:00 p.m., and then I took the dog out for a walk. Voilà. Life is good.


  1. Hi Ken,
    I think I may have gotten you another fan. She's a fellow food-lover, American, long-term resident here and it was via a fb comment, so maybe more of her friends might peek.
    Also, Paul and I are trying to work out when we can make a two-day trip down to the Tourraine to visit our daughter-in-law's folks. We'd like to include meeting you, too.
    Watched a pigeon feasting on our Montmorency cherry tree this morning. No cherries for us, this year, again!

  2. I got an early wake-up call this morning. Earthquake at 2.20 am.
    You guys had a nice week-end with very nice food. I love pintade and Walt is right, clafoutis are really easy to make. Now I am hungry.

  3. Hi Ken,

    You must be happy about the Euro/Dollar exchange rate lately!

  4. Hi Nadège,
    This 3.6 quake was 3 miles west of Hermosa Beach. Close enough to feel it. Did you feel the 7.2 quake on April 4th that occurred in Guadalupe-Victoria south-west of Mexicali, Baja California, at around four in the afternoon?

  5. All that good food and tennis, too! I bet the potatoes were delicious.

    About quakes. DS and family moved to San Diego a year ago in July. It wasn't long afterwards that they felt their first quake. I guess you're used to them by now, Nadege and CHM.

  6. Mayor A. sounds like a terrific cook! Raisin and blue cheese on little pie shells? Delicious. The anchovies sound wonderful too.

    Nadege and chm, sounds like you are in LA - I lived there during the Northridge quake in 1994. That was an attention-getter.

  7. Diogenes,
    For all the profits of the oil companies I wouldn't live in L.A. No, I spend winters in my little desert paradise, on the west shores of the Salton Sea and summers in France, mostly in Paris.
    I sure felt that 7.2 earthquake 100 miles away and it was scary.

    Verification word is derglobi. Is that German for our planet and others?

  8. CHM, I sure felt the Easter day quake. I was upstairs in my friend's house with a bunch of other people. We all looked at each others and waited for the rolling to stop. We were so far away for the epicenter, it was not bad. I didn't feel any of the aftershocks. Yesterday on the Strand, I smelled a weird smell. I had read in "the beach reporter" that 2 days earlier, people had called the firemen because of a strange odor. They wrote it was methane gas. When I took another walk with my friend later yesterday, I told her that if those methane bubbles where coming to the surface, there might be seismic activity. Little did I know.
    Monsieur Charles Henri, j'ai travaille sur un film "le scorpion King" en 2000. Nous sommes alles quelques jours a Yuma, Az et ensuite quelques jours a Brawley et "la casa de zorro" a Anza Borrego. C'est tres beau, surtout au printemps avec toutes les fleurs. Les Canyons sont magnifiques et il y a de jolies pierres a ramasser. J'aimerais y retourner pour voir "the Salton sea".

  9. Me again. Ken, is it safe to put swiss chard, mustard and turnip tops, collard greens... and let them wilt in oil and vinegar?
    I know that beet tops have oxalic acid, and might be preferable to eat cooked. Have you ever eaten any of these raw?

  10. Ellen, let us know when you have scheduled your trip. Things are getting busy for us now, but we'll be able to find time I'm sure.

    I found a cherry tree with big sweet cherries out on the edge of the vineyard this morning. I'll be picking some of them this week.

    Nadège, rocking and rolling. I don't miss that about California.

    Bill, in obedience to the Loi de l'emmerdement maximum, we changed the money for our attic job a couple of months ago, when the euro was worth nearly $1.40. Now it's down to $1.20. That bad timing has cost us several thousand dollars.

    Judy, the dinner was for 5 people -- 4 Americans and an Englishwoman. The Americans who just arrived are fairly new friends. We met them a year or two ago, when they were here house-hunting. They are from California originally, but have lived in Arizona, Texas, Paris, and Scotland before.

    Evelyn, I guess some Californians get used to earthquakes, but I never did. Each one we had just made me more nervous about The Big One that was sure to be coming.

    Diogenes, from all the evidence I've seen, Mayor A. is an excellent cuisinière. Très inventive. Toujours des petits plats intéressants et délicieux chez elle.

    Nadège, I've never eaten those kinds of green leaves raw — with the exception of small, tender mustard leaves, which are delicious on sandwiches or mixed with other salad greens. I don't see why any of them would be toxic in any way, even raw. Let me know if you do it and if it's good. I think the young, tender leaves of all those would be best as salad greens.


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