31 October 2012

La saucisse de Morteau

Continuing my Franche-Comté theme, here's some information about a smoked sausage from that region. It's a big fat log of a sausage resembling a salami that's made in and around a town near the Swiss border in the Jura mountains, Morteau (pop. 6,600). In Lorraine and Alsace, and now all over France, Morteau sausages are served traditionally with sauerkraut (choucroute garnie).

I've adapted and translated this section from the official Saucisse de Morteau web site:
Since ancient times in what is now the Franche-Comté region of eastern France, people have preserved meats by salting and smoking them, in order to survive in the hard, cold climate of the Jura highlands. This ancient curing technique developed alongside a tradition of fattening hogs with the whey that was a by-product of  local cheese-making (Comté cheese is another local specialty).

Even in Antiquity, cured and smoked meats made by the Celtic people of this area were exported not just to other parts of Gaul but all the way to Rome, where they became popular. Smoked pork from towns  including Morteau, Montbéliard, and Luxeuil came to be recognized as the finest products of the region.

But back to Morteau...

In the beginning was the forest. Smoked meats didn't become a local specialty by accident.

The history of sausage-making in and around Morteau goes back at least to the 16th century, when the people living on the highest terrain in Franche-Comté undertook to tame the extensive pine and spruce forests of the Jura highlands. They used their only valuable possession, wood, to build their farms, to heat their houses and cook their food, and to cure meats in the smokehouses (called tuyés in the local dialect) that were a main feature of their farmsteads.

The Morteau sausage became an essential part of the local diet, especially for Sunday dinners and holiday feats. By the 18th century, Morteau sausages had been carried far and wide by merchants and travelers, and were enjoyed by people far from Franche-Comté.

The sausage-making tradition has been passed down over the centuries. Today, Morteau sausages are still cured in the traditional smokehouses of the region, the way they always have been, over smoldering pine, spruce, and juniper sawdust. Even the big companies that make Morteau sausages nowadays follow the old local methods.

Nearly 4,000 tons of Morteau sausages are produced annually, and the business is a mainstay of the local economy.

In January 2007, the name saucisse de Morteau was granted protected status in France, and in 2010 it was awarded the European IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) label, meaning only sausages made in Franche-Comté by traditional methods and using locally produced pork can carry the name. Local people have formed a trade association to make sure that the sausages labeled as Morteau are of the highest quality.

Morteau sausages are cured but not cooked in the smoking process. The best way to cook one is to poach it is gently simmering water for 40 minutes. Don't prick it. If you live in France and eat meat, don't miss out. Cook a saucisse de Morteau as part of a pot au feu of beef and vegetables, or serve it with mashed or fried potatoes and a salad as a wintertime lunch. And don't forget the Dijon mustard.

30 October 2012

A cake called a « toutché »

I was surfing around on the web yesterday morning when I came upon a site — a blog — where I found a recipe for a French cake I'd never heard of before. It's called a toutché (I've also found it spelled toutche without an accent, or even touché without the second T) and it's a specialty of the area called La Franche-Comté in eastern France.

A toutché cake, from the Franche-Comté region of France

I have no idea where the name comes from or what its derivation might be. Since we were having friends over last night for a light dinner, an apéritif dînatoire, and I had the whole day ahead of me, I decided to make a toutché that we could serve as dessert. The blog where I first found the recipe, Tout le Monde à Table, describes it like this:
[Cést] un délicieux gâteau avec une pâte levée briochée et un goumeau à base de crème et d'oeufs qui répond au nom patois de « toutché ». On l'appelle aussi gâteau de fête ou encore gâteau de ménage. Il peut être en version sucrée comme en version salée.It's a delicious cake made with a leavened brioche-type pastry and a custard filling made with cream, eggs, and sugar, and it is called a toutché in the local dialect. It's also called a party cake or a home-style cake. It can be made either sweet or savory.
Here's the recipe, which I've translated and adapted. By the way, our friends from California really liked it and both asked for a second helping.

– The Pastry –
2 eggs
1 cup milk, lukewarm
2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. melted butter, lukewarm
4 Tbsp. sugar
4 cups flour
1 packet of baker's yeast

– The Cream Filling –
2 eggs (or 2 egg yolks, if you prefer)
1 cup of heavy cream
3 Tbsp. sugar

To make the pastry, put all the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer in the order listed. Mix the dough for five minutes and then let it rise in a covered bowl for about 2 hours. (You can also make the dough in a bread machine.)

When the dough is ready, spread it out to fill a non-stick cake or pie pan that's been dusted with flour.

Make the cream filling by mixing the eggs (or yolks) into the cream. Stir in the sugar. (Some recipes call for a little vanilla or other flavoring to be added to the filling.)

Using a fork, make a half-inch raised border around the edges of the dough in the baking pan so that the cream filling won't run off. Pour the filling onto the dough.

Cook the cake in an oven pre-heated to 180ºC / 350ºF for 25 to 30 minutes. The top should brown lightly. Sprinkle on some sugar while the cake is still hot from the oven. Serve at room temperature.
This kind of cake isn't very sweet by American standards, but the brioche-type pastry is very tender and tasty. My toutché dough didn't have a high enough lip around the edges so the filling spread over the whole top and some ended up inside the cake after it cooked. No matter — it was still very good, and looked nice.

Next time I'm planning to make a savory toutché, putting no sugar but a little salt in the cream filling, along with some cooked lardons (chunks of smoked bacon or ham).

29 October 2012

Fall colors

Early on a foggy morning one day last week, the maple trees out front showed off their burnt orange color. The summertime furniture is still out on the terrace but it's not getting much use these days. Everything needs to be brought in.

Autumn at la Renaudière, outside Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher

The weather turned cold and clear for the weekend, with widespread frost Sunday morning and a temperature just barely above freezing at ground level. The sky is clear, but I'm in a fog because we changed from heure d'été to heure d'hiver Sunday morning. It's amazing how hard it is to get used to a one-hour time change.

28 October 2012

Shrimp, chard, and noodle soup with coconut milk

Here's a good way to use fresh chard. We have an abundant crop of it right now. You can do the same thing with spinach. We also picked the last of our red bell peppers and few days ago, and they went into the soup too.

Here's the setup: chard, rice noodles, cayenne peppers, coconut milk,
ginger, bell pepper, onions, and garlic.

If you can get fresh shrimp, that would be ideal. Here in France, I have to buy frozen shrimp, and it's not that easy to find uncooked shrimp. I get them at Asian shops and supermarkets (in Blois or Tours, in this region.) One way to get good flavor is to peel the shrimps and then boil the shells for five minutes in the broth you are going to make the soup with. Strain the shells out when you add the broth to the cooked vegetables.

Let the greens cook down with onions, garlic, ginger, and bell pepper.

Just writing about it at 7:00 a.m., and seeing the pictures, is making me really hungry. If you can get some fresh basil to flavor the soup with, well... tant mieux !

Shrimp and vegetable soup with coconut milk

12 oz. fresh spinach or chard leaves
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, diced or pressed
2 Tbsp. chopped ginger root
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
fresh basil, thyme, and/or rosemary
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1½ cups coconut milk (a 400 ml can)
1 dozen medium-large shrimp (about 10 oz.)
2 cayenne peppers, chopped
4 oz. rice or wheat noodles
salt and black pepper to taste
lime juice

Wash the spinach or chard leaves and cut them into strips. (I had three large chard leaves and used the ribs as well as the green parts.)

Heat the vegetable oil in a big pot and sweat the onion and garlic on low heat for four or five minutes. Add the red bell pepper, ginger, and greens and let all cook down on low heat for another four or five minutes.

Pour in the broth and the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and let the soup simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles until they are just done and reserve them in a bowl of hot water. (You can use spaghetti or other pasta, or you can use Asian rice or wheat noodles.)

Add the shrimp and chopped cayenne peppers to the soup. (You can seed the peppers before chopping them, or chop them seeds and all if you like spicy food. You could even use Tabasco, harissa, or dried cayenne pepper instead of fresh peppers.) Bring the soup back to the boil. Lower the heat and let it cook at a gentle simmer for another five minutes, until the shrimp are just done. Drain the warm noodles, add them to the soup, and serve. Squeeze in some fresh lime juice at the table.

27 October 2012

More Chémery photos and information

This again isa mix of photos that I took a month ago along with some that are eight years old. I went back into my archives to try to find more pictures of the château de Chémery, and especially of the little bridge across the moat on the west side of the château.

It's not easy to find pictures in my archives because I have tens of thousands of photos filed by date only. To find the pictures I wanted, I had to figure out when I was at Chémery, in other words. And the easiest way to do that was to try to remember when friends visited, because going to see châteaux is something I often do with visitors.

The top photo of the three above is one I took last month, showing the little bridge in question.
The next two date back to October 2004. Friends were here from California.

There's a history of the château de Chémery on the town of Chémery's web site. It says, among other things, that not much is known about the château's distant past because all the records and archives were burned at the time of the French Revolution. It's clear that the château was always part of the domain of Saint-Aignan, the text says. The Roche-Aymon family, owners of the château de Saint-Aignan, finally sold it in 1970.

If the photo above looks slightly distorted, that's because it's a composite that I "stitched" together,
combining two shots that I took last month.

And finally, this one is not a composite.

And who did the Roche-Aymons sell Chémery to? The mother of the French singer-songwriter Alain Souchon, the text says. She wanted to turn it into a résidence secondaire (second home).  When Souchon became successful in the music business in the mid- to late 1970s, he bought the Chémery property from his mother with the idea of restoring the château. He gave up the idea in the early 1980s and sold the property to its current owners.

This one of Alain Souchon's most famous songs. I'm posting this version
because the video shows the lyrics as the song plays.

If you live in France (or even if you don't) and you're not familiar with Alain Souchon's songs and recordings — well, you should be. The first time I ever heard him sing live was at the Olympia theater in Paris at Christmastime in 1978. I've learned more French from listening to his songs than from just about anybody except maybe CHM and all the people I spent three years with in Paris 30 years ago. I've heard stories from local Saint-Aignan people about Souchon spending time around here back then, shopping at the market on Saturday mornings.

26 October 2012

Le château de Chémery

Here's another château, even closer to Saint-Aignan than Fougères-sur-Bièvre, Chambord, or Chenonceau. It's in the town of Chémery, which is on the road between Contres and Selles-sur-Cher, just 15 kilometers (9 miles) northeast of Saint-Aignan. Instead of elegant and grand, Chémery is rustic and fairly small.

The château de Chémery is privately owned.

Chémery, unlike Chambord and Fougères, is not owned by the French government but by a couple who live in it and who have been working to restore it for about 30 years now. They operate a B&B (chambres d'hôtes) in the château and rent out reception rooms for parties and meetings. I've never actually been inside, but I've walked all around the outside and taken photos many times.

The Château de Chémery's web site says that there were fortifications on the site as early as the 12th century, replaced by a small château in the 13th. Other wings and buildings were added on in the 15th and 16th centuries, along with renovations. In 1729 the owners of the château de Chémery converted it into a working farm.

The moat and bridges — after the dry August and September
we had this year, the moat was nearly dry a month ago.
I bet it's full now though...

The architecture is a mixture of medieval and Renaissance styles. The château is still surrounded by its moat, and there are two little bridges for access to the buildings and courtyards. When I was there a few years ago in summertime, the moat was full of croaking frogs. For years there were big holes in some of the rooftops where the framing had collapsed and tiles had fallen in.

When I looked at these photos that I took a month ago, I searched my blog to see how many times I had posted photos of Chémery since 2005. I was surprised to find just one or two pictures. Here I'm posting five more.

25 October 2012

Fougères/Bièvre bis

Here are a few more pictures I've taken at Fougères-sur-Bièvre over the past 12 years. Some of these date back as far as the year 2000, while others are from September 2012.

The first time I ever heard about the château at Fougères-sur-Bièvre, it was from my old friend CHM, all those years ago. He said it was worth a visit, and it was (and is). CHM has been our best guide as we've explored France over the past 20 years.

On a whirlwind tour of the Loire Valley 12 years ago, in one week Walt and I visited Fougères along with Chenonceau, Chambord Chaumont-sur-Loire, Montrichard, Mennetou-sur-Cher, the château du Moulin, Chinon, Loches, Saumur — as I said, we were like a tornado blowing through.

For that whirlwind tour, we based ourselves in a gîte rural in Vouvray for the week. In June 2001, we came back and spent two weeks in the same vacation house. And it is because of those experiences, more than any other factor, that we ended up living in the Loire Valley almost 10 years ago.

At Fougères-sur-Bièvre with friends visiting from Zurich in October 2003, we admired the château's vegetable garden (photo above, taken through an old window with wavy glass). When we decided to devote part of our back yard to growing vegetables, Walt remembered the pattern of four garden plots at Fougères, and that's how he laid out our own jardin potager. (Too bad our house isn't quite a castle!)

The house above — the gatehouse at Fougères — isn't really like the one we live in, but it is typical of houses in Touraine in style and look. Those houses and the gardens, more than the enormous châteaux, are what attracted us to the Loire Valley, and Touraine specifically.

24 October 2012

The château at Fougères-sur-Bièvre

Fougères-sur-Bièvre is a village just south of Blois, 20 miles north of Saint-Aignan, and the site of a 15th century château that is fairly unusual in the Loire Valley. It dates back to the years before the great Renaissance castles were built (in the 1500s), and it's in an older style.

The medieval-style château at Fougères-sur-Bièvre, near Blois

The château at Fougères-sur-Bièvre (not to be confused with the bigger town of Fougères in Brittany) looks medieval and seems to have been built so that it could easily be defended. In fact, by the time it was built (1450-1500), this part of the world was basically at peace. The Hundred Years War had ended several generations earlier.

The château is in the middle of the small village of Fougères

So the château at Fougères-sur-Bièvre was already an anachronism when it was built more than 500 years ago. A similar place, built around the same time but in brick, is the Château de Moulin, 25 miles to the southeast. (Here are two links, One and Two, to posts about that château, with photos.) One other difference, in addition to the building material used, is that Moulin still has its moat, while at Fougères the moat was filled in 150 years ago. Also, Moulin is out in the woods near the town of Romorantin, but Fougères is right in the middle of the village.

The Cadogan guide calls the courtyard at Fougères-sur-Bièvre
"wonderfully atmospheric" with its mixture of architectural styles.

The Château de Fougères was used as a mill in the 19th century before being turned into a poor house in the early 20th century. The French government acquired it in the 1930s. The Château du Moulin is still privately owned — or at least it was the last time I visited a few years ago. The woman who owned it was quite elderly and was living there (at least part-time) as late as 2005.

23 October 2012

Seedy, but tasty

I've never seen seedier eggplants. I don't know why. Was it the variety we bought? Because we did buy them from a plant nursery as seedlings rather than growing them from seed this year. We didn't have a seed packet to give us information about the type, size, or number of eggplants we could expect to harvest.

Seedy but tasty eggplant slices, oven-roasted

And they were small. Small is not always worse than large, of course. We got small fruit, and a small crop. Blame the weather, I guess. It was very rainy at the beginning of the growing season, for two solid months. Then it was very dry for two months — August and September. Finally, it turned extremely rainy — again — in October. The three-week deluge is just ending now. October has been one of the wettest months in 10 years.

Gratin d'aubergines au fromage et à la sauce tomate

So a few days ago I went out to the garden and harvested all the eggplants at the same time. There must have been 12 to 15 of them — two or three per plant — and as I said they were small. Not long and skinny, but small and plump. They also seemed very hard to the touch, so I was afraid they might not be ripe. Some of them weren't deep purple in color, but kind of a green-tinged blue.

Really, it's not surprising that the eggplants didn't produce prolifically this year. Almost none of the fruit-bearing plants did. We had basically no apples. There were few cherries. No walnuts. The 2012 grape crop is exceedingly small, according to what some of the local vignerons have told me. On the other hand, we did get a few pears, and the neighbors had a tree full of little mirabelle plums. The big exception to the rule was our tomato crop, which was terrific. We are happy about that, because a lot of people I've talked to say they hardly got any tomatoes at all.

This was pretty much the entire 2012 eggplant crop (from six plants).

Yesterday, I decided to cook all the little eggplants we had into a kind of eggplant parmesan with some lasagne noodles, topped with cheesy breadcrumbs. The first step is to slice the eggplants and put the slices in layers in a colander, salting each layer. Let them drain for an hour or longer, and then rinse or wipe off any excess salt. I rinsed them.

Arrange the slices on baking sheets lined with oiled parchment paper and brush the top surface with olive oil. Bake them in a hot oven until they start to brown a little on top. I think the result is better than frying, and I don't bread the slices. Olive oil, salt, and pepper — that's all that goes on them.

Slices of mozzarella cheese go on next...

When they came out of the oven yesterday, Walt and I decided to taste one to make sure the eggplants weren't too bitter to eat. If they were, there would be no need to waste cheese and tomato sauce on them. But they weren't. The slice we tasted was good, so I started to put the gratin together. That's what eggplant parmesan, or even lasagne, is, really — a gratin of eggplant with cheese and tomato sauce.

Put a thin layer of tomato sauce into a baking pan, and top it with a layer of eggplant slices. Over those, put a layer of mozzarella cheese, and then some lasagne noodles. Salt and pepper as you go, adding some dried herbs (thyme, oregano, and/or rosemary) as you go. Make a second series of layers on top of all that, the same way.

This when the parmesan/breadcrumb mixture goes on.

Finally, instead of putting on more lasagne noodles or mozzarella, make a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese. In a big bowl, drizzle olive oil onto the breadcrumbs, stirring so that they all get moistened with some oil. Spread that mixture on top of the gratin and bake it in a medium oven until it is golden brown — 30 to 45 minutes.

Our entire 2012 eggplant crop made exactly one dish of gratin d'aubergines.
It had better be good!

22 October 2012

Menars, Mme de Pompadour’s château

After we spent some time at Chambord one afternoon a few weeks ago, we drove up to the banks of the Loire to see the picturesque village of Saint-Dyé and to take in the view of the nearby Château de Menars, which was owned in the late 1700s by the famous Madame de Pompadour. This morning, I happened to find an old New York Times article (1987) about Menars, so I'll quote from it for this post. The author is Paul Lewis, then Paris correspondent for the NYT, and here's a link to the full article.

Menars “is very different from the other, better-known Loire chateaus. It was built later than most of the other great houses. It is also smaller and lighter in style. Menars is no rival in magnificence, or historical association, to the white arches of Chenonceau that Catherine de' Medici built across the waters of the Cher or to the turrets of Chambord that reminded the French writer Chateaubriand of a girl's hair flying in the wind...

The Château de Menars, on the Loire near Blois and Chambord

“The chateau today is almost exactly as Madame de Pompadour left it at her death in 1764. It survived the revolution intact and, more miraculous still, escaped the attention of 19th-century improvers...

“The first chateau was built at Menars in 1642 as the residence of a rich wine merchant. In 1760 this house was bought by Madame de Pompadour, then at the height of her power and wealth. Of humble birth, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson had married Charles Guillaume de Normant, a wealthy tax collector, before she won the affections of Louis XV, who ennobled her and showered her with gifts and riches.

“A woman of considerable accomplishment as well as great beauty, Madame de Pompadour could sing and play musical instruments, loved painting and dancing, studied botany and ornithology, took a keen interest in architecture and gave her patronage to Voltaire. For the last four years of her life she poured her energies, her taste and her fortune into Menars, transforming the chateau into one of the most perfect examples of 18th-century French architecture left in the country.

Madame de Pompadour slept here in the 1760s.

“With the help of the court architect Ange Gabriel, who designed the Petite Trianon at Versailles and the Place de la Concorde in Paris, she added symmetrical wings on each side of the original building, redecorated the inside in a lighter, more airy style and laid out the present-day gardens.

“When criticized for her extravagance, Madame de Pompadour was unapologetic, replying, ‘They all make fun of my lust for creating, this madness which enables so many poverty-stricken peasants to buy their daily bread. I derive no pleasure from viewing my hoarded gold. It must be distributed.’”

21 October 2012


Montrésor, Montpoupon, Chenonceau, Amboise... and Chambord. You can't do a two-day tour of the region around Saint-Aignan without going to Chambord.

I know, people who know the area well will groan... "Chambord again?" Well, there's the blasé attitude. I can't count how many times I've been there over the years. But every time there's a little thrill — especially if the weather is sunny and the crowds are not too thick.

Chambord is the biggest, most elaborate château in the Loire Valley.

The site where French king François Ier had Chambord built, starting in 1519, had been occupied by a fortified château built 200 years earlier. And there had been fortifications there in even earlier times. The nearest city is Blois — an ancient capital — and the last will and testament of on of the counts of Blois, Hugues II, mentions a bridge over the Cosson river at the same spot in 1307.

 A "forest" of chimneys and towers, somebody said...

King François started construction at Chambord early in his reign, and when he died in the mid-1540s the work was still not finished. (What house is ever really finished?) François never actually lived at Chambord, and for more than a century after his death Chambord was neglected by the royalty. It was kind of a white elephant, I think, and was too remote even from Blois, 10 miles distant. Louis XIV, the Sun King, spent some time there, and Molière staged plays at Chambord for the king's entertainment.

During the Revolution in the late 1700s, extensive damage done to the château and the grounds. Another century went by. In 1930, the French government acquired the château de Chambord, and still owns it.

Chambord contains 426 rooms, 77 staircases, and 282 fireplaces. It sits pretty much in the middle of a walled-in park that is 50 square kilometers in area, or nearly 20 square miles. The wall around the park is 32 kilometers long — about 20 miles.

The château seen from a hotel/restaurant/café on the grounds

In all likelihood, Leonardo da Vinci had a hand in designing the château de Chambord. The old man came to France from Italy with young king François in 1516, but he died before construction began in 1519. The château's most distinctive architectural feature is, arguably, the grand double-helix staircase at the building center, and some believe Leonardo invented that.

20 October 2012

La Maison Bigot à Amboise

A couple of weeks ago France 2 television, the main public channel in France, ran a series of reports about the Loire Valley on its lunchtime news show. One day's report featured the Maison Bigot shop in Amboise. It's located near the château, on the pedestrian street called la rue Nationale.

A mixed fruit tart that we admired at the Maison Bigot

When we were over in Amboise (20 miles from Saint-Aignan) a few weeks ago, we took time to look around inside the Maison Bigot. The shop sells pastries and chocolates, and also has a little tearoom off the main space serving (mostly) hot drinks and pastries. I remember having tea and a pastry there back in 2003 with a friend from Rouen, when we were in the process of buying our house here.

On the right is a photo of Walt in front of the Maison Bigot that I posted a few days ago. Bigot is a common family name in this part of the Loire Valley region. It's pronounced [bee-GOH].

Amboise was the place we were most attracted to when we decided to look for a house in the Loire Valley back in 2002. I'm glad now that we didn't find a house we wanted to live in over there; the town is very busy, with buses bringing in loads of tourists to see the château and shop along the main street. From these photos, you can see that the town is very picturesque. It's worth a detour, as the Michelin Guide might say, to have a look around in Amboise, but living there... well, I'm not sure.

A selection of savory quiches on display in the windows at the Maison Bigot

Amboise also has one of biggest open-air markets in the Loire Valley. It sets up down by the river on Friday and Sunday mornings, and the market too is a sight to see — especially on Sundays, when there are dozens or scores of food vendors selling local specialties, and also many stalls selling housewares, furniture, clothing, and a wide assortment of merchandise of all kinds. If you go, plan to get there early, before it gets so crowded that you can hardly walk around or see anything because of the crush of tourists and shoppers.

Views along the main street in Amboise

Amboise is an old royal town, and it's right on the banks of the Loire. There are big levees to protect the town from flooding. Leonardo da Vinci's house — the one where he spent the last few years of his life as the guest of French king François Ier — is just down the street from the château. There are troglodyte houses along that street — "cave houses" built into the side of a cliff.

The Maison Bigot will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2013.

Macarons — cream-filled almond cookies — are all the rage these days.
These are available at the Maison Bigot in Amboise.

The Amboise area is a sub-appellation of the Touraine wine area, producing red, rosé, and still white wines. Just down the river is Vouvray, where some of the best white wines (of Chenin Blanc) in the Loire Valley are made. Amboise has a lot going for it, and it's a mainstay of the Loire Valley tourist circuit — deservedly.

19 October 2012

Chez le boucher à Amboise

In a butcher shop in Amboise... When Chris and Barbara were visiting, we decided to have a good breakfast and skip lunch. We left the house early enough to have time to walk around in Montrésor, at Chenonceau, and — it was an unplanned stop — in the streets of Amboise.

Because we skipped lunch, we definitely needed dinner that night. Amboise seemed like a good place to find something to cook without going into a big supermarket. And it was. On the main street, la rue Nationale, where there is foot traffic but which is closed to cars, Walt and I remembered that there was a boucherie/charcuteriea butcher shop combined with a delicatessen.

Poulets jaunes des Landes — farm-raised chickens from southwestern France

We were planning to go out to a restaurant for dinner the following night. We wanted something easy to cook but good to eat, and typically French. A chicken seemed to be the thing to buy, or a guinea hen (pintade). As it turned out, the chickens at the butcher's in Amboise were plumper and more appetizing than the pintades, so that's what we got. And I figured we could cook it on the rotisserie in our little oven, which is also a typically French way to do it.

We could have chosen the epigramme d'agneau (lamb ribs) on the left,
already cooked. Or the veal stew meat for a blanquette de veau
but that would have taken too long to cook.

Choosing a chicken was easy, but first we had to resist all the other temptations. French butcher shops and delis (charcuteries) are often full of beautifully displayed and luxurious cuts of meat, not to mention salads and and pâtés, along with pre-cooked dishes you can take home and just re-heat in the oven for a quick meal. We wanted to cook something, and it couldn't take too long because the day was winding down.

Veal specialties chez le boucherpaupiettes and roasts

Why did we want to skip lunch? Because when you're out touring around, lunch in France takes a big chunk out of the day — it's easy to spend two or three hours à table. And was the chicken good? Delicious, if I do say so myself. We stuffed it with a big bunch of fresh tarragon from the garden, along with a couple of crushed garlic cloves. It made a nice dinner.

18 October 2012

Hedge saga cut short

If you've been reading Walt's blog and mine for a few years, you remember the big annual hedge-trimming job, I'm sure. This year we cut it short, ha ha ha. Not the hedge, but the job. We hired it done.

 This photo of Walt's shows how massive the bay laurel hedge really is...

This year the trim was just the start of the job. The rest, according to Monsieur Barat the landscape contractor, needs to be done in March. That means two sections of the bay laurel hedge that will be cut down to a more manageable height and width, with chainsaws. The hedge is about 100 meters long, all told. The tall bay leaf bush in the corner (a laurier-sauce, they call it, because they're the kind of bay leaves you put in sauces, stews, and soups) and a long row of hazelnut trees will also be cut back pretty severely.

Smoothing off the top meant cutting off a lot of leaves and branches. Wet weather
in April, May, June, and July made the hedge really grow in 2012.

A tall, wide privacy hedge seems like a good idea until you are faced with the job of maintaining it. Now I think I wall or a fence would be a better idea. I wonder how many years of hedge-trimming fees it would cost to have a wall built. The fee this year for the trimming of just a section of the hedge and hauling away the debris was 400 euros.

This man trimmed the hedge and his helpers did the cleanup.

Monsieur Barat sent two men out on Monday afternoon, and then a third man joined them on Tuesday morning to finish the job. And I have to say they did a great job. The top surface of the hedge is really flat and even, and there is hardly a stray leaf left on the ground anywhere. They even hauled away a pile of debris and trimmings that we had left sitting on the path out by the back gate for several months.

Instead of doing back-breaking work, we just sat back and enjoyed the sunset.

The crew didn't really have to work in the rain, but it was touch and go. Monday afternoon was basically dry. It rained overnight, and the rain was just ending Tuesday morning at eight when the men showed up again. They said they would finish even if it rained that morning. It didn't, and they did. Finish, I mean.

A job well done...

I know you'll miss all the days and even weeks of pictures of Walt up on a ladder with the electric hedge trimmer and me with a rake and wheelbarrow cleaning up the trimmings. On our side, we'll make do with looking back at old blog posts and pictures, dreaming of the good old days when we broke our backs doing the job in September and October.