31 May 2013

...pas du tout entre les gouttes

Have you ever lived in a place with a leaky roof? It's not fun (you can ask Martine). Especially when nobody can figure out why it's leaking. That's our situation. In the 1990s, we had at least three similar experiences in San Francisco, by the way.

First you have to find a roofer — un couvreur, or "coverer." A talented, resourceful, and reliable one. Then you have to wait for dry weather. Or so says the roofer. We're on our third. The first one was very good when you could make contact with him and schedule a job, but that was not easy to do. In fact, it eventually became impossible.

Sopping wet towels and a pot to catch the water

He cleaned out the valley (la noue) between the main portion of the roof and the dormer over the kitchen, where there must be a problem with the metal flashing (zinc, zinguerie) under the tiles. Water doesn't flow down the valley the way it's supposed to. It backs up and comes flooding in just above the kitchen ceiling. Cleaning out the valley every spring worked for a few years.

The second roofer tried the same strategy. He didn't know what else to do. Water started leaking again. The second roofer disappeared. He never even charged us for the work he did, including a chimney-sweep. I went to his company's office in Saint-Aignan and tried to pay the bill, or get a bill from them. The woman in the office said she'd look into it and send us an invoice. She never did.

Last fall, the third roofer did a really job of fixing a problem with seepage and moisture around our Velux skylight windows in the new loft, which has started in 2010. Thanks to his ingenuity and his good work, we haven't had any leaking up there this year. He also tried to determine what was causing the leak over the kitchen and to fix it, but he told us that he couldn't guarantee anything as far as that problem went.

In fact, he said we shouldn't do anything about repairing repainting the kitchen ceiling for a year or so, because the leak might very well come back. And it certainly has. Nobody really expected it to rain so much, or to rain so hard the way it did yesterday afternoon and the way it has rained off and on for months now. Most rain in the Loire Valley is of the light, misty variety. What we've been having is hard downpours, repeatedly. Monsoon rains.

I called the third roofer again in March and he said he was very busy right then but he'd pencil us in. He never called back. I called him again last week, and to his credit he did call me back. I explained the problem one more time. He said he understood, and he has another solution he wants to try. But first it has to stop raining, he said.

Last night, as water fairly gushed into the kitchen out of a big crack in the ceiling, I went into pagesjaunes.fr, the on-line yellow pages, and found two new local roofers, ones I've never heard of before. They have e-mail addresses! So I sent e-mails to both of them (nos. 4 and 5), asking for help. (In French, of course. I don't know what you do in these situations if you can't write or speak French.) Please come inspect the problem, I begged. Try to find a solution. I'll pay you.

The good news is that we are supposed to go into a dry spell this coming week. In fact, it's not raining this morning (not yet). Maybe one of the three roofers I'm more or less in contact with will show up. At the very least somebody might put a tarp up on the roof to prevent further damage. The roof is just too high and too steep for me or even Walt to be able to get up there.

30 May 2013

...entre les gouttes

We were blessed by the weather gods yesterday. Nous avons réussi à passer entre les gouttes, as they say here — we "passed between the raindrops" without getting wet. We were invited to a retirement party by Jean and Nick down in Le Grand-Pressigny, an hour south of Saint-Aignan, and we sat out on their patio for most of the afternoon. Callie really enjoyed the outing, but poor Bertie had to stay home.

Bertie the black cat out in the sunny back yard a few days ago...

Clouds threatened all day, and there were one or two very brief, light sprinkles of rain. Otherwise, the sun won out and it actually got warm for a few minutes late in the day. Jean recently retired from a long career in the optical business in England. Yesterday, Nick was able to barbecue, and the 25 or so of us invited guests enjoyed a great buffet dinner with many delicious desserts.

...and Callie the collie too, but not on the same day.

Walt and I left Le Grand-Pressigny to return home at about 10 p.m., and as we got closer to Saint-Aignan it was obvious from puddles on the road and patches of fog that it had been raining here. It's raining again this morning, and it will be another damp day if we can believe the weather forecast. Yesterday's gathering and congenial crowd, added to the the time we spent outdoors in the afternoon, really lifted the spirits. Congratulations to Jean on her newfound freedom. Here's a link to her blog.

29 May 2013

2013 Tour de France: the local route

One month from today, on June 29, the 100th running of the Tour de France bicycle race will start in Corsica. Toward the middle of July the race will come through the Saint-Aignan area. Old friends of ours from Illinois will be here the same weekend (July 14 — Bastille Day).

I had visions of the peleton coming through our village and then through Saint-Aignan on its way from Tours down to Saint-Amand-Montrond, south of Bourges, on Friday July 12. Our village and both towns are on the Cher River. But it is not to be.

The route, now announced, goes a little further south. The peleton will ride through Azay-sur-Indre, Genillé (both near Loches), Montrésor, and Ecueillé on its local track. Those will be the towns closest to Saint-Aignan — 12 to 15 miles south of us — on the 2013 Tour de France route.

A couple of years ago the Tour de France rode through the nearby village of Orbigny, where American friends of ours have a house. We went there and sat by the road to watch the cyclists and support vehicles ride by. To see the blog posts, with photos and video, click here.

And here's the 2013 Tour de France web site in English

Walt just clicked the link above and told me out he could not find graphic descriptions of the different tour stages there. Click this link, then, to see graphics like the one at the right, listing each stage and the towns and villages the race will run through.

28 May 2013

Things growing

On Sunday I noticed that there are lichens growing on my car. Lichens, not just algae. There was algae — a green film along cracks and crevices — but I scrubbed all that off the one time I've been able to wash this car this "spring" (which I'll put in quotation marks because....).

This is our new view of the vineyard, now that the hedge has been cut down to size.

We've been leaving the car outside for the past couple of months. Maybe that was a mistake, because now lichens are growing on the driver's side rear-view mirror. And rain is pouring down again this morning. We had two nice days and got a lot of work done yesterday, however.

Le jardin potager is getting a late start this year.

The garden plots are tilled one more time. It was like tilling mud, and I had two or three kilos of mud stuck to my gardening shoes by the time I finished. The mud added a couple of inches to my height — and the shoes are not clogs.

The pond is fairly overflowing.

Walt planted winter squash seeds in one plot. The other plots are for warm-weather crops like tomatoes, eggplants, corn, zucchini, and beans. When and if we have some warm weather, we'll plant those. Unless we wash away first.

Today's weather forecast

As Walt just pointed out, we won't even be able to stay in the house and watch the French Open tennis matches today — there probably won't be any, since Paris looks just as rained out as Saint-Aignan.

27 May 2013

Que font-ils ?

First they did a radical pruning of the vines, removing every old cane instead of just most of them. Then one day they took down all wires that support the vines and grapes as they grow. This is a parcel in the Renaudière vineyard just a couple of hundred meters (yards) from our house.

And finally, one day they started taking out posts and leaning them up against the grape trunks. As you can see, they're stacked very neatly. What will happen next, we don't know. Neither one of us has been out walking when the work was actually going on, so we haven't been able to ask anybody. We are not even sure which vigneron owns and works this parcel.

Maybe they are going to take out these old grape stumps — though they are obviously not dead, because they're sprouting new growth — and put in new vines. Or maybe they are just going to put the support posts and wires back in place, refurbishing the parcel.

For comparison, here's a parcel of vines on the other side of the gravel road, with a view out to a separate vineyard called Les Bas Bonneaux. Again, look how green it is. We had sun yesterday, and we are having sun today, but tomorrow the rains return.

26 May 2013

Cinq photos de fleurs mouillées

I went out with Callie the collie yesterday morning and took a lot of springtime pictures. It was pretty cold out there, and sopping wet. Later in the day, it rained hard. There was a shower of sleet, which means a lot of ice pellets along with the rain. And it's cold this morning too — around 5ºC / 40ºF — but sunny. I'll take it.

See if you can recognize all these flowers that are blooming right now near Saint-Aignan.

25 May 2013

24 May 2013

Georges Moustaki 1934-2013

Imagine yourself as a 20-year-old college student from North Carolina in 1969. You find a way, with the help of a scholarship and your parents' generosity, to travel to France and spend a semester studying the language in beautiful, exotic Aix-en-Provence. It's your first life experience as a foreigner.

You've been studying and learning French in school for five or six years, but it's all still very unreal. You understand maybe a third of what anybody says to you. At first, you don't know anybody who speaks the language except the few professors who teach your classes. The family you "live with" doesn't offer meals besides breakfast, and often you sit alone in the kitchen in the morning with your coffee and bread. But soon you get yourself a little transistor radio.

You spend a lot of time alone, in fact, even though you also spend a lot of time with other Americans in your study-abroad group. You can't understand much of what you hear on your little radio, but there are a few songs that start to make sense. It becomes important to figure out what they are about. Other students in your situation "discover" them too.

The two singers who seem to be the most interesting are both named Georges — Moustaki is one, and Brassens is the other. Brassens writes complex songs with an unusual rhythm, accompanying himself on the guitar. His subjects seem almost racy and hard to wrap your mind around. He gives a concert in Aix and you actually get to go and listen to him sing and play the guitar, but you're still a little mystified. He seems so quintessentially French — southern French, not Parisian.

The Georges named Moustaki, though, writes simple, straightforward songs, not especially musical (sorry, Georges) and certainly not music hall or show business tunes, not even folk music, and definitely not rock'n'roll. And he's a foreigner too, born in Egypt but of Greek and Jewish parents. His songs are poetry, about abstract subjects like being a foreigner and an outsider — being different — and concepts like liberty, love, and solitude. Soon you can pretty much understand the words he's saying, or singing, and as a 20-year-old foreigner you can certainly relate to the themes.

Here are the words:

Pour avoir si souvent dormi avec ma solitude
Je m'en suis fait presque une amie, une douce habitude
Elle ne me quitte pas d'un pas, fidèle comme une ombre
Elle m'a suivi çà et là, aux quatre coins du monde
Non, je ne suis jamais seul avec ma solitude

Quand elle est au creux de mon lit, elle prend toute la place
Et nous passons de longues nuits tous les deux face à face
Je ne sais vraiment pas jusqu'où ira cette complice
Faudra-t-il que j'y prenne goût, ou que je réagisse ?
Non, je ne suis jamais seul avec ma solitude

Par elle j'ai autant appris que j'aie versé de larmes
Si parfois je la répudie jamais elle ne désarme
Et si je préfère l'amour d'une autre courtisane
Elle sera à mon dernier jour ma dernière compagne
Non, je ne suis jamais seul avec ma solitude
Non, je ne suis jamais seul avec ma solitude

Because these are chansons à texte, or poetry set to music, you start to hear the music of the language itself. The actual music — often just a guitar — doesn't get in the way. You become familiar with the sounds of the French language, the phrasing, the rhymes, the vowels and consonants and syllables. Not to mention the meaning and ideas. And these are very popular songs in France, so you know that all around you a lot of young or not so young French people are listening to and learning from them as well. You feel like you're part of it all.

Georges Moustaki died yesterday in a hospital in Nice, of respiratory disease. I bet he was a smoker all his life. So many of us were smokers back then, and many of us never quit. Moustaki was not quite 80 years old. Besides the songs and albums that he recorded himself, he wrote songs for other performers, including one of Edith Piaf's most famous ones, Milord.

« Allez, venez, milord, vous asseoir à ma table », he wrote and she sang, « il fait si froid dehors, ici c'est confortable ». Thanks to Georges Moustaki, I think a lot of us felt more comfortable in France.

23 May 2013


Jaune means yellow in French. Yellow and green are the dominant colors in our landscape right now. And especially since the sky is so resolutely gray.

This is the meadow where two donkeys graze from time to time. You can tell they haven't been out there recently.

By the way, the weather forecast for this afternoon says we should expect stormy showers with sleet or ice pellets.

22 May 2013

Basse-côte de bœuf au poivre

A cut of beef that I've started seeing in the supermarkets around Saint-Aignan and that I particularly like is called basse-côte. I think it might be part of what we call the chuck — as in chuck roast or chuck steak. It's really hard to compare cuts of meat in France and in the U.S. because butchering styles are so different in the two countries.

Week before last both Intermarché in Contres and a smaller market in Saint-Aignan called Coccinelle had advertised specials on basse côte de bœuf. At Intermarché it was going for a little less than seven euros per kilogram — that would be about four U.S. dollars per pound. At Coccinelle it was more like ten euros a kilo, or close to six dollars a pound. I don't really know how that compares to U.S. prices.

Basse-côte ("bottom rib") of beef coated with cracked pepper, pan-roasting in butter

I bought a package of six basse-côte steaks at Intermarché and froze them separately so we'd have them over the next month or two. Walt has grilled a couple of the steaks and they're very tasty and tender. We decided to have another one a couple of days ago, in the middle of our four-day rainy spell. Grilling was not really an option, but pan-fried steak au poivre with a cognac cream sauce was, and was it ever good! There's nothing like good, comforting food when the weather is lousy.

The basse-côte steak "marinating" in crushed black peppercorns

I used a mortar and pestle to crush some black peppercorns, which I pressed onto the surface of the meat. I left it to "marinate" for about an hour before panning the steak quickly in a hot skillet with a little butter. Then I put the steak in a warm oven to rest and wait while I made the sauce. The first step was to deglaze the frying pan with cognac, white wine, beef broth, or just water. Cognac gives the sauce a nice flavor, and concentrated beef broth gives it good flavor as well as a nice brown color.

As it cooked, the meat separated into its natural sections because the connective tissue more or less melted. It was cooked medium-rare.

Let the cognac, wine, and/or broth boil away so that the pan is nearly dry and then pour or spoon in a good quantity of cream (crème fraîche is what I used) — a cup or a little less, say, for a small steak. Adding a spoonful of Dijon mustard gives good flavor. A few drops of Worcestershire sauce wouldn't be wasted. And then let the cream reduce and thicken for a few minutes over high heat.

Take the steak out of the oven and put it in the sauce, turning it immediately to coat both sides with peppery cream. Serve it right away, before it has time to cook further. I like it rare or medium rare, so that it stays tender.

21 May 2013

Cold, gloom, and rain

"Oh god, it's pouring!" That's what I heard myself say just a minute ago when I looked out the kitchen window. There are puddles on the road, and in the standing water I can see that a hard, fine rain is falling. No matter — Callie needs her walk, and it's my turn.

Walt yells out from his office, where he's working on his computer. "The temperature is supposed to be in the mid-30s" — that's 2ºC — "on Friday morning!" Meanwhile, on the morning news I keep hearing that we're having November weather instead of our normal May weather. Crops are suffering. Sidewalk cafés are going broke. People are morose. Instead of spring sunshine, we have gloom.

Sunday afternoon from an upstairs window we saw this horse and rider out in the vineyard.
I think they were headed south. Pas bête comme idée.

Has the Gulf Stream stopped flowing? It's supposed to bring warm water, and therefore warm air, from the Gulf of Mexico across the Atlantic to temper the climate in this part of Europe. Somebody go check. I think the ocean currents have gone still. And another cold rain system is moving in from the north this morning.

20 May 2013

Asparagus with hollandaise sauce

Asperges blanches. White asparagus. That's what we get, locally, and only in season. It's a specialty of the Sologne — the triangle-shaped region bounded by Tours, Orléans, and Bourges — where the soil is sandy. You have to peel white asparagus spears before you cook them because they have a tough, fibrous skin. But peeled and poached, they are delicious.

We had asparagus with hollandaise sauce on Saturday. The sauce is finicky, but I got a batch to work. It's beaten and warmed up egg yolks made into an emulsion (like mayonnaise) with melted butter, lemon juice or vinegar, and some salt and pepper. The asparagus spears and the sauce are served warm, with a lot of bread. We have asparagus once a week during the season, which runs from April through June.

19 May 2013

Chard, tender and green

We got another half an inch (13 mm) of rainfall yesterday afternoon. It rained hard for hours on end. And it's supposed to rain again today and tomorrow. This is a holiday weekend, but people trying to take advantage of it by engaging in outdoor activities are out of luck. It's even been rainy down on the usually sunny Mediterranean coast.

Swiss chard from the garden cooked with schmaltz and chicken broth

Right now, rain and the soaking wet ground are preventing us from planting the summertime vegetable garden, but I did throw some hardy collard and kale seeds in an empty plot a couple of weeks ago. They have come up and we might get a good crop by mid-summer. Meanwhile, I harvested our crop of spring chard yesterday morning, before the rain started.

I planted this chard (called blettes or bettes in French) last August. Looking back at blog posts from October and November 2012, I see that we picked and cooked a lot of chard in the autumn, but the plants stayed in the ground. Our fairly mild (albeit long and gray) winter weather kept the chard going. Over the past couple of months, it has grown tall and green. Because of mild conditions, the ribs of the leaves are fine and tender. (Rain can be a good thing, I have to admit.)

Rhubarb, collard, and chard plants in the garden last September for harvest in fall, winter, and spring

I also had a row of collard greens growing over the winter, right next to the chard. I harvested those a month ago and we enjoyed eating them. Some, cooked, went into the freezer. Yesterday I quickly cooked the chard leaves, ribs and all. I seasoned them with some rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) and chicken broth, along with a couple of bay leaves and a good amount of black pepper. They'll be part of today's lunch.

18 May 2013

Le Mariage pour Tous validé en France

Le mariage pour tous — marriage equality, or "marriage for all" — became the law of the land in douce France this morning. The law, passed by the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat a few weeks ago, was validated yesterday by France's Conseil Constitutionnel and signed into law (promulgué, meaning published in the Journal Officiel) by Président François Hollande today.

A lot of people are obviously very happy about this development. Président Hollande campaigned on a promise of mariage pour tous in 2012, when he defeated Nicolas Sarkozy to become the first Socialist elected president since François Mitterrand (1981-95). A lot of other people say they are unhappy, and there was a demonstration against the new law in Paris last night. Another is planned for May 26.

France is the 14th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and the ninth country in Europe*. According to reports, couples married in other countries will be able to have their marriages "transcribed" or recognized in France. It'll probably take a few months for the government to set up administrative systems to get all that ironed out, but the first same-sex marriages in France could be performed as early as next month.

* The other European countries that have instituted marriage equality are (from north to south) Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal.

17 May 2013

Abri, cabane, cabanon...

I took a picture of our garden shed, and I was thinking about what a garden shed is called in French. I've heard at least three expressions: (1) un abri de jardin, meaning a garden "shelter"; (2) une cabane de jardin, meaning a "cabin" or "hut"; or (3) un cabanon de jardin, meaning a slightly larger construction.

I plugged all three of those expressions into a Google image search, and I got basically the same photos each time. I guess abri, or shelter, is the best term. A bus shelter, for example, can be called un abribus — which turns out to be a brand name.

Then I noticed a web page showing the abri or cabanon de jardin shown above. Wow. What would you do with such a structure? Why would you want one? I guess I just don't get it. Add on a tiny kitchen (un coin cuisine) and a small shower room (une salle d'eau) and you've got a nice Paris apartment.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of our cabane de jardin. It needs refurbishing, but it serves the purpose, which is sheltering the lawn mower, the rototiller, a couple of wheelbarrows, and various shovels and rakes. Not to mention a lot of spiders.

16 May 2013

A rainy day in Paris

Walt is off to Paris today. He has an appointment with consular services people at the U.S. Embassy to have some documents notarized. Do you know what they charge for that service? Fifty dollars for each notary seal that they put on a document. What does a notary charge in the U.S.? Add in the cost of the train ticket, and this becomes an expensive proposition. But it's necessary.

While he's spending the day in Paris — it takes nearly three hours to get there by train, and the same to get home again — he'll have lunch with friends from Seattle (Dean France and his wife Jean) who happen to be on vacation in Paris right now. And this afternoon he'll meet Ellen, an American friend who lives in Paris, at a café for a few minutes before getting the train back to Saint-Aignan. I think it's been a couple of years since Walt was in Paris last. We hardly ever go there any more.

My collard and kale seeds have come up in the vegetable garden.

There's some shopping to do in Paris, mostly for cooking utensiles. If Walt has time, that is. It's going to be a busy day. Oh, and it's supposed to rain in Paris all day. Showers, at the very least. I'll be staying here in Saint-Aignan with Callie and Bertie. We might have rain too here in Saint-Aignan, but there's less chance than in Paris according to weather reports.

Des figues

I know we talk a lot about the weather on our blogs (not just Walt and I do, but other bloggers in France do too). It's not just us, either. The weather is a big part of the news in France these days. Yesterday, a main segment on the national news was devoted to how chilly the month of May has been up to now. (Today, they are expecting heavy rains in southeast France, which is Nice and the Riviera, with the Cannes film festival going on.)

Des poires

Yesterday's news report pointed out that May 2007 was also chilly and damp, and May 2010 was chilly too. I remember 2007 well. That year we didn't really have any summery weather until late August. The vegetable garden was nearly a complete failure — especially the tomatoes. Here I am crossing my fingers for the 2013 summer and garden.

15 May 2013

En attendant le beau temps

Interminable waiting. En attendant temps beau, you could say. It's still too chilly to set seedlings out in the garden plots. Temperatures are well below normal for mid-May. Oh well, it certainly is green everywhere. Here's Callie on our walk yesterday afternoon.

Flowers are plentiful, as are birds and bees. Between the cuckooing of the coucou birds and the loud kwee-kwee-kwee-kweeing of the green woodpeckers, there's no need for an alarm clock. Bees and other bugs buzz all around.

Off in the distance, and sometimes closer by, we can hear the purring of tractor engines. As the vines start to green up, the manual labor of pruning is done and the mechanized work of plowing, fertilizing, treating, and trimming has begun.

It's another gray morning. The muted light is pretty against the green backdrop, but what wouldn't we give for a few more sunny, warm days?

14 May 2013

Tarte d'asperges au jambon

Walt made one of his famous ham and asparagus tarts over the weekend. As usual, it was fantastic. We got asparagus from our usual source — a vendor at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan who sells only locally grown asparagus and strawberries. Our region, La Sologne, is famous for both, and springtime is the season.

The local style of growing aspragus is to "blanch" it by covering the spears with sand as they grow. That way, sunlight (not that we've had an awful lot of that this spring) doesn't turn them green. It's the same asparagus as green spears, but the growing method gives the two different styles a different look and taste. White asparagus has to be peeled before it's cooked.

The custard under the ham and asparagus rolls is egg, cream, and grated cheese.

The ham came from our drive-up butcher truck, and it was especially good too. When Walt bought it from the butcher, he asked for jambon de Paris, which is what sandwich-style boiled ham is called in France — saying it's from Paris is a way of saying it's not country ham, which is dry-cured but not cooked. Anyway, the butcher laughed and said his ham is not "Paris" ham because he makes it himself over in the village of Thésée, just across the river. It's jambon de Thésée. Ha ha ha.

13 May 2013

Ce qui restait du poisson

I have an appointment with a doctor in Blois at 8:00 a.m. today. I'll be fine. I just have to leave the house at 6:45. I don't know what possessed me to make an appointment for such an early hour. Here I am at 5:20 a.m. on the computer.

And here's a photo of Saturday's celebratory fish, before it went into the oven. Walt posted a photo of it in its cooked state yesterday.

Here's what was left of it (for Bertie) that afternoon. We nearly finished it off, but we left a little bit for the cat. The title of this post means: "What was left of the fish."

I was surprised when the man at the market asked me if I wanted the fish « gratté » (scraped, scratched) instead of using the standard word for "scaled," which is « écaillé ». Maybe gratté in this context is some kind of professional jargon. Here's a web page in French that describes how to clean a fish.

12 May 2013

Saturday shopping

Walt and I had a pleasant and successful shopping trip yesterday morning. Our first stop was the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan, a regular Saturday event. Walking up to the market square from the bridge, it was slightly worrisome to see how many empty storefronts there are in the town these days. Several long-time merchants have closed up shop since last summer.

I don't know why a town that is home to a major national attraction — the Beauval zoological park with its pandas, and at least a million visitors a year, according to news reports — isn't prospering. People say the zoo attendees don't stay in local hotels or spend time shopping and dining in Saint-Aignan. It must be true. It's harder and harder for small shops to make a go of it.

Anyway, at the outdoor market we headed directly for the fishmonger's stand. It was just after nine o'clock, and the line of customers waiting to be served was not long at all. We got in line and looked at the selection of fish. Our idea was to buy and cook a whole fish, not just steaks or filets, so we examined the soles (26€/kg) and the seabass (called bars in French, and selling for 18€/kg).

We decided on a bar, and the one we got cost 15€. We had it scaled (gratté) and gutted (vidé). Otherwise, it was intact — head, fins, tail, and all. Bar has an excellent reputation for the quality of its flesh and its ease of preparation. We just baked it whole after filling the cavity with sprigs of tarragon, a couple of bay leaves, and a sliced garlic clove. We also used olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and a little white wine as seasonings.

But before coming home and cooking the fish, we drove up to Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, a wine village that has a cooperative that we like for the good wines and low prices. This weekend the co-op, known officially as the  Confrérie des Vignerons des Coteaux Romanais, is having its annual open house event.

It was still early in the day, so the tasting tables and food stalls were just being set up. Grape-growers and their employees who are members of the co-op were gathered in groups, planning their day's work. We saw several members of the co-op staff that we know, but they were too busy to stop and chat much. We had our 10-liter jugs filled with Gamay, rosé, and white vin de pays wines, and we bought ourselves a little carton (six bottles) of the local Chardonnay. The car loaded, we headed home. It was time to cook the fish, a nice head of broccoli, and some little new potatoes for our anniversary lunch.

This morning we'll need to bottle up some of the wine and get ready to cook lunch again — a ham-and-asparagus tart with white asparagus spears that we also got at the market yesterday morning.

On his way out the door with Callie a minute ago, Walt said he posted about the fish we bought, with a photo. I have some photos too, but I won't post any today at least. I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures at the market or at the wine co-op.

11 May 2013

Sur le mur...

...il y avait des glycines... That's an old Serge Lama song from the 1970s. Glycines are the French name for wisteria. We planted one a few years ago on the back wall of our house, and so far this year it is holding in place. Last year we had a wind and rain storm and the whole plant fell to earth. So we trimmed it and put it back up. It worked.

Right now the wisteria all around the Saint-Aignan area is blooming and beautiful. Yesterday afternoon I needed to go up to Contres, 10 or 12 miles north, and I enjoyed seeing many glycines in bloom along the road on houses, walls, and fences.

You might get the impression from theses pictures that the weather is warm and sunny. It is not. These three days, May 11, 12, and 13, are called « les saints de glace » in France — the days of "the saints of ice." On the weather forecasts, the presenters are telling us to expect chilly weather this weekend, and beyond. I had to turn the heat on yesterday morning, and I turned it on again a few minutes ago.

You can hear Serge Lama's classic song Les Glycines here...

The good news is that, according to the legend, it will supposedly be safe to plant tender new seedlings — tomatoes, etc. — outside in the garden this week, because the last danger of frost passes when the saints de glace are behind us. The last danger of chilly rain, however, never passes. That's a mixed blessing.

10 May 2013

Vieux, et jeune

It's May 10, and that's the first anniversary of Walt's and my marriage last year in Albany. Of course, we've been living together for 30 years, so we had plenty of practice before "the real thing" began. Until now, our anniversary has always been June 1, because we moved in together on that day in 1983. I'm sure we'll have a second celebration on June 1.

I don't think I'd ever noticed this graffiti on the maison de vigneron before. How old might it be?

I have obligations today — an important appointment this afternoon — so we've decided to have our celebratory meal tomorrow. We'll go shopping around the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan tomorrow morning and buy the makings for a nice lunch. Fish, probably, which we don't eat often enough. There's a very good fish monger at the Saturday market.

I think this must be a very old vine.

Yesterday, I took my camera out into the vineyard on the morning walk for the first time in a little while. Callie was very patient as I walked around slowly, examining everything in the environment, and taking quite a few pictures. She had time to sniff a lot of good smells.

Here's how a vine starts out nowadays. I wonder what the vignerons used to protect
young vines before plastic mineral water bottles became so common.

And I noticed some things I'd never noticed or paid much attention to before. Those agrafes I posted about yesterday, for example. The graffiti above. And some old, intricately twisted vines I've walked past hundreds of times over the past 10 years but had never focused on before. I guess it pays to spend some time and take a fresh look at familiar old things every now and then.