31 January 2014

Improved views, and fewer power outages

Having wide, unobstructed views like having big windows to let daylight in — are pleasant perks at this time of year, when gray skies and rain are our lot in life. As you know, our hamlet's overhead electrical feeder wires were replaced by an undergound cable a couple of months ago.

If you can see the patch of black dirt in the center foreground of this photo taken from one of our our back windows, you know where one of the the ugly concrete utility poles stood.

The old wires were strung up on tall concrete poles, two of which were located on the western edge of our property, marring our views of the Renaudière vineyard. Now the poles have been knocked down — sawed off, really. They are history.

One man sat at the controls of a pelle mécanique with the business end pushing the pole in the direction where they wanted it to fall, while the other man sawed the pole off close ground level.

In this deal, we made out like bandits. We didn't have to pay a single centime. We got rid of two unsightly poles. And we don't have to worry so much any more about power cuts caused by falling trees pulling down overhead wire or lightning striking transformers hanging on poles during storms. Both of those things happened in 2010 and 2011, leaving us without electricity for days at a time.

30 January 2014

Mexican “lasagne”

This time of year, when most of the color in my environment is found inside the house — especially in the kitchen — or on TV and computer screens, I entertain myself by taking pictures of the food we make and eat every day. I really believe in turning one of life's necessities — the daily meal — into a hobby and a pleasure. Especially if you don't otherwise work for a living.

Yesterday, we were going to make Tex-Mex style burritos for lunch. I had some cooked beans in the freezer, and some cooked rice in the refrigerator. I had pulled pork, which is a more than a little like Mexican carnitas, in the downstairs freezer. (You could use cooked and spiced ground beef.) It was easy to make some salsa with a can of tomatoes, some chopped onion, and some hot sauce (pureed cayenne peppers, also in the freezer). And to add in a little can of corn.

We had a package of what are called « wraps » — pronounced [VRAHP] in French — on hand. They are large-size Mexican tortillas that we get from the supermarket, and they're good. Trouble is, they're not quite large enough to make a decent burrito, like the ones we used to get from restaurants in San Francisco. So I came up with the idea of making a layered casserole or gratin with the ingredients we had ready to go. Layered like a pan of Italian lasagne.

A layer of rice and cheese, a layer of beans (black-eyed peas in this case) and meat, and then another layer of more rice and more meat, and finally a cheese-covered tortilla on top, and you've got it. You just have to be careful that everything is wet enough but not too wet, so that the tortillas will cook but not get too soggy. And that you have salsa and spices like chili powder, cumin, and Mexican oregano in the right amounts throughout. We'll get two good meals out of our "lasagne" and enjoy them both.

29 January 2014

A view from the kitchen window

Maybe it's the loneliness as much as the wet weather that's making this seem like a very long winter. Out of the kitchen window, we can see (or almost see) five houses strung out along the road that goes down toward the village. Doesn't it look calm and quiet? That's because it is.

Sunrise out the kitchen window

All these houses, including the one directly in our line of sight, are empty at this time of year. The owner of one house died last summer. Another house has owners who live most of the time in Blois, and still another has owners who spend most of the winter in their apartment in the Paris suburbs.. A fourth house is empty and for sale. And the fifth is also owned by people who live in the Paris area.

Sepia-toned views seem more realistic than color photos this winter.

The house we see out our back windows is also empty in wintertime. In the photo above, the femme de ménage (the cleaning woman) has parked her car in the yard across the street. She comes in to clean two mornings a week, even though the house is empty and has been since September. I can't imagine what she does over there for eight hours a week.

28 January 2014

J'ai trouvé des gaudes !

I found bags of French corn meal. (It doesn't take much to get me excited.)

A few years ago when I published a blog topic about cornpone (!), a recipe for which I got from my Illinois friend Harriett, my Parisian-American friend CHM wrote a comment and told me about a French version of corn meal called « gaudes », pronounced [GOAD] as one syllable.

Normally, corn meal in French is « semoule de maïs » (corn semolina) or just « farine de maïs » (corn flour) — « maïs » [mah-EESS] being what we Americans call "corn" and others might call call "maize". Coming from the U.S. South, I'm more than familiar with — I grew up on and continue to cook and enjoy — things like grits, cornbread, cornpone, and hushpuppies.

In Italy they call corn meal polenta and in eastern France, in the area known as Franche-Comté, people call it gaudes. It's made into a bouillie — in other words, the corn meal is boiled in water — and served with butter and milk. In English, some people call that "gruel" — not very appetizing — or "porridge". I call it "grits". The word gaudes apparently derives from a German term.

In his book The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, the Franco-American chef and TV host Jacques Pépin, who comes from eastern France, describes a meal served by a woman on a farm when he was a child. He and his family were getting ready to relocate themselves from their home in town and go live on the woman's farm for the summer:
...the farmer's wife heaped dinner on the table — literally. She slopped spoonfuls of a yellowish brown porridge, called gaudes, not onto plates or bowls, as we ate it at home, but directly into hollows carved into the wooden tabletop. We gathered around as the farmer's wife poured cool, raw milk over our gaudes. With no further ceremony, we all sat down and dug in. The gaudes were thick and smooth and had the salty, slightly nutty taste of the roasted corn flour from which they had been made.
The directions on the package explain how to make the gaudes into "porridge" or grits. It also says that you can "flour" fish with gaudes before frying it for better flavor and crispness, and that you can use gaudes to replace part of the flour in cake batters for good flavor. I already do all that.

I was out shopping yesterday when I found the bag of gaudes. I bought two bags (2 kilos). I keep corn meal in the freezer, and I try always to have a supply. I can buy it at certain shops and supermarkets in the Loire Valley, but not everywhere.

Corn meal was on my list yesterday because I was running low. I'm glad it was. This time, I was over in the town of Selles-sur-Cher, ten miles upriver from Saint-Aignan, where there's a Belgium-based chain supermarket called Colruyt that has a strong presence in the Franche-Comté region. I haven't opened a bag of gaudes yet, but maybe today....

27 January 2014

Une vie en noir et blanc

We might see a little bit of sun today, but that will be the exception to the rule. I've decided to post some black-and-whites of our village in honor of the season. Actually, these photos are slightly sepia-toned.

We are spending our 11th winter here in this little hamlet outside Saint-Aignan. Last winter was long and dreary, and this one seems to be competing to see if it can outdo the last. The newer looking house in the photo above is ours. It was built in the 1960s by people who planned to retire here from Paris.

The house in the photo above is distinctly different in style from the others in the hamlet. It's built of gray stone, with battleship gray metal shutters. The people who own it (I assume) come in fairly regularly but for short stays. Last summer they did a good amount of work in the yard and around the house.

The house above has bright red shutters now. Its owner also comes to the hamlet fairly frequently for short stays — except that she spent a whole month here last summer. She's been having a lot of work done on the house, including putting in a new kitchen and a new bathroom.

The vineyards come right up to our property lines. The tall tree in this photo is in our yard, and it's the tallest tree in the area. The smaller tree on the left is an old apple tree that's being taken over by mistletoe. There's Callie running down a row of vines. The ground is absolutely slushy right now — not with ice and snow, but with splashy mud and slippery muck.

26 January 2014

“Boiled” lamb

Yesterday I did something very strange in the kitchen. I boiled — simmered, really, or poached — a boneless piece of leg of lamb. Yes, instead of roasting the lamb in the oven, I put it in a pot of boiling broth and let it cook for 40 minutes. It's not the same thing as boiled meat, though.

In France, this kind of cooking is called « à l'anglaise » — English-style. You can cook potatoes or green beans à l'anglaise, for example — boiled in a larg quantity of liquid. Since I consider myself to be English, at least ethnically, I figured it would be an appropriate way for me to cook a roast of lamb. In France, there's a similar method of cooking beef in simmering liquid that's called « bœuf à la ficelle » — "beef on a string." So why not make « agneau à la ficelle »?

 A boneless, tied lamb roast from the leg

I didn't use a whole leg of lamb, but the shank end of a leg (or gigot) that had been deboned and tied up as a roast. I read in cookbooks and on the Internet that a gigot à l'anglaise should simmer for 12 to 18 minutes per pound in broth or water. The piece of lamb I had weighed two pounds, so I figured about 30 minutes of simmering would do the job. It turned out that 40 minutes was better.

The poaching liquid was a light beef and vegetable broth in which I had cooked turnips, rutabagas, carrots, and onions.

You want the meat to be between rare (saignant) and medium (rosé), not well-done, when you slice it. That's the same with "beef on a string" or, in this case, "lamb on a string." Why is it called that? Because in theory you tie a loop of string around the meat and tie the other end to the pot handle such that the meat is suspended in the simmering liquid and never touches the burning hot bottom of the pot.

It looked like... well... boiled meat. No surprise there.

You can accomplish the same thing by putting a wire rack in of the pot that will keep the meat a centimeter or two from the bottom. That's what I did. Would I make gigot à l'anglaise again? Maybe. It was good, but certainly no better than an oven-roasted lamb roast. We ate the lamb, which was done rosé or medium, with some ratatouille (zucchini, eggplant, tomato) and steamed rice.

But it was good to eat, cooked just to medium or rosé, with the ratatouille liquid as a kind of sauce.

I'm sure this method of cooking a beef or lamb roast originated in the days before people had gas or electric ovens in their kitchen. People in France like to tell about their ancestors taking a roast or a casserole to the baker's shop in the afternoon, when the bread was all cooked, and having their dish cooked in the baker's oven, which stayed hot for hours. In villages, there was often a communal oven (called un four banal) where village residents could take their roasts, casseroles, or pies and cook them. I know all this existed, but I wonder how many people actually did their baking or roasting away from home like that.

25 January 2014

Notaires et testaments

Yesterday Walt and I went to town for an appointment with the local notaire. In France, a notaire is a contracts lawyer who is licensed and appointed by the government to deal with "legal instruments" like last wills and testaments, deeds, and marriage contracts.

This Wikipedia article explains how the the notarial function in France and other Roman-law countries differs from the function of a "notary public" in common-law countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, including this introduction:
Civil-law notaries, or Latin notaries, are lawyers of noncontentious private civil law who draft, take, and record legal instruments for private parties, provide legal advice and give attendance in person, and are vested as public officers with the authentication power of the State.
Unlike notaries public, their common-law counterparts, civil-law notaries are highly trained, licensed practitioners providing a full range of regulated legal services, and whereas they hold a public office, they nonetheless operate usually—but not always—in private practice and are paid on a fee-for-service basis.
[Civil-law notaries] often receive the same education as attorneys at civil law but without qualifications in advocacy, procedural law, or the law of evidence, somewhat comparable to solicitor training in certain common-law countries.
The purpose of Walt's and my visit to the notarial office was to find out how to go about drafting a legally binding testament in France. It turns out to be very simple in our case, because each of us wants to designate the other as his sole heir (or légataire universel).

It turns out to be a very simple process. We each have to write out our last will and testament by hand following this template or modèle that the notaire gave us:
        Je soussigné, Monsieur [prenoms NOM, profession] marié à [lieu] le [date], demeurant à [adresse], né à [lieu de naissance] le [date]
        Révoque toutes dispositions testamentaires antérieures,
        Et institue pour mon légataire universel Monsieur [prenoms NOM], demeurant à [adresse], né à [lieu de naissance] le [date].
        En cas de prédécès de ce dernier, l'ensemble de mes biens reviendra à [prenoms NOM], demeurant à [adresse], né à [lieu de naissance] le [date].

        Fait à [ville]
        Le [date]
After we have written out and signed the two testaments, we just put them in envelopes and include a check for 30 euros with each. That fee covers the registration of the wills in a French national registry and their storage in the notarial office's safe until they are needed. (I thought it was going to cost more than that.)

I had also thought that what we would need to do was sign a donation au dernier vivant (a.k.a. une donation entre époux) but the notary assured us that the testament was the best solution in our case, because neither of us has any children.

24 January 2014

One down and two to go

Yesterday afternoon I went downstairs and looked out the back window. To my surprise, I saw that the first local utility pole to go was already history. I hadn't even heard the crew working out there. Walt was watching tennis on TV, and he hadn't heard anything either. The undergrounding saga had entered into a new phase.

Good riddance — bon débarras ! That's what we say. The big old concrete pole was just plain unsightly. There's another one on the other corner of our back yard that we'll be glad to see gone, too, and a third one in the middle of a parcel of red-wine grapevines out on the north side..

It's surprising that we didn't hear any sawing or hammering. The pole-removal crew obviously left a stump. Maybe they'll come back and dig it out one day. Until they do — and whether they do or not — we can live with it.

23 January 2014

Unsettling news, but forewarned is forearmed *

L'époque est difficile. Les temps sont durs. Ça va mal pour beaucoup de gens. That's the tone of the news this morning. Unemployment is high, and people are feeling the pinch. As a result, crime is on the rise. In Paris and other big cities, there are more and more purse-snatchings on the streets and in the metro, and even armed robberies and holdups. Out here in the countryside, the biggest problem is burglaries. Tout le monde en parle. It's the lead story on this morning's Télématin news segments.

So many houses in the French countryside and even apartments in Paris are occupied for only a few weeks or months out of the year that they become easy targets for burglars when nobody's home. There are a lot of hamlets and villages where half or more of the houses are only occupied for short periods of time — they are what are called résidences secondaires. We're happy that ours is occupied 99.9% of the time, and we try to keep an eye on our absent neighbors' houses. We know quite a few people who have houses around the region that they use only for infrequent short stays.

The news says burglaries — cambriolages — of French vacation apartments and houses are up 10% in the cities and 17% out in the country. Just the other day, when I went to get my hair cut by the new barber in the village, she told me that somebody had tried to break into the bar-tabac across the street from her shop. The burglar or burglars didn't manage to get in, but they irreparably damaged the shop's back door, which needed to be replaced at a cost of more than a thousand euros. Amélie the barber also said her boyfriend's car had recently been stolen, and told me stories about recent robberies in Saint-Aignan.

When we moved into this house, there was a primitive sort of alarm system. There were also signs in some of the ground-level windows warning potential burglars that the house was piégée — booby-trapped (2002 photo above). One day early on we opened the wrong door without thinking, and an old siren up in the attic started blaring. It wasloud enough to be heard a mile away. Since we planned to live here full time, we permanently disabled the alarm and eventually threw the siren out. In other words, the current crime wave is not exactly a new problem.

* "Forewarned is forearmed" = « Un homme averti en vaut deux. »

21 January 2014

Le Petit Déjeuner du chat

What does your cat eat for breakfast? Do you just call it cat food? We call it that, but the company that packages and sells it here in France has more specific ideas. And isn't it nice of them to put a picture of Bertie the Black Cat right on the package?

This morning, for example, Berti enjoyed lapin — that's rabbit — for breakfast. He obviously really likes it. Whenever the package of rabbit comes out of the box of 24 packets, I remember our neighbor telling us about how he saw Bert prancing across his yard one day with a little rabbit in his jaws. He'd been hunting. Bert opened his mouth to meow bonjour at the neighbor and the rabbit got away.

Another flavor of cat food that Bert gobbles down on a regular basis is poulet haricots. That's chicken with green beans. There are actually recognizable little bits of green bean mixed in with the reconstituted chicken, all in an appetizing sauce. Other flavors are volaille carottes — turkey (or fowl, anyway) with bits of carrot — or truite saumon — trout and salmon. Such is the diet of a domesticated and pampered French cat.

20 January 2014

Cheesy bacon-olive loaf

It's been a while since I've made or blogged about savory cakes (breads, really), which people in France like to serve at cocktail time, or l'heure de l'apéritif. That's the glass of wine or distilled spirits that people enjoy before dinner to stimulate their appetite.

Often the apéritif and accompanying foods can stand in for a full dinner when you want to do something informal and convivial. Here are a couple of examples: one with chicken and dried tomatoes, and another with ham and olives. A slightly more elaborate cake of the same kind is the « pounti » from the Auvergne region, made with prunes and Swiss chard.

This example is what's called a "quick bread" leavened not with baker's yeast but baking soda (bicarbonate de soude) or baking powder (levure chimique). It's simple to make and the cake or bread just rises in the oven rather than in a bowl for an hour or two before baking. You can add whatever flavor ingredients you want — in this case, I used half a cup each of cooked bacon, diced cheese, sliced pitted olives (green, black, or both), and diced roasted red pepper, along with black pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper.

Here's a recipe for the bread itself that I posted last June. You need three cups of flour, a tablespoon of baking soda or powder, and a teaspoon of salt. Mix those together, adding all the other dry ingredients so that they get coated with flour. That will keep them from falling to the bottom of the bread as it bakes. By the way, chunks of cooked chicken breast or ham could replace the bacon.

In a separate bowl, mix together one egg, a cup of plain yogurt, and half a cup each of milk and sour cream (or crème fraîche). Add three tablespoons of olive oil. Then fold the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture. Don't over-mix it — the dough, which will be very thick, should just barely hold together. Spread and press it into a couple of oiled and floured loaf pans or a big bundt pan and bake it for 45 to 50 minutes in a medium oven (180ºC / 350ºF).

19 January 2014

Sunny Sunday?

It could happen. Here's a photo of the Renaudière vineyard on a sunny January afternoon.

This shot was taken from the highest part of the vineyard, looking north toward our house and across the Cher River Valley.
You can click or tap on the image to see an enlargement.

18 January 2014

Le soleil !

Yesterday turned out to be what would pass for a beautiful day in late March or early April. We had sunshine all day, and mild weather. I didn't even need my heavy coat or my raincoat, just a fleece jacket, to go out walking with Callie late in the afternoon.

Le soleil change tout. The colors pop out at you. The gray is gone. When there's no overcast, you realize how much longer the hours of daylight are getting.

Even Callie seems to be in a better mood. She seeks out and finds the type of grass that she likes to nibble on. I ran into a neighbor out walking with his dog, and we both went on and on about how it really felt like springtime — especially since we had had a cold, soaking rain the day before.

I know Walt posted a photo of this dried up artichoke a few days ago. I caught it yesterday when the rays of the sun were lighting it up. With all the rain we've had, the grass out back is emerald green.

17 January 2014

J'ai la tête ailleurs

My mind is elsewhere. Carolina dreaming. I guess it's escapism. But it's more concrete than that. It's time for me to buy my plane ticket for my annual trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

My flight will follow the course of the famous Gulf Stream, the warm ocean current that makes the European climate liveable. But I'll be going "upstream" — and up in the air above it.

The Atlantic Ocean along the Carolina Coast (photos from 2002)

First, I'll take a train to Paris. Then I'll get on an airplane that won't touch the ground again (I hope) until it lands in North Carolina. There, in the biggest city and biggest airport in the Carolinas, I'll get on another plane and fly out to the coast, 300 miles distant. Even though the trip is a couple of months away, I can't stop thinking about it.

Much more water and sky than land

And I'll be in a place that's more water than land. It has French connections, at least in some of the place names. The county is named Carteret, after the family that help found it in the late 1600s. Carteret is also a town in Normandy, just across the water from the island of Jersey. I've been lucky enough to go to Carteret in Normany several times over the past 10 years.

One of the main landmarks in Carteret County is the lighthouse at Cape Lookout

Carteret County's oldest town, founded in the early 1700s — the county seat —  is called Beaufort (its original name was Fish Town). I'm not sure who it was named for, but there are several towns named Beaufort in France and around the world, and one is in the Loire Valley west of Tours. I think the two towns I'm talking about are "twinned" — sister cities. I haven't yet made the trek over to Beaufort-en-Vallée, which is 90 minutes from Saint-Aignan.

Fishing, both the sport and commercial varieties, are the region's traditional lifelines.

Finally, the body of water on whose shores I grew up — and my parents and grandparents before me — is called Bogue Sound. Bogue is a French word that has two or three different meanings, and I'm not sure how the name got attached to a body of water on the N.C. coast. Huguenots, probably, who sought refuge here centuries ago.

You just barely discern the low land that is Carteret County...

The day here in Saint-Aignan is dawning clear, and the moon was shining brightly when I got up this morning. But we've been having heavy downpours of rain, as Tim mentioned in a comment on yesterday's post. It's been too rainy for photography. So far, however, the roof over our kitchen is holding steady after last summer's repair — no leaking.

16 January 2014

January? Really?

It's beginning to look like we won't really have a winter this year. We've got the darkness, and we've got the winter rains, but we don't have any freezing weather or snow. The low temperature this morning is in the mid-40s F, and the high will be around 50 (10ºC). Is it really January?

This will be the second year in a row without any real wintery weather, if the current conditions stay with us. Last year we didn't have a cold winter at all, but we had a very long stretch of rainy, chilly days and nights. We and a lot of other people had to buy more heating oil in March and keep the boiler going until mid-May.

The photos above were taken just a few miles north of Saint-Aignan in mid-January a few years ago. This is what things look like here again this year. No ice, just a lot of water and a lot of birds.

15 January 2014

Soup's on

Turnip, rutabaga, carrot, corn, red bell pepper, collards, onion, diced ham, diced chicken, and brown rice. I had all these things in the refrigerator, so it was time to make soup. Never throw anything away... if you can possibly help doing so.

There's always a container of broth lurking in the freezer. This time is was what I'd call "pot liquor" — the liquid left after you've cooked greens. This was a by-product of cooking a mess of collard greens and I had saved the "liquor" and a few stray leaves specifically to use as a soup base. And then over this past weekend I poached and  roasted a chicken for Sunday dinner, so that gave me several liters of chicken broth plus half a cup or so of diced chicken. The ham was half a slice left over from recent pizza-making.

The turnips, rutabagas, and carrots were already cooked — left over from a recent lunch of confit de canard (slow-cooked duck). Turnips and rutabagas (yellow turnips) are especially good with duck — blanched and then sauteed in duck fat. Carrots are good with just about everything. The corn came out of a can, and the roasted red pepper was the last one out of a jar of them that we had bought at the supermarket.

Much chopping and dicing was required, but the only soup components I actually had to cook on soup day were the brown rice and the onion. They simmered in the broth while I sliced and diced all the pre-cooked ingredients. Then all those went into the broth just long enough to get good and hot. Those are cilantro leaves (feuilles de coriandre) floating in the soup, but they could have been any other fresh herb, added at the last minute.

14 January 2014

A farm

The area south of Saint-Aignan is farm country. You don't see vines and vineyards down there. I guess it's just too far from the climate-moderating influences of the  Loire and Cher rivers.

This farm is located about 10 miles south of us, on the road between Orbigny and Nouans-les-Fontaines in the Indre-et-Loire département. I've seen horses there.

13 January 2014

Fine weather for kale and collards

We have decided that our kale crop has outstripped our expectations. And the collard greens, too, have exceeded expectations. The weather has been perfect. We had a short cold snap in the first half of December. Frost and light freezes sweeten the greens. And for about a month now, we've had above-freezing temperatures in the morning and afternoon highs in the high 40s and high 50s (8 to 14ºC). Greens love to grow in that kind of weather.

Kale cooking...

I went out and harvested a big basketful of kale just a few days ago. We took the youngest, prettiest leaves, washed them thoroughly, and then coarsely chopped them with a big knife. We sauteed them in a chef's pan, uncovered, with two crushed and chopped cloves of garlic, a little olive oil, some salt and pepper, a splash of white wine, and a pinch of hot red pepper flakes. The cooking took about 10 minutes, and the result did not disappoint.

I cooked the rest of the kale leaves — the tougher ones — the way I've always cooked collard greens, according to family tradition. But I didn't really season them much this time. Salt, pepper, oil, and again a splash of white wine with some water. I let the greens "stew" in the little bit of liquid for 20 to 30 minutes. The leaves still had a slightly crunchy texture when I took them out of the pan, let them cool, and packed them in a quart container for the freezer. We'll likely cook them some more when it comes time to eat them, and season them with duck fat, bacon fat, or chicken broth. We'll see.

...and kale cooked

You can be sure we'll be growing more kale and collards in our French jardin potager next year and for the foreseeable future. On the markets here, and in the supermarkets, we can get Brussels sprouts, several kinds of cabbage (green, savoy, red), endives, and plenty of other leafy green vegetables. But the kale and collard greens we have to grow if we want them, and we do. Unless the weather turns a lot colder over the next month or two, we'll get another good-sized harvest of collard greens before spring arrives, and more kale.

12 January 2014

La Pounière, Saint-Aignan, France

I think this is one of the most picturesque hamlets or farms in the Saint-Aignan area. It's about two miles from our house, just on the border between Mareuil-sur-Cher and Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, on a dead-end road.

It's been a few years since I've driven up into La Pounière. Looking at Google Maps and Bing Maps, I've just discovered that there's a winery up there. It is owned and operated by Eric Boucher and its name is — surprise — Domaine de la Pounière, with a sales and tasting room near the entrance of the Beauval zoo. There's a good excuse to drive up and have a look around. And Monsieur et Madame Boucher also own and operate a gîte rural (holiday rental) that can accommodate four to six people and rents for between 350 and 650 euros/week depending on the season.There's even a swimming pool.

11 January 2014

Recovery mode

Today is the first day since last Monday when I haven't needed to be in the car and on the road by 9 a.m. I'm relaxing, and enjoying going back through some old pictures of our little village outside the town of Saint-Aignan.

On Tuesday, I had to take the car in for a repair and then go to the supermarket. About the car, a month or so ago the driver's side rear view mirror got broken. Long story... It took my mechanic that long to find me a replacement mirror, what with the holidays and other complications. But he didn't yet have it on Tuesday, so I wasted my time that morning. Or maybe not — he needed to take the broken mirror off my car and make sure he knew exactly what model the replacement mirror needed to be.

The village church seen from the cemetery

On Wednesday, we had to go to Tours, which is about an hour's drive each way. Over the holidays, we had our marriage certificate, issued by the State of New York, translated into French by a court-licensed translator. The translator, an Englishwoman married to a Frenchman, needed to see the original certificate before she could put her official seal on the translation. We decided to drive it over there rather than put it in an envelope and mail it because we didn't want to risk losing it. We took advantage of the trip to do some shopping over in the big city.

The cemetery and the church tower in a wider view

On Thursday, the mechanic had finally located a mirror. I had an appointment to get my hair cut at 9 a.m. by the woman who recently took over Mme. Barbier's hair salon in the village. As soon as I got out of the barber's chair I headed back to the mechanic's garage, over on the other side of the river. This time the repair got done and my car is back in business — pretty much as good as new.

At the end of October, people set out many pots of  'mums on the tombs

On Friday we had to go to Romorantin (a 40-minute drive each way). We needed to go to the big Centre Leclerc "hypermarket" over there for a few things, including a SIM card for a cell phone. This morning we'll need to figure out how to get the phone working. We've had the telephone itself for a few years (thanks E and L) but have never used it before. We have decided to jump feet-first into the 20th century...

To me, with my quiet life of blogging, cooking, and walks in the vineyard with Callie the collie, all this qualified as a whirlwind of activity. It'll take me all weekend to recover, and next week I'm going to be much lazier.

10 January 2014

Le bureau de tabac

The bureau de tabac is one of the hubs of village life in France. Tobacco products are a government monopoly in France, and cigarettes, for example, are sold only in state-licensed shops. The buraliste — the owner-operator of a what's called un tabac [ta-BAH] — usually also operates a bar or café on the premises. You can buy lottery tickets, postage stamps, phone cards, and tax stamps (to pay a traffic fine, for example) in the shop.

Currently, this is the only café in our village. If you want an espresso or a beer or a glass of wine while you're out and about, this is the place. The owner also sells newspapers and magazines, and on Wednesdays — the one day a week when the village's only boulangerie is closed — the tabac becomes what is called a dépôt de pain, selling baguettes and other breads supplied by a bakery in a neighboring village.

09 January 2014


On the western end of the village, in the Cher river valley, there often are broad fields of red poppies in spring and early summer.

This kind of poppy is called a coquelicot [ko-kli-KOH] in French. It's can become invasive under some conditions, and its seeds are said to be mildly toxic to livestock if they get mixed into the animals' feed. The poppies are kept under control by pesticides.

I hope that the brilliant color in these photos well help brighten up a gray winter day.

Our January temperatures are still nearly 10ºC (that's 15ºF or more) warmer than normal. This morning the temperature is +11ºC (low 50s F) instead of the +1 or 0ºC we would expect at this time of year. Last winter was exceptionally mild too, so I guess we are in a pattern.