31 August 2014


Des blettes. Swiss chard. It has many names, both in French and in English. We're growing some this summer.

(I guess it's prettier in color than in monochrome.)

And we are cooking some too. I like it with cream. And also with a little Dijon mustard mixed into the cream sauce.

It's a lot like spinach. Sometimes I think I like it better.

 Serve it with hard boiled eggs and steamed potatoes.

30 August 2014

Sépia et couleurs ensemble

Few words but several photos. Here are some contrasts in color and in sepia. First, the local soil, which is called terre à vignes. It's poor, as you can see. It's composed of heavy clay with a lot of chalky limestone in it.

We've struggled with the soil in our vegetable garden. We've been moderately successful in our efforts to improve it by tilling in a lot of compost every spring.

The local viticulteurs take another approach. They don't try (much) to improve the soil. They just plant a crop that thrives in it: grapes. They work under beautiful skies (sometimes) to nurture the vines.

The carpet of green that is the vineyard in August conceals uncountable bunches of plump grapes, including the ones below and thousands more.

There are of course green grapes for making white wines, and purple grapes for making red wines. Everything is ripening now and the weather seems to be improving. Vivement un beau mois de septembre.

29 August 2014

Life in...

...sepia tones. It's a setting on my camera, and Photoshop helps to improve the look of the results.

I didn't remember that the word "sepia" derives from the Greek word for marine animals of the squid family. In French, a related term is seiche [SESH], meaning cuttlefish. The ink called sepia is basically squid ink. It's dark brown, and not really black. Sepia-toned photos are rendered shades of brown rather than black, gray, and white. They give everything an old-fashioned look.

28 August 2014


I'm still struggling to enter text with this finger brace on. I realized yesterday that I also cannot manage handwriting. I can't hold a pen or pencil correctly. It's amazing how bothersome having to wear this splint is — and it's affecting just one insignificant finger on one hand. Unfortunately, it's my right hand, and I really am not ambidextrous. I have to wear the splint until October.

I just heard on the news that this August has been the wettest August in 50 years in northern France. Why am I not surprised? In Saint-Aignan, We've had at least twice the normal amount of rain since August 1, and it's been mostly light rain spread out over many, many days.

Anyway, it's definitely berry and fruit season right now around here. We've been cooking and eating many plums and peaches, thanks mostly to generous neighbors. We are watching the grapes ripen out in the vineyard. On my walks, I see a lot of blackberries on the edges of the woods. I also see a lot of black and red berries that I can't identify. I can take pictures of them, however.

27 August 2014

Unusual August skies

It's raining again this morning... what a strange month of August. Three photos, taken on one of the prettier days:

Above and below, I was looking toward the west not too long after sunrise.

Callie is looking skyward to determine if that's the sun or the moon she sees. If it's the moon, she'll want to chase it and bark at it. If it's the sun, she'll ignore it. It's the sun in this photo taken looking toward the southeast.

26 August 2014

Callie the collie

Callie is a "red" border collie. When we decided we wanted a border collie, we assumed we'd get a black and white dog. But we got Callie. She is 7½ years old now. Here's a view of her that I see very often. We take a walk in the vineyard every day.

Sometimes Callie follows behind me on our walk, but mostly she goes out ahead. Sometimes she runs along a parallel row in the vines. She basically knows our route, but she'll wait for me if we come to a point where I might choose to go one way or another — pour varier les plaisirs. Often I just let her lead.

Here's Callie as we get back to our yard. I snapped this shot through the leaves and branches of a tarragon plant that I have growing in an old plastic paint bucket. In the photo you can also see some lavender, some sage, two apple trees, the vegetable garden, the garden shed, and, in the distance, a plum tree that I planted a few years ago.

25 August 2014

Two Monday morning photos

Yesterday Walt went out with Callie for the morning walk. He came back to report that a big organized hunt — called une battue because the hunters "beat" the brush and undergrowth to flush out the game — was under way out at the top of the vineyard, to tune of cors de chasse (hunting horns) and the barking and howling of a big pack of hounds. We assume that the animals being hunted were foxes, which are a pest in local eyes.

The hunting dogs ended up penned in around the pond right out back. In past years they have dived in for a swim to cool down after their run through the woods that surround the vineyard. Yesterday the weather was far from toasty, and I didn't see any dogs taking a dip. I also don't know if the hunters bagged any foxes.

It was a pretty day, however, or at least most of it was. Low-hanging gray clouds rolled in late, but the rain held off. This morning skies are still gray and rain threatens, at least according to Natalie Rihouet, who is Madame Météo on Télématin.

Mme Rihouet's expression is interesting. Is she apologetic? Sympathetic? Embarrassed? Impish? Whatever... She is definitely wearing the red dress that the weather women are famous for, as was mentioned in comments here a few days ago.

24 August 2014

Ça caille

Over the past two weeks — and this is August! — the high temperature on our outdoor thermometer has hit 70ºF (21.1ºC) only four times. Otherwise, it's been in the 60s. Yesterday the high was 18.7ºC. That's between 65 and 66ºF. Autrement dit, ça caille. That means it feels freezing cold, considering that this is high summer.

Our lowest low temperature has been just slightly above 50ºF — 10.3ºC. Official weather service figures for Saint-Aignan have had the morning temperatures down into the 40s. It's supposed to rain tomorrow and Tuesday. Bon dimanche !

23 August 2014

Le jardin potager en août

August is winding down, and despite the chilly mornings and just faintly warm afternoons we're "enjoying" in Saint-Aignan, the garden is now producing tomatoes and cucumbers. It has already given us, and continues to give us, loads of green beans and summer squash. Before too long, we'll probably get a lot of winter squashes as well.

At least the weather has finally turned dry. Other local gardeners haven't been as lucky as we have. The area just 30 or 40 miles south of here got three times its normal amount of rainfall in July, while our rain totals here were just slightly above average for the month. Granted, the first two weeks of August were extremely wet, but the garden has prospered and a side benefit is that we haven't had to water it very much.

Rainy weather goes hand in hand with chilly weather in this part of the world. There's seldom a rain that feels warm. So everything dries out slowly, and lingering damp on gray days encourages the growth of mold and mildew that ruins crops like tomatoes and grapes. Many summers, it's not warm enough here for crops like eggplants or bell peppers. We'll see if our plants produce any in 2014. At least the garden is green.

By the way, I'm getting pretty good at nine-finger typing. Or, really, six-finger typing, since I type on the left side of the keyboard with five fingers, while on the right side my index finger does nearly all the work.

22 August 2014

Sittin’ and pittin’ with a splint

That title is ambiguous at best. I wasn't using the splint as a pitting tool; I was just wearing it on that finger.

I had taken a bag with me on my walks around the vineyard with the dog and filled it up twice with ripe plums. Nobody else ever picksthem. I sorted them by size and prepared them for the freezer. The finger splint didn't hinder me much.

The smaller plums were freestone varieties, some mirabelles (greenish-yellow) and some maybe quetsches (purple skins). I pitted them easily and arranged the halves on papier de cuisson on a baking pan for freezing. That way, they well be frozen separately and, when the time comes, we'll be able to take precisely the number of pieces we need or want out of the plastic bags I put them in after they were frozen.

The larger yellow plums were not freestone so I realized I needed to cut them up the way you cut a mango, slicing down on one side of the pit and then another. That was easy and I didn't waste too much sweet plum flesh. I had two trays of the large plums, and one tray of the small ones. We'll enjoy them over the coming months.

21 August 2014

Be careful making the bed...

...if you are in France, anyway. Here's some text about the injury called "mallet finger" that our American friend Ellen, a longtime Paris resident, alerted me to. If you have mallet finger:
Vous remarquez que vous ne pouvez plus étendre complètement l'extrémité du doigt. La dernière phalange reste fléchie, elle "ne repond plus". Ces constatations suffisent pour faire le diagnostic de "mallet-finger" ou « doigt en maillet » par analogie avec le maillet du piano. Cet accident est très fréquent au cours d'activités sportives (ballon, sports de combat) ou professionnelles. Mais le plus souvent, c'est en faisant le lit, au moment où l'on glisse les draps sous le matelas.

La perte de l'extension de la dernière phalange est due à la rupture du tendon extenseur. Lors d'un mouvement de flexion forçée du doigt (choc d'un ballon ou accrochage du doigt à la face inférieure du matelas) l'étirement brutale du tendon entraîne sa rupture. Le plus souvent, cette rupture fermée ne s'accompagne ni de douleur ni d'ecchymose, et c'est la constatation de la déformation du doigt qui fait le diagnostic.
The finger splint — an elegant design. What does it look like to you?

I used Google Translate and then cleaned up the English a little bit — that let me avoid a lot of typing:
You will notice that you can not fully extend the finger tip. The last joint remains bent down; you have no control over it. This fact alone is sufficient to validate the diagnosis of "mallet finger" (by analogy with the mallets in a piano). This kind of injury is very common during sports activities (ball games, combat sports) or in the performance of work tasks. But more often, it happens to someone who is making up a bed and tucking the sheets around and under the mattress.

Loss of extension of the distal phalanx is due to rupture of the extensor tendon. During a forced flexion movement of the finger (a ball impact, for example, or jamming your finger on the side of the mattress), abrupt stretching causes the finger tendon tendon to rupture. Most often, this internal rupture entails neither pain nor bruising, and it's the deformed finger that confirms the diagnosis...
So as Ellen told me, maybe the details of my accident are an indication that I am truly becoming integrated into French society.

20 August 2014

A Zucchini and Sausage Tart

Preface: This is a post I put together last week, before I injured my finger and got the splint...

Here's another idea for zucchini season: une tarte aux courgettes avec saucisson et oignons. All the ingredients go in pre-cooked (or at least blanched) so it doesn't have to stay in the oven very long. You can make it ahead of time and then put it in the oven half an hour or less before you're ready to serve it.

The first step is to sauté some onions slowly in a frying pan on top of the stove. They need to cook for 30 to 45 minutes at low temperature. To help them along, add half a cup of white wine or water after the onions have browned slightly. I also added a tablespoonful of honey and a couple of bay leaves to the pan for flavor.

The second step is to blind-bake the pie shell. Put the pan with the pastry in it into a medium oven for 20 minutes or so, or until the pastry is lightly browned.

While all that is going on, slice a zucchini squash thinly and blanch the slices in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes to soften them. Scoop them out of the boiling water into a big bowl of cold water to stop the cooking, and then transfer to a colander to drain.

Finally, cut a pre-cooked sausage into thin slices. Here in France, I bought a saucisson à l'ail or garlic sausage that is sold cuit, or completely cooked. It is made by a company in Fleury-les-Aubrais, just outside the city of Orléans. The label says the sausage is 97% pork, with the garlic for flavor and some egg white as a binding agent. It's very firm and it's easy to slice thinly with a sharp knife.

Now everything is cooked, at least partially. To put the tart together, spread the cooked onions on the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange the sausage slices on top of the onion, and the zucchini slices on top of the sausage. One other ingredient is some grated cheese on top — parmesan or comté or cheddar — whatever you like. Bake the tart for about 20 minutes or until it is hot all the way through and the cheese on top has melted and browned.

19 August 2014

The splint, or “finger sandal”

Here is the thing I have to wear on the ring finger of my right hand for the next 6 to 8 weeks — yes, six to eight weeks! I can't really type, so I might not be writing much before the first of October. Enjoy the silence.

The splint or brace — une attelle [ah-TEHL] in French — looks a little like a sandal for my finger, seen from the side. I'm glad I don't have to wear a pair of them, one on each hand. Then I really would be out of commission.

18 August 2014

Good tomato news from the garden

Dry (but cool) weather has finally moved in, replacing the constant rains we had through July and, expecially, through the first half of August, here in Saint-Aignan. Fears that our tomato crop had been ruined were unfounded, however. Here are a few photos I took out in the garden yesterday morning.

I think the trimming of lower leaves on each tomato plant that Walt did when we first noticed some blight on the tomatoes was effective. Cutting off the leaves close to the tomatoes helps the fruit dry off more quickly after rain or a heavy dew, and slows down the growth of mildew and other champignons by improving air flow.

Not only are the majority of tomatoes out there healthy-looking, but quite a few of them are starting to ripen. If the weather remains dry for a few more weeks, and warms up a little, we will have a big crop, as you can see. Remember, there are 36 tomato plants out there.

I don't know if the brown coloring on the tops of the tomatoes above  is an indication of blight or just the way this variety of tomato ripens. I hope it's the latter. Again, if the tomatoes stay fairly dry and get some sunshine on them, a little bit of the blight won't matter too much.

These are some so-called tomates longues that Walt grew from seed and planted this year. We're looking forward to trying them, and it appears that the two in the center of the photo above will be ripe in just a few more days.

P.S. My finger condition has a name. It's called "mallet finger" (« le doigt en maillet ») and it does need treatment right away. I have to go get a finger splint and wear it for six weeks! That's my task for today. Thanks to reader Marilyn for sending me an e-mail with the above links in it.

17 August 2014

Le roi Bertie

I seem to have broken, sprained, or dislocated a finger on my right hand. Un accident est si vite arrivé... The injury makes typing problematical. So here's a recent photo. It's Bertie the Black Cat on his favorite perch.

15 August 2014

Tacos ou « wraps » de poisson

A couple of weeks ago an American friend who lives down the road a few miles mentioned that she was going to make fish tacos for lunch the next day. That idea stuck with us and a few days ago we made our version of the same thing. We were inspired by recipes published by Rick Bayless (a Chicago chef), Ricardo Larrivée (a Montréal chef), and Jamie Oliver (who needs no introduction), among others.

We had to adapt everything to work with the ingredients we had in the kitchen and pantry. The fish was cod fillets (2 of them), and we added a few shrimp (just 8) for color and flavor. We also added corn (half a cup), since the tortillas we had were made from wheat flour, not corn meal. These were plate-size tortillas, not small taco-size ones.

The basic recipe is this. Sauté some sliced onions, garlic, and hot peppers briefly in vegetable oil. Add the fish fillets to the pan along with the shrimp and some corn kernels. Squeeze in some lime or lemon juice. Actually, we used a banana pepper we grew last summer and had pickled in vinegar, and we used some of the hot pepper vinegar instead of citrus.

Cover the pan and let the fish cook through, briefly. Then just turn off the heat and let the fish and shrimp finish steaming in the hot pan with a lid on it. Cut the shrimp up before you cook them, and then break up the fish roughly when it starts to flake and is just barely done. Those are the hot ingredients for the tacos or wraps. We had enough to make three large wraps — the equivalent of six tacos.

The other ingredients are tomatoes, avocados, lettuce, and cilantro. The three photos above show the process. Put the fish/corn mixture in the taco shell or on the tortilla, add diced tomato and avocado, add a few more drops of citrus juice or hot pepper vinegar, and then top it all with lettuce and cilantro.

If you're using tortillas, heat them up slightly in the oven or in a skillet before you fill them — wrap them in a damp kitchen towel and microwave them for 30 seconds, for example. That softens them so that you can roll them up to make un wrap (pronounced [VRAHP] in French). If you make tacos, you can use either crispy or soft tortillas. Serve the tacos or wraps with sour cream or crème fraîche and salsa or hot Louisiana or Mexican pepper sauce.