31 January 2017

Fougères in Brittany

Yesterday as I was cooking lunch, Campagnes TV was on and I was just vaguely paying attention to it. Then I glanced at the screen and saw video of an impressive château-fort that I didn't recognize. To make a long story short, that led me to go back into my photo archives and blog to see if it was this big fortified château that we saw in June 2006.

I was surprised that I didn't find pictures of the Château de Fougères on my blog. The point of our trip had been to go see the Mont Saint-Michel again, and I guess I was focused on that amazing site. Fougères is amazing too, however. It's said to be about the most impressive medieval fortress in France. For us, unfortunately, it was just a Kodak moment. My photo above is a stitched-together panorama showing the whole place. Click on it to see it at full size.

Fougères is a big town (pop. 20,000) located about 35 miles south of the Mont Saint-Michel, on the eastern edge of Brittany. It's built of the local granite and slate. The château-fort dates back to the 12th century, and was expanded in the 15th. In the 16th, at the time of the French Renaissance, king Henri II gave the château de Fougères to Diane de Poitiers of Chenonceau fame. And in the 19th century the novelist Honoré de Balzac, another notable figure of our Touraine province, spent time at Fougères doing research for his novel Les Chouans.

30 January 2017

What to expect

You never know, do you? A few days ago, our morning low temperatures were in the 20s ºF — as low as –6ºC. Even our afternoon high temperatures were below freezing. We were in the middle of a fairly long cold snap. Not now.

Jan. 30, 2010 — I can't find any photos indicating that this snow shower ever amounted to much.

Today, in fact, the temperature at 6 a.m. is nearly +9ºC, which is nearing 50ºF. So the thaw has arrived, and it seems fairly durable, as the weather people say. Problem is, it's supposed to rain all day, and maybe all week.

Jan. 30, 2012 — we were headed into the deep-freeze and would have the longest, coldest spell in years.

I just looked back a few years to see if I took any photos on January 30 back then. I found these three. It's obvious that the late-January weather here is highly unpredictable.

Jan. 30, 2014 — it looked like spring that year. Notice that the utility pole had been taken down, improving the view.

It'll be a rainy day today, and a cooking day for me. I'll be making braised beef (a thick slab of chuck roast) and carrots for today's rainy day lunch. I hope the weather doesn't repeat last year's pattern, with heavy winter and spring rains that can lead to severe flooding. Anyway, we actually need the rain because the winter has been pretty dry.

29 January 2017

Potatoes, and recalling a Baie de Somme flyover

A few days ago, I bought a 3 lb. bag of little potatoes that came from the Baie de Somme area in northern France. The label on the bag said they were good potatoes for sauteing, boiling, or steaming. That means they are firm, waxy potatoes that won't fall apart during the cooking process. The name of the variety is "Juliette of the Sands".

I also liked the artwork on the bag. The potatoes were excellent — I used some of them to make a gratin Dauphinois. I've posted about that way of cooking potatoes several times over the years. Potatoes, as you might know, grow really well in loose, sandy soil like that around the Baie de Somme. I'd post a photo of the Juliette des Sables spuds, but they look like... well, little brown potatoes, as you might imagine.

I've never been up to the Baie de Somme, but it's on my list. The bay, which is the sandy estuary of the Somme river, is located on the French coast along the English Channel, about half way between Dieppe and Calais — say an hour and a half from either city by car. It's also not far from Amiens (with its fantastic cathedral) and Abbeville, which are slightly inland.

All that reminded me that while I haven't yet driven up to the Baie de Somme to enjoy the maritime landscape and the seafood, I have flown over it. On one trip, in 2013, the plane I was on flew right over the bay as we took off from CDG airport north of Paris. The two villages on the edges of the ten-mile-long estuary are Le Crotoy and Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, each with a population of about two thousand.

I had a window seat and snapped some photos of the bay during the flyover. I posted about it at the time, with this very blue photo. The Baie de Somme area is a five- or six-hour drive from Saint-Aignan. Maybe I'll get there one day. I'm sure it would remind me of the area on the North Carolina coast where I was born and grew up.

28 January 2017

Shooting birds...

...with a little camera. Yesterday I was sitting in my chair in the living room, typing on my laptop computer, when I noticed several robins hopping around on the front terrace. They were eating the stuff the tit birds throw down when they are feeding on the suet balls hanging from the railing.

I sort of idly picked up the camera and snapped a few shots to see if the camera would be able to capture a clear image of one of these little birds. European robins are about the size of a sparrow. I was taking photos through the glass of  the doors that open onto the terrace.

Robins here are not at all the same species as the American robin, which is a kind of trush and is a much larger bird. What they have in common is their red breast.

The robin s were aware of me, and the one below seemed to be watching me out of the back corner of his eye. I was making the robins nervous, which is not hard to do.

This one suddenly jumped off the edge of the terrace and was gone. I decided to give the robins a break and let them peck around in peace after that.

27 January 2017

Vegetables to ward off the cold

It's not as cold this morning as it has been. The temperature is right at freezing instead of several degrees below. What makes you warmer on frigid day? I say vegetables. Including okra, if you can get it. In the U.S. you can easily find okra either fresh or frozen. In France, okra (on les appelle des gombos en français) is more exotic and harder to find.

Luckily, we have two sources for fresh okra within driving distance. Both are in the Blois area, 25 miles (40 km) north us Saint-Aignan. One is a corner shop called Asia Store, near the train station in central Blois. The other, south of town, is the larger Grand Frais supermarket, which specializes in produce that you don't find in the big, conventional supermarket chains.

I enjoy okra enough to buy it fresh in bulk quantities, trim the pods, blanch them in boiling water, and freeze them on trays so that they stay separate and I can take just out as many as I want for a meal. They thaw quickly when frozen individually that way. Then you can make specialties like Okra and Tomatoes, shown in the photos above. I've blogged about it before. Okra, strips of bell pepper, onions, spices, herbs, and canned tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes in summer) with a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar.... Serve it with rice, millet, quinoa, or wheat berries.

26 January 2017

Still nippy

I don't yet know if, this morning, our back yard looks like these photos from 48 hours ago. However, I do know that the temperature is 25ºF or lower. Our outdoor thermometer reads –4.5ºC, and it was just barely above freezing in the greenhouse when I looked in there an hour ago. In another hour or so, I have to go for a walk in the vineyard with the dog.

Yesterday we didn't have freezing fog but we had a good dusting of snow on the road and the ground until afternoon. Then it suddenly melted. Unfortunately, by 5 p.m. the temperature was back below freezing. We are not used to this kind of weather. Temperatures have been below freezing on 15 mornings this month. The last time we had such a long cold snap was in February 2012. (If you read the old post I just linked too, you will understand why we are happy to have had a new boiler put in last year.)

For days the French national weather service, MétéoFrance, has been predicting an imminent thaw, but it never comes. Now it's predicted to happen tomorrow, over the weekend, and all next week, with rain. I was going to go out with the car yesterday, but it was just too icy and our hill is too steep. Maybe tomorrow. I need to go to the pharmacy, and I need to take the Peugeot in for service — if it will start after sitting out in frigid weather for a week.

25 January 2017

Tiny icicles

Yesterday as the day dawned we saw that a heavy, freezing fog had formed overnight. I went out into it with the dog. It didn't really feel very cold out in the vineyard, but everything more than a foot or two above ground level was covered in tiny, spiky icicles. They looked like thorns or needles, but they were just ice formations.

Late in the afternoon, all the little ice spikes had melted. Then it started snowing. I don't know yet whether it snowed more overnight. The temperature is just below freezing this morning.

24 January 2017

Getting psyched to fly

I'll go on with the naturalization posts as we move through the process. Getting the translations all done was a major milestone. We had our marriage certificate translated into French by a sworn translator four years ago, because we wanted to be sure that our U.S. marriage would be recognized by France. I don't think we need to have anything else translated.

Our next task is to write out a list of all the places we have ever lived in our lives. Addresses is what they say they want. I hate to think how many addresses I've had over the past 67 years. I've lived in North Carolina (two cities), Illinois (four cities), Normandy, Paris, the Paris suburb of Asnières, Arlington VA, Washington DC, San Francisco, Sunnyvale CA, and now in this village just outside Saint-Aignan in the Loire Valley.

To complicate matters, when I lived in Illinois I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois. I lived in a series of furnished apartments, and my residency in Illinois was interrupted by several years as a student and teacher in France, and by two short stints as a teacher in Bloomington IL. Later, when Walt and I moved to San Francisco, we lived in four different apartments the first five years we were there, and then in two different houses over the last 12 years we spent there. Luckily, Walt is very organized and he has all those addresses in his computer.

Meanwhile, I'm getting ready to fly back to the U.S. for my annual visit. I say "annual" because it's been a year since my last trip. The year before that, I went to the States three times. There were many terrorist attacks during that year, including two very disturbing and deadly ones in Paris. All that made me an even more nervous flyer than I ever was before, and I've actually never enjoyed air travel. That said, I've flown across the Atlantic Ocean more than 80 times since 1969.

This time, I've found a non-stop flight from Paris to Raleigh-Durham. That's new and will be so much easier, because I won't have to change planes in Atlanta as I did the last three times I made the trip. Sometimes that non-direct route means I have to hang around in the Atlanta airport for as long as 4 hours after spending 8 or 10 hours on an airplane and being completely jet-lagged. Then I have a second flight and I arrive on the Carolina coast at nearly midnight.

This time I'll land at the Raleigh-Durham airport at 2:30 p.m., rent a car, and drive down to the coast. It's a three-hour drive. Before flying out, I'll travel by train from Tours to CDG airport and spend a night in a hotel there. My flight leaves too early for me to risk driving or taking the train to the airport the same day. So I'll be traveling for close to 40 hours before I get to my destination. It's not an easy trip. But I'll enjoy the visit once I get there.

23 January 2017

City? Town? Village? How we spent the last three weeks....

So do you think you know what a "town" is? Or a "city"? Or a "village"? Intuitively, we all know. But these terms have technical, administrative meanings, not just their loose meanings in our everyday language.

In the U.S., matters relating to the organization, structure, and terminology used by and for local government authorities are left to each state to decide. We learned this the hard way, working with the translator who drafted French-language versions of our birth certificates.

Good translators — especially court-certified, officially accredited translators working with legal documents — need to be precise and accurate. They don't "adapt" the texts the way they might if they were translating a novel or a magazine article. They don't leave anything out. Every word and sentence on the document needs to be translated, or the translation needs to be annotated to explain why some of the information is not included. For example, a signature that is illegible might call for a note saying signature illisible.

The birth certificates Walt managed to get from the state department of health in New York state were our biggest headache. They were chock full of sentences that were "helpful" instructions and examples for the person who was filling out different fields on the form. For example, in the Occupation field, there were examples like "silk mill worker." The problem was that they were in tiny type that was blurred because the printouts from microfilm were so bad. It was frustrating, but Walt and I deciphered all that we could. We couldn't find a model of the form on-line, so we had to do our best. Translators, of course, don't want to just take your word for it. They want it clear. We worked through it as best we could.

Then there were the words and expressions that were legible. That was almost harder. For example, in everyday French, there are really only two words to describe something we have three words for in English — town, city, and village. In French, you have ville and village. The ville can be une petite ville (town) or une grande ville (city) but those are not technical terms.

In France the official, technical term for these incorporated local entities is commune. But it doesn't really correspond to a term in English — at least not in American English. We don't have communes, in the French sense. Communes are not exactly villages, towns, or cities, but at the same time commune is the name for all of those. The commune we live in has a bourg ("burg"), which is the village center, and a dozen or more hameaux (hamlets) or settlements. Just to help things along, these unincorporated hamlets are called villages by the local population. Bourg (village center) is not an administrative or technical term but just a colorful expression. Another term for it might be agglomération (the built-up area).

Have a look at the differences between the terminology and organization in just two U.S. states, New York (where Walt was born) and North Carolina (where I was born). Here are some of the things I have learned about New York: everybody who lives in the state of New York lives either in a town or a city. Some people live in a village, a town, and a county at the same time. Others live in a city and a county. Towns and cities are two completely — well, almost completely — mutually exclusive entities, but towns and villages are not. At the same time, both cities and villages are incorporated municipalities, so they are equivalent on some legal level.

It turns out that a town in New York is not at all what most of us think of when we use the word "town" in the rest of the U.S. A New York town is what many states call a township. It's an unincorporated area that can contain villages and hamlets that all have placenames. In many states, townships have cities in them, but not in N.Y. Cities stand alone. Meanwhile, the largest village in New York is larger than many of the state's cities. The states largest town (official usage) is larger than any city in New York with the exception of New York City (which spans five counties and has no towns or townships embedded in it).

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, everybody necessarily lives in a named township. Some people live in towns, which by law, can also be called villages or cities. In other words, there is no distinction, legally, between a village, a town, and a city in N.C. Local people who get the authorization to incorporate a government for their settlement can call the place a village, a town, or a city as they please. The state doesn't care. For example, the place where I was born and grew up is called "The Town of Morehead City."

Okay, I guess I've made that point. You probably don't care any more. A New York town can't have a city in it. A North Carolina town is a city if it says it is. The complications of all this can make your head spin. Imagine — there are 50 U.S. states, and every one is probably different from the all others, by some order of magnitude, where the details of the terminology it uses at the local level of government is concerned.

And then the poor translator has to sort it all out. What is a New York "town" in French terminology? It's not a commune. It's not a ville. It's not a village. As a translator, you can't just make up a term for it. A New York town doesn't have a mayor. But if there is a village in the town, the village has a mayor. France has terms like canton, lieu-dit, and arrondissement, but none of them seems to mean town or township — a subdivision of a county.

On the New York birth certificate, to specify birthplace, the form includes afield for the name of the Town, and another field for Village or City. Walt's parents lived in a Town (an unincorporated area outside Albany) but not in a village. The field for Village or City was filled in with the name Albany. Maybe that was just an error, but there it was, and it had to be dealt with. While people in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. know intuitively that Albany NY is a city, but a non-American translator might not. How can you live in a town and in a city at the same time? Actually, you can't, in New York, but your mailing address (post offices being a federal, not local, institution), if you live outside but close to the border of a city, can be the name of the city.

We've been going around and around about all this. The differences in the way different countries and states are organized and the terms are used make it nearly impossible to do a translation that is 100% accurate. Even if you know that a lot of this doesn't matter to the few government employees and functionaries who will be the only ones to ever read these translations (if they do), when you are in the throes of the job of getting everything right you can't let yourself be distracted by that. Does anybody care that my father was born outside of town, in a township, while the French translation of his birth certificate says he was born in the town? Or that Walt's parents lived in a town but had a mailing adress in the city? Probably not.

Don't worry, there won't be a quiz on all this...

22 January 2017

A Sunday intermission

I slept late this morning. I didn't get out of bed until nearly six o'clock. (Walt and I recently realized that we never really adjusted our sleep schedules to deal with the change from heure d'été to heure d'hiver this year, though we did adjust our lunch hour.) Anyway, I'll continue the naturalization series this coming week. The process is nowhere near finished, so there's plenty of time. The next post will be a foray into the jungle that is local government terminology in the U.S.

Walt mentioned on his blog yesterday that we went to Blois on Friday. That was a trip to meet with the translator who created official French-language versions of our U.S. birth certificates and other documents. Everything is now translated and heavily adorned with official seals and stamps of one kind or another. After the meeting, we had time left over Friday morning to go shopping at the Asia Store near the train station in Blois and replenish our supply of Asian sauces and special ingredients like okra, Shanghai bok choy, and frozen raw shrimp.

So for lunch yesterday we made a stir fry of  bok choy, okra, carrot, onions, mushrooms and shrimp, inspired by this NY Times recipe. I made a mixture of hoisin sauce, sweet Japanese hon mirin cooking wine, soy sauce, Thai sriracha, grated ginger, and mushroom-flavored soy sauce as the seasoning for the stir fry. It turned out to be really delicious (with steamed rice).

Recently (and one time not so recently) we have been making Chinese steamed buns, which are a real treat. They were something we enjoyed eating in San Francisco, which has hundreds of good Asian restaurants. Here's a link to an explanation and recipe.

The buns are a dim sum dish. They are a flour dough leavened with both baker's yeast and baking powder, then filled with a savory stuffing, and cooked in a steamer pot. For the filling, I made some slow-cooker pulled pork flavored with some of the same sauces that went into yesterday's shrimp and vegetable stir fry. We ate the steamed buns with a stir fry of collard greens and roasted winter vegetables.

21 January 2017

Naturalisation (2) — apostilles

[Here's a link to the first installment of this series.]

I knew the short form of the birth certificate wouldn't satisfy requirements in France because we'd already been caught in that trap. Walt's short form certificate had been accepted in Blois when he applied for his carte de séjour but rejected by the health insurance system here a few years later. He'd obtained the long-form document on one of his trips to Albany NY, translated it, and taken it to the health insurance people, who were then happy with it.

When we looked carefully at the birth certificates we had been able to get in North Carolina (example on the right) and in New York, we realized that they were pretty much illegible in many places. They had to be translated. How would a translator be able to decipher them? On the N.C. documents, it was handwritten information — people's names, signatures, place names — that was unreadable. On the N.Y. documents, it was the printed matter on the form itself that was illegible, because it was in such small type and the copies, made from microfilm, were of such poor quality.

Besides all that, we had to get special authentication papers called apostilles for every document we were going to submit. You can only get those in the states where the documents originated, but not at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, because the U.S. federal government does not keep records of things like its citizens' births, deaths, divorces, and marriages. Those are matters left for the individual states to deal with, and the U.S. states don't have embassies and consulates in other countries.

We had never before been asked to have apostilles for our birth certificates. During all those years when we turned in birth certificates and information about our financial resources, nobody at the local government level had ever required or even mentioned them. The apostille is a document that resulted from a treaty signed by European counties including France, along with the U.S., Australia, and Canada, as a way to guarantee that documents issued in one country and handed over in another really are authentic and are not counterfeit. It's a special kind of international notarization, and the French national government in Paris and court system require them.

To get the apostilles, I had to take or send my and my father's birth certificates, for example, to the office of the secretary of state in Raleigh, North Carolina. An official there would draft and sign the apostilles. In each case, the apostille I ended up getting was glued to the birth certificate to prevent the two pages from being separated. Each one required payment of a $10 fee by certified check or money order.

I was not aware of any way able to get a money order or a certified bank check in U.S. dollars here in France. So I had to do all that in N.C., or have somebody do it for me. On one of my trips, I mailed everything in rather than drive 300 miles to Raleigh and back from my home town. The original documents are mailed back to you if you send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. In France, I didn't have any U.S. postage stamps, or any way I knew of to get any. So I had to go get them in the U.S. as well. For my mother's South Carolina birth certificate, the process was the same, but the fee was just $2.00. By the way, it's interesting that apostille is a French word but there's nothing in French on the document itself.

There was one other solution. There are outfits that will obtain the apostilles for you and mail them to you in France. The one we contacted in New York wanted $200.00 per apostille. Yikes! We have nine apostilles for nine separate documents at this point. The fee was too high.

Walt had the same issues for New York, or worse. Remember when I said that his parents' birth certificates were stamped "For genealogical research only"? They weren't certified, legal copies, because he was not allowed to obtain certified documents for his parents. It's the law there. And when Walt was in Albany, he learned that for uncertified documents you can't get an apostille.

The solution was for him to draft sworn afadavits to the effect that the genealogy research copies were, to the best of his knowledge, his parent's authentic birth certificates. Those, along with his own birth certificate, had to be authenticated and notarized at the county level, and then he could get apostilles from the state government office in charge of issuing them. Isn't it strange that one branch of the state government wouldn't issue an apostille for a document from another office of the state government unless it had first been authenticated by the county government?

Walt was lucky that he was born and grew up in the New York capital city, Albany. He was staying with friends and family there. All the state government offices are there. We don't really know if our parents' birth certificates need apostilles, but we know ours do. It was better to get the apostilles for everything while we were in the U.S. rather than find out later that we needed them and then we would either have to pay a large fee to get them sent here, or make another trip to the U.S. to get them.

The next step would be to get everything translated into French. We were not allowed do the translations ourselves. They had to be done by a court-accredited translator.

More tomorrow...

20 January 2017

Naturalisation (1) — birth certificates

Walt and I packed up and moved from California to France 14 years ago. For the first 6 years we were here, we were temporary residents on a year-to-year basis. In other words, every year we had to re-apply for what is called a titre de séjour by sending in our birth certificates with translations into French, proof of our address, and, mostly, proof that we had enough money to live on here without seeking employment.

Then in 2009, I decided to find out if we could get a 10-year carte de résident which would let us avoid all the paperwork and uncertainty of the yearly application for permission to stay in France. I had read that foreigners living here legally had the right to the 10-year resident's card after five years on the year-to-year plan, but nobody in the département offices at Blois had ever explained this to us, and they hadn't automatically offered resident's status in 2008, when I thought they should have.

In 2009, I picked up the phone and called the office in Blois that regulates foreigners' immigration status. The woman I got on the phone, after it rang for 5 or 6 minutes, was helpful and polite, if sounding slightly harried. She said to me, Monsieur, do you have a retirement pension? I was 60 years old at the time. I told her that I would start receiving retirement benefits from the U.S. in two years' time, and that I would also begin receiving a small French retirement pension when I turned 65 in 2014. Write us a letter explaining those details, the woman said, and we'll see what we can do.

With some help from a neighbor who had recently been elected mayor of our commune (village), we soon had our 10-year resident's cards, which would be good until 2019. We sometimes talked about applying for citizenship, but for a while I thought I didn't see the point. Then in 2012, when it became legal, we went to New York and got married. I started thinking about what would happen if one of us died or became incapacitated and how the other one of us would manage. Who would inherit the house in France? What taxes might be assessed on the inheritance? Would the survivor's residency card be renewed in 2019?

So we started thinking about naturalization — becoming French citizens. Our marriage was recognized in France in 2013, when le mariage pour tous became law here. We were able to draft wills spelling out our final wishes and file them with a local notaire. By then, though, we had started pulling together the documents we needed for our naturalisation applications. First, we needed our parents' birth certificates. Walt's mother died when he was eight years old, and he didn't even know where she was born, except that it was in New York State and probably not far from Albany, where he and his father were born. I didn't have that to deal with, since my mother is still living, and I knew my father's birthplace.

Walt found out where his mother was born by inquiring at the NY Department of Health in 2012, where records are kept. That's when he learned that, in New York State, a child does not have the right to apply for official, certified copies of his or her parents' birth certificates — even if the parents are both deceased. The best the state bureaucracy could do was to give him copies that carried a big red stamp saying "For genealogical research only." For certified copies, he would have to go to a judge in New York and make his case for having a legitimate need for the official documents. That would mean another trip to New York, because it was too late at that point to get a court date right then.

In my case, my mother was able to go to the courthouse in the county where she lives, and where I grew up, and easily obtain copies of my (deceased) father's and my own birth certificates — no questions asked. (I figured I might as well have a new copy of mine.) But my mother herself was born in South Carolina, so we had to apply for her birth certificate down there. I read about the process on the internet, and I learned that, even as her son, I was not allowed to request my mother's birth certificate as long as she was still living. I had hoped to be able to apply for it by mailing in the application and fee.

My mother said she wouldn't mind driving to the area in S.C. where she and my maternal grandfather were born, and which is a five-hour drive from where she lives. It had been 20 years since her last visit there. We did the drive in 2013, when I was back in North Carolina for a visit, and we stayed overnight. My sister and my mother's sister came along for the ride, and we ended up seeing some of our S.C. relatives while we were there. It was fun.

When we arrived at the local county seat, however, we were disappointed to learn that birth records are not kept at county courthouses in South Carolina, as they are in North Carolina, but were held by the state's department of health. Luckily, there is an outpost of that agency in the larger nearby town of Rock Hill (near Charlotte, N.C.). We turned around and drove over there. And we learned that the local health department office was only able to provide us with what is called "the short form" birth certificate, which I knew would not satisfy the French authorities. Getting the long form would require a three-hour round-trip drive down to Columbia, the state capital. We didn't have time for that.

[Here's a link to part two of this series.]

19 January 2017

Eight years ago

This is a photo I took in Paris in 2009. Barack Obama had been the U.S. president for six months, and we were still excited and optimistic about our country and the world. I remember the all-nighter we pulled on that election day.

It's a little harder to keep hope alive in 2017, but as president Obama says, we're going to be okay — with a little luck. Want a cliché? It's always darkest before the dawn.

18 January 2017

Le toutché de midi

The temperature this morning is negative four degrees C. That's the mid-20s in F. The thermometer in the greenhouse reads positive three degrees C, so that's working out fine. I turned the electric radiator on in there a few minutes ago anyway.

Yesterday for lunch I made a kind of quiche called « un toutché ». It's also called a « gâteau de fête » or « gâteau de ménage ». Instead of a regular pie crust (pâte brisée), this egg custard pie has a crust that resembles brioche — made with a dough that contains eggs, butter, milk, and cream. The recipe comes from Franche-Comté in eastern France, and it is not really well known in the rest of France.

The toutché is made as either a sweet cake or a savory pie (those are links to recipes). The simplest savory version is made with an egg custard and smoked pork lardons. I "enhanced" that by adding some chopped onion and some cooked kale. I had picked and cooked kale on Monday in anticipation of our freezing temperatures this week. I also added a little bit of grated Comté cheese for flavor.

The dough for the toutché shell rose in the (unheated) oven, protected from drafts, for two hours, and it basically doubled in volume. To line the pie plate, you butter it first and then put the ball of dough in the middle of it. You don't need a rolling pin — you can just use your fingers to spread the dough out in the pan. Form a good tall edge all around to hold in the egg and milk custard.

Spread the dry ingredients (lardons and, optionally, sautéed onion and cooked greens) on the crust and pour the custard mixture over them. Then bake the pie in the oven at 180ºC (350ºF) for about 30 minutes until it's golden brown on top (see above).

You are supposed to eat the toutché either warm or cold, from what I've read. We ate it more or less hot as our main course at lunch yesterday. We didn't have a salad because we figured the kale took its place.

17 January 2017

A big chill

This morning the temperature is about 2ºC below freezing — that's about +28ºF. This is the coldest morning we've had since January 7, and it's the first time since that date that we've been below freezing.

I went to check the greenhouse when I got up at 6 a.m. It was +3ºC in there. Not too bad, I think. The geraniums, jade plants, and other green things in there look okay at this point.

Even so, I set up an electric radiator in the doorway to provide the plants with a little more warmth. We've had this convection heater for a dozen years, but we've  hardly ever needed to use it. I think I paid 15 euros for it way back when.

Half an hour after I turned the radiator on, the temperature in the green house had gone up by a whole degree C. In other words, it's getting close to +40ºF in there.

It's supposed to get colder and colder until at least the end of the week, so in addition to keeping the door between the (unheated) utility room open all the time, I'll turn the electric heater on low to make sure the plants don't freeze.

16 January 2017

Callie la charmeuse

I think Callie smelled the turkey. I had just taken it out of the oven and snapped a few photos.

She flashed her most winning smile, hoping that she might get some.

15 January 2017

Glazed turkey — the January diet

Before Christmas, when capons and turkeys were on sale at promotional prices, I decided to buy a turkey for the freezer. We'd cook it in January, I said to myself. Well, here we are in mid-January.

To make the roasted turkey something different from a Thanksgiving or Christmas bird, I made a glaze for it. It's not really a recipe. You start by melting a good amount of butter. To the melted butter, add a teaspoon or so of Worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons of Louisiana hot sauce (Portuguese piri-piri sauce is a good substitute), and one tablespoon of vinegar (wine or distilled).

Season the butter mixture with salt and black pepper and ground cloves, along with some garlic (fresh or powdered) if you like it. Let it cook for five minutes to blend the flavors. Then brush a good coating of glaze on the turkey before you put it in the oven. I also put two bay leaves and about a teaspoon of dried thyme inside the turkey.

I roasted the 3-kilogram turkey slowly for 3½ hours, on a rack in a pan with some water in the bottom. I started the oven at 160ºC/325ºF, gradually lowering the temperature over the course of the cooking time as the turkey browned, until it was down to just 100ºC/210ºF for the last 45 minutes.

I basted the tukey with the butter glaze half a dozen times during the cooking, until the glaze was all used up. And then, toward the end, I basted it with the cooking juices in the bottom of the pan, which hadn't burned because I had replenished the water several times. The turkey was tender and moist when we ate some at lunchtime. That's a good thing, because we'll be eating turkey for days.

14 January 2017

Osso bucco — with veal

Yesterday I made osso bucco, the Milanese veal dish — and with real veal, not turkey or some other substitute. It had been years since I'd cooked, or eaten, osso bucco made with veal shanks. I think it was in San Francisco. I see a 2013 post on this blog showing a turkey osso bucco that I made back then.

It's all because I went grocery shopping at SuperU a few days ago and I noticed that they had two packages of sliced veal shank for the price of one — about half-price, in other words. That's hard to resist. It was very pretty meat too. In total, it weighed just a little less than 2 lbs. (850 grams). I think it cost about six euros.

The first step in making osso bucco is to finely dice the aromatic vegetables that will go into the sauce — a big carrot, a medium onion, a stalk (une branche) of celery, two cloves of garlic. And then cut a couple of strips of zest (rind) from a lemon and the same from an orange. Put everything but the zests into a pan with some olive oil or melted better, on low heat, and "sweat" the vegetables for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, dredge the slices of veal shank in seasoned flour. Shake off any extra and don't let the veal sit very long before browning it in frying pan on medium-high heat. You want the flour to stay dry and then brown lightly.

Set the veal aside and deglaze the pan it browned in with a cup of dry white wine. Before pouring in the wine, you can spoon some of the oil out of the pan if you think there's too much of it.

Then pour about 350 ml (1½ cups) of either chicken, veal, or vegetable broth and the same amount of tomato sauce (or chopped tomato) into the pan and let all that cook together for a few minutes.

Place the browned veal slices on top of the sweated vegetables in the other pan, and then pour the sauce from the frying pan over all. It should be just enough to barely cover the veal, which should be in a single layer. Adjust the amount of sauce as necessary, using less or adding water if you need to.

After you've poured the sauce over all, set the pan in a slow oven (say 150ºC, 300ºF) for two hours or more (see the top photo above). Add a couple of bay leaves, a pinch of thyme, and the zests of orange and lemon. Cover the pan tightly. Check it a couple of times per hour to make sure there's still enough liquid, adding some water to replenish what has evaporated and keep the veal moist.

Serve the osso bucco with rice or pasta. The veal bone marrow will have mostly melted into the tomato-vegetable sauce, thickening it. The flour you coated the veal in before browning it will also act as a thickener. The citrus peels will add an extra burst of flavor to the dish. The meat will be tender and succulent. We enjoyed it.