31 March 2017

Like a lamb

March 2017 came in like a lion. Over the first seven days of the month, we got nearly 50 mm (two inches) of rain. That's a month's worth. Now, validating the old proverb, March is going out like a lamb. We haven't had the first drop of rain over the past seven days. The temperature was above 70ºF yesterday afternoon, and this morning it's still nearly 60ºF.

Tilling 'til the cows come home. That's how I feel about the process I started yesterday. I'll be tilling for another two months (but not every day of course). I was worried, actually, that my recent spell of back pain was going to make it hard for me to handle the heavy, hard-to-maneuver rototiller this year. That turned out not to be the case.

Yesterday it didn't take me long to do a first pass on our vegetable garden plot, which we enlarged last year. This was the désherbage pass. I wasn't tilling deeply. I just wanted to uproot the weeds that had started taking over the plot so that they wouldn't have a chance to put down deeper roots. Last year, I didn't start tilling until about the 10th of April. I know because I wrote about it on this blog last spring.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon, Walt was out mowing. Mow 'til there ain't no mo'... tall grass, that is. Still, it's very early. Walt said, that last year, he mowed the yard for the first time on April 13. This year, he has mowed part of it twice already. That's him in the red shirt. I took the photo from an attic window.

30 March 2017

A sunrise, and some springtime plants

This week, we've had to keep reminding ourselves that it's still only March. We have all of April and May to get through before summer arrives. Only then will we be able to set plants out in the vegetable garden and get the growing season started.

Sunrise in the vineyard a few days ago. These spindly trees have taken over an abandoned parcel of vines.

A daffodil in our back yard

Thyme in the greenhouse, ready to be planted outdoors

Above and below, a street-side flower bed in the town of Azay-le-Rideau

Yesterday the weather forecaster on Télématin put it this way: "Today will feel like springtime. [She was right.] Tomorrow will feel like summer. [I hope so.] Friday will feel like autumn. And the weekend will remind you of winter." Something to look forward to...

29 March 2017

Red Russian this time

It wasn't even two weeks ago that I harvested a big crop of Tuscan "dinosaur" kale that had over-wintered in the garden. Yesterday I was at it again, but the harvest was red Russian kale this time. I don't think I'll need to grow any kale in this year's garden.

Red Russian kale in the vegetable garden, growing...

The two kale varieties are pretty different from each other. Red Russian is more like spinach or chard. The leaves are fairly tender, but with a little bit of croquant or "crunch" to them. In a way, they remind me of mustard greens, but with a milder flavor. Tuscan kale has dark green leaves that cook up more like collard greens, "meaty" and flavorful.

...in the kitchen sink, washed and drying...

There must have been eight red Russian kale plants out in the garden, where they too had over-wintered. After the recent rains, they were beautiful and hadn't yet been attacked by bugs and slugs. I cut them off at ground level and brought them in. Each plant was made up of three, four, or even six thick stalks covered in leaves.

...in a big pot on the stove, seasoned...

I didn't take very long to strip the leaves off the stalks and then strip the tender greens off the leaf ribs. When I had finished, using no tools but my hands, I had two kilos of pretty leaves — more than 4 lbs. That was enough to fill an 11.5 liter pot twice, with the leaves packed down tightly.

...and in plastic containers for the freezer.

I seasoned the kale with fat and broth left over from roasting a capon a while back, some white wine, salt, pepper, a little bit of garlic powder, and just a small quantity of hot red pepper flakes. As the first batch cooked down and made room in the pot, I gradually added the rest and let those leaves cook down too. Cooked, the kale came in at between 2 and 3 liters... for the freezer and future meals. We'll be looking for more kale recipes and ideas, for sure.

28 March 2017

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

The morning and afternoon walks go on. (And on and on and on...) Now that the weather has improved again — we recently had a couple of weeks of chilly, unsettled weather — I've been trying to go farther out and stay out longer than I was doing during wintertime. The photos here are some that I took last Saturday. That's when milder, sunny days returned.

Callie the collie, at age 10, has slow days and frisky days. The poor dog has also been completely freaked out by all the commotion and turmoil up in the loft, with the arrival of the new sofa. We've been doing a lot of spring cleaning, and that means moving furniture around so that we can clean under and behind it. The dog hates it when familiar furniture gets moved around. I think it's like the canine equivalent of the earthquake experience.

A couple of weeks ago, Bertie the black cat was injured pretty badly in, apparently, a fight with another cat. Whatever caused it, Bert ended up with a large patch of furless, bare skin on his chest, and a nasty, oozing abscess in the middle of it. He took too his bed for 3 or 4 days.

When I took him to see the vet, the prescription was for a shot and a week of antibiotics. Walt and I had great fun pushing pills down his throat every morning, and we have the scars to prove it.  Bertie, who's 11 now, is doing better, but he's not eating nearly as much as he used to. Maybe he's out hunting more now that the weather is conducive and small rodents have come out of hibernation.

27 March 2017

La Salamandre : le décor

Here are a few more shots of the decor at the Salamandre restaurant in Azay-le-Rideau. It was slightly unnerving to be eating lunch in the midst of such untamed company.

As we enjoyed our salads and pizzas, an older couple came into the restaurant and were seated near us. They must have been in their late 70s or early 80s. I overheard the woman tell her lunch companion: « Je venais jouer ici quand j'étais gamine. » — "I used to come play here when I was a little girl." I'm not sure what she meant, because I just read that the restaurant was founded in 1993.

26 March 2017

La Salamandre : le bar

Here's a set of four photos I took inside the restaurant called La Salamandre.The first one is a close-up of the peinture murale over the bar, and then the other three show it from progressively farther away.

So as you see, we did go inside the restaurant. We didn't eat anything fancy though. We each had a pizza with ham, cheese, and mushrooms (pizza reine). We were on our way to our appointment with the dog breeder just north of Chinon to see the new puppy.

25 March 2017

La Salamandre

La Salamandre is an old-style French restaurant in Azay-le-Rideau. Authentic or not, it presents itself as such. On the menu, you'll find a lot of French country-cooking classics. Would you be tempted to have lunch or dinner there?

  • Tête de veau is just what it says it is: the meat off the head of a calf, served with sauce gribiche or sauce ravigote. Both sauces are variants of vinaigrette dressing fancied up with chopped hard-boiled eggs, herbs, and other aromatic ingredients.
  • Civet de sanglier au chinon is a stew made with the marinated meat of a wild boar cooked in red Chinon wine with carrots, onions, and other aromatic vegetables and herbs. Chinon is a nearby town that's famous for its Cabernet Franc reds.
  • Sole meunière is what we call a Dover sole in English cooked the way the miller's wife would cook it. In other words, the fish is sprinkled with a little bit of flour and then panned in melted butter. The menu specifies that it is fresh sole, which I assume means it's not frozen and thawed.
  • Blanquette de veau is veal cooked in white wine and then served in a flour-thickened white cream sauce with mushrooms and onions over boiled white rice.
  • Tripes à la mode de Caen is beef tripe (stomach) cooked in hard apple cider with carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, and... the foot of a cow or a calf for the silky gelatin it releases into the sauce. Caen is a city in Normandy.

For the faint of heart or anybody on a diet, the daily special is roast chicken. For between 16 and 20 euros ($18 to $20 U.S.), you can have one of the main dishes with a first course, a dessert, or even both. The restaurant is called La Salamandre not because they serve dishes made with salamander meat but because the salamander was the symbol of the French Renaissance-era king François Ier, a beloved figure in France's Loire Valley.

23 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (5)

Here's one more stained-glass window that I saw and photographed in the Eglise Saint-Symphorien at Azay-le-Rideau last week. It is the work of an artist (vitrailliste) named Jacques Grüber (1870-1936).

I found information about this window on a blog called Tourainissime, as well as on Wikipedia, which includes a list of Grüber's major works in Paris (Galeries Lafayette) and elsewhere in France (especially at Nancy in the Lorraine).

22 March 2017

A sofa and a sunset

I talked to my mother on the phone yesterday. She said she was looking forward to seeing the new sofa we have just put up in the loft space (the big space we had finished off as a family room / bedroom back in 2010). The loft is still a work in progress, and I guess it always will be.

Well, there it is. We're waiting for delivery of a new rug, and I'll post some more photos once we get it and have the sofa set up on it. We went from brown to blue upholstery, because Ikea didn't have the brown material we liked. Here's a post from 2010 showing how the loft space looked when we were still getting it finished and painted.

Meanwhile, after a rainy day yesterday we got a surprisingly nice sunset. I snapped a few photos of it, and here's one:

Often, these colorful moments at sunrise or sunset last only three, four, or five minutes, so if you want colorful photos you have to act fast. If you're a minute late, all you see is a blue-gray, cloudy sky.

21 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (4)

...but also seen in the Eglise Saint-Symphorien at Azay-le-Rideau.

20 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (3)

Below is a photo of the older part of the façade of the Eglise Saint-Symphorien. This gable dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries, and includes the statues and niches that are said to have been re-used when the original church on the site, built 500 years earlier, was replaced.

The top row of seven figures represents Christ in the center, with a characteristic halo bearing a cross. The three figures on the right must be saints or apostles, because they have halos too. The four figures on the left are described just as unidentified personnages — they have no halos.

Lower down, on either side of a window that was added to the building much later in history, there are seven more statues. The three in the photo below are depicted with halos. I didn't get a good close-up photo of the other four figures. Speculation is that five more statues, which would have brought the number in the lower row to 12, were removed when the window was opened up in the façade.

One document I read said it is not at all clear that the statues in the top row and the ones in the bottom row were carved at the same time or by the same artists. Since there are no images of the older 5th/6th century church, nobody really knows where the statues were originally placed or what they represented.

19 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (2)

I'll just quote from the Cadogan Loire guidebook: (from the château) "It's only a short walk to the village church of Saint-Symphorien, with its extraordinary Romanesque façade. Three sets of diminutive statues stand in niches like worn stone dolls."

"Nobody knows exactly when these figures were made or whether they were meant as part of this church. Around them, crisscrossed and diagonal stonework adds to the curiosity of the church front," the Cadogan says.

18 March 2017

The church at Azay-le-Rideau (1)

Early in the morning, I enjoy spending time looking at and working with my photos. It's how I start my day.

I especially enjoy taking close-up shots apart and putting them back together again so that I can post them on the blog despite the size limitations the software imposes. The one below is a single photo that I have cut into two pieces, top and bottom. Each half will pop up as a larger photo if you click or tap on it.

This is a window in the church at Azay-le-Rideau, an hour or more from Saint-Aignan by car. The Michelin guide describes the church as « curieuse » because the building includes architectural elements built as early as the 5th and 6th centuries, but also elements from the 11th, 12th, and 16th.

17 March 2017

Kale greens for Saint Patrick's day

Yesterday I decided to harvest the rest of my Tuscan "dinosaur" kale. It had over-wintered in the garden, and we'd eaten quite a bit of it by cutting leaves and cooking them half a dozen times over the months. The heavy frosts and morning temperatures well below freezing that we had in January didn't bother the kale at all.

The reason for harvesting the dinosaur kale now was that it was getting ready to go to seed. It had sent up hundreds of flower buds that were about to burst open. That would have been pretty, but I don't need the seeds, because I brought another package of them back from N.C. in February.

I've been told that the flower buds are good to eat, so I cut them and cooked them with some of the tender leaves and flower stalks. We'll eat some for lunch today and see how good they really are.

There is still a lot of kale for me to trim up and get ready to put in the pot. Many of the leaves are huge and probably fairly tough, but many are small and tender. Yesterday I gave the plants a good first washing in the utility room shower stall.

To harvest the plants, I took a big pair of limb-loppers out to the garden plot and cut through the fat tough stems of the plants. Then I could bring the tops, with all their leaves and flowers, into the house and cut off the flower heads before pulling all the leaves off the stems.

Washing and trimming the kale leaves and flower buds is a lot of work, but Walt and I both enjoy eating kale, and we think it's good for us. So the work is worth it. I still have quite a few leaves to wash and trim this morning. A lot of this kale will go into the freezer after it's cooked.

Here's what the plants looked like on a frosty morning two or three weeks ago. Tuscan or dinosaur kale leaves remind me more of collard green leaves than other kinds of kale do. They're "meatier" than curly kale or Russian kale leaves, and I like their texture after they're cooked.

16 March 2017

More Sheltie photos

I grabbed these photos off the Loups de l'Isengard Shetland sheepdog breeder's web site when I found them yesterday. I think she has just posted them, and she has announced that these dogs' female puppy has officially been sold (to us).

The mama dog's name is Ixelles, pronounced [eek-SEL]. That's a play on words, because XL meaning "extra-large" is pronounced the same way in French.

XL is also a little joke because the dog named Ixelles is anything but extra-large. Adult Shetland sheepdogs weigh between 20 and 30 lbs. Here she was as a puppy herself, about 3 years ago. Ixelles is also a town in the Brussels region of Belgium.

The daddy dog is named Ilhan — or Ilhan des Bergers du Landas in the long form. Les Bergers du Landas is the breeder's where he was born, and it's in the Allier (not very far south of the city of Bourges and just north of Montluçon).

Ilhan and Ixelles are both about three years old now. Here's a close-up shot of Ilhan's face and head. Our as-yet unnamed puppy should look a lot like this, because she's also a tricolor Sheltie.

Coincidentally, our 10-year-old border collie named Callie was also born in the Allier département of central France, between the towns of Montluçon and Vichy. Her full name is Callie du Berger de la Vallée des Géants — Callie of the Shepherd of the Valley of the Giants. Her father was Vince des Vents de la Moisson — Vince of the Harvest Winds.