30 September 2017

The North Carolina coast

The North Carolina coast is 300 miles (500 km) of beach. Sandy beach. Sand dunes. Surf. Warm water. The Gulf Stream runs from south to north just a few miles offshore, up to Cape Hatteras, before turning out to sea and bringing warm water and air to Great Britain and France.

That 300-mile figure applies just to the "outer coast" of North Carolina. The "inner coast" of the state is at least three or four times longer. That's the shoreline of all the saltwater sounds and the brackish estuaries that are protected from ocean surf by the long string of  "banks" or barrier islands. The inner coast isn't all beach. Much of it is marshland.

The longest section of undeveloped beach is the part of the coast that is the Cape Lookout National Seashore, made up of Core Banks (40 miles/65 km long) and Shackleford Banks (10 miles/15 km long). Access is by boat only.

The barrier islands to the north and south are developed (bridges, roads, houses, towns). For example, Bogue Banks, which runs east-west for 25 miles (40km) from the west end of Shackleford Banks, is separated from the mainland by only a mile-wide sound, and there are bridges at each end of the island.

The entire coast of N.C. is sand. There's no rock anywhere, except where jetties have been built to stabilize beaches and inlets. The sands, in the form of both shoals and islands, shift endlessly, because of winds and tides. Hurricanes and the big wintertime storms called nor'easters periodically reshape the coastline.

The first English colony in North America, sponsored by Queen Elizabeth I and founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, was set up on the North Carolina coast in 1585. It was a failure. Raleigh sailed back to England for supplies for the colonists. He got delayed. When he finally returned, all the 100 or so English colonists had disappeared. Nobody has ever determined what happened to them.

This last photo shows the developed barrier island, Bogue Banks, that lies offshore from Morehead City. It runs east-west, so the beach faces south, and it is an unbroken 25-mile strand of sand. It's where I grew up, and I can remember when the western half of the island (Emerald Isle) was an undeveloped, roadless area of dunes and forest. My grandparents used to tell stories from the days before the first bridge was built at Morehead and they went "over to the beach" by boat.

29 September 2017

Sand and shells on Core Banks NC

After we arrived by boat on the shore of Core Banks (North Carolina) where the Cape Lookout lighthouse is located, my sister and I walked across the island to see the beach and the ocean. It had obviously rained just before we got there, but it stayed dry for us.

The island is only 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) wide at the point where the lighthouse stands. In fact, most of the group of barrier islands known as Core Banks are about that wide. There are no bridges or paved roads.

From the tip of the cape up to the northern end of the banks at Ocrocoke Inlet, however, is a distance of 40 miles. The island  — it used to be one island but now is a group, because during big storms like hurricanes and nor'easters, the ocean cuts new inlets and closes existing ones — protects the calmer waters of Core Sound, the extensive salt marshes, and the little communities of the Down East area from ocean waves.

Lookout light (the lighthouse) stands on the shores of Lookout Bight. "Bight" isn't a word you hear very often. It's a kind of bay but more open to the ocean than bays like the Chesapeake Bay or San Francisco Bay.

The Core Banks islands are uninhabited nowadays, but there used to be a port town at the north end of the banks called Portsmouth. It's now a ghost town. The next island to the north is called Ocracoke, where there is a village by that name and a paved road, as well as car-ferry landings on each end of the island (but no bridge).

There used to be a town at Cape Lookout called Diamond City. It was abandoned at the end of the 19th century, after it basically washed away in a series of big hurricanes. The 500 people who lived there relocated to the mainland. Their wells and gardens had been contaminated by salt water that storm tides pushed across island during the storms. Climate change and rising sea levels are a real threat to all these islands and the low coastal lands behind them.

28 September 2017

First views of the lighthouse

According to the properties I can view for each of my photos, my mother, sister, and I took a boat out to Cape Lookout on September 1, 2002. I wouldn't remember the exact date if the computer didn't. Today's world... In the photo below, notice all the pelicans on that dock. Back in the 1950s and '60s, there were no pelicans in this area. They made a comeback along the Carolina coast when the use of the insecticide known as DDT was banned.

I do remember the day pretty well. We drove about 30 minutes to get to Harkers Island (two square miles of land, home now to about 1,200 people), which is as close to Cape Lookout as you can get by car. Cape Lookout is only about 12 miles from Morehead City as the pelican flies, but the drive is circuitous, over four bridges and around wide estuaries and salt marshes. It's the area we call "Back of Beaufort" and then "Down East."

As you've been seeing, maybe, it was a day when thunderstorms were threatening to wash out our excursion — but the rains, thunder, and lightning never came. Above is a shot of the man who was driving the boat we took from Harkers Island out to the cape. You'll see that it wasn't a ferry but an motorboat with an outboard engine.

According to the timestamps on the photos, I snapped the shot above less than a minute after the one of the captain, so I know I took it during the boat ride. The lighthouse looks far, far away, but it's only 3½ miles (5 km) across the water from the eastern tip of Harkers Island.

We pulled up on the shore at Cape Lookout and took a look around in the lighthouse visitors' center. A short walk across the sandy beach and then along a raised boardwalk put us at the old lighthouse keeper's house, which is open to tourists since the light was automated years ago.

This lighthouse is 163 feet (about 50 meters) high and was first lit in 1859. It was built on the site of a smaller lighthouse, which had been there since 1812. Here's a map that shows all of Carteret County, NC (pop. 68,000).

This is the central North Carolina coast, at the southern end of the Outer Banks. By car, Morehead City is 6 hours south of Washington DC, 8 hours east of Atlanta GA, and 13 hours north of Miami FL.

27 September 2017

Stormy Carolina weather

This hurricane brushing by the coast of North Carolina is an interlude. I was just looking at the Accuweather site to see what the weather is normally like on the N.C. coast in October. Do you know what the "historical average" high temperatures there are like between Oct. 10 and Oct. 24?

Well, Accuweather says the highs run from near 80ºF at the beginning of that period "down" to 75ºF at the end. For those who prefer ºC, that range is between 24 and 26. Those are as high as nice summer-day temperatures for Saint-Aignan. October temperatures here in the Loire Valley are 7 to 10 ºC... 12 to 18 ºF... cooler. So going to N.C. might really feel like a summer holiday to me, since we haven't had a very nice September.

These photos date back to September 2002... fifteen years ago already. The two above were taken on the beaches out at Cape Lookout, which is about 12 miles (20 km) southeast of Morehead City, where I grew up in the 1950s and '60s. Today the weather there probably looks about like my photos here from all those years ago. The wind is blowing about 35 or 40 miles per hour there today, with higher gusts.

You can see how little land there is in Carteret County, on the N.C. coast, compared to the amount of sky and water surrounding everything. The photo above shows the shoreline of a place called Harkers Island, which is protected from ocean waves and surf by the barrier islands of which Cape Lookout is a part, and which are now a U.S. national park. The only way to get to Cape Lookout is by boat. Or I guess you could swim it...

26 September 2017

Off to North Carolina in October

Yesterday CHM sent me a few photos of the Salvia sclarea plant I posted about. He took them in 2014, but, to my surprise, I found looking back through this blog that his old friends who live near the town of Etampes, up toward Paris, gave me the original plant in 2009.

I can't believe it was that long ago. I planted the original sage plant on the south side of our house, in full sun. It thrived for years, but a couple of years ago when we had our new boiler installed, the steam vent for the boiler was cut into that south wall right over the sage. The steam killed it. I'm glad it had a chance to re-seed itself before it disappeared.

I've always said that an important part of my life here in Saint-Aignan has not much to do with Saint-Aignan at all. I'm talking about my annual trips back to my native North Carolina. I'm talking about the coastal part of the state, where I get glimpses of very different landscapes (and, especially, seascapes) compared to the vineyards, hills, forests, and rivers of the Loire Valley. The N.C. town where I was born and raised is called Morehead City (pop. 8,000).

I'll be going to N.C. soon for a two-week visit  — my second trip of 2017. Over the next week or two, I think I'll post a few old pictures I've taken on previous trips. You might be hearing about coastal N.C. in real time now, since a hurricane is blowing by this week.

25 September 2017

Salvia sclarea

A few years ago, friends of CHM's and mine who live near Etampes gave me a kind of sage plant that I had never seen before. It's called Salvia sclarea — clary sage in English, or sauge sclarée in French. It produced huge pinkish-purple flower stalks in summertime.

And it spreads by, I think, reseeding itself. Yesterday I went out to the spot where I had planted it and dug up a dozen or so small plants that were growing in the gravel that surrounds our house. Evidently, in its first season the plant produces leaves, and in its second summer it produces flowers and seeds.

Our plan is to keep these plants in the greenhouse this winter and then plant them around the well out back next spring. Salvia sclarea is called a "short-lived" perennial. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I do know that the plant spreads fairly quickly. Actually, Wikipedia says the plant is considered invasive in North America.

I thought I had posted a photo of the Salvia sclarea flower stalk on the blog in the past, but I can't find it right now. Meanwhile, here's a photo of some of the plants we have growing in one corner of the greenhouse at this point. I picked up the potted sage plant a few minutes ago and realized its roots had grown through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and the plant was rooted firmly in the sand and gravel floor of the greenhouse.

24 September 2017

« Boulanger, je donne mes invendus »

I happened upon this article in the Nouvel Observateur about a baker in Brittany who has found a way to deal with the problem of having left-over baked goods in his shop at the end of the business day. It was published in 2016. Here's a link to the article in French. I also found some photos of the baker and his bakery at various places on the web to post with the article — thanks to all concerned. The bakery in Quimper is called Au Bon Vieux Temps.

I don't especially like the term "food waste" — in France it's called le gaspillage alimentaire. But I do know that I don't like to think about how much food the world wastes every day, month, and year.

I’m a baker, and I give my unsold baked goods to people in need
It’s the least I can do
By José Louiset, baker

"France will become the most proactive country in Europe". It was in such terms that the adoption of a set of legal measures designed to reduce food waste was announced recently. It was a step in the right direction that José Louiset, owner of two bakeries in the town of Quimper in Brittany, didn’t need to wait for. He had been donating his unsold bakery products since 2005. Students, young people with money problems, or “forty-somethings” who can’t manage to make ends meet at the end of the month are some of the many people who gather in front of José Louiset’s bakeries before they close up in the evening. Here’s this baker’s story.

It all began with a remark my wife made to me one evening as we were closing up shop. She saw people rummaging through our trash cans looking for food.

She wondered out loud why we didn’t just separate our unsold products from our garbage so that people didn’t have to rummage through the trash to find something to eat. It was a small gesture, in our eyes.

So we began giving away sandwiches, pastries and fresh bread to people we now call "our regulars".

I give away my unsold products every night

As long as everyone does not have enough to eat, I will not throw away any more food that is still edible and I will condemn all those who do. As Coluche* said so well: "Today, we no longer have the right to allow people to be hungry or cold."

"Even before I opened my business in Quimper, I already donated food to the "little sisters of the poor" in Normandy, where I had a bakery. That was twenty years ago. I can only welcome the new legal measures adopted by the National Assembly, though I wish France had not waited so long to address the issue.

Since 2005, I’ve been gathering up all my surplus food products at the end of the business day, and packing everything in little bags that I can hand out to people in need.

Sandwiches are favorites

People’s preferences are fairly clear: first are the sandwiches, then the croissants and other pastries, and finally the baguettes. The sandwiches can be a full meal, while the other items are things that will do in a pinch when you are really hungry.

Despite all my efforts to have something to give to each person who comes to the bakery, sometimes the most asked-for items run out first and then our “regulars” end up quarreling among themselves. I try not to interfere too much but I pay more and more attention to make sure there is something everyone. It’s not always easy.

In 2012, I was happy to be able to describe my approach to the problem with the local press. It was a way to encourage my fellow merchants to join in.

Coverage by the media brought us a few more people than we had been used to seeing. One evening, I counted as many as 60 people in all and I said to myself, "Oh la la! What have I started?"

Every baker has a surplus

Since then, the crowds have thinned out some and we have about thirty people who come to the shop every night. Which is, as you can understand, already a lot. So sometimes, I make a few extra sandwiches over the course of the afternoon, knowing full well that they will not all be sold, but also that they will not go to waste.

Of course, I have to be careful not to lose sight of the fact that I have a business to run. I don’t make any more or less food more than I always have. The people in need that I donate food to can’t afford to buy my products, but I hope they will become customers one day.

Ending up with unsold baked goods at closing time is a fact of life in this business, which is based on offering fresh products every day. I prefer to make two or three extra loaves of bread rather than have to tell a customer who comes at the end of the work day that all I have left is one stale baguette. As any baker can tell you, it is impossible to end the business day having sold absolutely everything and not having a few items left unsold.

Congratulations and thank-you notes

Word spread quickly in Quimper and art students became “regulars” alongside young, low-paid working people. I think that's a good thing. After all, when you're a student, the streets are not paved with gold and it's pretty clever to figure out ways to get a free meal.

We don’t see many people abusing the service. Some neighborhood people who are not really needy have come by once or twice, but they haven’t continued. They soon understood what we were all about. We are not a food bank or charity but we think it’s best to give priority to those who are really in need. Especially since they are so grateful.

Giving is very gratifying. Not only do we feel more useful to the world we live in, but we also get back expressions of affection and thanks that are very touching.

Some even write letters to thank us and encourage us to keep going. This note, for example, touched us greatly:

"Sir, I am a student and am living in Quimper for a year. A month ago I learned that your bakery gave out food in the evening at 7:30. I'm a little ashamed to say this, but one Saturday I was hungry and finding your shop was such a relief. I'm 22 years old and doing commercial studies. I work all week, but as a trainee my salary isn’t enough for me to live on. That's why I feel ashamed. So as not to feel like I was asking for charity, I talked to the young woman who works in your shop on Saturdays about helping her clean up in the evening. I hoped it would be a way I could repay you for your kindness. If you refuse I will wait politely outside the shop because I do not want to be hungry any more, but I won't feel good about myself. Thank you."

An act of solidarity that doesn’t really cost much

Our food donations have been seen favorably by our customers and the others in the neighborhood, and of course having a good image can’t be bad for business.

Our sales volume has not increased, and nor has the number of customers we serve, but our relationship with our customers has changed for the better. They congratulate us, encourage us, and ask themselves how they might get involved.

Even though she’s on the other side of the world, our daughter sends us links to articles about us that she finds on the internet. She is proud of her parents and it warms our hearts to be role models for her by doing what we are doing. It doesn’t really cost us much.

My only wish today is that all business people in France will join in. After all, it’s the least we can do.


*Coluche, who died in 1986, was a comedian and actor who founded the Restos du Coeur food bank in France.

23 September 2017

Carrefour part à l'assaut

Carrefour is the Walmart of France, I guess you could say. It's one of several chains of hypermarchés (superstores) in France, along with Auchan, Leclerc, and Géant. Even SuperU and Intermarché have hypermarchés in some places. Usually, the big stores have a boulangerie in them. Here's an article from 2015 about Carrefour's efforts to compete directly with the traditional boulangeries (bread bakeries) in France.

Carrefour declares war on traditional French bread bakeries
The huge Carrefour retail chain has updated its bread-making methods to appeal to today’s tastes. In all, Carrefour sells 50 million « baguettes ordinaires » and 20 million « baguettes rustiques » in its 200 or more French “hypermarkets.”

Approximately 200 Carrefour hypermarchés, or 90% of the stores in the chain, have set out to win over the traditional bakery’s clientele in France, using recipes from days of yore to make bread in the traditional style. Perhaps the best example is the chain’s baguette rustique, which is superior in quality to the baguette ordinaire. Carrefour bakes nearly 20 million baguettes rustiques annually, and more than double that number — some 50 million — of its baguettes ordinaires. They are made and baked in Carrefour hypermarchés by 2,200 bakers in every part of France.

There are no "hypermarkets" in Saint-Aignan.
In the town of Villeneuve-la-Garenne, north of Paris, in a brand new hypermarché, 17,000 baguettes rustiques are sold every month, as well as 20,000 baguettes ordinaires, for, respectively 90 cents and 46 cents apiece. That’s revenues of more than 300,000 euros annually just for those two products. "Water, yeast, salt, natural sourdough leavening — everything must be handled with great care," explains the store’s bread baker as he prepares a mid-afternoon batch of twenty or so baguettes rustiques. He has been baking bread at the Villeneuve-la -Garenne store since it opened a year and a half ago. To qualify for his permanent position as a baker at Carrefour, he earned a Certificate of Professional Aptitude (CAP) in bread and pastry baking, as well as a Certificate of Professional Studies (BEP), both at a school in the Paris suburb of Pantin.

40,000 tons of flour per year

After they’re cooked, the baguettes are displayed on old-fashioned wooden self-service racks as well as upon request from an employee behind a display case for fancier breads, such as poppy-seed or whole-grain. "We designed the bread wrappers so that they are transparent and allow customers to see the product while at the same time letting the bread  breathe, thanks to micro-fiber paper," says Bruno Lebon, director for fresh products at Carrefour-France.

As to the flour used, the supermarket chain has chosen to buy from only twenty select French mills. "The vast majority of the mills are small businesses that we work with long-term — some of the relationships go back more than 20 years," Lebon explains.
A Paris street scene

Ordering 40,000 tons of flour annually, Carrefour is a major outlet for French mills. "For each of our breads we have defined precise specifications. For example, for our baguette rustique, we use a flour made for French tradition breads that is certified Label Rouge or CCP (Certification de Conformité Produit). For the baguette ordinaire, we use a conventional T65 flour" [recommended for breads, pizza crusts, etc.], he says. "The Carrefour company has long understood that bread is an important part of daily life for French consumers and that we cannot neglect the quality of the bread we sell or we'll risk seeing our customers defect to one of the 32,000 traditional bakeries that are in business throughout France."

22 September 2017

Où vont les invendus des boulangeries ?

Yesterday I was thinking and speculating about what French bakeries do with fresh bread and other baked goods that they can't sell by the end of the day. I found a couple of articles on the web. This one is from the regional newspaper called Ouest-France and carries the dateline Falaise, a town in Normandy [link to article in French]. It's basically a "puff piece" but I guess that's appropriate when you're talking about bread and pastries. Invendus in this context means unsold products (baked goods).

What do bakeries do with their unsold bread?

As non-profit
lead the fight
to reduce the
amount of food
that is wasted
every day,
some French bakers
have come up with
clever ways
to avoid throwing
surplus baked good

sinto the trash.
And some haven't.

Some bakers sell their surplus bread, some donate it, and some, reluctantly, discard it. Pastry chefs face no such dilemma because of laws regulating their trade. "We are restricted by the requirement that our products must stay refrigerated," says Sandrine Chapuis, from the Les Ducs pastry shop. "We are not allowed to give away unsold pastries." Bakers in pastry shops organize their work so as to waste as little as possible: "We prepare only as much as we can sell. Experience guides us in estimating what will fly off the shelves and what won't. We prefer to bake extra batches over the course of the day, as needed, rather than having to throw things out at closing time. Often, in the evening our display cases are empty."

"At the Aux Armes de Falaise bread bakery, we end up throwing out our surplus, and it's a real shame," says Jacky Quéron, the manager. "If a charitable organization would send someone to collect the unsold bread, we would be glad to donate it."

Other establishments have found viable solutions: "I give our unsold bread to customers who come by in the evening. They feed it to their animals," says Carole Goux at the Fournil de Guillaume bakery. "Pastries made with cream, butter, and eggs are either are thrown out or given to our employees, if they want them." Françoise at the Goudier bread bakery sells sacks of stale bread to people for their animals. "Charitable organizations don't do collections on the days my shop is open, so I throw away the rest."

At Christine and Gérard Chauvet's bread bakery, some of the unsold loaves are used to make bread pudding, which is then sold in the shop. The remainder are donated to food banks, whose volunteers come to collect the shop's unspoiled surplus goods every Tuesday evening.

21 September 2017

Supermarket bread

The ingredients are: wheat flour (origin EU) 56%, water, sourdough leavening, wheat gluten, salt, yeast, malted wheat flour — farine de blé (UE) 56%, eau, levain de seigle, gluten de blé, sel, levure, farine de blé malté. That's what is printed on the wrapper.

Yesterday I bought bread at the Intermarché supermarket across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher. I had seen it advertised in the store's weekly flyer, and there it was. It's worth a try, I thought. I've bought bread there before, and at SuperU — pain aux noix (bread with walnut pieces in it), pain de campagne ("country-style bread" because the village baker doesn't make it), pain de mie (sliced sandwich bread, which the village baker also doesn't make, as far as I know). But not often.

I didn't look at the ingredients in the Intermarché bread until I got it home and spent time examining the package. I was pleasantly surprised. No preservatives, gums, or chemical emulsifiers are listed. I learned too that the bread is baked in the store daily (cuit sur place tous les jours), which obviously means that the dough is not made by the people who bake it. It's probably brought in frozen, but I can't swear to that.

The village baker is an artisan boulanger, which means he makes his own dough every day and bakes it himself. The ingredients listed on his bread wrappers are flour, yeast and/or sourdough, salt, and water. Of course, it doesn't say what flour or flours are used.

The Intermarché bread is on sale at a special price right now. If you buy three baguettes, you get two for free.  The price? For five baguettes, you pay 2.50€. Compare that to the baker's price of 1.10€ per baguette, or 5.50€ for five. I think the supermarkets — SuperU in Saint-Aignan has similar bread at similar prices — are really going after the local bakers. There's also a new chain restaurant over in Noyers called Patàpain that specializes in bread, other baked goods, pizzas, and salads. That's more competition.

This is a tricked-up picture. It's the same baguette four times.

As I've said before, people's preferences in bread are very personal and subjective. A lot of older people around here grew up eating baguettes ordinaires, which are, like this supermarket bread, what they call pain industriel in France. It is softer and whiter than what now is called pain de tradition and doesn't have the same flavor. But it's what many bread-buyers want. This supermarket bread is much more in the traditional style, but it's still industrial. And to tell the truth, it's pretty good. We ate one of the loaves yesterday and the other four went into the freezer.

20 September 2017

Il n'a pas réfléchi...

Yesterday I talked to the woman who has been delivering our bread every week for a couple of years now. It was her last tournée (delivery run). I told her we were very disappointed with the baker's decision to end the service. We've been customers since 2004, but we're more likely to buy bread elsewhere now. The bakery is bound to lose a lot of customers.

Bertie the cat and Tasha the puppy don't seem to understand what all the commotion is about.

"He didn't think this through," Véronique said, candidly, about the baker's decision. "Other customers have been telling me the same thing you're saying. They don't see themselves making a special trip down to the village center just for a loaf of bread. They'll buy bread at the supermarket in Saint-Aignan or Noyers, or at one of the other bakeries that they drive by when they go out to do their grocery shopping." I think that's what I'll end up doing too. The only other businesses in the village center are a café-newsstand-tabacco shop, a hair salon, and a post office.

Véronique said she has had 88 regular stops along her route this year, and that, like us, the people who live in those houses have mostly been buying a baguette or two — or some other bread — every time she comes by. It seems like that would be profitable for the boulanger. Maybe he's a proud man who thinks the bread he makes is so good that people will just drive to his shop every day for a fresh loaf. I'm afraid I won't. I'm too busy to take the car out that often just for a loaf of bread.

I made stuffed tomatoes yesterday.

The baker's letter makes it plain that he will still deliver bread and other baked goods to people who can't drive or walk to the bakery. He especially wants, his letter says, to continue the service for elderly people. But they will have to sign up and then phone in their orders. Until now, the "bread lady" drove up, blew her horn, and you went out and bought whatever you wanted out of her van. You could also place a special order for things like croissants or sweet pastries, and she'd bring them on her next visit. I hope people who depend on the service might be able to put in standing orders for deliveries on a regular basis and not have to telephone the bakery every few days.

Here's the letter we got in our mailbox.

We have plenty of freezer space right now, so we can buy three or even six baguettes at a time, cut them up, and freeze them. We already do that on a smaller scale because our deliveries were cut back to just three times a week last year, and we often buy two or three baguettes at a time. We try to remember to take bread out a couple of hours before lunchtime every day so that it's thawed, and then we heat it up for four minutes in the oven. If we need to, we can thaw bread quickly in the microwave using a special setting for that purpose. It works really well.

19 September 2017

Oven-roasted zucchini spears

It's not quite as cold this morning as it was yesterday morning. The thermometer reading right now is between 10 and 11 in ºC, but the temperature normally keeps dropping until 7 or 7: 30 a.m. (it's 6:30 right now). Despite the cold mornings, we're still harvesting tomatoes — I'll be making stuffed tomatoes today for lunch — and zucchini squashes. That's what this post is about.

Oven-roasting is a really good way to cook zucchini spears. What I did was cut the squash in half across the middle, and then cut each half into six or eight spears, leaving on the green skin. The spears were about 5 inches long. (Those are potatoes on the left and zucchini spears on the right — in the photo below too.)

Next, make a mixture of bread crumbs (panko, in this case) and grated Parmesan cheese — half a cup or more of each, in equal quantities. Add some dried herbs including thyme, oregano, tarragon, or parsley and, finally, some black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic and/or onion powder, and salt. You can vary the herbs and spices to your taste.

Pour a little olive oil in a wide, flat dish. Put in the zucchini spears and turn them to coat them with oil. Then dredge them in the crumb and cheese mixture and put them on a baking pan skin-side down. Set the pan in a hot oven and let the zucchini brown for 15 or 20 minutes. Cook them more or less time depending on whether you want them crunchier or softer.

I added some potato spears made with potatoes that I had partially cooked in a steamer pot. I did them the same way as the zucchini spears. You can see them in the photos — their color is lighter. All the spears were delicious. We ate ours with a couple of chorizette sausages (beef, lamb, and pork) and a red and yellow tomato salad with feta cheese.

18 September 2017

Bad bread news

We got some bad news on Saturday. Our bread delivery service is being cancelled effective this week. We didn't get much notice in advance. The new baker in the village, who arrived a year or two ago, has decided not to deliver his products any more. We'll have to fend for ourselves, bread-wise, for the first time since 2004. This is a disappointing development.

I probably won't be seeing our village baker's bread wrappers much any more. The fact is, to buy bread it will make a lot more sense to go into Saint-Aignan or across the river to Noyers-sur-Cher than to drive into the village. It's the same distance either way, and the supermarkets, banks, and other businesses we depend on are in the two larger towns. There's not much in the village besides a café, where I never go, the post office but there's one in Saint-Aignan too, and the salon de coiffure, where I go get a haircut four or five times a year. There won't be any reason to make a special trip down there — not just for bread.

Anyway, I get the impression that more and more local people are buying their bread at the supermarket. I see a lot of shoppers leaving the supermarket with armloads of bread. Both SuperU and Intermarché have recently starting selling higher-quality baguettes de tradition rather than just the baguettes ordinaires we could find there previously... and at lower prices, if you buy them three at a time.

Our village baker makes good bread, but the end of the delivery service will give us a chance to enjoy the bread made by the five other local bakers in the area. We can keep bread in the freezer and thaw it out day by day to have with our meals. We can also make our own breads, including French bread, pizzas, or cornbread.

Here's what the village baker's wrapper says about the traditional baguettes he makes:

based on
your baker's

To make a truly traditional French baguette, your baker uses only flour, water, salt, either yeast or a sour-dough starter... and the best of his savoir-faire : kneading the dough slowly, letting it rise for a long time, shaping the loaves by hand, and cooking the bread for just the right amount of time. This daily discipline gives the bread a unique, traditional flavor and color, and a crunchy crust.

17 September 2017

Cold, hungry, busy

Our heat is on this morning and the radiators are hot. The thermostat is set at 18.5ºC, which is about 65ºF. The temperature outside is 10ºC, or 50ºF. Remind me again... isn't it still summer on September 17? Not here.

Hungry, already, at 6:15 a.m. Here are a couple of photos of a recent pasta dish we made with zucchini, tomatoes, and basil from our 2017 vegetable garden, and some whole wheat bow-tie pasta and chipolata sausages. I don't yet have a plan for today's lunch, so I have to get busy on that.

Meanwhile, I don't have a lot to blog about (as you can tell) because I've spent hours yesterday and this morning making travel arrangements on the internet. A sudden trip to North Carolina in October is coming together. My mother is moving from one apartment (which she has lived in since 2005) to another within her retirement résidence or complex. I want to be there to help her move and get settled in the new apartment.

Making the travel arrangements has involved a long phone call (including what seemed like hours on hold) to my bank in the U.S., because somehow I typed a number wrong when I was paying for my Air France plane ticket and the bank put a security hold on my Visa card. I had to talk to three different bank employees, ending up with somebody in the security department who asked me dozens of questions to verify my identity and finally lifted the hold on the card.

Besides the plane ticket, I have reserved a train ticket for the ride from here to CDG airport north of Paris; a hotel room for one night at CDG airport; and a car rental at Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina. I typed more carefully as I was making all those reservations and everything went through smoothly.

Now before I leave Walt and I have a lot of garden and yard work to finish, including cooking and eating or processing the rest of the produce out in the garden (tomatoes, squash, beans, chard...). I have to see my doctor for my semi-annual checkup and call Amélie to make an appointment for a haircut. I'll be busier than usual, that's for sure.

16 September 2017

The history of the Grandmont-Villiers priory

[Below are some photos I took in 2006 at the Grandmont-Villiers priory, half an hour south of Saint-Aignan, near Montrésor, along with my translation of this article in French detailing the history of the monastery...]

Author: Father Philipe-Etienne, hermit at the Grandmont-Villiers priory, which was founded in 1162 by Henri II Plantagenet.

On February 8 in the year 1124, Saint Stephen of Muret died. Muret was the name given to the place where Saint Stephen lived and died, in the commune of Ambazac near the city of Limoges. The following year, his disciples transferred Stephen’s body and their community to the place called Grandmont, eight kilometers to the north in the commune of Saint-Sylvestre, giving birth to a religious order of impoverished hermits that was to grow in the 12th and 13th centuries to as many as 160 hermitages in France, three in England, and two in the Spanish province of Navarre.

This photo of Father Philippe-Etienne appeared in the newspaper in 2012 (my post yesterday),
with a note that said he did not want to be photographed, or identified by his legal name.

The French kings Louis VII and Philip Augustus, who with the Plantagenet family reigned over  the Touraine, Maine, Anjou, Normandy,  and Aquitaine provinces, as well as England, lent support to the nascent Grandmont order in their territories.

Henry II Plantagenet, taught by his mother Mathilde "The Empress" to venerate the founder of the order, hastened, after becoming the king of England in 1156, to create seven hermitages in his lands: Pare-lès-Rouen, La Haie d’Angers,  Sermaize (La Rochelle), Bercey (Bercé Forest in the Maine), Grandmont-lès-Chinon (aka Pommier-Aigre), Grandmont-lès-Tours (aka Bois-Rahier), and also Grandmont-Villiers (aka Villiers, Villiers-près-Loches, or Villiers-près-Montrésor), which was and is located in the parish of Coulangé and known as "Notre-Dame and St. Stephen."

In 1157, the first twelve hermits of Grandmont arrived at Coulangé and moved into wooden huts. In 1162, the king pledged these grants: an annual rent of 36 livres to be taken from the royal treasury and 100 to 120 hectares of woodlands, moors, and grasslands bordered on the east by the "public road" running from Saint-Aignan to Châtillon-sur-Indre. The  first buildings were built around 1170.

The hermitage at the time of its construction

Subsequent Demolition Dates

1360 - portico and chapel
1650 - cloister galleries
1724 - six meters of the church on the west side
1724 -latrines
1780 - church sanctuary
1780 - west façade of chapter hall
1780 - guests' refectory and left hallway
1851 - right hallway
1902 - collapse of the vault of the nave

As he was departing on a Crusade with Philip Augustus in 1189, Richard the Lionhearted pledged to preserve his father's grants to the hermits of Grandmont-Villiers. There remain few documents recounting the history of the hermitage in the Middle Ages. In the year 1200, Geoffroy of Palluau, Lord of Montrésor, pledged as a gift a chandelier for the church at Villiers that was to be fabricated by a lord of Marsin (in the village called Genillé), Abbot Jean-Louis Denis, Chartulary of the Abbey of Villeloin.

In 1295 there were about twenty hermits living in the monastery, including six clerics and a dozen or so lay brothers. A reorganization of the order by Pope John XXII in 1317 retained only 39 "active" Grandmont priories out of 160 existing, with consolidation of the brotherhood. The hermitages that were kept, including Grandmont-Villiers, were known from that point on as "priories." The prior of Villiers was given the title of Abbot of Grandmont.

The Villiers priory was then home to about thirty men. In 1323 it was visited by King Charles IV (aka Charles le Bel). Grandmont-Villiers’ revival was short-lived because a plague was ravaging the region and reducing the number of monks there.

Around 1358-1360, along with the abbeys near Villeloin — Beaugeray, Aigues-Vives (near Montrichard), Beaulieu-lès-Loches, the Carthusian monastery of Liget — the Villiers priory was attacked by Anglo-Navarrese vandals living at the Château du Plessis in nearby Nouans-les-Fontaines and Châteauvieux.

Declining birthrates because of wars and plague made it difficult to recruit new brothers into the order. By 1420 the hermit monks would number no more than five or six. This did not prevent them from welcoming, in November 1472, King Louis XI, who signed two ordinances at the Villier priory. In 1495, the institution by the king of the system of  "commendation," under which the superior of a monastery was no longer required to be a member of the order and elected by his brothers, but could be a secular nobleman appointed by the king — as a way of giving responsibilities to the sons of noble families and income to these families at the expense of the monasteries — accelerated the decline of religious orders in general.

These appointed administrators retained only only the number of monks strictly required by canon law to legally constitute a community — in other words, three monks. The order also received only one-third of the monastery's income. This regime lasted until 1772 when the Grandmont orders "headquarters) and its properties located near Limoges were granted to Mgr. Du Plessis d'Argentre, Bishop of Limoges, to allow him to pay off the enormous debts he had contracted while building his episcopal palace (100,000 livres).

At Grandmont-Villiers, revenues that had been allocated to cover the everyday needs of the brothers were granted instead to the seminary at Tours. The last hermit monks (Henri Besse, Claude Salmon, and the prior Jean Martin) soon closed the priory and returned to  live with their families.

In 1780, the secular administrator of the monastery, Louis Jacques de Baraudin, who continued living at Grandmont-Villiers, obtained from the king the right to raze the church and monastery buildings, with the exception of one wing that would serve as a country residence. He then had the church sanctuary torn down and converted into a barn, and demolished the greater part of the west wing.

He also demolished and walled off the facade of the chapter room and arrogated to himself, in 1789, the right to tear down everything that remained standing outside the south wing of the building. Barraudin died in 1790.

The remaining building was sold to the French government in 1792. Then in May 1851 it was sold to François Xavier Branicki, owner of the Château de Montrésor. The rest of the property was purchased in 1878 by Constantin Gregory Branicki.

The priory was used as a farm and a hunting lodge until 1963. Occupied for a while by tapestry-makers, it was finally abandoned and went to ruin. Finally, the priory was leased long-term in 1980, with the agreement of Mgr. Ferrand, Archbishop of Tours, to be lived in by hermits inspired by the spiritual writings of St. Stephen of Muret.

Today, three hermit monks lead a poor, lonely, and fraternal life there while rehabilitating the buildings.

* * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * ** * * * * *
The priory can be visited on Sunday afternoons from 3.30 pm to 5.30 p.m. from 2 November to Palm Sunday and every afternoon from Monday from Easter to 31 October. Closed Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, and the last Sunday in August.

Public services: Sunday mass at 10 am. Vespers at 6:30 pm.

Day of Christmas and Easter, Mass at 10:30.

Phone 02 47 92 76 48