30 September 2019

Des gâteaux, des quiches, des tartes, et des pizzas

Here are some pastries and other baked goods for your Monday. Hope they brighten your day.
I took the photos in 2006 in Blois, so these particular cakes and pies might be a little stale by now.
However, there are plenty of fresh ones available all over France.

I'm off to Loches on an errand this morning. That will take my whole morning. Walt is making pizzas for our lunch.
Bonne Journée !

29 September 2019

Blois, both dull and bright

The other major landmark in Blois — one of the two churches that dominate the town's skyline — is the Église Saint-Nicolas-Saint-Laumer. The original church on the site was dedicated to Saint-Laumer. When the current church was built, the name was changed to Saint-Nicolas. I did a series of posts about the Église Saint-Nicolas two months ago, including photos of its stained-glass windows.

It's hard to say whether the best views of Saint-Nicolas are to be had from across the river, 0n the left bank of the Loire, or from the terrace of the château de Blois, which sits on high ground just behind the church. Three of the photos here were taken (by me) in March 2006 (the gloomy ones) and two of them were taken in June 2009 (the sunny ones).

From the château terrace, you can see the houses of the riverside neighborhood surrounding the church. It's the quartier Saint-Nicolas, and it was badly bombed during the second war. It was rebuilt, as much of Blois was rebuilt, in the 1940s and 1950s. A man we know pretty well who lives in Blois — he has a summer house across the street from our house here in the Saint-Aignan area — has told me stories about his experiences during the war. He was a teenager, and his family lived in the house where he lives now, on the banks of the Loire down the hill from the cathedral. He remembers German soldiers shooting at his neighbors' windows from across the river, and he said one of his neighbors was killed that way.

Somehow, the wartime bombardments did little damage to the Saint-Nicolas church besides blow out the old stained-glass windows. New  brightly colored windows, which I've photographed and posted about, were installed in the old building 50 years ago.

Saint-Nicolas was built in the 12th century by monks fleeing the Viking invasions in Normandy in the early 10th century. Parts of the church weren't finished until the early 13th century. The church was badly damaged in the late 16th century during the wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants, and the old monastery attached to the church was razed. The monastery was rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries, and later was used as the town's hospital.

28 September 2019

La cathédrale Saint-Louis de Blois

One article I read yesterday says the cathedral in Blois, which was in great part rebuilt part during the reign of Louis XIV (his powerful minister Colbert's wife was from Blois), might have been named partly in the Sun King's honor. In the early years of the 18th century, Le Roi Soleil paid to have a magnificent pipe organ built inside the church, which had been promoted to cathedral rank by the Pope in 1697. It's also true that the king who turned Blois into a royal city at the end of the 15th century was called Louis XII.

The cathédrale Saint-Louis is mostly a late 17th century building. Why so late? Well, over the centuries there had been two or three chapels or churches on the site where the cathedral stands today, the earliest in the 6th century, and a second in the late 10th century. Another, a Romanesque edifice, was built on the site in the 12th century.

In the mid-16th century, king François Ier had the old Romanesque church re-built, or at least radically modified, in the Renaissance style. The older church building behind the re-styled and enlarged tower and façade was badly deteriorated and unstable, however. That explains why a big storm, called un ouragan (a hurricane) in many sources, destroyed much of that older building in 1678. All the old stained-glass windows were of course blown out.

The church was again rebuilt, this time in late Gothic style, over the last quarter of the 17th century. The Renaissance façade and bell tower had survived the storm, as had the base of the tower, which dates back to the 12th century. The crypt under the cathedral is a vestige of the 10th century church that has survived over the centuries.

Some restorations and modifications were carried out in the 19th century, but nothing very drastic. During World War II, most of the stained glass windows were again blown out when the Allies bombarded Blois, which was held by the Germans. Those windows were for years replaced by clear glass panels, but modern stained-glass windows designed by a Dutch artist were installed about 20 years ago. 

After reading much information on several blogs and web sites (Ma Ville de Blois, for example) and in my much-consulted guidebooks (Cadogan, Michelin), I now want to go back to Blois and take some photos inside the cathedral. I've been inside before, but I've never taken pictures, as best I can remember.

27 September 2019

Blois dans le brouillard

The bridge that spans the wide, lazy Loire River at Blois, an old royal city, was built in the 18th century by the architect Jacques Gabriel. There had been a medieval bridge at Blois, mentioned in records as early as the year 1089, but it collapsed in 1716. I took this photo of the bridge on a foggy day a dozen years ago.

The Michelin Green Guide says that "a tri-color harmony is characteristic of Blois: white façades, blue slate roofs, and red brick chimneys." You can see that harmony in these photos, despite the fog. I took the one above from the south bank (the "left bank" in French) of the river, looking north. The church in the photo is the city's cathedral.

I also took the photo above from the south side, looking toward the old town, which is built on a bluff on the Loire river's right bank. The château isn't in these photos; it's farther west, and also on very high ground. The old town is very compact, and the climb from the end of the bridge up to the cathedral is steep, to say the least.

Walt and I were on our way to have lunch that day with a woman we had met in the Saint-Aignan area. She had sold her old farmhouse in the country and moved into an apartment in Blois, at the foot of the cathedral, with the view you see in this last photo from her living room windows. It was fairly impressive, I thought.

26 September 2019

Bifteck à la pizzaiola

At the supermarket on Tuesday, I noticed that a cut of beef called a pièce à fondue was on sale at a good price. The meat was very lean, but this cut is for making meat fondue or brochettes (kebabs) and is pretty tender.

We have so many tomatoes that it was tempting to find a way to cook the beef with them, but I didn't want to grind the meat. So I got the idea of making steak pizzaiola — steak in a spicy, thickened, flavorful tomato sauce.

Walt picked these sweet peppers from the garden Tuesday afternoon, along with another 20 tomatoes. Some of the peppers were blemished — sunburned, I think — so I took those and trimmed them up, seeded them, and cut them into strips. Poivrons (bell peppers) are one of the main ingredients in pizzaiola sauce. I also trimmed and cut up four fresh tomatoes from the garden.

The pièce à fondue didn't look like this when I bought it. To make it into a pavé (a "cobblestone" or thick steak), I trimmed the meat on three sides and cut those thinner pieces into strips. Into the freezer they went, to be used in stir-fried dishes over the next few weeks or months. The pavé was about 3 centimeters thick and weighed 375 grams.

Walt cooked the pavé de bœuf on the barbecue grill. It didn't rain yesterday, so we decided it was a good idea to cook on the grill. You never know when the weather will turn too damp and chilly for cooking out on the trrrace. And the flavor of grilled meat is really good — sort of smoky. You can see that the pavé really plumped up as it cooked.

I had read in one recipe on the internet that a good cut of meat for steak pizzaiola was tenderloin. I was hoping this beef would be tender like that. The recipe, which I got on line, comes from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich's book titled Italy in America. We remember watching Lidia's cooking shows on television in California.

Lidia's note on her recipe suggested that the tenderloin (pièce à fondue in our case) be cooked whole, and then sliced and served with the pizzaiola sauce. That's what we were doing. As you can see, the meat was fairly rare. Spooning the hot tomato sauce over it (and over some cooked spaghetti) would cook the slices of beef a little more on our plates.

Here's the result. I cooked the four fresh tomatoes, the sweet peppers, a sliced shallot, and three pressed garlic cloves in olive oil first. As you can see, we decided to put black olives in the sauce in the place of Lidia's sliced mushrooms. We had a small container of left-over tomato sauce in the refrigerator, so that went into the pizzaiola as well.

25 September 2019

L'Église de Saint-Aignan : peintures murales

I've posted several images and photos of the Romanesque church in Saint-Aignan over the past couple of weeks. Now here are some photos of the medieval wall paintings in the older church building on top of which which today's imposing church was built. The église basse — the lower church — is now the crypt of the larger building. The crypt is dark and I think I might have taken some of these photos using a flash. They are seven years old, and I've posted some of them before, but it was a long time ago and I've never before made them into a slideshow. The show runs for just 90 seconds.

The Michelin Loire Valley guidebook says the lower church, which was dedicated to St. John, was undoubtedly the original sanctuary. Later, it was used as stables or a root cellar during the French Revolution. It says the wall paintings are remarkable and describes some of the figures depicted in them. The Cadogan Loire guidebook says the crypt is the high point of the church (is that supposed to be funny?).  The author says the fact that the crypt was used as a wine cellar in the 19th century saved it from major restorations that might have ruined the paintings or at least diminished their beauty and their historical significance.

24 September 2019

The resident's card (anti)climax

The trip to Blois to pick up our resident's cards at the préfecture de police de Loir-et-Cher was fairly anticlimactic. The important moments came when we learned on September 3 that we would be given temporary resident's permits to extend the validity of our old cards, which were set to expire on September 10. We'd remain legal aliens, at least until December. The other important moment was when we received notification last Thursday that our cards were ready for pick-up.

Yesterday, we arrived at at the préfecture in Blois at about 9:15 — the drive took a little less than an hour. We easily found parking in one of the worst-designed parking lots I've ever seen. After after paying a couple of euros for a ticket that was good until 10:30, we walked across the lot to the building where French immigration agents process residence permit (carte de séjour) applications. There were a dozen or so people in line, waiting to see one of the two receptionists on duty.

The wait was short. But it had only started, because the receptionist who looked at our papers just gave us a ticket with a number on it and directed us to the waiting room. Walt got E815 and I got E816. We took a seat and joined a crowd of about 50 people waiting for their number to come up on one of the two big computer screens in the room. The number being displayed when we sat down was E806. We sat for 10 or 15 minutes before number E807 came up on the display.

This is the entrance to the lobby of the préfecture's office for immigrants and legal aliens.

Walt did a quick calculation and figured that if each person called in spent 5 to 10 minutes with the immigration agent, he would be called at about 10:30. That meant our parking would expire and we might end up having to pay a fine for overstaying our welcome. So I went out and bought a second ticket, one that would be valid until 11:30. It only took a minute or two, and my number wasn't close to coming up on the screen any time soon.

Walt's calculation was exactly right. His number was called at 10:30. He walked a few steps down a hall to what was called Guichet 8 ("window" 8), which was not actually a window but a door into a very small room, just big enough for two chairs. A woman sat behind a desk with a computer and a stack of new or renewed cartes de séjours were ready to be handed out. Three minutes after Walt walked down the hall, he was back. It was done.

My number came up a minute or so later. I too went to Guichet 8 — a sign on the door said Asiles, meaning it was normally used for processing asylum-seekers, I guess. We had been told to bring our convocation (summons), passport, expired or expiring resident's card, the temporary card we had been issued earlier, and our paper proving we had paid 269 euro "tax stamp" that we had paid on line to cover the fee for the renewal. The immigration agent looked at the documents, shuffled through the many cards that were ready to hand out — mine was the next-to-last one in the pile — gave me my passport back, my new carte de résident,  and asked me to sign a paper attesting that I had received it. That was all there was to it.

I examined the card. On it I read CARTE DE RÉSIDENT PERMANENT. I asked the agent if that meant it never needed to be renewed again. I was surprised when she said she didn't know. She had to call her supervisor to get that information. An older woman came in and told me that the permanent card would expire in 10 years, just as the plain carte de résident would. So I don't know what in the world the word PERMANENT on my card actually means. I guess I'll find out in 10 years. Maybe the renewal process will be different. Walt got the plain carte de résident, so we'll both be renewing in 2029 and we'll see if the rules are different or not.

Thanks to Google maps for this image of the préfecture and its strange parking lot.

About that parking lot: you can see it in the picture above, along with the entrance (labeled as the Préfecture de Loir-et-Cher on the screenshot) for foreigners and people registering their cars or getting a driver's license. The parking lot has narrow curvy lanes with head-in parking all along them. Spaces are not marked, so in places two cars take up enough room for three cars. There are trees growing along the lanes as well, making maneuvering tricky. And some of the lanes are dead ends, with barely enough room to turn your car around  and get back out if you haven't found an empty space to park in.

In addition, instead of paying for the time you've left your car in the lot upon departure, upon arrival you have to estimate how much time to pay for. That's why I had to go back out and buy another ticket to extend our parking time — when we arrived, we had no idea how long we would need to be there. The town or préfecture must make a lot of extra money from people who have to overpay in order to avoid having to pay a fine.

23 September 2019

Off to Blois, under partly cloudy skies

Today is the day we drive up to Blois to pick up our renewed resident's cards and do some shopping. It'll take all morning to get there and back. Even though it's only 25 miles away, the drive takes an hour each way, on narrow, winding country roads passing through half a dozen villages. I hope that we won't have to stand in line for a long time at the préfecture. And that we won't have trouble finding parking. The préfecture is near the cathedral, which is the church on the hill, on the right side, in this photo.

Blois, an old royal city on the right bank of the Loire River

Partly cloudy skies today, as I said, but yesterday we got 13 mmabout half an inch — of rain. That's according to our back yard rain gauge. I just checked Accuweather, and it too says we got exactly that amount of precipitation yesterday. The last time we saw that much rainfall on a single day was on June 14.

22 September 2019

L'Ossau-Iraty, un fromage de lait de brebis

It's raining! Walt just went out with Tasha to let her do her business and reports that it is pouring right now.  I hope the rain lasts all day. It wasn't raining when I went outside with Tasha at five o'clock.

Lately, for eating and cooking, we've been enjoying sheep's milk cheeses from the Pyrénées mountains, about 300 miles south of Saint-Aignan. They're available in the supermarkets. The best-known such cheese is called Ossau-Iraty [oh-so-ee-rah-TEE] and has carried the AOC quality label since 1980. The production zone touches the Spanish border — its eastern edge is a beech forest called the Forêt d'Iraty, and the western edge is the deep Vallée d'Ossau.
Under AOC (and now AOP, a similar European label) rules, Ossau-Iraty cheese must be made with milk from flocks of sheep in a strictly defined area in the Pyrénées that corresponds roughly with the département des Pyrénées-Atlantiques, a territory about 85 miles from east to west and 55 miles from north to south.

By the way, the word brebis [bruh-BEE] in title of this post is the French word for "ewe" (a female sheep).
The biggest, best-known towns in the département are Bayonne, Biarritz, St-Jean-de-Luz on the coast in Basque Country, along with Pau and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port up in the mountains. Back in the 1970s, local people saw that traditional cheese production on farms where sheep were kept was in danger of being taken over my industrial dairies. They organized a campaign to define strict rules and methods for the production of ewe's-milk cheeses and earned the AOC label. Nowadays, Ossau Iraty cheese can be made by farmers or in local dairies with either raw or pasteurized sheep milk. It's a mild (not "stinky") semi-hard cheese with a natural rind. The milk is not heated up ("cooked") during the cheese-making process.

In the late 1800s and well into the 20th century, industrial dairies specializing in making Roquefort cheese, which is also made with sheep's milk, set up plants in the western Pyrénées and started buying milk from local farmers. They would make a plain "white" cheese and then ship it by railroad to the caves 200 miles to the east at Roquefort for aging — it was turned into the blue cheese we all know so well. In the 1970s farmers in the Roquefort area developed new hybrid sheep varieties that produced milk in greater quantities. The Roquefort producers stopped buying as much lait de brebis in the western Pyrénées. The local farmers then turned to making the traditional sheep's milk cheese of their region, giving it the Ossau-Iraty name and standardizing production methods.

21 September 2019

La fin de l'été

So this weekend summer ends. Astronomical summer, I mean. The equinox, the moment when summer becomes autumn, will happen Monday morning. That's in central European Time, which is the time zone France is in. Key words for this summer from my point of view have been: drought, heat, loo, home improvement, upheaval, medical procedures, hurricane, paperwork, confusion, administrative tangles, residence cards, tomatoes, zucchini.

Here are Natasha, the sheltie, and Bertie, the black cat, enjoying summer weather together on the terrace. They're pals.

It's funny that so much stuff is ending over the course of one or two days. A new season begins on Monday. It's supposed to turn cooler and rain. Not just tonight, tomorrow, and Monday, the rain, but for the next ten days, according to forecasts. That might put an end to the tomato harvest, but the long-suffering kale will enjoy it. On Monday we'll go pick up our new titres de séjour, and kick off new decade of legal residence in France.


And now the grass will get greener. I'm tired of hot, dry and dusty. We've been under water restrictions for weeks and weeks now. We water only a few potted plants, mostly with water that has been used for washing vegetables in the kitchen, and Walt waters the vegetable garden sparingly. All in all, I'll be glad when this summer is over. I'll spend the first month of autumn preparing for my trip to North Carolina and enjoying time spent there — as long as the weather cooperates.

20 September 2019

Carte de résident news

Yesterday we got good news. Our resident's cards are ready to be picked up. When we turned in our applications and documentation on September 3, the woman we met with told us we might well get the convocation or "summons" to come back to Blois and pick up the new cards early in October. She seemed very efficient, as well as friendly and helpful, and this early notification that our cards are ready just underscores all that.

The reason I was so stressed out by this whole process — especially when we couldn't even get an appointment before early September, even though we started the process a month earlier than the official instructions said we needed to start — is that I'm going to North Carolina in three weeks. This will be my first trip "home" since my mother passed away in February 2018. I was worried that my trip might be jeopardized by the resident's card renewal schedule. I had already bought non-refundable plane tickets and paid 50% of the price of a rental apartment in N.C. for my stay when everything threatened to go haywire.

But the most important factor was this one: I had also invited an old friend who lives in California to come and spend a week with me on the N.C. coast. Sue has been a friend for more than 40 years, and she has visited Walt and me here in Saint-Aignan three or four times over the past 15 years. For years, Sue had told me she would love to see the N.C. coast one day, after seeing my photos of the place and hearing stories about it over so many years. Finally we had a plan for a trip there together, and now a silly administrative snafu was putting the trip at risk.

Sue had already made her flight arrangements for the trip as well. As I may have said before, the last few times I've flown off to the U.S. from Paris, the immigration agents at the airport have asked me to produce not just my U.S. passport by also my French resident's card before they let me go board my plane. Everything is computerized nowadays, and I assume the agents can see on their computer screen information showing that I live in France. Fortunately, I've had the resident's card with me each time and was able to show it to them.

In addition, in two different airports in North Carolina over the past few years, when I was checking in and registering my bags for flights, airline agents have questioned me because I am flying to France without the normally required return ticket. U.S. citizens aren't allowed to travel one-way to France unless they have either a return ticket or a long-stay visa issued by a French consulate in the U.S. To stay in France for more than 90 days, you need to prove to French authorities that you have the financial resources to stay here without needing to look for work. Getting a work permit is a long, arduous process, and seeking employment without one is illegal. In my case, once I showed the airline staff my French carte de résident, they knew I was legitimate and let me continue my travels.

There you have it. I was really worried that the resident's card process might force me to change my travel plans and sacrifice the money I had paid out for airline tickets and an apartment rental. Sue's trip would be jeopardized too. Now I know that won't happen. Walt and I will go pick up our new cards at the préfecture in Blois early next week. I have now booked a rental car and paid the final rent installment for the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo on the beach at Morehead City where Sue and I will stay. Wish us luck with the weather — the last thing I want to happen is for another hurricane to strike the N.C. coast right before or during our trip.

19 September 2019

L'Église de Saint-Aignan

Today I'm just posting three photos of the church in Saint-Aignan that I've taken over the years.
I don't have much to say this morning...

The second image is one that I created in Photoshop to put in a frame that a friend made and gave us years ago.
I have to go to a framing shop over in Loches to get it mounted. Soon.

18 September 2019


It's funny that we sometimes use the word "sky" as a plural. We all know the old Irving Berlin song, (Nothing But) Blue Skies, recorded by singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Willie Nelson. In French, it's even more complicated. In some contexts, the word ciel becomes a plural as ciels, and in others it becomes cieux. In the Lord's Prayer, for example, the first line is Notre Père qui es aux cieux... And the expression sous d'autres cieux means "in other lands," or "in other countries." I think you could say "under other skies" to mean the same thing in English.

"Red sky at night, sailors delight." Or should that be "sailor's delight"? Or maybe "sailors' delight"? "Delight" can be a noun or a verb, in other words. Anyway, the one above was a delight to see.

So was this moon from a few mornings earlier. It's amazing how it looks so perfectly round. Scientists say, however, that the Earth's moon is not really round. It's slightly egg-shaped, but the side we see looks round — it's the "dark side" that has the bulge. It was probably given its shape by the force of Earth's gravity when the moon was still in a molten state millions and millions of years ago.

17 September 2019

Un coucher de soleil

Yesterday's sunset was pretty nice. Our weather is hot again — at least the afternoons are hot, with temperatures near 30ºC. And it's so dry it could make you cry. According to the Accuweather web site, we've had just three millimeters of rain in September. That's about a tenth of an inch.

On the national news yesterday, one of the regular weather forecasters reported that much of France has had no significant rain for the past 36 days. The last time that happened was in 1953. And we also had 26 straight days without significant rain starting last June 15, and we got a total of 3 mm of rain in all of July. August was "wetter" — 8 millimeters of rain fell. Normally, we would get about 50 mm of rain in July, 50 mm in August, and again 50 mm in September. We are wondering if the rains will soon return with a vengeance, and whether we might wash away this winter.

16 September 2019

Tarte aux tomates, pesto, et fromage de brebis

Yesterday we made the tomato tart that I posted about last Friday, showing pictures that I took 15 years ago. As you can see, those tomatoes that appeared to have "green-back" ended up ripening pretty fast out on the front terrace. The slideshow below consists of 10 photos in chronological order and lasts just one minute.

Instead of Dijon mustard, we decided to make the tart with pesto, since we have such a good crop of fresh basil this year. We made pesto with basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, powdered hazelnuts (poudre de noisettes), and salt and pepper, using a stick blender.

A thin layer of the pesto was spread over the bottom of a blind-baked pie crust (pâté brisée). On top of the pesto we sprinkled some panko bread crumbs (chapelure japonaise) and some grated ewe's-milk cheese (tomme de brebis), and then laid on a layer of overlapping tomato slices (quatre belles tomates). On top we sprinkled on a little more panko and some more grated brebis cheese.

The tart baked in the oven at 180ºC (350ºF) for about 30 minutes. I was afraid the tomatoes might be too watery, but they weren't. The breadcrumbs probably absorbed a lot of the tomato juice. We ate the tart (or most of it...) hot, right out of the oven.

15 September 2019

Closing in on Saint-Aignan

I was surprised to read just a minute ago, on French Wikipédia, that the population of Saint-Aignan declined from 3,500 in 1999 to 2,800 in 2016. That's a decrease of 20 per cent. Maybe that's because with the growth in attendance at the big Beauval zoo just south of town, more and more houses are being turned into vacation rentals for tourists.

I took these photos from the other side of the Cher River, over in Noyers-sur-Cher. The population of Noyers has increased, but only slightly, over the same period while Saint-Aignan's has been declining. The body of water here is called Le Lac des Trois Provinces, which is the western endpoint of the old Canal de Berry.

Saint-Aignan has existed since about the year 1000, when the first fortifications and the first church were built on the hill here overlooking the Cher River. The big château was built during the French Renaissance of the 1500s. It's privately owned and not open to the public.

Nowadays, the Cher River and the Canal de Berry are no longer navigable except for short sections and for very small boats. Trains that run from the city of Tours (35 miles west of Saint-Aignan) and on to the city of Lyon (200 miles to the east) stop at the Saint-Aignan-Noyers station. You can ride all the way to Lyon without any train changes, but the voyage takes about five hours — about an hour longer than driving your car.

14 September 2019

Saint-Aignan panoramas

I've been looking back at some photos I've taken over the years in Saint-Aignan. Here are two of them that show the little town's "skyline." We live about 2.3 kilometers, less than 1½ miles from the château.

In the photo above, in which you can see the Romanesque church, the Renaissance château, and the ruined medieval tower of the original château-fort, as well as the houses along the river below.

The photo above, which I've turned into a sepia-toned image, shows a closer view of the church and château in Saint-Aignan. As always, you can enlarge these views by clicking on them with your mouse or, if you're using a tablet, "unpinching" them.

13 September 2019

Tomates farcies au thon

Tuna salad — rillettes de thon in French — is a nice cold accompaniment to fresh summer tomatoes. This salad is made of thon germon (a.k.a. thon blanc, called "albacore" in North America), shallot, cornichons, capers, mayonnaise, and dried oregano. You can add some of the water that the tuna is packed in to thin the mayonnaise slightly and add more tuna flavor.

Butter lettuce and diced zucchini, along with green olives, are good garnishes.

At the last minute, we decided that some hard-boiled eggs (œufs durs) would be a good addition. And some fresh parsley that we have growing in pots on the front terrace. There's something old-fashioned-looking about tomatoes stuffed this way, but they tasted pretty good.

12 September 2019

Try to remember...

...the kind of September... That's what I'm doing this morning. For some reason, I decided to look back at some photos that I took in September 2004 — 15 years ago already, and the first year when we had a vegetable garden in Saint-Aignan. We had only been here for a year. And for eight years before that, we had been living in San Francisco, where summers were too chilly and damp for us to be able to grow tomatoes.

Here are some photos that I took on Sept. 2, 2004, of a tomato tart Walt and I had made. I'm trying to remember... what ingredients went into this tart? Tomatoes, clearly. Fresh from the vegetable garden, certainly. But what's under the tomatoes? I wasn't yet a blogger. It looks like there might be grated cheese under there. And I'm convincing myself that there might be a layer of Dijon mustard under the cheese, brushed onto the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell.

I just found this recipe on the internet and it pretty much describes what I remember. It's called Tarte aux tomates et au fromage and it's made with Swiss cheese (Emmental), mozzarella, and oregano. I have those ingredients. This one we made seems to feature just chives, salt, and pepper sprinkled over the tomatoes, and I remember that there was a patch of chives growing out in the back yard when we came to live here in 2003.

Here's another French recipe I found on the internet that's titled Tarte tomate à la moutarde.  It calls for Comté cheese, which I really like, but I think the tart would also be good with ewe's milk cheese or goat cheese. Plus oregano (or other herbs). I can't find such a recipe among the 1,600 or so that I've collected over the years and digitized and organized into a kind of database. I'll have to  make a tart like this if I can get Walt to make a nice pie shell, which he does so well. There are many other recipes for this kind of tart here, so it seems to be a classic. Here's a recipe in English for the same kind of pie.

11 September 2019

Panzanella salad

This is my personal version of a panzanella salad — a bread salad that's originally Italian. It's a salad, originally, of tomato, cucumber, onion, and large toasted croutons. What makes it different is that you dress the salad and croutons with vinaigrette and let it "marinate" for an hour or so in the refrigerator so that the chunks of bread absorb some of the vinegar and oil dressing. Here's Jamie Oliver's recipe, and another recipe on a site called Serious Eats.

I substituted diced zucchini for the diced cucumber, and I put in roasted sweet red peppers that I bought at the supermarket. The tomatoes, zucchini, and basil that went into the salad came from our vegetable garden. I used a mix of red and yellow cherry tomatoes.

To make the salad into a full meal, I added some cut up roasted chicken breast and some diced cheese — mozzarella and a ewe's milk cheese (tomme de brebis) called Lou Pérac from the Averyron in south central France. We have both green and purple basil growing in this summer's garden.

The base of the salad is bread and lettuce. I had some crunchy butter lettuce, but something like romaine would be really good in it. And I had stale and frozen bread that I had saved for making croutons. I cut the bread up and tossed it with a little bit of olive oil before I toasted it in the oven.

Instead of onions, I put a diced shallot in the salad. Or in the dressing, actually. I put the diced shallot in vinegar — a combination of balsamic vinegar and white wine (Chardonnay) vinegar. In theory, soaking for 30 to 60 minutes in the vinegar will slightly "cook" the shallot and make it easier to digest. It also gives good flavor to the dressing, which also includes olive oil and some dried oregano.

Here's the salad on the plate, after being tossed with the dressing and put in the fridge to rest for an hour. I didn't think we would, but we ate the whole thing! It made a good lunch, and then I had the last of it as an evening snack. Delicious.