30 November 2019

Like cats and dogs

Yesterday as we were eating our lunch of leftover leg of lamb, steamed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and mayonnaise, I noticed that Tasha the Sheltie and Bertie the Black Cat were sitting in front of the sliding glass doors in the dining area. They were watching, I think, birds on the feeder out on the terrace. At least Bertie probably was — Tasha might just have been waiting for somebody to walk or drive by. Luckily, nobody did, because she barks like crazy when that happends.

Julia Child, I think it was, gave this advice: "Never apologize for your food" when you have guests in for a meal. I guess the same could apply to photos. Never apologize for them after you've decided to post them on a blog. So I won't. All I could do was pick up the camera, which just happened to be on the table, and snap them.

I knew I couldn't get up and move to a better vantage point, because if I moved the dog and cat would move too. As it was, when they heard the camera click, they turned away from the show outdoors and turned to watch what I was doing. They probably hoped I might be getting ready to give them something to eat, even though we never feed them from the table.

When they realized they weren't getting any food, they seemed crest-fallen, and closed their eyes. They didn't look away, though, just in case... They seem to enjoy each other's company these days. Natasha will soon be three years old, and Bertie will turn thirteen in April.

29 November 2019

Gleaning meat and fat from slow-cooked duck

Yesterday I wrote about cooking duck legs and thighs in the slow-cooker with the idea of making them into "pulled duck" that would resemble the pulled-pork "barbecue" that I grew up eating in my native North Carolina. Here's the rest of the process.

Taking the duck pieces out of the slow-cooker was a delicate operation. As you can see, some came out intact, but the meat on others was already falling off the bones, so they came apart as I tried to lift them out of the pot. It didn't matter, because my plan was to take all the meat off the bones anyway.

The second step was to take the skin off the legs and thighs. That was pretty easy. The pieces really fell apart at this stage, but again that was my plan anyway.

I continued pulling the lumps of duck lean muscle off the bones, and separating them from the bones, most of the fat, and some veins and other parts that I didn't really want as part of the pulled duck meat. I put the "scraps" back in the slow-cooker with the duck fat and broth and let it cook for another couple of hours, figuring that cooking would make the broth that much tastier and give me more fat. I still have to re-heat what's in the cooker, which I kept in the refrigerator overnight, and then pour everything through a sieve or strainer to filter the broth and fat.

Et voilà ! Here's the meat, which could now be turned into the French potted meat called rillettes by adding some of the filtered fat, cooking it a little longer while stirring to break the meat down into fine threads. That makes something resembling but not really the same as pâté to be spread on bread or crackers and eaten with, for example, pickles or cornichons. I admit I was slightly disappointed when I weighed the meat you see in the photo above — I got only 600 grams of lean meat from six leg-and-thigh sections that weighed about 1.5 kilograms. I expected more, but I'll console myself with thoughts of the good duck fat and broth that is a fine by-product of the cooking.

But the fact is, I can buy very good duck rillettes from charcutiers who sell them at outdoor markets or in their shops, or in supermarkets packed in plastic pots and sold at reasonable prices. The fines rillettes in this pot, according to what's printed on the label, contain no preservatives and 79% duck meat. The rest is pork, duck fat, garlic, "natural flavors", salt, and pepper. My plan for the pulled duck I've made is to season it the way pulled-pork barbecue is seasoned in eastern North Carolina, with a splash of vinegar, some herbs and spices, and a good pinch of hot red pepper flakes. Then we'll eat it hot — maybe on hamburger buns.

28 November 2019

Doing it with duck

My car trip yesterday through Saint-Aignan and over to Faverolles-sur-Cher, across the river from the town of Montrichard, was therapeutic. It rained the whole time, and hard too. I went out for two necessities: I needed to go to the pharmacy and pick up some of my daily medications, because I was out. And I "needed" to go to see the butcher in Saint-Aignan who sells and prepares the best leg of lamb — gigot d'agneau — I've ever had. For years we've been cooking lamb for Thanksgiving, saving the holiday bird for our Christmas dinner. I have to get that gigot into the oven this morning.

But birds were on my mind too, this year. In this week's supermarket flyers, which come with Monday's mail, I noticed that a supermarket in Faverolles-sur-Cher, Carrefour Market, was advertising a special on fresh duck legs (cuisses de canard) for 3.99 €/kilogram. Neither of our Saint-Aignan area supermarkets, SuperU and Intermarché, had duck legs as an advertised special. So I decided to drive over to Faverolles (pop. 1,400), which is 10 miles downriver from Saint-Aignan (and only about five miles upriver from the Château de Chenonceau), to buy some duck.

I already had a plan for cooking the duck, and it would be an experiment. Buying the duck leg-and-thigh pieces would be a good way to get some delicious duck without a big layout of cash. At approximately  $2.50/lb., what was there to lose? I bought eight legs, weighing a total of five pounds (2.2 kg).

 Besides, going to get the duck would be a good opportunity to take a drive in the country, through fields, villages, and forests — a sure cure for cabin fever. It rained, again pretty hard, all the way there, but that was actually pretty too. The fields are green, a lot of trees are sporting gold and red autumn colors, and the villages are picturesque and sleepy-looking.

My idea for the duck legs and thighs? Well, as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing new under the sun (the question "What sun?" pops into my head). I decided I wanted to make a batch of N.C.-style "barbecue" but with duck rather than pork. "Barbecue" in North Carolina is synonymous with "pulled pork" — meat slow-cooked and then shredded and seasoned with barbecue sauce. I often make "pulled turkey" when turkey legs and thighs are on special, and it's just as good as pulled pork in my opinion. "Pulled duck" is bound to be even better.

To make "pulled" meat, I cook it in the slow-cooker (la mijoteuse) because I don't have a smokehouse on the property here. Even in N.C., a lot of the barbecue restaurants now use electricity or gas to cook meat (mostly pork, of course), and smokehouses are soon to be completely phased out because they contribute so much to air pollution. Only the few restaurant-owners who have been cooking pork in smokehouses for decades are still allowed to do so. My understanding is that those few do are not allowed to pass on the right to cook smoked meat over oak or hickory coals to their heirs or to people who might buy their restaurants from them.

Here's what the cuisses de canard look like this morning, after slow-cooking overnight. I guess they're not very appetizing yet, but just you wait. Duck makes a lot of fat when you cook it, but that's a benefit, not a negative thing. You can use the duck fat to season vegetables or for frying potatoes, for example. They say duck fat is a healthy fat. To season these duck legs before their slow-cooking, I put in onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, allspice, smoked paprika, and white wine. I have to get them out of the cooker, let them cool, and then chop and shred the lean meat, saving the fat for other nice treats. The meat will go into the freezer for now.

More tomorrow...

27 November 2019

Cabin fever

It is really early — still three or four weeks from the winter solstice — to have a bad case of "cabin fever" — but that's what I think I've got right now. It is absolutely pouring rain this morning. The ground is completely saturated. I'm fully expecting the roof to start leaking. If we get more heavy rain over the next few days and weeks, water will probably start flowing into the garage. I poured an inch of water out of the rain gauge yesterday.

I should be out there raking up leaves, but they are too wet and heavy, and it's no fun working in the yard wearing rain gear.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and that holiday always makes me feel that I'm living in an alternate universe. It's not a holiday in France. The world just goes on as on any other normal weekday. And normal weekdays are very low-key these days because of constant rainfall and gray skies. It's been this way nearly all the time since I got back from North Carolina five weeks ago. Can you tell I'm trying to avoid using the D word? Depressing...

Saint-Aignan is under the small green and yellow blob just below the word France.
Look at that huge blob of rain and clouds that's will be making its way inland today.

The only other times I've ever felt so disconnected from the world as I do on Thanksgiving Day in France was when we lived in San Francisco. In summertime, the television news and morning shows would report that an extreme heat wave was causing suffering in wide areas of the U.S. I'd look outside, check the thermometer, and see that it was foggy, misty, windy, and about 55ºF. San Francisco is world unto itself in so many ways, and so is France.

Bertie the black cat is not a jolly fellow these days. At least he and Tasha are buddies, so he can spend as much time in the house as he wants. And that's most of the day and night right now. He's free to go outside whenever he wants to, and he does go out for a stroll now and then, but mostly he just sleeps. I think maybe he has got cabin fever too. That's what you get when you have to spend way too much time shut up in the house in wintertime.

26 November 2019

La Somme, fleuve côtier ?

In the French language, a distinction is made between rivers that are tributaries of another river, and rivers that flow directly from their source to the sea. A tributary is called une rivière. A river that runs from its source all the way to the sea is called un fleuve. Where we live, outside Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher in the Loir-et-Cher département ("county" or "prefecture"), la Loire is the fleuve, and the two rivers the département is named for, le Loir and le Cher. Both flow into the Loire — the Cher directly, and the Loir indirectly.

The town in the middle of this image is Le Crotoy, with Cayeux-sur-Mer on the other side of the river.

Of course, this is all a matter of convention — it might even be seen as arbitrary — because somebody once had to decide which river is the real river and which other rivers flow into it. In other words, maybe the Cher is the river and the Loire is a branch of it that flows into the Cher. To give a U.S. example, why is the Missouri River considered to be a tributary of the Mississippi? From its source in Montana down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Missouri is longer than the Mississippi is from its source in Minnesota to the Gulf. I think Europeans declared the Mississippi to be the main river because it's the one they discovered first. It's probably that simple.

Bay? Delta?

France's Somme river, in the area where we are going to spend a week in April (if all works out), is a fleuve. In the French Wikipédia about it it's called a fleuve côtier — a coastal river. That's a fairly vague term. A river is described as "coastal" because its source is not that far from the coast. Who defines "that far"? The Somme river is just 250 kilometers long — 150 miles or so — while the Loire flows for 1,000 kilometers from source to sea — 600 miles. Many French fleuves côtiers are much shorter, and in America we might call them "tidal rivers" because they rise and fall according to the rhythm of the tides.

Slightly to the left of center in this image is the medieval town of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme (no accent on Valery [val-ree].

Anyway, the Baie de Somme is where the Somme river — and its dozens of direct and indirect tributaries — flow into the sea. It seems to me to be an estuary or delta more than it is a bay, as we commonly use the term in the U.S. I'll be curious to see how much of a bay there really is up there. It looks like more sand than water. An estuary is the mouth of a river, where the salt water of the sea mingles with the fresh water flowing down the river toward the coast. That "mingled" water is called "brackish" — saumâtre in French — "briny." The French Wikipédia article about the Somme describes it as « un fleuve peu abondant » — there's not all that much water in it. It's a lazy river that flows slowly but fairly steadily.

Saint-Valery and Le Crotoy sort of face each other across the river delta.

I've seen the Somme farther inland, thanks to my friend CHM. One branch of his family comes from this part of France, and we've driven up there several times and spent a few days exploring the area. However, the only time I've seen the Baie de Somme I was looking out the window of an airplane. I was flying out from Paris for one of my trips to North Carolina. The plane flew right over the Baie de Somme and I took these photos. It was in April 2013. For seven years now, I've been thinking it would be fun to go spend a week up there, and that will finally happen, I hope, in April 2020.

25 November 2019

Un gîte rural dans la Somme pour nos vacances du printemps

Something to look forward to — we have reserved a vacation rental, un gîte rural, using the Gîtes de France web site,  for a week's vacation next April in the département de la Somme in Picardie (northern France). My thanks to "elgee" who comments here regularly and who actually found this gîte for us and sent me a link after I mentioned a while back that I was having trouble finding a gîte near the Baie de Somme that would let us bring our dog, Tasha, along. Here's a photo of the house.

It's located in a hamlet very near the estuary of the Somme river and only a mile from a town with a population of about 2,500 and several supermarkets and markets. The Baie de Somme, on the English Channel (la Manche), is about a five-hour drive from Saint-Aignan, where we live. As you can see from the map below,  the city of Amiens, with its fantastic cathedral, is only 35 miles away, as is the Channel port of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Dieppe in Normandie is just 30 miles down the coast. The red upside-down "tear-drop" marks the spot.

The house has two bedrooms and a WC (half-bath) upstairs, as well as another WC and a separate bathroom with tub and shower on the ground floor (just as our house in Saint-Aignan does now). Central heating is included in the rental price, as are the end-of-stay cleaning fee and Wifi for Internet access. There's a washer and dryer as well as a dishwasher and a television. The yard is large and fenced in. The owners have a little dog that they say Tasha might enjoy playing with. So it all sounds pretty nice. The price for a week's stay is about 500 euros. Here's a slideshow showing the interior of the house.

We're hoping for good weather in April and looking forward to sightseeing as well a walks on beaches and dinners of local seafood. Planning the trip and researching the area will get us through the winter.

24 November 2019

Parmentier de choucroute au porc et au poulet

Everytime I think I've come up with some new food idea, I search after the fact and find that there are dozens of recipes on the internet for dishes that are very similar, if not identical. I guess that means my ideas are basically good, or at least not too far out. My idea this time had to do with a big batch of choucroute garnie — sauerkraut served with smoked meats and sausages, along with boiled potatoes — that we had made a few days earlier.

We had eaten the choucroute at least three times over the course of a week. Neither of us minds eating the same thing several times that way, as long as the food is appetizing and tasty. Here's is a photo of what was left of the sauerkraut and some of the meats we had served it with. I shredded and chopped the smoked meats and even added some cooked chicken to the mix.

What is a parmentier? It's a dish made with potatoes. A man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (b. 1737 – d. 1813) was an active promoter of the potato as a good and nutritious food for humans, not just for livestock as it had been seen before. The most common parmentier dish is what we in the anglophone world call a shepherd's pie (made with mutton or lamb) or a cottage pie (often made with beef). In France, people make such meat pies with other meats — slow-cooked, shredded duck, for example.

Since the choucroute we had been eating was served with boiled (steamed) potatoes, and I had some left over, and since the leftover sauerkraut looked like it would be good heated up with a layer of mashed potatoes over the top, I was on my way. I just mashed the potatoes with a fork and added some cream to give them some richness and the right consistency.

Here's the result after I baked it in the oven. I had spread some grated Comté ("Swiss") cheese over the top and then browned it under the broiler (le grill) in the oven. If I had had any Munster cheese on hand, I would have used that, since it is one of the great cheeses of eastern France, where sauerkraut is a specialty. (Some of the recipes I see on the internet call for making this kind of parmentier de choucroute with ground beef, and that might be good, if the idea appeals to you.)

And here's what it looked like on the plate. It was tasty. If you make it, be careful not to salt the potatoes much (if at all), because the sauerkraut and smoked meats are already pretty salty. Serve it hot. We didn't feel the need to have a salad with it because choucroute is, after all, a leafy green vegetable (cabbage). As always, I like carrots with it — with almost anything, really.

Here's what the choucroute garnie looked like the first day we ate some. It's definitely a meat-and-potatoes dish, with sauerkraut as the supporting vegetable. Sauerkraut (the German name) is salted, fermented raw cabbage, and it is much easier on the digestive system than cooked fresh cabbage is. You have to rinse raw sauerkraut in several changes of water before you cook it with white wine or beer and spices for two or three hours. Back in the late 1970s, I worked for a year in the city of Metz, in the Lorraine region, and that's where I learned to love choucroute garnie.

23 November 2019

Pour l'heure, une seule fleur

When I looked at the big Crassula ovata  "jade" plant yesterday afternoon, I saw that a single flower had opened. This morning, I'll be curious to see if any others have bloomed overnight. Walt, like me, says he doesn't remember ever seeing a jade plant bloom before, and we kept a lot of them in and around the house when we lived in San Francisco.

Here's a full view of the jade plant. For the summer, it stays outdoors, and this year we've brought it in for the winter and set it on a table under a west-facing roof window (Vélux). Maybe it is afternoon light (I can't say "sun" because it's been cloudy most days since I got back from North Carolina on October 24) that has caused it to flower.

I have a book called The Larousse Guide to House Plants, written by Alan Titchmarsh and published in the early 1980s, that confirms this about this variety of jade:  "In the wild, white flowers appear in summer which turn pink with age, but this plant seldom blooms in cultivation." The one here has not only bloomed in cultivation but it has bloomed in November.

And here is another photo of the linden/"lime"/tilleul tree in our back yard, on the west side of the house. Its leaves are really falling now. I wish I knew when it was planted. We won't be having it pruned back, but we are planning to have the big blue spruce tree just to the left of it taken down this winter or next spring. The spruce appears to be close to death.

22 November 2019

Plantes que j'aime

Years ago I bought a little jade plant (Crassula ovata) here in Saint-Aignan. It thrived, growing to be too big and top-heavy. I started taking cuttings and leaves and rooting them. Now I have 12 or 15 jade plants, including what I think is the original one, which looks something like a big bonsai. And now that big old plant is flowering. I can't wait to see the flowers open up.

I had many jade plants when we lived in California, but I don't think I've ever seen one produce flowers before. Before we left San Francisco, I sold a lot of very big potted plants, including a huge potted jade plant, for a couple of dollars apiece. Back there, jades and other house plants could stay outdoors year-round, so mild was the climate. It's more complicated here, where frost-sensitive plants must be brought indoors for the winter.

Another plant I'm happy to be living near at this time of year is the linden tree in our back yard. It's showing off its fall colors right now. Maybe it needs to be pruned, though. Any suggestions?

After seeing recent forecasts indicating we would have a sunny, dry week, we were caught off-guard by rain starting before noon yesterday. Then it tapered off. At about 5 p.m., I went out for the walk with Tasha in the vineyard. We got a good dousing. It wasn't a hard rain, but it was steady and soaking.

21 November 2019

Veilleuse, ou lampe de nuit

The word I've always heard for "night-light" (or night light or nightlight) in French is une veilleuse. The French verb veiller [vay-yay] means to sit up (with someone who's sick, for example) or to stay up late into the night with company. In other words, it means to choose not to go to bed and sleep. I guess a veilleuse [vay-yeuz], a night-light, is a lamp that stays awake, in its own way, to protect you. Protect you from bumping into walls or furniture, or falling down the stairs, when you're up and moving around in the dark.

Here are a couple of photos of the stairs that lead up to our loft space from the main living area (kitchen, living/dining room, bathroom, etc.). They show the new veilleuses we bought and installed a few days ago. They are light- and motion-sensitive.

By the way, I don't know how we would live out here in the French countryside without on-line or mail-order shopping services like Amazon.fr and others. To find and buy items like these night-lights in a store, we'd have to spend hours in Tours or Blois, the two closest cities, walking or driving from place to place searching for them. It would be a two-hour round trip to go shopping, and much of that time would be wasted if we didn't happen to find the items we were looking for. Amazon.fr also has a very good return policy, in case the items purchased don't fit the bill.

This second picture might give you an idea how steep these stairs are. They are also slippery, and maybe we need to do something about that. Anyway, the night-lights help a lot. They come on when the house is dark and when something moves within range of their motion detectors. When there's plenty of ambient light, whether from other lamps or just from daylight, the night-lights don't switch on when they detect motion. I think they stay on for about 30 seconds, which gives me plenty of time to get down the stairs without breaking my neck.

I've been surprised to see the term lampe de nuit for night-light on Amazon.fr. I guess it's just a word for word translation of the English-language term. Veilleuse is also the French word for the "parking lights" ("sidelights" in the British Isles) on your car, and for the "pilot light" on your gas stove, furnace, or water heater, for example.

20 November 2019

November sunset

I'm still walking, and it gets more comfortable to do so day by day. Yesterday afternoon, I took my camera out on the vineyard walk with Tasha. I took these photos in 15 minutes' time, between 4:55 and 5:10 p.m. The slideshow runs just over one minute. The themes are skies, trees, and sundown.

As you can see, we had a sunny day. Walt got a lot of work done in the garden. I did what is for me a significant amount of housework, as well as some cooking. Today the sun is supposed to shine again, and I plan to do some yard work (mostly raking up leaves).

19 November 2019

L'inévitable accident

Un accident est si vite arrivé ! Mine happened a week ago, and there's some ironic element in the whole thing. We spent a month in early summer having a new bathroom (toilet and sink) put in up in the loft space that we had finished as a family room, TV room, and bedroom in 2010. Part of the reason was that we wanted no longer to have to go downstairs in the dark, in the middle of the night, to get to the other bathroom in the house.

Well, last Monday or Tuesday, I can't remember which, the cat and dog woke me up, as they did again this morning, at about five o'clock. Tasha jumps up on the bed and nudges me with her nose. Bertie just starts walking around the room and meowing. Both animals are hungry, and the dog needs to go outside. It is of course dark at that hour. And the stairs are just as steep and treacheous as they are at midnight or two a.m.

On that fatal morning, I had overslept, which is rare for me. The animals had calmed back down, I guess, when their first attempt to wake me up failed. At nearly 5:30, I awoke with a start. Wow, I said to myself, I'd better hurry and take Tasha outside. I jumped out of bed, stumbled around upstairs  in the dark getting dressed, and headed down the dark stairs. I was still half asleep.

I negotiated the top 10 steps of the narrow, steep stairway just fine. But on about the fifth step from the bottom, I must have taken too big a step. I was in my sock feet and the stairs are slippery — I've been climbing down them in the dark for nearly 10 years, but never mind. That morning, when my foot slipped, there was nothing I could do to stop it. I think the foot slid off the step more or less vertically, and my poor toes were pointing straight down when they hit the step below.

I lost my balance, even though I was holding onto the stair rail. All my considerable weight was focused on that vertical foot. And I fell. Luckily, I was holding on, so I didn't fall as far or as hard as I could have. Walt heard me cry out and moan, and shouted from up above to ask if I was all right. I think I am, I told him, but I won't know for a few more minutes. I'm not bleeding, and I don't think anything is broken...

Well, the fact is I had jammed the big toe on my right foot really hard. It was sprained, and in just a few minutes, it had turned blue and was really swollen. And painful. I was able to limp around, but very tentatively and carefully. Walking the dog was out of the question that morning and for the next two days. (Poor me, I couldn't go out and enjoy walks in the rain with Natasha. Walt had to go in my place.)

I'm still limping, but the swelling has gone down and the toe is almost back to its original color. By Thursday, I started walking with the dog again. I tried several different pairs of shoes until I found one that supported my foot and kept my toe from aching too much. The walks were short and I was not moving very fast, but the dog didn't seem to mind. At this point, the pain is nearly gone, unless I'm walking uphill — that angle causes my foot to bend and puts pressure on the sore toe.

I didn't go to the doctor because I felt sure that the toe was not broken and the sprain was not too severe, though very painful. Still, I'm being careful not to re-injure it. To prevent such accidents in the future (always the optimist), we ordered some light- and motion-sensitive nightlights that we've stuck on the wall at two strategic points in the stairwell so that the steps won't be pitch-dark early in the morning. The nightlights are great — they're battery-powered and come on only if it is both really dark and something (me, the dog, the cat) moves within range of their motion sensor.

Sometimes I feel like we're in the process of bringing the house up to retirement home standards. That's surely a positive step to take now.

18 November 2019

Auprès de nos arbres

These photos are almost a week old already. Earlier, I mentioned that an unusually high number of trees have been dying or falling around our hamlet, including our little pear tree and two of our old apple trees. Below is a photo of a tree that's down on the north side of our property. It's not ours, so we don't have to do anything about it. I think it's an aspen — un tremble  — isn't it? The tremble is a variety of poplar.

The tremble is called that because the slightest movement of air causes its leaves to flutter and shake. It's a European species; the North American aspen is related but not exactly the same tree. I remember seeing big stands of aspens in Utah when I was there one year in October. Who knows why this European one suddenly toppled over...

It seems to be alive still. It's leaves are changing color, but not wilting or falling. And it's covered with buds (above). The aspen's roots are traçantes, according to Wikipedia — that means "creeping" or "running," according to the dictionary. So it has shallow lateral roots. That would explain why the trees can fall for no apparent reason.

Not far from the fallen aspen is a stand of pines — pins maritimes, I think, or some closely related species. If that's not right, let me know. (Same for the tremble. I don't pretend to be an expert.) I've seen these kinds of pines uprooted here by high winds. There was no significant wind when the nearby aspen fell over.

There are a lot of aspens, birches, pines, and black locust trees around the vineyard, but the most common plant we see here is the grape. Above is a grape leaf I noticed lying on the ground. I of course took these photos with my new/old Sony RX100 camera.

This is another sunset over the grapevines. Most of our days haven't been sunny recently, but forecasts say that's about to change. Sunny weather that might dry the ground out a little will give us plenty to do. We still haven't raked up any fallen leaves or pulled the stakes and dead plants out of the vegetable garden. By the way, I injured myself the other day, so I hope I'll be physically able to do some of the work. I'm definitely doing better this week than last.

17 November 2019

Gratin de choufleur aux lardons

People in France eat about the same amount of fresh cauliflower as Americans do — about one kilogram (2.2 lbs.) per person per year — according to some figures I've found. Per capita consumption of cauliflower is on the rise in the U.S. About 90% of the U.S. cauliflower crop is grown in California, and about 85% of the French cauliflower crop is grown in Brittany. It's because of those two regions' mild winter climates. Actually, the biggest producers and consumers of cauliflower in the world are China and India. Europe grows more than twice as much cauliflower as the U.S. does.

The are many ways to prepare cauliflower — choufleur in French — but one of my favorites is called Gratin de choufleur aux lardons — steamed cauliflower florets and chunks of cooked, smoked pork bacon (or ham) baked together in a cheese sauce. One of the essential ingredients in that cheese sauce is a good pinch of nutmeg, which brings out the flavor of the cheese. For this one, I used French Comté cheese, which resembles what we call Swiss cheese in the U.S.

Notice in the photos in this short slideshow that I also cook the green leaves that surround the cauliflower head. They are good to eat too. This time, I cut them and steamed the greens for the freezer and future meals. The cauliflower I was cooking weighed about 1½ lbs. (700 grams), and that was enough for the two of us. I'm not sure American cauliflower heads are sold with the green leaves still on the stalk, but if they are don't throw the greens away (if you like greens). They could go into the gratin with the cauliflower florets too, if you want. Trim them up and steam them before putting them into the cheese sauce.

Here's French-American chef Jacques Pépin's recipe for Gratin de choufleur.

16 November 2019

A wedge and a circle

I'm just really enjoying this new/used Sony camera. With its so-called "one-inch" sensor, which is much, much larger that the sensors in my Panasonic camera's sensors, the photos I'm taking are so different from all the ones I've taken before.

Since the pecan... errr, walnut... pie post yesterday elicited a lot of opinions, here's a Sony slice of it.

The same morning when I made the walnut pie, I also made the above for lunch. Can you tell what it is?

Hope you enjoy your Saturday. It's raining here... so what else is new?

15 November 2019

Pecan Walnut Pie

A few days ago, the subject of pecan pie came up in comments on a blog post about a pecan tree that stood in my late mother's back yard in North Carolina. MA had grafted and planted the tree there in the 1970s. That tree died last winter, about a year after MA passed on. That seems to me to be an odd coincidence. Here is a photo of that pecan tree that I took in May 2003, when Walt and I spent a month in N.C. before flying off to start a new life in Saint-Aignan. My mother (Mary Allen) and Walt are in the picture.

Yesterday I decided to make a pecan pie following my mother's recipe. She and her sister self-published three cookbooks in the 1990s, focusing on local specialties. They probably sold 10,000 or more books in gift, souvenir, and museum shops up and down the North Carolina coast. Her pecan pie recipe is in the first of those three books (The Cooking Ladies' Best Sellers).

The problem I faced was that I didn't have any pecans left. I had brought back a lot of shelled-out pecans in 2018, but we finished them all last winter. Never mind — I happened to have a big bag of shelled walnut meats in the freezer, thanks to our friend C. and M. who live across the river from us here in the Loire Valley. They generously gave us a good quantity of cerneaux de noix (nut meats) as a gift a few months ago. Maybe I'm just chauvinistic, or maybe I'm just right, but I've always thought pecans have a sweeter, more pleasant taste than walnuts.

By the way, in the Carolinas, we called walnuts "English walnuts." In Québec French, they are called noix de Grenoble (noix, pronouced [nwah], means walnut in French). Anyhow, walnuts can stand in for pecans in a pinch. I've looked into planting a pecan tree here in the Saint-Aignan area, but from what I've read it seems that our summers are not hot enough for them and they won't produce pecans without a long period of hot weather. On the left is my walnut pie ready to go into the oven. Below is the finished pie.

Mary Allen's Pecan Pie

Blend together thoroughly:
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup Karo syrup*
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. melted butter

Then stir in:
1½ cups pecans

Pour the mixture into:
1 unbaked pie shell

Bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for 50 to 55 minutes.

Test for doneness by sticking a skewer or the point of a clean knife into the filling.
When it comes out clean, the pie is cooked. Serve warm or cold.

* This pie is very sweet, and I don't even put as much sugar in the mixture as the recipe calls for. If you're not American, you might not know what Karo syrup is. It's light-colored, high-fructose corn syrup and Karo is the brand name. For substitutes, see this web page. Another note: I made the pie with pâte sablée, ("sugar crust") and you can get the recipe here.