23 December 2019

Ice-cold showers and steaming hot food

It's not very cold outside these days — the temperature right now, at 6 a.m., is about 8ºC, which is close to 50 in ºF. However, we had an impressive wind event from Saturday night until Sunday evening. A storm named Fabien had blown in off the Atlantic Ocean. We didn't get the worst of it; people in the south of France, including the Bordeaux area, did. Then, late yesterday afternoon, after a few hours of spring-like weather with sun and blue skies — maybe we were in the eye of the storm — we had an unexpected ice shower. That's what is called a giboulée, which is a sudden, gusty downpour of cold rain, snow, or ice pellets. It lasted no more than 10 minutes.

Ice pellets on the glass roof of our greenhouse yesterday afternoon

The house already felt cold because the wind had been howling for nearly 24 hours. What do you do when the weather is miserable and the house is chilly, despite the central heating system keeping the radiators hot? Well, you build a fire in the fireplace, or you cook some hot, nourishing comfort food. It had been my plan to do that anyway. On Saturday I went to the new produce market(Terre Y Fruits) in Saint-Aignan, which features vegetables grown in the Loire Valley, and picked up the makings for what's called a pot au feu [puh-toh-feuh] — "a pot on the fire" — which is a kind of pot roast or boiled dinner.

The vegetables I found included some unfamiliar ones along with others that have made a comeback over the past few years and are called légumes oubliés. Into that category I'd put parsnips, called panais. Ten years ago we couldn't find them here in Saint-Aignan.

Into the category of unfamiliar vegetables, I'd put the two turnips you see here. We get purple turnips, but not shaped like or as heavy as this one. And I'd never seen a red turnip before. (Carrots are something nobody has ever forgotten...)

Walt had come home from a trip to the SuperU on Friday with a piece of beef that was sold as viande pour pot au feu, à mijoter — meat for a pot roast, to be stewed (simmered). I don't know what cut of beef it is, but we are hoping it will be good. It has now cooked with the vegetables overnight in the slow-cooker. That will be lunch today. We'll eat some of the meat with the little pickled gherkins called cornichons in France, and with some moutarde de Dijon, and of course some vegetables, maybe with melted butter.

I peeled the vegetables first, and then I cut them into smaller pieces before putting them around and on top of the meat in the slow-cooker and pouring in a lot of cold water as well as a little bit of white wine. We also had a stalk of celery and a head of garlic in the refrigerator (from the same produce market), so those went in as flavor ingredients. In the spice ball you see here, I put some leek tops we had in the refrigerator, along with bay leaves, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, allspice berries, a chunk of ginger root, and a dried cayenne pepper. That has made a good broth, which may become the base for soupe à l'oignon gratinée between Christmas and New Year's Day.


  1. How strange the purple turnip stays purple when peeled but the red one turns white? Can you tell if they taste different from the regular turnip? One other forgotten root is the salsify that I haven't seen for decades à l'étal in stores. Only canned ones, but those are rather bland and not as nice as the fresh ones that we used to be served fried. I don't remember ever tasting parsnips.

    Whenever we had pot au feu, we used to faire chabrot, which means putting red wine in the hot bouillon as a soup.

    1. Nice pictures, as always, Ken! That'll make for some very hearty and delicios meals!

      Interesting, chm. I've never eaten salsify, so I looked it up. According to the article I found, they were quite favourite during World War II as they were cheap and readily available. Apparently they've gone out of favour because it's a bit of a chore to clean/peel and prepare them for further cooking. When the prep is done, they can be eaten raw, boiled, or fried and they taste slightly bitter, with a nutty-like flavour, hinting towards asparagus, or even a bit like oysters. Some other names for this forgotten vegetable seem to be oyster plant (in English speaking countries?) or poor man's asparagus. They're in season now, so I'll keep an eye open for them.

    2. Elgee, if you find salsifies and if they still have a few leaves on top of them, do not discard them, but clean them to make a small salad in a vinaigrette. They're very good and have a deliciuos nutty taste. That's one of my good memories about salsifies.

    3. I'll definitely try that, chm! Thanks for the tip!

  2. Ahhhh, fresh, local, home-made -- I bet your house smelled great while that was cooking, too.

  3. Oui, Judith, I was smelling it here as well! Maybe I will try to find salsify seeds and give them to my daughter to plant in their garden! Using the top leaves for a salad sounds exotic, chm - just the perfect challenge to guess what it is for future guests!

  4. The ingredients look wonderful. Pot-au-feu is my favorite, as Walt's is steak au poivre. Our days are gray but not as cold. Rain through Christmas night here predicted.

    If you find yourselves giboulee incarcerated in the house, may I suggest the German film "Ludwig II" with English subtitles. You have to turn on the closed captioning for the soutitres. Wonderful film, builder of Neuschwanstein Castle and lover of Wagner:


  5. Those ingredients looks so good, and parsnips are so good in winter stews.
    When you said "Ice-cold showers", I thought you were going to say the wind took out your electric wires. Whew.


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