31 March 2020

Bread

We seem to be eating a lot of bread these days. Maybe bread is the ultimate comfort food. Here's a whole-wheat loaf I baked last week. The photos I posted last week showed not this loaf but the other I made from the same batch of dough. This loaf, sliced using the bread slicing guide I bought a couple of years ago, went into the freezer. And it's reassuring to know it's in there. We have other breads in the freezer too, both sandwich slices and sections of French baguettes.


Bread-making is entertainment, and in a way bread-eating is too. Today, the 17th of my confinement, our lunch will be croque-monsieur sandwiches — the French-café-style grilled ham and cheese. Our problem right now is that we are running low on flour. Yesterday I put together an on-line order for groceries from our local Intermarché supermarket. Flour (farine) was marked as a bientôt disponible ("available soon") item on the site. They must have sold their entire stock. And the first available pick-up date when I was on the site yesterday (Monday) was Friday morning. By now, I'm sure it'll be next week before we can get supplies from Intermarché.

30 March 2020

The front door

We had our front door, with its small porch at ground level, glassed in back in 2004. It's hard to believe it was that long ago. It's a good place for potted plants. Often, even when it's cold outside, we leave the sliding door open wide enough so that Tasha and Bertie can come and go as they please. For the good of the dog, the yard is fenced in. Cats, of course, move unimpeded by such barriers.


I'm sure the fact that the U.S. stay-at-home order is being extended to April 30 will lead the French authorities to gradually do the same. Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid. Ou est-ce une cage ? I'm sorry we had to cancel our April getaway. La Baie de Somme is a place I really would like to see one of these days.

29 March 2020

Un cadeau d'anniversaire






About a month ago, I got an e-mail from our local SuperU supermarket telling me that they were holding a birthday gift package for me at their customer service desk. The next time you come to the store, it said, stop at the desk, present your carte de fidélité, and we'll give your your present. So I did just that. I didn't know what to expect.









Well, the package contained a box of cake mix, a bag of chocolate chips (« chunks » — a term that might perturb the Académie Française), and a couple of other little things, including an edible Joyeux Anniversaire label made of sugar. The cake mix was labeled as a bio product. That means biologique — "organic" in English. Les chunks, which I tossed into the cake batter, were not organic, but never mind...













Yesterday, I finally decided to make the cake. It's called a moelleux au chocolat [mwah-leuh-o-cho-co-`lah], which is a molten, lava, or volcano cake — something like that. I don't generally crave chocolate, but I think this cake is pretty good. It tastes like brownies to me. Merci, SuperU.









All I had to add to the mix was a good quantity of melted butter and three eggs. It came together very quickly. I wasn't sure how to bake it to keep it soft and melty inside, but firm enough to tip out of the pan in cake form. Basically, it all worked out. Trial and error saved the day.









The recipe on the box said to bake the cake in a high-sided cake pan, so I chose to use a soufflé dish that CHM gave me a few years ago. I use it all the time. In this case, I'm not sure why the pan needed high sides, because the cake didn't really rise as it cooked. It is definitely molten inside.

28 March 2020

Moving forward

But also looking back. The last time I drove the car or went shopping was two weeks ago today. On Saturday March 14 I bought a lot of groceries over at Intermarché in Noyers. Then yesterday, Walt drove up to SuperU in Saint-Aignan to pick up another load of groceries that I ordered on line. Meanwhile, tonight we'll (finally) be moving our clocks ahead one hour, from winter time (heure d'hiver) to summer time (heure d'été). You take your excitement where you can get it these days.



Here are some close-up photos I took of the primroses in our yard yesterday morning. They come up spontaneously every year. Some of them are a little ragged-looking, but the colors are nice. The slideshow is made up of six images and runs for less than a minute. Soon the grass will have to be mowed and that will be the end of them.

27 March 2020

Spending spring preparing for winter...

...is what one of our neighbors has been doing recently. He's been cutting down trees, sawing logs into one-meter lengths, and stacking them as firewood that he'll burn in his fireplace next winter. His name is Philippe, and he lives in the next hamlet over from ours. He's about my age. His hamlet (neighborhood, or settlement) is made up of about a dozen houses, and it's called La Grand-Maison. Philippe also owns some fenced-in land on the edge of the vineyard, down a steep hillside from his house. He uses that land as pasture for his donkey. We can hear hee-hawing from our house in the summer, when our windows are open. (See my 2009 post called Nearly Trampled via this link.)


Philippe's house in the hamlet called La Grand-Maison ("The Big-House") is only about 400 meters from our house — a quarter of a mile — as the crow flies. But if you want to go there on foot, it's a 1,500-meter walk (very nearly a mile) out into the vineyard, through some vine rows up a hill, and then a hike on the paved road back down to Philippe's house. There's one other footpath that's shorter, but it taking it involves crossing a stream bed that's very muddy for much of the year. If you want to drive to Philippe's house, it's about 3,000 meters away (not quite two miles) on paved roads. So Philippe is not exactly our next-door neighbor.

P.S. I was just looking at Google maps and I found this street-view photo where you can see Philippe sitting out in his vegetable garden on a warm spring day several years ago.

26 March 2020

One photo a day, and one day at a time

This single pink hyacinth has come up in the same spot, not far outside our back gate, every spring for the past decade or more. I wish it would spread over a wider area.


Maybe I should dig up the bulb this year and plant it elsewhere to see if it will multiply. I'd like to have it on our property. We have white hyacinths growing in a few places, but no pink ones like this.

Yesterday, the French Ministère de l'Intérieur (the equivalent of the Justice Dept. and the Dept. of Homeland Security in the U.S.) modified the travel permit that all French residents need to fill out and sign to declare on their honor the purpose of any trips outside their legal residences. Now we are required to put the date and time we leave our house on the form each time we go out, and our place of birth as well as our name, address, and birth date. I haven't been out except to walk the dog in 12 days at this point.

Also yesterday, the news channels were saying that we in France will in all likelihood remain under a stay-at-home order (confinement généralisé) until about April 28. Walt is going to go out to the pharmacy tomorrow, and then he'll drive up to SuperU to pick up a hundred euros worth of groceries that we have ordered and paid for on line. He won't need to go inside the store itself. Supermarket employees will load the groceries into the trunk of the car — if all goes to plan. I'll be interested to hear about his trip when he gets back home.

25 March 2020

Not melting down

Our weather has turned cold again, especially the mornings. It's below freezing right now.
Maybe cold temperatures will prevent a complete meltdown.

I hope the cold doesn't kill all these beautiful flowers.

24 March 2020

Flowers and fears

One of the problems with being an American in Europe is that you don't really know the plant and animal species, because you didn't grow up with them. The names are not part of your native vocabulary. So I guess I give up. Having lived in cities most of my adult life, except since we moved to Saint-Aignan in 2003, well... you know.

These shrubs covered in white blossoms are something like blackthorn or hawthorn.


I'll just post the photos because I was pleased with how they came out. Viburnum, they say. Viorne in French. Pretty flowers.


On another subject, the number of diagnosed cases of the novel coronavirus disease in France is now up to about twenty thousand, with nearly 900 deaths attributed to the illness. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit freaked out by this whole situation. Maybe cabin fever is part of the reason for my heightened stress level. We are going to have to go out, or at least one of us is, this week, because Walt needs to go to the pharmacy and we are going to need groceries.

At this point, I really fear going out into the world or having any contact other people. Here in France, we are being told that our confinement might last for several more weeks. We are allowed to go out and get some exercise once a day, alone, and no farther than one kilometer (half a mile or so) from our house. Most of the country's open-air markets have now been shut down, with some exceptions for small villages that don't have any grocery stores.

23 March 2020

L'attestation de déplacement — the travel permit

Here's a copy of the permit that allows people in France to travel or move about despite the government order that such movements be limited as a measure to fight the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). It's a sworn statement you are required to fill out and sign to declare on your honor that the purpose of your travel (déplacement) is one of the authorized& exceptions to the rule banning travel by checking the box that applies. The word dérogatoire means something like "by exception" or "by special dispensation." I've been told that gendarmes have been stopping cars around Saint-Aignan and requesting to see the sworn declaration.


The allowed exceptions to the stay-at-home order are:
  • Commuting to your workplace when telecommuting is impossible, or other unavoidable travel for professional reasons
  • Going out to seek medical care or assistance
  • Going out to shop for essential groceries and supplies
  • Unavoidable travel having to do with providing assistance to family members in need or to arrange or ensure child care
  • Brief outings in the vicinity of your legal residence for purposes of physical exercise (excluding team sports) or walking pets
The final exception to the travel ban implies that we need to have this sworn statement on our persons when we take Tasha out for her daily walks, but since we walk in the vineyard we haven't so far been doing so. We haven't yet seen any gendarmes out there or in our hamlet.

22 March 2020

Home-made sandwich bread and “tuna melt” sandwiches

Over the years, I've gone through spells of ambition during which I've baked my own bread. Some of it was just experimenting, but at other times it was because I couldn't find ready-made bread that I considered good enough. Now we're in crisis mode and can't just jump in the car drive to the boulangerie or supermarché to buy fresh bread. The good French bread we have stored in the freezer won't last forever.

We have several bags of flour, though, in the cold pantry, and yeast stored in the freezer. It's fresh levure de boulanger in the form of a little square cake that we can buy at Intermarché, cut into small cubes, and freeze so we'll have it when we want or need it. Looking around for something useful to do, I decided to bake bread yesterday morning. We also had a one-kilogram bag of whole wheat flour down in the cold pantry. I was tempted to make brioche, but we only have 6 or 8 eggs left in the fridge, and I thought better of using half of them in what is basically a fancy treat.



So I made two loaves of whole-wheat pain de mie, or sandwich bread. Here's a recipe that I found on a site called An Oregon Cottage. It is very similar to the Julia Child recipe for white-bread sandwich loaves that I made last month  — same proportions and similar methods — and yesterday I decided to use a 50-50 mixture of white all-purpose flour (type 55 en France) and whole-wheat flour (farine complète, type 110) to make the loaves pictured here. I substituted fresh yeast for dried, and vegetable oil for the butter in Julia Child's recipe.



Sandwiches are quick and easy lunches to make, so this bread won't go to waste. I have a package of 6 slices of ham in the fridge, as well as both Cheddar and Comté cheese, so we can make croque-monsieur sandwiches. Or hot spinach and cheese sandwiches because I have frozen spinach and frozen kale. We're looking at this period of involuntary confinement as a time to work on cooking and eating as much food from our chest and upright freezers as we can.

Anyway, yesterday I realized I also had a big can of tuna down in the cellier, and plenty of onions. I also had some celery seeds and some cornichons aigres-doux, which are similar to American dill pickles. All that, with some mayonnaise and mustard, can go into a good tuna salad (rillettes de thon in French). So we made the old-fashioned toasted, open-face sandwiches called "tuna melts" for lunch. I can't remember the last time I ate a tuna melt. The whole idea of tuna salad on a slice of bread with melted cheese on top might seem slightly strange, but it was very good yesterday, and certainly nutritious.

P.S. Yesterday's Coronavirus tally in France: nearly 15,000 cases, nearly 600 deaths

21 March 2020

Kale with tomato paste and chickpeas

Cooking goes on, and we're happy to have enough food in the pantry, the freezers, the kitchen cabinets, and the refrigerator to keep going for another week or two. I harvested a lot of kale last week, and one of the ways we ate it was a dish we've been making for 8 or 9 years now: greens with tomato paste and chickpeas. Think of it as a thick soup, or a simmered stew.


The recipe is based on a Spanish one called Espinacas con garbanzos that blogger friends Mitch and Jerry in Spain posted and Walt found. You can make it with spinach, chard, kale, or collard greens. You can also make it as spicy hot and garlicky as you want. This time, I used tomato paste Walt made from part of our 2019 tomato crop, blanched kale leaves, garbanzo beans from a can, and some French Morteau sausage. Here's the recipe from five years ago, when I made the dish using garden-grown collard greens. I urge you to make it — it's easy and tasty. Ten stars.

Greens with tomato paste and chickpeas

4 Tbsp. olive (or other) oil
½ lb. (225 g) smoked pork lardons, bacon, or sausage (optional)
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
6 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and chopped
1 green pepper, trimmed and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
2 lbs. greens, raw or blanched, thinly sliced or shredded
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. smoked or sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
¾ cup (200 ml) tomato paste
water and white wine as needed or desired
1 cup bread crumbs, rice, or millet (as a thickener)
1 large can chickpeas

In a large pot, heat olive or other oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, green pepper, jalapeño, and lardons/bacon (or diced, cooked sausage). Cook until onion softens, about 4 minutes. (Leave out the meat if you don't want it.)

Add raw greens, cover, and cook until mostly wilted, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until completely wilted, another 5 to 10 minutes. Kale, chard, or spinach will take less time than collard greens, for example. It's also faster if you start with blanched or already cooked greens. Season to your taste with salt, black pepper, and the spices.

Add tomato paste along with some water or wine, plus the vinegar. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a medium simmer. Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are very tender. Add more liquid as needed as.

When the greens are cooked, add the cooked (or canned) chickpeas and the bread crumbs to the pan. Give the chickpeas time to get hot and the bread crumbs time to absorb any extra cooking liquid.

Serve the greens and garbanzos as a one-dish meal with bread or rice, or as a side dish with grilled meat.

20 March 2020

Restricted

We are confined to quarters for the foreseeable future. I'm sure there will be big celebrations in France when this confinement généralisé ends. The weather is beautiful right now, but we're supposed to stay inside as much as possible. Walks in the vineyard are allowed, as long as it doesn't involve contact with other people There are workers out there,  and we shout greetings and even exchange a few sentences, but we don't get close to anybody.
An American friend who lives on the other side of Saint-Aignan, a few miles from us, told me yesterday that one of her neighbors went to our local SuperU to pick up some supplies. She found the store pretty much empty of customers, and also found the shelves mostly empty of merchandise too. Apparently, the SuperU over in Selles-sur-Cher, 10 miles upriver, is better stocked, so our friend said she was going to try to do her shopping over there.
We are starting to think about things we might need from the supermarket next week, and making a list. I also tried to do some shopping on-line yesterday on the SuperU Drive site. We can order things and then drive over there to pick them up, without getting close to anybody. I started putting together an on-line list by choosing items from the store's web page. It crashed. Suddenly, I got an error message when I tried to add an item to my list. That's not promising.
The friend I talked to said that gendarmes are stopping cars at major intersections (they're mostly roundabouts — traffic circles — here) and asking drivers to show the official document we're supposed to carry with us if we go out in public. It's a sworn statement you are required to sign to declare the purpose of your trip. Grocery shopping, doctor or  pharmacy visits, or going to work are the only reasons why you should be out driving or walking around.
We are luckier than people who live in apartments, that's for sure. We have a big back yard and we've started cleaning it up after a long, wet, windy winter. It's still too early to start preparing the vegetable garden plot, mostly because the ground is too wet. Walt did some mowing yesterday, and I started working on potted plants that need TLC. At some point, we are going to need to buy seeds or seedlings. Potting soil. New pots. But so far trips to garden centers are not allowed, as far as I know.

The pictures here are some I took day before yesterday.

19 March 2020

Une dizaine d'images pour le cinquième jour

It's day 5 of the confinement généralisé. I took my camera out on the walk with Tasha yesterday afternoon. It was bright sunny, and warm — I was in shirtsleeves. I talked to some of the vineyard workers, from a distance. They were out pruning the vines in preparation for the new growing season. This slideshow has a running time of about 1½ minutes.



Many of these images are of flowers that grow wild around the vineyard. A lot of trees are in bloom now, and bulbs have been up for a few weeks. Today is supposed to be another sunny day. Too bad we can't take real advantage of it, but at least we can go stumble around in the vineyard with the dog.

18 March 2020

Gratin de pommes de terre au brie

Until yesterday, I hadn't tasted the petit brie cheese I bought at SuperU last Saturday. I had cut into it and smelled it, and it seemed pretty mild and looked good. When I tasted it, before cooking most of it in a gratin modeled on the Alpine dish called une tartiflette, I thought it was flavorful — clean-tasting, and not at all stinky. I liked the texture. It seemed like a good cheese to serve and eat melted, just as the cheese called Reblochon that goes into the true tartiflette is.


The first step in making a gratin de pommes de terre — scalloped potatoes, or potatoes au gratin — is to peel and slice the amount of potatoes you want to cook. I had just over a kilogram — 2.2 lbs. — of waxy red potatoes left in a bag down in the cellier (cold pantry). I steamed the slices until they were pretty tender. These are potatoes that don't disintegrate into a purée when you cook them. Put a layer of them in the bottom of a baking dish.




Separately, cook some bacon and diced onions — I used a mixture of one onion, one shallot, and one big clove of garlic — in a frying pan. I added some leftover chicken that I diced up, and I seasoned the mixture with black pepper, powdered allspice, and dried thyme. A splash of white wine helps tenderize the onion. Spoon half of that cooked mixture over the layer of cooked potatoes in the baking dish.





This photo just shows the bottom layer of cooked potato slices, topped with the bacon and onion mixture, and a second layer of potatoes being put into the dish. Spoon the rest of the bacon and onion mixture over the second layer of potatoes, and save enough potatoes to make a third, top layer before adding any liquid to the dish.


The liquid I used was about three-fourths of a cup (6 fl. oz.) of French crème fraîche, which is fairly thick, diluted with half a cup (4 fl. oz.) of — you guessed it — dry white wine. Mix those together well and drizzle the creamy mixture over the top layer of potatoes. Sprinkle on some black pepper and a pinch or quick grating of nutmeg. The liquid will of course sink to the bottom and moisten all the potatoes. Steam from the liquid boiling in the bottom of the dish will help the cheese melt smoothly.





Finally, slice the Brie cheese — I left the top and bottom crusts on the cheese, but cut off the thicker crust around the edge of the round. (I ate those as I finished putting the dish together.) I had a little more cheese (about three-quarters of a pound, or 14 oz. / 400 grams) than I needed to make a single layer over the top of the potatoes, so I just put the rest on top too.



Then I baked the fausse tartiflette — it's tempting to call it a brie-tiflette —  in the oven at between 325 and 350ºF (160 to 180ºC) for about 30 minutes until the cheese had melted and turned a golden brown color, and the creamy liquid I had poured into the dish was bubbling around the edges. That meant it was hot all the way through.

Below is the list of ingredients and amounts.
Une « tartiflette » au fromage de Brie
(ou « brie-tiflette »)

1 kg (2 to 2½ lbs.) waxy boiling potatoes
200 g (½ lb. or less) diced bacon (or smoked pork lardons)
2 onions (or a combination of onions and garlic)
1 tsp. dried thyme
200 ml (10 fl. oz.) cream
100 ml (5 fl. oz.) dry white wine
400 g (14 oz.) Brie cheese

17 March 2020

Un confinement de quinze jours...

The "lockdown" in France is being made even more restrictive for the general population. It's designed to limit contacts between people and slow the spread of the coronavirus. We're being told we are only allowed to go out of the house to buy food, to consult with doctors or pharmacists, to go to work if working from home is not possible, and to get a little physical exercise — at least for the next two weeks.

About 100,000 police officers and gendarmes will be deployed to enforce the new rules. People violating them will be fined. We can go out only if it is absolutely necessary. Meeting up with friends or participating in sporting events in public parks is banned. The rules apply in France itself and in all of its dependencies around the world.

Because face masks are in short supply, the government will distribute them free of charge to medical professionals and hospital staff, starting today in the 25 départements that have the highest number of coronavirus cases. The government promises that no businesses will be left in danger of going bankrupt. Businesses facing financial difficulties will not be required to pay their bills, including taxes. No water, gas, or electric bills will be issued until further notice. Rents are suspended.

This photo of French president Macron, who addressed the nation last night, appeared in the papers this morning.

Here are some quotes in French from newspapers including Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Libération:
Emmanuel Macron a appelé la population à ne pas sortir sous peine de sanction, sauf cas exceptionnel, et à « garder le calme ». Le ministre de l’intérieur, Christophe Castaner a, lui, annoncé le déploiement de 100 000 policiers et gendarmes pour assurer les contrôles. Seuls resteront autorisés, « en métropole comme outre-mer », les trajets « absolument nécessaires » pour :

- faire ses courses ;
- se soigner ;
- aller travailler lorsque le travail à distance n’est plus possible ;
- faire un peu d’activité physique.

« Prendre l’air oui, mais certainement pas jouer à un match de foot », les précisions du ministre de l’intérieur..

Face aux pénuries de masques de protection, le président a annoncé leur distribution en priorité aux personnels hospitaliers et aux médecins de ville et de campagne. Ils seront livrés mardi dans les pharmacies des « 25 départements les plus touchés», puis dans l'ensemble du pays à partir de mercredi.

Après avoir promis qu'« aucune entreprise ne sera livrée au risque de faillite», Emmanuel Macron s'est engagé à ce que « celles qui font face à des difficultés» n'aient « rien à débourser, ni les impôts, ni les cotisations sociales». Il a par ailleurs annoncé la « suspension des factures d'eau, de gaz ou d'électricité ainsi que les loyers».
We are starting to think seriously about canceling our April vacation trip. Walt needs to go to see the doctor for his regular six-month checkup, and then go get a new supply of his regular medications — I did all that last week. The cat needs to go the vet's for a vaccination. However, our walks in the vineyard with the dog won't be restricted, as far as I can tell. These must be difficult times for people who live alone...

P.S. An e-mail from the veterinarians' office this morning says no routine vaccinations for pets for the next month or so.

16 March 2020

Eight kale pictures







So I've mentioned a few times now that I've been harvesting kale for the past few days. Walt took and posted a picture of the kale plants as they looked in the garden just before I started cutting them down.







We planted this kale 9 or 10 months ago. Attacked early on by little black "flea" beetles, and then by extreme drought and weeks of high temperatures, it suffered through the summer.




The kale plants survived and started to recover in November, when the winter rains began. It began to look very pretty only in January. We let it keep growing. It's called kale or chou kale in France, where it is not yet very well known. I did see some curly kale in the produce department at our local SuperU store recently, but it was pretty neglected-looking.







This is a variety of kale called Red Russian or Siberian. It is about the tenderest kind of kale you can eat. It more resembles spinach in taste and texture when cooked. I see it called kale rouge de Russie on French Wikipédia.







There were 8 plants, I believe, or maybe 10. I cut all but two of them a few days ago, pulled the leaves off the stems, which went into the compost pile, and cooked the leaves. I ended up with about two kilograms — 4½ lbs. — of cooked kale.







I cut the last two plants yesterday. One of them was very different in appearance from the others. The leaves it produced were rounder and less ragged looking that those on all the other plants.










Red Russian is a flat-leaf kale, and that makes it much easier to wash than the better-known curly-leaf variety. It's also very different in texture from the "meatier" kale called Dinosaur or Black Tuscan (kale noir in French), which I've grown in the past and really like too.







Yesterday I blanched the leaves of the last two kale plants. Today I'm going to cook some kale with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice for our lunch, alongside half a smoked chicken.

15 March 2020

Coronavirus daze days in France


Despite President Macron's advice to people over 70 asking us to stay indoors as much as possible, I went to the supermarket yesterday. As I left home at about 10 a.m., I told Walt that if I found the parking lot over at Intermarché really full of cars, I might chicken out and just come back home. I had the impression that I was going out into a contamination zone — a nuclear winter, or a cloud of pestilence. I still feel like I should read Albert Camus's classic La Peste again. I must have a copy somewhere in the house.

At Intermarché, there were plenty of parking spaces in the lot, however, so I parked, got out of the car, wiped down the handles of a shopping cart with an alcohol-soaked moist towelette (une lingette désinfectante), and ventured inside. The shelves were well stocked, and the number of shoppers seemed about normal for a Saturday morning. It's ironic that our weather is finally improving — it's definitely warmer and slightly less rainy than it has been for months — right when the recommendation to "self-isolate" has taken effect. In the supermarket, at first I was hesitant to touch anything unless I was sure I was going to buy it, for fear of getting infected by the "novel" (what does that mean, anyway?) coronavirus.


But soon I was shopping as I usually do, examining the products I was interested in and reading labels. I was consciously trying to avoid touching my face. There were quite a few people my age or older wandering around the store, filling up their shopping carts. I didn't see anybody wearing a mask. People's carts were overflowing with supplies, as I mine was starting to be, but there was no particular feeling of panic in the air. Everybody was polite and even cheerful. I was here to buy things we had realized we needed: bread and brioche for the freezer, pet food, boxes of kleenex, wine, salad greens, cheese, cans of beans, coffee, cream, carrots, sliced ham, and so on. Our freezers are well stocked with meats and vegetables. I spent 100 euros, and the man ahead of me in the checkout line spent 200.

Walt and I figure we won't be going out in public again for at least a week. We'll just have to monitor the situation by watching the news on TV and on the 'net. In Paris, the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Eiffel Tower, and Palais de Versailles are shut down until further notice (jusqu'à nouvel ordre). Around here, the big Beauval zoo, with its giant pandas, white tigers, orangutans, and manatees, is staying open so far, as are the châteaux at Chambord, Cheverny, Chenonceaux, etc. At this time of year, and given the current viral situation, I can't imagine that such attractions will see big crowds arriving to take tours. Across France, all the schools are closed now, including the universities.

We are lucky to have the vineyard just outside our back gate for our daily walks with Natasha. We seldom see anybody out there, and we can take a mile-long walk without fear of catching anything more than wet feet and maybe a few raindrops on our glasses' lenses. Walt is glad he decided to go to Albany back in February, and I'm glad I went to North Carolina last October. We don't know when we'll go back to the U.S. again. We're wondering whether friends from California who are planning to come see us in June and in September will actually be able to travel then. I'm trying not to be too alarmist.


And I'm glad we are living in France now. If I were still living in America, I'd be very depressed by the prospect of not being able to come spend time in France whenever I wanted to or could afford the trip. I've been very lucky for the past 15+ years to be able to make the trip back "home" to see friends and family in N.C. on an annual basis, or even more frequently when I needed to be there. The travel gets harder and harder with every passing year. For my sanity, I'm better off here than there, and for my physical well-being I'm better off not flying back and forth so often.

I was going to post about my latest kale crop today, but now that I've written this post, I'll just save the kale post and photos for tomorrow. I'm decorating this post with a couple of photos I've taken on recent mornings, including one showing that Italian platter I put cheese on for photos the other day. I believe we bought the platter in New York City back in the 1980s. We used to have a matching serving bowl, but it got cracked and we left it behind when we moved to France in 2003.

14 March 2020

Comments and cookies

One of the web pages I read yesterday when I was trying to get some information about difficulties people have leaving comments on Blogger blogs included this discouraging assessment: The Blogger software is outdated, over the hill, and decrepit. It came on the market more than 20 years ago. Since blogging is a dinosaur in the new world of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, not much is being done to keep the Blogger software alive. So goes the world...

Meanwhile, I really don't like the new pop-up comment display I've chosen for my blog. I miss being able to comment to each commenter individually the way I could when comments on this blog were in the embedded format. And I read this: the problem that makes reader comments vanish into thin air resides in the person's browser settings. Enabling Accept Third-Party Cookies — unblocking them — in your browser settings will allow it to work with the embedded comments.

I use Firefox. There, the setting that might need to be modified is in the Privacy and Security settings when you open Options on the menu at the upper right-hand corner of the Firefox browser. Under Enhanced Tracking Protection, choose the Custom option. Then look at the settings for Cookies. Choose to have the browser block only "Cookies from unvisited websites"; do not choose to block all cookies or all third-party cookies.

In Safari, at least on Windows, click the little gear icon at the top right corner of the browser window. Open Preferences, and then click the Privacy option. Under Block Cookies, click Never. From the reading I've done, this will work on MacOS and iOS versions of Safari as well.

In Chrome on Windows, open Settings by clicking the three-dot icon at the top right corner of the browser window. Click Settings and then choose Privacy and Security. Click Site Settings. The first item on the next menu is Cookies and Site Data. Click that and you'll see Cookies and Site Data under Permissions. Make sure the the Block Third Party Cookies option is turned off.

I know that for some I'm asking a lot when I request that you turn off the feature that blocks third-party cookies. In Chrome, it seems to be turned off by default. In the other browsers, you have to turn it off yourself. Then the Blogger "embedded" comment page will work again and you'll be able to post comments here. Who objects?

13 March 2020

Le coulommiers, ou « petit brie »

Note: see paragraph about comments on Blogger at the end of this post.

The other day I was at SuperU and browsing through the cheese section. There are two cheese sections, actually — one is for fromages à la coupe (cheese "cut to order"), and the other is for pre-packaged cheeses. Looking at packaged cheeses, I noticed the cheese below, called Petit Brie.


Above is a photo of the Petit Brie cheese next to a standard-size camembert, just to give you a sense of scale. I bought the Petit Brie partly because in recent comments we have discussed cheese prices in the U.S. vs. in France. My old friend CHM said he had bought a U.S.-made Brie for something like $16.00 — I think it weighed 13 oz. This French-made Petit Brie weighs 500 grams (nearly 18 oz.) and cost me the princely sum of 2.80€ — $3.15 US at today's rate. (The standard French Camembert weighs 250 grams.)


Doing some googling and reading this morning, I've learned a few things. The Petit Brie I bought is what is called a fromage industriel or fromage laitier, made in a plant, factory, or big dairy. That doesn't mean it's not good. It's made from pasteurized milk produced by dairy farmers in Brittany — far from the Brie region, which is just east of Paris. Again, that doesn't mean it's not good. Like Camembert, Brie is not a "protected" name, so it can be made anywhere (even in the U.S.) and carry the name Brie.


The other thing I learned is that Petit Brie is another name for the cheese called Coulommiers, which is usually lumped in with other Brie cheeses but is not exactly like other Brie cheeses. And Coulommiers is also not a protected name, so it can be made anywhere. The full name of the cheese is petit brie de Coulommiers, and around the town of Coulommiers in Brie, 30 miles east of Paris, farmers make petit brie using local, raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk.


In the Middle Ages, dairy farmers around Coulommiers started making this smaller version of Brie cheese because it was easier to ship and less susceptible to damage than the thinner, bigger Brie cheeses made in the nearby towns of Meaux and Melun. Brie de Meaux and brie de Melun actually are protected names (appellation d'origine protégée, or AOP), as is camembert de Normandie.

Anyway, I plan to cook this Petit Brie I bought. I'll make a tartiflette-like gratin de pommes de terre with Petit Brie cheese melted over it. I see many recipes for that kind Brie gratin on the internet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A frequent commenter here sent me an e-mail yesterday to tell me she hasn't been able to leave a comment recently. Her comments just vanish into thin air. I've made a change to my blog layout to see if it helps. Comments will now appear in a pop-up window rather than being embedded in blog posts. I've also read that browser security settings might be the cause of difficulties placing comments. I'm not sure I understand all the issues, but I'll keep reading about them. Some browsers, notably Safari on both MacOS and iOS, are less cooperative with Blogger than other browsers are. I don't use devices that run MacOS or iOS, so I'm not an expert. I know people running Windows also have commenting problems — I do too.

12 March 2020

Un gratin de brocoli et de pommes de terre

Today's post is a test. I'm going to compose it and upload photos as I normally do. As I did yesterday, when the photos didn't show up in my post about making a sauce and a stir-fry of turkey, onions, and peppers. We shall see if these photos display normally.


This morning I opened yesterday's blog post again. Everything was working fine on my laptop running Windows 10. But I believe that the photos displayed on the laptop are copies that were stored in the Blogger cache yesterday at a time when they were briefly available from the Blogger server to which I uploaded them. Opening the post on an Android tablet this morning, I saw that the photos embedded in the text of the post were visible. However, when I clicked on them the full-size view  that normally is displayed was still missing. (I hope this make sense to you.)


I did one of the few things I know how to do in order to fix the post — I uploaded the photos to what I believe to be a different Blogger server that exists somewhere in the world and on the 'net. And that seems to have worked. I can now see both the photos embedded in the text of yesterday's post and the larger versions that are supposed to, and now do, display on a separate version when you click or tap on the photos in the text. Even on the Android tablet. In other words, different copies of my photos are now displayed in yesterday's post.




This is feeling a lot like work right now. I'm a happier camper when the blog posts just work the way they are supposed to work. Troubleshooting and repairing posts is not really my idea of being productive or enjoying being a blogger. Let's see if today's photos will display here. I'm uploading  them to and same server I normally use, and used yesterday. They didn't work then. Let's see if the Blogger or Google or whoever has now repaired that server.


BTW, I made this gratin de brocoli the same way I usually make gratin de chou-fleur (recipe), but I added a layer of steamed and sautéed potato slices under the broccoli (of which I had only a pound, compared the two or more pounds of cauliflower I would normally use for the gratin). The cheese in the cream sauce and sprinkled on top is Salers (thanks to Evelyn for the 2009 photo), which I happened to have on hand. It turned out very well, if I do say so myself.